A pumpkin for the Sewards



Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

This year for my Halloween-themed excerpts, I’ll be sharing from the eighth book in my Saga of the Sewards series (formerly known as Max’s House). It needs a great deal of editing, rewriting, and revision, along with a new title, so I’ll be doing preliminary edits and fleshing it out as I go this month.

The year is 1943, and as always, chaos and comedic mayhem reign supreme in the Sewards’ large blended family.

The next day, Mr. Seward brought home a pumpkin.

“Are we making a scarecrow?” Cora Ann asked.

“No, it’s for a jack-o-lantern,” Mr. Seward said. “Don’t all volunteer to help carve it at once.”

“Can I carve it?” Max asked.

Elaine gave him a mock-sweet smile. “Sure. You need to carve sixty jack-o-lanterns for the school dance and party; what’s one more?”

“Maybe it’d be better if I carve it,” Tiffany said. “It’ll relieve Max’s burden.”

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to finish the scene.

She took it upstairs to her room with a carving knife.

“Tonight we go out to look for your Halloween costumes,” Mr. Seward went on.  “No vandalizing during trick-or-treating!”

“You yourself vandalize on Halloween!” Max protested.

Marc put a ladder up against a side of the house.

“When do we go shopping tonight?” Max asked.

“At six. I plan to spend no more than fifty dollars at the Halloween store.”

Marc climbed through Tiffany’s opened window.

“I’m going up to help Tiff with the jack-o-lantern,” Max said.

His sister was wildly making out with Marc as he entered the room.

A quartet of antique horror films


For the sixth year in a row, my yearly October salute to vintage horror films celebrating landmark anniversaries kicks off with grand master Georges Méliès. So much of the language and development of early cinema was his creation.

Released 3 May 1901, Blue Beard (Barbe-Bleue) was based on Charles Perrault’s 1697 fairytale. This popular and famous story is the reason the word “bluebeard” is synonymous with a man who marries and murders one wife after another.

Rich aristocrat Barbe-Bleue (Méliès) is eager for a new wife, but none of the noblewomen brought to meet him like what they see. Not only is he ugly, he’s also been married seven prior times.

However, Barbe-Bleue’s riches convince one man to bestow his daughter in marriage (Méliès’s future wife Jehanne d’Alcy).

Barbe-Bleue gives his wife the keys to his castle before going on a trip, and warns her to never enter a certain room. While deciding between curiosity and fear, an imp (also Méliès) appears to tempt and taunt her. An angel tries to prevail upon her to stay away.

Curiosity gets the better of her, and she enters the room to discover a most macabre sight—seven bags that turn out to be Barbe-Bleue’s first seven wives hanging from a gallows in a torture chamber. In shock, she drops the key and becomes stained with blood she’s unable to wash off.

That night, she dreams of seven giant keys.

When Barbe-Bleue returns, he finds out what happened and tries to murder her too. She flees to the top of a tower and screams for her siblings to help her.

Barbe-Bleue is slain when they come to the rescue, and his first seven wives are resurrected and married to lords.

The Devil and the Statue (Le Diable Géant ou Le Miracle de la Madonna) was also released in 1901. A young man serenades his lover, then goes out a window. Presently a devil appears and begins growing to gigantic proportions.

A Madonna statue comes to life and makes the devil shrink, then opens the window so the lover can return.

The Haunted House (La Maison Hantée, also known as La Maison Ensorcelée) was released in April 1906. Though Méliès appears as one of the three characters, it was directed by Segundo de Chomón (Segundo Víctor Aurelio Chomón y Ruiz). Señor de Chomón is widely considered the greatest Spanish silent film director, and often compared to Méliès because he used many of the same magical illusion tricks and camera work.

In 1901, he began distributing his films through the French company Pathé, and moved to Paris in 1905. He remained with Pathé even after returning to Barcelona in 1910.

Three people take refuge at a house on a dark and stormy night, and spooky things immediately begin happening—chairs that appear and disappear, ghosts flying through the air, flying flames, the house tilting and rotating, the bed sliding across the floor, a knife cutting a sausage and bread by itself, a slice of sausage moving all over the table, a teapot pouring by itself, napkins moving.

This entire film is so fun! It made me eager to seek out more of Señor de Chomón’s work.

