Sukkah Like a Pro

There’s nothing to make you realize you stink at sukkahs quite like dining in the sukkah of people who have been doing it for years.  Imagine the cringe I felt in my heart as I approached the home of our friends, Dan and Valeri Remark, who, you will recall, also put on one prodigious Passover this past printemps.  But please don’t think for one minute that we weren’t made to feel extremely welcome or that we didn’t enjoy ourselves.

Still, I have to laugh at myself and the thoughts running through my mind as I walked toward the Remarks’ home.  Things like…oh, they have tiki torches lit…how charming…is that wisteria growing over the sukkah frame…please don’t tell me they trained wisteria to grow over the frame…of course they have wisteria growing over the frame—Dan and Valeri are awesome…oh, it’s branches of butterfly bush…yeah, that’s not any less gorgeous.

And don’t get me started on Valeri’s table.  In a word:  Wow.  Each place setting had a different yet perfectly coordinated bowl and plate, there was an eclectic mixture of wine glasses, and candelabras from Don Drumm Studio & Gallery graced the table.  For just a touch of whimsy, chili pepper and shotgun shell lights were strung beneath the branches adding to the glow from the candles.

We dined on Dan’s homemade chicken soup.  Other guests brought cucumber salad and challah bread .  My contribution was a cheeseball and assorted crackers.  I’ve provided my recipe below.  Dessert was extra special because we celebrated the fourth birthday of Dan and Valeri’s grandson, Roman, with a chocolate cake with whipped icing.

My thoughts regarding our soggy sukkah back home (it’s been a very rainy Sukkot this year)  were allayed by stories Dan and Valeri shared with us on their first attempts toward keeping the moedim (appointed times).  We may be eating off a card table and a too-small teak table from a patio set, but our hearts and our motives are in the right place.  As I said before, there is always room for growth with Adonai.

Pineapple Cheese Ball

1 – 8 oz. bar of cream cheese, softened

1 T sweet onion, finely diced

½ c. crushed pineapple, thoroughly drained

1 t sea salt

2 T green pepper, finely diced

1 c whole pecans

Place the pecans on a baking sheet and toast at 400° F for exactly five minutes.  Pecans toast quickly, so set an accurate timer.  Set aside to cool for later used.  Drain the crushed pineapple in a fine mesh sieve or colander with small holes and press out the excess liquid with the back of a large spoon.  Place the softened cream cheese, onion, green pepper, drained pineapple, and salt in a mixing bowl and combine thoroughly.  Use a spatula to form into a ball.  Coarsely chop the pecans and spread them in a neat pile on a cutting board.  Roll the cheese ball in the nuts, gently patting them in when necessary, until the entire cheese ball is covered.  A spatula helps with this process.  Serve with assorted crackers.

Enjoy!

The Artist’s Corner – Taking Pictures With Rosita Larsson, Photographer

Several years ago, a collection of artists pursuing various art forms found themselves in a group message on Twitter complimenting each other’s work and wishing each other a great day.  This went on for some time, and out of this a few became particularly close.  They followed each other on Facebook and via blogs, and their friendships became closer.  Although they’ve never met (their relationships are still bound up in social media), their separation didn’t reduce the fondness they had for each other or the appreciation they expressed toward the individual’s chosen art form.

As one of those artists, I’d like to feature my friend, Rosita Larsson, and her amazing skill as a photographer.  Rosita was interested and willing to answer my questions for The Artist’s Corner.  The little bit of language barrier between us wasn’t a problem at all.  That’s probably because her English is much better than my Swedish!  Without further ado, allow me to introduce Rosita Larsson, photographer.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

My name is Rosita Larsson.  I am a bighearted, international, Swedish autodidact and artist born in 1956.  I am the mother for four and grandmother of five.  I am a very kind person who expresses what is on her mind.  In my soul and heart, I hold the freedom and beauty that is art.  Creation has been a driving force and a salvation my whole life and through my own personal illness as well as my career spanning more than thirty years.  The best addition to creation is to put a smile on someone’s face, to inspire, and to help out!  I have always created in some form and began exhibiting intermittently for over thirty years, both as an individual and in group exhibitions.  I’ve exhibited worldwide in places such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Bulgaria, and France.

