My Third Novel's Conclusion, My Heartbreak

My heart begins to break when I think about completing this particular book -- because this narrative has sustained me like no other story I've known. It's both more personal and more universal than my other works. But beyond memory and archetype, it's a cri-de-coeur about needing to become the person one is destined to be. And in the writing, I have met my own life's work, my own fated journey -- having the sense all the while that the pages are suffused with a resonance, an energy, an electrified field that defies explanation. Writers hope and pray to be overtaken by a work in this way -- to be conscripted into passionate service of a profound story. To experience it even once in a lifetime seems a great privilege. I still have several months before this novel is complete, and this constitutes my reprieve. Because I'm not ready for the beauty to end.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Happy 2011 to my talented friends, far and wide, who have painted and sketched, stitched and sculpted and photographed their way into the world of The Unfastened Heart! I will be waiting, breath held, this month, as the committee decides on the finalists. Best of luck to all of you -- and thank you for adding so much vibrancy and vision to my literary world. You've enriched my days beyond measure.

Friday, December 3, 2010


Artist Juliette Montague sends us this fantastical collage, in which Mariela levitates across the landscape of her life. Spellbound, she is captive to forces outside the boundaries of her known world, floating toward her fate with a willingness that borders on rapture. Thank you, Ms. Montague, for this mystical work.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Anna's Choice

This surreal work comes to us from artist Olga Bubich of Belarus. Mysterious symbols, the roses seem to grow from the surface of Anna's skin. Are they the flowers of memory, of choices lost? I can't help but feel that, under the right circumstances, they will return to life, blooming heartily, vibrantly from their silent places in Anna's soul.

Ms. Bubich writes, "the image also coincides with the whole atmosphere of the book - finding unusual, mystical, supernatural things in the ordinary setting, being able to sense it due to the fragile abilities of one's spirit."

Thank you, Ms. Bubich, for this captivating interpretation.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Shining Countenance

This transcendent portrait comes to us from award-winning artist Miguel Martinez. With this work, he captures a face of lambent sympathy, of exquisite wisdom. Anna de la Senda would surely regard the world through such a shining countenance as this. Bravissimo. (Miguel Martinez is represented through the Michael McCormick Gallery.)

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Breath, a Quake, a Dream

Egyptian artist Marwa Adel submitted this otherworldly photo, capturing the essence of the young woman as a dreamer who is somehow ensnared by the dream. Both ethereal and cloistered, the dreamer may or may not rouse to reclaim her intended life. While I marvel at her solitude, I yearn for her awakening.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


Ms. Carol Nelson has gifted us with these luminous poppies -- layered and extravagant -- creating a shimmering world unto themselves. Certainly Anna would grow blooms such as these on her flower-filled lawn. There's a kind of beatification of the simple in this particular painting, a blessing of small and daily gifts, that somehow reflects back onto the viewer. The poppies shine with such resplendence that, reflected in our eyes as witnesses, so do we.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Waters of Life

Ms. Tina Calderin manages to capture in her painting a sense of the overflowing gifts which manifest in Anna's life. Entitled The Saints of Cordojo, this work seems to spill off the edges of the canvas with its bright portraits of the Cordojo women. Their bonds to the natural world and to one another are depicted here as generous and seamless, like the flow of the waters of life. Thank you, Ms. Calderin, for this vibrant and mystical work!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Fragile Seeds

Ms. Emily Chappell sends us this captivating design, which feels so warmly hand-wrought, so genuinely conceived. From the turning currents of the lettering, to the crowding, gathering spheres of the motif -- I find myself drawn to the abundant, swirling world it represents.

In Ms. Chappell's words:

"The Velcro-like amorphous drawings were initially inspired by the Hackeysack toys played with by the local children in Part Two. The colours were chosen to represent the colours of Santa Rosa -- 'like dinosaurs, jagged-backed and blue,' and the 'foothills, which stretched out raw and brown.'

I was also taken by the shifting waves of fragility in the novel, and likened them to falling California sycamore seeds -- round, spiky, vulnerable and Velcro-like."

