Top Ten Tuesdays: Childhood Favorites

Once again, this is not this week’s topic but I am trying to avoid writing the same list over and over for different reasons. One can only sing the praises of Harry Potter and Feed so many times before everyone else gets terminally bored.

For those keeping track at home, I wrote 1,859 words today.

My Top Ten Childhood Favorites

1. Don’t Forget the Oatmeal: A Supermarket Word Book, Featuring Jim Henson’s Sesame Street Muppets

Boring Bert is all about the oatmeal while awesome Ernie keeps putting beautifully illustrated delicacies in the cart. This book is all about value, with food words printed on everything, and there’s even a cameo from Cookie Monster looking for the only aisle that really matters.

2. Classics to Grown On: Paul Bunyan and His Great Blue Ox

We had two of the orange-and-black hardcovers from this series, Paul Bunyan and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I was always more of a Paul Bunyan fan, I especially loved the descriptions of the mess hall with ketchup trains and people skating across flapjack griddles with bacon strapped to their feet.  I was also a big fan of all the stuff about the business of being a lumberjack, perhaps I was always destined to attend Humboldt. This book may have begun my love affair with typesetting, I remember loving the font.

3. Barn Dance

The ink and watercolor illustrations stick in my mind to this day, and I just really wanted to get my groove on with scarecrows and barn owls in the middle of the night. It was on Reading Rainbow, can there be any higher praise than that bestowed by LeVar Burton?

4. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day

I had the astonishing misfortune to manage being both a middle kid and the oldest (all the responsibility with none of the perks!), so I always related to grumpy old Alexander. The pen-and-ink illustrations floating in big white pages underscored his grumpiness, in my mind at least.

5. D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths

During our once-monthly free time at GATE I always made beeline for this book. Great stories, great color lithograph illustration. Launched me on a lifelong love affair with Greek mythology, and mythology in general.

6. Little House in the Big Woods

Pioneer stuff! Sugaring-off parties! Laura slaps that Little Miss Perfect, Mary! This book really has it all.

7. Hide and Seek: with Lovable, Furry Old Grover

Grover was never my favorite but I read this one over and over just for that rumpled, torn page near the end with the band-aid.

8. Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel

It’s probably pretty obvious now that I love tall tales and Americana, and this story always pressed those buttons for me. The John Henry-esque ending is both sad and triumphant, with a trapped Mary Ann finding new life as a heater.

9. Grandma and the Pirates

I got this one from a book fair, and it had one of those read-along tapes with the chimes for turning the page. Melissa’s Grandma is such a great cook that pirates abduct her and everything she owns! The crowning achievement of this book for me was the pantry raid, which the reader delivered in a fast-paced, staccato litany of the most delicious and bizarre edibles imaginable. Noodle pudding!

10. The Night the Whole Class Slept Over

This was a book full of great characters, as I recall, and relationships drawn with a lot more thought and authenticity than one finds in children’s literature. The wacky friends have real parents and problems, the exasperating parents have their own exasperating parents, the love interest is more than just pretty, and the little sister isn’t just a pain in the neck. Plenty of fun too, with a schoolwide sleepover that’s both disastrous and hilarious.

Character Study: Joan Holloway as Mid-Century Lily Bart

This is an idea I’d had sitting in my drafts for awhile now, but I never got around to writing the actual post. Given the events of this week’s episode of Mad Men, the time has come.

SPOILERS INCOMING: There will be spoilers from both the show Mad Men and the book House of Mirth by Edith Wharton in this post. They are too integral to white-out, so don’t say I didn’t warn you!







“Everything about her was warm and soft and scented; even the stains of her grief became her as raindrops do the beaten rose.” – Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth

Joan Holloway and Lily Bart are the very definition of artful: each knows how to present herself and her surroundings to maximum advantage. Joan uses her her sashay and giggle to prompt the fellows to take her to lunch, while Lily trades on the use of her beauty and charm to access luxurious lodgings. Each longs to secure a comfortable future by landing a wealthy man, but their lively minds and strong wills cause them to stumble just when success seems surest. Lily Bart suffered a needlessly tragic end, could Joan be headed for the same?

We meet Joan Holloway at the beginning of Mad Men as a great beauty, socially powerful, on the verge of being “past her prime” at twenty-nine. She commands the halls of Sterling Cooper with an unwavering sense of decorum, handling switchboard operators and executives with equal finesse. She has worked her way up as high as most mid-century woman could imagine going in Manhattan and must make a choice: remain in the office and become a former-sexpot-turned-career spinster à la Ida Blankenship, or find a suitable man to marry (and fast).

