Kate Collins Latest Mystery Series

            Kate Collins, best-selling author of the popular Flower Shop mysteries, is—excuse our pun–branching out with her Goddess of Greene St., a series of cozy mysteries centered around single mom Athena Spencer who after divorcing returns home to work in her family’s garden center.

Kate Collins (Linda Tsoutsouris)

            It was a big change not only for Athena but also for her creator, Valparaiso resident Linda Tsoutsouris who has written 23 Flower Shop novels under the pen name of Kate Collins. Three of those books including “Mum’s the Word” were made into Hallmark Movies & Mysteries starring Brooke Shields in the role of Abby Knight, Tsoutsouris’s flower shop owning sleuth along with actors Brennan Elliott, Beau Bridges and Kate Drummond.

Former attorney-turned-small-town-florist, Abby Knight, has a nose for sleuthing, quickly embroiled in a murder investigation, grateful for the help when she teams with retired private eye, Marco Salvare, who now owns a local bar and grill. Photo: Brennan Elliott, Brooke Shields Credit: Copyright 2015 Crown Media United States, LLC/Photographer: Christos Kalohoridis

            “It was hard to leave the flower shop, Abby, her boyfriend Marco and everyone—they were like family,” says Tsoutsouris whose two Goddess mysteries are “Statue of Limitations” and “A Big Fat Greek Murder,”

            “But now I’m feeling more comfortable and I really like Athena,” she says.

            As she did with her other series, Tsoutsouris has created a cast of quirky, fascinating characters including Athena’s mother, Hera who is, as one would expect of the matriarch of a large Greek family, a fantastic cook. There’s also Maia, the goddess of the field in Greek mythology, is a vegetarian in the series and Delphi, a take on the oracles of Delphi who foretold the future.

            “In my book, she’s always reading tea leaves,” says Tsoutsouris.

            The Flower Shop series takes place in the town of New Chapel, a stand-in for Valparaiso.

            “Goddess of Green St. is a mix of Saugatuck, the Lake Michigan town in southwest Michigan and Key West,” says Tsoutsouris who lives part time in Key West, Florida. “I like to give people a point of reference.”

A Flower Shop Novella

            Before she became a writer, Tsoutsouris, who holds a master’s degree from Purdue University, worked as an elementary school teacher. After taking time off to care for her young son and daughter. Tsoutsouris became somewhat restless despite learning to macrame and so signed up for a correspondence course on how to write children’s books. She took it, wrote one, got it published and went on to write another 20. Her next shot at publication wasn’t quite so successful. Tsoutsouris wrote a romance novel she describes as horrible. The publisher agreed, rejecting her book. Always full of energy, Tsoutsouris immediately began attending as many conferences on the subject as possible and broke into that market as well.

            Now with five of her books having made it on to the New York Times Best-sellers’ list, Tsoutsouris is working on the Goddess of Greene St. series and keeps in touch with Abby and New Chapel by writing Flower Shop novellas such as the just released “A Frond in Need.”

            Asked where she gets her ideas as plots for so many mystery novels, Tsoutsouris that almost anything is a creative spark. 

            “If I see a garden pond,” she says, “I ask myself what if a body turns up in the pond?”

For more information, visit katecollins.com

Lady Romeo: The Radical and Revolutionary Life of Charlotte Cushman, America’s First Celebrity

A force of nature in her time, stage actress Charlotte Cushman who played both male and
female roles, was friends with Abraham Lincoln who admired her work. Indeed, she acted along side both Edwin and John Wilkes Booth and was said to have left a scar on the assassin’s neck that was later used to identify him as the president’s murderer.

Tana Wojczuk by Beowulf Sheehan

Cushman was 58-years-old when on November 7, 1874 she gave her last performance in front of
thousands of fans in New York City. There should have been much to remember her by. She is Angel of Waters on top of Central Park’s Bethesda Fountain designed by her lover Emma Stebbins. This is no ordinary sculpture, Cushman soars above what is, at twenty-six feet high by ninety-six feet wide, one of New York’s largest fountains. But that was the kind of woman she was. She acted for more than 30 years traveling the world to appear on stage and it was publicly well-known that her lovers were female. Yet for some reason she slips from sight, almost lost to history until now, almost 160 years later, her vibrant life is captured in Tana Wojczuk’s new biography, Lady Romeo: The Radical and Revolutionary Life of Charlotte Cushman, America’s First Celebrity.

