Thursday, November 19, 2009




A Second Look Into the Trunk

I pulled out a couple of "trunk novels" – you know, those things you wrote way-back-when that didn't go anywhere, usually because you didn't know how to write very well at that time – and took a second look at them. Yes, one is so painfully bad it cannot be salvaged, although I got a kick out of re-reading it. The other one has a nifty plot, but I think I'm going to let my Main Character continue to sleep in perpetuity in the trunk and switch her out for one I like a whole lot better. This might be the revision it needs to get going. Or it may just be more writing practice for me. Either way, I intend to have some fun with it.

The Effective Writer

Here is a piece written by BILL THORNTON. He sent this to me in a letter – as a letter, actually - and I got his permission to post it here for you. He calls it "The Effective Writer" but I want to call it "The Character Plays the Part."

The Effective Writer
In order to create a believable scene, one must take the reader to that specific place. The reader must sense the scene, its particular environment, its smells, flavors, sounds and colors, its season and atmosphere. Similarly, the reader must feel the raw emotions of the characters, the urgency of the moment, and the emotional or political climate of the particular scene. He must, in a very real sense, live in the scene if not as a player, at least as a present observing bystander.

Descriptions of the scene must be rich and vibrant, colorful and dramatic. The characters may even be a bit more than real in their ability to express their particular part in the story line. Given the need for realism, muted, subdued even melancholy effects are critical to tapping into the reader’s emotions. These are real sensations that real people feel and sense, and it’s that sensitivity and realism that make a scene believable.

A writer may express deeply committed love, raging anger, explosive happiness, or crushing emotional pain, any number of real human emotions complete with their character’s physical reactions and responses.

Anything less is not honest writing, and conveys less than the actual scene.

While the writer may have personally known these feelings and sensations, it’s his ability to convey accurately those very awareness’s to the believing reader that makes the scene work.

“Dry wiregrass rustled in the early afternoon breeze, buzzing cicadas and the rich scent of cinnamon and fresh peaches drifted over the well worn path to the creek just at the tree line.” Well, what color is the wiregrass? Describe “rustled”. Was it a light breeze, or a near wind? Were the cicadas bussing loudly, or were they a distant background effect? What kind of peaches were they? Was it a dirt path? Did it run through heady scent of lush green freshly mown lawn, or were they long creeping tentacles of aged and unkempt crabgrass? Was the creek silent and melancholy, rich with the pain of the widowed fly fisherman, or brightly babbling and filled with the memories of laughing children? Was that just a tree line, or was it a stand of rustling, quaking aspens, their brilliant trunks contrasting with deep, thick underbrush or heavy clumps of wayward field grasses?

Be in the scene to make it believable.

The writer need not actually be experiencing the emotions he conveys, though experience is the “real” of realism. It’s often said that the successful writer writes about things he knows. One cannot take the reader to rural Southern Georgia in the 1920’s unless he has been there and walked those well worn paths to the creeks, smelled that peach pie cooling on the window sill on a heavy, humid southern afternoon in the dog days of summer. He may not have actually been at the scene in those literal times, but that’s the stuff of research, and interviews, and imagination combined. Atmosphere is the stuff of creating realism. Raw emotion, drama and contrast are the stuff of the writer’s skills and talent.

When a scene is created that conveys these senses, does it leave the reader feeling angry, hurt, elated, melancholy, inspired? These are the meat of the writer’s fare. Listen to his footsteps echo, fading down a long, wet alley amongst towering brick walls rich with the sounds of unnamed apartment dwellers in the bowels of a rotting city, rife with tenements, screaming windows into the lives of those imprisoned in the confines of their own desperation. The stench of leaking sewer lines, greasy Chinese food, and diesel hangs heavy in the late afternoon stillness of a filthy, cracked and weathered doorway, its once bright and vibrant red now grease and dirt colored, thick with years of neglect and apathy.

Does the writer take you into his world to bring you into the scene and make you part of it, or are you just reading words on a printed page? The flatness of the print on the flat page is often the stuff of boredom. Living words and emotions are the stuff of writing.

Did I give you my anger, or the anger of the character? How different are they? It’s the character that plays the part. An angry scene does not reflect an angry writer. Nor does a happy holiday scene, filled with laughter, reflect a happy writer.


I'm continuing to work on my painting for the January exhibition jointly sponsored by the da Art Center and the Pomona College Museum of Art (pictured left), IN FRONT OF THE REAL THING. Here are a few pictures of the progress. I'm mixing up the reds now, and trying to get the balances right. I hope I'll be able to fill in the central pupate form by next week if the weather stays sunny and my oils dry properly.

