Marjorie Vernelle, a born traveler, likes to soak up local cultures. Four years in Canada, one year plus in Mexico, ten years in France and 19 in California (a separate country?) provided her with experiences from which to create fascinating characters in interesting situations. Earning a B.A. in Asian Studies and Spanish and an M.A. in English, she also picked up both French and a love of art. All of this comes in handy when writing fiction set in international locales. She now lives in Colorado, where she paints and spins tales of art, love, beauty, and the human mystery.
BPM: What made you want to become a writer? How long have you been writing?
Nothing made me want to become a writer; I just am one. I kept notebooks from the time I was nine, when I would mark down all the towns we passed in Nebraska as we traveled to Colorado for vacation. From there I wrote about things that interested me. However, it is only more recently that I started to publish.
BPM: How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
I also paint, and I think that primes the pump for my writing. Painting is continually creative. I think that creativity carries over to my writing.
BPM: Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?
Actually anything we do can become a spiritual practice. It is just a matter of attitude. However, more to the point of the question, I’d say that allowing plots and characters to develop and evolve is a mystical process itself, the mechanics of which I can’t completely explain. “Spirit” is certainly at work when I write or paint.
BPM: How has writing impacted your life?
I always keep journals. I find that writing what I feel about life and my experiences helps me to both express and understand myself. It also lets me get out of the way of the characters I create. If I first understand myself, it clears the way for me to understand them.
BPM: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
As I mentioned, I have to get out of the way of the characters. Once I have a clear idea about who they are, they speak and act for themselves. That can lead to some surprising developments in the story line.
BPM: How do you find or make time to write? Are you a plotter or a pantster?
I actually did little creative writing when I worked full-time. I admire those who can write on lunch breaks or after work. Though I still teach online part time, my life now allows me more free time, so writing time is more available. When I lived in France, I became a café writer in the grand tradition of Hemingway and others. I continue that here at my local Starbucks, so I get something done every day. I got the basic story of Beautiful Imperfections down in about six weeks. I had a friend read the first draft. Her questions about items and characters were guidelines for me to develop the characters and ideas in the story. Then came the process of wordsmithing the work, and just putting it aside for periods of time so that I could reflect on it and come back to it with a fresh eye.
BPM: How did you choose the genre you write in? Have you considered writing in another genre?
I like narrative, short fiction in particular, and while I am not a poet, I enjoy putting poetic imagery in my prose. I admire long, involved works like Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. It is an old master oil painting of a novel. I, on the other hand, am a watercolorist. A quick, fresh, light touch is my style, hence the short novel or the novella as my preferred form.
BPM: Tell us about your most recent work, Beautiful Imperfections. Available on Nook and Kindle?
The latest work is Beautiful Imperfections. It is available on Kindle and in paperback at Amazon.com. It is about three people who are something of outliers in the establishment art world. Two are black and one is Jewish. I refer to them as raku teacups amid the porcelain, but they each hold their own. They are the counterpoints to what is otherwise a uniform world, and like imperfections in a work of raku pottery, they turn out to create its beautiful allure. Their tangled relationships are at the heart of the book, as is the theme of self-actualization. Finding who they really are redeems each of them, and they each do it through art.
BPM: Give us some insight into your main characters. What makes each one so special?
Keith James is the main character. She is female and an African-American from the times at the end of segregation. She changes her possibilities in life when she leaves the Midwest to attend the University of Toronto. With an inspired name change from Sadie Lee Celestine to Keith, she moves forward and doesn’t look back. There are two men that echo throughout her life. One is a charismatic art historian from Haiti, Lucien Montreux, who taught her course in art history at the university, while continuing his real work as an art expert for a high-end auction house. The other is a classmate, David Reyes-Stein, a handsome young man from a family of Jewish art dealers. She ultimately marries her classmate but always yearns for the older Haitian man, with all the complications that entails.
The two black characters are unusual because of their appearance in an art world that does not expect them to be there. The young Jewish man comes from a conflicted family in which he, as the only child and son, was literally created to fulfill the role his father had chosen for him. Professor Montreux is his mentor for a while but also always the obstacle that prevented him from truly having Keith for himself.
