My Blog: Artful Fiction

Stay Home – A Year of Writing Through Lockdown

I’m pleased to share that an essay of mine has been included in the UK-based anthology, Stay Home – A Year of Writing Through Lockdown, out now. I wrote the essay what seems like a long time ago.

My thanks to the editors at Chasing Driftwood Writing Group for including my essay. Re-reading it, I’m remembering those days in the backyard, drink in hand, listening to Barry play guitar, having him home all the time, which I loved. (As a matter of fact, my husband is mowing said yard as I write. But there will be no drinks tonight, only work for me. And that’s okay.)

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Alas, the good times we tried to focus on during the lockdown were not all good. I don’t believe I’ve mentioned here that I lost my sweet Aunt Dorothy to COVID-19 a few months ago. She was my mother’s last surviving sibling, and thankfully I was able to see her four years ago after not having seen her for years (due to distance).

When I was a child, she took me to my first dental appointment and she was a great comfort to the apprehensive child I was that day.

She was fashionable, gorgeous, and funny, despite having the lifelong sorrow of having lost her daughter, Jennifer, when my cousin was just a toddler.

Of course, I am not at all alone in having lost loved ones to this horror of a pandemic, but it sucks.

In the future, this anthology I was lucky enough to be included in could well be research material for those who come after us who haven’t experienced this time.

Proceeds from the sale of this anthology go to fund future projects of the CIC. I, for one, am pleased to have been included in it. The initial essay I wrote that ran on their website caused me to pause mid-pandemic and reflect, and I’m grateful for that opportunity.

How are you doing with Delta, and I don’t mean Burke? The crew at my favorite coffeeshop has been hit by it, leaving only one intrepid employee who was away on vacation and so was spared infection, to manage the whole place this past week. This stuff is no joke! Try to stay well.

I Don’t Wanna Say Goodbye…to Summer…but Hello, Longlisting!

By the headline, can you guess who I’m listening to? Bobby Vinton, of course! You can listen to him here, if you’re feeling the arrival of fall and aren’t quite ready for it. (I’m not either!)

Unfortunately, recently Barry and I had to say goodbye to the dunes, at least for now, because of the cooler weather moving in. (Since we have a season pass I am tempted to campaign to return for my birthday, even if it will be November. I mean, the beach would still be beautiful, right?)

Knowing me and my extreme dislike of the cold (winter really effs me up, with its dreariness and my inability to get outside as much, though I do have a HappyLight I use when I need it), I doubt I would enjoy the beach in November. But maybe?

Below are pictures of our beachy selves and miscellany. I tend to pick up things along the beach and bring them home, but you can only fill so many jars with rocks, sea glass (lake glass?), and only litter so many window ledges with driftwood and shells. I’m trying to take pics instead nowadays, so here, let me share.

(I don’t think you can tell, but the footprint photo is of a tiny foot. The lone print reminded me of the footprint in Robinson Crusoe!)

Also, the sand castle was apparently from the day before, and I liked imagining the flurry of children who must have made it. I thought they would be pleased, if they knew, that someone paid it attention.

The beach, ah, the beach. It’s the one place I can be carefree. We read. Write. Take pictures. We swim. I watch Barry feed the gulls. We snack. I get some much-needed color. I walk. We observe people. I exercise. (Someday I will join the Sunday morning yoga class!)

We also mediate, as much as my monkey mind will allow me to meditate. There is barely any cell service, and I don’t bother with it at all because who needs it?

And, because we are beach regulars, we have also inevitably made (sort of) acquaintance with the other, regular, locals. The Kindles (Lisa and Rod who bring Kindles; that’s not their real last name), Joe and Grandpa, Lady with the Umbrellas, Sisters with the Chairs, the Paralegal, the huge family with the grill that produces such yummy scents that I want to ask to buy a plate of food from them, and so on, are the rotating cast of characters.

“See you next weekend?” they ask. Alas, too often the answer is no.

As much as I adore our current beach (in)activities, I want to buy a Freewrite so I can write on the beach, more than my by hand, more casual writing.

