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Melissa Arnold

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Grant Shaffer and Alan Cumming with their current pets, Jerry and Lala. Photo from Jud Newborn

Have you ever wondered what your pets are thinking, or what they’re up to when you’re not around? Actor Alan Cumming and his photographer/illustrator husband, Grant Shaffer, sure have. Constantly entertained by their late beloved dogs, Honey and Leon, the couple decided to share the fun in their new children’s book, “The Adventures of Honey & Leon,” beautifully illustrated with a silly, imaginative story line. Cumming and Shaffer, who have been together for 13 years, recently answered questions about the book via email.

Tell us a little bit about yourselves. Were you always animal lovers?

Alan Cumming: I always had animals around me growing up. I had two little West Highland Terrier dogs when I was a little boy, but as I lived on a country estate there were always sheep and cows and deer and pheasants around.

Grant Shaffer: I’ve always been an animal lover. I grew up with dogs, cats, a rabbit, lizards, snakes, hamsters, fish … I even had a pet rat that I was crazy about.

Is this your first foray into writing/illustrating?

AC: I’ve also written “Tommy’s Tale,” a novel published in 2002; “Not My Father’s Son,” a No. 1 New York Times best-selling memoir; and a book of photographs and stories titled “You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams.” GS: I illustrated a children’s book last year called “Three Magic Balloons,” written by Julianna and Paul Margulies.

How did you come up with the story line?

GS: The idea came up when we’d be traveling and missing our dogs. We would spot people at the airport, on the street or at a beach and say, “There’s Honey” (old lady in a bathrobe and a floppy sun hat), or “There’s Leon” (short little guy wearing big sunglasses and a flat cap), and the story just grew from there. The problem with dogs is that they don’t stick around forever. I think this was our way of trying to immortalize them, and we thought kids would like this tale.

AC: It seemed such a good collaboration considering our respective jobs. I love the idea that we have created something together that celebrates the creatures we loved so much.

What was the process like?

GS: Alan wrote the story first, and then I added the drawings. We mulled the idea of doing a children’s book for years, so it took a long time. It was great, and pretty fluid. I’ve heard of some couples who are barely speaking to each other after a joint project like this, but luckily that’s not us!

How did you come to adopt Honey and Leon?

GS: Before we met, Alan had adopted Honey, and I had adopted Leon, so when we got together, so did they. They were pure love and magic to us, but all dog owners think that about their dogs. Leon would sing (howl) along to Radiohead or if a siren went by, and Honey always crossed her paws like a lady, and she’d actually pose for a camera, looking left, then right.

Did you often wonder what the dogs were thinking at home?

GS: All the time. It usually involved food and dog treats I think. One time we rang up a pet psychic, so she could tell us what the dogs were thinking. She was so off, saying that Leon didn’t like my phone’s ringtone (I never used a ringtone) and that Honey wanted Alan to eat more vegetables (as a vegan, that’s all he eats). It was worth a funny phone call though.

Can you share with the readers a favorite story about Honey and Leon?

GS: We used to play a game: If I walked the dogs, Alan would hide somewhere in the house. Alan’s hiding places became more involved, and the chase would become more frantic each time. I would guide them with “hot” and “cold,” and Alan would clue them in with a whistle. When they’d finally find him, it was like a family reuniting that had been separated for decades — lots of whining and licks!

Do you two hope to adopt pets again someday?

GS: We already did! When Honey died (from old age), Leon was so lonely, so we adopted a Chihuahua mix named Jerry. Then Leon died (from old age) and we adopted Lala (a mini-collie mix, but she looks like a black fox). We are in love all over again.

Is there a particular message you hope to pass on to kids with this book?

GS: I like that the story features two gay dads, but that isn’t the story really. It’s just, “Here is our family on a fun adventure together.” I guess that’s a message in itself.

Who is your target audience?

AC: We recommend the book for kids ages 3 to 7.

Are there any other books we can look forward to from you?

GS: “The Further Adventures of Honey & Leon” comes out in 2019. “The Adventures of Honey & Leon” is available online and in stores wherever books are sold.

Cumming and Shaffer will make a special appearance at the Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington on Sept. 18 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $75, $60 members. The event, hosted by Jud Newborn, includes a rare screening of Cumming’s “The Anniversary Party,” followed by a Q&A and book-signing reception for “The Adventures of Honey & Leon.” Every ticket holder will receive a copy of the book. Call 631-423-7611 for more information.

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Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Author Lisa French

Fishing has been a beloved part of Lisa French’s life for many years. The South Setauket mother of three has turned that passion into a fun book for kids with “A Fishing I Will Go!” Follow the children in the book on a fishing adventure as they catch fish commonly found in Long Island’s waters including a fluke, sea robin, crab, squid, eel, blackfish, bass and a tuna. The interactive story, told entirely in rhyme, features a jellyfish, starfish, piece of driftwood and a message in a bottle in every hand-drawn picture.

