Monthly Archives: March 2013

Five Things that Rocked March 24 – 30

  1. Rebecca Meacham’s post “Relationship Rescue! Courting Your Long-Lost Writing” talks about post-mortem Victorian photography and snuggies. How can this not make my list?
  2. Parents shouldn’t pick and choose rules because it ticks me off. Read more.
  3. I love television, but I don’t care about some shows I should. Check out my latest on the Baraza.
  4. Speaking of television, I’m totally hooked on Top of the Lake on the Sundance Channel. It’s some of the best work I’ve seen from Jane Campion. Putting aside Elizabeth Moss’s sometimes fading accent, it’s a really complex, engaging mini series.
  5. Game of Thrones Easter Eggs. That phrase, even without this tutorial, rocks. And on the topic of GoT, this Bestiary post is slick and the perfect prep for the Sunday night premier.



Categories: Get Smart, Let Me Entertain You, Life and Other Nonsense, Objects de Art | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vanishing Disney

Growing up, I didn’t watch network TV that often. We didn’t have cable at home, so my mom and I watched a videos of old movies from my mom’s formative years. (This is why I never saw The Breakfast Club, but I can quote films like Some Like It Hot and Pillow Talk.) I went to my grandparents, I was allowed to watch the just launched Disney Channel. In their back bedroom I watched all of the original Mickey Mouse Club (Annette, not Britney), most of the movies from the studio days (I had a crush on Dean Jones), and all of the old school Disney cartoons (Ferdinand = LOVE). I watched reruns of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Disney (and the upgrade, Wonderful World of Color). There were the short movies, the series like Skip and Marty, and even those True-Life Adventures like The Living Desert (I would kill to have that on DVD). I loved them all and those are the things that sculpted my childhood, much to my husband’s frustration when he realizes I didn’t grow up watching She-Ra.

Of course that’s all changed now–everything is comedies starring kids who will eventually be on Dancing With the Stars or tabloid fodder as they attempt to break free from the image that won them fans to begin with. During college when I stayed at my grandparents, I would occasionally catch Vault Disney where they would replay the earlier stuff. Now I don’t even think they do that. Some of the stuff can be bought on DVD, but I miss stumbling across it.

One of the things I miss most is DTV. It was like MTV but with Disney cartoons, so basically pure awesome. I learned the words to a number of popular songs because they were on DTV. My hands-down favorite was “Kiss on My List” by Hall and Oates. I actually picture the DTV video when I hear the song, which happens to be one of my favorite songs (it was my husband’s ringtone for a time). Imagine my delight when I found it on Youtube! So enjoy some DTV fun on this Friday. I know I will.

Categories: Let Me Entertain You, Life and Other Nonsense, The Little People and Furry Friends | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Potent Quotables: He’s Blinding Me with Science

Since my husband became a full time student, our lives have changed. Most of it has been fine, save one nasty bit of business. He makes chemistry jokes . . . all the time. It’s killing me. This is pretty much the only science joke I get:

Okay, I get this one, too:

This one? I get it, I just don’t think it’s funny:

Not crazy about this one, either:

So I present my defense mechanism:

Grammar and literature jokes! Suck it science.



Categories: Get Smart, Let Me Entertain You, Life and Other Nonsense, Objects de Art, Write On | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Write On Wednesday: The Conjurors of Lies

Originally posted on my old writing blog February 2012.

A few weeks ago I made a wondrous discovery: as a professor I can order books gratis from publishers for ‘consideration.’ The revelation led to the equivalent of an alcoholic blackout where I order a dozen annotated novels, anthologies, and theory books. This morning heralded the arrival of the first of those, a short book called The Twentieth-Novel: An Introduction by R.B. Kershner. Although the Preface is not particularly brilliant, Kershner’s description of fiction (no matter the form) as “an elaborate and sustained falsehood” caught my eye.

I’m sure I’ve heard that description before; there is something vaguely familiar about it. But for some reason I can’t stop tumbling it over in my mind. Falsehood. It’s such a strange word. The connotation veers toward the negative and yet I think of fiction as anything but negative. It actually made me think of Galaxy Quest when they try to explain to the alien race what actors are. The aliens can only connect that actors are liars.

Does that mean that we, as fiction writers, are the creators of lies? Fundamentally, yes. We spin falsehoods and construct worlds that are only real within our minds. However, I think good fiction is something more than that. Fiction, at its best, be it literary or genre driven, contains some grain of human truth.

