Friday, February 14, 2020

Some Valentine's Day Cards

Usually for Valentine's Day, we make each other cards, but this year with our trip to Atlanta and work on Stephen's studio and me with a full plate of design projects, we agreed to skip a year. Stephen said he was going to post a retrospective of the cards he'd made for me in the past so I thought I'd do the same. Here are my cards to him for the past handful of years.

2010. After Norma Shearer and Tyrone Power in the film Marie Antoinette. Inside the card I quoted, "Everything leads me to thee."

2011. After a painting by Winterhalter.


2012. After an old Victorian Valentine's Day card.
2013. After Joan Crawford.

2014. The outside of the card, cut to shape.

The inside.

2015. Because we were performing in the opera Carmen that year.

2016. After Tom Jones. And because we were performing "The Bells" by Edgar Allen Poe on stage as Earl and Lady Bungalow.

2017. After... well, you know.


2019. After a couple of sweet potatoes.

a moment in the day: lick

I'm sound asleep when Stephen licks my elbow to get me to come awake.

Maybe I was snoringI've been snoring some lately with this cold of minebut I don't see why he would want to rouse me by licking my elbow. That just seems strange. Maybe it's because of Valentine's Day. Maybe he's making some weird frisky gesture because it's now technically Valentine's Day, and he thinks wouldn't it be cute if he just, you know, licked my elbow a little, and

Wait. It was Nicholas. Nicholas licked my elbow.

Come to think of it, that makes more sense.

I reach down under the covers to where he's curled up by my belly and pet him and then go back to sleep.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Book cover: A Small Crowd of Strangers

Whenever I start work on a new book cover, I ask myself what the challenge with this one will be. It's one of the things I like most about designing book covers, that there's always some specific challenge, whether that be fitting all the elements in place, or setting the right tone, or trying some graphic process I've never tried before, or trying my darnedest to make an idea work when it probably isn't going to work, or, or, or.

With Joanna Rose's novel A Small Crowd of Strangers, due out later this year from Forest Avenue Press, the challenge was coming up with a concept. How best to create a design around a book that's not only quirky and funny but also about some heavy topics like religion and abortion. Pattianne Anthony, the book's protagonist, and her boyfriend/soon-to-be-husband are on two different sides of the abortion debate, and it gets personal when she becomes pregnant.

My first idea for a design grew out of that tension. A figure representing Pattianne but cut in three pieces, each piece pointing a different direction. My thought was that this would show she was a character divided, someone who didn't know which way to goand if people made the connection between her centrally located belly and the topic of abortion and body autonomy, that would be great, but not necessary.

Publisher Laura Stanfill explained that Pattianne's not so much divided as falling into things all the time. The more we talked about it and the more I read pieces of the book, I realized I was focusing too much on the abortion topic when there was so much more this book was about. I tinkered with a number of different concepts but there was one idea we all kept coming back to as I submitted samples. This one started out from the characterization of Pattianne as a dreamer who, in the end, is just trying to find her people, to find connection.

That's what I think of with the figure I created for Pattianne in this early draft. A dreamer wistfully looking into the future. The second character is Bullfrog, a dog who figures significantly in the story. (And who better to exemplify the longing to find connection than dogs, amirite?) From the description of Bullfrog in the book, I figured he must be a basset hound so I looked at a lot of photos and created him from images of particularly sweet looking dogs. This early draft was before I really started tinkering with his coloring, but as an aside, I kind of liked that the color I used for Joanna's name here is rose.

We were getting feedback from Publisher's Group West that the bright color scheme along with the woman figure might skew "women's lit" so I tried a similar design with darker hues. And experimented with Pattianne removed and just Bullfrog remaining. Like in this street sign design I worked on from an idea Laura suggested to me.

In the end, between all of us and author Joanna Rose, we decided to leave Pattianne off and give Bullfrog the spotlight. But there was one more detail to work out. Bullfrog wasn't exactly Bullfrog. He wasn't a basset hound as I'd originally thought. And in fact, he had once been a real dog, Joanna's dog, and I wanted to honor that as best I could.


He had very different ears. And a very particular spot on his back. I added that spot, although I simplified him a little in keeping with the spareness of the design, so I only focused on that one spot while he has a few others. And if you look close you see some brown around his one eye.

Oh my gosh, this picture!

I asked Laura and Joanna if I could expand on that brown and turn  it into a more obvious spot because it was the only way I could keep the white of that eye from disappearing against the background. They were OK with it. Then I added some shading to the other side of the face, a shadow, to take care of the same issue. It's an interesting give and take, wanting to honor the memory of a real being and at the same time honor the principles of aesthetics. When I was done, I sent it to Laura and she sent it to Joanna and Joanna said, "That’s him!!"

My heart leapt for joy.

There was still fine tuning, with color and shading, and the darkness of the ears, and the question of shadow on the right front paw. Here's a little montage of Bullfrog through his evolution.

In the end, with Bullfrog in the spotlight and using the sunburst in the lettering that had arisen back when I was playing with the very dark, almost underwater-looking idea I showed off above, we finally had our cover.