Lily Bart is a great beauty of a similar stripe: at the top of her social game and in high demand at all the most fashionable parties. She navigates social situations made sticky by her lack of money or standing with humor and charm, making the absolute most of every opportunity that comes her way. Just like Joan, Lily is twenty-nine and unmarried. No matter how lovely she may be, her social set are already lamenting her pickiness and predicting spinsterhood.

Despite their considerable talents and charms, both Joan and Lily have a tendency to make willful decisions just as they are about to achieve their objectives. Lily abandons the unimaginably rich and intolerably dull Percy Gryce, in favor of a few stolen hours with middle-class lawyer Lawrence Selden. Still, she cannot bring herself to choose happiness with Selden in dingier surroundings over the opulence that attends an oppressive life with a man like Gryce. Joan dallies with her unsuitable man, her married boss Roger Sterling, but will not encourage him to leave his wife.

Though Lily is single and Joan married, their downward spirals follow similar trajectories. Each loses a shot at her greatest love by slighting someone in a proud moment. Many times spurned social-climber Simon Rosedale first calls Lily’s virtue into question when he spreads word that she was seen leaving Lawrence Selden’s private rooms, then offers to marry her if she will only blackmail Selden and a former friend to regain a place in society. By this time Lily has descended into the working class: she has been disinherited due to her gambling and borrowed a large sum of money from a  married man who has designs on her, an action which leads her to be sacrificed on the social altar by friend looking to distract from her own indiscretions.

For her part, Joan fires new secretary Jane in a moment of wounded pride, driving her right into the waiting arms of Roger Sterling. Roger trades wife Mona for new, twenty-year-old wife Jane; and longtime lover Joan set to marry her new future-doctor fiancé. Unfortunately, the disappointments just keep piling up as Greg Harris turns out to be an incompetent surgeon and a rapist to boot. Having resigned from her position as office manager in anticipation of being a pampered housewife, Joan is forced to take a job in a department store to make ends meet. Joan’s long-sought marriage quickly turns sour, ending with her back in the office and single mother to Roger Sterling’s baby. Like Lily, she is offered up to save those more powerful and wealthy than herself, literally prostituted by the partners this week for a better chance at securing Jaguar as a client.

Lily’s life ends with an accidental overdose on a sleeping aid, just as Lawrence Selden comes to propose.

Roger Sterling is once again a single man but, much as Selden washed his hands of Lily’s entanglement with Gus Trenor, he did not stand in the way of the prostitution plot.

Many followers of Mad Men have been noting foreshadowing pointing to a suicide this season: empty elevator shafts, Sylvia Plath references, lingering shots of Don and Megan’s penthouse balcony. Could it be Joan who is destined to mimic her literary counterpart?

“She felt a stealing sense of fatigue as she walked; the sparkle had died out of her, and the taste of life was stale on her lips. She hardly knew what she had been seeking, or why the failure to find it had so blotted the light from her sky: she was only aware of a vague sense of failure, of an inner isolation deeper than the loneliness about her.” – Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth

2 Legit 2 Quit

Sunday has always been my chore day, at least since I moved away to college ten years ago (wow, only seven more years until I’ve lived as an independent adult longer than I lived as a child). Perhaps I will make it my state-of-the-writing day here on Ink as well.

Puttin’ on my Big Girl Shoes

I never aspired to be a writer. I think a lot and read a lot, and I enjoy discussing my thoughts but I have discovered that most people don’t enjoy listening…so I have been writing them on bulletin boards, in chat rooms, IMs, on blogs, and on forums since 1995 or so. Places where people read them and respond to them. I don’t know what a query letter looks like, the proper format for a manuscript, or how long a short story should be. I still get uncomfortable when my husband or a friend brings up the fact that I wrote a novel.

The fact is, I did. I wrote a little over 50,000 related, fairly well-plotted words. So I am a writer, whether I planned on it or not. Thinking about this has made me realize how much writing I have always done, without “counting” it. I wrote scripts for puppet shows and animated shorts, made up stories to entertain my brothers and my friends, wrote my own Mad Libs, wrote election-winning speeches and flyers . I almost won a medal for Creative Writing in junior high just because they made everyone try (I advanced through the first two rounds, but none of the topics for the final round lit my fire). It never really occurred to me that there are a lot of people who don’t do any of that stuff.

I just love stories, and I’ll tell them (and consume them) in whatever medium seems most appropriate at the time.