My students can tell you that I have a slight obsession with archetypes. There is something endlessly fascinating about the way humanity constructs these traditions and reinterprets them. Perhaps my fascination stems from the truth that resides in archetypes–we create and nourish them because we on a basic level need these elements in our lives. We need heroes and villains, tricksters and shadows, gardens and forests. Their meanings takes us into a deeper understanding of ourselves, a truth that lies within us.

In my British Lit class right now we are discussing The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The novella has been reinterpreted relentlessly. Certainly the plot is interesting, but I think it is more than that which draws us to it. Stevenson, in his sustained falsehood, is questioning the truth of human nature, duality, good and evil, and redemption. While we may not take potions and push the boundaries of science, do we not all question the light dark that exists within us? It is that appeal to the truth of our nature that sustains our fascination with this story. That Stevenson captured such complexity in such a concise manner is one of the miracles of writing and talent.

One of the quotes that I keep with me in the forefront of my brain is from Atwood’s The Blind Assassin:

“You want the truth, of course. You want me to put two and two together. But two and two doesn’t necessarily get you the truth. Two and two equals a voice outside the window. Two and two equals the wind. The living bird is not its labeled bones.”

The last line is the one that I cannot forget. It haunts me and reminds me why I do what I do.

The living bird is not its labeled bones.

We are not all definitions or classifications. We are blood and flesh and hope and pain. Fiction then is not just a sustained lie, it is the art of giving flesh to bones, flight to dreams. As writers, we may be the conjurors of lies, but sometimes we have the gift of seeing truth, of speaking the truth when politics and society cannot or will not.

I don’t know about you, fellow writers, but I enjoy having my pants on fire.



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Dear Parents: Some Rules Aren’t Made to Be Broken

Dear Fellow Parents:

Fess up–this parenting thing is harder than you thought it would be. When they were babies and you were living in that dark tunnel of no sleep-crying-poop, you thought, “It’s going to get better.” And it did, depending on the how terrible twos and threes went for you. Or you at least got used to it. (Side note: have you noticed every time you figure out something, like how to handle tantrums, your child evolves and creates a new nightmare of crazy that you never imagined you’d have to deal with?)

Here’s the thing: parenting is hard and for me, the older they get, the more challenging it gets. Now we’re not just responsible for feeding and changing; we are responsible for creating members of society. I think one big step toward that is stopping all this holiday blow out nonsense. I’ve complained about it. Others have complained about it. It’s like a runaway train of ridiculous.

For today though, I’d like to address a specific issue: rules. Our world is constructed of rules. It’s how we train the id that it’s not okay to just do whatever it wants. It’s why my toddler gets so frustrated with me (“No Alex, we do not pull down our pants and wiggle our hips and boy parts at passing ladies”). Kids have a hard enough time learning to make moral decisions and obey the rules. Please stop picking which rules they follow.

At my daughter’s school, the kids are not supposed to bring toys to school, wear sandals, or wear short skirts. From my perspective, these are all logical rules: toys get broken, lost, or cause outbreaks of “It’s mine!” Sandals are not the best footwear for playing outside or going to PE. And as for the skirts? They are little girls, not contestants on The Bachelor.

When we first enrolled in our current school, I sat down and read the handbook cover to cover. Our family talked about the rules and expectations so everyone was aware of them. And we follow them.

Where this gets hard is that other parents pick and choose which rules their children should follow. Every time I dropped my daughter off last fall, I got to watch a number of little girls in ribboned, jeweled, or otherwise adorned sandals tromp into school. A friend of my daughter keeps bringing her entire collection of My Little Pony for recess. And when I pick my daughter up I’ve seen way too much little girl bootie exposed when bending over to pick up backpacks.

So what, Amber? Who cares? It’s just silly stuff. It’s not like they’re breaking important rules. They’re kids! Let them enjoy it.

My point is this: when a parent allows a child to knowingly break a rule, especially one established by someone else, they are teaching their child two things. First, that they can pick and choose which rules they want to follow depending on what they want. Second, they are more important and special than other people because the rules don’t apply to them.

I’m not saying we should all raise little conformists. My daughter electing to bring vegan snacks for her week as snack helper proves that. But when we model from an early age a disregard for rules and guidelines, we are teaching children that those types of behaviors are acceptable.