My dream is to live with the beach right outside my door. I would slather myself in sunblock, set up a standing desk about ten feet from the water under our cabana (with the option of taking it down when not needed), and just let the waters speak to me. I would take a break for lunch and get right back on it. Evenings would find us with drinks on the beach. (Yes, I’d love to live outdoors. I’m not even kidding. I so want to live in a treehouse by the beach — that makes no sense, but so?)

Now, the Freewrite (this is NOT a sponsored post, but I’d advertise the HELL out of it if they gave me one!), from what I understand, is made for first drafts, not revision, because it only displays a small portion of text at a time. But since I’ve often taken binder clipped manuscripts onto the beach with no mishaps, I could just print (sorry, my beloved trees) the first and subsequent drafts. (I already print drafts of my novels in progress periodically because there’s only so much I can do on a computer. And final revisions should ALWAYS be done with pen in hand.)

Maybe I should explain: a Freewrite is something between a typewriter and an old-school word processor. The beauty of it is that it allows you to write and save a draft of your work to upload to your computer later, but without the paper and ink hassle of typewriters (or the pounding noise), AND without the distraction of the internet. It’s purposely created without a cursor or arrow keys so you will write, ah, freely, without editing. (Though rumor has it that the Traveler has arrow keys!)

Here’s an article from 2016 on whether or not these things are “pretentious hipster nonsense” or not. Wow, have I been coveting one of these since 2016? (The Traveler sounds right up my alley — quieter, with more screen display, and it’s less expensive… see it below!)

And since I loathe pretension and am decidedly not hipster (is that still even a thing?), I’d say it is not merely (I know I am digressing, but I have to talk to someone about this besides my long-suffering spouse who would buy me one in a heartbeat but I keep telling him I know I would only use it at the beach and only for first drafts so what’s the sense? For pete’s sake, he could buy another guitar for the price of one. Not that I’m suggesting he should. He recently welcomed a sweet SG into his family of guitars. But he paid for it out of money he earned from band gigs. I got to buy whatever I wanted with my book advance, so that seems fair, doesn’t it?)

P.S. Mr. Drudge, upon hearing of this post, has thoughtfully provide me with a photo of his latest love. But his true guitar love, his Les Paul, has a nameplate with my name on it, so why would I feel threatened? Spoiler alert: I don’t.

So anyway…yes, like it or not, I am saying goodbye to summer. I wish I were a Pumpkin Spiced Latte and sweater enthusiast, but nope. I find sweaters necessary and sometimes cute but I hate heavy clothing. Am I the only one who hefts a piece of clothing before buying it? I’ve gotten rid of many a sweater or blouse because they’re “too heavy” after I’ve worn them.

Not to bury the lede, but here’s some writing news I’m thrilled to share: Victorine  has been long listed for the 2021 GOETHE Book Awards for Post-1750s Historical Fiction. I’m thrilled! What an honor, being in the company of these fine writers, and I hope this helps Victorine Meurent, the artist, continue to regain her rightful place among painters.

Sundays are for recharging. Literally.

If I weren’t chilling in a chair with my laptop, I would get up and take a picture of my charging station. Right now it houses my Kindle and mouse as they charge. After I finish this post, I will charge my computer. My phone, as it plays Japanese Breakfast, is resting on a charger.

Side note: I am so uncool that I just discovered Japanese Breakfast while reading Michelle Zauner’s memoir, Crying in H Mart. I embarrassed myself when I finished reading it by texting a friend who goes to Bonnaroo every year: “Hey, it says in her book she played at Bonnaroo. Did you hear her there?” His polite reply? “Possibly. :-)” I take that to mean I am hopelessly musically challenged.

He and I have had conversations where I told him that I am dead serious about literature and art, so I cannot be expected to do a deep dive on music or movies, both of which he does. I wouldn’t know anything about music if it weren’t for my hubby. And my taste in movies is definitely towards pop culture.

So Sundays, I was saying. I usually use them for prep: Is my laundry done? Dishes? Do we have food in the house? Do I want to cook ahead? Is everything charged? Have I made a to-do list? Do I have my week’s work schedule mapped out? Workout clothes ready? Water bottle washed? Does Barry have lunch stuff in case he wants to pack instead of eating at work? What are the three things I REALLY need to do for the week? What’s one thing I’ve been putting off? Can I squeeze it in?