The painting is based on a 14th Century Italian Madonna and a 1971 abstract by Sam Francis. A few of the titles suggested to me (yes, my friends are all comedians) are: "Franciscan Madonna" "Atomic Mother and Child" and my favorite "CSI: Madonna."
Needless to mention - it ain't done yet!


My old kitty Jeeves. My sweet Jeebee is still hanging in there, although thin and elderly (13-16 years old) he is eating well and active. And he doesn't take any sass from the younger cats & the 2 doggies.

Having lunch with friend Leslie Cole and then looking at mid-mod property in Claremont. It's no coincidence that four of my friends are in real estate. But lunch with Leslie always includes more: this time we talked about crock-pot recipes, cat recues and travel. I swear, we sound like old ladies in print, but the conversation was not of the sweet, cozy type – more of the speculative, adventurous type.

My sister-in-law Pris's 70th Birthday Party – what a blowout bash! With my husband's whole entire extended family there (except brother Charlie & his wife Joyce who live in Australia) and everyone Pris knows, it was an exceptional dinner for about a hundred people at Kellogg West at Cal Poly. A slideshow of Pris during her early years (like in a baby carriage!) and other family members (like my DH as a sullen-looking but still very smokin' 15 year old) was the highlight of the party. The cake was a work of art from Some Crust in Claremont, but looked like Duff and the folks at Charm City had made it.

Pris had a good time – everybody had a good time! – and the DJ was great, too. Many thanks to Pris's sons, Derek and Kyre, for putting on this terrific bash.

(That's DH's brother Art & sister Sandra - Pris was married to Art)

Be careful out there

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I first published this post in 2006 - but it holds up well.  And here also is a reprint of a story I wrote which was published in Every Day Fiction a few years ago, too.

"Step forward now, you soldier, you've borne your burdens well.
Walk peacefully on Heaven's streets, you've done your time in Hell."

Americans, remember all our veterans today - my Daddy was a naval officer, my brother Bill is a disabled Viet Nam vet, and that's a picture of me in my Army uniform during Desert Storm (I spent 22 years in the Army.) Make Veterans' Day the time you reflect on what so many gave - and continue to give - for you.

Put aside political and partisan differences and thank those folks who make your way of life possible. This day is not for blowhard politicians or policy makers or corporate profit-takers.

This day's BEAUTIFUL THING is that kid on front lines, the guy in the wheelchair, the homeless vet and the men and women who serve every day, in small and large ways, at home and in strange places.

And my Army buddies, pictured here:

VETERANS • by Kate Thornton

He looked across the breakfast table, knowing that soon he’d have to choose his words carefully. It was the same every year. First the flags popped out along their quiet suburban street. Then the television broadcasts of news, parades, observances and picnics, special sales on sheets and shoes and gardening implements. Finally, there were human interest stories, an interview or two, and then it would all be forgotten until Memorial Day.

Twice a year he had to watch his step, watch his mouth, not say anything he knew would upset her, not let the memories of war long past come between them.

Every year the war itself receded. It was someone else’s turn now, and young kids had their own war to think about, dread, and hope to return from.

Hardly anyone thought about the Gulf War, Desert Storm, with the horrors of the Iraq War on everyone’s mind. Gulf War vets were older now, most of them staring down their forties, although so many reservists had gone that there were plenty in their fifties and even sixties now. It had been a short war, so there weren’t that many disabled, not like the masses of disabled Iraq War vets. Not like the last of the disabled Viet Nam vets, either, with their hollow eyes, at the ragged ends of their ruined lives.

He looked at her with a mixture of affection, exasperation and pride. They had been separated during that short war, and both of them had done things they regretted, things they wished they could erase from their experience. He had been lonely and scared, looking for comfort and order, and some kind of reassurance. It had been his first real experience of war, as he’d been just a kid when Viet Nam was the nightly news.

Veterans Day and Memorial Day–they always brought back all the old pain and resentment.

He cleared his throat. “Want to visit the kids this weekend?” he asked with what he hoped was the right amount of casualness.

She looked up from her paper, over her steel-rimmed reading glasses and smiled. “Sure,” she said. “Let’s see if they want to go out to dinner or something.” Then her eyes clouded as she remembered it was Veterans Day. Everything came flooding back in a wave of pain.

He watched helplessly as her memories took her back to a bad place, to a desert road backed up for miles with trucks and family cars, the blades of her chopper whipping up children’s toys and the smell of burned bodies. The blinding heat and noise passed over her face and she was gone for a few minutes.

“Yes,” he replied. “Dinner. Let’s try that new sushi place, okay?”

She nodded. Okay.


Be careful out there.

