Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Magna Cum Murder 19

(ALL PHOTOS ON THIS BLOG ARE BY IDEN FORD--thanks Iden for documenting this event)

 Kathryn Kennison

I have been taken a hiatus from attending crime and mystery fiction conventions for some time now.  My best friend Theodore B. Hertel, Jr., henceforth known as Ted the Elder, talked me into signing up for Magna Cum Murder, the 19th mystery convention hosted by Kathryn Kennison and Ball State University.

This year, for the first time, the con moved from its previous home in Muncie, Indiana, to the confines of the Columbia Club in downtown Indianapolis.

I volunteered to drive so bright and early on Friday, October 25th, Ted and his wife Maggie Ley showed up at our house with their special house guest, Ted Fitzgerald from Boston, henceforth known as Ted the Younger.  Ted has flown into Milwaukee to join us on convention excursions before so this definitely added a sense of old home week to the experience.  Our fifth for the weekend was my lovely bride Denice.

The drive from Milwaukee to Indy is five hours if you do not get held up by Chicago traffic.  We made a short stop on the campus of Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana, for lunch.  Arriving in plenty of time to attend the afternoon sessions, the first thing I did was blow off the programming.

 Terry Faherty

If I miss anything about the cons, it would be the people.  On Friday I was able to touch base with some very special long lost friends:  Indiana author Terry Faherty and the Florida plucky couple of Sandy Balzo and Jerry Healy.  That night, joined by Terry's wife Jan, the nine of us dined at Palomino's in downtown Indy where we had a great meal and plenty of conversation.

To my great surprise, once registered, the convention decided to use me up on programming.  I was a tad reluctant going in but as it turned out, being on panels is like riding a bicycle.

 Parnell Hall

The first panel was called Why PIs Are Still Cool.  I got Ted the Younger to join the panel in the hopes that I would not have to be on it, but the moderator Parnell Hall talked me into staying on in the hopes I would have questions as he (kidding) claimed to have none prepared.  The rest of the panel was made up of Canadian author Anthony Bidulka, Minnesota's Carl Brookins, and Jerry Healy.

 Hank Phillippi Ryan

The second panel was in the next time slot and was called Manuscript to Movie.  This was another panel I was shy about being on but decided I would take the librarian/viewer perspective and talk about films were the book and film matched, cases where the film was better and, of course, instances where the film sucked and people should just read the book.  The moderator for this panel was Jerry Healy and the fellow panelists were Boston's Hank Phillippi Ryan, Canada's Maureen Jennings and John Gilstrap.  Hank and I hit if off on this panel as she and I were the two who had nothing to do with Hollywood, screenwriting or film.

After this panel I blew off my signing session as it is rare that anyone brings $75 reference books to be signed.  However, my bud Sandy Balzo came and fetched me because someone had brought Make Mine A Mystery (a $75 reference book) to be signed.  Cool.  I also ended up signing my essay in the book They Died in Vain as well.

 Steve Hamilton

The lunch was spiced with an interesting interview of the conference guest of honor, Steve Hamilton, by Hank Phillippi Ryan.

In the afternoon I took part in a scheduled round robin discussion called Continuous Conversations:  Choosing Victims.  I was assigned to arrive at 2 with Terry Faherty and moved out at 2:45.  This was a unique "panel" and I had fun participating.  However, I was too shy to say anything (yea--right!).

The next panel slot was my time to moderate.  I was the host of a panel called Critics and Reviewers: Friend or Foe?  When I first got this assignment I wondered if the conference programmers meant were critics friends with reviewers (ha ha) but I did manage to think of a series of questions that keep it flowing.  My panelists were Kate Stine, owner and editor of Mystery Scene, Molly Weston, and Ball State student named Brendan and both Ted the Elder and Ted the Younger.

The banquet this evening featured a very moving speech by Hank Phillippi Ryan in which she encouraged all to tell their own stories.