Now I will share a bald truth. My husband showed me a commencement speech  given by Neil Gaiman at the University of the Arts , in which he shared his thoughts and advice on creative work. Two quotes in particular stuck with me:

Someone asked me recently how to do something she thought was going to be difficult, in this case recording an audio book, and I suggested she pretend that she was someone who could do it. Not pretend to do it, but pretend she was someone who could. She put up a notice to this effect on the studio wall, and she said it helped.

I work according to this principle thanks to my 9th grade Colorguard coach, who encouraged us to “Fake it ’til you make it” while learning new choreography. I chant that to myself whenever the self-doubt tide is rising: in dance classes, while working on a new printmaking technique, chairing Student Fee Advisory Committee meetings in college. When I started writing my novel, I didn’t know what I was doing. I’d read a lot of books and had an idea of my own in the shower, so I signed up for NaNoWriMo and wrote toward that 50k goal. There was no outline, no template, and no goal beyond 50,000 words. Then I made my goal, and was hit in the face by a new wave of things I didn’t know how to do (like edit a novel). It’s time to just do it.

The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.

Despite my best intentions, I have not edited a word of my novel in more than a month. What’s more, I decided that I had edited the wrong things after I got my first-round critique back. My novel’s minutiae is heavily informed by my life, and after my Alpha told me what she thought I was suddenly paralyzed by the fear that I had put too much of myself in the book. I have not touched it since, and was seriously considering calling it a loss and working on something new. Now Neil Gaiman is saying that might be what makes it good. Crap.

The most difficult thing for me about reading that critique was that most of the things my reader found most outlandish or hard to believe, were the things drawn most directly from life. Things people actually said or did.

I just decided what to do while writing that.

Plan for the week: Today, write a rough draft for my short-story challenge. Tomorrow through the 31st, edit Grove.

Top Ten Tuesdays: Top Ten Blogs That Aren’t About Books

Back this week on time, even though I am out of town and stayed up all night helping my brother write his ten-page English final (worth 20% of his grade, naturally). This week The Broke and The Bookish are asking us to step away from the books and share another slice of our cyber lives. I admit, when I get up and stumble to the computer each morning I have my “rounds”, a certain set of sites I check for the new and interesting before I move on to more productive endeavours (or get sucked into a game of Angry Birds).

1. Tom and Lorenzo

This is a website that began its existence as Project Rungay: a gay couple blogging their thoughts on episodes of fashion reality-show Project Runway. As the site has become more popular (and its original inspiration has declined in quality), the boys have branched out into red-carpet fashion critique, blogging the latest designer collections, and detailed analysis of shows like Mad Men and Glee. Their Mad Fashion feature, analyzing the fashions worn in each episode of Mad Men in relation to the story, is a must-read for any fan. The site always has something pretty to look at, and something funny to read.

2. Questionable Content

This long-running web-comic about Boston hipsters in a world with advanced artificial intelligence has come a long way since its early days of blocky art and indie band references. The diverse cast of characters have developed surprising depth over the years and the comic consistently strikes a nice balance between the sentimental, absurd, crude, and cerebral. It’s a soap opera for silly nerds. Bonus points for music nerds.

3. Inkteraction

This social networking site for Printmakers might not catch the fancy of those not artistically-inclined, but I could spend hours checking out people’s projects and looking at their new work.

4. Hulu and Netflix

I need noise in the background while I’m working, to distract the racing part of my brain just enough to let me focus on what I’m doing. I like to stream trashy, easy-to-ignore dramas like Felicity and Desperate Housewives while I work (which isn’t to say I wasn’t totally rooting for Tom and Lynette to get back together).

5. A.V. Club

I’ve gone through a series of pop culture blogs, reading along and becoming an active member of the commentariat only to abandon ship when the site gets popular and becomes more about being in on all the jokes than discussing the site’s content. Former haunts include the Alternative Press Mosh Pit, Pajiba, and Jezebel. Lately I’ve been hanging around the A.V. Club’s music and TV pages, enjoying the sound reviews and fun features, and appreciating the lack of cooler-than-thou posturing.

6. io9

Part of the gawker network of blogs, io9 streams up to-the-minute Science Fiction news. This might include show reviews, scientific studies, interviews with sci-fi darlings, or canon-inspired art. They also tend to post on a lot of Fantasy-related topics which is fine by me, they know their audience of gamer geeks and comic-book nerds.


Once upon a time, before I skipped off into the land of French and Art degrees, I was a Mechanical Engineering major. I had taken calculus and foregone free periods my senior year to take extra science just ‘cuz I liked it. Is it any suprise, then, that this science-and-math heavy comic still tickles my funny bone on a regular basis? I think not. A lot of people I know find it too technical, but my brother and I still dig it. It’s worth a look, and some of the featured comics at the bottom are the least scientific and most-memorable of the series.