Thursday, November 05, 2009



I had the pleasure of meeting with Pomona College Museum of Art Montgomery Art Center Assistant Director Steve Comba this week to experience something so intense I have to wrench back a word into real language and call it awesome. Nothing inspires awe like real art, but real art up close and personal, with the Museum's Assistant Director at your side and all the time in the world to look at it, to draw impact from it, to savor it at angles, under the lights, on a table, just you…yes, awesome is the word.

I am privileged to be among a handful of local artists chosen to participate in a joint da Art Center/Montgomery Art Center project called In Front of the Real Thing. This project allows the artists to choose an object in the Museum's extensive collection for private study. The artist may then produce a work inspired by the piece which will be part of a public exhibition at the da Art Center in January of 2010.

Not content with one masterpiece, I chose two – and the Museum graciously allowed me this extravagance. My two chosen works are from the Kress Collection, Madonna and Child, a religious painting in the School of Barnaba Modena, c. 1370-1380 and from the Modern Art Collection,  Untitled, 1971, a lithograph by Sam Francis. I know they may look wildly different at first, but I see only the similarities when I look at them. My work, an oil painting, is inspired by the similarities I see.

After choosing a canvas in the right (for me) size and proportions, I then layered on fifteen coats of gesso, the last dozen in texture. This is not just homage to the Italian masters who gessoed their wooden boards, sanding them between coats to achieve that beautiful satiny finish, but also a way to achieve the raised splatter textures necessary to the work.

I met with Father Bill Moore to talk about what exactly halos are so I could get them right. I wanted to avoid the golden-plate-on-the-back-of-the-head concept while abstracting the image to its most basic form.

Then it was time to find an oil-based gilding medium (gold paint) that was in the right consistency for droplets to splash properly. After much experimentation, I found the right stuff, but it takes 21 days to dry. It's drying now.

More on the progress of the work as I finish it – the color will be transparent oil glaze thinned to the consistency of ink wash and will echo the reds, blues and yellows in both paintings.

I'll keep you posted on the progress of the work. Here are a couple of pics of the progress:

I have a bunch of new stuff up at the Sugar Rush CafĂ© & Gallery – it's worth a trip for their excellent food and artisanal coffee even if you aren't a big fan of the paintings.


I finished a Christmas story last week and sent if off to a magazine that has a tracking application online. Of course, I check it daily. Five days in slush and still not read – I may have to volunteer as a slush reader to get it going.

The really tough writing project I am working on is a novel I wrote in 1998. Back then, I thought I was a novelist and knocked out 3 or 4 long works - adventure/mysteries - that I thought were really good. Hah! Shows what little I knew! They needed a lot of work. So I shelved them (one was actually agented and had some interest from St. Martin's Press, only back then I didn't know enough about revisions to do the necessary rewrites.) But I had lunch yesterday with an old friend, a dear friend, who asked about that particular book and remembered it fondly.

So I am re-reading it first (I have a copy printed on my old laser printer) then doing a page-by-page rewrite into my computer. I used to have this work on an ancient five-inch floppy disc, but who knows what happened to that and what I could use to extract the info anyway. Also, I think it was in one of the very first iterations of Word Perfect.

I want to salvage the basic story, change the main character to one I have been developing, and update the technology (both in the storyline and what I use to write with.)

Maybe it will be a successful project. If so, I have three more "Trunk Novels" that could get the same treatment, if they're worth it.


My friend and mentor, Colonel George Francis O'Connor, died last week of complications of esophageal cancer. He was 86, old to some of you, but still young to me.

George made my life in the Army an exciting trip through the world of Counterintelligence. He spotted & recruited me, then made sure I got the training and opportunities necessary to make me into an agent. I was privileged to work several missions with him. As one of very few women in units mostly made up of Vietnam War veterans, it was tough going at first, but gentlemen like Col. O'Connor, First Sergeant Eddie Scroggins and CW4 Artie Gibford made sure I got equal opportunities and they cut me no slack on performance. I loved them all dearly – even more when we were called to war during Desert Storm and I was one scared puppy. Okay, we were a litter of scared puppies.

I wish I could tell you all the funny stories of the things we did. I nearly laughed out loud at the funeral when LTC Glenn Miller leaned over and told me about the time they ran a convoy to the Madonna Inn. I told him about the time George "decorated" a few of us after a mission no one could talk about. He knew we were disappointed that no one could talk about a rather nice thing we had done (we were the Good Guys, after all) so he wrote up notional citations under the nom de plume "Col. Murphy" – I still have mine, neatly framed, citing us in the most incredible and very funny terms for something never mentioned.

There's not enough space here to outline his remarkable life – he was commissioned before I was born – but he was a real gentleman – and a real hero. He made me proud to serve. Good bye, George. A grateful nation will miss you, but no one more than I.


Terry O'Connor, George's son – remembering the good times.

The flowers, of course.

And the way real art – like time – can heal.

Be careful out there.