Katherine Keenum


A blog about how paintings, photographs, and prints have helped me visualize my fiction—both Where the Light Falls and works-in-progress—with a hope that they will stimulate other writers and readers, too.

Click on images to see enlargements. In the text, click on words in color to activate links.

Selected Works

Fiction
An American woman art student meets a Civil War veteran in Belle Époque Paris.

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Picturing a World

Jack o' lantern

October 31, 2014

Blog tip: Somewhere I read about American art students in Paris carving caricatures at Hallowe'en. I wanted to include a scene in which Jeanette and her friends carved turnips to look like their teachers, but it didn't fit dramatically. This picture—from a post at That Devil History—illustrates how really creepy the original jack o' lanterns were and something of what is involved in carving them. Happy Hallowe'en!

Half-finished sentences

October 30, 2014

Tags: Degas

Edgar Degas once said, "Conversation in real life is full of half-finished sentences and overlapping talk. Why shouldn't painting be too?" Look at the partially lifted curtain in the background and the men hanging around on stage in middle and foreground. Don't (more…)

Hungaria Restaurant, 1908

October 27, 2014

Tags: cafés and restaurants

Having read that Hungarian restaurants were among the first ethnic restaurants in New York to attract customers outside their own community, I’ve sent Mattie and her lover to one early in ANONYMITY. For the fun of it, I tried to find images of one in 1908. Lo and behold, this photograph! It shows (more…)

What corsets do

October 26, 2014

Tags: fashion or clothes

Blog tip: Corsets exercise the modern mind. Why did they WEAR them??? A revealing answer, a myth-busting answer (oh, the puns are endless) and more important a good look at how a corset affects the look of clothes is offered by The Pragmatic Costumer here.

Painting Limoges porcelain

October 23, 2014

Tags: Dammouse

At one point when I thought Jeanette might try to earn money to pay for her art lessons, I considered sending her to a porcelain factory to paint vases as the men in Dammouse’s picture are shown doing. An echo of that theme lingers in the porcelain manufacturer from Limoges who attends the (more…)

Clay maquette

October 20, 2014

Tags: Bonnier, women artists, Scandinavian artists

Swedish artist Eva Bonnier accompanied Hanna Hirsch to Paris in 1883.* Bonnier was primarily a painter; but like my characters, Amy Richardson and Sonja Borealska, she practiced sculpture in clay. (more…)

Mistress, Mrs., Miss

October 19, 2014

Website tip: Writers of historical fiction sometimes have to fudge past usages and customs to make them comprehensible to modern readers (Jeanette would no doubt always have called Amy Miss Richardson, but I decided to put them on first-name basis to communicate the level of their friendship). Nevertheless, we need to know what to fudge. To learn about the evolution of Mrs. and Miss from Mistress and what it all implies, click here.

Puffed rice

October 16, 2014

In discussing a story line in a juvenile-fiction assignment with a ghostwriter, Mattie suggests including cakes made from puffed rice. Never mind about the ghostwriter’s story or my plot twist. The burning question was, Had puffed rice been invented in 1908? Luckily for me, the answer is yes! It was introduced by Alexander P. Anderson at the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904. (more…)

House of Arden

October 13, 2014

Tags: children's books

My new heroine Mattie works for a literary firm that produces juvenile series fiction. I wanted her to be aware of other, better books for children. E. Nesbit seemed perfect: imaginative, popular but literate, unstuffy. What work of hers might Mattie be familiar with in 1908? The House of Arden was published that year in England. What about America?

The expert on the question is Professor James Arthur Bond of California Lutheran University. I e-mailed him out of the blue, and he was generous enough to answer immediately with the information that Ardenwas serialized in The Strand Magazine: An Illustrated Monthly, which was published in London but distributed in the U.S. as well as Britain. Perfect! (more…)

Flower Market

October 9, 2014

Tags: flower seller, shopping

The flower markets and sellers of Paris pop up now and again in Where the Light Falls; but what really makes me want to include a post about one today is my recent discovery of a beautifully illustrated blog that features clips of the sounds if Paris. In a story (more…)

Villard de Honnecourt

October 7, 2014

Okay, a thirteenth-century artist's notebook has nothing to do with either Where the Light Falls or ANONYMITY, but it certainly brings together my training as a medievalist and my current interest in artists' methods of composition. It happened that this morning, after reading James Gurney's post on his own recent Imagine FX article on composition, I pursued a reference to Villard in a book about books and landed to my delight on the Bibliothèque Nationale's digitization of the entire album (BnF MS Fr 19093)—page after page of jottings, mnemonics, pattern drawings, etc. If you read French, you can click on any leaf and call up a discussion of that page. For the BnF's 1906 printed edition, click here.

As for me, I'd better get back to writing ficiton.

Rooftop dolls

October 6, 2014

Tags: apartments

Flat roofs on buildings have been used as living space ever since the first towns in the Mediterranean world. New York at the turn of the 20th C was no different. Tenants in the crowded tenements of the Lower East Side went to the roofs to cool off. Elaborate roof gardens graced hotels, theaters, (more…)

Lone tenement

October 2, 2014

Tags: Bellows, New York landmark, apartments

The effects of rebuilding in Paris were very much in evidence when Jeanette arrived there in 1878. Even more visible were the effects of New York's growth in 1908. (more…)