Courtroom Drama

When author Harper Lee‘s newly published novel,  “Go Set a Watchman” was released two weeks ago,  it was heralded with special screenings of the film based on her now classic book, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird”, midnight book parties and readings, and all sorts of other events all intended to celebrate or promote (depending upon your point of view) this book.  The book, despite or perhaps because, of the controversy surrounding it, quickly climbed to number one on the New York Times best seller list where I suspect it will remain for a while.  Lee’s other book, after all, is now regarded an American literary classic and is studied by schoolchildren and beloved by readers.

It is one of my personal favorites too. A few years ago, I found an anniversary copy of the book which I purchased as a gift for my husband and then, as luck would have it, actor Gregory Peck signed it when he came to the Mount Baker Theatre with his ‘one-man’ speaking tour in 2000. He still cut a striking and statuesque figure even then at age 83 and was as gracious as he appeared to be in many of his on-screen roles. I must admit that I was appropriately starstruck with the 6-foot 3-inch tall actor who played Atticus Finch as he stood right there before me after his onstage performance writing an inscription and his name into the book .

I was reminded of all this recently when Lee’s other book made the headlines. My backstage encounter with Peck also came to mind a couple of years ago when I was commissioned to photograph a group of local political activists promoting women candidates for the cover of our weekly alternative newspaper, the Cascadia Weekly.

Local political activists gathered in the Federal Buildilng courtroom for this cover photo.
Local political activists gathered in the Federal Building courtroom for this cover photo.

We staged it, with permission, in the courtroom of the three-story Federal Building in downtown Bellingham. The building, designed in the Italian Renaissance style, is prominently located on a downtown corner where, every Friday since the 1960s, there has been a ‘peace demonstration.’ (I’ll have to write another blog about that one day.) Few locals ever go inside the noble structure except to purchase stamps or to mail a package from the post office branch located in the southeast ground floor corner. But they should as it’s a real design treat.

Stepping into the courtroom in Bellingham's Federal Building is like stepping into the trial setting for 'To Kill a Mockingbird.'
Stepping into the courtroom in Bellingham’s Federal Building is like stepping into the trial setting for ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’

The courtroom where the photo for the cover was done at a time when the courtroom wasn’t currently in use. It was once a Federal District Courtroom. (More recently, it’s been proposed that the courtroom come back into use as one of the city’s courtrooms.) I was so taken by the beauty of this judicial room that I stayed after my photo session for the Weekly to photograph it for myself. Although not an exact duplicate of the courtroom seen in the classic black and white film, it clearly is of a similar style and period so that just walking through huge wooden door so you transported through imagination to that setting. I could see Atticus Finch sitting at the defendant’s large, heavy oak table appealing to the judge positioned in the behind the big bench at the front of the room.

The audience is separated from the court floor by a mahogany railing that spans the width of the courtroom.
The audience is separated from the court floor by a mahogany railing that spans the width of the courtroom.

An elegant Honduran mahogany rail separates the court floor from the mahogany benches for the audience.  Tall, two-story arched windows line one side and allow natural light to fill the entire room. Running beneath the windows is the jury box, where, if I closed my eyes, I could see the jurors of that classic case intently following the arguments being presented before them.

There is no balcony in the Bellingham courtroom, as there is in the movie, but your eyes are led overhead to a coffered, vaulted ceiling that is 20 feet tall at its highest point. “Each octagonal ceiling coffer has an egg and dart moulding that surrounds a delicate stucco rosette planted in the coffer’s center,”  according to the building’s nomination for the National Register of Historic Places. It is an impressive judicial setting, one that certainly harkens to another era when such detail was the norm for important institutional structures.

Your eyes gaze upwards to the decorative coffered ceiling.
Your eyes gaze upwards to the decorative coffered ceiling.

Indeed, many small towns in this country have courtrooms of this sort built, as was this one, in the earlier part of the 20th century where the trial as seen in “To Kill a Mockingbird” could have taken place.  They remind us of a time when attorneys, like the fictional Atticus Finch, were eloquent, righteous and respected. Perhaps that’s one reason why some are so disappointed by the Atticus Finch of Lee’s new book, and why it has given rise to the controversy of whether the author ever intended it to be published. Regardless, if you live in the area, or are visiting, and have never seen the courtroom inside the Bellingham’s Federal Building, go upstairs sometime and have a peek. And let me know if it doesn’t make you think of Harper Lee’s literary classic.