Today I am recharging. The sun tea is brewing in the back yard. The dishwasher is emptied. While hubby is gone to music practice, I am writing this and enjoying some quiet time, despite the fact that I chatted the poor guy all the way to the door. There are things I probably should be doing, but I’m just not.

I’m also reading (awkward transition as I talk about a review of my book..) the latest issue, Issue 89, of The Louisville Review. It is now an independent publication, and it’s wasting no time in showing that it is every bit as good as it ever was and then some! From the cover art to the essay about it, and everything in between, this is a superb issue, especially during a time of transition for the journal.

There is a review of my novel, Victorine, in it by Bonnie Omer Johnson. Her review made me cry, in part because of this insight: “The character Victorine delves into relationships and fragile egos, leaving us with truths that cross centuries: ‘Idealizing people on canvas is another way of saying you love them, that they are even better than they imagine.'” Thank you, Bonnie!! I am so thrilled by your kind words.

I’m not sure anyone else has focused on this aspect of my novel, one that is of the utmost importance to me. My writing mama and I have often said to one another that we like a little ego in an artist, if it’s deserved. Victorine tweaks poor Manet’s nose, too, to remind him that he’s not the only one who has talent or opinions, but she is also aware of his influence on her own art, on the art community, and she seeks balance and to protect herself. She wants to remind him that she’s not just a source of ego food for him, that she is also his equal in many ways, something she believes, if he acknowledges, will be a source of growth for them both and for art. She desires his admiration and his friendship, his mentorship, but they aren’t absolutely necessary. They have collaborated in art, superseding the trivial (to her mind) personal, shrugging that off as juvenile, primal nonsense, contributing something greater, more lasting, to the world: art.

When he dies, it both devastates and frees her.

While we don’t know much about Victorine’s life at all, her story does go beyond Manet’s death, of course. There’s more I could tell. But for me, I wanted to stop just after his death. How does she survive and keep creating when the one who was her initial inspiration is gone? For all of their disagreements, they had an indestructible bond; they challenged one another, were inexplicably fond of one another. When he passes, she seeks solace in art, the one place she knows she can always hide. Though she feels his loss, she picks up that paintbrush and knows the fight for his art is over. She can no longer beg his work into the world, no matter how much potential she sees, because he’s gone. She’s been inching towards this resolve, but his death cements it: It’s time for hers to make its appearance, and though history, we know, forgot her for so long as anything more than just a body, she did just that: created art.

Bonnie also says: “Not only will Victorine be seen — Drudge’s intention for writing the book — but also the author herself creates a place to be seen in the literary world with this, her very own, work of art.”

She called it a work of art!! When you write something, you never know what anyone will think of it, but this is the ultimate compliment. I’m so honored by her deep dive. Thank you, Bonnie, for this wonderful, insightful review!

If you’d like to purchase either this issue or a subscription to support this fine journal, you can do so here.

Victorine, the ebook, is HEERREE!

I’ve been promising she was coming for a while now, and she’s here! The release was scheduled for her one-year anniversary, but it took more time than anticipated. You can now download Victorine to your e-reader! (She’s also available elsewhere, too. Just check your favorite retailer’s website.)

So many thanks to my publisher, Fleur-de-Lis Press, for all of their hard work on her behalf. A special thanks to Sena Jeter Naslund, Founding Editor, and Managing Editor Amy Foos Kapoor.

http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/436945

An unfortunate side effect of the ebook being released later is that the reviews between formats aren’t (yet) connected. Rumor has it they will be, eventually. I hope so, because people have said some really sweet things about her! But I’m so happy she’s out in the world! (Here’s where I whisper ask if you’ve already left a review for Victorine, would you consider cutting and pasting it to the e-copy review area? It would REALLY help me out.)

I always like to share a bit about my life when blogging, so here’s an update.

A close relative had surgery a couple of days ago. She did well, although they had some trouble getting her to stay awake afterwards, so she’s currently in the ICU. She’s supposed to be moved to a regular room soon. If you can spare any good vibes, please send them her way. (She probably wouldn’t mind if I said who she is, but since I haven’t asked her, I won’t share here.)

On the way home from her surgery, I stopped to get gas. Alas, afterwards my car wouldn’t start or go into gear. Thankfully, Barry and I had driven separately, so although he had just literally pulled in at home from the grocery store where he had bought dinner for us, he quickly put the food away and came to pick me up. He even called a tow truck. Yay for a hubby who rescues!

