Archive

Archive for the ‘true life’ Category

Guest Blogger John Scherber – The Artist Turns Detective

December 8, 2014 5 comments

perf5.500x8.500.inddThe Artist Turns Detective by John Scherber

A lot of people would like to paint, and I’m no exception.  In high school I had a close friend who painted, and I always wondered how well he did with it later in life. I took a run at it myself in those days and bombed badly. Much later I returned to it in a more methodical way and became fairly competent, but I didn’t quit my day job.

What I did learn from painting is that you have to see things differently. There were exercises where, for example, you’d paint a vase upside down. It helped to keep you from thinking of it as a vase––putting a name to it––only seeing the action of light and shadow on the surfaces, which is what you painted. Names come from a different part of the brain and they get in the way.

Later, I wondered whether seeing things differently be any use in solving a crime. My painter character, Paul Zacher, living in Mexico with his historian girlfriend, doesn’t think so when he’s asked to look into a murder by the widow of the victim. He knows he sees the relationships of curves and contours to each other, the different colors within the shadows on human skin. But what would he pick up at a crime scene that the police missed?

That’s the premise of my book, Twenty Centavos, the first of a series of mysteries involving Paul Zacher, his girlfriend Maya Sanchez, and their retired detective friend, Cody Williams. They are mostly set in San Miguel de Allende, a colonial mountain town in the center of México with a large expatriate population. I’ve lived there too for the past seven years.

At thirty-five, Paul is a guy with an irreverent sense of humor who does fairly well as a painter, showing at two galleries, and he likes his life. When the book begins, he is engaged in a series of nudes posed with statues of Mayan Gods against a jungle backdrop. The show he’s preparing for will be called Gods and Goddesses. Getting pulled into a criminal investigation, he finds himself at odds with the local police, and with himself as well, because he sometimes feels like a snoop. As an outgoing guy with an ironic sense of humor, he’s uncomfortable with his new need to be covert and even sneaky at times in order to solve a case.

When I began this book I was on a painting trip, driving down a long curving mountain road outside of Taos, New Mexico, when a scene came to me of a woman coming to pose for a nude portrait at a painter’s studio. She was not an experienced model, but wanted to preserve an image of herself in her prime at the age of twenty-eight. She was also wondering whether it might be fun to engage in a little rendezvous with the painter as well. He was an attractive guy and she knew he liked women.perf5.500x8.500.indd

As it developed, I turned this scene over and over in my mind and virtually memorized it. When I arrived at my hotel in Taos, I immediately sat down at my laptop and wrote it.

Paul Zacher, who already knew he was attracted to his new model, is nonetheless loyal to his Mexican girlfriend. As a painter, he views the naked body as landscape; hills and valleys, outcroppings of bush here and there. But even more, for him the studio is a place of discipline and concentration, and to get involved with a model means chaos. His reaction is complicated by the recollection of an earlier encounter where he had stumbled in the studio. Upon this model’s arrival, a fine misunderstanding follows.

Naturally, solving this case led to others. I found I was already working on the second book of the series, The Fifth Codex, even before I was finished revising Twenty Centavos.

Currently there are twelve published and another in process. They fall into two categories, artifact and relationship. Twenty Centavos is focused on ancient Mayan ceramics, and The Fifth Codex deals with the discovery of a fifth Maya book, where only four had been previously known. The fifth one, Strike Zone, is centered on the recovery of a skull cast from the remaining gold of the Aztecs in the days of the Conquest. These are the artifact books. The ninth concerns an attempt to steal Mexico’s greatest religious treasure, the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Brushwork, the third of the series, is about revenge. Daddy’s Girl, Vanishing Act, and Identity Crisis focus on love, loss and greed.

This is a rewarding series to write. I love the backdrop of the upscale expat community in San Miguel, and the continuity and developing relationship of the three core characters. As with so many successful series books, these are the books I myself want to read.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

DSC_0005-1John Scherber, a Minnesota native, settled in México in 2007. He is the author of twelve Paul Zacher mysteries, (The Murder in México series), set in the old colonial hill town of San Miguel de Allende, as well as his three award-winning nonfiction accounts of the expatriate experience, San Miguel de Allende: A Place in the Heart, Into the Heart of Mexico: Expatriates Find Themselves Off the Beaten Path, and Living in San Miguel: The Heart of the Matter.  In addition, two volumes of the Townshend Vampire Trilogy have appeared, and a paranormal thriller titled The Devil’s Workshop.

His work is known for its fast pace, irreverent humor, and light-hearted excursions into the worlds of art and antiques––always with an edge of suspense. Neither highbrow nor lowbrow, his books are written as entertainments and dedicated to the fun of reading. While he has acknowledged being no single one of his characters, he also admits to being all of them. Find John on Facebook and Twitter, and visit his website at: http://www.sanmiguelallendebooks.com

Debra Does Cooking by Debra H. Goldstein

August 4, 2014 21 comments

Debra Does Cooking by Debra H. Goldstein

Remember when I decided to try my hand at pottery? (Stop laughing L.M.) Well, I’ve decided to impress Joel with my culinary talents. There is some danger in this decision because I’ve spent thirty years training him to expect a certain level from my homemaking skills.

