Friday, December 30, 2011

The "Outting" of Fanny Fern

William U. Moulton
Today I was honored to write a guest post for Rob Velella's fabulous blog, The American Literary Blog.  Of course, I wanted want to write about Fanny Fern, and Rob asked me to write about a very specific point in Fern's life, the date and circumstances when her nom de plume was no longer cloaked in anonymity and her true identity was revealed.  That date was Dec. 30, 1854.  Her nemesis?  The best guess of many scholars is that it was one of her former Boston editors, William U. Moulton, editor of Boston's True Flag.  His motive?  Check out the blog to see.  And, while you're at it, read Rob Velella's other thoughtful and informative posts about Fanny Fern and a host of other 19th-century American authors.

Click here to read more:  American Literary Blog 

*Special thanks to Rob Velella for finding the picture of Moulton.

Monday, December 26, 2011

A great blog if you love 19th-century American Literature . . .

Take a stroll through the past and get great insights about literature to boot.  I've discovered this excellent blog, by Rob Velella, a 19th-century American Literature aficionado and scholar.  Oh, the tidbits he knows!  Oh, the lessons he shares!  Oh, the writers he champions!  <cough, cough, including our own Fanny Fern>  Take a look at this fascinating and well-conceived blog when you have a chance.  He covers all the favorites and explores more than a few lesser-known authors.  And rumor has it that he's dishing about Fanny right about now, if you happen to check in. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Enjoy the Darkness

Happy Winter Solstice -- the official day when the axial tilt of the planet's polar hemisphere is farthest away from the star it orbits. Our star, of course, is the sun, and the Winter Solstice officially marks the shortest day and longest night of the year.  It's no wonder that light reigns supreme during this season.  Whether the glow comes from the soft flicker of Hanukkah or Kwanzaa candles, a roaring fire in the grate, or the the twinkle of Christmas trees, we all need the comfort of a little extra illumination about now.  But, don't chase away the magic of darkness completely.  Enjoy the peace and velvet quiet inherent in the longer nights.  Sleep deeply, rest, and breathe in the serenity of this deep, dark winter, even as you light it up. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Movie Time

George Clooney's latest film, "The Descendents," is probably one of the best films he's ever been in.  Although this promotional photo makes the movie seem like one of those slapstick holiday feel-goods, the film is really one of the most thought-provoking commercial films I've seen in a while.  True, there are one-liners and moments of slapstick, but "The Descendents" goes beyond that to explore serious issues about relationships, death, money and the environment.  Check out the trailer by clicking below:

Thursday, December 15, 2011

"Sleigh Bells and Ink Wells" Blog Hop

Are you ready to hop?  Take this tour of 12 blogs -- some you may already know and some new ones.  It's easy.  It's fun.  It's a good Friday diversion.


‘Tis the season, you know, for giving and receiving – mostly for giving, though, right?  But, what is the nature of true giving?  How does one define generosity?  Philanthropy?

As is often the case, my idol, Fanny Fern, has already written the perfect seasonal column about this very topic.  Who is Fanny Fern?  Fanny Fern (the pen name of Sara Payson Willis), was one of the most successful, influential, and popular writers of the nineteenth century. A novelist, journalist, and feminist, Fern (1811-1872) outsold Harriet Beecher Stowe, won the respect of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and served as literary mentor to Walt Whitman. Scrabbling in the depths of poverty before her meteoric rise to fame and fortune, she was widowed, escaped an abusive second marriage, penned one of the country's first prenuptial agreements, married a man eleven years her junior, and served as a nineteenth-century Oprah to her hundreds of thousands of fans. Her weekly editorials in the pages of the New York Ledger and other periodicals over a period of about twenty years chronicled the myriad controversies of her era and demonstrated her firm belief in the motto, "Speak the truth, and shame the devil."  

As part of the “Sleigh Bells and Ink Wells” Blog Hop, my blog will introduce you to the real-life writing of the heroine of my historical novel Shame the Devil.  Her typically-sarcastic June 5, 1852 article, published in Boston’s The Olive Branch, follows:

Mistaken Philanthropy

“Don’t moralize to a man who is on his back;—help him up, set him firmly on his feet, and then give him advice and means.”

There’s an old-fashioned, verdant, piece of wisdom, altogether unsuited for the enlightened age we live in; fished up, probably, from some musty old newspaper, edited by some eccentric man troubled with than inconvenient appendage called a heart!  Don’t pay any attention to it.  If a poor wretch—male or female—comes to you for charity, whether allied to you by your own mother, or mother Eve, put on the most stoical, “get thee behind me,” expression you can muster.  Listen to him with the air of a man who “thanks God he is not as other men are.”  If the story carry conviction with it, and truth and sorrow go hand in hand, button your coat up tighter over your pocket book, and give him a piece of—good advice!  If you know anything about him, try to rake up some imprudence or mistake he may have made in the course of his life, and bring that up as a reason why you can’t give him anything more substantial, and tell him that his present condition is probably a salutary discipline for those same peccadilloes!  Ask him more questions than there are in the Assembly’s Catechism, about his private history, and when you’ve pumped him high and dry, try to teach him—on an empty stomach—the “duty of submission.”  If a tear of the wounded sensibility begins to flood the eye, and a hopeless look of discouragement settles down upon the face, “wish him well,” and turn your back upon him as quick as possible.

Should you at any time be seized with an unexpected spasm of generosity, and make up your mind to bestow some worn-out old garment, that will hardly hold together till the recipient gets it home, you’ve bought him, body and soul; of course, you are entitled to gratitude of a life-time!  If he ever presumes to think differently from you after that, he is an “ungrateful wretch,” and “ought to suffer.”  As to the “golden rule,” that was made in old times; everything is changed now; it is not suited to our meridian.

