RSS Feed

Literary Pro Wrestling Match-Up #1: Chain Austen vs. Edith Warhorse

Note: A while back I was trying to brainstorm article topics, but all I could come up with were literary-themed pro wrestling and/or roller derby names. I think I was sleep-deprived. This is the resulting post.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a single professional wrestler in position in the ring must be in want of a pummeling… by legendary Regency era firecracker Chain Austen.

Chain Austen isn’t interested in anything except her opponent’s punch and punchability, and this week she’ll be testing her mettle against defending Literary Pro Wrestling champ, Edith Warhorse.

Don’t let the defending champ’s affluent appearance fool you—this rough and tumble lady didn’t grow up in no age of innocence. Edith Warhorse honed her skills on the mean streets of New York, and she’s spent years perfecting her legendary roundhouse of mirth. This Friday, she’ll be doing her best to send Chain Austen back from whence she came—the English countryside.

It’s going to be more than just a comedy of manners when Chain Austen and Edith Warhorse go bonnet-to-bonnet in the ring. Chain Austen’s former adversary, F. Scott Fistgerald, has said, “Pointed, barbed, cutting to the core… and I’m not just talking about Chain Austen’s witty dialogue. She snuck hogwire and a dagger into the ring for our match. That woman will shank you.”

Meanwhile, Edith Warhorse’s notorious rival, Salman Crushdie, has said of his opponent, “She brings a crushing realism to the ring. And her dramatic irony, dear God. She makes you see how fucked up society is until you can’t even go on anymore. Plus she hit me with a chair when I wasn’t looking.”

So who will prevail—New York’s own 20th century Buccaneer of the British whirlwind who is prepared to Mansfield Park her opponent in the dirt? Tune in next Friday as Chain Austen and Edith Warhorse take it to the grindhouse.

4 Southern Gothic Books to Read Post-True Detective

As is my usual practice with popular TV shows, I hold out for a few months, then decide to watch the pilot just to see what all the fuss is about, then fall into an antisocial state of binge-watching that show for the next several days/weeks. The latest show to suck me into its orbit was True Detective, which thankfully only has one manageable 8 episode season so far. I didn’t think I’d like the show at first because I’m not usually a big fan of police procedurals, but I got on board when I realized that True Detective isn’t so much a crime-solving show as it is a Southern gothic novel in TV form.

Southern gothic, for those who don’t get as excited as me when it comes to defining genres, is a style of writing that typically follows flawed characters as they navigate through dark or sinister events in the American South. Sometimes there’s magic involved, often there’s a folklore element, and there’s almost always some kind of decay (of buildings, society, what have you). Basically, the Southern Gothic Wikipedia page should just have a giant picture of True Detective on it by now.

So for those who watched True Detective and discovered that they’ve been latent Southern Gothic fans this whole time, I’m going to throw out a few book recommendations. Important note: I’m not claiming to be an expert in the genre, and I’m not writing a “Best Southern Gothic Novels Ever” list. I’ll admit that I haven’t even read any novels by William Faulkner, which is a pretty big oversight on my part. However, I know what I like, and these are 4 books that have really stood out to me.

Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor

Every time I picked up this book I sort of felt like I had a high fever and was suffering hallucinations, but in the best possible way. There’s just something so off-kilter about this novel, which features a blind preacher, an unpredictable teenage zookeeper, a man bent on sharing the gospel of anti-religion, and a teenage nymphomaniac, among other characters. Fans of True Detective will appreciate the themes of faith and illusion, and everyone should appreciate a particularly bizarre scene involving a gorilla costume.

Other Voices, Other Rooms, Truman Capote

I guess the obvious choice for a Truman Capote book on this list would be In Cold Blood, but truth be told, I enjoyed Other Voices, Other Rooms more. I think what appealed to me most was the setting of the derelict Mississippi mansion and the sensitivity with which Capote writes 13-year-old protagonist Joel Harrison Knox and the characters who surround him. While In Cold Blood is a “true crime” novel that takes a more journalistic tone, Other Voices, Other Rooms is partially autobiographical and gives the reader an interesting look at the author’s background. If the character development was what you liked best about True Detective, read this.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, John Berendt

I read this book when I was probably too young for it (12-year-old me learned a lot about drag queen culture in Savannah), but I still loved it. While it’s based on a true murder case, it reads like a novel and is so addicting that it shouldn’t take long to finish. Berendt paints such vivid pictures of the characters and the settings that I felt like I was a member of the Savannah, Georgia community by the end. If you liked the fleeting moments of humor that popped up amidst the darkness of True Detective (mostly stemming from Rust’s eccentricities) then you may enjoy the blending of light and dark in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Coiled in the Heart, Scott Elliott

Full disclosure: Scott Elliott was one of my English professors at Whitman College, so there may be some bias here, but I still think fans of True Detective will enjoy Coiled in the Heart. The novel follows Tobia Caldwell, a man who is haunted into adulthood by the fact that he caused a neighbor boy’s snakebite death when the two of them were young. To complicate matters further, Tobia is in love with that neighbor boy’s twin sister. The book is full of ghosts, fading Southern families, untamed nature, antebellum mansions—basically everything you could ask for in a Southern Gothic novel.

