Friday, December 30, 2011


  • Follow Me Down by Kio Stark
  • Freddy Stories by Melissa Mendes
  • Under the Poppy by Kathe Koja
  • Black Glass by Karen Joy Fowler
  • After the Apocalypse by Maureen F. McHugh
  • Some Day This Will be Funny by Lynne Tillman
  • Fair Play by Tove Jannson
  • Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas
  • A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
  • The Monkey's Wedding and Other Stories by Joan Aiken
  • House of Fear by Leonora Carrington
  • Haunted Houses by Lynne Tillman
  • Inverted World by Christopher Priest
  • The Third Bear by Jeff VanderMeer
  • trash sex magic by Jennifer Stevenson
  • Perfect Circle by Sean Stewart
  • Daddy's Girl by Debbie Dreschler
  • Another Glorious Day at the Nothing Factory by Eroyn Franklin
  • Our Spoons Came from Woolworths by Barbara Comyns
  • Bonk by Mary Roach
  • What I Didn't See by Karen Joy Fowler
  • Breathers by Justin Madsen
  • Half the Day is Night by Maureen F. McHugh
  • Inbound 6: The Food Issue
  • Freewheel 1 & 2 by Liz Baillie
  • Pump 6 and other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi
  • The Ends of the Earth by Lucius Shepard
  • You Were Wrong by Matthew Sharpe
  • Watch Your Mouth by Daniel Handler
  • The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
  • The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington
  • Overqualified by Joey Comeau
  • The Skin Chairs by Barbara Comyns
  • The Night Watch by Sarah Waters
  • True Deceiver by Tove Jansson
  • Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker
  • Make Me A Woman by Vanessa Davis

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

"a sweet stranger"

Have I told you how much I love the open letter? The open love letter especially. I've been working on one for several months now, to an author and artist whose work changed my life for the better. It's not a romantic thing, more like a fan letter filled with blood. Actually, if you've ever heard me talk about this woman before, you probably know the short version of my experience. The hardest parts of the letter, fleshing it out beyond the handful of short, sharp sentences that proclaim my gratitude, are taking more time than I thought they would. But what doesn't?


I've linked to a ton of Sugar columns here. I've often thought of writing Sugar a letter myself, not for help, but to tell her how important her writing has been to me. It was Sugar columns that inspired me to start writing again for myself and to embrace failure as part of growing as a writer. Her words got me excited to do the hard and boring work and the decision to do so has made this year different from any other. Even though I am 98% sure that I know the real name of the person behind the pseudonym, the fact that Sugar will soon be revealed makes me really sad. Once her real name is given, she belongs to everything she's ever written, everything she has ever lived. As Sugar, she belongs to all of us and I selfishly want to keep her for myself.

Published on The Rumpus today is an open letter to Sugar from one of her readers that lays bare the influence that one compassionate writer can have. [Whoa, wait! It is not an open letter at all. Simply an essay from one regular Sugar reader to all of us. My mischaracterization is likely a case of simple projection. Sorry!]


Friend of Try Harder, Amy Shearn, has a great essay about what her grandmother's letters to Martha Gelhorn meant to her as a writer: A Thousand Words: My Grandmother and Me. A few years ago, I got to see Amy read another piece about these letters. Both touched on the messiness and uncertainty of being a writer, how correspondence with an author you love can change you, loneliness and work and being a creator. Amy lived with those letters for a long while and I'm so glad that she shared her thoughts about them with me (and you).

Have you ever written to an author who inspired you? What happened?

*Photo from The NYPL Digital Gallery

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Fest 2011

I walked those two floors twice before I found anything that grabbed me. I had a blast with comic friendos from near and far. I saw three of the cutest comics' babies. The gorgeous, the bearded and the stinky were in full effect. I was accused of hating comics, but it turns out I was just hungry.

One of the things I like about the BCGF is the wealth of handmade works. Generally, that is what I am looking for in comics; I can read them and then enjoy them as art objects forever. As usual, this show kicked MoCCAs ass in minis--not an iPad in sight--and how could anyone not love that? I only bought a few, but that was down to cash flow and attention problems, not because of a lack of selection. Those looking for prints of all sizes would have done well here, especially if one was going for a son-of-Fort-Thunder look. I know, I know, broken record, but come on with that. It is 2011! The larger publishers did it up with signings, and it was good to see Canadian jimjammers Conundrum Press and Koyama Press with emptyish tables a few hours from close.

The one-day format must be pretty relentless for the exhibitors, but as an attendee, it keeps me focused and gives me a day to recover before Monday. The lack of a door fee is crucial to this show as well--it gives buyers more money to spend and encourages walk-ins, which is especially important for a small show. And, did I hear correctly? Is the show now juried, not just invite only? If so, this is a big step towards welcoming a larger part of the small press scene, not just friends of friends.

Now for some terrible photography. Not sure why I only took pictures of women as the men were out in full force, but if you check the crowd shot, you'll get a better idea of the crew:
Melissa Mendes giving me a smile.

