O’Keefe Country

Back in May, I highlighted quotes from Georgia O’Keefe, the first American female painter to achieve national recognition. I’ve long been a fan of O’Keefe’s work, probably because my mother, a painter herself, introduced me to O’Keefe’s color-filled renditions of flowers and landscapes when I was growing up.

This summer, I had a chance to visit the vistas that inspired O’Keefe, and I’ve been meaning to write about it ever since! In July, we traveled to Santa Fe, New Mexico, home of the Georgia O’Keefe museum. The museum houses some of O’Keefe’s most famous works, and also artifacts from her life. There, you can read letters she wrote to her husband Alfred Stieglitz about the beauty of New Mexico and the pull the countryside there had on her. You can also see the camping equipment she used when she wanted to travel off the beaten path to paint different scenery. The museum shows films that describe the struggles O’Keefe had with art critics, and how they wanted to attribute her gorgeous painting of flowers to sexuality, when she just wanted to show the beauty of the flower by magnifying it with paper and paints. Critics of the O’Keefe museum say that there is not enough of her work represented there. But really, can we ever see enough of her work? Take a peek at some of the works the museum houses HERE.

We also traveled away from Santa Fe to the Ghost Ranch, made famous in part by O’Keefe’s long stays there. She fell in love with the place, and spent many years working and painting there. The Ghost Ranch logo, in fact, was designed after a cow skull painting of O’Keefe’s. We were told that the skull pictured above, which hangs from an old adobe home at the Ghost Ranch, was the skull O’Keefe painted… but we’re a little dubious about that.

My children at the Ghost Ranch

The red clay canyons and sky-scraper like formations make the Ghost Ranch a place like no other, and visiting there,  it was easy to see why she found the landscape and the clear blue sky inspiring. Even if you’ve never been to the Ghost Ranch, you’ve probably seen it. Ever watched Cowboys and Aliens or City Slickers? How about Silverado or Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? If you have, you’ve seen the Ghost Ranch. Because it  offers acres and acres of pristine land, it is frequently used by filmmakers.

Today the Ghost Ranch is still used by writers and artists as a retreat for working, but also for teaching. What inspired O’Keefe continues to inspire.

We saw other amazing things on our vacation. But walking in O’Keefe country gave me a greater appreciation for not only the talent of Georgia O’Keefe, but also the extreme sacrifices she made as a woman of her day to leave New York and move to New Mexico for the sake of her art.

View from the Ghost Ranch

The Quotable Nerdy Chick: Pattie Maes

I first heard of Pattie Maes in 1997 in the most unlikely place – the pages of People Magazine’s Most Beautiful People edition. The reason she stood out was because she was not an actress or a movie star – Pattie was then an associate professor at the MIT Media Laboratory. Instantly, I thought, here’s a woman who has it all – smart, successful, beautiful, and visionary. Pretty much the epitome of the Nerdy Chick.

Currently, Pattie is the director of the Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces group (which she founded) and the associate Department Head for the Media, Arts and Sciences Department (which all means that at science juggernaut MIT, Pattie is a mover and shaker). Her research is on the interaction between humans and computers and how computers can help us be smarter, something she calls “intelligence augmentation.” In other words, she isn’t just studying science – she’s creating new fields that other people haven’t imagined.

Quotes from Pattie Maes:

  • [On her life motto] “I am just being playful. I like working hard and having fun. It is really my hobby rather than work. In our team it is all about staying playful, open-minded and silly. It’s about taking risks and trying to never grow up. We just have fun.”
  • “We like to invent new disciplines or look at new problems, and invent bandwagons rather than jump on them.”
  • “We are a social species, and we can benefit from each other’s intelligence and each other’s problem solving.”
  • “I try to eat healthy, but being Belgian, I’m also addicted to chocolate.”

Learn more about Pattie HERE.

Celebrating Malcolm at Midnight

Yesterday saw the debut day of W. H. Beck’s middle grade novel Malcolm at Midnight. When W.H. Beck was interviewed here earlier this year, a trailer for this cute mystery wasn’t available yet. So we thought we’d celebrate Malcolm’s release by sharing the trailer today. It showcases the great artwork of Malcolm’s illustrator, Brian Lies. Take a look:


And here’s my favorite question from the W. H. Beck interview because she shares some of the interesting things she learned about rats during the writing process:

Did you do any particular research when writing Malcolm at Midnight? For being a funny mystery starring a talking rat, I did a lot of research for Malcolm! First of all, I’ve never had a rat as a pet, so I had to learn about rats—what they could do (swim through plumbing!), their strengths (resilience) and weaknesses (food). It was really fun to twist those around into Malcolm’s character traits and actions. The same was true for the classroom pets’ “slang.” I figured that if food was really important to them, then their vocabulary would reflect that. So I got to get out my trusty thesaurus and looked up alternate words for eating and snacks and crumbs and turn them into sayings the animals could use.

Working with an illustrator (Brian Lies) also opened up a whole new level of research for me. Malcolm at Midnight is set in an old school, and when I write, I like to use a lot of visuals, so I spent way more time than I needed to clicking around on the internet, looking at aging schools and clock towers. But this all came in handy later on, when Brian had questions about the school’s layout. I forwarded him a lot of my links and sketches and photos for his illustrations.

And finally, because I’m a nerdy chick, I did a lot of research in planning and plotting a successful mystery—what parts are necessary? How do you hide the clues in plain sight? I really loved learning about how to fit the pieces of the story together.

To see the whole interview click HERE.

I met W.H. Beck at the Chautauqua Writer’s Workshop in 2004, the same time I  met  fellow blogger Sudipta. It is always exciting to see an author welcome a book into the world. But when that author is someone you count as a friend, it is especially exciting. So we’re very happy about this release! Here’s to Malcolm at Midnight! May his journey be a long one!

