Friday, September 5, 2014

Settling In Temporarily by Margot Justes








The trip to Virginia was uneventful, just the way I like it. There was no rush, and it actually felt good to be in the car and do absolutely nothing but sit and relax. I did not drive, and once we left Illinois and Indiana the scenery greatly improved.

I found I like Virginia, at least what I’ve seen so far-that is to say-not much. Norfolk is delightful and packs one of the most wonderful museum I’ve visited. The Chrysler Museum of Art houses an extensive collection of American art, pre and post paintings from the war of independence, as well as a large collection of civil war pieces. Most artists were new to me, and it was a wonderful journey of discovery.

The most amazing collection is the L. C. Tiffany-a full gallery dedicated to Tiffany, as well as an amazing glass collection on the first floor. It was heavenly. I didn’t take any pictures inside-too engrossed in the exhibits, I didn’t even bother to ask if pictures were allowed in the galleries.

I stayed until closing, they were setting up for a wedding and I took one picture of the prep work, one of the assistants said they were booked for weddings and other social events for the balance of the year. A perfect place to hold an event.

Across the street there is also a small glass blowing facility, with visiting artists creating their magic-that is what I call glass blowing; it seemingly looks easy but it is not. I’m a huge fan of blown glass. There is a reason I set my third hotel book in Venice, and the intrigue in Murano-both share a long history of blowing glass, and for the most part the results are exquisite.

I also took a boat ride to tour the Norfolk Naval Base, reputed to be the largest in the world. The site was awe inspiring and seemingly never ending. The Nauticus, a naval museum and the permanent home for the battleship SS Wisconsin is not to be missed.

The ship is huge and many places below deck I found rather uncomfortable, massive machines, pipes and other accoutrement that are fully exposed tend to scare me. I’m rather skittish when surrounded by such equipment. The living quarters for the officers were somewhat livable, for the enlisted man not so much, but then it was not a luxury cruise, but a life risking endeavor.

The waterfront in Norfolk is delightful, and packed with tourists and locals alike. The restaurants offer excellent food, and the bars attached to said restaurants are loud and lively.

The best lunch I had was at A. W. Shucks, an old fashioned diner off the beaten tourist path. They had the best crab cake sandwich I have ever tasted. There is a fast food place at the National Harbor in Maryland that matched it, but I’ll save that for another blog.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks
www.mjustes.com


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Moving by Margot Justes



I thought I’d mention a few things about my move. Let me state up front, it is hard work, and seems never ending.

How on earth could I possibly have accumulated so much stuff.  It’s like Pandora’s Box, or Mary Poppins’ bag; the stuff just keeps appearing like a magic trick-seemingly out of nowhere. Boxes and boxes, covered in dust have been stored and never looked at for twenty eight years. No wonder people think twice about moving-it’s all the stuff we accumulate over the years that we can’t do without but never use.

Once the process is started, it has a deep cleansing effect-there will be fewer things to worry about, keep clean, fewer things to clutter my life.  

I’m keeping things that are significant to my family, the art pieces I have collected over decades, and frankly miss seeing because they are all packed; I have grown attached to them.

Boxes and bags have been donated to Goodwill, and sad to say many books went the same way...and still more to come.

The books were the hardest to part with, but I’m downsizing-a lot- and there won’t be much room to spread out. I went through all the books, some I have read decades ago, some were in French and I’d have a hard time reading them in English now, much less in French. Some were really old friends, well worn and loved-those I kept. It’s hard to say goodbye.

The one thing I soon realized is that you can’t save too many things to do for tomorrow, because all too soon you run out of time. It’s Thursday, and the PODS people will be here Saturday to load the them. There is still so much to do.

Using PODS seemed the most effective way to move, because the goods need to be stored until I find a permanent place to live. No packing, unpacking-the filled PODS will simply be stored until ready to ship. Rather efficient, and there is less chance of things being lost. It’s also less expensive going the POD route, at least in this instance.

Two PODS had been ordered, and when the order was placed, the company just asked how big the driveway was, and everything seemed sorted out. The end of this adventure was near. Not so fast...there is always a wrinkle-the best laid plans...

One POD arrived this morning, and the delivery man said he can’t put two PODS on the driveway-there is not enough room. The second POD was on the way, and there was no place to put it. Immediate panic ensued.

Neighbor and excellent friend came to the rescue, one phone call  and he agreed that one POD could be set on his driveway. The company was called and told where to set the POD. The wait was on for the second one. All was good.

POD arrived a few hours later, and the driver informed me that he needed a signed authorization from the owner before he could set the POD down. There is a slight glitch in this newest plan, friend is at work and could not be reached. It seemed like a comedy of errors minus the comedy.

After a bit of discussion, there is now a POD in each driveway. I’m ready for the next step, finish the never ending packing and wait for everything to be stored.

It is a rather exciting process, new adventures await me, but I’m also saying au revoir (loosely translated-see you later) so much better than saying goodbye.

I certainly am keeping in touch with them, and plan on visiting, and there will always be a spare bedroom wherever I wind up.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks
www.mjustes.com

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Lifestyle Change by Margot Justes



I have lived in the Midwest for the better part of my adult life, and now it’s time for a major change. 

