Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Scissors of Doom


When my author website came to life in 2011, my publishers encouraged me to post a blog entry two or three times a week. This sounded so simple and kind of fun. I had loads to say about my new book, about the writing life in Hollywood (moving from fiction to nonfiction) and about all the ways a woman creates opportunities to gain and share wisdom. Wasn't the world waiting for my wisdom?

Four years later, I have posted three blog entries. Three. In that time, a new biography has been published (Angel City Press sticks with non-blogger April) and a wealth of experience could potentially enrich my blogging life, maybe even attract some followers among the curious souls who check in every once in a while to see if author April has posted something new.

So here is something new.

On retreat recently with my daughter Sarah, we had a chance to leave the city and bond anew - she on a short break from mothering her three girls and pursuing a graduate degree in theology and I taking a pause from a busy book tour. It was heavenly. Pine trees, cedar shingles, foxes, nesting swallows, fog horns, sea sprites. Nothing was missing, and our tranquility was assured.  I had one overriding goal: to give Sarah space and plenty of quiet time for private study. That was our agreement. Easy!

If only the Japanese Clover Spring Scissors sewing fabric thread cutter had not sliced into Sarah's serenity. We were at the dining table sipping lattes. As is typical of me, I was doing two things at once, (actually three, if you count talking to Sarah) - making some notes on my iPad and finishing a sewing task, my small spring scissors doing its sharp little job. Sarah stood up, looking relaxed and happy. She was about to return to work when I decided to show her my sewing progress, at which moment an observer might have misinterpreted my weapon flip as the coup de gras in a game of Mumbley-Peg. My childhhood girl scout troop in Hyde Park, Chicago was the neighborhood champ of Mumbley-Peg pocket knife throwers. There was no badge for this achievement.

Trying not to take up too much of Sarah's time, an artless gesture sent the Japanese Clover Spring Scissors flying from my hand, landing in Sarah's ankle and falling to the carpet. We were both stunned. Sarah was marked with a perfect round puncture wound. The tiny red circle was for me a bullseye of carelessness and shame. Five minutes later the hydrogen peroxide was put away and the drama over. Sarah exhibited not an ounce of blame. She knows her mother so well and figured that my pain was as bad or worse than hers.

Why is it that the harder we try, the more likely we will over-shoot and bring about exactly the opposite outcome of our intentions? One time for an important dinner party at our art gallery in Hollywood (for the director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and his wife!) I was so concerned about the calibration of our oven that my fiddling resulted in a complete oven breakdown. Raw lamb was not an option, so forces were rallied to save the day. But I needn't have been so over-zealous in my preparations. The lesson with my daughter: calm down and carry on.

I don't think I will wait so long to make another blog entry. But you never know. I take great pleasure in reading other people's blogs. I am open to inspiration and, of course, to feedback. I am committed to write again, before Sarah earns her divinity degree. Bless us, every one.

Thursday, June 13, 2013


What is there to the art of critiquing art? In mid-August, my gallerist husband Ron and I will evaluate some 400 entries in the annual "Art in the Redwoods" juried exhibition at Gualala Arts Center in Northern California. I have grown to love the small coastal town of Gualala, since my honeymoon there, long ago. Ron and I feel lucky to call ourselves part-timers, now that we spend several months a year in residence, there.

In the past, judging for the art show has consisted of panels of two, three, or more jurors. One brave printmaker from the Midwest took on the job single-handedly in 2012. There was controversy following the results, which is, I think, built into the contest. Gualalans know each other. In Mendocino County, painting, drawing, pottery, sculpture, photography, stitchery and jewelry-making are serious enterprises. Certain artists have followings and reputations. So the community pays close attention at awards time. What’s more, tourist purchases of art contribute to the economy. Admittedly, no commodity can compete with the area's notorious cash crop: marijuana. If creativity thrives at the intersection of weed and artistic inclination, Mendocino’s really got it goin' on.

It was an honor to be asked to judge “Art in the Redwoods” this year. The Dammann team has signed on enthusiastically. But not naively.  Art appreciation being largely subjective, even with a strong academic or experiential foundation, what impresses me might leave you cold. 
Here are some of the criteria I will apply to each entry:
Involve me. Move me. Innovate. Express. Organize. Be elegant. Or not. Be brave. Evoke. Provoke. Show craftsmanship. Make unmistakable your point of view. Or make me guess. Shout. Whisper. Tease me. Surprise me. Inspire me.
With eyes wide open (the best way to view art), I will make my assessment and stand by it. What’s the worst that could happen?

Stay tuned!

Art in the Redwoods – August 17 and 18, 2013 - Gualala Arts Center

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Unexpected Gifts


As I embark on my second book for Angel City Press, I am appreciating some of the unexpected rewards of having put my story out there the first time. Writing involves such gasps of courage and vaults of faith. My husband tells me sometimes he hears me take a little gasping breath when I am writing. Funny, I wasn't aware. Those sounds must punctuate a satisfying idea... or a worry... or an aha! moment. I like to think it's the aha! As for a faith-vault, we've just come off of the Olympic Games, and I'll bet others marveled, as I did, when U.S. gymnast McKayla Maroney catapulted herself impossibly high in a close-to-perfect vault during the team finals. Imagine her thoughts as she twisted in the air, knowing she could stick the landing, but not knowing if she would. In fact, Maroney missed badly, later in the competition.

But we take the leaps. My next book, like Exhibitionist: Earl Stendahl, Art Dealer as Impresario, will be a biographical art history. Is this the right direction for author April? Will my audience for the Stendahl story be equally interested in the life and works of artist/activist Corita Kent? And - of great interest to my publisher and to me - will readership grow and expand beyond my first effort?

