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The Unbearable likeness of a Bear Foot

September 29, 2014 by

Too much to bear?

Too much to bear?

I’m not a bear hunter. Early on as a kid I was obsessed with bears, constantly dreamed of them, and imagined that one day I would become some sort of bear hunter. In fact the opposite happened. A lifetime of hunting has made me fairly adept at hunting, but the older I’ve become the less interested I’ve become in hunting predators. Not for fear of them, but for respect and admiration. I’d pretty much told myself I wouldn’t kill a bear unless I had to, and in Alaska, sometimes, those promises you make to yourself get tested.
This fall I found myself skinning a black bear with my mom and dad. I’d shot the bear. And believe me, I didn’t want to. He’d broken into our supplies at our cabin and wasn’t leaving. In fact, he was a bit mad we weren’t leaving. He huffed at us and showed no signed of departing his new cache of food. I had little choice but to put the bear down. And once we started cutting into him, I became more and more relieved I did shoot him. The bear was skin and bones. The poor guy was starving. He didn’t have an ounce of fat on his body. This was a poor berry year, and the bears in the area were all troubled, but this guy — he was hurting for food. (Hence the reason he wasn’t leaving our cabin.). On further inspection, I found his intestines loaded with long thick round worms.
It had been years since I’d skinned a bear and my dad walked me through the process. My three year old son, Atticus, watched. I’d hoped to salvage not just the skull and hide, but also the fat and the meat — but this guy was too sick. His muscles were lean and wasted. The fat, non-existent.
A skinned bear looks strangely similar to a human, perhaps this is why so many Native American peoples had stories of the bear being our kin. As I worked the small sharp knife blade around the pads of the bear’s foot, popping the knuckles just behind the claws, my dad instructing me over my shoulder, I couldn’t help but notice the similarity to my own hands, and hoped that if I was ever as desperate as this bear had been, one of his relatives might do the same for me.

 

ravens gift cover

Don Rearden grew up on the tundra of Southwestern Alaska, an experience that informed his critically acclaimed debut literary thriller The Raven’s Gift. While calling Don “a master of the cliffhanger” The Washington Post went on to praise the novel’s “hunter-hunted suspense of Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male, the post-apocalyptic bleakness of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and the haunting mysteriousness of The X-Files.”

Stay tuned for more posts from Don Rearden and his upcoming Alaskan thriller only from The Rogue Reader.


Blog, Craft, Fan's Note

A Novel Mystery — Do you know this woman?

September 16, 2014 by

The Mystery Woman of Mallorca

The Mystery Woman of Mallorca

Everyone loves a good mystery. Right? How do you like this one that just came across my desk?

An Austrian man is traveling in Spain. A stranger gives him a book that she found, read and enjoyed.  She was passing it on to another stranger, as instructed by the note scrawled in the front of the book. The man is grateful for the gift, and he takes the book, begins reading on his way home and inside discovers a photo.

He has no way of finding the woman who originally gave him the book, and he has no idea how he find out who the woman is and if she might want her photo back.

The man looks up the author of the book, and on a long shot emails him.

The kind man was Samuel Lange, a teacher in Austria. The author just so happens to be your truly. The book also mine. Or at least one I wrote. He tells me the story of getting the book, enjoying it, and then breaks the news of the photo. Is it mine? No. How did the book get from the US to Mallorca, Spain? Then it hit me. I had asked friends who enjoyed my novel The Raven’s Gift to help spread the word by leaving copies in random places for strangers. One of my buddies, Zach Jordan, a co-founder of Joe Digital, made this killer little video about how he dropped two copies in Europe. One in Germany. The other, surprise surprise, in Mallorca!

[Watch the short video Zach made here!]

So I dropped Zach a line and shared the news with him, but the photo wasn’t his and he didn’t know who the woman was either. The mystery continues. Do you know this woman? Can you help us find her? Share this story, spread the word — help us solve the mystery! Use the comments section if you have any leads or contact me via my website www.donrearden.com.

ravens gift cover

Don Rearden grew up on the tundra of Southwestern Alaska, an experience that informed his critically acclaimed debut literary thriller The Raven’s Gift. While calling Don “a master of the cliffhanger” The Washington Post went on to praise the novel’s “hunter-hunted suspense of Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male, the post-apocalyptic bleakness of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and the haunting mysteriousness of The X-Files.”