A rather quick decision to move out of Illinois, and an even quicker sale of the house, forced me quickly to think about my future. What do I want to do? Travel was the immediate answer, but a small pied-a-terre is needed, somewhere permanent to hang your hat, as it were...

The answer was a relatively easy one. A small condo would do the trick, but then an another idea surfaced, one that would truly alter my lifestyle. Motor yacht living.

We lived in a trailer in South Africa for three months until our housing was ready. It was an experience I’d never care to repeat. Never.

I still would not consider trailer housing, but living in a tiny, compact space has a great deal of appeal. I’ve been assured, it is by no means trailer living, the water views are fantastic, and the community is rather a chummy one. Surrounded by water, and with fewer responsibilities, it would also be an ideal place for me to write.  

Adapting to new situations is nothing new for me, and as of September 1st, I’ll be living in a one bedroom apartment until a decision is made where exactly I’m going to wind up. Many people consider that unsettling,  I find it exciting. A new journey awaits.

The only sad part is that I’ll be leaving lifelong friends, more family than friends, but there is a flip side, there will always be a spare bedroom, and new and exciting places for them to visit.  I’ll visit as well.

Over the years we all accumulate ‘stuff’; at this stage of my life, the stuff is far less important. Garage sales are a wonderful way to meet people, and at the same time get rid of your stuff.  I’ve never done a garage sale before, but since the decision to move, I have a few under my belt, and they are a hoot. Whatever doesn’t sell will be packed and given to Goodwill. The important pieces will be stored, and the rest is going to new homes.

There are a few things that will be passed on to my daughters, and of course, space will have to be found for my art; pieces I have collected over many, many years, and cannot part with.  The walls are now bare in the house, and I truly miss my old friends.

I’m looking forward to new adventures.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks
www.mjustes.com

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Murano Glass by Margot Justes












A vacation always inspires me to write, whether it is in my current WIP, or a travel article, it doesn’t really matter, the inspiration is there. This time I visited some of my favorite places in Europe, chief among them was a stay in Venice...and what a visit it was.

The concierge at the hotel was able to arrange a private visit to a Murano furnace, the Schiavon Art Team. I have seen a working furnace before that was geared toward the tourists straight off the boat or the ferry, as it were, and I have stopped in many Murano and Venetian  glass stores.  For the most part the pieces are pretty similar in the shops, but this furnace had some spectacular pieces of art. I also happen to love glass, and Murano is famous worldwide for their glass.

I was totally unprepared for the sheer beauty and originality of the work, contemporary glass art work that came to life when properly lit.  I loved every piece I saw, they were not the common pieces sold everywhere you turned, but unique pieces with astounding colors and textures.  Terrific variation of African baskets with dark reds, black and tan deep opaque colors that if not touched would pass for a woven basket. The work is sublime.

Not only was I able to watch a master glass blower at work, I was also allowed to take all the pictures I wanted. Starting with the furnaces, the annealing area, polishing room and the galleries. Truly a memorable experience.

Most were custom pieces ordered by individual clients and businesses, but there were many pieces for sale in the gallery upstairs, as well as a gallery down the street from the furnace that is open to the public.

It was a unique experience for me, because A Hotel in Venice is partially set in Murano and deals with the intrigues of blowing glass, age old secret formulas and lack of new talent. It takes many years to become a master blower, and it is incredibly hard work. Try blowing through a tube and shape a piece of molten glass. If it’s your first try, your face will turn beet red-the effort is tremendous-but the master blower makes it look effortless. 

The visit was a most memorable and inspirational experience, one I will always cherish. 

As a side note, Blood Art will be free this weekend on Amazon. I want to introduce my favorite vampire Nikolai Volkov.  http://www.amazon.com/Blood-Art-Margot-Justes-ebook/dp/B00FWA8YMO

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks
www.mjustes.com

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Afternoon Tea by Margot Justes


I’m a big fan of afternoon tea, it is relaxing, delicate and just plain fun. My first introduction to afternoon tea was in South Africa, many years ago and I have been a fan ever since.

I have three favorite spots in Chicago.

The Russian Tea Time restaurant, it is small, their particular Russian tea is aromatic, strong with a hint of fruit.  My favorite used to be Russian Caravan, a blend of Chinese teas, but it has now become so smoky that you can literally smell smoke while brewing the tea. It has ceased to be my favorite. The place is small and intimate but serves a delightful high tea, and the Russian food is good too. I’ve gone there for tea, lunch and dinner, and have never been disappointed.

The Drake Hotel is my choice for good old fashioned old age ambiance. Service is excellent and friendly. The food is standard but well prepared and beautifully served.

The best food can be found at the Peninsula Hotel. The hotel is elegant, modern, the food exceptional but service can often be inattentive.  The scones are always served fresh, and warm and the lemon curd is divine. I happen to love lemon curd.