The World of Nicolas Flamel

I was driving home the other day when I heard author and librarian Nancy Pearl on a KUOW-FM program.  Pearl was, until August 2004, the Executive Director of the Washington Center for the Book at Seattle Public Library.  She’s frequently heard on NPR’s Morning Edition sharing her love and knowledge of books.  During the KUOW program, Pearl took questions from callers who asked, as they often do,  her for reading recommendations.  One caller, in particular, sought ideas for his 14-year-old daughter.  His daughter, he explained, liked science fantasy and was especially fond of a series of books–the title of which I didn’t catch–that was set in present day and in places that she could actually visit.

Pearl was stymied for a moment, “there are just so many”  young adult science fantasy choices, she explained.  After mentioning a few titles, she suggested the caller check with his local librarian for other titles.

Seattle librarian and NPR commentator Nancy Pearl appears Nov. 16 in Bellingham at the 10th Annual Literacy Breakfast.

Had I been able to phone in, I would have  to her and the caller, a series of books by author Michael Scott:  The Secrets of the Immortal Nicolas Flamel.   Scott is a distinguished Irish author who’s also a scholar of Celtic mythology and folklore.

The six books in his series are steeped in history and mythology as the reader follows the adventures of 15-year-old twins, Sophie and Josh Newman.  The two become engaged in a series of adventures when Josh’s employer, a bookseller, reveals to them that he is really Nicholas Flamel, the legendary 14th century French alchemist.  He discloses to them that he is also immortal and needs to recover an ancient book, known as the Codex,or else he and his wife, Pernelle,  will die within a month.  That unleashes one obstacle after another that takes them  crisscrossing the globe featuring to well-known places and sites, including San Francisco, London, the Eiffel TowerStonehenge and the Golden Gate Bridge.

As Scott says:  “Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel were real people.  So was Dr. John Dee.  Indeed, all the characters in The Alchemyst, with the exception of the twins, are based on real historical characters or mythological beings.

“When I originally conceived the idea for The Alchemyst, I thought the hero would be Dr. John Dee,” Scott explains.  “John Dee has always fascinated me. In the Elizabethan Age, the age of the extraordinary, he was exceptional.  He was one of the most brilliant men of his time, and all the details about his life in The Alchemyst are true: he was an alchemist, a mathematician, a geographer, an astronomer and an astrologer.”

The sixth and final volume in Scott’s series–The Secrets of the Immortal Nicolas Flamel–is available on-line and in bookstores now. The covers of each of these books are among the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.

Scott decided  a six book series with these three as main characters would allow him to introduce many figures from history and mythology.  In the six books, readers are introduced to characters from Greco-RomanEgyptianNorse and Celtic mythologies and historical characters from the ElizabethanRenaissance, Egyptian andGilded era.

Each of the first four titles of Scott’s series were featured in the top ten of the New York Times Best Seller Children’s Books.  The final and sixth book of the series was just published last spring.  Any of the books would be a great holiday gift for your younger readers.

By the way, Seattle’ celebrate librarian, Nancy Pearl will be the guest speaker at the 10th Annual Literacy Breakfast on November 16.  All funds raised at the breakfast will  go to the Whatcom Literacy Council which helps hundreds of adults in Whatcom County build their literacy skills and move forward in their lives.  Seating is limited, so please call 647-3264 or email to reserve your spot.  A $50/plate donation is requested.  Plan to go and ask Pearl yourself for her recommendations.  You can find more information about this event here:

Book Aids Cancer Survivors

Here’s a second post to  my “Author! Author!” blog series.

Nancy Keene didn’t set out to become a published author about childhood cancer.  It was probably the furthest thing from her mind as a young mother.  But after her own daughter, now 24,  was diagnosed with cancer, that all changed.

Nancy, along with Wendy Hobbie and Kathy Ruccione, is co-author of the book:  “Childhood Cancer Survivors  A Practical Guide to Your Future.”  The book was first published in 2000 and instantly landed as number five on the Library Journal’s Best Consumer Books of  the Year.

I recently photographed Nancy in the studio for her promotional use for the new issue of her book: Childhood Cancer Survivors–A Practical Guide to Your Future.

