What’s Next? or Why I’ve Been a Shitty Blogger and How I Plan to Change

from flickr user dbking
from flickr user dbking

You probably remember the days when I blogged five days a week.

And I doubt you’ve missed me.

But I’ve missed you.

See, I’m in this grad program for writing. It’s mostly online. I go two times a year for about a week to get my physical learning on, then the rest of the time I read and write about stuff and post it on the internet where classmates and instructors read it.

This is my first drafting semester for my book-length project that will earn me my MA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University.

Next year, around this time, I’ll start a thing known as a “critical paper” that will earn me my MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University.

But I’ve had to shave some stuff down in order to make time for this program, and consistent blogging was the first to go.

But it’s January, right?

time for resolutions and new beginnings and refreshed perspectives.

And I’ve got this great idea.

I’ll be writing for two hours a day on my creative project.

And three times a week, I’m going to post stuff from my journey here.

You can feel free to comment or hate.

It’s not going to be chapters. It’ll be 400-500 words at a slice, edited for the reading habits of screen-lookers.

And it’ll probably often be funny, and sometimes it’ll be sad, and sometimes, it’ll make you scratch your head and go “what the what?”

So I’ll be seeing you on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. EST.

Looking forward to you.


More Versatile Blogging –or– Great Blogs You Should Read + 7 Facts About Me

Gerry Wilson subscribed to my blog and then like two days later, she gave me this award.  I’m always honored when somebody starts getting an email every time I post.  I post five days a week, and typically my posts are like 1000-1500 words, so that’s kind of a commitment.  It’s also a signal to me to trudge forth.  So thank you, Gerry Wilson, for following and reading my blog, for giving me a reason to blog.  And also, thank you for this award.

What I’m supposed to do next is to list seven random things about myself.

Then I’m supposed to nominate seven other bloggers.

I will try to pick seven different bloggers than last time I received this award (Holy Birds!).

1.  I have two favorite colors, red and green.  It bums me out that these two colors signify my least favorite holiday of the year, because I would really like to wear them together more often.  I wear red glasses, earrings, and shoes as often as possible.  I like green sweaters in particular.

2.  I own a pair of Pajama Jeans.  They were a holiday gift, and they are the best thing I have ever received.  I wear them as often as they are clean.  They are especially nice when I’m crampy and on rainy days.  Today is both.

3.  My undergraduate claim to fame is embarrassing.  It was in Fiction Writing Workshop 3 or 4, so the serious writing people were mostly there.  We read a ZZ Packer story, I don’t remember which one, and I said something like, “At first I thought this was going to be just another one of those bleeding cunt stories…” It was when I was first learning the ways of the feminist Jedi that involve using strong language about sexuality and womanhood in order to take away those words’ power, to stop people from misappropriating words for our parts and processes for abusive purposes. Outside of the context of the Vagina Monologues rehearsals I was attending, the whole thing was a touch hyperbolic. My professor and mentor still, still, seven (or eight or nine?) years later, quotes me on that.  And he reminds me every time I see him that I said it.

4.  I did not know a thing about my ethnic heritage until I moved to New England at age 20 and people kept being unsatisfied when I answered “American” to the question, “What are you?”  I’m mostly German with a touch of Swiss, French, and Scottish.  But I was born in the US.

5.  I know this is irrational, but I am immediately mistrustful of any man who shares the first name of my daughter’s biological father.  This can be troublesome because it’s a fairly common first name.  I knew a spate of men with that first name when I was in college.  I was in love with half of them and abhorred the other half. I’ve never been lukewarm on a single one. No, I’m not going to tell you what the first name is.  I’m working through it.

6.  My very first email address was i.like.taffy@juno.com.  That was in like 1992?  Don’t try to email it, nothing will happen.  I tried logging in years later only to be denied access.  I don’t even know if juno.com still exists.

7.   I found 3 silver hairs at the top of my head since I got my hair cut very short.  I am thrilled.  The late grandmother I’m most like had beautiful, 100% white hair by the time she was fifty.  My hair is very dark brown, and I am looking forward to being able to put streaks of purple in my white, white hair as an old bird.

I offer the following with a caveat:  I know I should be reading more blogs.  But if you read the productivity post, you know I’m pretty strict with myself in terms of reading for leisure, especially right now as I prepare for grad school + do all my regular stuff.

Beth Bates is a writerly woman, a generous spirit, and a great twitter follow: @bethbates.