Sara Edward-Corbett and Caroline Paquita, talking tats.

Marta Chudolinska had a variety of interesting, printy things.
On Monday I saw her at the Natural History Museum
which made me like her even more.

Jen Tong getting down to business.

Crowd shot

My haul

Some kickass original Freddy art

Once you got used to the hot meat smell, it was pretty comfortable in there...
This weekend was extra special because the Eyeworks Festival of Experimental Animation came over from Chicago and screening at Spectacle Theater. Used to the ability to see any and all ST screenings by arriving only slightly early, I was both heartened and extremely disappointed to find that the 7:30n showing had sold out. Ah well, hopefully they will make DVDs or something. I really hope that the  Eyeworks screening becomes part of the BCGF weekend in the years to come. I will buy my tickets in advance, I promise.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


I got my first fiction rejection yesterday. This was just as expected, and strangely inspiring. While I wish that I had gotten some comments in my rejection, I understand that one can't have everything. The other two stories that I have been working on have absorbed the energy of that hard sell and might even be first-draft-finished this week.


Speaking of making stuff, have you started work on your contest entry? Here are the details. Images of a full inbox are dancing about my head...

Monday, November 28, 2011

Boston Booking

Thanks to my meeting (finally) with internet friend Anzacmonster, I got to see more of Boston than the inside of my inlaws' home. She not only met up with me at a tea shop, but, once discovering that I am not a murderer, drove me to two additional shops to satisfy my book needs.

We started at The Million Year Picnic in Harvard Square.  Descending into this subterranean shop gave me the kind of thrill that I used to get hitting up Wooden Shoe Books on 20th St. in Philly as a young teenager. Maybe it was just the smell, but ol' AM and I spent a good half hour there checking out the minis, zines and indie books and we chatted about likes & loves from comictown. I picked up two Connected zines by Roger Whiting from 2002(!) and the third issue of Monty Comics by Kayla Escobedo.

We then moved on to Lorem Ipsum, the bookstore that now houses the Papercut Zine Library, sadly closed on the night of our visit. The place is big and airy, with a nice little children's section. I bet events there are super fun, but the book selection needs some perking up. I get the feeling that this is a newish store and will likely get better as more people know about it and bring them their books.

After talk of forgotten peanuts, tasty sandwiches and bored cops, Anzacmonster dropped me at Rodney's, a giant bookstore near The Middle East, and went home. Rodney's seems like a great place to wander with friends, check out nonfiction and buy either some bookshelves or some candy. The fiction section was large, but skewed towards older popular fiction. The short story collection section was a little more lively. I found the amazingly (and awesomely) 80s' Transactions in a Foreign Currency by Deborah Eisenberg and Third Class Superhero by Charles Yu. I haven't touched TCS yet, but I imagine it will be filled with fun stories that I will immediately forget. We shall see...

So the moral of this story is, if you have to go to Boston, meet up with a booky internet friend and force her to drive you from bookstore to bookstore until she has to go home.

What places did we miss?

Winter 2011/2012 Contest!

Remember this old jpeg? Remember when it meant there was a contest happening? What fun.

Guess what? It means the same thing right now! So, here is the prompt, fresh from the search keywords used to find this very site:

absolute dissection

As always, any bloggable form is acceptable: short stories, photos, comics, songs, etc. Email me your entries. The winning entry will be published here, and you will win a box of amazing from tryharderland.

DEADLINE: Jan 5, 2012 January 23, 2012

Monday, November 21, 2011

Freddy Stories by Melissa Mendes

On a recent late night I saw a Melissa Mendes tweet that said “I remember those days.” She wasn’t talking about her new book of comics, Freddy Stories, but those four words are a good introduction to her work as any. Freddy Stories is a collection of quiet, subtly chronological moments in a girl’s life told with minimal dialogue that makes the reader slow down into kid-time for the duration of each story.

It is that sense of time in Freddy Stories that really sets it apart from other kid stories that I’ve read recently. Instead of nostalgic, they are without that boring, overwrought adult wistfulness; Freddy’s days are long and full of small things, anti-adventures really, that nevertheless feel like complete narratives. Most of the pages are six panels and Mendes stretches moments across them. In stories like “Mom” and “Frank,” both one-pagers, show panels that repeat with very little change, making the small changes count and giving us time with each character, Freddy and Frank respectively, and teaching us something about them. Both are wordless too, which highlights another of Mendes’ time-twisting tools. By being sparing with the dialogue, Mendes creates a sense for the reader of being inside Freddy’s head and experiencing things along with her, things like divorce, making potions and winning at pinball.