The book has just recently been re-issued and updated in its third edition, published by Childhood Cancer Guides.  “This book is not just about science, but about the experience of survivorship,” writes the authors in the Preface.  “It blends basic technical information in easy-to-understand language with stories and advice from more than a hundred survivors and parents of young survivors… We wanted to explore the richness and variety of the survivorship experience and help survivors feel less alone in their journeys.”

Their book covers a variety of topics, including how to navigate the legal, educational and medical systems,  how to handle relationships and  how the disease effects different parts of the body–all intended to educate and provide information to families who have or had children with cancer.    It is written in a straight-forward, well-organized style that should be accessible to all.  In addition, it offers an extensive list of resources available, along with a description of what they do and how to contact them, for those coping with childhood cancer.

The third edition of this book is now out and available. It’s first edition was named one of the Best Consumer Health Books of 2000 by the Library Journal.

On Tuesday,  Oct 30,  Nancy and her co-author, Wendy, are leading a webconference called Staying Healthy After Childhood Cancer Treatment,  sponsored by the National Children’s Cancer Society, a nonprofit organization. The audience is survivors, parents of survivors, and healthcare professionals (nurses and social workers) who can get continuing medical education credits for participating. The PowerPoint program with audio will be archived on the NCCS site at after the presentation.

Childhood Cancer SurvivorsOn November 7 through the 9, she’ll be in Atlanta at the annual conference of Critical Mass: The Young Adult Cancer Alliance (, a consortium of individuals, organizations, and governmental agencies currently supported by LIVESTRONG to present a poster about the book.

Nancy has a hefty background as an editor and writer who heads up a 30-member team responsible for producing multiple projects for agencies such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMHSA], National Institute on Drug Abuse [NIDA]), Administration for Children and Families, Indian Health Service, and others.  She has been the primary author of more than 50 books, E-books and articles for consumers and health professionals.

As an advocate for those with childhood cancer, she works to keep books in print about that topic through the nonprofit Childhood Cancer Guides.  “When your life is turned upside down, your need for information is great,” reads the final section at the back of the book from Childhood Cancer Guides.

This is one book that is essential for anyone who has a child with cancer or who, like Nancy, has  a childhood cancer survivor.

You can learn more about the book on Facebook at:  Childhood Cancer Survivors.  Here’s the link:

*Cheryl Crooks is a former journalist and medical reporter for TIME Magazine who now owns her own portrait photography studio in Bellingham, WA.

Author! Author!

It’s not everyday that someone I know publishes a book although I must admit, being a writer myself and having many friends and colleagues who are professional writers,  I do know several published authors.   Lately,  a few of those I know have new works out there so thought I’d call your attention to some of them.

First off, I must congratulate my own brother, Richard, for his first published book.  He’s been working on it off  and on for the past three years and finally completed it earlier this summer.  It’s just now available.  Richard is an ordained minister and Biblical scholar who has served as a college campus minister, taught college and seminary classes in addition to having been a full-time church pastor.  He currently lives in my hometown where he and his wife, Nola are of infinite help to my parents and where he works on his books.

I took Richard book jacket portrait this summer while visiting my family at home.

His book:  “Finding God in the Seasons of Divorce” is published by WestBow Press and is a daily devotional for individuals working through the emotions and difficulties of divorce.  This first volume, Autumn and Winter, deals with the early days of divorce, when so much of life is falling apart, becoming so difficult and uncertain.  As Richard says:  “The book helps readers learn how to cope and to see that they are not alone, that God does care, and that the struggles have been faced by others as well.”

The idea for the book came after his 1998 divorce, when opportunities for his ministering to divorcing individuals opened.  His has a keen awareness of the devastating impact divorce has on couples, children, and extended family .  His own struggles and experiences in ministry bring personal impact to these pages.

At a recent regional gathering of churches of his denomination, one minister who purchased a copy told Richard that he intends to use it as a discussion guide for his local ministers’ group, simply to help them understand better what parishioners getting divorced are experiencing, and how to better address their needs.

If you, or someone you know,  is divorced or in the process of divorcing, consider having a look at Richard’s book.  He also now has a blog that you
can follow with additional insights and words of encouragement for those experiencing this very emotional time.You can find the book on-line at: or follow Richard on his blog at:  He’s also created a Facebook page for the book under its title.

I’m very proud of his accomplishment!

I’ll be featuring yet another new work written by colleague and client Nancy Keene, in an upcoming blog post so please, keep following!