French, 53, hopes to teach kids about fish and fishing while also raising money for a cause close to her heart. A portion of the profits from the book will go to the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation to support multiple sclerosis awareness and research. French lives with the disease, and her mother, to whom the book is dedicated, died from MS-related complications in February of this year.

Were you creative growing up?

I’ve always been the creative person in my family that people would come to for wedding toasts, eulogies and poems. I have a whole book of poems that I’ve written and I love to draw, especially in pencil.

What inspired you to want to write a book?

I spent 26 years running a day care, and I have three children of my own. There was a time when my children and the children I watched wanted a new game to play, and I created one for them. I had a patent pending for it, but the process became too costly. After that, I decided to try writing a book.

The kids love books, and they like catchy phrases. I had a couple different ideas started, but the kids I watched knew that I would go fishing, and they were always excited to hear stories about it. Every Monday when we got back from the weekend they’d ask me, “What’d you catch, what’d you catch?” At first, I just wrote the story and printed out pictures from the Internet to go with it. The kids still loved it, and that inspired me to go forward with it.

How did your family respond?

They definitely took it seriously. In fact, they even helped me to get the money together that I needed.

Tell me a bit about the story.

This is a simple story — my own story — of going out and trying to catch a fish to keep for dinner. It’s about learning what you can keep, what you can’t, and making the perfect catch at the end of the day.

Why did you want to write a fishing book specifically?

Each page of the book has a significant, personal meaning for me. A friend of mine has a boat called The Reel Adventure that we go fishing on. All the fish mentioned in the book I caught on his boat. There’s a page with a lighthouse that’s actually Breezy Point — my nana had a house that overlooked the scenery I drew in that picture. I also used to fish off the pier. I even went in a rowboat with my father and caught an eel with him once. The page with the sea bass that swallowed all the bait but wasn’t (heavy enough) is something that actually happens while fishing.

Did you self-publish or work with a publisher?

I looked at several different publishing companies online and read reviews, and I decided to go with one that’s only been in business for about four years, called Palmetto Publishing Group. They’re based in South Carolina and were a very nice group of people to work with. By working with them, I now have the freedom to get into bookstores and create a hardcover version of the book, which I’m planning on.

What about the illustrations?

I had trouble finding an illustrator to work with, so I did all of the drawings for the book myself using pencil. I did the drawings on paper first, and then I found Adobe Draw, which allows me to copy my drawings onto (the computer) and color them in.

What is the target age for this book?

The kids that I’ve done readings for have been between the ages of 2 and 4. They really enjoy acting out parts of the book with me — we cast our lines together, reel in the fish and throw them back. I also have a fishing game that allows them to catch fish using rods with magnets on them.

Lisa French with her late mother, Joyce, who suffered from chronic progressive multiple sclerosis.

Why did you choose to have some proceeds from this book benefit the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation?

My mom always stood by me and always told me how good I was (at writing). She really pushed me, and it’s for that reason that I dedicated the book to her. She passed away in February from chronic progressive multiple sclerosis (MS), which she got in her late 20s. It wasn’t until her mid-30s that she was diagnosed. She started using a cane, then a walker, then a wheelchair. She ended up paralyzed from the waist down, and in her mid-50s also lost the use of her left side. Doctors told me she wouldn’t live past 60, but she passed away at 74 — she was a miracle case.

I also have MS, but it’s the relapsing-remitting form. They say it’s not hereditary, but I’ve heard of so many people who have MS whose mothers had it, too. I believe there’s more research to be done.

“A Fishing I Will Go!” is available online at www.amazon.com. Find out more about the book on Facebook at www.facebook.com/afishingiwillgo. To make a donation to the MS Foundation, visit www.msfocus.org.

All photos courtesy of Lisa French.

'Great Blue Heron' by Chris Bazer
Photo artist Chris Bazer shares magical images of nature in latest exhibit at Emma Clark Library

By Melissa Arnold

Like all great photographers, Christopher Scott Bazer has an eye for beauty. But he also knows how to take a beautiful image to the next level with a little computer magic.

It’s what he calls photo-art, a unique blend of traditional photography and modern, digital effects. The result is vivid and ethereal.

A collection of Bazer’s favorite pieces is on display at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket for the month of August in an exhibit called Essence of Nature.

‘Butterfly en rose’

Bazer has been a shutterbug for almost his entire life, starting out with a little Brownie camera at just 5 years old while growing up in Queens. “My mother was very artistic and became a very good painter in her own right,” said Bazer, who now lives in Huntington. “Her brother, my uncle, also painted, so I think [the artistic talents] came down from that side of the family.”

While Bazer didn’t major in art, he did take a handful of art classes while working toward a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Southampton College. During his time there, he had the chance to study under painter and filmmaker Larry Rivers.

After college, Bazer worked for a time as a salesman before settling into a successful 35-year career as a DJ. But his love for painting and photography never died. At one point, he was the brother-in-law of Richard Bernstein, an artist who ran in the same circles as Andy Warhol. “I learned so much from [Bernstein]. He ended up being one of my idols,” he said.

