Thursday, August 28, 2008

Mermaid Crossing

Photo by me! Cape May, NJ.

Good day to you! Yesterday was my second day of school and work as the Slightly-Less-Competent-Than-The-Last-GA-But-Not-As-Slow-As-The-GA-Before-Her GA. (Cookies for the reference.) I am back in the world of academia, and happy to be there. However, that means that updates may be a little slower coming until I'm settled into a routine. Never fear, I'll never abandon this blog or my lovely readers.

Speaking of mermaids, I'm Here, I'm Queer, What The Hell Do I Read? (Love your blog name!) alerted me to the existence of a picture book that needs to join the rest of my collection. Ever hear about the Mermaid Parade in Coney Island? It has a reputation as rather a wild time, but has grown more family friendly in recent years while still retaining a bit of that debauchery. The illustrious Melanie Hope Greenberg has immortalized said mermaids in her latest, Mermaids on Parade. Here's what Ms. Betsy Bird (of Fuse #8, also one of my blogging heroes) has to say:

PhotobucketReally, one of the few parades left in the city that successfully melds that old-time wildness with the newfangled kid-friendly vibe is Coney Island's annual Mermaid Parade. Topless women and babies, that's what you'll see these days. It seems an odd parade to celebrate in the format of a picture book, but Mermaid Parade attendee and illustrator Melanie Hope Greenberg is up to the challenge. With her bold colors and sense of pizzazz, Greenberg brings to life an event that continues to enthrall both children and adults alike with a love of fun, costumes, and general unavoidable weirdness.

I would have adored this book as a child--carnival atmosphere, bright colors, a theme park, mermaids, New York City happy families and a touch of genderbending, all wrapped up in one colorful package. (Just like the books I'm writing!) Can't wait to read it!

Here's Lee Wind's original post, with an interior shot.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Judging a book by its cover...

Confession time: I can be swayed by pretty things. That's how I discovered the joys of Patricia A. McKillip and the Girlosophy books. Tonight while gathering links, I ran across these two beauties by Maryrose Wood:


WHY I LET MY HAIR GROW OUT tells the story of Morgan, a heartbroken Connecticut girl who chops off all her hair in a fit of angst after her boyfriend dumps her on the last day of school. Her frantic parents spring into rescue mode and send her on a "let's-help-Morgan-get- over-it" vacation.

Before you can say ow, my butt hurts, Morgan is biking her way across Ireland, where a most unusual accident sends her tumbling back through time to a magic, long-ago word full of faeries and enchantments. She even meets a hunky warrior-dude named Fergus who really knows how to treat a girl who's part goddess — guess who that turns out to be?


[How I Found the Perfect Dress finds]..soon-to-be-seventeen-year-old Morgan Rawlinson, snarky Connecticut teen and half-goddess from the long-ago days of Irish lore, takes another wacky romp through the faery realm.

This time it's Colin, her own freckle-faced Irish hottie, who's under a strangely yawn-inducing spell. To save him, Morgan has to find a leprechaun. In Connecticut. And that's only the beginning!

This book has magical prom dress shopping, a rather unusual game of mini-golf, and a special guest appearance by Gene Simmons. Seriously. I hope you have as much fun reading it as I did making it all up.

Color me bemused. I may just have to check these two out. (Kiss the Pages has the Fae in it. It's research.)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Capsule Prize Reviews: That's Bold

Like the shiny little prizes you get from a gumball machine, here are three titles I've picked up in a recent library jaunt involving brave teens defying tradition for notoriety, to stand up for a cause, or just to make some excellent music

PhotobucketThe Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart, had me sold at the promise of mischievous doings in the name of gender equality. Frankie's an incredibly likable heroine; she plays ultimate Frisbee, writes papers about the Cacophony Society, and falls in love with P.G. Wodehouse's writing. When faced with an sexist secret society, she infiltrates and turns it on its head. This is a fast-paced and fun story with trenchant insights about the screwed-up nature of teen socialization. However, no moralizing harpy is Frankie; she takes what she's learned and uses her wit and savvy to get a message out there; her secret reign as a Basset Hound is responsible for The Library Lady, The Night of a Thousand Dogs, and the Canned Beets Rebellion.

PhotobucketWide Awake, penned by David Levithan, has the quirk and charm of his less serious YA fiction. Duncan, our hero of this near-future novel, is thrilled at the prospect of a gay Jewish president. When Kansas declares a recount of votes, he travels with his town's Green Party team to protest, along with his furiously idealistic boyfriend, two self-proclaimed Jesus Freaks (who come from a movement that asked What Would Jesus Really Do?), and a couple of old-time dreamers from the 90s. Wide Awakes suffers at the hand of some heavy-handed lessons in politics and society delivered via the prospective president, his minions, and Duncan's peers. Despite this, it's little details (the non-shopping malls where you barter for self-shaping jeans and roasted marshmallow perfume, community-made pancakes, and the fact that pop music will always be painful to listen to), perfect emotional moments (including one of the best love scenes I've read in YA fiction, ever), and optimistic look at the future make it a good read for the curious and fans of Levithan's other work.

