Friday, May 16, 2014

"It's In His Kiss" by Vickie Lester

Folks, prepare for me to gush.

While it may not show much in my current daily life, I have a deep and long-standing admiration for glamour, most especially of the Old Hollywood kind. No, not the tinsel and flash but the Goods, the kind that causes a frisson or two. Now, I have a charming friend who feels the way that I do and as we are talking about writers and writing this week, it is the perfect moment to tell you about Vickie Lester's (yes, that would be a nom de plume) fantastic new novel, "It's In His Kiss." 

You might remember my dedicating a post to Vickie this past February as a cheer up effort for her birthday, one that fell just as her team of publishers dissolved while her novel was on the brink of publication. Can you imagine? It is amazing to think that in so short a time, she bravely took up the fallen reins and rode into the world of self-publishing with her friends and the many fans of her blog, Beguiling Hollywood, cheering her on to the finish. Et voila, she did it and ahead of schedule to boot. It's a good thing too as this is one fantastic ride of a read. I am snobby enough when it comes to using certain adjectives where literature is concerned but honestly? "Fun" is the appropriate word here. Vickie told me, "I loved writing it and I loved editing it." It shows.

Here is what I had written previously: "Each chapter that I have read had my heart racing, leaving me hungry for the next. For you see, Ms. Lester is not only a brilliant writer but the real deal who writes about Hollywood, it's wonders and foibles, from the deep insider point of view. And some of the scandalous tidbits? Well, they very well might be a slightly disguised truth, which we all know is stranger than fiction." 

My oh my, someone was being prescient that day. I had no idea what I was in for when the novel arrived and I could finally read all of it. I am warning you now (and I see by a review at Amazon that I am not the only one), as cliché as it sounds you. will. not. be. able. to. put. it. down. Until you are neatly dropped down on the other side, breathless and blinking. 

I understand more clearly "Ms. Lester's" use of a fake name after having tasted each morsel of this dark but deeply romantic mystery, as some of the details are frankly too fantastic not to be true. And those of us who read her blog understand complicitly that this is a woman who knows of what she speaks from the source. Not to mention her skewering a certain "Clientology"? Scandalous. While I am no gossip in life, a little fictional swimming in that steamy pond never hurt anyone and half of the fun in reading the novel lies in discerning the "who is who" of the character's real life counterparts. And the other half? In trying - and failing - to see where the story is going to take you next. 

Hollywood. Glamour. Power. Lies. Destruction. Rebirth. It's all in's all "In His Kiss." 

To Buy it on Amazon US: please click here.
Pour mes amis dans la belle France: cliquez ici.
To read more about the book: please click here.
Plus, there are plenty of great excerpts on her blog: here (just click on the photos).

Isn't it amazing when our friends do great things? 
Makes me happy and very proud.
Have a great weekend everyone and thank you for all of your kind responses on my previous post too...

Monday, May 12, 2014

Shifting perspective - Why I write

I am frowning at the back of my camera. Remi, who has already passed ahead on the trail, stops, sees my expression and asks, "What is it?" I blow out my lips in frustration, horse-like. "'s just that...sometimes I just can't get it. I can't capture what I see." "Show me." I do. Three pinecones lolling from skinny branches. "Do you want the background to be blurry?" That's it. "It doesn't look like anything if everything is in focus," I whine. "I want them to float." "Well, then you need to work on your depth of field," he responds. I practically slap my forehead with the my palm. I always forget. Photographing in manual is interesting because you get to choose. I can shift the focus. 

I am often asked about the title of this blog, usually half-jokingly, half-hoping, "You aren't really lost, right?" I get a lot of comments about being "found" too. But the truth is, when I launched into this particular form of writing coming up on four years ago, I really needed to find my way. I was coming off the most difficult year of my life - my Dad had died, we had to sell our beloved home and gallery due to the financial crisis - one that had crumbled the French press and left me without work as a travel writer. I was truly floundering at sea and floating in pain and worry, without direction.

I give all credit where credit is due. Remi, my wonderful companion, the man who knows what I am feeling from the next room even when I haven't said a word, floated out the suggestion that I start a blog. I will admit it again as I have before that I scoffed outright. At the time, I felt that bloggers were simply folks who couldn't cut their teeth in the professional world of the press where I had come from - similar to the ridiculous expression, one that makes my blood boil now, "Those who can't do teach." But he insisted, gently. And one day, a good a day as any, I heard him and realized that I could type with my inactive hands and by doing so, I could change things for myself by simply being creative.

