Monthly Archives: April 2012

Trip to the Hemingway House Revives Interest in Classics

The Hemingway House in Key West, FloridaI’ve never been a huge Hemingway fan, but I’m planning to go back to some of his classics.

A visit to the Hemingway House in Key West, Florida, inspired me to think again about the writer I long ago dismissed as too macho for my tastes. The bullfighting put me over the edge.

On the other hand, I do recall emulating his spare style while I studied fiction writing in the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. And I do mention Hemingway’s short story “Hills Like White Elephants” in my forthcoming novel, “Only Wild Plums.”

And his house and garden: Oh, my! That veranda! Those cats with their abundance of toes. I looked at a black-and-white photograph of a series of headstones, and read a caption below noting that Ernest Hemingway buried all his cats and dogs. I knew he couldn’t be as macho as I once imagined. He had a heart for his pets.

And his wives, I trust. His many marriages also turned me off the writer, but I listened as the tour guide introduced the three Hemingway women whose portraits hung together in the museum house. The name Hadley Hemingway stuck in my imagination.

Then one of my fellow Book Babes picked “The Paris Wife” as our club’s read-of-the-month. I’m almost finished with the book, and I’m understanding Papa in new light. The author, Paula McClain, presents readers with a fully drawn character in her novel, and my sympathies lie both with Hadley and with Hem.

With about 30 pages to go, I can’t help but think ahead to what I know about Ernest Hemingway’s life and death. And what sticks in my craw is that maybe Hadley would have reigned as Mrs. Hemingway had she not lost those manuscripts so early in the marriage, so early in the novel.

Maybe only another writer would fully understand the depth of despair that unfortunate incident must have caused the poor writer.

With deepened sympathy for Hemingway, I now appreciate him more knowing that he was not only a hunter and a fisherman, but also an alpine skier.

Once I finish “The Paris Wife,” I’d like to pick up a copy of “The Old Man and the Sea” or “A Moveable Feast.”

Hemingway seems new again, thanks to a peek into Hemingway’s home and studio and Paula McClain’s page-turning novel of which I cannot help but think Papa would approve.

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Titanic: Saga of hubris floats the boat of many artists

Like many writers, the tragic history of Titanic’s sinking made waves on my imagination.

I first learned about Titanic as a child in elementary school. I remember the story sparking something in my young mind.

In later years, when I learned the meaning of the word “hubris,” Titanic resurfaced in my mind as a clear tale of deadly pride: The proclamation that Titanic was unsinkable seemed to me as deadly as the iceberg that brought the ship down in the cold North Atlantic.

Last weekend’s commemoration of the centennial of Titanic’s sinking inspired a host of creative endeavors ranging from performances of music played on Titanic to readings from “A Night To Remember” by Walter Lord to screenings of Titanic films.

The ship’s maiden voyage forever leaves in her wake a shared grieving.

In the mid-90s, I watched an IMAX film about discovering Titanic, and the documentary struck me again, inspiring a scene in my forthcoming novel. In this scene, Dugan Larkin and his girlfriend are on a date as they watch the film.

An excerpt from Only Wild Plums: Chapter Seven: “The Smell of Icebergs” follows:

“We retreated to the air-conditioned darkness of the IMAX Theater to watch a documentary about Titanic. As the opening frames rolled, I leaned over and whispered, “Titanic was a ship, by the way, not a boat.”

“Shh,” she said.

I leaned forward in my seat as I listened to the narrator. I learned that just before the invisible, mountainous remnant of a glacier on the starboard bow sliced Titanic in two, the night watchman in the crow’s nest that moonless night smelled icebergs.

I held Cam’s hand and my breath, watching the deep-sea footage of all that uncorked, vintage champagne leftover from that celebrated maiden voyage. Far below the daggered surface of the cold North Atlantic, the ship’s china remained unbroken, place settings strewn randomly on the sandy ocean floor. Partying passengers dropped ice chips from the blue berg into their cocktails served on the deck that night before she went down.

In the documentary, an elderly woman interviewed in an old stone church in England related the tale of boarding Titanic with her parents; her small, black dog, and her large, brown teddy bear. The film included vintage black and white photographs of the privileged girl and her prosperous parents, including several in which the family dog stared at the lens, eyes large with expectation.

In the end of the chapter, Dugan decides to sail beyond his fears about commitment to marriage and children. As he winds down his narration, he feels not entirely safe, yet willing to proceed into the unknown; and his last line is, “I smell no icebergs.”

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Ski Season Comes to a Lackluster Close, but “Laid-Back Skier” Thrives

Laid-Back SkierAfter several epic ski seasons, skiers in Colorado faced a low-snow winter at most resorts. Last year, for example, Vail reported about 530 inches of snow. Closing Day skiing was optimum.