Thank you, Ms. Chappell, for this wonderful piece.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Magical Trees

Such a remarkable fluidity in this piece, from Mr. Brook Powell. All flows outward from Mariela, as if she herself were the source of life's bounty and benevolence. Mr. Powell has brought into being a kind of visual prayer -- lambent and pure. I'm so thankful to him for creating this generous, resonant work.

Mr. Powell's words:

My painting was inspired by the scene in the book when Mariela is waiting in the orange grove for Addison to come to her, and the trees seem to be acting magically. The entire book is very wonderful this way. The painting is a 22 x 30 inch watercolor on hot pressed paper.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Sorrows of Others

This cover comes to us from Becca Furcho -- a fascinating work, luminous and enigmatic, evoking Klimt for me, somehow.

Ms. Furcho writes,

Anna de la Senda wakes up every morning crying tears for the sorrows of others. This beautiful attribute shows what a compassionate, altruistic soul she possesses and illustrates how she holds her heart wide open for others.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Michele Vavonese sends a sensitive cover -- from which I include a rather captivating portion with this post. Somehow, I'm compelled by the empty cage having its own space, though I do promise to follow by posting the whole work. What is it about the cage that speaks to us of rescue? Of the evidence of embarkation? Among the quotes that inspired Ms. Vavonese's work -- I was visiting a place where my heart was unfastened. I was trying not to cry when I felt it come loose.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


Victoria Heine sends this bright, generous, bloom-filled cover. The poppy above the title is, in itself, reminiscent of a heart -- passionate and fragile -- and I'm taken with the vibrance of the tableau.

Anna's house itself was testament to the precious accidents of life. Dandelions and giant poppies spotted her long-fringed lawn, and at the borders, where there ought to have been hedges, there were bright piles of kumquats, dropped from the ripening trees.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Simple Beacon

Artist James Thouborron shares this luminous piece, entitled The Lamp Post, rendering a suburbia transformed by a simple beacon, a candle held up to the rather ecstatic natural world.

Outside, the oaks tossed their leaves behind their woody shoulders, the same way that women move their hair from front to back.  The old gas lamps cast aureoles of light onto the pavement, but directly in front of the de la Senda house, where the illumination stopped, the street turned into a broad thoroughfare of blackness and ideas where anything might happen.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Intricacies of Love

We are delighted to receive this striking illustration from Jessica Rae Gordon of Toronto, Canada.  Anna's heart is here both interior and exterior, secret and revelation, sequestered and generous.  I can't help but be drawn to these contrasts.  

Ms. Gordon writes,

In my illustration I wanted to show the intricacies of love by showing the mechanics of a woman's heart and circulatory system.  Also, because the book has many descriptions of flowers, I put in the patterned wildflower drawings in the background.  With my line work, I wanted the drawings of the weeds to mirror the veins in the body.

Thank you for sending us this remarkable work, Ms. Gordon!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Waiting to Be Found

Thanks to Erika Haight for honoring me with her beautiful photograph and cover design, titled Sweet Thoughts of You.  The work evokes such a sense of hope, longing, expected renewal, all of which reside in Mariela's spirit.  Erika's words:

Dear Ms. von Herzen,

You have the most remarkable ability to express in words what it means to love and be loved by another.  I was especially taken by the tightly woven relationships that were formed between the women characters in your story. . . Since finishing your book I have purchased three additional copies and mailed them to people whom I have shared similar experiences with.  The image I have submitted for The Unfastened Heart is that of a young woman in quiet contemplation holding a flower. . .it could be any one of us who has ever loved, lost, or is still waiting to be found.

Art Inspires Art -- You are truly an inspiration!

Warm regards,
Erika N. Haight

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Language of the Heart

Jo-Ellen Trilling has painted this captivating work, Prayers from Earth.  I love her vision of the physical and meta-physical intertwining here, the prayers interweaving with the vermicelli, shaping the noodles into a script that we can, very nearly, read for ourselves.  She writes, 

I am compelled now and forever to check the vermicelli stuck to the bottom of my pots in case there is a message spelled out.