Marco North’s blog, “Impressions of an Expat” is moving, beautifully written, and actually, if you must know, makes me a touch jealous.  Also a great twitter follow: @marco_north

I promise this is my only duplicate from my last list, but my friend Jamie just got her 100th follower.  That’s an excuse to bestow upon her the label “versatile.”  But more than that, she’s smart on books and a wonderful person. On twitter, she’s @EditorJamieC

Cathy Day’s blog is great.  Her posting schedule is less insane than mine, but her posts are always thoughtful and interesting from the perspective of being a writer and a teacher of writing.  You can follow her on twitter @daycathy.

Laura Kurk is a YA Novelist, and she cares about grammar.  I haven’t read a ton of her blog yet, and she does not appear to post very often, but her posts are eclectic, and you can follow her on twitter @LauraKurk

Darellyn Saloom writes about her farm.  She’s also co-author of the memoir of a woman boxer.  Two huge points in my book: co-authorship & farm life.  Neither are easy, both require character and chops and inner resolve.  She’s followable as @ficwriter.

And the last I’ll offer is not a blog, rather a feature.  It’s On the Ether by Porter Anderson.  It’s a Thursday post at Jane Friedman’s blog, and let me tell you, these are intense.  Incredible, will leave you reeling, will definitely teach you and make you more aware: a better literary and world citizen.  But Anderson himself suggests proceeding with caution: do NOT try to read the whole thing in one sitting (I did, twice, and couldn’t do anything with my brain the rest of the day, no lie).  He’s on twitter, too, as @Porter_Anderson

The moral of my selections:  If you want to be a writer and part of the world of books, publishing, and thinking and writing about books, publishing, and words, YOU NEED TO JOIN TWITTER AND PAY ATTENTION.  

So, nominees,  Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to thank me for nominating you, write seven strange/unfamiliar/quirky/random things about yourself, choose seven other bloggers, and then let them know however you choose: facebook, twitter, commenting on their blogs, etc.   Also, please include the image above.  It’s there by a URL, so clicking it should take you to http://www.versatilebloggeraward.wordpress.com.  Also, I will not be upset with you if you do not (or cannot) do this.

Funny Little Language Things

From Flickr, user Digital_Rampage. Used under CC Attribution license. Wiseguys.

Lately, I’ve been encountering a ton of spelling errors.  I don’t know if it’s that the people who learned how to spell before spellcheck have mostly retired, or if it’s something else, but I am generally more amused than annoyed about errors like these.  I have a pretty good memory and I’ve done a lot of reading in my life, plus, have an overfondness for the Dictionary, which is how I’m able to spot them, and certainly I am imperfect at this…

I love the thrill of learning new stuff about words, though.  I can’t wait until I learn how to access Wilkes’s subscription to the OED from home.  Oh, the perks of being a student.

Here are some of my favorite mixups from manuscripts (with pictures):

From Flickr user julia-koefender

Hairsbreadth:  Yes, the breadth of a hair.  One word according to Merriam Webster’s, and here’s a touch of etymology. Here’s how I’ve seen it: Hare’s breath, hairsbreath, hare’s breadth, etc.

The jig’s up:  A jig is a dance.  When the jig’s up, reality checks are imminent.  One of the

From Flickr user ibm4318

funniest spelling errors I see is “the gig’s up.”  According to M-W a gig is only a job for an entertainer in the fifth sense of the word as a noun, and that that a gig could also be a cylindrical spinning thing, a thing to do with sailing, or a grotesque or ugly person, among other definitions.  This is why I love English.

Wiseguy:  When a writer means mobster and writes wise guy, I think, this is kind of a contranym: when the same word can have opposite meanings.  It’s not exact here, because wiseguy is different from wise guy, but you catch my meaning.  A wiseguy is a mobster.  A wise guy is a funny person or jokester.  The word that gave me the concept of contranym is staggering:  The moon is a staggering distance from the sun.  I am lucky to live staggering distance to the bar.  Very big in the first use, very small in the second.

From Flickr user Tony.L.Wong

Tack vs. tact: A tack is a push-pin, but it’s also a method or course, especially one that’s drastically divergent from previous methods or courses.  Tact is a social nicety in which a person knows how to speak without offending others.  Here’s an example of a hilarious misuse, “He thought he’d try a new tact.”

Pour-over, pore over: Pour-over is a method for brewing coffee in which a porcelain (or

From Flickr user Redband-Coffee-Co

plastic) cone-shaped brew basket rests on a coffee cup, and it is brewed, one cup at a time.  When one pores over something, one studies it closely.

Canvass, canvas: Canvas is that stuff that shoes and sacks are made of.  Some artists paint on canvas.  Canvas is a noun.  When one is surveying an area in hopes of

From Flickr user Net_efekt

catching a criminal or electing a particular person, one goes canvassing, and uses a second s and a verb.