Do you put yourself into your photography?

I put my soul into my photography just like when I create.  And I have the eye as you might say.

What has your experience been?

I see myself as an artist first; one who photographs and does artwork, like painting or drawing.  I’ve always created in some form.  I worked in a laboratory with perfumes and essences, worked in stock and stores that sold beautiful things and clothes. I have worked with kindergarten children doing arts and crafts.  I’ve worked in offices, the latest being the Economy Department.  I’ve created brochures, layouts, etc. outside of my regular office work.  These are my ‘livelihood projects,’ and as I was the sole provider for my family, I created and participated in exhibitions in my free time.  In addition to the above, I’ve worked as a class Ma/PTA worker, a leader for leisure activities, in theater groups, and union work.

Did your work experience lead to the pursuit of photography?

I was always the one who photographed all the conferences, company meetings, my family first and foremost, and quite a lot of people.  I seldom photograph people now days except my family, of course.  But I held back my passion for photographing abstracts and flowers, etc.  It was very expensive with film in addition to the specific camera I wanted.

How did you develop your passion for photography?

From when I was eight years old, I loved to photograph (borrowed my grandmother’s Kodak Instamatic).  I got my first camera a couple years later.  Since then, photography has been one of my major interests.  But things happen, and I had to limit photography to my wonderful family, a flower, or a stone or brick wall now and then.  I have always written, created, and primarily painted and drawn, but when the digital camera made its entry, I began more and more to photograph.  And guess what I always have with me:  my camera.

What or who is your inspiration?

Everything!  The experience rich life, and then I have a passion for flowers and architecture.  I see motivation and beauty in almost everything which makes the ordinary seem extraordinary.  I look upward and see angles to construct photo art.  I see subjects everywhere to the extent that it can be difficult which is why I prefer to be alone when I photograph.  When I’m with others, I give them the focus, show consideration, and listen, but when I photograph, I give the objects the focus!

What do you enjoy photographing?

Multiple POVs in reflections, in water, mirrors, windows.  Wherever I am on earth, I always have a camera with me.  It’s like a treasure hunt:  which designs, patterns, funny things, or flowers does my eye find today?  It doesn’t matter if it’s on a trip abroad or to the local grocery store; the treasure hunt is always there.  This applies to all aspecst of my life, too, when I’m in the woods searching for sticks and material to create with, searching for the best recipes or creating my own personal best.  At flea markets, secondhand stores, and vintage shops, I’m always looking for treasures.

That’s why my photos can be about almost anything.  Some things are my absolute passion such as flowers and stone in all forms (such as walls), water in all forms, and buildings (especially old houses and churches).  I get a lot of inspiration for my photographs, and a lot of people get inspired by my photographs.  It’s a win/win situation!

My photographs are completely true as you see it.  I don’t use Photoshop or other programs, no manipulation, alterations, or processing.

Where can someone find you online?  Do you have a website?

You can find me here:  Rosita Larrson

or here: Rosita Larsson Art Collections

In which contests have you competed?  What awards have you won?

Awards won in Design/Crystal Chandelier/Krebs 2006

Botanical and floral photographs have won awards in Sweden 2012

Photographers Forum/Sigma USA Awarded in 35th Annual 2015

Premio Drops from the World, National Civil War Victims Association

Culture and Peace Education/Honorable Mention

Witness of Peace and Solidarity, Italy, September 2016

Attestato di Meriot Artistico 2012 – 2017, many exhibitions in Italy

Conferisce il titolo di laurea ad honorem, Globalart Galleria, Italy, June 2017

Have you been featured in a magazine or other publication?

