Welcome to the Chubby Chatterbox Newsletter, where I’ll be posting favorites from the Chubby Chatterbox archives. In addition, my complete thriller Return of the Mary Celeste will soon be serialized here for those who have asked for something beyond a regular post.

My novel is based on a true event, arguably the greatest maritime mystery of all time. In 1872 the crew and passengers of Boston brigantine Mary Celeste abandoned their seaworthy ship and its valuable cargo, vanishing in the middle of the Atlantic. Speculation over their fate has never abated. History records that after the Mary Celeste tragedy no one from that fateful voyage was ever seen again. History is about to be rewritten…

Return of the Mary Celeste


Tragedy struck the brigantine Mary Celeste on the morning of November 25, 1872. The hourly log was later recovered from the deserted vessel; At 8 a.m. the last notation was made. By 9 a.m. no one remained aboard to chalk the next entry.

Something had terrified Captain Benjamin Briggs and his crew, prompting the seasoned skipper to make a decision certain to affect not only himself, his ship and crew, but his family as well—his wife and two year old daughter were aboard Mary Celeste. Much ink has been spilled in fanciful and scientific attempts to explain the calamity that engulfed this perfectly seaworthy ship, yet all that is known for certain is this: in a matter of minutes Captain Briggs became convinced that the only way to save their lives was by ordering everyone into a hastily launched lifeboat. By giving the order to abandon ship, he also launched the greatest of all maritime mysteries.

On December 5, 1872, a month after leaving New York Harbor, Mary Celeste was found drifting on a calm and empty sea. The ship was in fine condition, perfectly intact with valuable cargo safely stored in her hold, but the crew and passengers had vanished. None were ever seen again.

Until now….

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Peculiar Picture #20

December 26, 2012

Another Christmas has come and gone and I’m sitting here staring at the tree and already thinking about the complicated process of taking it down, boxing up the delicate ornaments, folding up the tree skirt and all the other things that make our tree pretty. Mrs. Chatterbox once had a crazy aunt who one year took a piece of plywood, nailed roller skates to it and used it as a Christmas tree platform. The decorated tree was kept in the garage under a tarp and on December 1st she’d kick it in from the garage and roll it into position in the living room. A week after Christmas she’d roll it back to the garage and throw the tarp back over it. Mrs. Chatterbox’s crazy aunt is starting to seem like a genius.


Peculiar Picture #20


It’s hard to believe we’ve arrived at peculiar picture #20. Some of my newer followers might not know that I was a professional illustrator for many years and this Chubby Chatterbox feature is about illustrations I created that were less than successful, created on spec but never sold. This picture is one of those, and if your Christmas was in any way stressful you can probably relate to this poor fellow. At the time it seemed like a good idea to show a fellow stressed out by the pressures of life, stress represented by the hand grenade the man is standing on. Conceptual images like this usually sold quite well.


Often when painting with a specific idea in mind it helps to enlist the opinion of others unaware of your concept, fresh eyes who haven’t seen the work in progress. Infrequently an idea jumps the shark somewhere between conception and realization and the result doesn’t necessarily convey the intended meaning.


When I created this picture my studio was in downtown Portland in an old building occupied by architects, writers and jewelry designers. I was on good terms with most of these people and they soon became accustomed to my knocking on their door, shoving a picture in their face and asking, “Tell me what you see!” It was that first unvarnished response that I wanted.


In this instance everyone had the same response: “Why is Richard Nixon standing on a hand grenade?”


I was surprised because I was just trying to paint a generic guy and hadn’t been trying to depict Richard Nixon, which could have proven difficult if capturing a likeness of Tricky Dick had been the goal.


I returned to my studio and repainted the face several times until I ended up with what

you see here. I don’t think it looks like Nixon anymore but when I look at that illustration it’s our thirty-seventh president I see standing on that grenade.


What do you see?