These questions are important, but they are not uppermost in my mind. I'm still enjoying the Exhibitionist ride. I have PowerPointed my way across the country, selling and signing, talking to readers - my favorite people. (You who read this blog are in the club, and I thank you!) Husband Ron (Stendahl's grandson) and I have hosted many groups at the Stendahl Galleries of Art in Hollywood, where much of my book's history unfolded. I presumed, rightly, that once people had an idea of Stendahl's remarkable impact on Southern California's art scene, there would be a revival of interest in early Modernism and in Pre-Columbian art. The Getty's Pacific Standard Time program of exhibitions was timed perfectly to shine more light on the story I was sharing. It was all falling into place. What I didn't expect was the feedback which so enlivened the conversation.

One day a package arrived in my mail from Menomonie, Wisconsin: the birthplace of Earl Stendahl. I had had brief correspondence with an elderly journalist there, who writes columns under "Wisconsin Lore & Legends." He was enthusiastic about my relationship to the Stendahls and about Earl's origins in his hometown. In the package: Swiss Miss Cocoa Powder (who knew this is a Menomonie company?), magazines, newspapers, photographs, postcards and monographs about the town's history, including ephemera that related directly to the Stendahls. A gift, truly. On another occasion, a cousin brought over something I had no idea still existed.  While clearing out his mother-in-law's garage, he came across an original Stendahl fine art puzzle from 1931. These puzzles were a crucial part of Stendahl's survival during The Depression; here was a lovely little example in good condition, the colors still vibrant. Thank you, thank you.

Others have been in touch to tell me their own experiences, relating to my book's revelations. "Your grandfather-in-law gave my father his first show when he was a starving artist." "Stendahl was a son-of-a-bitch. But I say that in the most positive way. There was no dealer more respected."

I am already looking forward to the response from my book about Sister Mary Corita. Of course, the real trick is to collect great tidbits before publication. I will make every effort to do so.

Friday, January 6, 2012


This first blog entry could be filed under “One Writer’s Beginnings” – not to be confused with the wonderful Eudora Welty’s memoirs. My roots aren’t Southern, and my oeuvre is not as grand.  Still… I think others are as interested as I am in how, where and why a writer finds inspiration.

During my senior year at Hollywood High School in 1964, my family lived in an apartment complex called The Franklin Villa. It was ordinary in every way, squeezed between other similar buildings on busy Franklin Avenue, just two blocks from Hollywood Boulevard. There was a swimming pool with cracked concrete in the middle of sixteen units occupied by singles, marrieds and families. The tenants were mostly down-and-outers, trying for Hollywood careers. In a way I was one of them, beginning my writing life within those faded green stucco walls.

At age 18, I was a part-time employee of Samuel Goldwyn Productions, hired to turn people’s brief story ideas into teleplay format. I had learned the ropes from my dad, a local disc jockey with his own dreams of a bigger stage. It didn’t occur to me at the time that whoever was running the Goldwyn operation was exploiting the hopes of na├»ve folks, promising that a script in hand would bring them success in Hollywood. Lesson learned:  My first company was named “Don’t Tell Me the Odds Productions.”  I had witnessed—up close—the showbiz struggles in our building, not knowing that three of the Villa’s occupants were actual stars-in-the-making.

My favorite Hollywood hopeful at The Franklin Villa – and the person I found most inspiring for my own future performing and writing – was Virginia Capers, a single mother with a gorgeous voice, Juilliard-trained, who generously coached me when I won the lead role of “Fiona” in Hollywood High’s production of the musical Brigadoon. For one semester I was lost in the magic of the mythical Scottish village rising out of the Highland mist once every hundred years, so that love might bloom for a lucky few. Learning to sing, to write… those were months of heady creativity for me, and Capers’ guidance made all the difference. Ten years after I knew her, she won the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical for Raisin and founded a noted company of African American actors. From then on, Capers worked constantly on TV and in movies, until her death at age 78. Virginia is someone who made it.

“Plastics, son. Plastics.”  Walter Brooke memorably uttered those words to Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. That was in 1967. In 1964 character actor Brooke lived downstairs, spending most of his days poolside with his curvy girlfriend. My sister Ruth and I giggled and averted our eyes (sort of) from Brooke’s Speedo. He had a habit of resting one hand nonchalantly on the bulging front. The girlfriend was always in the briefest  bikini, and the two seemed to enjoy their cigarettes and each other. I knew Brooke had hit the big time when he landed a TV lead on The Green Hornet and dozens of guest starring gigs. He died at age 71, and Ruth and I went to his funeral.

When young actor Brandon De Wilde moved in below us with his bride, I was overcome by adolescent envy (of her) and desire (for him). Those blue eyes. The shy “hello”s.  He was my teenage dream – blond, a little sad, the kind of boy you want to love and protect. De Wilde grabbed Hollywood’s attention in roles as the kid in Shane and Hud. My God, he had an Oscar nomination by age twelve. And who could forget him as the boy who got the girl in trouble in Blue Denim? In fact, Mrs. De Wilde was pregnant at The Villa. That meant they had done it—fuel for my imagination, as I wondered where in the first floor apartment their bed was located.  I learned much later that he and wife Susan were divorced after their son was born and that De Wilde was killed in 1972 in a car accident, married only months to his second wife. Gone. On the cusp of a big career. He was thirty years old.

My son is that age. And I live less than a mile from the Franklin Villa in a home which has been declared a historic-cultural monument.  I always considered my Hollywood story with its cast of characters to be one of a kind. But I’ve changed my mind.  Now I imagine nondescript apartment buildings all over Los Angeles, Chicago, cities large and small – where there are ambitious strivers sharing their lives and dreams. I am lucky to be able to say about a few, “I knew them when.”