November 11th, 2012

Donal Hord’s “Morning”

Donal Hord's Morning

"Morning" showing fangs and corn on base

Donal Hord lived in San Diego most of his life and his large outdoor sculptures are placed in very well known locations.

I first saw a Donal Hord sculpture in the late 1950’s when I was a student at San Diego State College (now San Diego State University). It is one of his works which he created especially for public places when he worked for the Works Progress Administration, WPA, in the late 1930’s. It is the seated figure of an Aztec warrior and it used to be in the main quad of the college, in front of the library and bell tower. Since the school’s football team is the Aztecs, that made sense. I hadn’t seen any other Hord pieces at that time. Aztec has been in several different locations at SDSU since then.

I found Morning in the Embarcadero Maria Park at Seaport Village the other morning. Morning is a good time to see it because the six foot figure is made from black granite and it is hard to photograph it in glaring sun. It’s a beautiful, muscular man, waking in the morning. The man sits on a base of symbols, the sun and moon, fangs and corn. The fangs are an Aztec symbol of man’s birth from the earth and corn is both a Mexican and American Indian symbol for the basic source of life giving food.

Donal Hord's "Morning"

It’s hard to get a picture of the whole sculpture because of the trees and water and buildings directly behind it. But the close-ups show the detail of the body and the wonderful power of the curving muscles.

Hord carved the piece between 1951 and 1956. He kept Morning in his own home. He died in 1966. The sculpture was not acquired by the Port of San Diego until 1983.

Donal Hord's "Morning"

November 6th, 2012

About Writing: Sherlocking for details

November is National Novel Writing Month. If you are trying to get a first draft of your “I have this idea for a story” book, now is the time. You have only to write everyday in November in a completely free flow of putting stuff down on paper. Then for the next year you can rewrite. Or if you are really good, you can rewrite for six months. Me? I rewrite, put aside, rewrite more. And I need a critique group to prod me every week.

For this November, though, I’m doing some guest posts arranged by Pump Up Your Book. Today, November 6, I have a post on Workaday Reads.  I’m putting the same post here. But stop by Workaday Reads to see that site. You might need a review of your NaNoWriMo product.


Are you watching the new Sherlock Holmes, the one with Sherlock in rehab and Watson as a woman? It’s different. But no matter how current authors tweak the classic character, Sherlock remains the epitome of keen observation.

When I started writing Artists & Thieves I knew a great deal about observing language. My first Master’s degree was in English, my second was related to language disorders. I’d read literature biggies and dissected how they did what they did with language. I worked with children who had difficulty using ordinary language and I had to pinpoint what was missing. In both cases, I learned to observe.

So when I wrote Artists & Thieves, adding details to a scene to put the reader “there” was easier for me than adding tension or conflict to a scene. I’m always on the lookout for details. I don’t record them in a notebook but they pop into my head as I’m writing.

When I bought a new gas stove I was surprised to hear the pilot light clicking away before the flame started. My old stove didn’t do that. I was working on a scene with Angelo, an artist, moving him around in his loft. I gave that detail to him: “At the kitchen sink he filled the tea kettle with water, and when the clicking of the pilot light finally caught enough gas to flame, he set the pot on the burner’s medium flame.”

When I needed details to bring the setting of Fisherman’s Wharf to smelly life, I remembered a crowded market in San Francisco’s Chinatown: “He bounced down the rough, tarred surface of the wharf shoulder to shoulder with morning tourists. He passed raw sea creatures displayed outside the seafood market on his left, then crossed to the other side to catch the aroma of clam chowder steaming on the counter at Bernie’s, ready to be ladled into paper cups.”

Details are not just for describing a scene. They work to add tension or stress to a character. While I was working on the climax of Artists & Thieves, I needed to build suspense by putting obstacles in the way of my heroine, Mai, as she frantically rushes to find the bad guy. I remembered driving home late at nigh lost in fog so thick I had to stop the car and wait for the fog to break. No cell phones then. A spooky situation. I gave that experience to Mai: “The streets at the west end of Golden Gate Park were shrouded in fog and darkness. Mai couldn’t see the white center line on the road or the one at the edge marking the bicycle lane, couldn’t keep the Jaguar in her lane. . . . She leaned her head out the window, straining to see beyond the flapping windshield wipers. . . .’Where am I?’ She was frustrated, talking out loud.”

And on a more poetic note, I’ve seen a red tide twice in San Diego. The waves fluoresce at night in moonlight. A fellow writer in my critique group suggested that I use a red tide to add mystery to the setting for the climax. My memory helped: “Long bands of glowing light stretched up and down the coast, eerily luminescent in the fog hanging over the waves. The red tide’s tiny organisms sparkled, ebbed and flowed in the ocean’s easy motion.”