Stay tuned for more posts from Don Rearden and his upcoming Alaskan thriller only from The Rogue Reader.


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Moose. It’s What’s For Dinner

September 12, 2014 by

Moose Hoof Soup Anyone? (Photo courtesy of Wilson Twitchell)

Moose Hoof Soup Anyone? (Photo courtesy of Wilson Twitchell)

 

 

Fall in Alaska means hunting season for many families. In my last post I shared how this isn’t about going out and blasting animals for trophies to hang on your wall. For many people in rural and urban Alaska alike, this is a time of harvesting for the coming winter ahead. A small window of time during September is moose hunting season, usually from the 1st to around the 25th.

A moose is a giant creature. Enough to feed a family (or two!). A single moose will yield hundreds of pounds of delicious and healthy meat. The flavor of moose ranges somewhere between bison, elk, and beef. Moose meat definitely isn’t as “wild” tasting as deer, unless you get an old bull. That meat can be a little stronger in flavor.

photo 1

Moose Nose: boil, strip away the hide, eat.

Meat isn’t the only thing taken from the moose. Harvest can mean just that. My native friends and family take much more than the meat alone. Think organs, hide, nose, tongue, and even hooves. Yes, hooves. On our successful hunt last week, my brother-in-law, who is Denai’na, kept the nose, kidneys, liver, and heart. My nephew used sinew from the back to build a moose antler spear. We didn’t keep the lower leg bones or the hooves, and after I got home and saw my buddy’s photo of his family skinning the hooves (see photo above) I felt a bit guilty. Next time, I’ll save them and perhaps learn how to cook those up, too.

 

ravens gift cover

Don Rearden grew up on the tundra of Southwestern Alaska, an experience that informed his critically acclaimed debut literary thriller The Raven’s Gift. While calling Don “a master of the cliffhanger” The Washington Post went on to praise the novel’s “hunter-hunted suspense of Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male, the post-apocalyptic bleakness of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and the haunting mysteriousness of The X-Files.”

Stay tuned for more posts from Don Rearden and his upcoming Alaskan thriller only from The Rogue Reader.

Moose. In many parts of Alaska, it’s what’s for dinner!

 

 

 


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“Catching” a Moose

September 9, 2014 by

 

Home from the local "store."

Home from the local “store.”

I grew up knowing where  a large majority of my food came from, and hunting and fishing has provided the majority of protein in my family’s diet. We ate moose, deer, elk, caribou, bison, bear, and a plethora of waterfowl. Today is no different. I hunt to eat. I hunt to feed my family. I hunt because meat in Alaska is crazy expensive and shipped in from afar, shrink wrapped and a bit mysterious to me. There is a certain comfort knowing where your food came from, who handled it, and the health of the animal being consumed.

In Alaska, you’ll often hear someone asking, “did you catch?” when you return from a hunt. This has always suited me, as I was raised to be a hunter and not a killer. There is a difference between catching and killing. There is an implied respect of the animal. For me, it is all about respect of the creature and the land.

When we “catch” an animal we thank it for giving itself to us, and put a little food in its mouth, to honor the creature and hope it’s spirit will return. If that sounds hokey to you, or perhaps barbaric, I get it. I don’t judge you for eating meat that comes frozen or wrapped in plastic. We eat and live the way we were raised. If anything, we should all know a little more about from where our food came. I would never expect everyone to know how to “catch” a moose — but I can tell you that when my university students ask me tomorrow if I “caught a moose” this weekend,  my wide smile will give away the successful hunt.

 

Moose Ribs ready for the grill...

Moose Ribs almost ready for the grill…

 

ravens gift cover

Don Rearden grew up on the tundra of Southwestern Alaska, an experience that informed his critically acclaimed debut literary thriller The Raven’s Gift. While calling Don “a master of the cliffhanger” The Washington Post went on to praise the novel’s “hunter-hunted suspense of Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male, the post-apocalyptic bleakness of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and the haunting mysteriousness of The X-Files.”

Stay tuned for more posts from Don Rearden and his upcoming Alaskan thriller only from The Rogue Reader.