About once a week I have to explain to Lili why she can’t wear sandals or take her toys. We’ve actually gone and read the handbook now that her reading is better and I try to explain why these rules exist. Still, a few weeks ago she went against the rules and took a pony stowaway to school so she would have one to play with at recess. When we found out about it, she lost the privilege of playing with the pony for two days (“what you abuse, you lose”). She was upset, arguing that other little girls got to bring their toys. My reply was merely, “That’s between them and their parents. We follow the rules.”

These children are going to grow into young adults and adults who need to at least understand the importance of rules. Certainly they can and should question them, but in the end part of being a grownup in following rules, particularly those set up for good reasons.

I’m your biggest fan, fellow parents, because I know how hard this is for all of us. Just please make your daughters wear tennis shoes.



Categories: Get Smart, Let Me Entertain You, Life and Other Nonsense, The Little People and Furry Friends | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Girl Crush: Evie

Flashback to September 2011 in honor of my beloved Rachel Weisz. Thankfully my kids wanted to see Oz: The Great and Powerful because I was going with or without them.

So I’ll admit it, I have a girl crush. It started in 1999 and is still going strong today. I just can’t help it. I love Evelyn Carnahan.


Evelyn Carnahan, better known as Evie, played by Rachel Weisz in The Mummy.


Evie is the best version of the woman I mean to be. She’s intelligent, knowledgeable, and witty. Even when faced with danger, she has a great line (“If he turns me into a mummy, you’re the first one I’m coming after.”) While she is (rightly) afraid of the undead, she doesn’t squeal like Kate Capshaw and make herself totally useless.

Evie is romantic and adventurous. She wants to find the Book of the Dead not for the treasure aspect but for the scholarly thrill. This, however, does not mean she’s cold or stuffy. Evie has her moments of weakness, but she readily recognizes them (“Oh it wasn’t that good of a kiss!”)

Sure she’s clumsy. Brilliance and beauty must have a cost. But she’s brave, loyal, spunky, and smart. And she’s happy being who she is. (“I’m a librarian!”)

It doesn’t hurt that Rachel Weisz excels at playing roles like this. (And I refuse to discuss the third movie where they recast because she just isn’t the same. At all.) She has the rare gift of being surrounded by monsters, special effects, mayhem, and battles and still being a demanding, intelligent presence on screen (it’s not so easy–look at good actresses who get swallowed by movies like this). Her characters are smart, independent and yet accessible. No wonder she married James Bond (Daniel Craig). I would recommend, aside from the first two Mummy films, Constantine, Enemy at the Gates, The Runaway Jury, and The Constant Gardner.
Heck, I can even defend The Fountain because of her.

Why should you trust me? I’m an English teacher!

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Five Things that Rocked March 17-23

1. This post by Rebecca Makkai on what not to ask writers at readings. Considering that I am attending an evening with the center of my writing universe, Margaret Atwood, in roughly two months, I love the tips. Truth be told though, I’m probably just going to wig out like a first American trip Beatles fan, clawing my face and sobbing. (Writers: The Ploughshares Emerging Writers Contest ends April 2. Enter now!)

2. My cat may have her own following where she misinterprets Edith Wharton and tells our Border Collie she’s the next chapter of death. Read about her here.

3. This Tweet from my Ploughshares buddy, A.J. Kandathil. If you haven’t checked out her posts on television connected with writing, you kinda suck. Go do it now, then follow her blog. It makes kittens do that cute kneading thing.


3. Blogger Brittany Gibbons is wearing a bikini on the internet. It’s fantastic. Go see why.

4. Amanda Fall. Do I need to say more than that? Her interview, Part 1 and Part 2, gave a little peek behind the creative wonder of her world, in particular Sprout. She’s a big deal. The end.



Categories: Get Smart, Let Me Entertain You, Life and Other Nonsense, Objects de Art, Write On | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Potent Quatables: Atwood Writes Loud

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Wild Women: Amanda Fall, Part Two

Last week the creative Wild Woman behind Sprout, an online magazine, shared her thoughts on being an artist, color, inspiration, and so much more in Part One of her interview. Fresh off the publication of the latest issue, Possibility, Amanda Fall gives us more insight into her world (along with another fantastic collage. PS? I want her jewelry!).


You’ve talked about a feeling of kindred creativity with contributors. What advice would you give to people submitting work? Anything they might avoid?

As I’ve settled into this strange and wonderful new role as editor (I’m used to being on the other side of the desk), I’ve learned that there are a handful of things I especially love to see in submissions:  honest seeking. Thoughtfulness that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Fresh language that finds new ways to address old concepts. Tenderness that also knows when to be strong.