A joyful and poetic capturing of the book.  Thank you for honoring us with this work, Ms. Trilling!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Magical Life

Paula Rae Gibson has captured the nature of Mariela here, in the exquisite vulnerability within this portrait.  She lives and breathes as part of a heightened world, in which the spirit is magnified, and hopes are writ large.   She wears a luminous halo above her head.

Mariela's was a magical life, replete with frank yearning and unearthly reverence, both collecting in the air about her like an aura.

Thank you, Ms. Gibson, for sharing this sensitive, captivating work with us.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Face of Love

The Icon Prize is privileged to receive this transcendent portrait by artist Miguel Martinez of Taos, New Mexico.  (Mr. Martinez is represented by the Michael McCormick Gallery in Taos, for those of you who want to see more of his luminous work.) How remarkably this woman's gaze captures the wise spirit of Anna de la Senda, generous, serene, a witness to the beauty surrounding her.  Her eyes contain a reflection of that which is eternal and beloved.  I recognize her, though I've never met her outside of the fictional realm of The Unfastened Heart.  What a bright, shining gift!

Anna de la Senda lived for love.  Not her own, but other people's.  She took on counseling patients of all ages and attitudes, of all dilemmas and doubts, and she spoke with them in their living rooms about the health of their concealed hearts.  In return, they paid her with what they could, with cash or avocados, with money orders or cotton cloth.  The currency didn't matter to her.  What mattered was the healing of the brokenhearted.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Art That Conspires

What elevates a book cover to the ranks of the truly memorable?  A sense of beauty, mystery, contrast, revelation?  I find myself drawn toward covers that convey a palpable harmony with the narrative itself, as if the visual and the fictional have joined hands in artistic collusion, somewhere in the bookstore dark.

What is it about cover art that compels you to pick up the book?  Or allows you to pass it by?  I'd be more than intrigued to hear your comments.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Singing the Past

The wonderful American composer, Samuel Barber, created the music for Knoxville: Summer of 1915 as a tribute to the opening pages of novelist James Agee's A Death in the Family.  If you haven't yet experienced them together, they're a revelation.  The music serves as exquisite echo to the book's sensitive and idyllic narrative.  Cherished and melancholy, it sings a full-hearted portrayal of a beloved American childhood.  How is it possible to blur the lines between symphony and literature so thoroughly?  How can music convey the resplendent arc of a sprinkler on the lawn of one's childhood home, now lost to time?  It's a mystery.  A resonant one.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Art Inspires Art

The Unfastened Heart began with a work of art I bought at an out-of-the-way auction.  I spent more than I could afford on a lithograph of Marc Chagall's "Bella," which is a thoroughly magical depiction of Chagall's wife as a bride -- angels and birds and candles and flowers all surrounding a beautiful, gentle-eyed woman.  I got the sense of goodness and abundance emanating from Bella, rising up from her very skin, and my character, Mariela, is in her own way based on her portrait.

What struck me about the painting more than anything else was that Marc Chagall loved his wife with a love that was transcendent of an earthly view.  To him, she was clearly holy, the central blessing of his life.  And I wanted my work to capture the remarkable reverence that a man can have for the woman he loves.

I didn't realize until I was nearly halfway through the novel that, when looked at in a certain way, Bella could be seen to be holding an infant in her arms -- an astonishing revelation to me since I was expecting a baby at the time, and so, too, was the young woman I was writing about.  It was one of those very rare instances in which art becomes life and life becomes art.  My work took on the same quality of abundance and wonder that surrounded Bella in all her silent splendor.  When I sat down to write, the words poured themselves onto the page.  Chagall was somehow whispering in my ear.

I hope The Unfastened Heart will inspire other artists in turn.  I've heard from several of you that you're in the process of reading the novel, turning to your oil paints, pastels, photography, etc.  It's lovely to imagine the art as a river that travels through us and on to the next artist, who has his or her own unique vision to convey in response to the work that came before.  Art inspires art.  And artists inspire community.  Thanks to you for being part of this one.