Now 70, Bazer has had more time to devote to his artwork. He’s done more than a dozen public exhibits in the last few years, mostly in libraries and village centers. He is one of many artists to benefit from the support of Princess Ronkonkoma Productions, an organization that helps the disabled and elderly find outlets to show their art.

Bazer said that he’s not much of a painter, but there are usually a few acrylic paintings in the mix at his exhibits. “My paintings are what you’d call folk art — they’re not meant to be taken as realistic,” he explained.

‘Shore wader’

As for photography, Bazer now uses an Olympus Stylus 1 to capture the world around him. It’s a natural part of his routine to bring the camera along whenever he’s headed out. His favorite subjects are wildlife and landscapes, especially beaches; and he enjoys taking photos of Coindre Hall’s boathouse on the Long Island Sound in Huntington.

As traditional photography evolved with the arrival of digital technology, Bazer was inspired by a whole new realm of possibilities.

“I just started playing around with the software that came with my camera and experimented with different effects and styles. What I’m able to do now is stuff that you were once only able to do in the darkroom, and it was hit or miss, and very expensive,” Bazer said. “What’s interesting is a lot of times I go out and take pictures and I’ll come home and look at what I have and not see anything good, but then I can work with it on the computer and end up with something really great.”

The Essence of Nature exhibit will feature 21 photos and paintings, all of which can be purchased as a low-number print. For information, contact Bazer directly at chrisbazer@yahoo.com or CSBazer Art on Facebook.

The Emma S. Clark Memorial Library is located at 120 Main Street, Setauket. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays, and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. For more information, call 631-941-4080 or visit www.emmaclark.org.

The cast of 'Grease'. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

By Melissa Arnold

When it comes to musical theater, few shows are more beloved with theatergoers than “Grease.” Can you blame us, though? It’s an old, familiar story: Boy meets girl. They fall in love. Things get messy.

Put simply, it’s a snapshot of teenage relationships that’s almost universally relatable. And thanks to the 1978 film adaptation starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, “Grease” is permanently cemented into the hearts of so many.

From left, Madeleine Barker (as Rizzo), Laura Helm (as Marty), Liana Hunt (as Sandy) and Sari Alexander (as Frenchy).

All this makes it the perfect summer kickoff for the John W. Engeman Theater’s 11th season. For those of you who are not familiar with the plot, “Grease,” written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, follows the Rydell High School Class of 1959 through the highs and lows of hormone-fueled infatuation.

At the center of it all is Sandy Drumbrowski (Liana Hunt), the naïve, charming new girl in town who catches the eye of notorious bad boy Danny Zuko (Sam Wolf). While the two develop a whirlwind summer romance, the transition back to Rydell High is a tough one. Peer pressure, social stereotypes and the desire to fit in pull Danny and Sandy in different directions while sending ripples of tension through their circle of friends. While it sounds like a lot of drama, the show is full of fast-paced banter and folly that will keep you laughing and singing along until the end.

Director Paul Stancato leads a cast of theater veterans in a well-polished performance that’s hard to criticize. Such high quality is what you can expect to see regularly at the Engeman.

Liana Hunt plays Sandy in a way that’s down to earth and totally believable. Her voice is strong without being over the top. “Hopelessly Devoted to You” allows her to shine on her own, which is appreciated in a show mostly comprised of duets and chorus numbers.

From left, Chris Collins Pisano (as Roger), Sam Wolf (as Danny), Chris Stevens (as Kenickie), Zach Erhardt (as Doody) and Casey Shane (as Sonny) perform ‘Greased Lightnin’.

As Danny, Sam Wolf builds fantastic chemistry leading the rebellious Thunderbirds. The first words in the iconic “Summer Nights” will leave no doubt about why Wolf got the role — he can sing, and that same passion translates to everything he does on stage.

But this production wouldn’t be what it is without the phenomenal supporting cast, who are every bit as talented as Hunt and Wolf. In fact, they nearly stole the show.

The T-birds (Zach Erhardt, Chris Collins-Pisano, Chris Stevens and Casey Shane) are hysterically funny. Their antics will make you laugh out loud, especially when they briefly dip into the audience. They’re also incredible dancers, pulling off flips and jumps like they’re nothing.

The Pink Ladies (Hannah Slabaugh, Laura Helm, Madeleine Barker and Sari Alexander) are a force of their own as well — each one stands out from the group with individuality and assertiveness. Of particular mention is Barker, who plays the cynical Betty Rizzo with tons of natural swagger, and Slabaugh, who you can’t help but love during “Mooning,” a duet her character Jan performs with Roger (Collins-Pisano).

From left, Madeleine Barker (as Rizzo), Laura Helm (as Marty), Liana Hunt (as Sandy) and Sari Alexander (as Frenchy).

The efforts of choreographer Antoinette DiPietropolo and dance captain Tim Falter have definitely paid off in this production. Dancing is central to the plot in “Grease,” and the cast’s quick, complicated routines are worth shouting over. From the opening “Grease Is the Word” to the dance contest during “Born to Hand Jive,” they should be commended for both their skill and the stamina required to pull off the show.