What I thought would be a wonderful treat turned out to be a very expensive and great disappointment. The afternoon tea at the Plaza Hotel in New York fell far short of expectation. The recommended bold tea was anything but, served in a pouch, it was weak and pretty much lacking in flavor. The bread of the finger sandwiches had been cut and allowed to sit, because when served it had that cut and dried prepared hours ago feel to them.

The best part was the volcanic scone eruption.  I picked up my scone and tried to gently pull it apart, a scone will easily divide in half if not desiccated with age. This cone erupted, crumbled and tiny specs scattered everywhere. Rather like a crumbly volcanic fall-out.

Service was non-existent, when I finally was able to get the waiter to ask him for more hot water, to add to the bland and tasteless tea, I told him this was literally the crumbiest scone I've ever had,  his reply was, "believe it or not, it is very fresh." My reply, "Seriously?" He never even asked if I wanted another scone.  The price of that delight was $50.00 plus tip. Visit the hotel, the building is gorgeous, but for tea head to the Waldorf Astoria, I’ve been told their afternoon tea is terrific.

Waldorf Astoria is on my bucket list the next time I’m in New York, and as it so happens, the 2015 RWA conference is being held in New York City.

My most memorable afternoon tea was in Bath, England at the Pump Room. The service, tea, historic building and waiters dressed in period garb made it an absolutely amazing experience.  The scones were perfection as was the lemon curd; creamy, tart and not overly sweet. I’ve been known to eat lemon curd with just a teaspoon, just like Nutella, that delicious cocoa and hazelnut concoction.  

My dream is to have a book signing in Bath, and revisit all my favorite spots.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Fire Within
www.mjustes.com




Saturday, June 21, 2014

Mysteries of Leonardo da Vinci


 I posted this blog three years ago. I looked for anything ‘Leonardo’ once I began writing Blood Art. To this day his life, artistry and sheer magic continues to capture our imagination. I’m working on a sequel, and this blog brought back happy memories of my first attempt at a paranormal tale, and the mystique of the great master.

A potential Leonardo da Vinci sketch had been unearthed, more precisely an art historian thought that it was "absolutely Leonardesque" but that it was probably drawn by one of da Vinci's students.

An exam showed that the sketch was done closer to 1473-yes they could narrow it down to the year-amazing isn't it-what science can do? At any rate, Leonardo da Vinci did not have any apprentices or students until the late 1470's. That leaves the work as that of the master himself, or does it?

The mystery continues, the historian is convinced that he has the first portrait drawing  the master did.

Now, the fun begins, the research, the absolute proof-that yes-the sketch was done by Leonardo da Vinci. That would be lovely, but it is a long road to the absolute.

The paper is tested to check the properties and identify them as belonging to the era, they will test the chalk and pencil for the same reason. They were able to tell that both hands were used in that particular sketch, and it is known that da Vinci was reputed to be left-handed, but at the early start of his career he used both hands.

Would you believe that a reconstructed da Vinci fingerprint exists? It does. Another step that brings us closer to the ongoing search for knowledge about the great master.

Paper was expensive during the era and often re-used, and they found another drawing of an animal underneath the new sketch.  Leonardo was known to draw animal figures, and the style matched.

Much is known about da Vinci, much can be found using modern day science techniques to give us a rare glimpse into the life and work of Leonardo da Vinci.

There are art detectives who attempt to solve the mysteries of newly found masterpieces like the first portrait sketch attributed to da Vinci.

There is enough proof that the piece is probably the master's, but the final absolute is still a work in progress.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks
www.mjustes.com




Saturday, June 14, 2014

Amazon Only by Margot Justes



My books were out on Amazon, KOBO, Barnes & Noble, and all the other available venues. It was easy since my formatter did everything for me, but last week I switched to Amazon only.

I started paying attention to the e-mails I received from the other companies, advertising books for sale, and I noticed it was the same everywhere, all the bestsellers were being promoted, not a midlist author among them.

It was the same everywhere except on Amazon. I saw my books being advertised along with others. That is a brilliant and savvy move on Amazon’s part, because among those lesser names could be the next huge bestseller. Why is it that only Amazon recognizes that possibility? Where are the others? Why is Amazon the only one giving midlist authors a chance to build their readership?

I fully recognize that bestsellers make money, they sell large numbers of books, and this is a business, and as such must turn a profit to survive. But surely there is room for a different voice, a new breath, those writers that aren’t main stream but have something to say that may not be quite middle of the road, but may succeed beyond expectations. Surely that is how a business grows, and markets expand.

Amazon recognizes the value of smart advertising, and in reality it costs them little to add a few new writers to their ad campaigns. Why can’t the others do the same?

They made the decision for me, I have more to gain when I give Amazon my exclusive rights. Amazon offers KDP Select, Paid Library Lending, discounted or free promotion days; it’s up to me to decide how to market my books. I have plenty of opportunities to promote within Amazon, and with their resources I’m better off.

The issues about market and pricing control are complex, and many claim Amazon wants to control the market, currently the battle with Hachette is an example. In reality what company wouldn’t want to be in Amazon’s shoes?

From my perspective, as a small midlist author, I’ll stay with Amazon only, for growth and potential new readership, at least they give me a chance.

Cheers
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Fire Within
www.mjustes.com