BPM: What was your hardest scene to write, the opening or the close?
The opening came with music that I was listening to, hence David playing the piano at the beginning. I just wrote what came to me as I listened. The close was fun to write, as I propose two endings. Since the characters were mature at that point, the writing reflects that, and therefore is closer to who I am now.
BPM: Share one specific point in your book that resonated with your present situation or journey.
The beginning of the third section, The Artist, is a description of painting, and how it can be used for near shamanistic purposes. Keith paints rain in the Southwest to ensure that the much needed moisture falls there. It shows her in a state of fulfillment, not as a dealer of other people’s work but as an artist herself.
BPM: Is there a specific place/space that you find inspiration in?
I would say the south of France is a favorite area. I have lived on the Riviera in Antibes/Juan-les-Pins and for eight years I lived in Avignon in the Côte du Rhone wine growing region. However, I also like the Pacific Coast, Mexico and Canada, especially Toronto.
BPM: Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with?
I am working on a revision of a book of short stories I brought out a few years ago, unfortunately right at the moment of the financial crash and not with the best handling by the POD publisher. One of the stories was published by a small literary journal in San Diego. I think the stories are good, as is the interwoven story of the artist who goes to Nice, France to take part in an international art project. It is worth re-mastering to present to the public again.
BPM: Do you want each book to stand on its own or do you prefer to write series?
I have quite a few different ideas, so I will write stand alone pieces. However, because I like the novella or short novel format, it may be possible that two or three of these could be combined into one book.
BPM: Does writing energize you?
Writing is work, and often it is frustrating or just tiring. However, when the sentences turn out beautifully, or the story takes an inspired leap, like the Queen of Sheba element in Beautiful Imperfections, then it is exhilarating.
BPM: Do you believe in writer’s block?
Actually I focus on something I heard Toni Morrison say in an interview. She admitted to liking old reruns of I Love Lucy. She said when she watches Lucy instead of writing, it is because she is supposed to be watching Lucy. In other words she goes with the flow of her energy. That seems wise.
BPM: Do you try to deliver to readers what they want or let the characters guide your writing?
The artistic part of writing is not to give the readers what they think they want, but something they never expected that turns out to delight them. Artists are the point of a spear that jabs into the future. They go there and bring back morsels for the rest of the population.
BPM: Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?
No, I never think in terms of exclusion, as you never know how a specific treatment of a topic can change how we think of it.
BPM: Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others?
It is difficult to express emotions especially since people and characters all can have different emotional reactions to the same events. As a writer I have to live inside the heads of the characters and see where they want to go. It is not about me, and how I might feel. It is about what would be the response of the characters involved, based on their personalities not mine.
BPM: Have you written any other books that are not published?
No. I had one book, Leaders of Black Civil Rights, published by Lucent Books, which now is part of Gale Reference books. The other two, a travelogue and the book of short stories, were POD publications.
BPM: What projects are you working on at the present?
I am working on a revision of Upon the Bay of Angels, to be called The View from Blue. It should be out in the spring of 2018. There are at least three novellas circling my desk like planes in a stack-up over an airport waiting to land. I have written the beginnings of each. One is about a young African-American woman who takes her inheritance, moves to Avignon to one of its oldest most historic streets, and opens a café that specializes in sushi and jazz. Needless to say there are complications. Another involves feelings of guilt by a woman who when young was involved in a clandestine affair with her neighbor’s boyfriend that led to her neighbor killing the young man involved and never knowing who the other woman was. This takes place in Mexico. Finally, the third one, takes place in the Amarna period in Ancient Egypt, in which voices of the living and the dead diss on who did what to whom in the court of Akhenaten and Nefertiti.
BPM: How can readers discover more about you and your work? Share all of your social media links.
I don’t spend a lot of time on social media. However, I do have an author page with Amazon. It is www.amazon.com/author/marjorievernelle.
I also have a Facebook page dedicated to Beautiful Imperfections. The link is www.facebook.com/VernelleStudio
Finally, I have a site that shows my art work. It is www.vernellestudio.com If I can handle more, I will post the links on the Amazon author page.