8. Postsecret

Many of you have probably heard of Postsecret, but for those that haven’t I’ll explain. Artist Frank Warren created hundreds of blank postcards and left them in random public locations with directions to share a secret and mail them back to him. His art project went viral and now he receives hundreds of thousands of secrets every year. Each Sunday he posts a new curated batch online. Warren also publishes Postsecret books, gives artists talks at universities, has given a TED talk, and many secrets were featured in the All-American-Rejects video for “Dirty Little Secret”. Many of the secrets are beautifully presented, shocking, creative, mundane, or sad.

9. Dear Abby

I’m not sure why, but every night at ten PST I surf on over to see what advice Dear Abby is dispensing. I used to read her column before I read the comics in the Sunday paper.

10. Food 52

I love to cook and Food 52 is an amazing community of foodies creating and tweaking recipes and sharing their findings. Most of the recipes are time or labor-intensive, but the results are always worth it. I made a roasted tomato soup with rosemary infused oil from a recipe I found on the site which takes awhile but is nothing short of divine.


This morning I issued a challenge to my crit partner, T.L. Albright, and she has accepted. The challenge was issued thusly:

I propose a challenge. By midnight tomorrow night each of us has to e-mail the other a picture, to be used as a prompt. Then we each have to write a story based on the prompt by the end of May. What do you think?

This is the image I received from her moments ago:

A John Bauer Painting













And this is the one I sent in return:

A Bryan Froud print.












Let the challenge begin!

If any of you readers would like to take the challenge yourselves, and create a story based on either of these prompts, I would be pleased to share it here on Ink as a guest post

The Write Stuff

“It’s strange to explain off camera what you have done in this or that scene. How redundant, like an artist explaining his painting. As much as I like watching movies I’ve been in, I can’t watch myself in interviews. People shouldn’t know how we do it.”

   – Ewan McGregor

Things have been a bit scattered for me lately. I finished reading a few books that I found utterly fine, but I haven’t reviewed them yet because I don’t have too much to say. Words pour forth on a novel I love or loathe, but reliving one that was serviceable at best just doesn’t light my fire. If you’re curious, the books were The Glimpses of the Moon by Edith Wharton and An Abundance of Katherines by John Green. Let me know in the comments if you are really dying for a review of either and I will get it together.

On the fine arts front, I have opened an Etsy shop in hopes of selling some of my prints. I have a jar in which I have been saving dollars to buy my own press, and I’d like to put some more in that jar. Without a press it’s pretty tough to continue working in my preferred medium. Right now I am 3/4 of the way through a year-long collage project and I expect to finish (or at least start the assembly) this evening. If anyone would like to see pictures I can post them over the weekend.

There’s not too much in my Etsy shop so far but it’s here if you’d like to have a look.

Down to writing. My manuscript has been sitting basically untouched since I was sick, but I have been slashing huge sections and making substantial alterations in my mind. I think it’s time to commit them to pixels. I also owe my alpha reader/crit partner some feedback on a couple pieces fiction she sent over. What’s more, my subconscious is chug chug chugging along generating the story of what happens after the end of my (unedited) manuscript. So here’s the plan:

1. Finish my collage

2. Finish the critique and send it off

3. Spend next week hardcore editing my manuscript

4. Get the manuscript out to some fresh-eyed beta readers by the end of May

5. Use Camp NaNoWriMo to motivate myself to write the sequel

Today I overhauled my Grove playlist to get myself into the new vibe necessary for my edits, here are a few of the songs I added:

Way to Procrastinate Wednesday: Top Ten Books About Movin’ On

If any of you come ’round these parts Tuesdays on the regular, you know that I usually participate in The Broke and The Bookish Top Ten Tuesday meme. This week, I was not really feeling the topic, and when I glanced at the list of topics that were used before I started participating nothing really grabbed me. This morning, inspiration struck.

I graduated college a year ago yesterday (the first in my family to do so, go me!), and my Facebook is positively flooded with updates from friends across the country participating in their own graduation ceremonies now. In that spirit, I present my overdue Top Ten for the Week: Top Ten Novels About Movin’ On. As a bonus, I actually put them in order of the merit I perceived, because number one really deserved to be number one.

10. Farmer in the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein

We’re all movin’ on from Earth! I love pioneers and Old-West stuff and outer space AND Science-Fiction, so this novel about pioneers from Earth traveling across the universe to colonize new planets was right up my alley. There’s an equal mix of delicious science-y terraforming technology, and old-fashioned wagon-circling community. Heinlein’s Tunnel In The Sky is a little better as a story, but this is still a fun (quick) read.