PhotobucketPlastic Angel, Nerissa Nield's first novel, is the sweet story of a budding folk-rock duo. Randi's a drifter on the edge of the popular crowd; Angela's an outcast for being too beautiful, too successful as a child model. With Randi's famous songwriting father's gift of a guitar and a certificate "good for FIVE lessons," she's inspired to turn around their boring summer by starting a band. Both girls are preternaturally gifted in music, and experience the joys of song scribing, secret recording sessions, and dressing like you don't give a damn under the gentle glow of their guardian glow-in-the-dark plastic angel. With Gellie's mom hell-bent on raising the next Lindsey or Miley, the two girls deal with family squabbles, social machinations, and some really heinous agents in pursuit of their dream. Gellie's mom is truly vile (SHE GAVE HER GUITAR TO GOODWILL. BITCH.) until intervention, and her adverse reaction to Angela's interest in music seems overblown, especially in this age of pop-superstars. Besides that sour note, it's a cute first work with some excellent emotional depth and fantastic descriptions of the joy that comes of creating music. Included with the book are sample tracks from This Town is Wrong, the novel's soundtrack--so you can actually listen to the songs the girls write in the novel.

*E. Lockheart's website and blog
*Read the first two chapters of The Disreputable History...
*David Levithan's website
*Read the first two chapters of Wide Awake
*Nerissa Nield's website
*Read an excerpt from Plastic Angel

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Literary Fashion: Dear Mrs. Winterbloom

The studio. Smaller than I'd imagined, more people than I'd imagined as well. A table full of breakfast fixings, I took tea in a packet that matched my current hair color and shocked me with its delicately floral, berry sweetened scent when I dipped my nose into the cup for a sip. Meeting with the execs, the minor execs, and a wardrobe maven that brought to mind images of a corporate bird of paradise. A peek in at the writers hashing out last minute hiccups in the script, plans for a read through later this afternoon. All in all, more attention was paid to me in 4 hours than I'd ever received in my entire life. Funny how things worked like that- one day, you're kissing ass with your child psychology professor in hopes that your midterm grade might be bumped up a few points, and the next you're hopelessly searching for memories of that jargon you'd forgotten when being lectured on the mission statement of the children's television show you'll be hosting.

Amandine hosts a popular local children's television show on their city's PBS station, where she gets to dress up and talk to puppets--essentially the best job ever, if you keep a healthy sense of irony about the production. She loves the Union Square greenmarket in the summer, buying weird art off of street vendors, and fighting with her tarot deck.

Clear blue eyes behind cat-eyed frames overhung with heavy auburn bangs. Kittenlike features, pointy nose and chin when she uncovers them. Black and white striped shirt matching her sneakers, serviceable jeans covering a softly curved form, bare arms covered in indeterminate splashes of tan jade green red turquoise on the left, jeweled toned swirls on the right. A smudge of green on her cheek, more of the same on her hands, including three nails painted the same hue.

Havela Silver, called Ava, is a sculptor and puppeteer at Chimera Studios. She enjoys making faces at the animals in the Central Park Zoo, chalking trenchant literary quotes in unexpected places, and learning how to make excellent crepes from her best friend at work, Asher.

That first Monday morning of spring break, I showed my Mama our homework assignment for art class. I don't have a problem with Picasso, I like what he does with color and whirly lines. But my mother had other ideas...

Sarah Jane lives in Brooklyn with her moms and her goldfish, Alice B. Toklas. (She inherited the goldfish.) She likes gold stars, watercolors, and watching babies hold conversations with inanimate objects.

And one last family set, for the road:

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Review: Mini Henna Body Painting Kit by Earth Henna

PhotobucketIt occurs to me that I might be a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

That's right! I wear mismatched earrings, I read children's books in public, and I exist solely for the purpose of helping my love interests find their true calling. Okay, maybe not so much the last one. My life-changing advice to be-loved ones usually turns out to be "Stop being a nerfherder and get out of bed" and "Go read [Michelle Tea, Grace Llewellyn, Kate Bornstein]; she'll rock your world." Not so much the stuff of classic movies, alas.

That said, I do like body adornment. Having been a fan of mehndi since the body art craze of the late nineties, I recently got my hands on a Mini Henna Body Painting Kit from Earth Henna. The contents: a cone of henna, a tiny bottle of solution, an even wee-er bottle of eucalyptus oil, some reusable tattoos as starters, and a couple of q-tips and toothpicks to do cleanup work on the designs themselves.