Bonus Book: Waterland, Graham Swift

I can’t officially call this book a “Southern Gothic” recommendation because it’s not set in the South—it’s set in the marshes of East Anglia. However, Waterland is one of my all-time favorite novels and features a lot of Southern Gothic elements, including a rural setting, a “cursed” family, and multiple doomed romances. Somehow, it manages not to be melodramatic. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, so I’ll just say check it out while you’re waiting for another show to fill the True Detective void.

10 Innovative Creative Writing Prompts—Fun for the Whole Family!

Are you a college student struggling to come up with ideas for an intro-level creative writing class? Are you an established writer wondering how to follow up your last great success? Are you a tiny child grasping a crayon for the first time and struggling with existential writer’s block? Whatever kind of person or infant you are, I’ve got the answer for you. Try any of these 10 writing prompts and before you know it, you will have blacked out and written the next Hunger Games, or at the very least a detailed technical manual for Hungry Hungry Hippos (the prompts work in mysterious ways and I can’t be held responsible for where they take you). Proceed at your own risk.

  1. Imagine that you are a knot in a rope. You can be whatever kind you want—sheep shank, bowline, clove hitch, it doesn’t matter to me. How do you feel about being a knot? Is it kind of a bummer ,or are you totally into it? Write a 10 page academic philosophy paper from this perspective.
  2. Oh crap, you forgot to file your taxes and they have to be in by tomorrow! Write step-by-step instructions on how to file your taxes at the last minute and then email them to me, please, just in case I run into this exact problem come April. (Just to clarify: you are not still a knot in this scenario.)
  3. Remember that movie where James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie were super hot assasins and could bend bullets and shit? Wanted, right? You know, the one where Morgan Freeman was their mentor or something? That movie was a blast, am I right?
  4. Look through your old journals and diaries. Find the most depressing passage possible, like maybe one where you’re talking about how you just know you’re going to be a super successful trial lawyer by the time you’re 26. Reassess your life based on this passage.
  5. You’re walking down the street, minding your own business, maybe thinking about going to the latest picture show, when a squirrel pops out of the bushes and starts talking to you in a Cockney accent. Write a one act play in which you and this squirrel discuss the highlights of Winston Churchill’s political career.
  6. You wake up one morning and are horrified to find that you’ve turned into a PhD student in an underfunded English lit program. Write a 100 page dissertation on game theory in the works of Jane Austen, submit to your department chair by Wednesday.
  7. Fill in the blanks: If it weren’t for ______, I would have gotten away with ________ and ______ the whole damn ______, leaving only ______ and _________ in my ___________, you ________.
  8. Imagine that you are stranded on a desert island with only a functioning life raft, rations for a month, sunscreen, a wetsuit, road flares, a crossbow, TV personality Bear Grylls, and a cell phone that has great reception. How on earth are you and Bear going to get out of this pickle?!
  9. Begin a story with this sentence: “Well bust my buttons, if it isn’t ol’ Clem Smithey, the fastest pistol draw this side of the Mason Dixon line!” You must set your story in the 18th century French court of Versailles.
  10. Write everything that comes to your mind for 10 minutes straight. Do not stop, even if you are kidnapped by ninjas or find yourself on one of those G-force rides at the local fair. I think you’ll find that this uninhibited, stream of consciousness writing allows you to truly bare your soul and discover more about yourself. Publish piece on your blog when you’ve finished, but only if it’s made you feel particularly vulnerable.

3 Movie Plots That Would Have Changed Due to a Government Shutdown

Jurassic Park

John Hammond, Ellie Satler, and Ian Malcolm rushed to the control room, searching for chief engineer Ray Arnold. “If we can find Ray, we can get him to reboot the whole system and get the electric fences working across the island,” said John, panting slightly as he ran. “Then everything will be just fine.” He wondered to himself if it would, though. What a horrible turn this adventure had taken! Who could have predicted that populating an island with cloned carnivorous dinosaurs would result in bloodshed, though?