Freddy is really the cutest thing in a hoodie. Just look at that cover image! Even if your ovaries aren't bursting, Freddy is charming because even though she craves comfort and fun like the rest of us, she knows when yelling is the best policy. Peanuts fans will find a lot to love in Mendes’ characterization, as well a hint of Schulziness when the Freddy and her buddy Steven are funning around in profile. I really like it when we get to see her imagination run wild, like in the brother/werewolf page (left), just because it’s not only funny, but it shows one of the essential differences between adults and kids. We know werewolves don't come from eating a mud and dogshit potion, but what if it did? What if it did and your teenage brother ate it and got even hairier and angrier? WHAT IF IT WERE ALL YOUR FAULT????? (It will better in the morning.) See, I just sent you back in time. Neat, huh?

Being a kid is weird and serious business and Freddy Stories is both a great reminder of that and a call to pay attentions, play harder and yell when necessary.

As always, click to big up all the pics.

Friday, November 11, 2011

I'm stuck in the land of tiny bits with huge universes attached to them. Not only does this mean paper scraps, phrases pulled out of conversations, garlic, raw & cooked, it means short stories.

Start stopping through Black Glass by Karen Joy Fowler makes me go back to What I Didn't See (buy this book) and the two are making me want to try more stories. There is something invigorating about how the reader can feel the harnessed anger and sadness thrumming underneath the stories. My favorite thing about her stories are that they never go where I think that they are going. Surprise is the really the nicest treat.

The seasons are truly screwing with me. How about you?


This is an excellent essay about the Penn State child abuse conspiracy and the seemingly incomprehensible reaction of students to the firing of Joe Paterno by Brian Spears. My only complaint is that it is too short.

An awesome comic about depression, rendered in Paint, by the hi-lar Allie Brosh.

Fuck. The. Fucking. Beaches. A Tessa Brunton comic about chronic illness and the bullshit of being "positive" when life is awful.

And for something a bit lighter, here's a story about ghostbusting college kids in Malaysia over at PodCastle by Zen Cho, which shows how a great reading can change a story for the better. Reading by Tracey Yuen.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Reading House of Fear & Tales from Down Below by Leonora Carrington

This book, as I've mentioned before, seems to be the only borrowable copy of Leonora Carrington's fiction in the five boroughs that is not the delightful The Hearing Trumpet. The collection is made up of several short stories and a memoir of her time in a Spanish asylum in the 1940s. The memoir section, dictated in French, three years after her incarceration, is called Down Below or Notes from Down Below. Let me say here that there is no question that Carrington suffered from mental illness. Reading Notes from Down Below reminded me of a lost summer I spent in the company of someone going into a manic phase and how that could have easily slid into psychosis. Even though I have no connection to the mystical and religious figures that populate her delusions, it's the kind of reading that gives me a growing sense of dread because it makes me feel a little crazy too.

Besides that effect, and despite the actual illness that it depicts, this memoir also gives a good picture of what it was (is) like to be a creative person, to create towards sanity, in a uncreative world. This quote breaks my heart with truth: "I gave little thought to the effect my experiments might have on the humans by whom I was surrounded, and, in the end, they won."

To the left is a map, a drawing made of the boundaries of Carrington's prison. It shows how hard she was trying to make a story out of the terrible things happening to her. It freaks me out with its details--the same reality as the clandestine cigarettes and paralyzing injections, but not the same at all.

How others view her sanity or insanity is totally informed by her femaleness, and this comes through in how she is treated and mistreated. Everybody just wants her to be quiet, maybe get better, maybe not. I wish I had some more quotes for this, but the library police were breathing down my neck... The second section of the memoir, all about the time shortly after the institution, is shocking in its clarity about the concessions one has to make for safety in wartime and how shitty it is to have a family that cares more about propriety than your health and happiness. There is much more to say about Notes from Down Below—it demands a reread some time when I can think about it more.

The stories in the collection were not as interesting to me as the memoir. They play with dimensions and time, as surrealist fiction does, and nothing is as it appears. Horses appear over and over. Everything has many adjectives odd attached to it, but all come off as flat and juvenile. I wish I could get at more of her later fiction. Why must I to be constantly thwarted by my monolingualism?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

hit submit; the library; Shiga's Empire State

I submitted my first flash story to [redacted] today—my first fiction pitch ever. Though I know that I won't hear anything about it for several months, I still feel very excited about the whole thing. I know that the story will be a tough sell, but I am hopeful.
When it became clear that more time in front of the computer wasn't going to be good for me, I went to the library. I finally returned some books I've had for months and headed to Fiction for something to distract. As I wandered the stacks, composing a post about how browsing in the BPL Central branch is not pleasurable because there are so few books by the authors I am interested in and many, many copies of Lauren K. Hamilton novels, I ran across two small press books in the New Fiction section that I was drawn to: Isle for Dreams by Keizo Hino, published by The Dalkey Archive Press and Follow Me Down by Kio Stark, published by Brooklyn's Red Lemonade. I remembered that there was a Karen Joy Fowler story collection from the 1990s, Black Glass, which was of course not on the shelf in Fiction or SF, but in the basement stacks. After filling out the slip I sat down to read a comic and wait for it to appear on the shelf in the Popular Library.
I read Empire State by Jason Shiga.  The first thing I noticed was the book's color pallet, matte shades of red and blue, done digitally by John Pham. The story skips back and forth through time and the colors help place the reader in time. While this worked well as a narrative strategy, the colors felt drab to me and sapped the settings, such as the library, Lake Merritt(?), and NYC, of strength. Since this book is so much about the contrast between places, and the connection between where we choose to live and the way we live our lives, the coloring choice ultimately reduced the power of the story. The book begins in Oakland, CA and follows the main character, a homebody named Jimmy, on an impulsive, love-fueled Greyhound trip to New York to visit Sara, Jimmy's best friend and crush. He convinces himself that the trip is a step towards adulthood, but from the moment he arrives in New York, wide-eyed and Greyhound-stinky, it becomes clear just how much growing up he has to do. Overall, Empire State, while cute, felt too slight for the treatment—more like a mini than a book. More time spent fleshing out the days and nights on the bus and how naive Jimmy responded to them would have served to make the book more satisfying.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