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The Top Ten Ways to Die in Alaska

July 15, 2014 by

A Common Alaskan Igloo Fire

Death and danger have become cliché in Alaska. Reality TV would have you believe that there isn’t a waking moment in the 49th State that isn’t fraught with the perils of nature looming at every turn and disaster perpetually imminent.

During the early gold rush days in the late 1800’s deaths and acts of heroism and idiocy that occurred in Alaska made newspaper headlines from San Francisco to New York City regularly, and today is no really different. Alaska still grabs headlines with bear attacks and dim-witted politicians threatening to act like attacking momma bears; however, between the hype and the actual occasional crazy death in Alaska it has become harder and harder to die in a way that might surprise or actually even capture a headline or one of the little scrolling breaking new captions on Fox or CNN.

With that in mind here are ten ways to die in Alaska that are almost guaranteed to still make headlines.*

 

  1. Bear Attack at Brooks Falls Live on Camera. Bear attacks have become somewhat commonplace it seems of late in the news, so in order to really be noteworthy the person attacked should have a truly dramatic survival story (one like you can read in Dan Bigley’s book Beyond the Bear) in which case you have survived and don’t qualify as dead and you’ll have to die another way on this list. Your real hope to make headlines with a bear is to go big. The best way to go really big in terms of bears would be to travel to Katmai National Park to the Brooks Falls where the bears are BIG. Dress like a giant salmon and swim your way up the river while the whole scene streams live on the web. You’ll swim right into the jaws of the bears fishing there at the falls. If this isn’t for you, then watch the bears fishing at this link live and wait for your first human in fish garb.
  2. Gangland Style Shooting. Don’t tell anyone this, but Alaska (mostly Anchorage) has a little bit of a gang problem and we have our share of gang related shootings. To get in on the action go to any of the local hip-hop concerts and use spray paint to tag all the lowered or tricked out cars. This will likely get you shot. You can also attract the attention of the various gangs you’ll need by watching their hilarious gangsta rap videos on Youtube and then mock them with your own parody videos and they’ll be sure to begin targeting you.
  3. Break into the Anchorage Zoo at night. One woman many years ago became famous for trying to feed her foot to Binky our polar bear, but you can one up her by crawling into the Siberian Tigers’ cage. This is sure to grab national attention because they are Siberian Tigers. In Alaska.
  4. Survive the Siberian Tiger cage only to fall into the cage with the pack of wolves. The fact that you escaped the tigers only to die from a pack of captive wolves will surely impress people. That or go get trampled by the huge Bactrian camels. Don’t ask why we have tigers or camels at our Alaska zoo, or that might also get you dead.
  5. Go golfing at midnight on solstice and get hit in the head with a golf ball. (Yes, we have golf courses and in the summer there is enough sunlight you can actually golf at midnight, and the fact that we have golf courses alone will pretty much guarantee garnering at least a nod on ESPN. Actually getting hit in the head might be the hard part. Good luck with that. Your odds are probably more likely that you’ll get trampled by a mad mamma moose while on the course. If this happens right after you hit a hole-in-one, you’ll surely make EPSN headlines that night and probably get a mention in at least 23 of the 24 hours of a single Fox News cycle.
  6. Really go into the wild and try out the nightlife in Anchorage. Hit one of our popular watering holes down town right at closing time then hang out in the parking lot at bar break and talk your best smack to everyone who passes by and you’re pretty much going to get beaten and or shot or both. This wouldn’t make headlines normally, because it happens so frequently, but the fact that your bullet riddled body was found dressed as Sarah Palin will at least grab a tweet or two from Palin herself and then the rest of the media will swarm like Mosquitoes. Sorry, death by real mosquitoes is too common in Alaska to actually make this list.
  7. Avalanche. Plenty of people die in avalanches in Alaska every year, so that’s not such a big deal, but when you invent a gasoline suit, designed to ignite and melt the snow that is supposed to save you from such deaths but instead ends in a fiery and snowy explosion? That will make for some awesome GoPro footage and will score you some serious street cred in the Alaskan Death Annals.
  8. Death by Volcano. And while you’re capturing GoPro footage, you could go really where only pros go and go find one of our 90 active volcanoes and then paraglide into it, with the camera running of course. (I’m fairly certain this has never been done and would be sure to snatch up some headlines.)
  9. Earthquake. Where there are volcanoes there are earthquakes. Alaska is situated on the ring of fire, and this means we have tremblers pretty much happening somewhere in Alaska at any give moment. Don’t believe me? Check out these two websites that monitor our quakes and volcanoes. http://www.aeic.alaska.edu/  http://www.avo.alaska.edu/ We haven’t had a quake that killed anyone in a while, but if you timed it right and say had your head resting beneath a precariously placed boulder or better yet under the axle of a jacked up truck converted into a giant Alaskan-sized Radio Flyer Wagon just at the right moment when the old plate tectonics work their magic? BAM! You’re famous! (And dead.)
  10. Igloo Fire. And finally the top ten way to have your ticket punched in Alaska that is sure to impress both Alaskans and non-Alaskans alike? Death by igloo fire. First off there are no igloos in Alaska, and frankly Alaskans are tired as hell of being asked if they live in Alaska. So when some dude dies in an actual igloo fire, even hardened Alaskans will take notice. Outside of Alaska death by igloo fire might not sound all that special, seeing it’s Alaska and such infernos must be commonplace; however, when folks hear the fire was started by your malfunctioning gasoline-filled avalanche prevention suit everyone will be seriously impressed.