Being a real girl and not the fevered imaginings of a lonely director, I did my research on the subject to determine whether or not I felt it appropriate to undertake henna painting as a medium. My final thoughts on the subject that while I would feel uncomfortable using other culture's motifs on myself, I don't believe it is wrong to use the material, any more than it would be wrong for another culture to use egg tempera or gold leaf in their art. Besides, it's much safer than the beautifying materials of my ancestors. (The Romans favored lead and tin oxide in their cosmetics. Ouch.)

The instructions are simple. Pour the solution into the powder, seal it up (it ziplocks closed), and roll it around in your hands to get out the lumps. Wait two hours, and then squeeze it into the bottle the solution had come in. I managed to get through all of that easily until the bottle part. My advice: shove the cone as far down into the little bottle and fill from the bottom up. If you get any henna paste in the bottle neck, it's going to make things infinitely harder.

Once that's done, you attach the decorating tip and have at any bare bits of skin. I chose my foot, googling some Roman decorative motifs to practice with (as I'm a quarter Roman myself). It's a bit tricky to get used to, as painting with paste uses different hand movement than sketching or watercoloring, both mediums that I've grown up with. Catherine Cartwright-Jones has a beginner's guide to the technique of creating different tradition motifs that was incredibly useful.

After you've created your design, it takes about a half hour (for thin small designs) to an hour for the paste to dry fully. To get a dark stain, Earth Henna recommends leaving the paste on for 6 hours. I put a sock on and went to bed, waking up to a nice dark orange stain when I washed off the paste on Sunday morning which deepened to a beautiful shade of blood orange on Monday.

I would recommend Earth Henna to anybody curious to dip their toes into henna body art but not quite ready to deal with the nuances of mixing their own. Everything in the kit is naturally derived, but as with everything you stick on your body, do an allergy spot test first. My usually rather sensitive skin suffered no ill effects. The solution does use Walnut Oil, so do not use this kit if you have nut allergies. The decorating tip is very, very small; it looks as if I'm going to need to use a beading needle to clean it. As it was, I used a bit of E-string, as it was the thinnest piece of wire I had in my room. (Don't worry, Laura...your Christmas present is still intact.)

My kit was overpriced at 21 dollars, 6 bucks over the MSRP, purchased at the East/West Bookstore. I was disappointed, especially since their prices and selection of products are generally good for what you get.

PhotobucketOverall: it's messy but fun, and not a bad way to get started. My recommended reads on the subject are Mehndi by Carine Fabius for technique, Mehndi: The Timeless Art of Henna Painting by Loretta Roome for history, and The Art of Mehndi by Sumita Batra for beautiful photography and patterns. Catherine Cartwright-Jones offers a number of free henna and body art related ebooks on her website, along with information about different kinds of body painting such as gorgeous Zardosi henna (done with glitter gel) and Celtic woad.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Be Interesting:The Manny Files by Christian Burch

Photobucket The manny told Lulu to wear lots of feathers and sequins like Liberace. India told me that Liberace is a fancy French cheese that is served with red wine. I guess you wear feathers and sequins when you eat it.

I'm going to order it the next time I'm at a fancy restaurant.

This book is wasted on the young.

Harsh words from a sunshine-and-daisies blog, I know. But truly. The Manny Files, by Christian Burch, is a book for cool aunts, savvy librarians, and well-meaning older sisters to gift to their lucky younger charges. When they do, the kid will enjoy the over-the top exuberance, crazy family situations, and general warm fuzziness.

The adults, however, will get all the jokes.

Keats Dalinger is a misfit, even in his own weird, artsy, loving family. Oldest sister Lulu is precocious and knows it, a girl who dresses like Frida Kahlo for Halloween (complete with papier mache heart) and . India, the next in line, charms all with her flashy outfits and assertion that she'll "get by on her looks." Youngest sister Mirabelle, called Belly, likes making potions in the kitchen but doesn't like wearing clothes. Keats loves three things: writing, making art, and quality clothing. (His birthday purchase? A pair of red cashmere socks.)

Enter the male nanny, called Manny: the long-lost child of Auntie Mame and the Tenth Doctor, bald, bespectacled, and with enough savoir faire and manic energy to charm 3/4s of the Dalinger clan. He picks the kids up from school in costume, holds theme dinners complete with surprise pinatas, and packs tropical fruit in their lunches. His charm and genuine love for life touches everyone they meet.

Lulu, naturally, hates him. Thus, she starts The Manny Files, carefully noting all of his offenses. These range from fort-building to impromptu musical numbers to . With the manny's injunction to "Be Interesting" on his mind, he finds that Lulu's shadow is no place worth living in, and comes into his own talents. While dealing with unruly bullies and his beloved grandmother's illness, Keats finds that being his own person and refusing to back down from his beliefs leads to true happiness. Awww.