Observation is a writer’s necessity as much as it is a detective’s. For me, plotting and character development require a lot of rewriting. That is a long and tedious process.

But I can Sherlock descriptive details quickly. And that’s the fun of writing.

November 6th, 2012

About Writing: Using Real Details in Imagined Settings

November 3, 2012 was National Authors’ Day. I had a book table at the Oceanside library. There must have been twenty local authors and there were ten speakers. It was a good chance to meet and talk to other authors.

November is also National Novel Writing Month. To celebrate, I’m doing some guest posts on literary blogs. The schedule is on the Pump Up Your Book site.  But you can read the first post here. It was on Sapphyria’s Book Reviews:


Writers fill their fictional world with details from their real world. That’s why we believe their stories. I think this weaving together of the real and the imagined makes for strong settings.

In Artists & Thieves I consciously placed the character Angelo in Monterey’s Cannery Row because it is a well known place. But the restaurant I invented for him is straight out of my head. I called the restaurant Sardines because Cannery Row used to be a cannery now, think John Steinbeck, not a tourist destination. And the main fish packed in those old canneries were sardines. A reader doesn’t need to know that but it helps with the pun: “Sardines was packed. Angelo nudged his way into the bar area of the performance space, reassured a little by the odd mixture of elegance and crap which its owner, Max, had assembled. The metal and brick walls were bleak, the lighting exquisite.”

I don’t always consciously use details from a real place in a scene. The other day I had lunch at a restaurant which is built around an old trout fishing lake. It has fish water spouts on the eaves, fountains spraying cones of water in the middle, and ducks. There is a long path which winds down from the parking lot. The path is cool even on the hottest day because bamboo lines both sides of it, thick bamboo, almost three inches in diameter. As I walked down the path the other day I thought, Wait a minute. I know this place. Well, of course, I know it, I’ve been here dozens of times. No, that wasn’t what I felt. I knew the path from somewhere else. Then I realized that I had used this path as a setting in Artists & Thieves. It popped into my head as I was writing a key scene towards the end of the novel. The memory of this real place unconsciously provide the perfect setting for a chapter. The chapter is titled The Bamboo Grove. The main character, Mai, is in the hospital with her grandfather who has been shot. I’ll just pull a few sentences here as examples:  “Mai walked outside to the coffe stand. Came back in with coffee. Walked outside for a muffin. Came back in. Sat. Picked up a magazine. Couldn’t read. Couldn’t sit. Paced. Sat. Outside, wisps of fog flowed in currents of evening air. Mai wandered away from the hospital down a path to a grove of bamboo which screened the cement parking structure. The thick bamboo stalks offered a sturdy comfort. . . . The gently curving path wandered through the bamboo. She walked slowly, feeling hopeful. . . .Along with the rustle of the bamboo leaves, the bowl’s song played in her head. . . .”

Since I study Chinese brush painting, I know that bamboo is a symbol in Chinese thought for resilience. It survives the snow of winter, bends without breaking, and remains green in the heat of summer. That image was perfect for this crucial moment in the story when Mai needs to pull herself together and find the person who shot her grandfather. Even if you as a reader do not share the knowledge of the symbol, bamboo works throughout the chapter.

Sometimes I deliberately choose certain places for my characters to be, sometimes the details of a place pop unexpectedly into my head as I write. Both ways help create a good story. Artists & Thieves won the 2011 San Diego Book Awards in the action/suspense category.




October 1st, 2012

Two Mona Lisas—Art Forensics

The Louvre's Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa is the most recognized face in the world.

It seems we actually have two portraits of her. One when she was in her twenties, and one, the one hanging in the Louvre, when she was in her thirties. There is a current video, beautifully done, outlining the art sleuthing which has documented the early portrait of the younger woman, Mona Lisa: Leonardo’s Earlier Version.

Take 21 minutes and look at this terrific account which traces the early portrait from Italy to England to America to Switzerland. It shows not only who possessed the portrait, but how it came to be, and the video is a brief look at the art forensics involved.

One of the methods of verifying the authenticity of a painting is Connoisseurship, the opinion of someone who has looked long and hard at an artist and his work and “sees” either an authentic or fake hand at work. A second forensic method is scientific analysis that can identify exact pigments used, x-ray a painting to see underneath the finished form, authenticate the date of varnish, compare brush strokes with known works, date canvas, date frames, and more. The third method is finding the paper trail—who owned the painting, who bought the painting, where has it been.