 

For an all too real (and tragic) list of how people have really died in the Alaskan wilderness check out http://www.akfatal.net

 

* [No actual guarantee of death or fame comes with this list. Dying in Alaska is also not recommended.]

 

Tune in for more soon from Don Rearden – the next Editor in Residence at The Rogue Reader.

ravens gift cover

Don Rearden grew up on the tundra of Southwestern Alaska, an experience that informed his critically acclaimed debut literary thriller The Raven’s Gift. While calling Don “a master of the cliffhanger” The Washington Post went on to praise the novel’s “hunter-hunted suspense of Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male, the post-apocalyptic bleakness of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and the haunting mysteriousness of The X-Files.”

Stay tuned for more posts from Don Rearden and his upcoming Alaskan thriller only from The Rogue Reader.

 


Blog, Craft, Other People's Books

The Nightmare of the Flying Tent: An Alaskan Survival Story

July 9, 2014 by

 

My time here at the lake is coming to a close. As I explore the shore with my three year old son and laugh as he says “bear cacca!” and points out a blackish colored bucket sized pile of bear scat, and we toss rocks into the water and watch each stone drift downward into the abyss below the surface, I can’t help but have flashes of not so pleasant memories from the time I watched my tent disappear into a lake just a few ridges over. I came perilously close to not having this experience with my son or ever writing these words.

toasting to survival

Three hundred miles west of Anchorage sits the Wood Tikchik Park, one of the most pristine and incredible places on the face of the earth. I was setting up a caribou camp for Myron Angstman, a long time friend and hunting partner of mine, on one of the smaller lakes in the Tikchik drainage. As the floats of the plane slid across the crystal cool blue-green glacier water, I thought to myself that I’d never seen a prettier valley. If someone would have told me that in a few hours a storm would set in and leave me waging a battle for my life I would have laughed in disbelief.

Myron taxied the Cessna 172XP to a small spit that jetted out into the head end the lake. We crawled out of the plane and began unloading gear onto the rocky beach. He’d camped on the spit before, partly because of the incredible view of the lake’s end which sits beneath a small hanging glacier and a great wall of mountains.

With the gear unloaded, Myron pointed where they had set up the tent before, a 8 x 12 Weather Port, specially designed to withstand Alaska’s often wet and windy conditions. I sat down on the gear and listened to the roar of the floatplane’s engine fill the lake valley as the aircraft lifted off, leaving me alone, if only for the night, when Myron would return with another load of gear and “the Doc,” our friend from Sitka.

Over the next few hours the wind picked up, but I paid no attention to it as I went about setting up the tent. By the time I’d finished hammering the last tent stakes into the ground the wind gusted 30 to 40 mph and a slight mist prompted me to stow the rest of the gear inside the tent. We’d landed on the lake around 4:30 P.M. and the August Alaskan sun wouldn’t be setting until about 10:30 P.M, so I slung my 7 mm Winchester to my shoulder and headed for a ridge to see if I could spot some game. [In Alaska you can not fly and hunt in the same day but the bears of the Tikchik park are monstrous and I wasn't about to leave my rifle sitting at camp.]