old, in internet years, but good

The best comic shops in Paris, a list by Mark Burrier. I've been to two of them--Album and Boulinier--and spent much more money than was wise. My one Burrier print is away at the framer. When it is done, it will go to B's windowless office to act as antidepressant decor.


Here is a callback, I encountered Pinocchio by Winshluss at Album, right after it won the Angoul√™me International Comics Festival award. If I had known that it was about beetles in your brain, well then perhaps I would have picked it up. Depression (and other inaccessible brain things) is difficult to write about, and this review covers three comics that try. I want to give Bookslut review-writer Martyn Pedler a hug right now: "Why am I putting this in print? I don’t know. Maybe because the only way we’ll ever know what each others’ cockroaches look like is to try to explain our own, and pay close attention when others do the same."


Some terrible things that bosses have said. My entry: "Well, [your brother] wouldn't have died if the car had had airbags." This was about two months after it happened. I left for the day right after that.

"Still, it is hard to look at people the same way when they are so clearly putting a blanket of hatred over me, even if they didn't know I was standing there."  I like a blog post that talks about Burger King, disappearing, a small room under the stairs and why Facebook is a pipeline to hate.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Excellent mail day:
I've been waiting for this for several years. Now it is here and I am going to wait until the weekend to read it, as an incentive to get it together.

What I am trying to say is: HOORAY!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Please go check out my review of Passage by Tessa Brunton @ inkstuds.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Interview: Tessa Brunton

Tessa Brunton is a Bay Area cartoonist that I discovered through Twitter. If you are keeping score, this gives us Twitter:1, Bitching about Twitter: 0.

Carrie Try Harder: You say in the about section of your website that a failed attempt to write a novel turned you towards doing autobio comics. You recently made a hilarious flow chart on how to make such a comic that underlined the frustrations of writing about day-to-day life. What inspires you to continue to document your life? Have you thought about returning to fiction storytelling?
Tessa Brunton: I loved messing around with fiction, but I found it really difficult. With fiction you have to make so many choices, and when I made choices that made the story meaningful, it then seemed contrived. When I didn’t the story became tedious. With autobio stories I know what happened and why it felt meaningful, which keeps me from getting overwhelmed and spending five days obsessing about whether having my characters visit a haunted slaughterhouse is too obviously symbolic.

I think the main reason I keep documenting my life with comics is I find it incredibly therapeutic and empowering. I was in denial about some messy life stuff for a lot of my twenties, and dealing with that opened up this floodgate of reflection and comics happen to be a phenomenal way to explore all that. It’s like putting those experiences in a narrative makes them not just these messed up things that happened, it somehow makes them mine. However, making comics about daily life can get really old (exhibit a: the flowchart). I think I keep doing it because of the fundamental human pleasure of sharing your experience. It's like I can say things about myself and my life I wouldn't necessarily say to someone face to face.

That said, I bet that someday I'll get over going all Nancy Drew on my life with comics and will try fiction again...

CTH: In each of the three issues of In The Tall Grass you end the issues with "A Note to My Mom," basically reassuring her with messages like "besides that time on mushrooms [you] do not do drugs in public places."While this is obviously a joke, I wonder how you deal with the fallout that can sometimes come with writing autobio in a world that we share, for instance, with our parents and exes. Have you had to have explicit conversations with loved ones about their appearances in your work?
TB: I've had a couple of conversations where I’ve asked people if they want me to change their names and likenesses, and I asked my brother before I made a comic book about his coming of age experience, but no one’s gotten upset with me about their portrayal in my comics (yet). I think without realizing it I do omit more upsetting stories, for example by not making comics about that housemate that tried to steal my security deposit while descending into addiction. I’ve been told my comics are upbeat and sometimes I wonder if it’s because I’ve been leaving out the stories about people screwing each other over and having horrible break-ups in some weird unconscious attempt to not rock the boat?

