Coming out of the Louvre for the first time in 1971, dizzy with new love, I
stood on Pont Neuf and made a pledge to myself that the art of this newly
discovered world in the Old World would be my life companion. Never had
history been more vibrant, its voices more resonating, its images more
gripping. On this first trip to Europe, I felt myself a pilgrim: To me, even
secular places such as museums and ruins were imbued with the sacred.
Painting, sculpture, architecture, music, religious and social history--I
was swept away with all of it, wanting to read more, to learn languages, to
fill my mind with rich, glorious, long-established culture wrought by human
desire, daring, and faith. I wanted to keep a Gothic cathedral alive in my
heart. My imagination exploded with the gaiety of the Montmartre dancers at
Moulin de la Galette, the laborer whose last breath in his flattened chest
was taken under the weight of a stone fallen from the Duomo under
construction in Florence, the apprentice who cut himself preparing glass for
the jeweled windows of Sainte Chapelle, the sweating quarry worker aching
behind his crowbar at Carrara to release a marble that would become the
In a fashion I couldn't imagine then, I have been true to this pledge. I
have brought to life the daughter of the Dutch painter Vermeer who secretly
yearned to paint the Delft she loved. I've given voice to the Italian
Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi, raped at seventeen by her painting
teacher, the first woman to paint large scale figures from history and
scripture previously reserved for men. On my own continent, I've entered
deep British Columbian forests with Emily Carr, whose love for native people
took her to places proper white women didn't go. My imagination has followed
Modigliani's daughter around Paris searching for shreds of information about
the father she never knew. I've imagined myself a poor wetnurse, bereaved of
her own baby so that a rich woman, Berthe Morisot, might paint. I've taken
my seventeenth century Tuscan shoemaker to Rome to have his longed-for
religious experience under the Sistine ceiling. I've followed Renoir's
models to cabarets and boat races, to war and elopement, to the
Folies-Bergère and luncheons by the Seine.
Now some facts as to how I arrived there: After graduating from San Diego
State University, I taught high school English in San Diego beginning in
1969 and retired in 2000 after a 30-year career. Concurrently, I began
writing features for newspapers and magazines in 1980, taking up subjects in
art and travel, and publishing 250 articles. I ventured into fiction in 1988
with What Love Sees, a biographical novel of a woman's unwavering
determination to lead a full life despite blindness. The book was made into
a CBS television movie starring Richard Thomas and Annabeth Gish. My short
fiction has appeared in The Missouri Review, Ploughshares, New England
Review, Confrontation, Alaska Quarterly Review, Manoa, Connecticut Review,
Calyx, Crescent Review, So To Speak and elsewhere.
My art-related fiction, products of my pledge on Pont Neuf:
Girl in Hyacinth Blue, 1999, and a Hallmark Hall of Fame
production in 2003, tracing an alleged Vermeer painting through the
centuries revealing its influence on those who possessed it.
The Passion of Artemisia, 2002, disclosing the inner life of
Artemisia Gentileschi, Italian Baroque painter who empowered her female
heroines with her own courage.
The Forest Lover, 2004, following the rebel Canadian painter,
Emily Carr, seeking the spiritual content of her beloved British
Columbia by painting its wild landscape and its native totemic carvings.
Life Studies, 2005, stories revealing Impressionist and
Post-Impressionist painters from points of view of people who knew them,
and showing that ordinary people can have profound encounters with art.
Luncheon of the Boating Party, 2007, illuminating the
vibrant, explosive Parisian world of la vie moderne surrounding
Renoir as he creates his masterwork depicting the French art of living.
New York Times Best Sellers: Girl in Hyacinth Blue, The
Passion of Artemisia, Luncheon of the Boating Party.
Book Sense Pick, Luncheon of the Boating Party, 2007.
Book Sense Year's Favorites, for The Passion of Artemisia,
Book Sense Book of the Year Finalist, Girl in Hyacinth
International Dublin Literary Award, Nominee, for Girl in
Hyacinth Blue, 2001.
Independent Publisher Magazine, Storyteller of the Year, for
Girl in Hyacinth Blue, 1999.
Foreword Magazine's Best Novel of the Year, for
Girl in Hyacinth Blue,1999.
San Diego Book Awards' Theodor Geisel Award and Best Novel of the
Year, 1999, for Girl; 2002 for Artemisia, and 2005 for
My work has been translated into twenty-five languages.
So, what have I learned from all of this? That entering the mind and heart
of painters has taught me to see, and to be more appreciative of the
beauties of the visible world. That I can agree with Renoir when he said, "I
believe that I am nearer to God by being humble before his splendor
(Nature)." That people are hungry for real lives behind the paintings. That
readers' lives have been enriched, their sensibilities sharpened, even their
goals for their own creative endeavors given higher priorities in their
And especially this: Thanks to art, instead of seeing only one world and
time period, our own, we see it multiplied and can peer into other times,
other worlds which offer windows to other lives. Each time we enter
imaginatively into the life of another, it's a small step upwards in the
elevation of the human race. Consider this: Where there is no
imagination of others' lives, there is no human connection. Where there is
no human connection, there is no chance for compassion to govern. Without
compassion, then loving kindness, human understanding, peace all shrivel.
Individuals become isolated, and the isolated can turn resentful, narrow,
cruel; they can become blinded, and that's where prejudice, holocausts,
terrorism and tragedy hover. Art--and literature--are antidotes to that.
This biography was last updated on 08/13/2011.
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