I’m always so pleased for a chance like this to introduce readers to great new stories from authors you may already know, and to introduce new writers who have fresh and engaging stories to tell. You’ll find it well worth your while to take a few moments to follow these links and get a sneak peak at what these talented ladies are working on right now:
Welcome to my blog —
I’d like to thank Lynna Banning who invited me to answer her questions and talk about my hopes for my newest novel. Over the last seven years, Lynna has become a dear friend and mentor to me. She is also the author of my absolutely favorite book of 2012, GAUCHOS AND GUMPTION, which is based on her own grandmother’s adventures in Argentina at the beginning of the twentieth century.
These are the questions Lynna asked me to answer:
> What is the working title of your book?
THE SKETCH CLUB.
This title came from the women artists’ San Francisco art organization that offered day-long train excursions to Monterey so the members could sketch and paint the marvelous scenery.
> Where did the idea come from for this book?
My agent suggested the subject after she had seen a show of California Impressionist paintings. I was very excited with the idea because I was familiar with and loved these vivid works of art. I have spent a good deal of time on the California coast, taught art for years, and enjoy writing stories where ambitions and passions intertwine.
> What genre does your book fall under?
After happily writing historical romance for years, this story seems a perfect segue into the world of historical fiction.
> How long did it take to write the first draft?
I guess you could say I am still working on the first draft. I edit as I go, so a first draft takes me quite awhile. But with any luck at all, I have a manuscript that usually only needs light revisions when I reach the end.
> What actors would you use for a movie rendition of your book?
Cecelia: Amanda Peet
Joe: a younger version of Antonio Bandaras
Evelyn: Mila Kunis
Mary: Maggie Gillenhall
Lucia: Ellen Page
> What is a one sentence synopsis of your book?
THE SKETCH CLUB is an intimate portrait of the lives and loves of four women painters who struggle for recognition as members of the Monterey Art Colony at the turn of the twentieth century.
> Will it be self published or represented by an agency?
It will be represented by the agent with whom I’ve worked for some years.
> Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Research is always how I find my way into a story and what inspires me as I write. For many months, I read about the artists who lived and worked in Monterey, visited museums and studied the paintings these women artists have left behind. As I did, I came to see each of them as talented individuals who made extraordinary art in a period when critics did their best to dismiss women artist’s work. In reading about their struggles and the Bohemian lives they lived, I came to see each of these artists not as historical figures, but as living, breathing women with stories to tell.
> What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Readers who enjoy the books of Susan Vreeland (author of GIRL IN HYACINTH BLUE) and Tracy Chevalier (author of THE GIRL WITH THE PEARL EARRING) might well enjoy THE SKETCH CLUB.
> What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I hope that readers will be fascinated by the same things that made these real women compelling to me: that each faced her own challenges. One must weigh her artistic ambition against her marriage to successful muralist. Another must silence the self-doubt instilled by her domineering father. A third is forced to make the heart-breaking choice between her child and her career. And the student who comes to learn from each of these remarkable artists, must decide if she can marry a man she fears she cannot learn to love, so she can keep on painting.
We are down to three chickens now that Big Boy is gone. The remaining three seem shaken by his kidnaping by Animal Protection, and are much more reticent in approaching people. They have a right to be because their days here in the complex, I’m afraid, are truly numbered.
All the residents received the following letter from the management in yesterday’s mail:
We are in the process of relocating our free range chickens that have taken residence in the complex. As much as they are enjoying the arrangement, their early morning (3 A.M.) crowing is disturbing several of your neighbors. Your board has received a petition signed by several residents pleading that we relocate the chickens to a more suitable location.
The Board of Directors has contacted Russell at Apex Pest Control to relocate these friendly, but raucous visitors at his five-acre ranch in the country. They will be joining “Annabel” and “Lulu” in their “Coop of the West” to live out their days. Please be assured that our chickens will not be harmed and Rus has promised to send up pictures once they have settled into their new home. (We may even be able to arrange visitation rights.) The Board and Management understands that some residents have become very fond of our friendly fowl, but have come to the realization that the natural sounds of early morning crowing aren’t compatible with our quiet residential environment.
Please call management with any questions of concerns regarding our feathered friends.
So you see the chickens truly are being “relocated.” It has been fun to have them here, to be able to watch them come ambling down the driveway in the middle of the day or to have them greet us when we get out of the car. (Probably more because they think we’re going to feed them than for any other reason.) Even to hear them crowing early in the morning. Russell’s “Coop of the West” sounds like it’s going to be a good place for them to live. They’ll have shelter, food, the company of other chickens. But will they miss running free?