The Dalingers are destined to go down in kidlit history as one of the warmest, happiest families you've never met, right next to the Krupnicks and Penderwicks. Lulu's a pill, but Keats's narration always gets one over on her pompousness; if that doesn't work, saying "armpit" will send her running from the room. The parents are more of an enigma than canasta-playing Grandma or Uncle Max, who paints naked people reading books, but their love for and acceptance of Keats' unique personality is touching and very, very important. (His idea of the perfect surprise dinner guests are Elizabeth Taylor and Andy Warhol. I love him.) It warms my heart, truly, that books like this are published. The writing style is simple but the humor is quick, and pop culture reference that lose younger readers will set their elders howling. I can see how some would say that the Manny's personality is playing to a stereotype, but I know many people like him. You may know one too, someone that delights everyone they meet, always has something fun up their sleeve and takes the time to truly listen as well--and I don't think it's limited to any one orientation.

The Manny Files is funny, eccentric, and life-affirming; it's recommended with all my heart.

(P.S.: I totally want to be The Manny when I grow up. As a children's librarian.)

*Read an excerpt from The Manny Files
*Christian Burch's webspot on
*His brand-new website
*His blogfest postings
*Fuse #8's wonderful review (Betsy Bird is my blogging idol.)
*The sequel, Hit the Road, Manny, comes out in September. I'll be reserving my copy!

Dance Party on the 6

Amazing! I want to be on that train.

(This is from Spiritual Cowgirl.)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Things Were Only Halfway Perfect: Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

PhotobucketI picked up this one in a bookshop in Cape May, for the long drive back home after my family's annual trip to the Jersey Shore. I forget who it was that the books you read are forever after tinged with the memories of the place you read it (I think it was Inkheart). In this case, it was a fitting match: old-fashioned beauty with present-day grit showing through at the edges.

The Waverly women are gifted in a way their town quietly tolerates, especially when Claire Waverly turns her family's mysterious garden into the source of a lucrative catering business. A gifted chef, Claire's talent lies in creating recipes that have curious effects on the eater:

The biscuits with lilac jelly, the lavender tea cookies, and the tea cakes made with nasturtium mayonnaise the Ladies Aid ordered for their meetings once a month gave them the ability to keep secrets. The fried dandelion buds over marigold-petal rice, stuffed pumpkin blossoms and rose-hip soup ensured that your company would notice only the beauty of your home and never the flaws. Anise hysop honey butter on toast, angelica candy, and cupcakes with crystallized pansies made children thoughtful.

Claire is happy weaving magic into the lives of others until the handsome (and possibly magically gifted) professor next door takes notice of her, and her younger, wilder sister Sydney shows up with her daughter. She welcomes her sister with trepidation, but rejects every romantic notion Tyler tosses her way. Still grieving from the loss of most of her family, she slowly opens her heart to others as dramas great and small play out in their town of Bascom, North Carolina.

The writing reminds me so much of Laura Childs's mystery series, that gentle, domestic-tinged Southern character-driven narrative that still has its brushes with the ugly side of human nature. It's easygoing reading, full of fun supporting cast members like the Waverley's cousin Evanelle, whose gift for giving people exactly what they need works in some really creative and occasionally embarrassing ways, and Emma Clark, whose trophy wife ways and, er, unique talents are saved from one-note villainy by Addison Allen's skill with characterization. (A minor aside: there is a supporting older gay character whose story is handled with great sensitivity.) Even the mythic apple tree in the Waverly yard has its own distinct and rather charming personality. I loved all the little eccentric details that you find in good magical realism, that little unbending of reality in lines like "colorful paper napkins Claire had stored on top of the refrigerator fell over the edge and fluttered down around them like confetti, as if the house was shouting Hooray!" and "Waverleys always brought honeysuckle wine so people could see in the dark, but, whether or not the town knew it, the wine brought about a few revelations every Fourth of July."

The end of Garden Spells came together a little too easily for my tastes, with the climatic scene ringing awfully convenient, but it is sweet and fitting. Nevertheless, it's a warm and welcome addiction to the magical realist genre, and I can't wait to see what Sarah Addison Allen comes up with next.

*Sarah Addison Allen knows how to do an author website right. She has deleted scenes from her books, recipes, trivia, and a novelette in short stories called Tall Tales of Southern Belles, stories of the Waverly family through several generations

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Interview at Pink World!

Ms. Lisa Clark, head of the delightful Pink World Empire and creator of the Lola Love series, honored me with the chance to be interviewed at Pink World as an InspirOGirl. If you'd like to read about my origins as a bibliophile, my favorite NYC-inspired reads and a tour of my home city,follow the bouncing link!

As a thank you gift, I drew Ms. Lola herself. She came out pretty cute and a little bit sassy, I think.