I’m actually bracing myself to try to stop only looking at the funny/comforting/revelatory moments and start messing around with the more painful, less-flattering stories, where people are doing messed up things to each other, and I expect there’ll be some fall out when that happens.

CTH: Yes, let's talk about Passage, your recent, most excellent comic about your brother's coming of age experience. In it you mention your own "passage," as arranged by your parents, but the story focusses on your reaction to his. Why did you decide to make his story the framing device instead of your own? Better outfits? Wackier characters?
TB: I think if I had just focused on my story it would have been 32 pages about my buckets of shame. His story not only involved costumery, kidnapping and authority figures acting wacky but he didn’t seem ashamed of the experience at all which was in total contrast to my sense of gut wrenching humiliation. Given what a private person he was, I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t embarrassed by the manhood ceremony, but his experience presented this idea that maybe my reaction was symptomatic of deeper issues. I think his story enabled me to reflect on why I was flipping out and the fact that it was not totally normal that I would have liked to walk around with a paper bag over my head during those years.

CTH: In Passage, and in your recent online comics, you've been delving into those feelings of shame, and the experiences that lead to them, bit by bit. You have also been doing some comics about your chronic illness. What is the impetus to work on these two issues in your comics? Is it the same for each? Do you have any comic-memoir models you turn to when you are stuck?
TB: One thing about shame is that it’s really isolating and I think a lot of my motivation for making comics about being molested and having a chronic illness is how incredibly rewarding it feels to not be ashamed. It seems to be rewarding on lots of different levels – your comics become more interesting, they’re more honest, and (I think most importantly) you feel like you’re less alone in your experience. Whether or not anyone’s even reading it, it's still a way of embracing your situation and the cards you've been dealt, which can be liberating. There are definitely comic memoirs I go back to regularly to remind myself of what I’d like to do. Right now my staples are Lynda Barry’s One Hundred Demons and Craig Thompson’s Blankets, but I just read Gabby Schulz/Ken Dahl’s Monsters and I’m adding it to my heavy rotation.

CTH: I just reread One Hundred Demons and have been referring to it a ton, too! Someday I will finish my love letter to that book... How was the transition from self-publishing to working with Sparkplug? What was it like working with comics' powerhouse Dylan Williams?
TB: The transition was sweet, any way you cut it. The experience of having someone want to publish your stuff, especially for a cartoonist who doubts their technical proficiency and is toiling away in semi-obscurity, is of course positive. But really, Dylan was rare and wonderful and incredibly encouraging and that made it the best. To begin with, I think his offer changed the way I thought about myself and my comics. It's like the validation gave me permission to be very serious and work on something that would take two years. But part of it was just the pleasure of working with someone who genuinely cared. For example, he first e-mailed me the offer to publish a comic (If I made one) the same month I was diagnosed with my illness. I was flipping out and I never responded. He tried again a few months later and by then I had my head on straight. He said he suspected something was up, and when I told him what was happening he commiserated with his own health issues. I'd check in from time to time to tell him how the comic was coming and sometimes we'd talk about our health stuff, but even so I don't think I ever expressed to him how much the comic book kept me sane and kept my self esteem up while I was wrangling with my illness and other assorted stuff. When it was time to go over the proofs of the book I got a call from him from the hospital after he'd just had a surgery and he was, I think, in pain, just to confirm that I'd given the printers the go ahead. He loved comics and he loved people and his dedication to both really showed, and it changed people's lives. It definitely changed mine significantly for the better.

CTH: So, I somehow skipped asking you about my favorite part of your art--the patterns! How did you develop your style of using many tiny patterns to give depth to your panels?
TB: Well, I love how comics look when they're all cluttered with texture and detail, I find them very tasty looking (I know that sounds kind of weird). However I think I started adding more patterns to my comics at first because they seemed to disguise and compensate for my, ahem, lack of proficiency in some technical aspects of drawing. But then instead of just patterning the wood to try to hide how badly I drew a window frame I got absorbed by how tasty looking they are. Now of course it's a full blown compulsion. I cannot stop myself from obsessively patterning bed sheets. I'm want to curtail it in an effort to draw more "efficiently" and be smarter about creating a sense of balance and mood without indiscriminately adding patterns every which way, but it's hard because I love how it looks so very, very much.

And, well, I don't really have anything to add. Each of these questions made me think hard about what exactly I've been doing and why that is and so there has been an alarming amount of reflection going on in my apartment. Anyways, thank you for providing such thoughtful questions!

CTH: Well, thanks! It was great typing with you. I can't wait to see what happens next with you and your work.

Read my review of In the Tall Grass at Inkstuds. 

Thursday, October 06, 2011

reading ZAZEN and complaining

I am reading Zazen by Vanessa Veselka right now and it is making me edgy. I can actually feel the anticipation in my arms and legs, buzzing away while I am on the subway or getting into bed at night. Twitter made me read the book and it is very good so far. It is about a woman who is having "lifetime problems," as Zane and I might say to one another, and her problems are not being helped by the bombings that begin to crowd her imagination and then her reality. It also has many good vegan cupcake jokes.