Good-bye to you Hennie, Pennie, and Little Boy. We’ll miss you all!
Of course you knew that it was inevitable that people in the complex would name the chickens. The rooster with his swagger, his loner personae, and exceedingly loud crowing is called Big Boy. The rusty-brown rooster with the bright red comb and magnificent iridescent green tail feathers is Little Boy. The hens, one black, one brown, are mostly known as “the sisters,” but some folks refer to the brown, biddable biddie as Hennie. The black headstrong one is — yeah, you guessed it — Pennie.
For a while it seemed that there was a romance developing between Pennie and Big Boy, or at least that’s what it looked like to me, though they were a star-crossed pair. While Little Boy, in his I’m-the-boss manner, did his best to herd everyone up onto the fence and into the trees for the night, Pennie would lag behind. She’d stand on the top rail of the fence waiting for Big Boy to arrive.
Some days Pennie waited a good long while. But once he’d finished pecking in the dirt or exploring the underside of the cars in the parking lot, he’d flap to the top of the fence in a single hop. When he did, Pennie would rush toward him, and he toward her, like Cathy and Heathcliff across the moor.
Whether Pennie’s romance with Big Boy would ever have ended up with Pennie hatching a brood of chicks is something we’ll never know. Two days ago, the Animal Control van pulled up below the chickens’ favorite roosting trees. A man in a jump-suit climbed out, put on leather gloves, and eye protection. Then, taking out a net, he headed down the drive. A few minutes later I saw him return carrying Big Boy upside down and by his ankles.
By the time I ran down to intervene, the man had Big Boy in a cage and had slammed the door to the van. Even with the door closed, I could hear Big Boy was crowing.
“What are you doing with that rooster?” I demanded.
He opened the driver’s door and turned and scowled at me for interfering. “We’ve had complaints about him crowing at all hours, so the county is ‘relocating’ him.”
Like someone in the witness protection program?
I thought briefly about following the van down to Animal Control and bailing Big Boy out. But if I brought him back to the apartments, his recapture was inevitable. Instead, I stood there feeling helpless. I watched the van roll down the drive and wondered if the other chickens would miss Big Boy. I suspected Pennie would.
I went inside, scooped up some feed and sprinkled it at the edge of the driveway. It seemed like the least that I could do.
Dear friends —
Well, apparently our townhouse complex isn’t the only place having a debate about where chickens belong. In today’s newspaper I saw a letter to the editor from a woman protesting a statute the county is considering that would ban the keeping of backyard chickens. Well, not all chickens, actually. Roosters, specifically.
As it turns out, what the county hopes to do is allow the keeping of laying hens. Laying hens are useful birds; we can eat their eggs. We can whip those eggs omelets with cheese and ham. We can add a few ingredients and bake a cake. We can make a lovely custard sprinkled with cinnamon.
Occasionally, you might hear some clucking from a hen or notice a a disgruntled cackle and a little wing flapping between two biddies who claim the same place to roost. But they’re quiet and biddable for the most part. Roosters crow — loud and long and early in the morning. Therein lies the problem. Feeding us is all well and good. Waking us up, at least according to the county supervisors hereabouts, isn’t something they can sanction.
Of course, what I wonder about the ordinance the county has proposed is whether it favors hens over roosters. Does it declare one sex of chicken to be superior to the other? Could such a statute be considered sex discrimination?
The homeowner who wrote the letter in the newspaper was outraged that such a ban is even under consideration. Since she breeds chickens for fun and profit, banning roosters would devastate her business and deprive her of her livelihood – because without roosters there would be no chicks.
So is this a variation on the age-old the question: which came first, the rooster or the egg?
Just wondering –
The situation I wrote about in my last update on the chickens, where my nearest neighbor had begun feeding the chickens about the time the sun comes up, has resolved itself. Two mornings ago, the chickens gathered and the roosters commenced to crow. At the first cock-a-doodle, one of my older neighbors bustled out onto her balcony in her lavender flowered robe.
From two-doors-down, she shot a withering glance at the woman preparing to feed the chickens, and waved her broom in the chickens’ direction. “Shoo! Shoo, shoo!” she said crisply, but not loudly enough to wake any more of the neighbors. “Shoo! Shoo!”
The chickens looked up, considered her as a potential threat, then pecked around on the ground in defiance. Once they’d made the point that she didn’t scare them all that much, they turned tail feathers to her and sashayed away.