As I sat checking out the surrounding countryside – rocky slopes, alder thickets, and tundra – I took notice that the wind continued to increase and that I’d need to take cover soon. I resisted crawling into the tent just long enough to gorge myself on the delicious marble-sized blueberries that littered the tundra.

It was 7:30 P.M. when I rolled out my sleeping bag and stretched out on my bedroll. Outside, a driving rain had joined the menacing wind but I felt comfortable enough to find the sound of the gusts and rain slap at the tent’s fabric almost soothing.

The last thought that crossed my mind before I fell asleep was how happy I was to be sleeping in such a sturdy tent. Based on the increasing roar of the weather outside I knew that without a tent a person would be in serious trouble. Several hours later, I awoke to exactly that: serious trouble. At sometime around 10:30 P.M. I heard what I thought was a plane. Bewildered, I sat up and looked at my watch, trying to figure out why Myron would risk flying in so late at night. Then the sound was gone. I lay back down and closed my eyes. With a sudden “whoomp!” the darkness inside the tent disappeared. I jumped up, dazed. The tent had vanished from overhead.

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Blog, Craft, Fan's Note, Other People's Books

Nowhere Is The Best Place to Be – Don Rearden’s Alaska

July 7, 2014 by

I am connected to the web via a satellite powered by solar. Remember dial-up? It’s like Dial-up’s great grand mother. Hit send and go for a kayak ride or read a novel in the outhouse… The weather was too warm and too still on take-off from Bethel in the float plane so we had to shed some weight, which meant leaving my whiskey and laptop, too. So this dispatch is composed on my phone.

nowhere

 

Finding the Motherlode

The ears ring the first day or so in the wilderness as they adjust to the true sound of silence. Gone is the hum of humanity. No distractions to the ear drums from the clatter of gasoline powered this and digital that. Once your ears adjust you can hear the sound of the blood swishing in your veins, the cacophony of tundra song birds is endless and loud, and hearing becomes feeling when the loon call echoes out miles down the lake.

We’ve been here since the 4th of July. We’re the only ones on a lake that is a mile wide and twenty some miles long. Jagged mountains drop down straight into the lake, and giant bears walk her rocky beaches while even bigger lake trout patrol the blue black depths just off the shoreline. I hunted and explored these lakes as a kid, and it feels good to be back. This might arguably be one of the most remote and pristine lake chains left in the world. The land is legendary for brutal storms and survival tales and strange Alaskan horror stories. From campfire tales of Klutuq, an Eskimo trapper known for decapitating area miners, to devastating plane wrecks with high level US political figures here for the world-class fishing, to disappearances linked to everything from bears and Bigfoot to mysterious discoveries. A story an old friend told me from the next lake up the chain was that a pilot landed to pick up a couple recreational miners and their camp was empty. They had left a note, “Found the Motherlode! We’ve left for Dillingham.” No one ever found them, but ever since everyone has searched for that gold.

I nearly died here in my twenties during a brutal storm, a story I’ll share with you soon. Today, I’m off to kayak and explore a little, but first I’ve got to go clear the yard. My son wants to play outside and my wife just informed me that on her walk to the outhouse it smelled fishy. This time of year fish stink equals a visiting bear. If I don’t return from this trip you can speculate that either a bear or Bigfoot got me, but the truth is that the land took me long ago and the Motherlode for me is when the ears stop ringing from the silence and instead tune into the sounds of life and I get to share this amazing wilderness with my family.

 

ravens gift cover

Don Rearden grew up on the tundra of Southwestern Alaska, an experience that informed his critically acclaimed debut literary thriller The Raven’s Gift. While calling Don “a master of the cliffhanger” The Washington Post went on to praise the novel’s “hunter-hunted suspense of Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male, the post-apocalyptic bleakness of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and the haunting mysteriousness of The X-Files.”

Stay tuned for more posts from Don Rearden and his upcoming Alaskan thriller only from The Rogue Reader.