Ha.. I saw Jim Bakker...
By: Hilary on December 26, 2012
I see an aging Robert Wagner.
By: fishducky on December 26, 2012
Our tree is down and everything is stowed properly back in its resting place in the garage. First thing on our agenda this morning. Usually is and when it's done it's a wonderful thing. I love your wife's crazy aunt's idea though. That was brilliant. I see a guy standing on a hand grenade. Okay, I see someone that's at the end of his rope. Too many pressures and he's about to blow. Have a terrific day. :)
By: Comedy Plus on December 26, 2012
When I first saw the picture, before I read the story, he didn't look like anyone to me, but after I read it and I looked at it again, he looked like Mitt Romeny to me :) And I guess, considering the outcome of the presidential race, it's fitting, too :)
By: Kianwi on December 26, 2012
I agree with Kianwi it looks like Mitt Romney, not that you would have known that at the time.
By: PT Dilloway on December 26, 2012
Why is Richard Nixon standing on a hand grenade?
By: cranky on December 26, 2012
It still kind of looks like Nixon to me - but it's not the face so much as the hunched-up shoulders that takes me there :)
By: jenny_o on December 26, 2012
He looks like a used car salesman i once knew. No, i didn't buy that car.
By: messymimi on December 26, 2012
Mitt Romney??? Nah- what I see is the scary Middle East... but I also like Comedy Plus take on it- a man under pressure ready to blow! Christmas Trees? This is what I do since I developed an allergy to live evergreen trees (actually I think it's the chemicals they spray on them) http://katheworsley.blogspot.com/2007/11/has-your-christmas-come-out-of-closet.html
By: Kathe W. on December 26, 2012
When I saw the painting at the top of your post, I didn't recognize his face. I saw a man with a tsunami behind him, and he was completely unaware. Then I looked at the entire painting. Bill Clintonish to me, but what do I know? Not much. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on December 26, 2012
Another vote for Robert Wagner. That's the first thing I thought of when I saw the face. Under pressure, perhaps, waiting for the whole Natalie Wood demise debacle to blow up with new evidence.
By: Val on December 26, 2012
"What he felt like the minutes before his heart attack..." Don't you know the Christmas tree is supposed to be up for the 12 days of Christmas? You can't take it down until Epiphany. Those are the rules!
By: Pixel Peeper on December 26, 2012
Intriguing piece. A man who looks as though he is trying to convince someone of his sincerity on the top of an explosive situation. I read into it, that his ability to sell or convey his point is the trigger. Lack of success could have dire consequence.
By: Tom Cochrun on December 27, 2012
I wouldn't have said "Nixon" if you hadn't put the thought in my mind. Now that you have, that's ALL I can see. I do think the posture has a bit to do with it, too. Although I can say I recall Nixon standing in that exact way, it does look awkward enough to be him.
By: Suldog on December 27, 2012
That was supposed to read "Although I CAN'T say..."
By: Suldog on December 27, 2012
The first person that came to my mind was Michael Dukakis, which makes the grenade very appropriate. :) S
By: scott park on December 27, 2012
I guess I the middle east comes to mind to me, also; a precarious situation to say the least!
By: Eva Gallant on December 27, 2012
I see a generic stressed man, Stephen. But then again, I'm biased!
By: Bryan Jones on December 27, 2012
Yes, it's the hunchy shoulders combined with attitude that speak Nixon to me before the face. LOL! It doesn't appear to me he realizes he is standing on a grenade. As none of us really do. All of our days are numbered and we never know when the grenade will go off. ;)
By: Rita McGregor on December 27, 2012

By: B on December 27, 2012
Looks like Mitt Romney to me.
By: Bruce/Catalyst on December 27, 2012
I completely share Tom Cochran's assessment, with one addition. Perhaps it's because I just celebrated my 63rd birthday that I see a man with greying hair. I see someone--perhaps representing a regime, party, age group, dogma or government, and not a specific person--who has been powerful but may fear he no longer is as powerful. The irritation (hand on hip) and obsequiousness (bent-forward posture, hand at heart) hint at a loss of power when they're combined in this way. This aging of the person, group or dogma complicates the resolution of the urgent crisis. (Can you tell I write novels and not short stories?)
By: Linda P. on December 29, 2012

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