Chastened, the neighbor with her bucket feed subsided into her own place. We haven’t had any more early morning crowing since then. I hope it lasts.
In the first part of what seems to be turning into a series of updates on the feral chickens that live in our apartment complex, I mentioned that we had not yet been awakened by the roosters crowing. Early Sunday morning, one of the two roosters saw fit to remedy that.
Having been born and raised in cities, the only time I’ve ever heard a rooster crowing was on TV. That meant I was totally unprepared for the ungodly noise that started outside our bedroom window about 5:30 A.M. That sound was as piercing as a gym teacher’s whistle, as stunning as an air horn going off right in your ear. It was high-pitched and almost operatic.
It sent both my husband and me bolting upright in bed. We looked at each other, not because it we weren’t sure what it was, but because we were wondering how on earth could all that racket could come from a creature that didn’t come up to our knee caps?
We flopped back in bed, jammed pillows over our heads, and burrowed in. But nothing muffled that rooster’s decibel level. He crowed for nearly half an hour: Cock-a-doodle-do. Cock-a-doodle-do! Then he just stopped.
We rolled over, cautiously lifted one corner of our pillows, then heaved a sigh of relief. Thank goodness that was over!
Until the next morning. That’s when I discovered our nearest neighbor’s treachery. She was up and dressed and on her porch tossing feed down to the chickens, while the rooster was strutting around proud as could be and crowing in appreciation.
Now I don’t blame my neighbor for feeding the birds; Tom and I feed them occasionally, too. (Which might explain why the chickens have such trouble flapping up into the trees to roost for the night.) But we feed them at a decent hour of the day!
So how can I ask a neighbor I barely know to stop feeding our complex’s chickens at such an early hour? I’m fully aware that some folks love getting up with the sun — and more power to them. I’m just not one of them.
So what I’m beginning to wonder is: Can roosters who crow (and crow and crow) to welcome the dawn and night owls like me learn to coexist?
Cock-a-doodle-do to all of you –
We arrived several weeks ago to find that chickens have taken up residence in the apartment complex where we stay when we visit the coast. Domestic chickens gone wild, it seems. Feral chickens!
In May or June one lone hen arrived. She must have had a good time for herself before she came, because she immediately made a nest and hatched eight chicks. Several of our friends here were charmed by the little brood and have been feeding the chickens. Another of the neighbors drives fifteen miles to a feed and seed to get the chickens the right kind of food.
By the time we got here, the mom hen had departed and left the chicks to fend for themselves. The ones who prospered had grown into five beautiful young birds, blue-black and brown, with bright red combs. Unfortunately, the first week we were here we had a very bad storm with howling winds. The speculation was that one of the chickens ended up “gone with the wind,” so to speak. My husband Tom, unfortunately, found grizzly evidence that it had come to a far more gruesome end.
Anyway, the four remaining chickens — two hens and two roosters — have chosen to settle for the night in the trees right opposite our back windows. At dusk we repair to the kitchen to watch them come, pecking and swaying, to settle for the night. To reach the trees the chickens must climb a tall fence and hop up into the trees that grow just on the opposite side. They may be handsome birds, but they’re not good fliers. Yet somehow they manage to hop and flap up onto the cross-braces, then up onto the top rail of the fence, which is about six feet off the ground. Finally, they climb onto one of the sturdy lower branches of the trees. Once there, they inch their way higher and higher, like tightrope walkers. There is much flapping and squawking until everyone is settled. As they do, we cackle at their antics. (Pun fully intended.)
We have heard reports that they start crowing about 5:30 A.M., though you couldn’t prove it by either of us. Their presence has begun to divide the people in the complex into pro-chicken and anti-chicken factions. The anti-chicken group called the pest man to catch the birds and take them away (probably to his stew pot), but he couldn’t seem to locate them. Naturally, the pro-chicken faction refused to offer him any help.
I know attrition will eventually get all of them, but in the meantime we are enjoying the nightly chicken ballet — and trying to remember not to park for the night under that particular group of trees.