Libro Co. italia

The book is in English.  I have three works in this anthology along with other poets and artists from several countries.  The purchase helps supply filters to purify water in Bangladesh.  So far, it’s yielded pure water for three villages.

Right now, I am the Featured Artist of the Month in Sanctuary Magazine on the Internet.

Do you take photos for people?  How does a client contact you?

Yes, and I participate and use my art in different charities.  It’s a passion!  Potential clients may contact me here:  larssonzita@hotmail.com

What is your process for photographing people?

I rarely photograph people nowadays.  I go into photography focused as if in another world.  It’s calmer and almost like meditation for me.

How is what you shoot for yourself different from what you take for other people?

It’s painting with the camera, so no difference.

Has your work ever been used for commercial purposes?

Not that I know of!

What’s your favorite photograph that you’ve taken?

Oh, dear—so many favs!  I have about 25,000 photos on my computer.  Not all of them are favs, of course, but many of them are in different ways because I photograph many different styles and objects, abstracts, macro, still life, nature, etc., etc.  Three is a charm, so I’ll take one of my still lifes, one macro, and my latest from this summer, a multiple POV/reflection photo.  (View Rosita’s photographers throughout the post.)

What’s your dream photograph?

The Aurora Borealis/ Northern Lights and the pyramids without the tourists.

What’s your biggest complaint with photography?

I take too many photographs, and I see too much motivation everywhere!  Also, I need a meaning with everything, so that’s a paradox.

Would you like to work full-time as a photographer?  If so, how do you see your business growing?

No, but as an artist whether it’s with a camera, brush, or pen.  I would like to do book illustrations and covers for example.

Do you work alone or with a partner?

Alone, but after I have done my artwork, I like to work on different projects with others.

The Sukkah Experiment

Less than twenty-four hours to Sukkot, and I have no sukkah.  What I have is a cabana frame with no way to attach the Chinese silver grass (and no promise the frame will support the weight) and no way to affix the sheets I plan on using as curtains.  Oh, I also have a mother who says, “You know I like things elaborate,” and “I just ran out of time to make the curtains.”  Funny how we’re back to using the sheets I suggested in the first place and she dismissed as hillbilly.

This is round two of building a sukkah for the Gibson Family.  You’ll recall last year’s efforts (Learning Curve) were redneck at best.  We’ve come a long way since then, and we’ve learned a few things.  Such as sukkahs need four walls and branches still attached to the tree don’t count.  Still, we did our best, and I truly believe Adonai was honored by our efforts.  This year, I’m thinking He might be grading on a tougher curve, and we’re getting points checked off for lack of preparedness.

You see, I had this all planned out on Monday when Mom and I went to buy the PVC pipe, three-way elbows, and the shower curtain clips.  We were on our way to Home Depot and ended up everywhere except Home Depot.  I could have had this finished Monday evening and been peacefully admiring my sukkah in anticipation of sundown Wednesday.  Instead, I’m anticipating watching my mother weave paracord around the top of the frame (at minus five-foot-short, I have no idea how she’s going to reach the top of the ten-foot-plus, peaked cabana frame) probably while standing on a step ladder (I’m not sure we own one anymore) placed on uneven ground.  I’m having flashbacks to Mom and Dad fighting over the set-up of…well, just about everything.

And the grasses still need cut down.  With a reciprocating saw.  I know we own one of those, but I have absolutely no idea what it looks like or where it is.  Dad is supposed to help me with this, but then I wonder who will watch Mom while she’s weaving paracord on a ladder?  This is not going well.  At least Dad should be sufficiently occupied cutting grasses so as not to pick a fight with Mom.  And nobody better pick a fight with me because I have a headache already.  Is it too early in the day for a glass of bourbon?

Here’s the kicker:  we have until sundown this evening to complete this, except Mom wants to eats dinner in the sukkah as a family.  My husband, William, leaves for work at 3:30 PM.  So, we have roughly four and a half hours to get this thing ready.  I’m thinking we should have completed the sukkah today, enjoyed some coffee, tea, and cake in it, and then tomorrow when husband’s vacation starts, enjoy dinner as a family.  Am I the only person who sees this spiraling out of control?