And finally we come to L’Inferno, which premièred 10 March 1911 at the Mercadante Theatre in Naples, not to be confused with the other 1911 Italian film of the same name, which I reviewed in 2016. This film was produced by Helios Film, a much smaller company than Milano Films, and made in a hurry to try to beat the other film to theatres and take advantage of the huge wave of public anticipation. It did arrive three months earlier, but is only 15 minutes long as opposed to over an hour.

Eleven major episodes from Inferno are depicted—the dark forest, Virgil’s meeting with Beatrice, crossing Charon’s ferry across Acheron, Francesca and Paolo, Minòs, Farinata degli Uberti in his flaming tomb, the usurers in a rain of fire, Ulysses, Pier della Vigna in the Wood of the Suicides, Count Ugolino, and Satan.

This L’Inferno uses only 18 intertitles (drawn right from Dante’s own words) and 25 animated paintings, compared to 54 in the full-length feature. However, the special effects are quite sophisticated, such as the lustful being blown around and Minòs’s gigantic stature.

Like the other L’Inferno, this one too is strongly based on Gustave Doré’s famous woodcut illustrations. And while both films feature nudity, the short film is more sensual regarding Francesca.

Artwork of The Divine Comedy


In July, I spotlighted seven artists who illustrated The Divine Comedy, either in full or for one canticle. Now let’s look at some standalone art. Many of these pieces have been used in my Dantean posts.

Joseph Anton Koch, an Austrian-born painter of the Neoclassical and German Romantic schools, did four frescoes in Rome’s Casino di Villa Massimo, in what is now called the Dante Room, from 1827–29. The first fresco is entitled Dante nella Selva con le Fiere e Virgilio (Dante in the Forest with the Beasts and Virgil). Though the word fiere means “fairs” in Modern Italian, Dante used it to mean “beasts.”

The next fresco depicts Inferno as a whole, with illustrations of a few major episodes (e.g., the neutrals in Ante-Inferno, Charon with his ferry across Acheron, Minòs, Dante and Virgil on Geryon, Agnèl being turned into a snake, Francesca and Paolo, Cerberus, Count Ugolino).

All frescoes of Inferno copyright Sailko.

Koch’s third fresco, La Nave del Purgatorio, depicts Canto IX, one of my all-time favouritest in the book, at the top. There’s so much power, beauty, emotion, and tension jam-packed into its 145 lines. At the bottom is a boat of souls arriving in Purgatory. The right tells the story of Buonconte da Montefeltro, who died in battle and was fought over by the Devil and an angel. On the left are two angels vanquishing sin in the form of a snake.

Copyright Sailko.

Koch’s final fresco depicts souls from all seven terraces of Purgatory. The poem’s dramatic midway point, Canto XVI, is also shown, as Dante clings to Virgil in a thick, blinding cloud of smoke. Among the historical figures are Pope Adrian V and King Hugh Capet of France (my 34-greats-grandpap).

The ceiling, I Cieli dei Beati e l’Empireo (The Heavens of the Blessed and the Empyrean), was done by German Romantic painter Philipp Veit, and depicts Paradiso as a whole. People who appear here include Piccarda Donati, Empress Constance of Altavilla, Byzantine Emperor Justinian, Rahab of the Bible, St. Thomas Aquinas, Dante’s great-great-grandpap Cacciaguida, Roman Emperor Trajan, King David, St. Benedict of Nursia, St. Peter, St. John the Evangelist, Adam, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and Mary.

All closeups copyright Sailko.


Jumping back to Canto I of Inferno, here we have French landscape and portrait painter Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot’s 1859 work Dante et Virgile. Monsieur Corot (who was creepily, unhealthily co-dependent on and joined at the hip with his parents until his fifties) presented this shortly after he did it, but then forgot about it for years. When he ran across it in his studio, he told a friend, “Why, it’s superb; I can hardly imagine that I myself did that!” Today it’s in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, which means I probably saw it at least once.

Dutch–French Romantic painter Ary Scheffer did at least six versions of this artwork, Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta Appraised by Dante and Virgil, from 1822–55. The oil painting is known by various titles—Les ombres de Francesca da Rimini et de Paolo Malatesta apparaissent à Dante et à Virgile (The Louvre); De gedaantes van Paolo en Francesca aanschouwd door Dante en VergiliusThe Ghosts/Shades/Shadows of Francesca de Rimini and Paolo Malatesta Appear to Dante and VirgilDante and Virgil Encountering the Shades of Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta in the Underworld (Pittsburgh); Dante and Virgil Meeting the Shades of Francesca da Rimini and Paolo (Cleveland).