Dear Friends —
It’s funny where the ideas for stories come from, and how far they sometimes travel to awaken a writer’s imagination. One of these story journeys began when I stumbled across this beautiful and intriguing grave site behind the ornate iron fence of one of California’s oldest cemeteries. The burying ground in Monterey dates back to the 1820’s and lies on a peninsula between the sheltering arms of the Estero, a fresh water estuary that meanders down from the hills above the town and out into the bay. This exquisite portrait bust, I found out, marks the grave of Kathleen Mary Murphy Peters who, the inscription said, died in Monterey in 1902. Intrigued by the marker, I went home and Googled Kathleen Mary to see who she was. What I found was that she was the wife of painter Charles Rollo Peters whose nocturnes critics compare to the work of James McNeill Whistler. (Nocturnes are works done to simulate the landscape or the building in the painting in the light of early evening or the glow of the moon.)
Apparently Charles Rollo Peters and Kathleen were a love match and around the turn of the twentieth century they lived an idyllic and Bohemian life in their estate that overlooked the sea in Monterey. Drawn by the beauty of the ocean; the beaches; the moody, magnificent cypress and pines, many of their artist friends came to stay and paint and party at the estate that became known as “Peters’ Gate.” (The house — much altered — and stone gateposts still stand today on Munros hill.) Gradually more and more artists congregated in Monterey, turning the picturesque little town of adobes into a flourishing artist colony.
As I researched Charles and Kathleen’s life in Monterey, I discovered that there were a surprisingly large number of women active in the colony. I fell in love with their sunny colors and the vibrancy in their brush strokes as they painted in the style that came to be known as American Impressionism. I also found myself wondering what it would be like for a woman to make her way as an artist in the early nineteen hundreds.
I know from being a career novelist how challenging it is to balance the demands of being a creative and a woman. It made me wonder what difficulties a woman might face in becoming a serious artist a hundred years ago. Was she accepted as an equal? What sacrifices might a woman be forced to make to fulfill her ambition of being a painter? And therein — I thought — might just hang a tale worth telling. Though I am not ready to talk about it yet, that appears to be the historical direction the next novel is taking.
I will tell you that the Peters will probably not make more than a cameo appearance in the book, because their story is so sad. In 1902 their charmed life shattered when Kathleen died after giving birth to twins. Two years later their baby daughter, also named Kathleen, stumbled into an open fire and perished. Charles was inconsolable at the depth of his loss and commissioned the beautiful grave marker for his wife and daughter. He continued to paint for another twenty-five years and went on to even greater fame and fortune. But in many ways his life was empty without his first love and their baby daughter.
Little did I know when I paused beneath a row of towering eucalyptus trees to look at Kathleen’s grave, that in the rattle and rasp of the leaves fluttering overhead I’d hear the whispers of a story.
My very best —
One thing I love about spending time on the coast is the surprises. I can never quite anticipate what I might hear or see or run across next. Sometimes it’s spotting dolphins from the bedroom balcony, or running into the lady at the post office who has two Mallard ducks in a pet carrier on the back of her bicycle. Sometimes it’s seeing the grim reaper waving his scythe at you from the side of the highway to protest the war. Or maybe it’s watching several kites with lights soar over the beach at night, and knowing someone out there is bound to call the local TV station and claim they’re seeing UFOs.
Like all of you, we accumulate things. Because our place here is small, we have to weed out periodically, pack everything in the back of the car and head to the dump. Ahem – the recycling center.
Not surprisingly, the dump is out in the middle of nowhere, down a long, long road thickly lined with poplars. So we were tooling along, doing our duty as responsible citizens, when off to our left we saw something that made our mouths drop open.
There, glimpsed in picket-fashion between the trees, were fields of flowers. I’m not talking about ditch lilies or dandelions, either. I’m talking about farmers’ fields thick with plants in full blossom. Big fields, longer than four or five football fields, and running off toward the horizon.
Dodging whizzing garbage trucks, we looked for a wide spot at the edge of the road and screeched to a stop. There, just beyond the poplars and a chain-link fence, were more flowers that I have ever seen in one place in my life. They were Begonias, I think, though we couldn’t get close enough to be sure.
The flowers were planted in color groups, so the plants grow in both wide and narrow stripes. Because the fields are hilly, those stripes seem to rise and fall, undulating across the landscape. It’s like someone spread a brightly colored quilt across acres of farmland, as if a score of rainbows have fallen to earth.
Since that day, we’ve asked around about the flowers, and come to find out, most of the locals don’t even know the fields are there. Which makes the magic of finding them all the more wondrous. Finally we found an explanation. The flowers are planted, allowed to completely mature, and processed for seeds. From what we were told, they plant about three or four fields a season, which explains why sometimes the fields on the way to the dump are ablaze with color and sometimes they’re just dun-gray earth.
Enjoy the photos,