The trio reached the control room, and Ian threw open the door. They all gasped when they saw that the room was empty. “Look,” Ellie said quietly. “There’s a sticky note on Ray’s computer.”

Ian picked up the note and read it aloud. “’Took the last helicopter home. I was told to leave because all national parks are being shut down and employees will not be paid. Love, Ray.’”

“Blast!” John said. “I forgot about the government shutdown. If only—“

“Wait,” Ellie interrupted. “Are you saying that Jurassic Park is a US national park?”

“Well, yes,” John said. “You see, first it was my property, then Disney bought it for awhile and it all got very complicated, then the US government bought this land from them.”

“So… does that mean no one’s coming to get us off this island?” Ian asked. As he spoke, the group heard the unmistakable sound of a pack of velociraptors throwing themselves fervently at the control room door. “I guess no one told the dinosaurs about the government shutdown,” Ian said. He’d meant it as a timely, Jon Stewart-style joke, but given the circumstances it fell rather flat.

Read the rest of this entry

5 Campus Novels That Students Should Read (In Their Ample Free Time)



Now that we’re well into September, most college students are getting back to classes (unless you took summer classes, in which case I’m sorry that I’m reminding you that you can’t ‘get back’ to class because you never left). And that means one thing for current students… no sleep ‘til Brooklyn! A full course load! Work study jobs! Endless papers and labs! Attempting to maintain a social life!


So what with your extremely busy student schedule, you probably want to read a novel or two just for fun. Right? I’m not the only one who reads to unwind, right?


Seriously, though, if you ever find yourself with any unfilled time, you should pick up one (or all) of these 5 great campus novels. And if you’ve already graduated and have some actual free time, you can still read these novels to invoke some college nostalgia.


On Beauty by Zadie Smith


This is actually the novel that inspired me to write this post, as I just read it and it’s still fresh in my mind. Set at the fictional college of Wellington (which is maaaybe supposed to be kind of like Harvard), the novel follows a middle-aged art history professor and his family as they contend with infidelity, academic rivalries, and _______. My favorite character was Zora, the professor’s daughter and a current student at Wellington. I think she’s likely to strike a chord with anyone who was or is a type A, overachieving and slightly insecure college student.


Another really cool thing about the novel is that it looks at the perspective of characters who are both inside and outside the university system, and the characters who are outside the system manage to draw attention to just how ridiculous policies in academia can be.


Groves of Academe by Mary McCarthy


I have to admit, I didn’t like this book when I first read it. I think that’s largely because I read it for a class on 1950s novels, and everything we’d already read in that class basically boiled down to ‘white man has an existential crisis’, and then I saw this book on the reading list and thought, “Mary! That’s traditionally a woman’s name! Finally, another perspective.” And then it was a novel about a white male professor having an existential crisis.


Looking back on it now, though, I realize it’s about a lot more than just that, and while it’s not the easiest read, it’s definitely worth it. I think it’s the kind of novel Jane Austen would have written if she went to an American college in the 1950s, in that there’s a lot of really clever, funny, and subtle commentary on the social microcosm that is a university campus. The section about the faculty trying to get a visiting poet to come to their campus in the middle of nowhere is particularly great and reminded me a lot of my own experience going to a small college in the middle of nowhere.

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides


At times this book felt like it hit eerily close to home to me, in part because of the obvious reasons that the main character majored in English (like me!) and shares me name (she spells it wrong by adding an extra ‘e’, but still). It begins during the main characters’ senior year at Brown in the 1980s and follows them during their first year out of college.


Probably less than half the novel takes place on the Brown campus, if I’m remembering correctly, but what I like about this book is that it looks at the way the relationships and ideas we form in college continue to influence us after we graduate.



The Magicians by Lev Grossman


This is a fairly recent one that doesn’t show up on too many ‘best campus novels’ lists, which is a shame because it’s freaking awesome. A lot of people might not consider it a campus novel in the first place, instead categorizing it as a fantasy novel in which the main characters go to a secret college for people who have magical powers (it’s Harry Potter with more sex, drinking, and swearing). I’ve always liked fantasy novels, so that aspect of the story appeals to me, but I also like that underneath the spells and evil creatures, it’s a pretty accurate look at college and post-grad life.


I know that probably sounds like a weird thing to say, but I think the novel is spot on when it comes to depicting the stress of an academic workload, competition in college, and the close friendships you form during this time of your life. It also examines a theme that a lot of campus novels don’t—the idea that students leave college with a skill set and then don’t know what to do with themselves afterwards. Sounds kind of depressing (and at times the book is) but it’s also a great read. I’d say if you only find time to read one book on this list, make it The Magicians. (This post brought to you by the Committee to Elect The Magicians Best Campus Novel Ever.)