This year, sadly, I won’t make the trek for Closing Day because so many lifts are already closed, and my ski buddy Betsy tells me rain is in the forecast.


On the bright side, we skied a lot of bluebird days. I logged more than 300,000 vertical feet, according to EpicMix. To put that figure in perspective, Mt. Everest—the planet’s tallest peak—is just shy of 30,000 feet above sea level. So 300,000 vertical feet is more than 10 Mt. Everests. Granted, going up on a chairlift and down on skis is a lot easier than the way the mountaineers make their ascent.

As ski season winds down, we’re winding down our marketing efforts for Laid-Back Skier: As In Skiing, So In Life. This season, we managed to get our lighthearted gift book into about 40 bookstores, gift boutiques, and museum shops.

And almost everybody who picked up our book raved about the way Laid-Back Skier looks and feels.

Independent publishing is an uphill battle, but we’re enjoying the run.

P.S. – Remember to renew your season pass in April to get the best deals!

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Glass Halo: An Ideal Easter Novel

Glass Halo, my first novel, is an ideal book to read during Holy Week. In fact, Glass Halo culminates during Holy Week. The book’s final scene occurs on Good Friday. (Glass Halo includes an epilogue titled “Eastertide.”)

Glass Halo makes a fitting Holy Week read because the book ultimately is about personal Paschal Mysteries on a smaller scale: the many ways in which we die and are reborn. Metaphorically speaking, in this case, of course, characters must repair their broken lives by returning to their callings.

The novel’s main characters are Nora Kelley, a stained glass artisan, and Father Vincent DiMarco, a Catholic priest. The two meet when a tornado forces them to take shelter in the basement of the historic Denver cathedral where the priest serves as pastor and rector.

The love story builds upon the armature of the liturgical calendar of the Roman Catholic Church. The Church assigns various feasts, memorials of saints, and solemnities to practically every day of the year. The Catholic liturgical calendar begins not on January 1, but with the first Sunday of Advent, the weeks prior to Christmas.

Glass Halo begins in spring on the Eve of Epiphany, moves to Advent, through Lent, and culminates during the Triduum—the three days beginning with the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, the Good Friday death of Jesus Christ’s crucified, and Holy Saturday.

Glass Halo provides insights into Catholic rites and rituals, as well as the Gothic cathedral’s Munich Glass windows. The novel makes an ideal book for readers during Holy Week.

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Glass Halo: Tornadoes in the news, in the novel

With all the terrible tornadoes in the news, I can’t help but remember my own frightening experiences in tornadoes. I’ve survived several tornadoes both in my home state of Iowa, and also in my current Denver home.

Growing up in Iowa, we learned at an early age the warning signs or tornadoes. We learned to keep an eye on the sky. We knew to take cover in a basement, away from windows. We heeded the alarming sounds of tornado sirens.

The first tornado I remember hit my uncle’s farm when I was a child of elementary school age. My siblings and my cousins and I played at the farm while the adult men and a veterinarian helped a cow with a breech birth.

I remember the winds coming up, tossing dust and straw around the farm. Curious, I watched the poor mama cow struggling, heard her bawling. My dad and my uncle nervously watched over the shoulder of the vet. The vet had his arm inside the cow, blood soaking his shirt all the way to his armpit.

The humid day turned cool. Winds whipped harder. I remember a piece of tin flying by, nearly hitting my father.

“That could have decapitated you!” my uncle said.

I wasn’t sure what “decapitated” meant, but I learned from context.

I don’t remember the storm. I do remember all of us gathered around the television—probably black-and-white in those days. We listened to a special report about tornado touch-downs.

“Could that be J.L.’s farm?” I asked my grandmother.

“No,” she said, but she balled up her apron in her fists.

The next thing I remember, my aunt burst through the door in tears, shouting, “It’s all gone! It’s all gone!”

The storm devastated their home and barn, we saw the next day. I remember seeing oddities: my cousins’ toys strewn everywhere in the rubble. I remember hearing of livestock flying, breaking legs. My uncle’s Budweiser cans wound up at a neighboring farm.

Subsequent tornadoes were not as damaging, but I learned in my first tornado to respect storms.

Tornadoes in Denver left such an impact upon me that I decided to open my first novel with a tornado. In Glass Halo, the tornado destroys priceless stained glass windows in a historic Denver cathedral.

The storm also forces a meeting of the novel’s two main characters, driving Nora Kelly—a stained glass artist—and Father Vincent DiMarco—the cathedral’s rector and pastor–into the church basement for shelter.

The tornado kicks up a stormy love story with many twists, but the destruction in the novel’s beginning results in creation and rebuilding both of the cathedral and the characters.

Glass Halo is available as a limited edition hardcover novel, beautifully designed in the Arts & Crafts tradition. The book also is available with full graphics as an e-book on Amazon.

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