And while you can’t see the band at the Engeman — they are tucked neatly under the stage — their rock ‘n’ roll carries the whole show. In fact, if not for their credits in the program, you might think the music was prerecorded. The six-man ensemble is led by conductor/keyboardist Alec Bart.

Costume designer Matthew Solomon does a fantastic job transporting us back to the ’50s. The dresses worn by the girls at the school dance are gorgeous and colorful, and their twirling skirts are perfect for all the dancing in that scene.

Liana Hunt (as Sandy) and Sam Wolf (as Danny) in a scene from ‘Grease’.

The set, designed by Stephen Dobay, is simple but functional. The stage is flanked by generic buildings on either side, but there are also a set of risers leading up to a second level. This area was transformed throughout the performance last Saturday night and allowed for multiple conversations or settings to occur at once. It works especially well as a stage for the school dance.

Overall, this production is exactly what you’d expect to see from such a classic show — there are no surprises, and that’s a good thing. Find your seats early to relax with a drink while listening to top hits from the ’50s, and make sure you stay through the curtain call for a brief, fun sing-a-long with the cast.

Runtime is 2 hours and 20 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. Be aware that strobe lights and haze are used throughout the show.

See “Grease” now through Aug. 27 at the John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport. Tickets range from $73 to $78 and may be purchased by calling 631-261-2900 or by visiting www.engemantheater.com. Free valet parking is available.

All photos by Michael DeCristofaro

Photo by Joyce Ravid

Former New York Times columnist and best-selling author to come to Huntington

By Melissa Arnold

Growing up, Anna Quindlen’s one and only dream was to write. Her life was flooded with the written word from the very beginning. Quindlen described herself as “a difficult child,” but teachers praised her for her writing skills. That encouragement led her to study English and creative writing at Barnard College in New York City and then on to a career in journalism.

“I always intended to be a novelist,” Quindlen said in a recent interview. “I only went into the newspaper business to pay the rent, but I loved it so much that I just stayed and stayed.”

Anna Quindlen will hold a special book signing at the Cinema Arts Centre on June 8.

Quindlen paved an extensive career as a columnist for the New York Times and Newsweek, even earning a Pulitzer Prize along the way. But then she returned to her first passion — fiction writing — and hasn’t looked back. Her beloved novels, including “One True Thing,” “Blessings” and “Black and Blue,” have amassed a dedicated fan base and time atop the New York Times Best Seller List. Her book, “A Short Guide to a Happy Life,” has sold more than a million copies.

Now, Quindlen is celebrating the paperback release of her latest novel, “Miller’s Valley,” with a stop right here on Long Island.

Long Island LitFest will host Quindlen on Thursday, June 8, at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington. The evening will include an intimate reading from “Miller’s Valley,” a meet-and-greet, a signed copy of the book and refreshments.

The LitFest, which launched in 2015 as an annual event bringing lauded authors to the area, has now grown to include occasional Long Island LitFest Presents evenings with a single author.

Claudia Copquin, the festival’s producer and foundress, calls it a labor of love. “My friends and I are avid readers and booklovers, but we’ve had to leave Long Island to go to book festivals and the sort,” she said. “We saw a need for something like this at a local level, and Long Islanders are well-read and very cultured. Authors are usually excited to get involved [with us].”

Copquin and members of the festival’s advisory board work to identify authors that would have an interest in making an appearance here. Many of the selected authors are preparing for or on a promotional tour for a book release, Copquin explained. In past years, they’ve hosted writers including Alan Zweibel, Adam Resnick, Dave Barry and many more.

Quindlen described “Miller’s Valley” as “set in a small farming community threatened by a government plan to dam and flood the valley, and its action stretches from the ’50s to the present. It’s about that period when Americans learned that their government might not have their best interests at heart. It’s also a period when the lives of women changed radically, and those changes are embodied in the book’s protagonist, Mimi Miller.”

Above, the cover jacket of Quindlen’s latest novel.

The book has received much praise. The Washington Post has called it “stunning,” USA Today writes it is “a breathtakingly moving look at family” and The New York Times Book Review calls it “overwhelmingly moving.”

Raj Tawney, director of publicity and promotions at the Cinema Arts Centre, said the venue is thrilled to welcome Quindlen as part of a wide spectrum of events held there.

“While the [center] is more about film, we’re here to service the entire community and deliver them all kinds of opportunities in arts and culture,” Tawney said. “We’re a sanctuary for artistic and creative people, and Anna Quindlen is such a renowned, accomplished creator. She’s an artist in her own right. It’s fitting to have her come out here.”

Long Island LitFest Presents Anna Quindlen will be held at 7:30 p.m. on June 8 at the Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington. Tickets, which must be purchased in advance, are $35 for members and $40 for the public. For more information, call 631-423-7611 or visit www.cinemaartscentre.org. To learn more about Long Island LitFest, visit www.longislandlitfest.com.