Although I don’t need work to be confessional, I do tend to gravitate toward submissions that are not afraid to reveal the writer—honest, brave explorations into our place in this wild and beautiful world. In my own life, I’m tired of wearing masks—I’m ready to put my real, perfectly imperfect self out there. And when writers and artists are willing to share that same openness with Sprout? Love! (And there are definitely ways to incorporate this same kind of feeling even in fiction, poetry, and artwork. They don’t have to be real to be true.)

The best advice I can give for people wanting to submit is the same that any publication will give—read our pages. Get to know us.

Having worked as a contributor for you, I have to say you are a delightful editor. You make the writer feel so special and such a part of a collaborative community. How do contributors fit into your creative process when working on an issue?

Thank you! That’s my goal. I want Sprout to foster community. We are always stronger together than we can be apart (as long as that togetherness allows for space between, for our lusciously different selves to breathe and be separate).

My contributors—oh, they humble me. I am amazed at the talent appearing in the pages of Sprout. I currently have a circle of seven regular contributors (bless them) who see behind the scenes, who help keep me grounded (while still challenging me to experiment), and with whom I can bounce ideas back and forth. Then I have an assortment of one-time or occasional contributors, who usually submit with less input from me. This combination of regular and occasional contributors helps keep the material fresh, and helps me stay open to spontaneity.

I’m honored and excited to work with and around both kinds of contributors, incorporating an assortment of my own poetry, photography, artwork, and more. Sometimes I create my pieces in response to the other offerings; sometimes I’ve already written, painted, or photographed work that surprises me by how much it echoes another’s thoughts. This back-and-forth collaboration keeps me feeling alive and eager and aware of how incredible it is to find your “tribe”—people who walk parallel paths with your own.

In Sprout we all grow together, with our richly varying experiences also gaining depth in their commonality. We all love. We all laugh. We all want to find beauty and meaning even in our messed-up and sometimes mundane lives. Together, we help each other see.

SmallCover17 copy

I first heard about Sprout through the divine Jodi Chapman, who has also interviewed you, and the two of you speak highly of each other. In the spirit of your previous issue’s Friendship theme, how do you cultivate meaningful relationships in an increasingly virtual world?

Jodi is such a sweetheart! What a kind, genuine soul who brings such goodness into the world.

The Friendship issue makes me a little teary-eyed, honestly. I’ve never made friends easily. As someone with social anxiety, shyness, and high sensitivity, it’s hard for me to reach out and find new friends in the offline world. This issue helped reinforce my discovery of the past few years: “real” relationships—the deep, meaningful ones—require honesty, gentleness, and being ourselves . . . no matter what that self looks like.

Lately, I’ve found that the more freely I am myself, the better my relationships are. Sometimes it does mean that certain connections may fall away, because when we’re no longer able or willing to hide our true selves, you learn pretty quickly who loves you for who you are—and who has been merely tolerating you. But the people who embrace you for the real you—the zit-faced, dirty-house, sometimes-moody, yet beautifully complex you—oh, those relationships are the ones you can count on, even at three in the morning.

More directly, though, regarding this being an increasingly virtual world—I am forever grateful for that development, since it’s a huge help to me as someone who is “different” and may need to reach further to find like-minded and like-hearted people. That said, though, in online contact, I think it’s vital to find ways to remove the veneer—to show the real person behind the glamorous Instagrams and the sometimes misleadingly perfect status updates.

In-person, too, I think it’s important to de-virtualize when possible. Spend time together. It’s that’s simple. Nothing beats an around-the-campfire conversation or board game night or taking a walk together. Simple. No pretense.

As someone who is following her dreams, what words of wisdom would you give to other aspiring artists about pursuing their own happiness and fulfillment?

Here’s one big thing I’ve learned in my Sprout journey: love the process. Find joy where you are right here and now—not just in some far-off dream that may or may not ever come true. There is beauty right in front of your nose. Even dishwater bubbles make rainbows. I’ve found that when I pile all my desires onto one dream, I miss so much of the everyday grace that surrounds me. When I focus on the good right here, right in the middle of my life’s mess, I find a deeper calm.