Farther, further: This one is the trickiest of all of these.  Farther connotes distance, as in, “if she could make it a touch farther, she’d be home free.”  Further connotes concept, so to encourage or increase the reach of an idea or philosophy.  For instance, “She hoped that if she saved the puppy, she’d further PETA’s cause.”

How about you, fellow editors?  A favorite or funny misuse?  Have you been seeing a lot of spelling errors in the world, too?

A Baker’s Dozen Authors Who Made Me Want to Be a Writer, In Roughly Chronological Order

From Flickr.com via Scott Woods-Fehr

First, a note:  I don’t know if it’s true that these authors made me want to be a writer.  I think that any authors I read would’ve made me want to be a writer.  I think I already wanted to be a writer.  When I was too little to write, I knew it was what I wanted.  So while it feels true that these authors made me want to be a writer, if I had different parents or lived in a different place, this list would be different.  So what is probably more accurate is that these people influenced my young mind and made me want to write well.  But who would read a blog post with a title like that: Twelve Authors who Influenced My Mind?  Authors who made me want to be a writer is less pretentious, and I don’t think this list is too pretentious.  I didn’t have good guidance for choosing authors till college.  My parents are smart, creative people, but they’re poorly educated and not really into the kind of cultural awareness that doesn’t come from Rush Limbaugh or the Bible.

1. Roald Dahl.  Starting in maybe first grade with Matilda.  There are still a couple of titles I’ve not read, but I love how frank and funny he is.  Also, so began my lifelong Britophilia.

2.  Madeline L’Engle. I was so fascinated by those turbo-brainy kids and their secular, sciencey parents.  I read A Wrinkle in Time first, then the rest of the books in that quintet.  I didn’t read anything else by her.

3.  Wally LambI had a friendship with my fifth grade teacher when I was in fifth grade.  As an adult and mother, it seems strange to me, but I guess I’ve got a sort of old soul.  Right now, the people I consider to be the dearest friends are at least twenty years older than I.  This was in the early years of Oprah’s Book Club, and I borrowed Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone from the Bosler Free Library in Carlisle, PA.  It was much, much too mature for me, but I loved it with the love of a thousand cinnamon jellybeans.  I think, however, if I read it now, I’d be annoyed with Lamb for writing a fat lesbian.  I would feel like it was further patriarchal oppression.  Or something.  I haven’t read anything by Lamb since.

4. Sylvia Plath.  When I was in junior high, I read The Bell Jar at the recommendation of a slightly older friend.  This is another book that was probably just a touch beyond me, but I remember giving a report about the book in my sixth or seventh grade reading class and taking a very long time, and my teacher being visibly annoyed by the length of my presentation.  In college, I read some of Plath’s poetry, which I admire a great deal.

5. Paul ZindelI read The Pigman because my mom talked about it.  That’s really all I remember as far as the impetus.  Then I read all of the other Pigman books, and some of Zindel’s others, too.  I don’t remember anything about them now, except, vaguely, that they dealt with pubescent relationships.  I think they were like the throw-away fiction of my youth.  Still, for a time, I was fairly obsessed with Zindel’s books.

6. AviAvi’s been busy since my youth.  He had maybe five books out when I was in jr. high.  Now there are several dozen.  I read as many of them as I could, but mostly because I’d read someplace that he named one of his characters his real name backward, so I wanted to know, naturally.  I was twelve or something.  The book I remember, though, is The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle.  I recommend it to other young women even still.

7. John Irving. It started with The World According to Garp, and then I read most of the others that were available in the mid-to-late 90s.  Irving was the guy who made me want to write sex, which is what I spent most of my college years doing.

8. W. Somerset MaughamOf Human Bondage changed my life.  I thought, “Literature is powerful!”  I am amused when people raise one eyebrow over the title.  If you’re doing that now, I promise you’ll be disappointed by the reality.  It’s a modern novel about a quest for self.