Don’t even get me started on dinner.  Mom asked what I planned on making for the first evening.  This is code for “I’m buying the cabana frame, so you make dinner.”  Not a problem at all.  Really.  I figured we’d have the sukkah up by Monday evening anyhow, so I’d be free to prepare food.  Then she texts me with a picture of the marinara sauce she’s making for dinner.  I hadn’t even suggested a menu, and already she nixed it.  Again, not a problem.  We like marinara over spaghetti, and I have back-up sauce in case our teenager snarls his nose at it.

It’s anyone’s guess how this is going to go off.  I know there are a few details we still aren’t going to get right, but like life in general, Adonai gives us time to grow.  It’s anyone’s guess whether it’s His voice or mother’s in my head saying, “Have a little faith.”

Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 24

Editing is like looking for your car keys on a messy dining room table.  The keys are there, but you are unable to see them among the mail and magazines, your daughter’s homework, brochures from the hardware store, the candlesticks and forgotten napkin, a cup of cold coffee, a box of tissues, your toddler’s blocks, the dog’s leash, a bag of catnip, flyers formerly tucked in the front screen door, your son’s iPod, your husband’s wallet, and on and on.

Only when you have searched every other room in the house and finally returned to the dining room table will you be able to see the keys that have always been there.  It is the same with editing.  You must allow yourself to step away so that when you return, you will be able to see immediately what portions of your writing need to be revised.

I like to edit during my writing process.  Part of the reason I do this is so that I don’t forget the really great idea that just popped into my head.  I don’t understand the point of writing said idea in a notebook and going back to fix the issue after the entire novel is written.  This works for some people, but not for me.  And that’s okay.  There is no one way to write a novel.

With that being said, I also like to step away from my work, especially the larger pieces, for about three months.  Absolutely no peeking at the story on my laptop.  I even try to not think about it unless an amazing idea surfaces, and being in touch with my work, I know the difference between when that occurs and when I’m just anxious to cheat and sneak a peek.

Turns out, what I discovered intuitively is actually a recommendation from one of my favorite writing books, Page After Page by Heather Sellers.  Mrs. Sellers refers to this process as curing, and in her case, it’s what happens when she submits a work and doesn’t look at it, edit it, consider it again until all the rejections return or she’s accepted, in which case she doesn’t need to edit.

Then she goes one step further past the editing process and offers this practice as a method for handling rejection.  When you and your writing come back together, it’s more complex, deeper, richer, funkier, more interesting, and a whole host of other things you didn’t see before because you didn’t put enough time between you and the writing.  Also during this time, you’ve grown.  Hopefully, you’ve been reading both for pleasure and to study writing.  Keep writing every day to ensure you have enough stuff that you don’t feel as if you’re wasting time not editing it.

It’s really quite simple, and yet in its simplicity, it’s brilliant.  Write to keep from editing too soon; write to ease the pain of rejection.  But whatever you do, write.

Write Happy!

The Artist’s Corner – Cooking With Priscilla Smith

I’ve mentioned before that I have a tendency to feed the characters in my stories.  In fact my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, is replete with the mention of food prompting the sharing of recipes.  So when I began The Artist’s Corner, it made sense to feature someone who enjoys the art of cooking as much as I do.  I don’t believe Priscilla has ever cooked for a fictional person, but if she did, they would enjoy her talent as much as the real people for whom she cooks.

Hello and welcome to the Artist’s Corner.  Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Well, I’ve been married for fifty-one years, and I have two children and two grandchildren.  I have enjoyed being a homemaker for the better part of my marriage.  I was heavily involved in raising my family and my children’s schooling, but I also worked in the banking and legal industry as well as a volunteer at the fire department.

How/when did your love of cooking develop?