When I have that calm, when I’m practicing gratitude no-matter-what, then I’m much more open to finding fulfillment in unexpected places. I used to be so black and white in my thinking—one way or no way. In that tight and fear-based space, nothing ever feels good enough. When I come from love (and return to love, again and again), happiness and fulfillment aren’t something I have to struggle for—they are simply here, in the most perfectly imperfect moments. And when I do want to reach for those “big dreams”—well, that deep calm and contentment transfers to my work, making achieving those dreams much more possible, step by tiny step.

Finally, I am a sucker for cute animal stories. Any stories about the furry companions in your life you’d like to share?

I work from home, so I’m often alone (we don’t have kids yet). Our tuxedo cat, Kiki, is my constant companion and stress-reliever. She has more personality than any cat I’ve ever had. When she was younger, she would often wait for us to bend over to tie our shoes—and she would jump on our backs. Trying to piggyback out the door? Who knows.

She’s settled down a bit from her wilder kitten days (like when she used to ride our Christmas tree to the ground), but still entertains us with her many games (like “Monster,” the creature she loves to battle through blankets, and “Big Cat,” when she loves to walk under us as we bear-crawl through the house. Oops, that was probably supposed to be secret. We’re not crazy cat people. Really).


Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and vibrant spirit, Amanda. And thanks to the virtual world for making collaborations like this possible. To continue following Amanda’s journey,  on her blog and Instagram. Don’t forget to Like Sprout on Facebook!

Do you know a powerful, inspiring woman who has wisdom to share? Email me all about her at amberkellyandersonATgmailDOTcom and maybe she can be part of the Wild Women family.

Categories: Get Smart, Life and Other Nonsense, Objects de Art, Write On | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Write On Wednesday: Read the Fine Print

I read a blog a few months back where a successful writer talked about his frustration of going to speak somewhere and having the questions people ask be about the financial and publication side of his profession. His frustration came not from the questions themselves, but because someone would ask, “How do I get an agent?” just before revealing that they had a great idea for a book, but wanted to get it represented before “actually writing it.” I see this frequently on blogs and even in my classes–people who have written nothing and want to sell it.

For my bit, I suffer from the opposite side. I’ve been writing for years and giving it away for free, so the business side of it is foreign. At one point I did have to calculate my hourly wage for editing because I was being asked to do that as part of “other duties as assigned” at my old job. Beyond that, I was just happy for contributor copies. (Which I still am.)

However, in the past year or so, I’ve actually had to look at the business side of writing. For example, I actually had to declare my income as a writer on my taxes. Who knew? Probably everyone but me. (I’m still trying to figure out what constitutes a deduction and if incorporating is the best thing to do at this point.) It’s strange to have something that really isn’t a career in the financial sense of the word still be part of the business and financial part of my life.

Probably the most important thing I’ve learned about in the past year is contracts. When I received my first writing contract which said someone had to pay me money for something I had written, I was so overjoyed I almost didn’t read it. But even in my elation, I knew I should make sure I understood what I was signing. Can I just say that the writing contracts I have read have ranged from the straightforward to the maddeningly convoluted? I don’t do well with clauses and jargon, so I have come up with a simple list of rules for contracts before signing:

  1. Never sign anything that does not give me the rights to my work. Sometimes they’ll say that they have exclusive rights for six months or a year. That seems pretty standard for online publications. But eventually I need the rights back to my work because it is my work. Someday if I want to include it in something else, I need the right to do that.
  2. Make sure they are paying me and not the other way around. I haven’t run into this yet, but I know there are scams out there for writers. As I tell my students, you should never pay to publish. (Contests are different–a number of reputable contests have an entry fee that supplements the prize. I get that.) Even if the only payment is a contributor copy, I shouldn’t have to give anything financially.
  3. Clear indication of editing policies. I’m fine with people editing my work for length or clarity; I just want to know about it. Again, I haven’t had this issue–all of the editors I work with are collaborative people who give suggestions and guide the editing process–but I don’t ever want to see my work altered without my permission. In the end, it’s my name that goes with it and I don’t want credit for work that isn’t really mine, good or bad.
  4. Ask questions about things I don’t understand. If I don’t know what a particular phrase means, I’ll just ask. I don’t like things that are ambiguous and unclear; I would hate to sign away the rights to reprints or something like that just because the phrasing was tricky.

These may seem simple, but if you are like me, it’s important not to sign something that could impact your work for years to come. If you are lucky enough to get a writing contract, read it thoroughly and make sure you understand everything that is being agreed to, on both sides. Always ask questions–it’s better to appear naive about legal documents than to end up losing something important to you or being in violation later.


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