The Forest Comes Alive...

Hypnotic, surreal, beautiful

Any idea who made this?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Call to My Readers: Juicy Writing by Brigid Lowry


I've had a rather exciting weekend visiting the Jersey shore and going out dancing for the first time in two years. After that was the BUST party last night, where my fantastic friend Marina shot some video I will share with you in the near future.

For now, I have a request to ask of all of you.

I am having the hardest time trying to find a copy of Juicy Writing, by Brigid Lowry, for less than 30 dollars shipped (US sellers want anything from $40 to $60! Madness!). I may bite the bullet and order it from the publisher's website, but I'd prefer to pay less than that.

Thus, the deal: Whoever helps me find a copy of Juicy Writing for less than $20 US shipped will get an art commission of their choice. (It helps if your choice is a cute girl doing cute things. I draw those best.)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Charm of Powerful Trouble at the Cocoa Book Club

PhotobucketRecently, I have been honored with the opportunity to write the first Cocoa Book Club post. Naturally, to cap off Unofficially Australian Week I chose my other favorite novel, the rapturously beautiful A Charm of Powerful Trouble, by Joanne Horniman.

You can read my full writeup here, but I'd like to leave you with another taste of this novel. Here is an excerpt from sister Lizzie's point of view:

It seems to her that this is a market full of people who look like animals: English animals from picture books of her childhood. That man there selling jewellery, with the small eyes and pinched mouth, is a rat; and the man making coffee, who has black and grey hair brushed back in a wave from his forehead, is a badger.

And she can't help noticing that there are a number of dainty mice, almost an infestation of them--the woman selling fairy wings and dresses, for example, and the one at the plant stall wearing overalls, and the girl walking by clutching her boyfriend's hand as if she's afraid he'll escape from her. They are small women, with small, pointed, pretty faces.

The market is achingly full of luscious food. Lizzie has a large person's appetite, and food attracts her. Watermelons and mangoes, stawberries, rockmelons and pineapples all call to her in high, fruit-like voices says "Eat me, Lizzie, eat me!"

She buys a large fruit salad served in half a scooped-out pineapple with a mound of whipped cream on top, and finds a quiet corner of the market to stop and eat it in. Food is to be savoured and appreciated, she feels, and shouldn't be eaten walking about, or when one's attention is on something else.

She finds herself near a stall where a man in a top-hot made of satin patches is selling coloured balls for juggling. He stands out the front and juggles as if he doesn't care whether people buy or not, and despite herself Lizzie finds herself watching him as she eats; her eye is drawn to him again and again....

Thursday, August 7, 2008

This is for the girl: Tomorrow All Will Be Beautiful by Brigid Lowry

In the garden there was a mossy statue of Venus de Milo, the goddess of love. There were tamarillos and grapefruit and a plum tree, and purple wisteria petals thrown in the air like confetti. The gum blossoms wore fuzzy red ballet skirts, and a wild tea-rose curled in the window of the shed. Nina was eight years old and she loved the garden. It was a place of secret corners, of light and shade. In this quiet place the girl played alone, making lipstick from petals, and dolls from old wooden pegs. ("Nina")

Tommorrow All Will Be Beautiful
collects prose and poems into a stunning whole, with a subtle theme of There is more than this, there is beauty everywhere. Her writing is full of earthly goddess wooed by chocolate dipped pears, women marrying seahorses "carrying a bouquet of red nasturtiums and surrounded by my bridesmaids, a merry row of dancing paper dolls," first crushes that will be "a handsome gypsy boy who'll break my heart, or a soft girl with a diamond in her belly button." There are family stories, tragic deaths and losses of friendship, dreams deferred, and questions of identity hidden within the pocketful of stars. Gracing every story are delicate black and white pencil illustrations, teacups and bamboo and high-heeled sandals layered scrapbook style within the text. I especially love her more experimental pieces: "An Alphabet of Girls with Glorious Names" demonstrates her gift for memorable characters painted with the shortest, brightest strokes of a pen, "Coffee, Love, Everything" is the day in the life of The Frangipani Cafe and its inhabitants delineated by its playlist, "A true story involving elves and starlight" documents the real correspondence between Brigid and a young poet named Grace.

I want to tell them that I spent my whole childhood wanting to be ordinary, to get away from my beat-up family with their beat-up lives; but that ordinary is dreary and special is the best. I wish I could show them my angel statue from Indonesia and the anenomies in my pink-blue silent evening garden. I want to say that my auntie bred snakes and that everything changes; that life is hard but you must treat it softly....("The Mirrored Surface")

Brigid Lowry is queen of opening lines, dreamy protagonists, and collage-like prose. This (sadly, Australia-exclusive) collection of her short pieces and poems is for the girl who holds parties in her head, and the girl who wants a nose ring, and the girl who thinks it's entirely impractical that she can't have a pet dragon--readers as whimsical, tragical, and beautiful as the girls woven into Tomorrow All Will Be Beautiful.