I learned to cook under my mother’s instruction, but growing up in West Virginia didn’t expose me to a variety of foods.  My basic cooking skills didn’t develop until my high school home economics class in Ohio.  My final project was to collect recipes, and I gathered some good ones, but they were basic.

I honed my skills through my relationship with my oldest brother’s wife.  Inta is Latvian, and she introduced me to other foods and methods of preparation.  I fell in love with cooking and realized I could do this, too.

Do you consider the food you prepare art?

All of it.  From the first steps of preparation to the finished meal is the creation process resulting in edible art.  That’s why I take pictures of it and put it on Facebook!  At first I thought just the fancy stuff and my baking was art, but I realized it all is.  The quality of the food contributes to the finished product.  Homemade food is art with love infused.  In fact, something as simple as fried green tomatoes when made with good ingredients and love are impressive.

And don’t forget that the table setting is part of it.  Presentation plays an important role.  You eat first with your eyes, then your sense of smell, and finally with your mouth.  Sure, it’s the same food when you hastily prepare it and eat right out of the pans, but beautiful dishes, large platters, place mats, candlelight, napkins, silver, and crystal:  all this enhances the food.  You make it worthy of being presented in a magazine.

Do you put yourself into your cooking?

Absolutely.  How I season, what I choose to cook for a particular meal, how I approach the preparation process:  this is me infusing myself into the food.  I love to cook what I enjoy eating for other people.  It’s a small expression of my personality that I can share with others.  And you really can’t go wrong when you’re cooking something you like to eat; it’s like giving a present of yourself to someone.

My accent is on good, solid food.  Not necessarily fancy, but I’m not afraid to try something new.  Thai food has been of interest to me lately.  But if asked to prepare something that I’m not particularly fond of or have never made, I’ll still make every effort to please whoever I’m feeding.

I don’t consider myself a chef by any means, but I consider myself a cook, and a good one.  I have training in life experience with cooking.  My education comes from searching through cookbooks, vintage recipes, online, and word of mouth which usually provides the best recipes.  And I can never leave a recipe alone; I always tweak it!  Sometimes my recipes are never the same twice, but they’re always good.

What other cooking experience have you had?

On a whim, I took a cake decorating class with women from a craft club I attended years ago when my children were young.  A bunch of us went.  I fell in love with the art of cake decorating and started making my kids’ cakes, cakes for neighbors, cakes for family functions.  I realized I could channel my talent into a small business.  With a lot of practice, I worked my way up to wedding cakes and was quite successful.

Did your non-cooking work experience lead to the pursuit of cooking?

Not exactly, but cooking for my family fed my interest.  I’ve never even been a waitress, but I’ve been involved with hosting tea parties (in my home, at church, and in other people’s homes), guests breakfasts for Pastor Appreciation, luncheons honoring staff or administrators at schools, catered wedding receptions, wedding showers, baby showers, conference luncheons for two hundred people at churches, a week’s worth of meals for an equestrian group with special dietary requests, and company Christmas parties.  In each instance, I worked with my client(s) to create a full menu that would be visually pleasing and delicious, and then I prepared the food.

What or who is your inspiration for cooking?

Julia Child, Ina Garten, and Martha Stewart—they cause me to rise up to their standard of cooking.  I love watching them and reading their cookbooks.  Factor in Graham Kerr and Justin Wilson.

What do you enjoy cooking?

It would be a lot quicker to say what I don’t enjoy.  My favorite things to cook are my childhood comfort foods which are brown beans and cornbread, meatloaf and mashed potatoes.  Simple desserts like Crazy Cake and fudge.  Really, it’s hard to say any one thing since I like to make big meals and serve people.  I love to make pasta, beef roasts, chicken in many forms, roasted vegetables.  I love baking pies, breads, cookies, and cakes in that order.

Do you still cook for others as a business?