From left, Phylis March, Jessica Contino and Mary Ellin Kurtz in a scene from Sanzel’s new play. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

By Melissa Arnold

Jeffrey Sanzel, executive artistic director at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson, has worked in theater for more than 40 years. This spring, he is celebrating his love for the performing arts with his zany new comedy, “Where There’s a Will.” The show features a variety of personalities working to fulfill a man’s last wish — perform a play he wrote — in exchange for a hefty inheritance. But nothing is ever that simple…

The production features a cast of 17, including Long Island theater veterans Steve Ayle, Marci Bing, Michael Butera, Carol Carota, Jessica Contino, Ginger Dalton, Susan Emory, Sari Feldman, Jack Howell, Joan Howell, Skyler Quinn Johnson, Mary Ellin Kurtz, Linda May, Phyllis March, Steve McCoy, Maryellen Molfetta and Ruthie Pincus with original music by Tim Peierls. Sanzel shared the story behind the show and much more in a recent phone interview.

What’s the play about?

This is an outrageous comedy. What happens when a group of down-and-out showpeople are given the chance to inherit a half a million dollars? A man named Hiram Cedrickson was once the Potato King, and after his passing, he leaves a group of actors all of this money, providing that they perform a play he wrote exactly as he wrote it. They have to do it with no changes, from curtain to curtain call, including typos. If they don’t, all the money goes to his fourth wife, who is there following along in the script at rehearsals and at the performance. They’re very high stakes. It’s hard enough to learn lines (for a show) — imagine what it would be like if the lines are wrong!

What inspired you to write this play?

I originally wrote the play over 30 years ago, in 1985, and it sat in a drawer for 30 years, and then I took it out and did a lot of rewriting. At that time, it was my freshman year of college, and I was typing up papers for people as a side job. I’m a very fast typist, but I’m also terribly inaccurate. I make a lot of errors. And one day I asked myself, “What would it be like if people actually had to play the errors in a script?” That’s how it all came about. I’ve also always had a love for the kind of theater that celebrates (the theater and acting), so this show is about that as well.

What makes the story interesting to you?

It’s fun to watch these people with huge, very different personalities struggle and try to overcome the challenge (of the script).

Do you have a favorite character or identify with any of them?

Ever since I was 8 years old, I’ve loved (actress and singer) Ethel Merman. This show is really my tribute to her, as one of the major characters is based off of her.

Is there a message or take away from this show?

This is really about how people can come together for a shared cause and make things happen, even though they may be very different. But, of course, its main purpose is to make people laugh.

Why do you think people will enjoy it?

This is an extraordinary cast, sort of a who’s who in Long Island theater, and they bring so much reality to it. You come to sympathize for the characters and really root for these people.

“Where There’s a Will” will run from April 8 through May 6 on the Main Stage at Theatre Three, 412 E. Main St., Port Jefferson. Tickets for adults $35; seniors and students $28; children ages 5 to 12 for $20. Children under 5 are not permitted. A matinee will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday, May 3 with $20 tickets. To learn more or to purchase tickets, visit www.theatrethree.com or call 631-928-9100.

Above, the cover of the author’s latest book
A rescue dog resembling a fox and a beloved lake in Babylon become inspiration for Letourneau’s latest book.

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Marie Letourneau

Marie Letourneau of Farmingdale has always been a creative spirit, illustrating and writing a number of picture books for children. Her latest release, “Argyle Fox,” follows a day in the life of an adorable young fox looking for something fun to quell his boredom. It’s a windy day, however, and Argyle learns plenty about perseverance, trial and error as he searches for the perfect game to play.

Best suited for ages 3 to 7, the story teaches that failure is often a path to success and celebrates perseverance, creative thinking and an old-fashioned springtime activity. Letourneau took time out in preparing for a book launch party at Book Revue in Huntington on March 26 to chat about her latest venture.

Tell me a bit about your childhood. Have you always lived on Long Island?

I was born in Queens Village, but my family moved out to Lindenhurst on Long Island when I was 5. Shortly thereafter, we moved to Babylon village — that’s where I grew up, that’s my hometown.

Were you creative as a child? What were you involved in growing up?

I’ve been interested in art as far back as I can remember. I loved writing stories and drawing pictures. I would make little books out of paper and staples for family members. I was very interested in puppets (thanks, Jim Henson) and just about anything that had to do with art. I was, and I still am, a very visual person. I didn’t always do well in school because I was always too busy doodling in my notebooks.

Did you always want to become an author/illustrator? Who encouraged you to pursue it?

My parents and family were always encouraging of my art pursuits. When we were young, my mom would read to my sister and me at night. I remember looking at “Where the Wild Things Are” and “Winnie the Pooh” and thinking, “WOW! I want to do that! How do these people draw so well? How are books made? How do they get the drawing and words onto paper?” I think I was about 7 or 8 years old at the time. So, yes, I have definitely always wanted to write and illustrate. As an adult, my husband encouraged me to follow my passion to do artwork and create picture books. I couldn’t have done it without his patience.

Above, the cover of the author’s latest book

Did you go to school for this?

I attended Hofstra University’s New College Program where I majored in fine art, but I never studied illustration per se. I didn’t go to art school. I learned how to create picture books pretty much on my own.