I think my reaction comes from both the building dread in the book and the fear that it will stop being good. When you have a burnt out, kind of crazy, first-person, narrator, there is a chance of that their misery will overwhelm the action of the story, and just become repetitive. Each time Veselka veers towards that she pulls it back in nicely. But what if, next time, she doesn't? WHAT IF? I guess I have just been reading too many pretty good books--A Visit from the Goon Squad and Our Tragic Universe,* I'm looking your way--when I want to be reading great books.

Toting Zazen around confirmed my conclusion that the covers of these Red Lemonade books do leave something to be desired. Not the design, but the paper stock. They just curl and curl, making me look like a sloppy book mangler with pancakes for hands.

*Both of these were excellent airplane books, however. Except the part where there is a dead brother and I cry and cry.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

things about mail

### Yesterday was a bullshit day of no mail, just junk. Get on it people! If you are not writing me then at least write someone else.

### Two days ago was a good mail day. I got the last two issues of Papercutter sent to me by publisher Greg Means himself. Included with the issues was a nice note from Greg which simply said that he liked my blog and tweeting. I'm sure he didn't know this, but I've been feeling like tweeting is a monster waste of wrist strength and that blogging is better than that, but not when I do it. So so so, Greg's note made me feel great and do some reconsidering of why I do all this typing into the ether.

### Here is something that will make the mail better for you: Get all your catalogs and terrible junk mail, build up some righteous anger, take an hour and methodically call all of the companies that send it and tell them to remove you from their lists. Soon you will get much less crap and a real letter will be easier to spot. This does not work for bills, sorry.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Two things about Lynne Tillman's Some Day This Will Be Funny

1. In this book there are stories that include characters making tea, drinking tea and watching the things in your house move or not move ('That’s How Wrong My Love Is'). This is important to me. it is diffcult to write about thoughts and the spaces between them.

2. Sometimes Tillman uses words like "trousers" and "make love" and loses me ('Love Sentence'). But then, the perfect description of a feeling will pull me right back in. She writes about psychoanalysis and I don't care. It is too New York to be real, so I discard it. In 'The Substitute,' however, the character's time with the analyst, scraping away at him and herself, is part of an altered reality, so it works for me.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Some things that have happened


2. Bologna is a comics town.

3. Thirty-one years old, as of yesterday.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Dylan Williams, RIP

Dylan Williams, publisher of Sparkplug Comic Books, has died. He was not my friend, in fact, we've only ever met at conventions. A few years ago we had dinner together with a bunch of people at a macrobiotic restaurant after MoCCA. We sent a few emails. He always had the grace to pretend to remember me at cons, and may, in fact, have actually remembered me at least one of those times. He was charming and sweet in an industry known for its jerks and weirdoes. He was an important force in comics that exposed us to new and exciting voices and respected those voices with excellent production. He was a good cartoonist too, no matter what he said about his own work. I always had a little crush on him.

When it was recently announced that Dylan had cancer, the community rallied around him with cash and well wishes. Nobody did that because of the comics, even though the comics were good. Everyone flooded Sparkplug with orders because they loved Dylan. And surely, our love (and money) could beat cancer, right?

I'm sorry it couldn't. I'm sorry that most of us had to be shocked by his death, and then feel stupid for being shocked. I'm sorry that someone so lovely is gone. I'm sorry for me, I'm sorry for you and I am sorry for everyone who will never get to meet Dylan and think, "What a great guy."

I'm sorry.

Let's talk about it.

Edited to add: For more memorials to Dylan, see The Comics Reporter's Collective Memory page.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

found my Swiss Army knife again

Been toodling around the internet too much. I try to limit the crap that I read by sticking to the only five sites whose full url I can remember, but sometimes twitter leads me to the wilds of the net, where good stuff hides. Here is some of it:

!!! At the Minneapolis bookstore blog Mr. Micawber Enters The Internets, the proprietor has asked several indie bookstore workers to make lists of 50 book, books that they love to handsell, their favorite books, or both. It is an interesting project and a great way to learn about new-to-you books and to get all huffy about your own taste. Huff, huff, huff, why would you recommend The Sun Also Rises, do you want people to stop enjoying their reading huff, huff, huff.

!!! At The Hairpin, Sarah Beuhler writes a good prose poem on the intersection of online lives and IRL deaths. It also touches on being the one to break the news. Having been that person myself, this rattles me with truth: "Now we dance nervously around our apartment in Canada covering our face with our hands, not wanting to be the one to tell her, not wanting to be that person again." Read it.