 


Blog, Craft, Fan's Note, Other People's Books

4th of July Weekend Packing in Alaska: Extra Bullets for Mosquitos

July 3, 2014 by

Editor’s Note: Acclaimed Rogue author Ron Rearden (“The Raven’s Gift” – a Best Fiction Pick 2013 by The Washington Post) will be posting about his summer in wilds of Alaska.  Stay tuned for more of his adventures in the bush and Don’s upcoming Alaskan thriller to be published by The Rogue Reader.  Adam

Packing in Alaska: Extra Bullets for Mosquitoes

I’m headed home to the tundra tomorrow, a 400 mile flight from where I’ve been living for the past ten or so years here on the mountain overlooking Anchorage.  The Kuskokwim River is still home to me because that is where I feel most comfortable. This is serious wilderness spotted with Yup’ik villages up and down the winding river and her many tributaries. This river is over 500 miles long and you’ve probably never heard of it, unless you live in Alaska, and even if you’ve lived in Alaska, you probably have never dipped your toe into her murky and frigid waters. While there I’ll spend plenty of time catching up with old friends, and perhaps help drop a drift net in to catch some salmon for hanging on the fishcamp racks to dry or smoke for winter. I also plan to do a little scene scouting for an up-coming movie that I would love to tell you about, but then I would have to drag you off into the bush and leave you do be eaten alive by the most bloodthirsty mosquitoes and gnats you’ve ever encountered.

After a few days on the Kuskokwim I’ll be flying by float plane to a friend’s remote cabin in the Wood-Tikchik Lakes. This lake system is heaven to me. Perhaps this is because it is really one of the most pristine places on the planet, or because I almost died there in a ferocious storm that ripped my tent from the ground and sent my only source of shelter sailing forty feet up and out into the lake. Yes, I was in the tent, but since this “Weatherport” tent was built of rubber and steel and had no bottom and was supposed to withstand 90mph winds, I was fortunately left behind in the torrential rain and hurricane gusts in my boxers with only a shredded blue tarp, my soaked sleeping bag, and a 7mm rifle —- but that is another story I’ll save for later.

Hopefully this trip will be much more peaceful and I’ll have a few moments between kayaking and hiking to put the finishing touches on a new Alaskan suspense-thriller.

packing
Packing for an Alaskan bush trip is a bit different from your standard vacation. Here are a few essentials, no need for a flashlight as the sun won’t really be setting. [I'll admit I'm a bit on edge as I pack as I can't find my damn bug shirt, which is essentially a hooded sweatshirt made from mosquito netting. Oh well, I'll have to take extra bullets for the mosquitoes and some rope to tether my son to the ground so they don't fly off with him.]

For my next post I’ll share my thoughts on packing heat in bear country and why I save the pepper spray for my nachos.

 

ravens gift cover

Don Rearden grew up on the tundra of Southwestern Alaska, an experience that informed his critically acclaimed debut literary thriller The Raven’s Gift. While calling Don “a master of the cliffhanger” The Washington Post went on to praise the novel’s “hunter-hunted suspense of Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male, the post-apocalyptic bleakness of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and the haunting mysteriousness of The X-Files.”

Stay tuned for more posts from Don Rearden and his upcoming Alaskan thriller only from The Rogue Reader.

 


Blog, Craft, Fan's Note, Other People's Books

A Fan’s Note: Ingrid Thoft on John Singer Sargent and the Fine Art of Suspense

June 24, 2014 by

Today, we welcome author Ingrid Thoft for her thoughts on John Singer Sargent and the mystery and suspense hidden in the shadows of his work:

Anticipation. Suspense. Anxiety. These elements are essential to a good thriller or a good mystery novel, and the same can be said of movies, TV shows and also, fine arts. That’s right—paintings by dead guys that have nothing to do with murder or mayhem offer their own brand of intrigue.

Growing up and during my college years, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston was the local museum for field trips, family outings and class assignments. Full disclosure: I wasn’t an art history major, and I’ve been known to warm the benches in galleries while waiting for my companions. However, I like to think that I am a poster child for art appreciation: I get something out of it even if I don’t read all the placards.

It was at the MFA that I first viewed the work of John Singer Sargent. A successful portrait painter and darling of Boston’s upper class, Sargent also worked in watercolors and did landscapes in far flung locations like Venice, the Isle of Capri and Corfu. Complex and often pleasing to the eye, it’s the drama and suspense that he injected into his work that I find so captivating.