State of the Pop Music Union

I ended up spending more time in a car than I was planning on yesterday (gotta love Austin traffic) so I decided to listen to NPR in order to catch up on culture and current events. I got all caught up and cultured for awhile, but around the time that Terry Gross said, “When we come back, we’ll be talking more about cats”, I decided that what I really needed to do was catch up with Top 40 radio.

And apparently I’ve completely missed the recent pop music boat, because there was a lot of futuristic space person music that I didn’t recognize. I mean, I recognized “Blurred Lines” because I’ve been outside my house in the past 4 months, but beyond that…not much. So I decided that the best thing I could do for my blog this week would be to look up the Billboard Top 40 for this week and break all the songs into easy to understand categories so that other out-of-touch, crotchety twentysomethings can reconnect with today’s youth.

Read the rest of this entry

5 Things Pop Culture Thinks Writers Do

So last month I started a job where I mostly get to blog all day (some of the blog posts I write are about DIY plumbing or trade shows in Vietnam, but still). I’m pretty excited about it because I’ve wanted to write professionally since roughly the age of 5, when I used to write sentence-long stories in crayon and force my family to listen to them. The job has more or less lived up to my expectations of what it’s like to be a writer. However, I’ve realized that my perception of being a writer has been somewhat skewed by the pop culture portrayal of writerly folks… and I’m pretty sure pop culture has led a lot of other people to have skewed ideas about what writers do as well. Here are 5 of my favorite pop culture representations of things that writers are supposed to get up to.

1. Stare forlornly at their typewriters.

Guilty parties: Moulin Rouge, The Great Gatsby, probably anything that Baz Luhrmann decides to direct in the future

In fairness, there have been studies showing that highly creative people have increased rates of bipolar and depression disorders, but come on, Hollywood– not every writer spends every day weeping salty artist tears onto their vintage typewriters while dabbing at their eyes with a croissant (maybe I’m remembering Moulin Rouge incorrectly, but I think that’s what Ewan MacGregor does). That wouldn’t be at all productive, especially in this modern age of not-entirely-water-resistant laptops.

2. Spend only a tiny fraction of their time actually writing.

Guilty parties: Sex and the City and…probably something else, but Sex and the City is the main offender

According to this trope, writers spend .5% of their time writing and 99.5% of the time going out on the town with their gal pals. I’m pretty sure Carrie Bradshaw must get paid about 10 grand per sex pun, because that’s the only way I can imagine she affords her lifestyle. Homegirl’s getting a lot of O’s in her paycheck (that was my attempt at a Carrie Bradshaw pun–can I have $10,000 for my efforts, please?).

3. Practice being a recluse.

Guilty parties: Girls, A Series of Unfortunate Events

Alright, maybe there’s some truth to this… I would probably be in danger of descending into recluse-dom if I was left to my own devices and didn’t have 4 (awesome) housemates and a boyfriend who watches the same TV shows I do. It’s all too easy to get sucked into a writing assignment, put your headphones in, and then start thinking you’re the phantom of the opera or something. This phantom of the opera fantasy becomes even more full-blown when you’re sitting on your bed in your darkened room with only the glow of your laptop illuminating your face (at least it does for me).

4. Retreat into a land of child-like whimsy.

Guilty parties: Midnight in Paris (to some extent), Finding Neverland

In the world of movie logic, if writers aren’t being tragic mopesacks, they’re being zany dreamers with imaginations that can’t be contained– or they’re being mopesacks who use their escapist fantasies to put a buffer between themselves and a reality they’d rather not deal with. But hey, it’s a trope that really gets you to empathize with the protagonist…or at least it works on me. I cried like a baby at the end of Finding Neverland. 

5. Descend slowly into madness.

Guilty parties: The Shining, Secret Window

Apparently only a deeply disturbed person with homicidal tendencies would ever choose a career that involves sitting quietly while forming words on a page all day. And according to pop culture, writers are just one key stroke away from letting the waves of crazy wash over them. Sometimes writers will just be depicted as mildly eccentric, or antisocial, or drunk, but movies like The Shining and Secret Window take the trope one step farther and depict writers as in need of some serious counseling…and in desperate need of being kept away from axes and baseball bats.

As an side note, I really enjoy all the movies and TV shows I referenced above (well, except maybe Sex and the City). I just also enjoy pointing out tropes.

If you’re interested in checking out more movies and TV shows about writers, here are a few good ones:

  • Spaced (TV)
  • Barton Fink (movie)
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (book and movie)
  • 30 Rock (TV)

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.