For example, I was working on a new recipe a few weeks ago when a button popped off his pants. Disgusted at having to change his pants, he said something about needing to take the slacks to the tailor. I was focused on my dish and without thinking volunteered, “Would you like me to sew it back on?”

He stared at me and asked, “Do you know how to do that?”

“On second thought,” I replied, “take it to the tailor.” I then went back to figuring out how to rescue the recipe I had accidently put 2 tablespoons rather than ¼ teaspoon of pepper into when Joel distracted me during my crucial measuring moment. At dinner, there was no further mention of his pants and we agreed my dish looked good, but it definitely had a bit of heat.

My new interest in the kitchen has resulted in me taking stock of my kitchen equipment. Although I could boast some still in their box utensils and two unopened spices from the “Can She Recognize This” kitchen shower my friends had for me, I never received the pots, pans, and gadgets new brides receive today. The high points of that shower were when I recognized a garlic press and when I pulled out some beautiful paper plates and matching napkins and someone quipped, “Oh, look! She got her good china.” The low point of the shower was opening a mixer with dough hooks rather than the food processor I really wanted.

I’ve made up for being deprived during the last three weeks. I now own a new wok (I did have one once but I used it for something other than cooking and it was never the same), an on-the stove smoker (the salmon came out good, but the house reeked of burnt ash for two days), and my first crockpot (I made Joel come home for my first one pot dinner at four because I miscalculated the 7-8 hours the stuff was bubbling). Over the years, I’ve always enjoyed purchasing cookbooks (some of my favorites include Peg Bracken’s I Hate to Cook Cookbook; Come For Cocktails, Stay for Supper; and especially You Should Write a Cookbook for its spinach pie recipe that features thawed frozen spinach soufflés), so it was a no brainer to buy five new ones to match my new kitchen items. I’m sure I’ll use four of them often, but the one I accidentally downloaded won’t get much use as I read somewhere it wasn’t wise to put an ipad near gas generated flames.

For years, I joked that I only cooked when we had snowstorms. Joel hasn’t said he wishes I would return to that practice, but he has started calling me every afternoon to ask “Would you like to go out for dinner, tonight?”

Maybe I should take that quilting class that was on my post-retirement bucket list.

The Meaning of Life by Debra H. Goldstein

Debra HeadshotThe Meaning of Life by Debra H. Goldstein

Recently I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the meaning of life and its other alternative. This isn’t a new topic for me to explore. I first started thinking about it shortly after my fiftieth birthday when I woke one morning to find my arms had turned to flab and I had become my mother. The thoughts were generated by a discussion with a friend who was in the last stages of cancer. She was questioning what purpose living in her debilitated state had and whether after we die, we are remembered or the life we lived fades away.

I couldn’t answer her questions. I was too focused on reaching outside my comfort zone to find ways to ease her journey. When she died, I decided her purpose was the seed of herself planted in others through charitable doing, mentoring, and touching people at the right time. Her nourishment of others left ideas, feelings, and values to reseed the next generation.

Time went on and I didn’t spend much time dwelling on the meaning of life. I was too busy enjoying the life cycle events that constantly were occurring in the lives of my friends and my own family. Trips to visit and cuddle new babies, writing events, the coming of age Bar Mitzvah ceremony of a nephew, graduations from pre-school through professional school, and the joy of watching my daughter walk down the aisle to be with the man she has chosen to spend the rest of her life with consumed my waking hours. Why dwell on life and death when so many things were going on?

I was attending a writer’s conference being held on a property in Disneyworld when I glanced down at my smartphone and noticed an email entitled “OMG.” Above “OMG” was an endless string of responding e-mails. A friend who was a wife, mother, respected professional, devoted kayaker, and person who was taking me out for a birthday lunch the next week had had a cerebral bleed and died within minutes the night before. Everyone, including me, was in shock that this young and healthy vibrant woman was gone. No “why” made sense.

My other friends and I went on living. At one of the other planned lunch celebrations for my birthday, one of our lunch bunch mentioned she was celebrating her 25th wedding anniversary. Knowing she had married a much older man and that part of his proposal had been he would be hers for at least twenty-five years, we asked what he had given her for their special anniversary. The answer: the promise of trying for another twenty-five years as wonderful as the first. Last week, our lunch bunch held our breath when this man who never gets sick was hospitalized with pneumonia and a low blood count. We all feared he wouldn’t be able to keep his promise. Happily, his positive response to medical treatment has given them the opportunity to share many more years together.

In Jewish tradition, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is decided who shall live and who shall die. At the time of Yom Kippur, one’s fate hopefully is inscribed in the book of life. I don’t know how or why the final decision is made. I cannot venture a guess as to our true purpose in living or if there is an existential meaning of life, but I do know I value every moment of it that I share with my family, friends, and those individuals I will meet in the future.