Check out that blurb by Paulann Petersen!

A Small Crowd of Strangers is due out the fall of this year from Forest Avenue Press. More information is here. Here's a snippet from the book:

She’d always had a dog. She’d had Starla since she was in grade school, and before that there was a beagle named Short Stop who slept with his nose at the crack under her bedroom door, wanting to get in. Her mother said, No dogs in the bedrooms. And then when they got Starla, she heard them one night after dinner, her mother saying, No dogs in the bedrooms, and her father saying, Oh, what can it hurt? That night, she learned something about her father. She was only little. And it was her bedroom, not Jen’s.

She was just starting to realize that she really should call Michael, and maybe she should at least go buy some dog food and spend some time with Bullfrog before saying Yeah, I’ll take him to be my dog, but then there they were. And she wanted him, as soon as she saw him, all down low and wagging, and not shedding all that much, really. He was mostly white, just a few brown spots, and soft brown ears. She got down by him.

“Well,” Frankie said. “Really? You’ll take him?” He got down, too. “To keep?”

“Yes,” Elizabeth said. “That’s what she said. To keep.”

Then Frankie got all teary, and Pattianne did too, and he handed her a brand-new red leather leash with the price tag still on it. It matched his collar.

“I have a twenty-five pound bag of dog chow in the car,” he said. Teary.


“And a big box of Milk Bones.”


“And his rabies papers and all are in here.”

He handed her an envelope, and then he hugged her, and they were a circle with Bullfrog in between them, Elizabeth laughing, although she didn’t sound very happy, but she was laughing. Michael would laugh too. Bullfrog was a funny guy.

Monday, February 3, 2020

two moments on airplanes

We're thirty thousand feet up. I'm kind of terrified of flying but I love all the parts that most people who fear flying fear: takeoff, touchdown, turbulence. Generally during the flight, I'm OK if I keep my mind on other things than the possibility of a fiery death: the movie playing on the little screen built into the back of the seat in front of me. The tiny bottle containing seven thimbles full of white wine. My nine dollar box of apple slices and cheese.

Down the right-hand aisle comes one of the flight attendants, who stops at the empty seat at the end of the row before mine. She leans in and asks the man at the other end, "Where's the man who was sitting here?"

"I don't know. He's been gone a really long time."

She picks up a small backpack from the seat. "He left his bag."

Well, there we go. It's a bomb.

I'll never see Atlanta and eat pimento cheese.

The flight attendant takes the bomb up and down the aisle, asking people if it's theirs. No, I'm sorry. No, I'm sorry. Well, of course it's not theirs. The man who left it has parachuted out of the back of the plane and we're all going down.

"Excuse me, is this yours?" There are two flight attendants now, checking with passengers. I wonder how much a bomb weighs. I wonder if time bombs actually tick.

The flight attendants come back up the aisle and finally stop just about where they began. "Excuse me, sir," to the man sitting in the seat in front of the empty one. He's an older man with white hair. I don't hear what he says, but he takes the bomb from the woman and apologizes. In a second I see his hand reach back into the seat pocket behind him, slowly pulling out the book he also left behind.


We're on the return trip from Atlanta. There are three in our row, Stephen, me, and the guy in the window seat who keeps getting up to use the bathroom. All three of us have our screens going and ear buds plugged into seat backs, watching movies. It's been a good trip, a whirlwind that included Stephen's two art events, visits to Martin Luther King's grave and the High Museum and the Madam C. J. Walker Museum and the Cyclorama and more and more and more. Fried green tomatoes. Pimento cheese.

Now, we're heading home.

I've been watching Fiddler On the Roof, and Tevye and Lazar Wolf are singing and dancing. It's a perfect distraction from the possibility of a fiery death to immerse yourself in musical joy.

As my eyes blink from one screen to another in front of me, I notice it's all music. A coincidence of timing that lets the song in my ears run through all three visuals. The guy to my right: a guitarist wailing away in a recording studio. Stephen to my left: Luciano Pavarotti belting an aria. It's a funny little montage. No matter what they're singing or playing, the music is mine. L'chaim, l'chaim, to life.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

a moment in the day: practice

Out loud in the car:

That way the noise is. Tyrant, show thy face!

As I drive, I’m practicing for the Shakespearean house salon we’re doing this Saturday where a whole group of us will be reading Macbeth. I don't know the text well enough, so for a lot of the drive I'm just speaking the same passage over and over. The pages with my parts are sitting on the passenger seatbut no peeking unless I’m at a stoplight. A glance to jog the memory and then recite, recite, recite.

That way the noise is. Tyrant, show thy face!
If thou be'st slain and with no stroke of mine,
my wife and children's ghosts will haunt me still—doggy!

A woman walking a little, brown poodle along the sidewalk.

If I don’t practice to the point of near-if-not-complete memorization, I am not a good reader, especially in public. I'm bored of the repetition. I want to stop and switch on the radio but I need to focus.

I cannot strike at wretched kerns, whose arms
are hired to bear their staves: either thou, Macbeth,
or else my sword with an unbatter'd edge I—dude, dude, dude!!