Elizabeth MacKinney: A Writer Who Draws

I wanted to start this interview by saying, There are three things about Elizabeth MacKinney you should know. But then I interviewed Beth, and I realized that there are so many more things about this self-described artist who writes or a writer who draws” that I think you all will find interesting. So, I’m going to start by saying:

There are three things about Elizabeth MacKinney you should know right away:

• She grew up on a farm in Wisconsin where she spent her formative years drawing horses. (Says Beth, “I was terrible at trees.”)

• She wrote her first book as a first grader. She remembers it best for its many quotation marks, which she learned how to use halfway through.

• She can do a Rubik’s cube in less than a minute.

Now, I know you’re all intrigued, aren’t you? Well, Beth is much, much more that a quotation mark-using, Rubik’s cube-solving writer and drawer – she’s a mom who takes care of her own kids (homeschooling them, no less) as well as other people’s kids as the coordinator of the preschool department of her children’s ministry at church. She writes for Examiner.com, doing book reviews, covering local events, and conducting interviews (in fact, Beth has interviewed me here). She writes, draws, and teaches art to children. And, last but not least, she kills lots of plants. But only the wimpy ones, according to her. Let’s see what Beth has to say today…

Beth, with everything that you do and do well, you are truly a Nerdy Chick! And as we know here, nerdy is not an insult – it’s a compliment. And since you’re both a reviewer and children’s book creator, that makes you double nerdy (at least). So tell us, with that dual background, what are your favorite things to read?

For the most part I go after picture books and middle grade fiction, although I read quite a chunk of nonfiction and classic literature, too. My favorite picture books are the ones that can actually make me laugh out loud and have fabulous illustrations. Doreen Cronin (author) and Betsy Lewin (illustrator) are particular favorites of mine. In middle grade, I like a book that gives me a character I want to root for whole-heartedly. Those are the books that I go back to repeatedly. One of my favorite series is the Ranger’s Apprentice by John Flanagan. He writes awesome battle scenes.

What’s something you like to do that might be considered a little bit nerdy, but is actually really fun?

Short answer: Nanowrimo. Long answer: Join writers around the globe while we all write our own 50k novel in the month of November. I get crazy looks every October when I start campaigning to get my friends and family to join me for Nanowrimo in November, but one year our entire family did participate—even my husband. It was grueling (as always) but was a huge amount of fun, too. In the end they were glad they participated, and I found it easier not to give up with so much support.

Wow! I’ve never had the courage to write 50,000 words in a month. You’re brainier than I thought! What is your favorite way to flaunt your brain power?

I know it’s shallow, but I love to beat the tar out of anyone in a word game if I possibly can. I can’t help it. My brothers beat me for so many years, since they were 10, 13, and 15 years older than me, that my competitive spirit has been honed to a keen edge. (I used to try to get them to play games until I won, but they didn’t have that kind of time.) The other way is to finish the Nanowrimo challenge before Thanksgiving.

I, personally, am addicted to Boggle, but no one in my family will play with me (sine they don’t like getting crushed!). They like to tell me it’s not cool, but I don’t care if it’s cool because I love it (and I love beating them!). How about you – are there social norms that you are fond of flouting?

I watch almost no TV. If it weren’t for regular calls from my mom and posts on facebook, I’d probably have no idea what was happening in the world. (What year is it, anyway?)

Hmmm…I don’t know if I could get on board with no TV, but I certainly admire that you can! Tell us some more about your childhood – do you have a nerdy memory you could share?

As a teen, I owned a real miniature printing press which I kept in my room. It and my microscope were prized possessions.

That’s awesome! And how about more recently — what is one of your favorite achievements that you can credit to being a nerdy chick?

That would be having helped my four children become avid readers. We read to them aloud when they were little and kept on as they got older. My husband has a background in drama, so he particularly enjoyed doing this in the evenings, but while we were home schooling I’d often read to them aloud during lunch. We chose a variety of books, even some that were out of their depth, like Sense and Sensibility. When I couldn’t read, we used Librivox.org or audio books. It turns out this was a good idea, because in recent years I’ve learned that reading aloud to children helps them pick up more complex language patterns which they can access while writing, making it easier to do. Maybe that’s why a couple of them have come to enjoy writing on their own, too, but I’m glad they all love to read.

That’s something to think about – as a mother myself, it’s great to have that tip about reading aloud and websites to help in that regard. Now, one last question: if you could give your middle school or high school self one piece of advice, what would it be?

When I was a kid, I was so shy at school that it kept me from doing lots of things I would have enjoyed. (I was one of the geeky smart kids with glasses. Remember them?) Basically I was just afraid of what people thought of me. So if I could go back and give myself some advice, I’d want it to be this: God loves you no matter what, even on the most awful not-popular, zit-on-your-nose, embarrassed-yourself, locker-won’t-open, worst day ever. He’s cheering for you, and it really, really, REALLY doesn’t matter what other people think of you, so enjoy being you. No one else can do it better.

Here’s to Elizabeth MacKinney – thank you for being this week’s Nerdy Chick! If you are interested in learning more about Beth, here are some websites you can visit:

Her Examiner.com page: http://www.examiner.com/childrens-literature-in-chicago/elizabeth-mackinney?no_cache=1346360526

Her personal art blog: http://emackinney.blogspot.com/

Her writing group blog: http://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=5311624907161521408#allposts/postNum=0

And for the rest of you nerdy chick fans, tune in on September 17 for our interview with filmmaker Jocelin Rish where will be giving away a DVD copy of her film, Saying Goodbye!