Is this your first book?

No, the first book I wrote and illustrated is called “The Mice of Bistrot des Sept Freres.” The very first book I ever illustrated is called “Is a Worry Worrying You?”

What was the publishing process like? Did you go the traditional route, using a publisher, or did you self-publish?

I have never self-published. All of my books are through Tanglewood. Self-publishing has its own merits and value, but I prefer working with a publisher/art director. I enjoy collaborating and bouncing ideas off of another person. A professional “eye” is invaluable. Working with Peggy Tierney (publisher at Tanglewood) has upped my illustration game significantly. She’s amazing. She’s taught me so much. I am forever grateful to her.

What inspired you to write this book?

This is a long, disjointed story that happened over several years. Several years ago, I started writing a story about a child who wants to play outside on a windy day. I worked on it on and off for about a year or two.

Around that same time, we adopted a rescue dog, and we decided she looked very much like a fox. Because of this, my family and I considered naming her “Reynard,” which is French for fox. We ended up naming her Reynie, and, subsequently, I somehow became slightly obsessed with foxes. One night I was sketching foxes, and it dawned on me to change the character from a child to a fox. I named him Argyle after a beautiful little lake in my hometown of Babylon.

Why is Argyle Lake Park so special to you?

I spent a lot of time at Argyle Lake Park with my friends growing up. It’s very picturesque, full of ducks and swans, a waterfall bridge, flowering trees and small park. When I was very young, I would look for turtles there (never caught one) or walk my dog. In the winter, everyone gathered to ice skate. But I think one of my fondest memories of Argyle Lake was through my high school, Babylon Junior-Senior High School. The yearbook club always took the annual “senior year” group photo on the steps of the Argyle Lake waterfall. It was a privilege we always looked forward to as underclassmen.

How would you describe Argyle Fox?

Argyle is strong-willed, a little precocious, and a tad cheeky — but he has a very kind and creative heart.

Do you think kids can relate to Argyle?

I think kids will definitely relate to Argyle. Who hasn’t attempted something, only to find they don’t succeed the first time (or second, or third)? Failure, or “delayed success” as I like to call it, is such a wonderful teacher — it pushes us to look at things differently. It nudges us to reexamine our path to success. Most of all, I think it teaches us to find our patience.

What message do you hope kids take away from your book?

If at first you don’t succeed, creativity and persistence will get you there! But don’t forget to have fun along the way!

Tell me about your book launch party.

It will be at the Book Revue, which is at 313 New York Avenue in Huntington on Sunday, March 26 from 2 to 4 p.m. I will be doing both a reading and signing books (which are for sale at the event). We will have forest-themed cupcakes and everyone is invited to attend!

Where can the book be purchased?

“Argyle Fox” is available at Barnes and Noble stores and online, Amazon, and through many independent bookstores and online sellers.

What’s up next for you?

I’d love to continue publishing books for young readers. Right now, I am just stirring the creative pot in my mind and seeing what floats to the surface. You can learn more about me by visiting my website, www.marieletourneau.com. There you will find my books, illustrations, an events page and more!

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Jack Kohl

It becomes clear when you speak to Jack Kohl that he does nothing part-way. The 46-year-old Northport native is completely immersed in the arts, with an extensive career in music composition, piano and theater. Now, Kohl is sharing the stories that have captivated his imagination for decades. His first book, “That Iron String,” was critically acclaimed by reviewers. In late July, he released “Loco-Motive,” a philosophical novel that pays homage to his two greatest loves: Long Island and running.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Kohl about his latest venture. Both of your books are set on Long Island.

Were you born here?

Born in Manhattan, but we moved to Queens right after I was born, and then out to Northport when I was three. Except for a few brief periods of living away for work or school, I’ve always claimed Northport as my native place.

What do you love about this area?

What makes Long Island so remarkable is that whenever you go to the shoreline, you have all of New England looming in the distance, and at the same time, to the west, you have the whole of our republic, with so much to explore. I’ve never exhausted what the Island holds in my imagination.

Did you always want to be an author?

I think so. I was always a big pen-and-paper letter writer, and in my early 20s I had the will to write in large prose forms. A novel poured out of me about my happy childhood that was also set on Long Island, but it was never published. I grew up with my parents, particularly my mother, reading aloud to me from Dickens and Melville. I think the music of those two authors was inside me from very early on.

What are some of your other interests?

Most of my income is from my work as a pianist. I studied piano in pre-college in Juilliard and went on to get my master’s and doctorate in piano at the University of South Carolina as well. I teach some courses as an adjunct and do freelance performance as opportunities arise.

Are ‘Loco-Motive’ and your first book, ‘That Iron String,’ connected at all?

They are, in terms of setting. And if one reads both books very carefully, they’ll find that characters from “That Iron String” appear in the background of “Loco-Motive,” particularly the character Portsmouth Gord. I don’t intend to compare myself to Faulkner in any way, but he employed a similar weaving and overlapping of characters in his work as well.

Tell me about the story line.