Tomorrow All Will Be Beautiful is one of those sad Australia-only exclusives. If you've got the dosh, import it from Gleebooks. If not, pick up a copy from a UK distributor; Book Depository has the best price, cheaper than the AU cover price (and free shipping everywhere!).

If you've followed me this far and need a Brigid Lowry fix now, let me introduce you to three titles you can pick up at your local book emporium.


My name is Rosie Moon. I come from a line of women who have flower names. I'm hungry for a juicy life. I lean out my window at night and I can taste it out there, just waiting for me.

Guitar Highway Rose is the story of Rosie and her friend Asher, and how running away can sometimes lead you exactly where you need to be. As they grow, their parents learn how to let go and become their own people.

As I drifted off I remembered the love spell, safely hidden in the pocket of my dressing gown. Money in one pocket, magic spell in the other; a dressing gown of great riches and supernatural power.

Follow the Blue introduces you to Bec and her crazy, messy, loving family as she grows brave enough to let her wild side out to play. It was one of the first books I reviewed; check it out here.

I wish I lived in another time and place, where round bodies were the fashion. Maybe in Paris in 1892. I can see myself, on my balcony, picking a red geranium from my window box, waving to the handsome boy from across the street. How plump and lovely she is, he thinks, as he waves back. I breakfast on buttery croissants, hot chocolate, and peaches, wearing a cream silk kimono and slippers embroidered with golden birds. Or maybe Tahiti, in Gauguin's time when women were big and brown and lovely no one wanted them to be any different.

Things You Either Hate or Love finds Georgia determined to find love and the $500 she needs for the concert of her dreams. Inspired by The Pillow Book, she documents her attempts in lists, journal entries, and little scraps of her day.

*Brigid Lowry's website
*"Saturday Night," a short piece

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Literary Fashion: Kiss the Pages

My dear co-grad assistant Heather graduated this spring, and as a gift I wrote her the first chapter of a novel, Kiss the Pages (she added the subtitle Or, How I Saved the World in Just One Summer). Intended to be a send up of the four-girls-with-a-schtick YA novel set in a library as well as a pastiche of the writers we like in general, I made her promise to write me a second chapter for my birthday.

She did, and it was amazing, and I have chapter three in progress as we speak. It's a novel about the quirks of the library system, dealing with broken hearts and weird families, and why you don't piss off the Fae at any cost. Since so many of you guys enjoy literary fashion, I thought I'd share some sets that I've made for the main characters.

Romance outside of ancient myths wasn't exactly a forte of mine. Hell, romance inside ancient myths usually didn't end well, either; someone was always getting cursed by the gods or stolen by enemy troops or sold to the highest bidder or lost to the underworld. Give me books any day--they were safe enough, if you had enough sense not to pick the glowing, whispering, or writing-a-story-with-your-name-in kind

Zoe is based on the work of Neil Gaiman. The Zoe type delights in writing their life story as a folktale, teaching kids how to make origami stars , and researching the best sugar skull recipes, to be prepared for Dia De Los Muertos. She is never without a notebook to jot it all down and a set of markers to illustrate.

I am the girl who wears high-necked lace blouses and corset tops with jeans.

I am the girl who accidentally yanked out one of the meticulously hand-cataloged folklore drawers, scattering stories all over the floor of the research room.

I am also the girl who figured out how to get the Faery Brigade the fuck out of our library.

Juliet is based on the work of Libba Bray, specifically A Great and Terrible Beauty and its sequels. You can find the Juliet type sighing over the Victorian Trading Company catalogue, defrauding the local table-tipper, or searching for a bauble that speaks to her (literally) at the local antique shop. Those quill pens and leather-bound journals that well-meaning relatives like to intimidate you with at gifting times are just right for Juliet's thoughts.

See that girl riding by the book cart, singing "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend"? That's Fantine. Her parents were hoping for the next Rita Moreno, but they got Ethel Merman in Dita Von Teese's wrappings.

Fantine is based on the work of Rachel Cohn, Gingerbread and its sequels in particular. The Fantine sort of girl stages guerilla theatre performances, cries over black and white films in the local arthouse theater, and holds long debates over whether who would make a better husband, Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton. Once she's of age, you'll find her belting out obscure showtunes at the local piano bar. (The name of the closest in NYC amuses the heck out of me, by the by. I think it might be the bar that the one in How I Paid For College was based on.)

I usually work in the children’s section, so me and Emma work together a lot. I envy her – she’s got this sense of who she is and what she really wants that I can’t even imagine, even if what she really wants is taken by someone else, and all the confidence she’s got when she’s with us seems to fall away whenever Vassar Girl walks through the room.