Here’s one I haven’t shown yet, La Barque de Dante, aka Dante et Virgile aux enfers (1855), the first major work by French artist Eugène Delacroix. It depicts Canto VIII of Inferno, as Phlegyas ferries Dante and Virgil across the River Styx, the City of Dis in the background. Today it hangs in the Louvre.

Between 1853–58, Édoard Manet did two copies of this painting, now in the Museum of Fine Arts in Lyon and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.

Italian painter Domenico Morelli (1823–1901) did this artwork, Dante e Virgilio nel Purgatorio, possibly around 1855. It depicts Canto II, as a light-enshrouded boat of newly-deceased souls draws close to the Mount of Purgatory, guided by an angel. In 1845, he did another piece drawn from the Commedia, L’angelo che Porta le Anime al Purgatorio Dantesco, which won an award. For the life of me, I’ve been unable to locate this other painting!

Here we see French painter Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin’s Le Dante, conduit par Virgile, offre des consolations aux âmes des envieux (Dante, led by Virgil, offers consolations to the souls of the envious) (1835). It depicts the Second Terrace of Purgatory in Canto XIII. I particularly like the look of compassion on Virgil’s face.

This painting is now in the Museum of Fine Arts in Lyon.

Pre-Raphaelite Greek–British painter Marie Spartali Stillman did many Dantean subjects, such as this 1887 work, Dante’s Vision of Leah and Rachel, depicting Dante’s third and final dream in Purgatorio. In the Earthly Paradise (i.e., the Garden of Eden) on top of the mountain, in Canto XXVII, he dreams of Leah gathering flowers by the river while Rachel gazes into the water.

And finally we have German painter Carl Wilhelm Friedrich Oesterley’s 1845 work Dante and Beatrice, depicting their contentious reunion in Canto XXX of Purgatorio. Dante is so overcome with shame and remorse, he’s unable to look her in the face.

And what do you know! By hashgacha pratit (Divine Providence), nine artists were featured, representing Dante’s lucky number!

When the parade goes by without you


While I’d still have to say my favourite of Maud Hart Lovelace’s books is Carney’s House Party, I have to give the nod to Emily Webster as my favourite of her characters. As a fellow introvert who wasn’t part of the popular crowd and didn’t come from a cushy bourgeois family, I can really relate to Emily. I also deeply relate to her as someone whose life hasn’t unfolded on the same timetable as that of most of my peers.

Emily Webster (based on Marguerite Marsh, a year older than Mrs. Lovelace but two years younger than her Doppelgänger Betsy) lost her mother in infancy and her father at two years old. Her grandparents stepped up to raise her, but her grandma died when Emily was ten years old. Now Emily lives alone on the edge of town with her grandpa Cyrus Webster, an 81-year-old Civil War vet.

Emily of Deep Valley (Deep Valley, #2) by Maud Hart Lovelace

When Emily graduates high school in 1912, all her peers head off to college—the University of Minnesota, Carleton College, Vassar, a few local schools. But because Grandpa Cyrus has no one else to take care of him, Emily is unable to pursue higher education. It’s not even something she weighs the pros and cons of. Staying with Grandpa is just something she must do without question.

Because Emily lives so far on the outskirts of town, and because she has so many heavy responsibilities, she hasn’t had the cliché kind of high school experience Betsy did. Though she is frequently invited to come along to get-togethers and events, and does take up some of these offers throughout the book, it seems obvious she’s invited more out of sympathy and obligation, and that she’s always on the periphery of this crowd.

Emily is very intelligent and serious, though, and was the only girl on the acclaimed debate team. She loves reading, history, and politics, and her dream is to become a social worker like her shero Jane Addams. Emily’s graduation speech (which she has to memorize instead of reading from a paper!) is about Ms. Addams.


Emily does have extended family, though—her beautiful, sophisticated, glamourous second-cousin Annette, and Annette’s parents, whom Emily calls Aunt Sophie and Uncle Chester, despite not being related to them in that way. Aunt Sophie regularly has new clothes made for Emily by town dressmaker Miss Mix, and has Emily and Grandpa over for holidays.