Angel of Waters (Wikimedia Commons)

Wojczuk, a senior nonfiction editor at Guernica who teaches writing at New York University, first
became aware of Cushman when she was an aspiring actress, a passion she pursued starting at age
thirteen, and continued through college.

“Women often played men in the 18th and 19th centuries,” says Wojczuk who came across
Cushman’s name while researching women who had played Hamlet. “Most cross-dressing onstage was for comic effect or to titillate men who liked to ogle a woman’s legs. But Charlotte was a convincing man onstage. When I found out that she had also been one of the most famous women in the world I wanted to know why, and, like in a detective novel, to account for her disappearance.”

Charlotte Cushman. Wikimedia Commons

Cushman aimed for realism so much so that, according to Wojczuk, she was a pioneer of
method acting, visiting prostitutes in Five Points and exchanging clothes with them to prepare to
play a prostitute.

Reading fascinating books like this makes you wonder how many fascinating women—and
men—have vanished into the mists of time. Why, I wonder? ojczuk has a surprising answer.

“When she was at her height, American culture was remarkably diverse and experimental, still
figuring out what it would become,” she says. “There were successful all-black theatres in New York, for example, before well-connected white theatre owners had them shut down. Charlotte’s masculinity was acceptable on-stage, when viewed as a performance, and it helped argue for all gender as performance. But by the time she died in 1876, the American centennial, the postwar culture had clamped down, strictly policing public morality. Even though Charlotte helped create American culture, her role became inconvenient. She was a dangerous influence to young women now clamoring to go to college, to work, to vote. Even on the day she died Victorian critics tried to write her out of history. For a long time, they were successful.”

Renegade Women in Film and TV

              When we think of power brokers—the people who produce and direct movies or write the scripts, the names that come to mind are mostly males. Film critic Elizabeth Weitzman sets about changing all that in her new book, Renegade Women in Film & TV (Clarkson Potter 2019; $16.99). Told in short biographies, some highlighted with interviews, this wonderfully illustrated book is a gem to read as it highlights women in films who have broken the glass ceiling.

              “There has been a lot of talk in recent years about how underrepresented women have always been in Hollywood, says Weitzman, who was named one of New York’s Top Film Critics by the Hollywood Reporter and who earned a master’s degree in cinema studies. “And although that’s true, it only tells half the story. The reality is that women have been essential innovators in entertainment from the very beginning. But they’ve been written out of history so consistently that few people were even aware of their enormous accomplishments.”

              As just one of many examples, Weitzman writes about first female filmmaker Alice Guy-Blaché who film historians believe is also the first person to make a narrative film–her 1896 short The Cabbage Fairy.

              Deciding who to include in her book (we’re hoping for a sequel) wasn’t an easy process for Weitzman. If she’d gone with all the trailblazers, her book would have been hundreds of pages long.

Rita Moreno by Natalie Mulford

              “When my editor said we had room to honor fifty of them, I did panic a little,” she recalls. “I couldn’t imagine how to narrow down the list so much. But I really wanted to share stories that represent a broad range of experiences, while also showing how the industry has changed over the last century.”

              Weitzman always wanted to change the image of female imagine silent film stars as damsels in distress, tied to railroad tracks and waiting to be rescued. That’s why she included the story of Helen Gibson, a silent-era teenager who quit her job at a cigar factory to teach herself trick riding—and then became the country’s first stuntwoman.

              “And everyone should know the story of the gorgeous, gifted Dorothy Dandridge, who was both the first African-American to be nominated for a lead actor Oscar and the first person to integrate many of the places she visited,” she says. “But every story in the book is more compelling than any movie could be. Renegades don’t ever choose an easy path, so their experiences are all unique, and all fascinating.”

Jessica Williams
by Natalie Mulford

Contemporary icons like Barbra Streisand, Rita Moreno, and Sigourney Weaver also win Weitzman’s admiration.