Still waiting to hear what’s wrong with my Foolish Carriage. (Do you know that car reference? It’s from one of my favorite movies.) In light of my relative’s surgery, it seems a small matter, car trouble. And it couldn’t have happened at a better point — I was safely off the road and was able to go inside the gas station and get a cold drink. And it meant Barry told the mechanic to look at a couple of other things that need tweaking that I had been ignoring. So it is kinda a blessing.

My second novel is still on track to arrive in the fall, although truth be told, I am second guessing its title. Brevity or wit? Which is better? Excited to share more about it as we get closer to its release date! Actually, be looking for an excerpt soon.

Talk to me. What are you reading? What are you excited about right now? And most importantly, are you enjoying summer produce as much as we are? We had a tomato sandwich fest a couple of weeks ago. Ah!

Our recipe: We toast the most mainstream white bread we can find, add sliced tomatoes to a piece of toast, salt them, top them with mayo, and slam another piece of toast atop the first. Sorry, not sorry, but this can’t be improved upon. I’ve had fancier versions, ones with mozzarella, or olive oil, basil, etc., but this is the one I dream of. Barry and I ate SO MANY tomato sandwiches for breakfast in Greece a few years ago. We made them ourselves in the restaurant. There were endless choices for breakfast, but this is what we wanted. We sat on the balcony and took in the view, a beach in the town of El Greco’s birthplace, and ate bites of summer. That was a magical breakfast spot, for sure.

P.S. Don’t forget to get your e-copy of Victorine! And if you do, I’d love it if you left a review.

Cut from the Earth by Stephanie Renee Dos Santos

In Lisbon in 1755, a devastating earthquake changes the city forever. The months just before the event are the intriguing backdrop for Stephanie Renee Dos Santos’ vivid debut novel, Cut from the Earth. Closely examining the overlooked origin of the art of the figura de convite style of tilework, this richly detailed novel both arrests the reader with the sensory pleasures Dos Santos provides and compels the reader to continue on. A stunning blend of intriguing plot and lyrical language, this novel delights.

The figura de convite style of tilework,  life-sized, cut-out tiles of figures, welcomed visitors when they visited palaces, and were produced in the 18th and 19th centuries. They are only found in Portugal. Dos Santos says not much is known about the creator of the style, other than the initials PMP. Her novel imagines just who PMP was and what the creator’s life was like. The mere concept of the novel enthralled me, as I like mysteries, as I like the teasing out of things we have no way of knowing. I was not disappointed! 

Not only the artwork, but the tension between the Inquisition, the Catholic Church’s question to do away with any heresy against itself, and the Enlightenment, an attempt to bring reason and science to society, rather than being controlled by the Church, saturate the novel. It’s personified in the main character, Pêro Manuel Pires, a renowned Portuguese tilemaker, who is also dedicated to freeing slaves and hiring them in his tile factory. Unfortunately, this and the risqué designs of someone thought not worthy (avoiding a spoiler here!) of creating them brings Pires to the attention of the Inquisition, where his faith is questioned, and his livelihood and his very life are threatened.

Even the tragedy that strikes Lisbon is told with such force and detail it is as beautifully described as the tile making. Dos Santos immerses her reader into this world, both the time and place, knowing, like a good conductor, when to ask the horns for more, when to ask the woodwinds to back off. This novel is just stunning.

Interweaving charming scenes of family life with brutal scenes of the other side of society at that time, Dos Santos knows when to apply the pressure and when to relieve it. For instance, Pêro and his lovely daughters, Constanza and Isabela, view the display at a bakery shop: “Isabela lingered in front of a pastry shop, its pane filled with golden egg yolk custards and doughy delicacies of barriga de freiras, ‘belly of nuns.’” I find that so sweet and beautiful. The shops they pass are described in such gorgeous depth that you want to really be there. No, you think you are there.

The opening scene gives us this hint of cruelty: “Pêro glanced at his own right hand, to the stumped third and fourth finger, his mouth a tight white line.” We know this has been done to him, and we learn just how barbarously it was done.

When the earthquake strikes, it brings tragedy and leaves everything in jeopardy.