Sound like detective reality and fiction writer’s plot. It is.

In this video, the Mona Lisa Foundation presents a paper trail which includes comments by Leonardo’s contemporaries; a sketch by Raphael; the date, 1508,  of a varnishing technique used by Leonardo; current analysis using modern research equipment; and a careful history of where this second Mona Lisa has been hiding. It also presents a side-by-side comparison of the Louvre’s “older” Mona Lisa with the portrait of the younger Mona Lisa.

There are, of course, many books on Mona Lisa. One that I like is R. A. Scotti’s Vanished Smile, The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa. It’s a fast read about the 1911 theft of the painting from the Louvre.

But the video is a beautiful 21 minutes.


August 28th, 2012

James Hubbell Art on Shelter Island

James Hubbell's Pacific Spirit, 2002

Several years ago, probably fifteen, I toured James Hubbell’s home and studio in the mountains close to Julian, California. Every year he opened his studio and home to the public, put out a lot of food, and had costumed creatures flitting around the grounds. His main house and a separate satellite smaller house (the boys’ house) were filled with his leaded glass works. The roof of the boys’ house was a skylight of leaded mosiac. He had just set up his forge and was doing his own metal work but assistants assembled his leaded glass.  (I talked with one “assembler” who considered herself a purist–she felt that a grinding wheel to help shape the cut glass was a huge no-no. I used one because I couldn’t always cut the small glass pieces to fit precisely. I pointed out that the glass cutter she was using was just a small wheel itself but that didn’t change her mind.)  Sadly, in 2003, the huge Cedar fire destroyed the whole compound. He is still rebuilding.

And his works are still here. There used to be more, in restaurant doors, especially. I miss them. But he does have three major pieces on Shelter Island in the grassy areas called Shoreline Park.

I was recently on Shelter Island looking for a spot to view the Tall Ships for the Festival of Sail and paid attention to three pieces that I only had glanced at in passing. The pearl fountain is at the tip of Shelter Island. It is a combination of mosaic, cement, and metal work which students assisted in the construction.

James Hubbell's Pearl Fountain

The pearl and fans are obvious once you know what they are. The mosaics under water are not. They are the four points of a compass and represent different Pacific Rim countries–a Chinese dragon, an American shore bird, a Russian Siberian tiger, and a Mexican feather serpent. Hard to see though.  And the cement fans are a bit solid and gray. (Cement is a big deal in San Diego from Scripps Institute to La Jolla Playhouse.  I find it solid and gray.)

Chinese tiger

The bronze Pacific Spirit is more interesting. She is mermaid-like. And she stands with the background of the bay and the ships. And looks good against a gray sky or a bright blue one.

Down at the other end of the island is Pacific Portal with a typical Hubbell curved and poured dome shape. Inside on the ceiling are mosaic tiles and the walk through the portal also is mosaic swirls of waves and color.

ceiling, Pacific Portal

Pacific Portal

You can always read the details of what the artist intended with these works, but these pretty much say a lot without explanation. Maybe the fountain benefits from the explanations of the fan, the metal “Russian calligraphy,” and the points on the compass floor of the fountain, but that great female “spirit” doesn’t need to be explained.


August 15th, 2012

Ann Hamilton’s Mural in La Jolla

Ann Hamilton's By Sea

Ann Hamilton's By Sea

So it’s been in the 90’s here and traffic to the sea is bumper-to-bumper. But there is a new addition (well, new since May 2012) to the Murals of La Jolla which is worth the wait in traffic if you aren’t already heading to sand and salt water (not to mention the jelly-fish and sting rays competing with splashing humans).

Ann Hamilton’s web page has some heavy academic prose explaining her installations. Personally, I find the erudite stuff unnecessary and a bit over-the-top. This new mural of a Tall Ship is titled “By Sea” and we do not need any help in relating to it, especially in San Diego where we have the Maritime Museum and the Star of India always on our waterfront. And especially since Richard Henry Dana’s Two Years Before The Mast charts the 1835 coast of California for us, and twenty some Tall Ships are coming to San Diego in two weeks for the 2012 Festival of Sails.

Hamilton’s By Sea is on one large wall of the CitiBank building on Herschel Avenue in La Jolla. It is a digital print on vinyl as are some of the other Murals of La Jolla. Interestingly, it is directly opposite the bright pinks, blues, and yellows of Ryan McGinness’s 53 Women. You can see both with a simple head turn and the contrast couldn’t be greater.