I would say it’s a portrait of my experience learning to be a runner. I turned to running to help lose weight during my time in graduate school. I created a character who uses running in an irrational way to try to set the world’s problem’s aright. There are two very ordinary runners who, suddenly, during a race very much like Northport’s Great Cow Harbor 10K, break the world record significantly.

Part of the novel involves finding out why that was possible, and the great coincidence of those two people being in the same place. It also explores the almost sinister preoccupation of one of those runners with coaching the other to be even faster. The great theme of the book is whether or not improving our physical abilities can prove that the body (and physical matters) are superior to spiritual matters. The main character makes an argument that the physical realm is what we have to fight for.

What inspired you to write this book?

The narrator’s love affair with running is very much autobiographical. It’s a portrait of my experience learning to be a runner, as well as all the experiences I’ve had with the Northport Running Club and all of the wonderful characters I’ve met through running and fitness on Long Island. Of course, the town of Pauktaug is a stand-in for my own native village and so many other villages on the North Shore.

Even if one doesn’t quite follow all of the philosophical ideas in the book, I still think that people will enjoy its recognizable settings and the affectionate fallibility of the characters. They have a humorous preoccupation with their finish times, their fitness routines and all of the things that come with being a runner.

What do you like most about your books?

There’s so much literature out there about running, and I agree with the cliches — it makes you feel better and improves your way of life. I’ve made the majority of my best friends through running. But I think this book explores the psychic and spiritual elements of running like no other.

What is the target audience for this book?

I think adults or even a thoughtful older teen who enjoys literary fiction would be able to grapple with the book and enjoy it. There are no themes in it that would be inappropriate for children; it’s more a question of whether they can be successfully grasped. I’ve been happily surprised by the variety of people who responded positively to this book … you don’t need to be steeped in Fitzgerald or Melville to appreciate it.

Your books are published by Pauktaug Press. Is that your own company?

It is, yes. I had read about successful authors that went the route that eliminated the middle man in publishing and, after some difficulty finding a publisher for my first book, chose to pursue that myself. I also take pleasure in creating a recognizable place that exists mythically in the book. Pauktaug Press is a newspaper that exists in “Loco-Motive,” so it’s fun to create the illusion that it also exists in the real world. Some people don’t even question its reality.

What’s on the horizon for you?

“That Iron String” and “Loco-Motive” are part of the Pauktaug trilogy of books. Their successor, “You, Knighted States” takes Pauktaug and sets it back in 19th century Long Island and the Old West. It uses many of the same themes while focusing on the families and ancestors of the characters in the first two books. That book is in copy editing now and should be available in the spring.

“Loco-Motive” and “That Iron String” are available at www.jacksonkohl.com, Amazon and other major online retailers. Copies are also available at the Super Runners Shop, located at 353 New York Avenue in Huntington.

A Vought F-8K Crusader at the Intrepid Museum in New York City awaits your visit.

By Melissa Arnold

If you haven’t been to a library in a while, you probably still envision it as little more than rows of books and people reading. But times have changed, and these days, libraries are about so much more than checking out an old book. Just ask thousands of families across Long Island who have benefitted from their library’s Museum Pass Program.

The premise is a simple one: When you become a patron of your local library, which is free, you’ll get access to everything it has to offer. Collections run the gamut from traditional books and magazines to video games and digital content.

The majority of Suffolk County’s libraries also allow their patrons the chance to borrow a family pass for a number of area museums, both on Long Island and in New York City. While the participating museums vary for each library, popular destinations such as the Long Island Children’s Museum in Garden City and the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan are almost universally available.

Each library’s Museum Pass Program is funded through its own budget or with assistance from their local support organization. While it’s not clear which library on Long Island first offered museum passes, similar programs have existed for decades across the country.

According to Samantha Alberts of Suffolk County Library Services, libraries in Ohio were providing passes as early as the 1980s. In 2008, Sachem Public Library became one of the first local libraries to offer passes. “We try to be a source of inspiration and education for people, whether that’s on-site or out in the community, so it seemed like a natural fit to introduce people to new experiences,” said Lauren Gilbert, head of community services for the Sachem Public Library. They began approaching local museums to purchase family memberships — the same annual passes anyone can buy. Each museum has slightly different rules, but multiple adults and children can be admitted with just one pass. Gilbert said that in 2015 alone, passes to 17 museums were borrowed more than 2,000 times at Sachem. Other participating libraries have seen similarly impressive numbers, and the program’s popularity grows every year.

For the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket, the Museum Pass Program is a more recent addition to their offerings. “Earlier in 2013, we did a survey of our patrons asking about the kinds of services they’d want to see at the library,” explained Lisa DeVerna, head of the library’s Department of Community Outreach and Public Relations. “When we looked at the responses, people asked over and over again for museum passes.”

They launched their program modestly, with 10 museums in the first year. Now, they have passes for 21 museums, including seven in New York City. More than 1,000 passes were checked out at Emma Clark in 2015, and they’re on track to meet or surpass that number this year. “It’s so easy to use. I’m a patron here [at Emma Clark], and I’ve done it myself with my kids,” DeVerna said. “You just pick up the pass the day before your visit and bring it back before noon the day after. [At our library], you can even renew the pass for use the next day as long as there’s not a reservation on it already.”