There’s also love interest Don Walker, who was on the debate team with Emily. Over the summer, he regularly visits and discusses books. One time, he brings Emily a book of Robert Browning poetry. But it’s obvious to everyone but Emily from the jump that Don isn’t very sincere or nice.


Emily sinks into despondency when her erstwhile friends leave for college. They’re all going places in their lives and having fun, while she’s stuck in Deep Valley as Grandpa’s full-time caretaker. At first, Emily tries to lift her spirits by attending a high school pep rally for a football game, but a comment from the new coach is like a lightning bolt that wakes her up and makes her realise she’s unhealthily clinging to the past and not moving forward into a new adult life.

Instead of going to the game, she hurries home to put her hair up in a Psyche knot. Prior, she wore her hair in a braid with a huge ribbon like an overgrown schoolgirl. Emily also gets some new hats to accommodate this change in hairstyle, and a few new clothes.

After this, it’s like a magic wand has been waved. Because she finally looks her age, Emily begins getting attention from a slightly older crowd who’s still in town. For the first time, Emily feels like she’s found her tribe, people with serious interests that match her own. One of her new friends, Cab Edwards, takes her out to several dances. (I found Cab much better-developed in this book than in the Betsy-Tacy series!)

And slowly but surely, Emily starts coming into her own and making lemonade out of the lemons life handed her. She might not be a college girl, but there are so many other rewarding things she can do, like start a Browning discussion group, help the people in Little Syria, and resume music lessons.

I really enjoyed watching Emily’s gradual growth into a strong, confident woman who knows her own mind and how to find fulfillment and happiness. I can also relate to her more than Betsy (who makes a brief appearance that really feels shoehorned in). Emily faces a lot of real challenges that aren’t easily, quickly resolved; she’s not Miss Popularity; boys aren’t beating a path to her door; and she doesn’t have class privilege.

Emily is truly Mrs. Lovelace’s most mature, complex character, with a storyline to match.

WeWriWa—Trouble on Via Santa Elisabetta



Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’m now sharing from an alternative history with the working title A Dream of Peacocks. It starts on May Day 1274, when Dante met his great love and muse Beatrice Portinari, and will give them an eventual happy ending, with lots of Sturm und Drang.

This week’s excerpt right after last week’s, and begins the chapter’s third section. Dante is on his way to spend the florins his father recently gave him when he runs into some of his friends. Corso Donati was a real-life villain who led the enemy Black Guelphs and, before that, kidnapped his sister Piccarda from her convent to force her into a politically advantageous marriage.

Piccarda Donati fatta rapire dal convento di Santa Chiara dal fratello Corso (Piccarda Donati was kidnapped from the convent of St. Clare by brother Corso), Raffaello Sorbi

Saturday afternoon, I tucked the bag of florins into my tunic pocket, picked up a basket, and set out for Pasquini Apothecary on Via Santa Elisabetta. This was one of my favorite neighborhood stores, since they carried a lot of exotic sweets and spices from places like Persia, Spain, the Holy Land, and Byzantium. They also sold beautiful imported papers that looked like marble, with a rainbow of swirled colors. Someday I hoped to buy one of their blank bound books with a marbled cover.

Along the way, I passed a tempting array of stalls offering spices, carpets, flowers, roasted meat, dyed fabrics, fruit, silver and gold bowls, furs, honeycombs, and parrots. Had I a giant cart full of florins instead of merely a small bag, I would’ve bought something from every merchant.

Several blocks away from the apothecary, I caught sight of my friends the Donatis. Corso was eating a greasy skewer of goat meat as he walked, picking his teeth as always, while Maso and Sinibaldo carried a Persian rug with a bold pattern of black, red, and white. Ravenna, Piccarda, and their cousin Gemma wore glove puppets and were animatedly making up a story about characters with nonsense names. Only Forese wasn’t walking with them, being occupied at a honeycomb stall.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to complete the scene.

Before I had a chance to call out greetings to them, a herd of pigs came stampeding down the street. This was an unavoidable annoyance of city life, pigs permitted to run freely through town. Complaining about it to the authorities or farmers never accomplished anything.

Faster than anyone could react, Corso stepped forward and laughingly pushed Piccarda right into the path of the pigs, who promptly knocked her down into a filthy puddle. Piccarda began loudly crying as Corso walked off, still laughing. Without a moment’s hesitation, I rushed to help her up. Forese pulled her up on the other side.