Writing has it's tides and the irony isn't lost on me that I was asked to participate in a blog tour by my friend, the truly lovely Jeanne Henriques at Collage of Life during a time when the waves are far from the shore. "Rien dans ce monde n'arrive par hasard." So I have been taking steps back, quiet ones, all the better to get a better picture of how the machine works. I have already had the distinction of being interviewed by another friend, Judith Ross, about my process as a blogger for an article Talking Writing Magazine. What is interesting to me is to see how that too has shape-shifted as of late and even better, to pass on that baton to three incredible women.

So on to the blog tours standard questions:

What am I working on?

Whew, that is a knee-slapper. What am I not working on? I realize that this question is meant to be answered in terms of "projects" - a word that makes me press my mouth together in a flat line of consternation - but why not answer honestly: "on rebuilding my self-confidence" "on sharpening my eye" "on trusting"...true, I would eventually like to build a book out of Lost in Arles but it is a slow process. I have nothing but great admiration for those who have already done so. This chapter of my life in Arles is nearing to a close, so I think that the right moment to culminate my random pieces into something whole might be at hand. I love the idea of having something solid to hold in my hands, especially as I have been struggling with the ephemeral nature of the internet as of late. 

How does my writing/work differ from others in its genre?

If you have read this far, you have probably already gotten a taste that I don't sugar-coat what I share. Yes, this is Provence and I am so proud to be able to celebrate its beauty but my life is not perfect, no one's is. I would rather be honest about that or not write at all.

I am also a stickler for only creating my own content, visually and verbally. There aren't that many of us out there that do that these days. Lately, I have gone back to something that I used to enjoy a lot - which is weaving the texts and images together so that it becomes - well, hopefully - a joyful interplay.

Why do I write what I do?

I was taking tea with Vicki Archer - one of the smartest women that I have the privilege to know - and she told me, as she had a year previously, "You really need to know why you are doing this." "I do it for me," I responded immediately, also for the second time. Remi has been instrumental in reminding me to stay true to my own interests from the beginning. "Don't try and please others," he insists. It took about a year for that to sink in without my reacting defensively and now it is my Modus Operandi. The moment when I sit down to write is a glorious one for me, one of the moments that I feel the most "me" in my life and I never take that freedom for granted.

How does my writing process work?

I remember one of the questions that surprised me in Judith's interview was, "Do you ever feel that your photographs are a crutch?" I wasn't quite sure what to think of that at the time but currently, my photography - or more importantly, the act of seeing so as to take them - usually leads the way. I mentioned earlier that I have been at a loss for words as of late but I am never at a loss for photos. They sit in files on my desktop, grouped into subjects. Often when I am working on them, an idea might spark of how I could use them, preferably not literally but sometimes that is just what needs to happen. I will prepare them the day before I sit down to write and then will clear my head while taking the dogs on their morning walk. I write really, really quickly once I have my launching off point. As Jeanne touched upon while introducing me, music is madly important to me. Today, I have been listening to London Grammar at high volume - the headphones in my ears to focus the sound and to give Remi a visual cue that I am "not here." Usually I will listen to one song constantly on repeat - lately it has been "Wasting My Young Years" by the same group. I edit, reread what I have until I am just on the verge of getting sick of it, then hit "publish" before I do so. But all of this is a fast process, always on the same day. I know that each blogger has their own workings and the "why" of mine serves me as fuel.

And now, the good stuff. 

The writers that came to my mind have all been mentioned here in one form or another. And while their stories, efforts and lives are all quite different, they are linked - for me - with one word: authenticity. Suze is one of my soul sisters, I feel linked to her even though we have never met. She constantly opens the doors in my heart and does so with such ease and grace. Loree is the shy poet who doesn't yet consider herself a writer and yet once you grasp on to her evocative prose, you might beg to differ. And then there is Nancy-Kate, who regularly makes me bark out loud with gales of laughter that are spot-on and yet never mean-spirited. I know from when I was acting that, "Dying is easy, comedy is hard." There is an effortlessness in all of these women's writing that is a joy to take in and that can most certainly be said about my host, Jeanne. You can't help but want to be her friend, to want to spend time in her world. She is deeply loved in the blogging community and her generosity of spirit, charm and wit are only a few of the reasons why.

Suze is sitting in front of a winking cursor wondering what the heck to write about herself. She has experience as a copy editor, columnist, educator, wife and mother and finds writing about herself in third person kinda fun. She's listening to Soft Cell's 'Tainted Love' on Sirius and her plus-size tortoiseshell cat just made a strangely self-satisfied sound as she yawned. Suze recently accepted an offer of representation from John Cusick of Greenhouse Literary Agency for her humorous contemporary Middle Grade novel, KYLE CONSTANTINI FINDS A WAY, and fully expects soul-numbingly wonderful things ahead.