McGinness’s is clean outlines. Hamilton’s is intentionally fuzzy or blurry or misty or elementally vague, whichever adjective conveys the haunting quality of the ship from the past sailing into the unknown on a wall of a modern financial institution. Nice.

It’s hard to divorce the ship from the mural’s modern surroundings. That is part of the viewing challenge of outdoor art. But it’s also part of the overall feeling that a Tall Ship in the midst of uncharted waters is a journey we take divorced from modern times.

You can make of this misty ship any journey you want.

McGinness on one wall clearly expresses his own vision. Hamilton on the opposite wall joins her vision to ours.  See both.

And check out the far horizon just a short walk away at the edge of the real and highly mythical Pacific.

July 21st, 2012

Clyfford Still Museum

Denver Art Museum

Big Sweep

We just got back from the downtown Denver complex which contains the History Colorado Center, The Denver Art Museum, and the Clyfford Still Museum.

The History Colorado Center is devoted to demonstrating early life in Colorado and does not shy away from explaining how U.S. Troops massacred Indians or imprisoned Japanese Americans during WW II. It is an interactive museum–you can milk a cow (fill a bucket with light), ride a model T down a dirt road, ski down a ski jump, and wander through a general store. We were there early. As soon as the kids came, we left–it’s a great space for both adults and kids–more leisurely  without the kids, however.

We passed the Denver Art Museum on our way to the Clyfford Still Museum. We’ll have to see inside it another day. Brains can only hold so much information. But the art outside is intriguing and didn’t require active gray cells. The giant broom and dust pan is called, Big Sweep. It’s by Coosje van Bruggen and Claes Oldenburg, made  in 2006.  It’s stainless steel, aluminum, and fiber-reinforced plastic. It’s also a kick.  A great surprise. The large rock-like sculpture in front of the museum is more what you would expect to see.

I really wanted to see the Clyfford Still Museum. It is very new; it opened in November, 2011. Some of the street level inside walls are textured cement, gray, and the art is on gray walls upstairs in this impressive building.

Clyfford Still lived from 1904 to 1980. He left his art to a city which would house it and care for it. Denver was chosen by his widow. None of the art is to be sold, and he stipulated that no restaurant should be part of his museum. Even if you are hungry, you have to admire that.  Only four of his works were sold prior to the opening of the museum in order to fund the museum. The four pieces brought a total of 114 million at auction. You have to come to Denver to see the pictures. It’s worth the trip.

Clyfford Still Museum


His art is displayed chronologically on gray walls.  His work prior to 1944 depicts human figures and machines. The pictures on display when we were there reminded me of Diego Rivera and some of the murals of depression era workers. Still’s figures are juxtaposed against machinery, and the workers hands are distorted and very large.  Not a “feel good” view of  daily toil.

In 1944 he began to work in what became know as “Abstract Expressionism” when he created a huge canvas, approximately 8 feet by 7 feet, thick black paint layered on with a palette knife, interrupted by a jagged  yellow “bolt” and intersected by red. It reminded me of some modern German glass artists who use color rather than recognizable forms to create light and life.  Still said he wanted to fuse texture and color “into a living spirit.”  Done! Some of his smaller lithographs and water colors also demonstrate his exploration of texture and color. His pictures do not have titles, just numbers. So we don’t have preconceived notions of what the paintings are “supposed” to be.

There is a conservation room and large canvases hang from ceiling height. The museum is responsible for 2400 paintings.

Overwhelming. Worth a visit. Or more than one visit.




July 4th, 2012

Taos Pueblo

North House, Taos Pueblo

The Taos Pueblo in New Mexico has been inhabited for one thousand years. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The structures are maintained today by the Taos Pueblo Indians and open to the public but restricted to visiting hours and only certain of the structures.  Early photos from the late 1800’s show people swarming all over the structures but today, fortunately, it is not even permitted to climb the ladders.

We arrived early and only two other cars were in the visitor’s lot. There is an entry fee and another fee if you want to carry your  camera in, and an admonishment not to take pictures of any of the Taos Indians without their permission and then to tip them. Tipping struck me as condescending so there are no people in any of my photos. Visitors are not permitted beyond the walls of the Pueblo or into the residential spaces.

Section of South House

The doors you can see on all three levels are recent additions–entry used to be from roof tops. Some of the rooms at ground level are open now as artist studios.  We talked to a few of the artists who were “open” in the early morning. Some were just setting up in the center of the Pueblo. They were selling jewelry, dream catchers, drums, and ceramics but I was disappointed. When we were there about fifteen years ago, we bought a remarkable mask from a woman who is a famous ceramicist. I didn’t see any clay figures or pots to compare with her work. And the jewelry looked the same as what is available in the Taos Plaza and in other gift shops.