Combining rich historical facts and imagination where needed, Stephanie has created one of the most memorable books of the year, one I can’t wait to re-read. I long for the next installment.

Where Have All the Shipping Boxes Gone?

My REAL reason for writing this post is this amazing, perceptive, humbling review of Victorine by the fabulous Stephanie Renée dos Santos. “You get me; you really get me,” I wrote to her when she notified me that she had posted it.

Again, let me stress how generous and kind it is for people to review books. I met the amazing Stephanie over on Facebook in her group “Love of Art in Fiction,” where we discovered we have a common acquaintance. Small world. I enjoy her group so much.

So thank you, Stephanie. Thank you, thank you. I love it when the story of Victorine gets a boost. I want the whole world to know about her!

Oh, are the rest of you wondering about the title of this post?

I have SO much to say about purging our house and getting rid of carloads of stuff, me getting my shit together in general. (Maybe. Probably never going to completely do that. But I can try.) But I’m waiting until life slows down a tiny bit. (I’m in the middle of a career change. No, I haven’t stopped writing, but I have slowed my teaching to a drip and am happily in the book marketing world. (Not just my own books.)

Anyway, on this very rainy day I gathered three books I need to ship together to a contest. (Didn’t say I’d win, but you can’t win if you don’t enter.) I have mailers for books I send out to influencers, of course, and for autographed copies I mail out. But alas, while three books did technically fit into the mailer, it wouldn’t come close to sealing.

I wandered the house and garage looking for an Amazon box. While I spied a couple of smaller boxes in my writing room closet, that they have dates plastered all over them tells me that they are for records we are keeping, at least for the next seven years. Taxes, am I right?

Yes, I even ventured in my darling’s music room on the hunt for boxes. It’s so clean, so orderly. I am proud to say I have solved some of his organization problems, and he worked very hard on it. (Music equipment takes up space!) Maybe he’ll let me post a pic again after we’ve repainted. But what didn’t I find?

I did not find a box.

One of my favorite books as a child was My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes. My honey even bought me a copy a few years ago. I memorized it even before I could read, and my mom tried to gently explain to me that I didn’t really know how to read yet, but I had just heard her read it to me so many times that I knew it by heart. At four, I didn’t get the distinction.

Well, if we had any cats here (and we don’t), they would have been sorely at a loss for a box today, because I could find none.

That’s actually a very good thing. Too often either my writing room, hubby’s music room, or our (tiny) garage ends up littered with Amazon boxes. Not anymore. If we order something now, we promptly open it, break down the box, and put it in our recycle bin. This is partly because I spent a good hour breaking down and hauling off to the recycle bin a ton of boxes and cursing about how much I hated it as I did it recently. So we’re not going to get there again. It would have been a good practice to have done from the get-go, but creatives can be impulsive. We kinda pride ourselves on it. Now we pride ourselves on, apparently, having no used mailing supplies about.

Okay, truth be told I *did* save back the cardboard wrap that Barry’s latest comics came in, because he liked it so much and because I feel icky if I infantilize him and toss things behind his back. I trust that if he wants to keep it, he’ll find the right spot for it. Or, preferably, he will let it go when he’s ready. It’s not my business, even if I did tuck it into our partially full Bud Light box. (Those certainly won’t go to waste. And stop judging me on my beverage of choice. It’s not a good look on you.)

I want to tell you so, so much more about our house overhaul, but I need a couple of weeks. You’ll be here then, won’t you?

And once again, THANK YOU, STEPHANIE! Please, go support her post by reading her kind words.

Sneak peek — Stephanie’s quite the writer herself and she has a treat of an art-in-fiction novel,

Cut from the Earth, coming out in a few months. Trust me, you’ll hear more about it here. It’s wonderful!

Recording of “French artists in fiction: four lives, four authors”: France Book Tours webinar on May 8, 2021

Here’s the link to France Book Tours webinar I mentioned a while back with all the pertinent info about the featured authors and books. I, for one, truly enjoyed the experience, though I did have a cold! And warning, if you watch it, you’ll see that my head tilt game is strong here! (SMH.)

My thanks to Emma and my thanks and affection to my fellow art-in-fiction authors. I’ve found my tribe!