No, now it’s all for pure pleasure.  Well, actually, I’d take small jobs for close friends or family.  I’ve done everything I want to do business-wise with cooking.  I could turn all my handwritten recipes into a cookbook.  I could see a market for it based on people’s positive reaction to The Pioneer Woman and Paula Deen.  People like well-prepared, basic food that tastes good and isn’t difficult.  Food you already have in your cupboards.

Have you ever competed in a cooking contest or bake off?  If so, how did you do?

I baked for competition once.  When I was a young mother, I made candy apple pie for a local grocery store’s competition.  I took second place and received a ribbon!  I love watching the competitions on television and thinking, I could beat Bobby Flay, but cooking shouldn’t be under pressure or about throwing food around.  I’m not going to cook octopus, but if Bobby and I competed at potato soup or chili, I know I could take him down in a heartbeat.

How have you shared your cooking skills?

Lately, I’ve been teaching a young girl how to cook because she’s homeschooled.  Her mother asked me if I’d teach her to bake cupcakes and cookies because she’d tasted my stuff.  We slowly progressed into pies (double crust and with meringue), and she’s made palmiers, pudding, and angel food cake.  Next she’s going to make cheesecake.  We keep progressing with more and more difficult techniques.

What’s your opinion on the removal of Home Economics from school, specifically cooking?

It’s sad because young people don’t know how to cook.  They come home from work and buy something frozen or already prepared.  And I’m not talking about just girls.  Boys need to know how to cook, too.  My one grandson is prime example that boys can learn how to cook.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, but they need to learn how to feed themselves.  Breakfast and dinner are essentials because that’s usually when they’re home.  Lunch is often eaten out, so they need to learn how to choose wisely.

How is what you cook for yourself different from what you cook for other people?

If I’m making a grilled cheese for myself, I’m going to grab a couple slices of bread from the fridge, use American cheese, and the fanciest thing I’d include would be a slice of tomato.  But if I’m making grilled cheese for someone else, I’m going to use seven-grain or homemade sourdough bread, gruyere, fontina, or a combination of exceptional melting cheeses, spread one side with Dijon mustard, and put a slice of roasted red pepper on that baby.  Still grilled cheese, but see the difference!

No doubt you’d work presentation into this simple fare?

Absolutely!  And it’s not just dressing up ill-prepared or tasteless food.  Make no mistake; it all starts with delicious food, quality ingredients.  Even how you refer to it is important.  Simple things like cutting the crust off toast or sprinkling chopped green onions over an omelet and serving it on pretty dishes can go a long way to turning the eggs and toast you always have for breakfast into something special.

What’s your favorite meal to cook?

Passover.  I love cooking for Passover.  When I’m cooking the Passover meal, the whole experience becomes holy.  Of course the Seder is beautiful; it’s for Adonai.  It can be quite long, so people are getting hungry.  You’d better serve them your best, and I do.  What I hope they know is that I’ve given my best to them because of my love for Adonai.

What’s your dream meal?

To have lunch with Martha Stewart, but I prepare the food.  There’d be a salad involved, probably a soup and sandwich combination.  The time of year, whether spring or fall, would influence the menu.  And I’d make homemade pie, probably lemon meringue because my crust is excellent.

What’s your biggest complaint with cooking?

The cost of good ingredients can be prohibitive.  One meal could be outrageous.  I’ll buy organic when it’s feasible.  My concern isn’t just for myself, it’s for everyone.  We live in a country that wastes too much food.  The GMOs bother me, too.  Whole foods and organics should be available at reasonable prices to everyone.

So do you have a recipe to share with us?

You know I do!

Homemade Potato Dumpling Soup

6 – 8 Redskin or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced

3 – 4 ribs of celery, sliced

Medium sweet onion, chopped

4 eggs, beaten

1 ½ c flour

½ t salt

Stick of butter

4 – 6 cups chicken broth, homemade or canned (enough to cover, depends on the size of your potatoes)

Salt and pepper to taste

1 quart half-n-half

Place the potatoes, celery, and onions in a large pot and cover with the broth.  Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and cover while you’re making the dumplings.