Some paintings present a scene or snapshot in time, but Sargent’s paintings—whether portraits or landscapes, oils or watercolors—prompt questions and elicit anticipation, just like the best mysteries. The desire to know how things end, the peeling back of layers, is what snares and enthralls mystery readers. But you needn’t pick up the latest hardback to engage in the singular pleasure of trying to solve a puzzle. Browse through the masterpieces of John Singer Sargent, or any other fine artist who piques your interest, and a whole new world of mysteries will be revealed.

Still not convinced? Take a look at a few of his creations:

JSS1

“The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit,” 1882

Perhaps Sargent’s most famous work, “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit” has always been one of my favorites, in part because I’m the youngest in a family of four girls.  But what I find most compelling about the painting is the questions that this seemingly placid portrait poses:  Why do three girls face the artist, but one does not?  What is lurking in the dark background?  What is the context in which the eldest daughter is allowed to lounge against an exquisite antique?  Did the girls choose their positions or were they posed that way?  Art historians have spent their careers investigating the story behind the painting, and some answers can be found, but in the moment that the viewer studies the painting—without any expertise or historical knowledge—a world of mystery unfolds.  There is no movement in that moment, but an enormous sense of life and interaction.

jss2

“A Hotel Room,” 1907

The intrigue in this painting is more obvious: Whose suitcase is splayed open on the floor?  Whose clothes are in a heap?  Where is this room into which the sun peeks through the slatted blinds, and what happened in that bed?  The viewer can concoct any number of stories to narrate the picture, and isn’t that what art is supposed to do?  Create a bridge between the creator and the participant?  Reading, watching and viewing may be categorized as physically passive activities, but the mental engagement required, the invitation by the artist to engage, is anything but.

JSS3

“Corfu: Lights and Shadows,” 1909

Many people look at this painting and see not only light and shadow, but also color and nature.  To me, it is a visual depiction of anticipation.  What, exactly, is around that corner?  Is it a spectacular view of the sea?  A table laid for an afternoon lunch?  Two lovers napping in the grass?  The picture is dominated by the cottage, but it’s the slice of scenery on the right to which my eye is drawn—large enough to pique my curiosity, but small enough to remain mysterious.

jss4

“A Street in Venice,” 1882

Is the woman going inside the building?  Will the man follow her?  And perhaps more compelling—what would the viewer find if he or she were to continue down the alleyway into the bright light?   I wonder if the woman’s hand is on her hip or if she’s concealing something under her layers.  And do you notice how she seems to be looking directly back at you?  It’s as if she sees you, too, but how is that possible?

What happens next?  That’s the question that keeps readers glued to the page and viewers frozen in front of a screen.  Though perhaps in a less obvious way, that same question draws art lovers to canvases and sculptures and installations.  Excitement and anticipation are the ties that bind the observer and the artist together and create genuine engagement.  Just think, 132 years have passed, and I still want to know the story of the Boit sisters.

 

Identity_Small

Ingrid Thoft worked as a tech, entertainment and education writer before making the transition to fiction. Her interest in the PI life and her desire to create a believable PI character led her to the certificate program in private investigation at the University of Washington, where she learned about investigation and surveillance, accident reconstruction, cyber and domestic investigations, and interviewing techniques. She is an avid traveler, scuba diver, and pop-culture connoisseur.

Check her out at IngridThoft.com@IngridThoft or Facebook

And be sure to pick up her latest Fina Ludlow novel Identity available now from G.P. Putnam - “A quirky and empathetic heroine, a fast-moving plot, and a surprise ending make this a winner.”Publishers Weekly


Blog, Reviews & Press

“Bangkok Cowboy” a Nook First Pick of the Day

June 6, 2014 by

Congrats to Ron McMillan – his Thailand set thriller “Bangkok Cowboy” is the B&N Nook First Pick of the Day!

NOOK First: Compelling Reads from Emerging Authors
When notorious Bangkok mobster Raymond Long approached private eye Mason to find his missing American accountant, he didn’t expect the missing person to be his friend Nathalie West. Together with his Thai partner Dixie, the duo are determined to find Nathalie before Long’s gang of goons find her-and the missing hard drive she’s taken with her in this first action-packed novel in a new series.

 

Bangkok Cowboy thumbnail cover