“All of them shared insights that surprised me,” she says. “And I will admit I wasn’t expecting these great women to be so down-to-earth and funny and blunt about their experiences in Hollywood.”

              Weitzman also includes a chapter called Essential Viewing, in which she suggests must-see movies and shows from each woman featured.

Alla Nazimova by Natalie Mulford

“Fans of old films will already know this,” she says, “but I think some people may be surprised by how modern and witty and fun so much of their work still feels today. I made sure to choose options that were all easy to find, so I hope people will discover some new favorites among them.”

Though she was familiar with the works of many of the pioneers in film, Weitzman became even more impressed when learned more about their lives, struggles, determination and how ahead of their times they all were.

Nora Ephron by Natalie Mulford

 “So often, pioneers are pushed aside or overlooked altogether,” she says. “These incredible women made so many sacrifices to create a better world for us. It’s our responsibility to learn their names and share their stories.”

Ifyougo:

What: A screening of The Hitchhiker directed by Ida Lupino, best known as a sultry film star, introduced by Elizabeth Weitzman with a post-film book signing of Renegade Women in Film & TV.

When: Monday, March 4 @ 7pm

Where: The Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave., Chicago, IL

Cost: Tickets only $11; tickets and a book $24. To order tickets, contact The Music Box at 773 871 6604; musicboxtheatre.com

FYI: This event is an off-site presentation by The Book Cellar, for more information (773) 293-2665; bookcellarinc.com

Identity Unknown: Rediscovering Seven American Women Artists

DonnaSeamanbyDavidSiegfried (1)Call it the case of the disappearing sculpture for that’s what started Donna Seaman on her quest to chronicle the lives and works of the seven female artists featured in her just released book, Identity Unknown: Rediscovering Seven American Women Artists (Bloomsbury 2017; $30.

“I remember going to the Chicago Art Institute and seeing this large sculpture they had at the end of the corridor,” says Seaman who grew up in Poughkeepsie, New York but not lives in Chicago. “But then she disappeared.”

The sculpture was by Louise Nevelson, who at one time had quite a following in the U.S., but like the six other 20th century females artists featured in Seaman’s book are almost forgotten despite their talent.

Intriguingly, though I had heard of Nevelson, I didn’t recognize any of the other names when I first started reading Seaman’s fascinating book. But reading about Gertrude Abercrombie and seeing her strikingly haunted paintings, I realized my mother had one in her study. But though I loved that painting, I only remembered the male artists whose works hung in our home such as Chagall’s “The Rabbi of Vitebsk” and Winslow Homer’s “The Gulf Steam” (all prints I assure you) and not this one? Was it a male thing?

Could be says Seaman, one of Chicago’s best known book critics and editor of adult books at Booklist, a book-review (and now online) magazine that’s been published by the American Library Association for more than 100 years.

“It’s about who’s writing history,” she says. “Women weren’t written about in a critically relevant way. Newspapers were interested but not the critics. And so these women disappeared.”

While doing her extensive research (Seaman acknowledges her obsessiveness) she asked museum curators to bring out the works of Lois Mailou Jones that had been tucked away in storage for who knows how long.

“They hadn’t seen them before,” she recalls. “And they kept saying these are wonderful.”

Though Seaman chose most of the artists she highlighted—Joan Brown, Leonore Tawney and Ree Morton–because she liked their work, her essay on Christina Ramberg was much more personal.

“I knew Christina,” Seaman says. “She died very young. The moment she became ill, we knew she wasn’t going to be around very long and I knew someday I would write about her.”

With a Master’s degree in English from DePaul University, one might expect Seaman to be more focused on lost women writers, but her mother was a visual artist (in fact Seaman is traveling to Vassar College last this spring where her mother has a showing of her work) and at one time, she considered becoming an artist as well.

Earning her BSA at Kansas City Art Institute where she was a sculptor major, Seaman says she was only one in her class who loved her liberal arts classes.

“I loved libraries and I have a passion for reading,” she says. “Despite getting into shows and selling my works, I realized that my stronger skills were in editing and writing.”

This skill subset—art and writing—is perfect for giving these artists their identities back.

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