Combined the eggs, flour, and salt in a mixing bowl and stir thoroughly to make a thick batter for dumplings.  Take a large spoonful of dumpling mixture and cut off pieces with a butter knife, dropping them into the hot soup.  Add a stick of butter.  Cover and let the dumplings cook for 5 – 8 minutes.

Turn the heat off and add the half-and-half until there is plenty of liquid around the ingredients and the soup looks creamy.  Taste to see if you need more salt, then season further with salt and pepper.

My family likes to top the soup with small chunks of Havarti, let it soften ever so slightly, and then eat it!

Genius Indeed

Anyone who knows me knows that I read more than I watch movies.  It’s not that I have anything against movies, there are some excellent ones out there, but I love the place reading takes me.  A little prose to tantalize the senses, characters with whom I can relate or debate, description that draws me in:  I lose myself in the writing to the exclusion of everything around me.  But when a fellow book-snob recommends a movie, I seriously consider watching it.  Such was the case with Genius starring Colin Firth, Jude Law, Laura Linney, and Nicole Kidman.  The movie chronicles Scribner’s editor, Max Perkins, as he oversees the careers of Thomas Wolfe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway with the emphasis on Wolfe.

The first three actors immediately caught my attention because they are among my favorites.  Turns out Nicole Kidman portrayed Aline Bernstein, Thomas Wolfe’s unofficial patron and jilted lover, with an incredible amount of skill.  She’s matured quite nicely as an actress beyond being a pretty foil for Tom Cruise’s macho-man roles.  When she asks Jude Law as Thomas Wolfe if he knows how hard she’s worked to look at him and feel nothing, her strength radiates from the screen.

As for Laura Linney, who never fails to please, I thought she was underused in this film in her role of Max Perkins’s wife, Louise.  Her character was strong when she stood up to her husband, demanding he spend more time with his five daughters and less with his author, Thomas Wolfe, but she seemed a titch on the peripheral.  I understand the movie focused on the relationship between Perkins and Wolfe, but why waste Linney’s talent on one impassioned plea and nothing more?

Colin Firth as Max Perkins appealed to me as a writer.  Firth’s portrayal was solid, marching steadily on as an editor, drawing lines with his red pencil through a writer’s work with the precision of a scalpel.  I thrilled and cringed all at once watching those scenes.  But the one that delighted me the most was when Firth/Perkins sat on a train reading Wolfe’s manuscript that would become Look Homeward, Angel and realized it was worthy of publication.  Again, I was drawn into the movie by Firth’s slight smile, drawn into his head to the point I could see the wheels turning because he knew he’d hit upon literary genius.  Ah, to be a writer in those days when the relationship between editor and author meant hashing out the chapters line by line while secluded in an office.

The first thing about the movie that caught my attention was the cinematography in the opening scenes depicting the 1920s.  Usually pictures or films from this era are shades of gray or sepia.  Such was the case with the movie until it slowly faded to color past the opening credits.  Only the coloring didn’t change all that much because the streets of 1920s New York were rather gray and brown anyhow.

Now think beyond the splash of color implied by jazz and flappers and you’ll realize this was a great technique to employ in a movie about writers.  You’ll see it throughout the movie from Max Perkins’s cigarette smoke-clouded office slanted with rays of sunshine, to Perkins’s white home against a plain background, to scenes of men in breadlines during the Depression.  This may sound rather boring, but I believe it was a skillful attempt to capture black words on a white page, i.e. writing.  In fact, the whole movie was so brilliantly black and white, that I must give high praise to whoever thought of transitioning the written word to the viewed image in such a way.

Make no mistake, however; the movie was anything but colorless.  Jude Law as the larger-than-life Thomas Wolfe was so over the top with his portrayal.  Clearly Wolfe was a genius, but I flinched every time he opened his mouth, romping around scenes like a Great Dane puppy, and baying his slightly crazy, writerly musings.  I could see why Wolfe needed reigning in and taming by Max Perkins.  Law was at his most unsophisticated, un-Jude-like self; I forgot that he was acting and not truly Thomas Wolfe.