Emma is based on the work of David Levithan, especially Boy Meets Boy. Emmas of the world can be found quietly writing postcards to stick in books that they like, knitting sweaters for penguins, and painting landscapes inspired by acid jazz and punk cabaret tunes. She is never without a pocket watercolor palette, tucked into a CD case.

Inquiring minds want to know, which Page are you? Are you a Zoe, a Juliet, a Fantine, or an Emma?

(And now I want to make a quiz, just like the Chicks with Sticks one...)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Whatever You Are, You Revel in It: Notes from the Teenage Undeground by Simmone Howell

Sometimes it takes more than a cursory read to fall for a book. Sometimes it takes five hours of personal time navigating the public transit system of NYC to give it the undivided attention it deserves.

Bev named me after her favourite feminist, Germaine Greer. My namesake was brave and audacious, a sexual libertine, and an authority on Shakespeare. Umm...much to live up to?
Bev insists all that all smart girls have an inner Greer. I picture mine asleep under a rock or kidney stone.

Gem thought she and her unlikely trio of friends would rule their school, leaving the "barcodes" in their waste. Wild Lo leads the pack, slipping into different roles as easily as she slips into Gem's castoff wardrobe. Mira tests the limits of her newfound beauty, still as desperate for attention as the gawky preteen she once was. Gem, however, is in pieces. A little bit she owes to her well-meaning artist mother Bev, who's done her best to combine security with freedom in their nest. A little bit she owes to her father, a cipher who took off to the Bush before she was born and sends dubious haiku every holiday. A little she owes to the summer projects of the past, when she rubs oils into her chakras and lights candles and a cigarette to consult the I Ching.

Lo is inspired to lead the girls Underground this summer, imbuing their days with guerilla art, cinema veritee, and surrealist acts to sabotage their exams. Gem is exhilarated studying such muses as Warhol's Freaks and the second-wave feminists as well as working on the script for her first film, but Lo and Mira have other plans for their Happenings and Gem's hard work. Gracelessly figured into the equation is her video store coworker Dodgy, a film student in love with criminally bad movies and the sound of his own voice. While navigating the wreckage of her friendships after a hysterically bad first Happening, Gem's father decides to reappear, throwing another curve into the path. Ultimately, she transcends her obnoxious peers and comes into her own as a feminist, an filmmaker, and her own self--or at least has found the tools to do so.

I told them about Nico, the Teutonic blonde who front Andy Warhol's "house" band, the Velvet Underground. She looked like an angle and sang like a drone...In the Factory days she had a white suit and a black suit and that was all she wore.
And I told them about Brigid Berlin, who was fat and loud and funny...Her parents were society people, and everything she did horrified them.
And I told them about Viva, who studied art at the Sorbonne, and Ultra Violet, who had a thing with Salvador Dali, and Candy Darling, the realest looking man-woman ever. I talked nonstop for half an hour, telling Lo and Mira about all the beautiful freaks, finishing on Edie tickling her though with a scarlet ibis feather.
"These were women who didn't care!" I summed up.
How cool, not to care.

Sometimes I forget the urgency of teenagerhood. The elements that I found hair-tearingly annoying (Gem's inability to just ditch her friends at the first sign of betrayal, the endless quest to lose her virginity) are true to life for the normal teen who looks past what the media and her peers feed her. In morally bankrupt twentysomethings such as myself, it may inspire one to spread horrible, untrue facts to the young and gullible. ("If you don't lose your vees by the time you're 21, it'll grow teeth and eat all your best knickers!") After seeing Gem subdued time and time again by her rotten so-called friends and love interest, it was wonderful to see her come into her own with her family and new allies in the last act. The writing is crisp and fast-paced, with satisfying emotional depth and great observations: Gem describes the State Library as "filled with the perfume of knowledge," where Mira "finds it a challenge because it's rife with nerd boys" and Lo is "Our Lady of the Microfiche." Oh, all this and Gem's a hoot too.

Dodgy indicated the screen..."Edie [Sedgewick] gave film the best years of her life."
"Maybe it's a good thing. She wouldn't have remembered them otherwise."

Notes from the Teenage Underground
is a terrific first effort, carried by its unique angle and refreshing approach to feminism. (Gem is skeptical but open-minded.) I enjoyed it thoroughly, and can't wait to see what Simmone Howell comes up with next.

*Simmone Howell's Website
*Simmone Howell's Livejournal
*Interviews: at Pink World (especially good!), Up Close and Personal, Slayground (also very good!)
*Some of the films featured: I Love You, Alice B. Toklas; The Sandpiper, Midnight Cowboy, Three Coins in the Fountain

Sunday, August 3, 2008

I Wrote with Freedom and Courage: Secret Scribbled Notebooks by Joanne Horniman

PhotobucketI wonder if I read enough about the lives of other women whether I would find out how I want to live my own. Whether I’d feel surer about what I wanted to do with myself…I feel like I have been waiting my whole life for something to happen. For someone to come along and change me. Or for a grand event, like in an opera—lots of shrill singing and fancy costumes.