This was followed by a gameshow called World's Second Greatest Detective in which the number one slot is conceded to Sherlock Holmes.  Hosted by Parnell Hall, the panelists were John Gilstrap, Dorothy Cannell, John Desjarlais, Carl Brookings, Ted the Elder and me.  The idea was that in each round we were given an era, a location and a weapon.  The panelist were then given two famous detectives and asked to opine about who would be the better detective and solve the case.  While some might have tried to take this all serious, I found myself acting like a hard-boiled detective (Shell Scott), showing everyone where Amelia Peabody would have a tattoo of an Egyptian cat and speaking in Swedish (Lisbeth Salander). No, I do not speak Swedish.

Terry, both Teds and I then retired to the bar to watch the World Series.

Sunday was a lazy day for me as I had fulfilled my role on all the panels I was assigned to.  I went to hear by friend Sandy Balzo on her panel, Is Cozy the New Romance?  Then Ted the Elder, Sandy and I (the former members of the writer's group, The Noirsketeers) sat around and talked the rest of the morning away.

After the last lunch banquet, we were on the road and back in Milwaukee by supper time.  After a pizza party in a local restaurant, it was time to put Magna Cum Murder to bed.

All the photos in this column are from the Magna Facebook page and were taken by Iden Ford, husband of Maureen Jennings.  He is a good photographer, isn't he?

P. S.:  This is a photo from the camera of Terry Faherty and it shows 
Sandy Balzo, Ted the Elder, Gary the Grey and Ted the Younger

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Walker's Point Center for the Art's 21st Annual Dia de Los Muertos Show 2013

The Walker's Point Center for the Arts has been doing a show related to Dia de Los Muertos for 20 years.  This year, their 21st, features a show curated by Juan Jose Lopez, that opens on Friday, October 18th, from 5:00 p.m  to 9:00 p.m.  The Walker's Point Center for the Arts is located in Milwaukee at 839 S. 5th Street.

When I was picking up my two pieces that had been exhibited in the previous show, the Annual Members' Show, I had a chance to speak with Center Executive Director Gary Tuma.  Gary mentioned that the upcoming Dia de Los Muertos show matched my art and they like to have some member involvement with art to dress the walls around the featured exhibit:  the ofrendas built for the annual event.  

I boldly asked if the show would be interested in any of my gazillion photos I took while on a trip to Oaxaca during Dia de Los Muertos to study with Michael deMeng.  Gary Tuma gave my website address to the curator of the show, Juan J. Lopez, who selected the four photos below:

Under terms of full disclosure, I balked at the idea of submitting these photos.  They might represent Dia de Los Muertos well but they don't do much for me except for the shot of Jesus wondering over the devil child.  That photo I like because it has a theme.  Theme is important to me in a photo or it just becomes a snapshot.

So, what to do?

Buy four cheap frames.

And then I assemblage the crap out of them.  The series is called Oaxaca Quadriptych.  This one is Numero Uno.

Numbero Dos. 

Numero Tres. 

Numero Quatro.  

Now I am happy.

I am hoping if you are in the Milwaukee area you will consider stopping by the Walker's Point Center for the Arts for their 21st annual Dia de Los Muertos show.  The opening of the show is this Friday, October 18th, from 5 to 9 p.m.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Dia de Los Muertos Madonna

Me in Oaxaca, Mexico, for Dia de Los Muertos, 2012
Face paint by Andrea Matus de Meng
Photo by Kristy Duncan

I have fallen in love with Oaxaca, Dia de Los Muertos, and Mexican art.  I was lucky to spend some time in Oaxaca for Dia de Los Muertos in 2012 with Michael de Meng.  It is also where I met this artist:

My friend Jessie McNally is a superior artist and she has a unique way of incorporating the colors and styles of Dia de Los Muertos into her found object paintings.  Here are some examples of her work that I really really really like:

 Jessie McNally

 Jessie McNally

 Jessie McNally

 Jessie McNally

This is the kind of art you can look at over and over again and keep seeing new things.  Stunning is a word that does not mean enough around this art. 