Guy Pearce as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Dominic West as Ernest Hemingway provide two nice cameos of the authors.  More exciting was the camera panning what looked to be first edition novels by said authors on the shelves in Max Perkins’s office.  Even if they weren’t, I’m sure I wasn’t the only writer salivating at the dream of getting my hands on a first edition of any of their works.

One small sidebar to the Perkins/Wolfe drama was the tiny restoration of my faith toward F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with F. Scott and banged him up pretty bad on my blog.  (F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Short Stories, Dear Scott, Sincerely HL, Under the Influence).  The viewer is given a small glimpse of F. Scott as the tender caretaker of his mad wife, Zelda.  For me, this persona never came out in Fitzgerald’s writing.  To see him as something other than the money-grubbing, mad-for-fame author in pursuit of the “top girl” was refreshing.

I’ll not spoil the ending of the movie as it delivers more emotionally impactive word-to-image scenes, but I’ll close by saying it was the best movie I ever read.

Old Literature, New Words

Nothing like a great classic to bring up some words you may know, but weren’t aware had interesting multiple definitions, and a few you may not know.  I’m sure you’ll want to add these to your vocabulary, work them into your writing, and use them to win a round of Jeopardy.

First is beetling.  When I came across it in a sentence, I thought I knew the definition of the word, but its usage didn’t make sense where it had been written.  So, I went in search of the definition that would fit the sentence.

As a verb, beetling can mean:

Make one’s way hurriedly or with short, quick steps.

To use a beetle on; drive, ram, beat, or crush with a beetle.

To project or overhang threateningly.

As a noun:

A heavy hammering or ramming instrument, usually of wood, used to drive wedges, force down paving stones, compress loose earth, etc.

Any of various wooden instruments for beating linen, mashing potatoes, etc.

Any insect of the order Coleoptera, having biting mouthparts and forewings modified to form shell-like protective elytra (two-wing casing of a beetle).

As an adjective:

Projecting, overhanging.

That’s quite a few definitions for a word that sounds rather cute when you say it.  Try it this way:

But just then the moon, sailing through the black clouds, appeared behind the jagged crest of a beetling, pine-clad rock, and by its light I saw around us a ring of wolves, with white teeth, lolling red tongues, with long sinewy limbs and shaggy hair.

Now it doesn’t sound so innocent, does it?  Clearly the adjective of beetle was the one the author had in mind.

Let’s move on to prosecuting.  I don’t know about you, but I instantly think all things legal when I hear the word.  A verb all around, drop the –ing and head straight for prosecute to discover what it means:

Institute legal proceedings against (a person or organization), institute legal proceedings in respect of (a claim or offense), and (of a lawyer) conduct the case against the party being accused or sued in a lawsuit.

See what I mean about the legal thing.  But press on a titch to find:

Continue with (a course of action) with a view to it completion.

And the archaic:

Carry on (a trade or pursuit).

Consider the sentence:

I think had there been any alternative I should have taken it, instead of prosecuting that unknown night journey.

Our character is fearful of his surroundings and the strange goings-on, so no doubt the second definition of prosecute applies here.

The last word is a fun one and needs to be worked into conversation at every opportunity not unlike the word huzzah.  Try faugh on for size.  The exclamation is used to express disgust, and I came across it in the sentence:

I am alone in the castle with those awful women.  Faugh!  Mina is a woman, and there is nought in common.  They are devils of the Pit!

You might believe the author is writing about the Kardashians, but he’s not.  The women in question are vampires, and if you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

I wasn’t going to mention this word, but lest anyone think I’ve misspelled it, nought in the sentence above is not spelled incorrectly; it’s a variation of naught.  But you, brilliant follower, already knew that.

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