But now I want to choose the way I live my life

The big question is, How?

I unabashedly, wildly, ecstatically love this book.

That's why I've put off writing up Secret Scribbled Notebooks, penned by the magnificent Joanne Horniman, for so long. How could I possibly describe this story so close to my heart, this story about growing up as warm but expansive as its setting, the guesthouse named Samarkand?

Kate O'Farrell is perfectly ordinary--17, red-haired and be-freckled, possessing beautiful feet, three notebooks, and a fig tree in which she writes. Red for lists, music, favorite words, and writeups of the books she so loves. Blue for her scant memories of the family that left her, and the one that didn't (her sister Sophie and Samarkand's caretaker, Lil). Yellow is her wonder book, where she looks outside of herself at the events of her life, weaving them into the mythic tale of a woman who eats Turkish delight, tames a fox spirit guide, and works for a publishing house where the editors sing together at lunchtime.

This isn't a book where all that much happens, but at the same time, so much does. Sophie has a baby girl, Hetty, whom Kate loves enormously. After a chance meeting at the local used bookstore, Hope Springs, Kate meets the mysterious Alex. He is her first love, and she puzzles through the intricacies of her relationship with a boy who courts her with mint tea, fresh from the garden, and possesses little more than a typewriter and past as cloudy as her own. Her best friend Marjorie is a vintage darling with Louise Brooks hair who loves physics equations and cake baking in equal amounts, and they quake at the looming exams, ones that will decide Kate's fate. She grows, changes, and passionately loves life; every page has a turn of phrase, an observation that catches my breath and makes me sigh.

Secret Scribbled Notebooks
is a story for book lovers. Sophie quotes Oscar Wilde, Lil hides from the guests with chocolates and novels, and Kate falls into the embrace of great literature, who finds that "kissing a book was like hugging a tree. It made me feel better." She reads Anais Nin and Virginia Woolf and Sei Sonogan, finding her thoughts mirrored in literature.

There are several threads that run through the novel: the sisters' missing parents, the question of Sophie and Hetty's future, and Kate's own reluctance to leave what little family she has, questioning if she even has the right to do so. Each reaches its own satisfying, if not always oblique, conclusion. You will ache when you put down this novel, as it hurts to leave her behind--but you will smile, for the gift of having known Secret Scribbled Notebooks. It's the best book you've never read.

PhotobucketI am thrilled to tell you that a companion book from Sophie's point of view, My Candlelight Novel, will be released on the first of September. Currently looks like a Australia-only release thus far, but you may have luck with UK book distributors--I'll be checking The Book Depository like a fiend till it's out. I also like Gleebooks, but shipping from Australia's gone a bit out of my budget--if you can, try them, they've got an excellent selection and are so good to international customers.

*Secret Scribbled Notebooks at GoogleBooks
*Joanne Horniman's other books are Mahalia and Little Wing (companion novels about a young man raising a baby on his own, and the mother's year without her child), as well as A Charm of Powerful Trouble (a sensuous, evocative novel about a slightly mystical family living in a rainforest, which ties for the number one book in my heart next to this one. It also has major points for featuring a Non-Miserable Lesbian Character.)
*Some of the books Kate reads: A Room of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf. The Diaries of Anais Nin, Volume 5. Nausea, by Sartre. Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens. Good Blonde and Others, by Jack Kerouac.
*The title of the book is from Jack Kerouac's "Belief and Technique for Modern Prose:" "1. Secret scribbled notebooks and wild typewritten pages for yr own joy"

Friday, August 1, 2008

People in my Neighborhood


* Intern Sarah J did a review of Comic Book Tattoo on the BUST website
which is more comprehensive than anything I could throw down. Awesome!

*Intern Caroline has a fashion-y blog, Louise or Valentine. I swear, is it the season of the blog? Everbody's signing up. Now all we have to do is talk Jessi into joining and I'm set.

*Good LJ friend Carey has a photo/slice of life blog: sun moon stars rain. I'm glad she joined us.

*Styrofoam balls+urban landscape=terrific guerilla art

*Make your own: cherry blossom lights, origami lucky stars, paper roses,
artsy doily racerback tank top

*Recent Francesca Lia Block interview at (run by three ex-Witchbabies! It's such a small world.), with much talk of future projects and her favorite music. There needs to be a Witchbaby reunion, for serious.

*Ashley Lorelle of Luscious Letters was sweet enough to post this recent Publisher's Weekly article about Francesca Lia Block

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