9. J.D. SalingerOf course, right?  I mean, who didn’t identify with Holden Caulfield and love him?  Ahem, some of the people in my high school English class.  I will say this: in high school English, I couldn’t stop reading at the end of the assignment.  It was pure pleasure to read, and I liked all of it.  Except I also had a job, so sometimes I would only read the assignment.  And one time, in the WHOLE academic year in 10th grade, and probably in all of high school, when we read Catcher in the Rye, I didn’t do my homework.  And somehow the English teacher knew.  I have never had much of a poker face.  And so she did this thing where she said, “move your desks forward if you have done your homework.”  I hadn’t done my homework, so I sat on the periphery of the discussion that day.  It was embarrassing and of course I was pissed that it was the ONE day I didn’t do my homework.  Then, at the end of the year, the teacher cited the day as evidence of my strong character. She said, “I know April wasn’t the only one who didn’t do her reading, but she was the only one who was honest about it.”  At the time, I thought that was incredibly cool.  I felt seen.  But I had a thing for strong-willed, vaguely abusive grownup women when I was a teenager.  I had a boss like that who I inexplicably loved.  Now, I’m not so sure what Mrs. Davis was trying to accomplish, who the lesson was for, and what possible pedagogical or theoretical benefit it could’ve provided.  Also, everything J.D. Salinger has written is totally worth reading.

10. Lorrie MooreGod, her writing is so smart it glows in the dark.  I’ve read all of her short story collections and two of her novels.  Her latest novel is on my to-read list.  Lorrie Moore was the first contemporary literary writer I read in college.  A slew have followed, and I’m kind of bummed that I can only pick two more based on my own rules.  The first time I applied to MFAs, I applied to UWisc Madison, strictly because of L.M.  If they’d taken me, I would’ve gone.

12. Amy HempelYou know, Amy Hempel is also brilliant.  I re-read The Collected Stories every year, and every year, one story stands out.  For 2010 it was, “The Most Girl Part of You.”  For 2011 it was, “Beg, Sl Tog, Inc, Cont, Rep.”  I keep that book on my desk at all times.  Whenever I’m feeling blocked or sad or stupid, I grab it up and read a passage.  It gets me right back on task.

13. Brock Clarke.  Clarke is a damn character genius.  He invents the most affectionately flawed, barely likable idiots, and I love them.   His observances about the human condition are acute, and his writing is totally without the frilliness of self-indulgence.  That is rare in a male writer.  (Forgive me, male writers, but ya’ll are far too culturally indulged.)

And just because I don’t like rules, even my own, I’m going to say one/two more:

14. Emily Bronte & George Eliot, a.k.a Mary Ann Evans.  I was so inspired that these women bucked the system to pen and publish the novels that lived within them.  Also, I love the antique diction of the Victorians & their melodramatic characters & plot twists.  Everybody’s always fainting and being martyrish.  Delicious.

Guest Post: Five Failed Barbie Concepts

Marc Schuster, a PA Literary writer, will be guesting over at Billtown Blue Lit’s blog on alternating Mondays.  Here’s a delicious and funny post by him that didn’t quite fit in over there.  I’m honored to share it with you here, and hope you’ll go buy Marc’s book.


  • Grindhouse Barbie: Cool concept, but hard to fit into a pantsuit.

    Woodstock Barbie: Proposed in 1994 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Woodstock, the roll-out for this edition was to include a pink flower-power themed VW microbus. The doll was axed due to alleged licensing issues surrounding the Woodstock trademark, but rumors circulating at the time suggested that authorities had found a “sizable” bag of weed in the VW’s glove compartment.

  • Muscle Madness Barbie: Also known in some circles as ‘Roid Rage Barbie, this Barbie represents the most dramatic departure from the standard skinny waist and buxom chest that most collectors associate with the plastic fashionista. Though seven prototypes were produced by placing Barbie’s head on various Ken bodies, the idea was eventually scrapped when the US Senate escalated its investigation into the use of performance enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball.
  • Grindhouse Barbie (pictured): With the 2007 release of Grindhouse came plans for a down-and-dirty version of Barbie based on the film’s iconic heroine, Cherry. Oddly, this version of Barbie tested poorly among the target demographic not because she was missing a leg, but because children found it difficult to slip Barbie’s fashions over the machine gun.
  • Lock ‘n’ Load Barbie: When Sarah Palin was tapped to be John McCain’s running mate in 2008, Mattel jumped right on the bandwagon with this brunette version of Barbie, which came with stylish glasses, a plaid hunting jacket and cap, a rifle, and a fake-fur bear carcass. Plans for the doll were scrapped, however, with the election of Barack Obama.
  • Midlife Crisis Barbie: Although Barbie’s 50th birthday has come and gone, rumors continue to circulate that a Barbie with crow’s feet and a sagging neck is in the works. Though Mattel has not commented on this matter, the National Association of Cosmetic Surgeons is gearing up for a massive boycott. “If it’s okay for Barbie to get older, then what does that say to women throughout the world?” said one surgeon on the condition of anonymity. “That aging is natural? That laugh lines are no big deal? Please!”