Beautiful Imperfections by Marjorie Vernelle
“Art, like love, redeems, and love, like beauty, is imperfect.” – Beautiful Imperfections
Wabi sabi, a Japanese term for finding beauty in imperfection, perfectly describes Keith James, “the girl with the boys’ names,” who travels from the Midwestern U.S. to Toronto and on into the world of fine art and big money. Like pieces of raku pottery amidst the porcelain, Keith, her mentor, a brilliant Haitian-born art historian, and the handsome Jewish art dealer who becomes her husband, are all standouts in a world that views them as outsiders. Through loss and love, they discover that art, like love, redeems, and that love, like beauty, is imperfect.
Top Amazon Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars By Darlini Martini
I am so impressed with the writings of Marjorie Vernelle! Not only is this novel a page turner, but the amount of information revealed about the art world is amazing. In some ways, It almost feels like an art class! Not knowing much about Toronto, it was very interesting to not only learn a lot about Canada, but what its like to attend University outside of the USA. Woven in between and all around the story is a beautiful love story. I found Keith to be an amazing character and so admire her courage and strength to overcome all of the obstacles presented to her. Trust me, you will not be disappointed with the ending in this novel.
5.0 out of 5 stars By Galen Hazelhofer
This is a wonderful story especially if you are interested in art. If you are not, there is a lot you can learn here. The references are wonderful and you feel like you are in the middle of the art world yourself as Keith does her gallery work and hangs out in the upper echelons of society from San Francisco to Toronto and her visits in between. It is a wonderful story line and I would love to see the movie!
5-Star Review by Jack Magnus for Readers’ Favorite
Beautiful Imperfections is a literary fiction novel written by Marjorie Vernelle. Some might think that the Survey of Art History class that Keith James took to fulfill the Religious Knowledge class in her first year at the University of Toronto was the defining moment in her life, and indeed, in many ways, it was.
Dr. Lucien Montreux, the brilliant, assured and enigmatic Haitian professor and art expert, immediately enthralled her with his energy and fire, his intelligence that seemed to gleam from his eyes, like flashes of diamonds. He was the guardian of the mysteries of the art world and, in introducing them to her in his own inimitable way, he became her mentor, friend and inevitably her lover. The young Nebraskan sophomore’s eyes were caught not only by the lovely and charismatic man conducting the class as if it were a symphony, she was also drawn to the very pale and beautiful young man sitting just a few seats away and down one aisle. She was fascinated by his long, dark curls and lustrous black eyes, his intelligent and measured responses to Montreux’s lecture. David and the professor would become the two most important people in her life, satellites orbiting her world, but her defining moment had actually taken place some days earlier when Sadie Lee Celestine James attended the Frosh dinner as a new student, and in a moment of clarity and inspiration, had become Keith James, someone who was “jazz, sharp, modern, improvised, like a cool, clear note blown straight from the trumpet of Miles Davis and well worth consideration.”
Even more than that transcendent first lecture where Keith meets Montreux and David. I was stunned by the passage quoted above relating Sadie Lee’s transformation into Keith.
Marjorie Vernelle’s literary fiction novel, Beautiful Imperfections, is as grand and glorious as the Turner landscapes Keith loves so much and as complex and nuanced as Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain. The art lover and aspiring artist in me instantly felt at home in Keith’s world and loved learning with her the intricacies of her craft as an art expert and gallery owner. Vernelle’s descriptions of life in San Francisco had me feeling like I was back there myself, and the spell she weaves about Toronto made me almost consider braving those winters to experience that city first-hand. There’s music in these pages, and not just the jazz evoked by Keith’s brilliant name change — add a bit of Stravinsky and some discordant new classical works and then stir in some rich classical symphonies as those three lives swirl, clash and continue their endless striving to connect. But most of all there’s the art, the Turners, the five little De Koonings that mean so much in so many different ways and cause oh, so much pain, the hidden Old Masters that could save Keith from the total tragedy that befell after the San Francisco earthquake.
And there’s her own art, Keith’s own visions of light and color. All these things swirl and conspire to delight the reader. I love this book. It’s beautiful and perfect. Beautiful Imperfections is most highly recommended.
Purchase Beautiful Imperfections by Marjorie Vernelle