Ever since I have seen what she does I have been thinking about taking a whack at it (knowing full well that I am not the painter that Jessie is).  But when has a lack of talent ever stopped me from doing anything?  After all, I spent ten years in Community Theater.  

At some flea market somewhere I picked up this Catholic wall hanging of the Madonna for $2.00 American.  

Job one always when tackling these slick surfaces is to lay down a base coat of something so that the paint has a surface to stick to.  In this case, it was multiple layers of Elmers glue.  

Next up, a generous coat of gesso.  

Having no idea how to face paint a Dia de Los Muertos face, I turned to the Internet and YouTube.  The tutorial I found most useful was by Natasha Kudashkina.  Her very easy to follow video with step by step instructions got me to where I was able to tackle my piece with peace of mind.  

 Natasha Kudashkina

Then, as it always happens with me, I say, "So..."  And then I run to the basement to assemblage this babe up.  I started with a cool old box I had.  

Then I textured the inside of the box with caulk.  Some nails were added.  

Then a lot more nails were added.  And paint.  And more nails.  And some paper thread.  And some metal found objects.  And more nails.  

I like nails.  

After $20 worth of stuff and 8 hours worth of work, I had Dia de Los Muertos Madonna. 

With a big thank you to Michael de Meng and Jessie McNally.  

Friday, October 4, 2013

Mr. Happy Flaps His Wings

This June I had a chance to take one more course at one of my favorite places on the planet earth:  Valley Ridge Art Studio, in MuscodaWI.  Valley Ridge is winding down as a venue for art classes to my great regret but it does mean the Queen of Valley Ridge, Katherine Engen, can move on to new and exciting things in her life.  I wish her the best but I am going to miss this place.  

Here are some shots of the studio so you can see how open and bright this place is.  And, everyone gets their own table.

My space next to my partner in art crime, Kelley Clarke

 Holly Holloway's dental work

 Ann Renee Lighter sat across 

 Ann Renee and Kelley

The class was Vampires, Angels and Freaky Things with Wings which essential means bring a box and let's make something that move inside of it.  Our instructor is one of my favorite people on the planet:  Master, Oh My Master Michael DeMeng.

I could go on and on about this guy but let's just put it this way:  great teacher and one of the funniest guys ever.

My box was an old clock turned upside down so the door would hinge the normal way.  I painted it up with gesso and white.  The inside was enhanced with lace and caulk.  

My figure was a cardboard torso, a muskrat skull and two wood cutouts from Michaels.  

One night Michael challenged us by providing us with three items we had to use in a piece:  they were a fly swatter, a cocktail stirrer and one other thing I no longer remember.  We had a limited time to make the thing and then the games began.

 Here are the results.  

 Here is my piece which one Most Like Michael de Meng.  I also one the best in show prize but I passed it on to Jessie McNally who made a great piece for the contest.  Also, she was creating this piece in the class.  Look at the talent in this work!!!!!

 Here is Ann Renee's piece.  

 But wing's down, my favorite piece in the class was Cris Smith's FLY because look what it does when you pull the string:

Here is my finished piece call Mr. Happy Flaps His Wings.  

So, in order to get Mr. Happy happy, you crank on the string and his wings flap.

I would really encourage you to find out where Michael de Meng is teaching next and do a live class.  The next best thing is to take one of his many on-line workshops.  The next one is called Punk Fiction and it is a book structure.  

Your last opportunity to visit Valley Ridge is coming up the first week in November when Kelley and I are hosting Make What Ya Brung #3--a weekend of free time to make whatever you want mixed in with other stuff.  See the registration page at http://www.valleyridgeartstudio.com/workshops/make-what-ya-brung-number-three/.

And lastly, thanks to Kelley, Michael, Katherine, Andrea (see the previous blog), and all my classmates this summer at Valley Ridge.