Many thanks, also, to those of you who showed up and those of you who signed up to see the playback. You’ll be getting a special thanks from me next week — sorry, there’s a birthday boy in my household to celebrate this weekend, so things are busy.

If you’re coming here from the webinar, welcome and I hope you will hang around and share in the conversation.

Also, on a more personal note, I made a thing!

I love cards and wee treasures, and after stewing and stewing, I decided to adopt this method of hanging my lovelies. I repurposed the frame from a faded art poster, spraying it with blue chalk paint. I strung it with wire (not as difficult as it sounds and I’ve had practice from entering art in art shows) and began digging through my box of sentimental items. The owl pins are from Japan. The feather is from Rome. (There’s a story there.) The pinecone is from China. The tiny canvas is from a professor friend. And cards, glorious cards! I intend to switch them out now and again. Since I have saved special cards for decades now, I think I have a few to get through. So if you have a place in my affections but don’t see yourself represented there, just hold on. You’ll get a turn.

A couple of the cards were handmade for me and Barry by his stepmom recently. They’re beautiful. (Barry said I can share his cards as well.)

Oh, and did you see my beloved finger puppets? I think I’ve just imagined another way to store my entire collection.

My original scheme (and I might do this some day still!) was to find a way to make a wall that is floor to ceiling “pockets” of glass where I can hang things that mean something to me.

You can call this current contraption of mine a glorified bulletin board if you want, but I would disagree: these items have their own space. They hang better. They’re not lost on a cork background.

I know, I know, I should either buy colored clothespins or paint these. I saw colored ones, I did, but I want coral (I can’t get away from that color) ones. I wasn’t patient enough to wait until I’d painted them to hang this. I spray painted the frame yesterday, let it dry overnight, strung the wire today, and before I knew it, I was putting it on the wall and adding the cards. It came out so much better than I expected. And if you’re thinking of criticizing my juvenile owl stickers, just don’t. 🙂

I’m so happy with this that I am tempted to make another one for my writing room. I guess I didn’t say that this one is living in the kitchen. That might seem like an odd choice, but we’re running out of wall space, and it’s right over the small kitchen table where I sometimes eat breakfast and start my day with a cup of tea and my journal. What a nice sight to greet me. So many memories. So much love.

Is there something you’ve been meaning to do for yourself that would make you happy? Do it! And then send me a picture, if it’s that kinda thing.

Welcome to the World, Shh…It’s Our Secret!

Please help me celebrate the arrival of Lizzie Chantree’s latest book, Shh…It’s Our Secret!

Just in time for summer, ready for those uh-mazing sunny dunes days coming soon, this plum lands in my lap.

Shh… It’s Our Secret, is about a young woman called Violet, who is learning to accept who she is and trust herself throughout the book. She has low self-esteem, which isn’t helped by a domineering boyfriend, but throughout the story she finds her voice and decides to take a chance and share a secret she’s hidden for too long. The secret could change the lives of the café regulars where she works, and transform the town she lives in.

The story follows her journey of self-discovery and she has to pluck up the courage to leave a man who doesn’t appreciate her, rebuild her confidence and be true to herself. Can someone who shies from the limelight, step out of the shadows and show the world how incredible she really is?

Book Blurb:

Violet has a secret that could change the lives of everyone she knows and loves, especially the regulars at the run-down café bar where she works. After losing her parents at a young age, they are the closest thing she has to a family and she feels responsible for them.

Kai is a jaded music producer who has just moved outside of town. Seeking solitude from the stress of his job, he’s looking for seclusion. The only problem is he can’t seem to escape the band members and songwriters who keep showing up at his house.

When Kai wanders into the bar and Violet’s life, he accidentally discovers her closely guarded secret. Can Kai help her rediscover her self-confidence or should some secrets remain undiscovered?

International bestselling author and award-winning inventor, Lizzie Chantree, started her own business at the age of 18 and became one of Fair Play London and The Patent Office’s British Female Inventors of the Year in 2000. She discovered her love of writing fiction when her children were little and now works as a business mentor and runs a popular networking hour on social media, where creatives can support to each other. She writes books full of friendship and laughter, that are about women with unusual and adventurous businesses, who are far stronger than they realise. She lives with her family on the coast in Essex. Visit her website at http://www.lizziechantree.com or follow her on Twitter @Lizzie_Chantree https://twitter.com/Lizzie_Chantree.