!!! Have I ever told you how much I love Elizabeth Bachner's essays for Bookslut? Well, I am sorry for the horrible omission on my part. She writes about books with passion and no excuses for the fact that, for her, for some of us, reading is life. She often writes about how writers' lives and work intertwine; so often I feel like I should avoid biography when considering a writer's work, a big finger wags in my face tsk, tsking me, but sometimes, as Bachner's essays prove, considering life and work as one reveals different stories, different ways to think about art. From her most recent, "$120.73: Reading Scandalous Women," she says: "And even in my own head, let alone out in the world, god knows I am too tired to try to make this point without the equipment to prove it, god knows I am too tired to raise the whole question 'would Francesca Zelda Sylvia Ana Mendieta Frieda have been so famous without the tragedy, without being married to him,' too tired even in my own head to make some tired point to myself about genius and merit and Tender is the Night and Save Me the Waltz and Alma Mahler and sex and race and bodies and 'art' and is it art and what is art. It’s a point that’s been attempted but never made. People sniff and turn away." Bachner's essays are hypnotic, as though she is whispering urgently in your ear—you are feeling, sleepy, but not safe, never safe.

Friday, September 02, 2011

like extensions of the human hand, heart

As many of you know, I spent the hottest month of the summer in White River Junction, Vermont. I was working in the Center for Cartoon Studies Schulz Library, housed in the same building as the Main Street Museum. I spent my days in the library and many of my nights in the warm, boozy embrace of inhabitants of the apartment above.

This building was central to my time there. It was mangled by Irene. Here are some pictures. Give them some money.

While you consider just how large of a donation you are going to give, here are some photos of A Museum of Early American Tools by Eric Sloane, a library discard from a WRJ school that I found at Left Bank Books in Hanover.

Monday, August 22, 2011

i am a house

After much crybabying-around I changed my password for the BPL and went a-holds-placing. This weekend I was rewarded with two books instantly on the hold shelves for me, proving yet again that I am either a resourceful lady sleuth or simply so out of step that I get what I want when I want it. (A good strategy for the urban brunette with many needs).

I walked and walked this weekend with Lynne Tillman's new collection Someday This Will Be Funny. The first story that I opened to, “The Way We Are,” is exactly the thing, my coping and not coping and living. It is also a story about going to the movies in another country. I am dipping in and out of the book, rationing it while I cook foods and clean corners and plan. To distract myself, I ran to the aforementioned shelves and got Haunted Houses by Tillman (1987) and seemingly the only freely had, non-library-use-only, non-The Hearing Trumpet copy of Leonora Carrington's fiction in English in NYC—The House of Fear. I took one of the houses, the haunted one, with me on the train and almost missed my stop because, really, who wants to get off in Midtown when you've got a good book and a seat and possibilities?

I am trying to write fiction, I am writing fiction, really for the first time these days. Since I've returned from Vermont I feel excited about trying new stuff, about failing and failing and finishing thoughts. It is distracting and fun and awful. When I feel like talking I talk too much and when I don't will stare at you all spooky. Don't worry, don't worry, don't worry, my mind is elsewhere.

Friday, August 19, 2011

good things with friends

& Amy Household Shearn finds a reason to continue the Internet. Including a beautiful song, a baby and the fickleness of the music industry.

& Darryl Ayo is nominated for an Ignatz! For Promising New Talent, ten years in! Comics!

& Amanda Well-Tailored Miller boils up some summer and finds the nasty bits.

Image from the NYPL Digital gallery, Image ID: 1221632

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Recent accomplishments

1) Successful pie tasting night. Ate many pie pieces in low light, didn't become ill, and had a wonderful hour with SEC.

2) "Today only" comics bin at Housing Works netted a copy of Bitchy Bitch 13 and Duplex Planet Illustrated 9 for 54 cents. Then I read them on the couch, under the fan.

3) Initiated an interview for try harder. I think it is going to be grand.

4) Did not read Someday This Will Be Funny and The Mechanics of Homosexual Intercourse in one sitting.

5) Gave a young Rolling Stone intern a pep talk about writing that was not bullshit. I think I inspired myself as well.

What have you done recently?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Q & A

Here I am, being interviewed by the great Jen Vaughn about librarianism, reading and writing about comics. I'd like to make clear that the several zine projects that I mentioned were definitely started, but never actually saw the light of day. This is probably a good thing. Drop your comments over there.

Unsurprisingly, doing this interview made me think about interviewing. I really enjoy a good print interview and would like to do more of them for try harder. Anyone you want to see here. Drop your suggestions here.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

This is the plan

Today I survived the eighth anniversary of my brother's death by taking the subway, going to a precode Hollywood double feature with B & C and eating Italian food with friends. I survived the day before the eighth anniversary of my brother's death by eating red sauce with M & B, watching a Robert Blake cop movie, buying herbs and going to bed late. I will survive the day after the eighth anniversary of my brother's death by watering my plants, reading The Beetle Leg, thinking about the future and writing letters.

August is hard. There is always another August around the corner.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

looking like septuagenarian hip priests

At the 49th St. Q station I saw one of my old neighbors. The station has finally been cleansed of its terrible smell. Three-quarters of the platform reeked of the fecal matter of big cats—an aging lion maybe, depressed from too many years in a cage—or perhaps a rotting corpse. I once saw a man in that station with such bad necrosis of the legs, his open sores glistening, that asleep, he looked long dead. I wondered if he had somehow deposited his legs in the airshaft between the exits in a final bit of New York magic.