I slow the car as I approach the intersection. I'm sure the woman with the pink hair who just nearly barged into the crosswalk on a green light didn't hear me, but she stops and backs up the couple steps to the curb. And for the moment quietly unshakespear'd, I continue upon mine own way.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

My first book

Recently I was rummaging around in a box of my old kid things and I came across the first book I ever wrote. Paper stapled into cardboard and illustrated. My spelling and grammar did eventually get better, but I doubt my handwriting did.

I think my favorite part is where I almost wrote "by Gigi Little" on the cover and then fixed it, writing a bolder letter d in place of the b.

The ending was a shameless plagiarism of the ending to Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are.

...but Max stepped into his private boat and waved good-bye 

and sailed back over a year 

and in and out of weeks 

and through a day 

and into the night of his very own room 

where he found his supper waiting for him 

and it was still hot.

I wasn't old enough to understand just why those last five words were beautiful, but somehow I knew they were. And I stole accordingly.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

On the occasion of her fiftieth birthday, some passages about my friend Shena in my old kid diaries, with the spelling and punctuation errors intact


January 27—I sang on a tape. I got to keep my tape. We got or had to find the write batteries for it.

January 30—I almost didn't get lunch. But I did. Shena got to talk on the tape with me.

February 7—I went to Shena's house and I got to speek to the women that plays the Bionic women on the phone.


March 8—I went to the roler rink it was flooded. I went with Shena.

May 5—Shena And I found a meeting place; hidaway 1 and 2. At the camp. Went to Sea World.

May 13—today I went to Magic Mtn. I went on the revalusion. We saw a lady and a man fighting seamed like killing. Heather came too and Shena, Mara, Edina. Heather's birthday party.

May 17—I went to a piano odition then out to lunch then to a supermarket. i was in the Toy area with Shena and a cloun jumped out and scared me.


May 9—It's Heather's birthday. We're going camping. Shena and I went back to highway 1 & 2. I got a rock from h. 1. Tomorrow we'll go to Sea World.

May 10—We didn't go to Sea World. it rained. We saw a movie Kramer Vs. Kramer. I went to Farrels. I got to be in a comercial for Campland. I got an autograph of Gayle Sue and Keven. Shena lead us back. I saved Tom from getting hit by a car. (God did). Gayle and Keven sang happy birthday to Heather.

May 11—Today I got in another comercial. I was a background. We made a mound of sand for friendly the wolf to sit on. Shena, Heather, Tom, Edina, Mara, Ryan and I walked in the background while friendly the wolf talked. We went home. I watched video taped movies.


September 20—We slept at Shena's house. I went to "couch" at 1:30.


June 20—I got 2 new coins from Isriel, from Shena for my collection.

September 17—Shena is over we're making a nativity scene. Shena once had a dream (after her grandma died) that she went up to heaven & saw her. She said goodbye right before she woke up. Today Shena turned off the T.V. & it turned on again. I heard far away piano for an instant before going to bed. I kept seeing teath and spirits in my head.

October 16—We played our soap opera. You see, about a weak ago we made a soap opera. I'm Lisa Van Jua, a snob. Mara's my sister Andrea. Heather's Stephany Shore. Edina's her 16 year old sister Kathy Morgan. Shena is Jackie Benit. Frankie is Christopher Shena's son & Heather's adopted son. I'm a modle. It's a lot of fun!

December 7—The McLittle Theatre is going to do "Best of Friends" in Feb. when noni & Coco come out. I'm Jenni. Frankie's Jonathan, Heather's Susan Evans, Edina's Dad, Shena's Mom & Mara's Mary. & I just can't wait! It was soooo! windy at night!!!!

December 8—We're not doing Best of Friends.


January 11—I finished "the talking skull." I watched the 2nd part of "Nicolas Nickelby" I got Shena a crystol & 3 prints (pastel) for her birthday tomorrow. I also got a crystol & a print & a copy of "Young Miss" (magazine) which I'll be getting soon. I got an autographed picture of Sally Struthers. (with my name on it.)

February 6—We figured out the whole play & finished posters (I did bar scene) & now we most likely have to wait till next year to do it 'cause we only have 2 more weekends & we're going to the lake house & we'll need Shena & Mara to learn they're lines. I saw part of "Winds of War."

February 20—We went to a mission. Then we ate breakfast out. Then we went home. Noni had a big get-together, the Butlers came. I was so mad. Shena and Mara were acting all hot. I got to Special on Lady bug again. We had sundaes.

May 14—Shena came over. After I finnished cleaning my room, we went to her house. I spent the night there. I saw "An officer & a gentleman" twice off of their rented video tape. Shena & I talked over 'old times'

May 15—We (Shena & I) had 2 doughnuts each when we came to my house to get some Atari cartages to play at Shena's house. I went with Shena & Peg shopping for a shirt for Shena to wear to model some homemade pants in a fashion show. 

June 18—Shena & Heather spent the night. We ate the table & talked about the end.

June 30—We sleaped at Shena's and saw "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas".