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Picturing a World

Norah Smyth, photographer

Blog tip: Votes for women on both sides of the pond! A post on the English photographer, Norah Smyth, fits well on an American election day when women need to get out and exercise the right our foremothers won for us. And Smyth’s pictures of East Enders instead of the rich and famous should inspire us all to remember that ordinary people matter and can change the world for the better. Read More 

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Hearts, arts (and votes)

“It’s hard to change people’s minds with information and rational arguments. I think what really changes people are experiences,” says Ben Fountain in an interview about his new book, Beautiful Country Burn Again. This struck me specially because recently, when I gave a reading, a local man who is fond of bragging to me that he never reads fiction came up and said, “I read the Narnia books when I was a child, but now I read for information. Do you read fiction?” I said, "Yes." I half wish I had thought to say, “Eustace Clarence Scrubb must have been your favorite character,” but what I really wish I could have thought to say was, "Yes, because vicarious experience informs the heart."

Fiction matters, poetry and music matter, drama and dance matter, representational painting and abstract sculpture matter—all the arts matter because the world is a better place the more we expand our hearts and minds.  Read More 
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Hallowe’en cats

Blog tips: Vintage Halloween postcards at the Toronto Public Library is an archived post with lots of images of Halloween cards from ca. 1910 and links to the library’s collections. Usually I’d choose a witch to offer as a treat for Hallowe’en, but there’s something weirdly imaginative about these menacing Jack-o-lanterns and their panicked cats that tickles my fancy this (and there is a witch in the upper right-hand corner). A different card at the American Antiquarian Society, moreover, makes clear that the gauzy bows could be perceived as witches’ bodies. For it and another set of vintage Hallowe’en cards, click here.

And whether you trick or treat or celebrate Samhain as the pagan new year, have a happy, safe Hallowe’en—with just a touch of the spooky or wild! Read More 

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Sabatini, swashbuckler

Wish I’d known! I loved Rafael Sabatini’s Scaramouche and The Sea Hawk when I was in high school. In checking out a reference to the Marquis de Carabas, I came across a post about Sabatini as a fencer. I would have gotten a kick out of it while I was writing about Edward’s fencing lessons and bout with Carolus-Duran! Oh, well, at least I’m reminded of Sabatini: He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. Read More 

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Käsebier’s Sketch

Although “Anonymity” is stalled at the moment (I’m writing an unrelated novella), images that belong to my heroine Mattie’s world draw me back into it. Both the beauty of this photograph and the earnestness of the artist would, I think, appeal to a wistfully idealistic side of Mattie. Although she works in the pulp end of publishing, she also fosters young talent and encourages writers and artists to strive for their best. Read More 

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Harold Harvey, who studied at the Académie Julian, was a second-generation painter at England’s Newlyn art colony in Cornwall. Although this painting is from a later period than the heyday of the  Read More 

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Eye and ear

Blog tip: A post at Terri Windling’s Myth and Moor, Storytelling: the eye and the ear, quotes other writers on the relation between sound and the written word. It is illustrated by several images of women reading by various artists, all of them new to me. A quiet, thoughtful meditation on the arts we love at a time when the world seems anxious and sour. Check it out. Read More 

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Whistler's Cloud cabinet

To prepare for my September 27th talk on Where the Light Falls and Prevention’s list of 55 Happy Books Proven to Boost Your Mood, I reread my novel and found myself wondering what images might be available now that were not when I was researching. Well, this one is splendid! I had used written descriptions of the yellow-and-gold room that Whistler designed for the Paris World’s Fair of 1878, the room that makes Jeanette long to move from drawing to painting, the room that inspires Cousin Effie to cut free from New York decorum in thinking about interior fashions. Read More 

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Gertrude Fiske

Blog tip: It's almost too late to catch a show of Gertrude Fiske's work at the Portsmouth (N.H.) Historical Society, but James' Gurney's blog post at least introduced me to this accomplished painter. Doesn't this image invite musing on what the story might be?

For more of Fiske's work, click here.  Read More 

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What makes this book so happy (5): Love

The categories of friendship and love inevitably blend into each other: we love our friends and hope our lovers will be our soul mates. But they can also be considered separately; and so although women’s friendships were very much a conscious motif for me while I was writing Where the Light Falls, so was the nature of love. Late in the novel, Cousin Effie says, “We are made to love and be loved, lots of different ways.” Read More 

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