San Geronimo Church

They were repainting the San Geronimo Church. It had a new coat of white paint and the wood was being re-stained. The church is very important in the Pueblo. Originally built in  1619 by the conquering Spanish, it was destroyed in the Pueblo revolt against the Spanish in 1680, rebuilt in 1706 when the Spanish again ruled. It was again destroyed, except for the bell tower,  in the U.S. war with Mexico in 1847.

San Geronimo Church

The present church was built in 1850 and is a prominent feature of the Pueblo incorporating both the Catholic religion and native values.  Because of the painting, we could not go inside. The church is a Registered National Historic Landmark.

The structures are of adobe and are constantly repaired. The only water in the sacred village is from The Red Willow Creek which runs through the middle of the pueblo separating it into north and south houses.

Red Willow Creek

No electricity is permitted within the pueblo. Traditional teachings and the language, Tiwa, are not written but passed on orally only to tribal members. One young man told us his grandfather spoke the language but he did not.

Round dome ovens are still used for cooking and making bread. One artist told us he always cooks his meat in his. You can see the dome oven in the photo above of the section of South House. Bread is usually for sale but we were too early for it, although I could smell it baking as we left.

I thought at first that the dome ovens were kilns, but the meat-cooking-artist said, no. Ceramics are fired in pits with the wood placed on top over the clay objects. Some pots have beautiful smoke traces across the clay. The mask we bought years ago has a smoke scar across the eye and nose. Very effective.

You can stand in the center of the Pueblo and look at both the north and south structures. You can also go behind the main north structures to see the Catholic cemetery and the remains of the bell tower of the 1847 church. I didn’t take a picture of the cemetery but I did take one of the alley between two structures. You can see the adobe and why it needs constant repair.

Alley Taos Pueblo

It’s always a challenge to appreciate the preservation of very old structures, imagine how they looked in historic content, and separate that image from what we see as tourists.

June 23rd, 2012

Using Yarn As Art

Sangre de Cristo Arts Center

The Sangre de Cristo Arts Center in Pueblo, Colorado, is an amazing building. Like many of the homes and buildings in Pueblo it is made of brick. But this building is only 40 years old and very modern. It houses several permanent collections and in June, 2012, Under Western Skies features works by Western artists from the collections.  The building is beautiful inside as well as outside so it is always a pleasure to walk through the three floors of art. There is a rather unique series of pieces using Fairy Tales as inspirations, but not too literally.

Fairy Tale Walk-through Forrest

A walk through a forest of hanging cloth panels of aspen trees is “interactive.” From high in the trees, sparkling masks stare down eerily.

Currently, though, I had more fun outside, than inside. The bronze statues, a light post, a couple of  trees, and the stair rails are wrapped with yarn pieces done by what looks like a mad hatter’s workshop. When I asked inside who had done the knitting, the receptionist said simply, “those people over there.” Since we couldn’t find any people over there, I’m going with my initial impression of the mad hatter.  These are pieces made of different textures of yarn, some look knitted, some may be crocheted, some fuzzy, some stringy. A bronze carousel horse has his tail and mane augmented with yarn, a bronze girl, Her Quiet Moment by L’Deane Trueblood, has a yarn lei added on, and the stair railing’s twist of metal is “scarfed.” All are delightful bursts of color and textures. The soft yarn contrasts with the hard metal and bark.

Very cool. Very funky.

Yarn lei

Yarn on Street Light

yarn on tree

Yarn on stair rail


June 5th, 2012

Linda Schroeder’s Virtual Book Publicity Tour

Final Book Cover



In June and July I will be visiting a lot of Internet sites publicizing my book Artists & Thieves.I’ll post some guest blogs and answer some usual and original interview questions.  Also I’m giving away a Kindle Fire.  Stop by Pump Up Your Book and sign up to win the Kindle and take a look at my guest stops.


Just for fun I thought I’d show you the three other covers that Jackie Meyer designed for Artists & Thieves.  She did four designs and it was very difficult to choose.  The three designs, other than my cover, are the preliminary sketches  so the color, etc. is not in any finished form. And they are too big to fit into the format here for the blog so they are “not all there.” Just imagine that the writing is really all there and my name is at the bottom.

My publisher, Jerry Simmons,  liked the dark haired woman, my mystery writer friends liked the man in the hat, and my detective novel enthusiasts  like the blood spot. But in the end, the one I chose best represented the main character and her link to her ancestor in China.