Lorna Dykstra (or Loree as she is known to her circle of friends) is a  pharmacist by profession. By day she works in a multi-national pharmaceutical company and by night you will find her at her desk doing what she loves best - writing. Home is the island of Malta, right in the middle of the Mediterranean sea, where she lives with her American husband and eight-going-on-eighteen year old son. She describes herself as a wife, a mother, a daughter, a dreamer, a hopeless romantic, an endless contradiction. Lorna loves the NW wind, grey skies and rough seas, golden sunsets and ancient, winding streets.  She also loves chocolate: the dark and bitter kind. Her other passions are reading, photography and baking. A bit of a gypsy at heart, she is always on the look-out for the next adventure that will take her beyond the shores of the small island on which she lives. One of her dreams is to visit all the capital cities of Europe and the fifty American States. Lorna writes more or less weekly on her blog Stories & Scribbles and occasionally on her second blog Snapshots of an Island.

Nancy Kate Ryder is a Tennessee girl who managed to find her way to Grenoble via New Zealand and Australia.  Now she is happily (most of the time) installed in France with her French husband and writing about all of her various and sundry cultural mishaps on her blog Bread is Pain.  She is also in the midst of editing her first novel, a comic romance, which is a task she looks upon with both loathing and affection.  In addition, she has a passion for eating cooking and occasionally throws a new recipe up on a food blog: Bread is Pain Food…apparently she has been unable to come up with more than one blog title.  She loves long walks on the beach, drinks at sunset, and self-deprecating humor. 

And now for my host. Jeanne, I am truly honored that you asked me to participate in this tour. It is a great, great compliment coming from such an amazing woman as yourself.

Jeanne Henriques is wife to a nomadic husband, mother to four independent children, one well-travelled dog and is the writer behind the blogs, Collage of Life and Expat Diary Viet Nam. Over the past 26 years, her family has packed up and moved between America, Australia, New Zealand, UK and Vietnam. She has some ideas of when and where the Expat Express will go next but can never be certain. Jeanne recently added “empty nester” to her repertoire with her four children now living between America and Australia. She looks to the years ahead as an opportunity to explore new horizons. She hangs her hat and camera part of the year at Chateau Mango in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and the other half at Tahilla Farm in the foothills of the Monadnock mountain range in New Hampshire. She writes to tell the tale. You can follow her adventures on her blogs, Collage of Life, and Expat Diary Viet Nam. Jeanne can also be found chatting on TwitterInstagram and Facebook.

And there we have it! I will now pass the baton on to the three lovely ladies and they will nominate three writers in kind (Suze the rebel has more that she is going to ask!) while responding to the blog hop questionnaire. Thank you for reading, thank you for being here and I hope you enjoy discovering these wonderful worlds of words...

With my Very Best from Arles,

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Rack and ruin, part two

While this is not an "almost" it is a house that I have thought of since having seen it during one of our trips to the safari tent. How she is begging to be loved and how rightfully she deserves such attentions.

I love the proportions, so similar to those lopsided crayon drawings of what a house could be from our youth.

And yet there are elegant touches, such as this wrought iron railing...

...and a trellis hanging abundant with vines despite relying solely on self-care for who knows how long.

At the base of the house, a fountain of cool spring water pours continuously... echo of the brook that hiccups unabashedly...

...while bringing a jewel-toned garden to life.

And while there are many homes in this tiny village that stand waiting...

...and I am reassured by the treatment of a Front National poster...

...that perhaps a foreigner like myself would be welcome... find my way amidst these winding back roads to something like home...

...for now I will simply sit and dream. 

In my mind, I will strip the walls of the scarred stucco and replace it with a slick of lime-wash instead. I can sand the wood, condition it and paint it something simple, pure white perhaps, for this would be a happy house. And finally I would open up the windows, sweep the floors and let in the mountain air to kiss it clean.

Do you see what I see?

PS. I am finally (!) switching to Mail Chimp for delivery of email subscriptions starting with this post. I hope that you will bear with me while I iron out any technical glitches. Once this is taken care of, I can focus on more important writing and photography! Thanks for your understanding...

Monday, May 5, 2014

Sticks and stones

While I was walking through the forest above L'Isle sur la Sorgue, I couldn't stop seeing lines. There were forms in the trees and the underbrush and they seemed to be pointing me in several directions all at once. I was thinking about friendship.