(Since I started writing this the smell and returned and been conquered at least twice. The possibility of its return weighs heavily on me when it has disappeared for a bit.)

My old neighbor used to be one of a matched set. He and his partner reliably wore matching glasses and Mao hats. They both had short grey hair and button noses. They would walk east on 48th St. holding hands. They were probably just going to the grocery store, but they looked like they embarking calmly on an adventure for two. My boyfriend and I liked to spot them on our street looking like septuagenarian hip priests, not saying how they embodied our wish and our fear.

Now, my old neighbor is just an old man—the twosome spell broken. He’s shuffling on a hot platform and looking like he could blow down onto the tracks at any moment. Concern and revulsion and pity are fighting in me, but that’s just because I made this story of him and her and them. I wonder what is downtown. Another adventure, I hope.

Image from the NYPL Digital Gallery, Image ID G91F381_501ZF

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Daddy’s Girl by Debbie Drechsler

Finishing Daddy’s Girl by Debbie Drechsler pushed my breath right out of me. I had been holding it without noticing. A long time ago I also read this book and wasn’t sure how I felt about it, but now, now, I really got it.

The book is a series of short comics about sexual abuse and its repercussions told from the perspective girls from about eight to 16. I reread the 1995 version in about an hour, curled into an awkward position on an awkward sofa in Vermont. I pored over Drechsler’s details, her patterned everything, her wide-eyed characters. (Tessa Brunton’s work actually reminds me a lot of Drechsler’s in this book, a connection that jumped up and slapped me during this reread). The art feels unrestrained and almost joyous in the face of the subject matter, and that is one of the things that gives this book so much power.

Think of all the women and men you know that have been trespassed against, who’ve had sex used as a weapon against them, who have had part of themselves stolen by friends, relatives and strangers. Daddy’s Girl captures, in very few pages, the banal brutality of abuse and the bald-faced ugliness of a world that creates a safe place for abusers. While it is difficult to get the graphic actions of the father character out of your mind, it is the subtle attacks on the personality of the main characters by mother/friend characters that have really stuck with me. With simple, natural dialogue, Drechsler really gets at the ability to sense and exploit weakness that emotional abusers have and allows the reader to draw conclusions about why.

If you are lucky, this book simply makes you think of every time you kept your mouth shut when you knew something terrible was going on and pushes those moments in front of your face as a warning and a call to do better. It is a difficult read. It is a survival story and we need it.

*Photo from random goodreads user

Monday, July 25, 2011

your indie cred

Making comics? Putting out zines? Good for you—everyone is waiting to see what you come up with. But as much as some of us might wish it was still the 1990s, I'm here to tell you that that kind of lovely, sloppy creation just doesn't cut it in these access-point-rich times!

Friday was my last day at the Schulz Library at the Center for Cartoon Studies. While there I worked on cataloging and arranging student work, as well as making a detailed collection list and finding aid for the library's 2000+ zine and non-student minicomic collection. There were a ton of surprises in the piles of stapled screeds, including a Jason Lutes mini, a Basil Wolverton greeting card, some early work from Eleanor Davis, a few issues of Al Hoff's Thriftscore and an issue of Waffle filled with post-punk hate that I remember picking up at the Borders on Walnut Street with my friend D.

Accessing a collection like CCS's is a great way to chart the progression of an artist's work. Seeing that progression can be very important for researchers and students. Librarians and archivists want to give people your stuff, so why not make it easy for us?

What I'm saying is:
& Pick the form of the name you want to use early and stick with it

& Put your name prominently on your work

& It's really wonderful that you've got an email address or a twitter handle, but this does not substitute for a last name

& Resist the apparently intoxicating urge to make your table of contents/masthead look like a wordsearch or drawing of a spider's nest. If you've got contributors/partners-in-crime, respect them with some clear characters.

& Date, issue number, and title are also important for placing work in a larger context. Consider yourself part of this context and put these details where we can find them.

Do these simple things and keep your work out of the dreaded "Unknown" bin. Don't worry, your indie cred won't suffer!

Some pictures of the zine and minicomics sorting done by librarian Caitlin McGurk, KM and me:

Dispatch from the Hotel Coolidge: 8

Ghoststeen was seen but never heard.

This final dispatch comes after I've already come back to New York, but I think it encapsulates the past month very well.

Dispatch from the Hotel Coolidge: 7

Inside, ok?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Dispatch from the Hotel Coolidge: 6

Across the hall, the neighbors make a lot of noise.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Dispatch from the Hotel Coolidge: 2

I think they have different pollen in Vermont. Either that, or I somehow picked up a new, unhappy head last evening on the way back from buying groceries.

Friday, June 17, 2011

I've got a review of Talamaroo 1-3 by Alabaster over at inkstuds.