Each library has its own policies for the program, but most will allow patrons to borrow passes several times a month, and sometimes more than one museum at a time. And with the option to reserve the pass online or by phone, it couldn’t be more convenient. Therese Nielsen, department head of Adult and Reference Services at the Huntington Central Library, said that each museum’s popularity varies over time, and that they occasionally add new museums based on patrons’ requests.

“Certain places tend to spike in popularity on a seasonal basis,” Nielsen explained. “The Old Westbury Gardens are popular in the fall and spring when everything is in bloom, people like to visit the Intrepid [Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City] when it’s not terribly hot outside. At the holidays, a lot of people like to visit Old Bethpage Village. The MoMA and Guggenheim [Museum, both in New York City] are popular throughout the year, as are the Long Island Children’s Museum and the Cradle of Aviation [both in Garden City].”

The museums Nielsen mentioned are only a slice of what’s available. The librarians were quick to say there’s something for everyone, and the program saves families the money they’d normally spend on a museum trip, where a family of four could pay $50 or more for admission. “I think that part of the benefit of living in this area is all the great access to cultural institutions. There’s so much to offer here and people have been so excited to take advantage of that,” DeVerna said. “And you no longer have to worry about it being too expensive because it’s right here for free.”

Contact your local library for details about the Museum Pass Program in your area.

A decorated mantle rings in the holidays at a Northport home during a previous tour. Photo courtesy of the Northport Historical Society

By Melissa Arnold

For many families, nothing says it’s the holiday season quite like admiring the neighborhood in lights. If you agree, then Northport is where you’ll want to be on Sunday, Dec. 11, as they celebrate their annual holiday tour.

The self-guided tour is a highly anticipated event in the village with several hundred attendees coming out last year, according to Tracy Pfaff, director of the Northport Historical Society.

Previously called “Homes for the Holidays,” the tour has been renamed “Deck the Halls Holiday Tour” this year to reflect the inclusion of more than just decorated homes.

“Our inclusion of historic sites as well as private homes is a different spin on the house tour concept,” said Pfaff, who assumed the role of director earlier this year. “It allows us more freedom to welcome vendors, offer refreshments and entertainment without inconveniencing a homeowner.”

The iconic 1883 Thompson Building will be one of the stops during the holiday tour. Photo courtesy of the Northport Historical Society
The iconic 1883 Thompson Building will be one of the stops during the holiday tour. Photo courtesy of the Northport Historical Society

The iconic Thompson Building, located on Woodbine Avenue, is one of the properties set to be decorated to the nines for the tour. While there, visitors will be treated to live music and the opportunity to purchase a variety of gifts from local vendors. The building served as headquarters for the Thompson Law Book Company when it was first built in 1883, Pfaff said.

The company quickly became the largest employer in Northport — well-educated lawyers, writers and editors came to work at the company and would later settle in Northport, which led to the construction of homes, businesses and facilities to support the growing population.

Brú na Bó, a store featuring art, home decor, furniture and more designed by local craftsmen, will also be a stop on the tour this year. Located at 33 Scudder Ave., the property was completely transformed after once serving as storage space for the Thompson Law Book Company.

Another stop on the tour is the historic Lewis Oliver Farm, which is located on Burt Avenue. Since the 1800s, the farm has raised a variety of animals, including cows, alpacas, sheep, geese and more. In the past, it was also a dairy farm. While dairy production has ceased now, the farm is still home to a variety of animals and features a country store.

A scene from a previous house tour. Photo courtesy of the Northport Historical Society
A scene from a previous house tour. Photo courtesy of the Northport Historical Society

Of course, elaborately decorated homes are still a crucial part of the tour, with three families graciously opening their doors to visitors for the occasion. Each home is decorated exclusively by the residents, and each has its own unique story, Pfaff said.

“The houses we showcase on this tour are a combination of historically significant and beautifully decorated for the holidays. Naturally, there are only so many homes that have significant ties to [the village’s] earliest days, but every home still has a story to tell and a part to play in the history of Northport, including the recent past and today,” she said.

Tour attendees will receive a map on their arrival identifying the locations of each decorated home and building. They are free to travel from place to place at their leisure between noon and 4 p.m. Volunteers will greet visitors at each stop to share information and answer questions. There will be something different to enjoy at each stop on the tour, including entertainment, sweet treats, raffles and opportunities for shopping.

“Northport is such a charming town with an interesting history, beautiful homes and exquisite harbor views,” Pfaff said. “This tour is a perfect way to experience it.”

“Deck the Halls Holiday Tour” will be held on Dec. 11 from noon to 4 p.m. Tickets purchased by Dec. 10 are $31, $26 members. Tickets purchased on the day of the tour are $36, $31 members. For more information or to order tickets, visit www.northporthistorical.org/events or call 631-757- 9859.

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