I’m a sucker for cafes of all types and those who work there, and for anyone in the music business. I, for one, look forward to reading this delicious book by this author I became acquainted with over on social media.

What are you still doing here? Go get yourself a copy! And tell me (and more importantly, Amazon and Goodreads)what you think.

Monet & Oscar: The Essence of Light

The fourth member of the quartet talking about our books on a webinar this Saturday, May 8, 2021 (register and learn more here), is Joe Byrd.

Joe Byrd’s debut novel, Monet & Oscar, is a sweet tale of an American soldier, Oscar Bonhomme, and his search for his father, a man his recently deceased mother has only hinted about. He knows his father was an artist, an Impressionist, but he has precious little else to go on.

When fate brings Oscar, a career gardener, the opportunity to become artist Claude Monet’s gardener through his mother’s friend, Georges Clémenceau, Oscar’s life blooms as profusely as does Monet’s garden.

Oscar, a man of great integrity and honor, wants so badly the regard of a man who is a most respected artist to him, but he wonders – could the man be even more than that to him? Could he be his father? Monet is in his declining years, and Oscar is his eyes on more than one occasion, helping him set up his canvases so they will be hit with just the right light. This seems a metaphor as well for Oscar opening Monet’s eyes to the possibility of their greater relationship – are they indeed father and son?

On a train to Paris, he meets and falls for Isabelle. Immediately after their brief rendezvous, however, she leaves him for America and plans to marry someone else for money, a man from a powerful family who can give her what she wants – her own art show in Chicago.

Oscar himself can’t seem to let go of his feelings for Isabelle, but when he meets the pregnant widow of a fellow soldier, he can’t help both wanting to protect her and being attracted to her, despite her unremitting feelings for her dead husband.

Fate steps in once again and tragedy cements his and Isabelle’s relationship in an unexpected way, despite the initial signs and Isabelle’s insistence that they will never be together again.

Not only does Oscar’s relationship with Monet become clear, but his future reveals itself.

Replete with twists, with lovely scenes that could be mini paintings themselves, Byrd leaves his reader both satisfied but also wanting to know more about his characters, in real life and in fiction. For those who love art and fiction, or who can’t get enough of Monet and his world, this is a don’t-miss novel.

And please pop over and see us this Saturday!

Loving Modigliani: The Afterlife of Jeanne Hébuterne

Art and love both complete us and make us incredibly vulnerable, so reveals Linda Lappin’s tender, excellent novel Loving Modigliani: The Afterlife of Jeanne Hébuterne.

Moving deftly between the intriguing first-person account of the ghost of Jeanne Hébuterne, an artist and the common-law wife of Amedeo Modigliani who jumps out of a window two days after he dies, the diary she leaves behind, and the tale of an art scholar, this book captivates.

Part romance, part mystery, Lappin’s use of the supernatural creates an effective window into the life of both of these artists as well as sparking curiosity about the painter Manuel Ortiz de Zárate.  An art student in the 1980’s who is researching Ortiz stumbles upon so much more. Which describes perfectly what this book does: it uses its unconventional mode of storytelling to explore the deeper issues of life.

Lappin’s novel succeeds in “resurrecting” the artist Hébuterne through imagining her afterlife.

Looking at the paintings Hébuterne left behind, it is obvious that she and Modigliani influenced one another’s work. That there is this lost painting, a work of the two of them, in this novel, means there is, besides the biological daughter, another child of the two: the painting.

If you’ve ever been ill advisedly in love or if you have a deep connection with art, you will understand why it seems impossible for Hébuterne to leave Modigliani and yet you will want to warn her away during her diary entries before it’s too late. Alas, since we open on her after her death, we know it is too late. This, too, keeps us reading.

Lovingly told with evocative detail, it is difficult to avoid spoilers for this exquisite novel, so I will just add that it’s a fascinating, fast-paced, deeply felt novel.

Linda is one of the four of us who will be talking about our art-in-fiction books on May 8. Take a look at that post and sign up if you haven’t yet. It promises to be a great session. I’m looking forward to “meeting” these writers I’ve been emailing with all of this time. I hope to see you there!