I have written before that it can be lonely at times living overseas - "can" being the operative word here  and "challenging" being a far more satisfying word then maudlin "lonely." But there are moments,  increasingly with age, where I just want to be understood. A line drawn with a strong hand that doesn't need to be interpreted.

Now don't get me wrong. I knew what, or who, to be more precise, I was signing up for when I came on board for this adventure and it has been a marvelous one. Plus, I am giddy to announce that I will be heading back to the States at the end of the month for a long-overdue visit. My Mom has promised me that I will be "spoiled" and by that she is not referring to goods, although there will be that too. She understands.

Our virtual world can be so incredibly giving, glowing in generosity. So many voices that reach out tendril like towards mine and mine back to them. Sinewy yet delicate. I am quite honored to have been chosen by my friend Jeanne at Collage of Life to participate in a writerly blog tour for example, more of that next Monday. The world is our oyster and a love for similar beauties are often the uniting cord.

But I have learned that there are no commitments in virtual friendships either. People disappear, connections end. At times, even the most hardy of us need a mirror to reflect back our image but if that mirror is virtual, what do we do?

 It must be then that the lines that I cross are one's that I draw in the dirt myself, my own boundaries that move about with the fluidity of the light darting through the trees. Just as the sticks and stones of our daily life are ours to drop and snap in two. Especially those that we use against ourselves.

I feel imminently grateful to be a part of a world-wide community. I look in amazement at the Visitor Tracker on the sidebar and see "South Africa" "Tokyo" and "Ohio" flip up one after the next. But as I followed those lines in the forest...and kept coming up against the same patterns...

returning to the exact same forms unconsciously...

I followed the path back to me. 

It may seem so obvious but how often I forget the importance of being strong in a community of one.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Sous le Mount Ventoux

The air is hot and is shaking my hand, pumping it like a madman. And yet I hesitate before taking shelter, sweetened by the prospect of a wide-open view.

A little shade gives respite despite the whistling that sings in my ears...

...with the clarity of the church bell ringing from Crillon-le-Brave.

I sit in the dust under an unripe fig tree, knowing that the wasps have yet to mate in their magic...

...and let my vision be torn between the insisting cypresses pointing heavenwards...

...and the light shorn details pulling down... settle in this in-between where the olive trees whip in the winds that circle hawk-like under the Mount Ventoux. It strips me back to the bone - this beauty, this softened wilderness, kind.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Classical beauty, Roman patina

How I do love having a museum to myself. So when Remi asked me if I could be his assistant for a technically challenging photo shoot at the Musée départemental Arles Antique on Tuesday, I immediately said yes. It wasn't the first time. I had already spent seven hours there - at night! - while Remi was shooting his story on the Roman Boat for National Geographic Magazine. But this was even more to my liking as he would be focusing on one of my favorites of the art world...Roman mosaics. 

I remember having been fascinated by the wonderful collection at the Brooklyn Museum as a young woman. How could these ancient tiles still hold such color and wonder? How could each tiny piece be put together to make such a magnificent whole? I went back to visit them again and again. They were a direct key to a distant and unknowable past.

Arles is nothing but layers of history. Scratch below the surface and who knows what you might find? Such was the case when the foundations of an entire Roman villa where uncovered across the Rhone River in the Trinquetaille neighborhood. The extensive and largely intact mosaic flooring is the basis for the MDAA's extraordinary collection, one of the finest in France. The museum is also home to a laboratory of experts in mosaic renovation that was formed in a partnership with the Louvre.

But their offices were quiet and only the occasional 'beep' of a roaming security guards walkie-talkie echoed in the background, one met in response by the 'pop' of Remi's flashes lighting up these slivers of time. Such true patina, well-worn and deserved, what fine classical beauty.

Medusa, not a Classical Beauty

The day flew by quickly and was a success. We packed up Remi's extensive studio equipment and then I ducked under the barriers one last time, basking in the opportunity to be so close to something so far away...

There is incredible patina in the museum's ancient stones as well but that is a story for another time.

An important note: As with several other of my blogging friends, I am having trouble with my email subscriptions. Feedburner, the service that I have been using since the beginning, began swallowing up addresses while I was out of town. I do realize that this is something of a "what is the sound of one hand clapping?" type of situation but if you have not been receiving email notifications for Lost in Arles, I apologize. Hopefully, I will have moved to a new service by the beginning of next week. In the meantime, thank you in advance for your patience if there are a few glitches on the way...

Happy May Day!