9. Glass Slippers Give You Blisters by Mary Jane Auch

This is a middle-grades (4th and up) book I read back when I was a middle-grader, which resonated with me at the time and has stuck with me since. Good job OPMS librarian! Kelly is moving from childhood into adolescence, growing away from her elementary school friends, and discovering that some roles are not one-size-fits-all. After losing the part of Cinderella in the school play, Kelly gets involved in some of the behind-the-scenes work at the urging of her eccentric artist grandmother. Kelly’s mother is less supportive, but our heroine perseveres and shows those who had underestimated her that she has a lot to offer. I remember particularly enjoying the descriptions of set and lighting design, and the creation of stained glass.

8. These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The eighth volume of the Little House books almost contains a graduation: when Laura tells the schoolmaster that she won’t be back in Fall (because she’s getting married), he tells her that she could have graduated already but he had held her back in hopes that her class would graduate together. The little girl from the big woods is all grown up and has moved into a little house of her own by novel’s end.

7. American Gods by Neil Gaiman

The world has moved on from the “old” gods and their systems of belief. The gods are not content to take this lying down and enlist the aid of Shadow, a man who is himself moving on from a prison stint and the loss of his wife. As a total mythology geek, this novel both entertained me and made me think about spirituality and its role in culture.

6. Girls in Pants by Anne Brashares

This one actually starts with a graduation! Probably my favorite of the Traveling Pants books, the third installment finds our quartet of comrades of the cusp of college. Moving in different directions both geographically and as people, each of the pants-sharers has a life changing summer. Bee is moving on from past mistakes, Carmen is moving on from only-child status and her family unit, Lena is moving on from living life to please her parents, and Tibby is moving on from her emotional insulation. This is one of those books that has it all: character growth, solid female friendships, romance, makey-outy time, humor, girls that do stuff other than obsess about boys, enough drama to keep things interesting…it’s a satisfying read (especially after the rather lame second book in the series).

An aside: I really hate these new covers, the evolution of the pants on the originals was a lot more interesting. I refuse to believe that they couldn’t fit one more rail-thin girl into the frame to make them more accurate. Also, exactly which of these girls is supposed to be curvy Latina Carmen or olive-skinned Lena?

5. Paint it Black by Janet Fitch

White Oleander is a beautiful book, elegant and thoughtful as it flows through the years of Astrid’s life. Fitch’s second novel (for adults) Paint it Black is a more challenging read. Where Astrid is soft and dreamy, Josie is bitter and bereft. She is moving on from the suicide of her live-in lover Micheal, her only support a motley crew of 80’s punks and Michael’s narcissistic mother Meredith. The girl from the armpit of California (Bakersfield for non-locals) had one beautiful thing in her life, and she’s struggling to both cope with the fact that it’s gone and understand why. It took me a couple of reads to come around, but I now appreciate this novel as both a companion and counterpoint to White Oleander.

4. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Mysteries rank pretty low in my preferred-genre hierarchy, and rape scenes range from pet peeve to literary dealbreaker. One who knew me well might suppose that I would hate this novel, and I probably wouldn’t have read it on my own, but I was in Puerto Vallarta moping after a breakup and I had read all of the other available English-language novels. The story of Susie Salmon’s afterlife is not so much a mystery, since the reader knows who the killer is from the first pages, it’s much more a novel about moving on from a death that came much to soon.

3. The Odyssey by Homer

All Odysseus wants is to move on from the Trojan War! He spends ten years just trying to get home to his admirably faithful wife Penelope and son Telemachus. Unfortunately for him, the gods have other plans. This is one of my favorite…epic poems…classic or otherwise, worth working through the structure for the poetry-averse.

2. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

I love this book like some people love Alice in Wonderland (a book and Disney film that gives me the unrelenting heebie-jeebies). Adorable four-year-old James is moving on from a dreadful life with his Aunts Spiker and Sponge, conveyed by a giant stone fruit full of anthropomorphized bugs! It’s a beautiful, creepy, sad, happy, funny book with a delicious ending. The choice to render the eponymous film in claymation was inspired.

1. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Number one for a reason, Speak is the powerful story of a girl moving into high school as she tries to move on from a traumatic event. Tormented by clueless classmates for a misunderstood act of self-preservation, Mellie swallows her pain and quits speaking entirely. This novel is, at its very core, about moving on. About not just coping but forging a new life and reconciling it with the old.