People shouldn’t get poor; if they do, you don’t want to be bothered with it.  It is disagreeable; it hinders your digestion.  You would rather see Dives than Lazarus; and, it is my opinion, your taste will be gratified in that particular,—in the other world, if not in this!

--Fanny Fern

Ha!  You said it Fanny!  To learn more about Fanny Fern and my historical novel about her, click here: Shame the Devil.

To continue onto the next “Sleigh Bells and Ink Wells” blogger, the amazing Malcolm R. Campbell, click here: Malcolm’s Round Table.  From Malcolm’s site, you’ll be directed to hop to the next blog until you finish the whole short, wonderful tour of twelve blogs.  Enjoy! 

“Sleigh Bells and Ink Wells” blog hop participants are authors of small press/university press books that are eliciting discussion and notice.  Blog hoppers include:

Smoky Zeidel @ Smoky Talks

Patricia Damery @ Patricia Damery

Debra Brenegan @ Debra Brenegan, author

Malcolm R. Campbell @ Malcolm’s Round Table

T.K. Thorne @ T.K.’s Tales

Anne K. Albert @ Anne K. Albert

Elizabeth Clark-Stern @ Elizabeth Clark-Stern’s Blog

Collin Kelley @ Modern Confessional

Sharon Heath @ Sharon Heath

Melinda Clayton @ Author Melinda Clayton

Leah Shelleda @ After the Jug was Broken

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Coming to you: Friday, Dec. 16th

You're Invited to a
"Blog Hop"

Read about new books

Read about new authors

Get ideas for your holiday gift list

Visit some new, quality blogs


Monday, December 12, 2011

Simple Pleasures

They say the best things in life are free.  When you think about it, our lives are laced with hundreds of simple pleasures – little perks that satisfy and sooth, that make life seem A-Okay. 

Here’s a partial list of life’s little niceties:

A new toothbrush

Sleeping in on a rainy day

A baby’s smile

Making all the traffic lights

Fresh flowers – delivered

Finding money you didn’t know you had

Clothes that fit just right

Receiving a snail mail letter

The smell of bakery air

Hearing the right song at the right moment

Stars on a clear night

Saying the same thing simultaneously

Snow Days

The first bowl of cereal from the box

Fresh bed sheets

Drowsing in the sun with a light breeze

A good laugh shared

Spying your favorite bird at the bird feeder

When the workout is over

A sunset

What are some of your favorite simple pleasures?  Take a minute and add to the list!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Joys of a Hot Bath

In The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath writes about the pleasures of a hot bath from the perspective of the novel’s narrator, Esther Greenwood.

Plath writes:

“There must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them. Whenever I’m sad I’m going to die, or so nervous I can’t sleep, or in love with somebody I won’t be seeing for a week, I slump down just so far and then I say : “I’ll go take a hot bath.”

I meditate in the bath. The water needs to be very hot, so hot you can barely stand putting your foot in it. Then you lower yourself, inch by inch, till the water’s up to your neck.

I remember the ceiling over every bathtub I’ve stretched out in. I remember the texture of the ceilings and the cracks and the colors and the damp spots and the light fixtures. I remember the tubs, too:  the antique griffin-legged tubs, and the modern coffin-shaped tubs, and the fancy pink marble tubs overlooking indoor lily ponds, and I remember the shape and sizes of the water taps and the different sort of soap holders.

I never feel so much myself as when I’m in a hot bath.

I lay in that tub on the seventeenth floor of this hotel for-women-only, high up over the jazz and push of New York, for near onto an hour, and I felt myself growing pure again. I don’t believe in baptism or the waters of Jordan or anything like that, but I guess I feel about a hot bath the way those religious people feel about holy water.

I said to myself:  “Doreen is dissolving. Lenny Shepherd is dissolving. Frankie is dissolving. New York is dissolving, they are all dissolving away and none of them matter any more. I don’t know them, I have never known them and I am very pure. All that liquor and those sticky kisses I saw and the dirt that settled on my skin on the way back is turning into something pure.”

The longer I lay there in the clear hot water the purer I felt, and when I stepped out at last and wrapped myself in one of the big, soft white hotel bath towels I felt pure and sweet as a baby.”

- From: The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath

I couldn’t agree more.  In fact, during this hectic season when the holidays press and the end of the year work worries loom large, schedule some quality time with your bathtub, like Sylvia Plath’s Esther Greenwood does. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Gloria Steinem Still Rocks

In an article printed today in Bloomberg Business Week, famed feminist Gloria Steinem said, “Sometimes people say to me, at my age, well aren’t you interested in something other than women’s issues? And I say ‘show me one. Show me one that isn’t transformed by including both halves of the population.’”

Steinem still says it all, still cuts to the crux of the issue. It is not just about equality and equal opportunity, about equal pay and equal rights. It’s about allowing 51% of the population to fully participate. It’s about basking in the benefits those 51% of people bring to society – absorbing their input, relishing their creativity, living with the wonder of their ideas and beliefs and values, profiting from their expertise, learning from their perspectives. Full societal participation by all people won’t take away from those who already participate – it will add to the betterment of everyone in ways we have yet to imagine.

To read the entire Bloomberg Business Week article click on the link below:

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Scandalous Women

Wow – Elizabeth Kerri Mahon, self-professed “history geek” and noted blogger of the popular website about scandalous women in history has me as guest blogger!  Click here to read my latest about Fanny Fern and to check out other amazing books recommended by Mahon.  Find out more, too, about Mahon’s well-received book, “Scandalous Women – The Lives and Loves of History’s Most Notorious Women.” 
Click on the link below to go to this site named one of the 100 Most Awesome Blogs for History Junkies by Best 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Heifer International

I know, I know. Friday was Black Friday. Today is Cyber Monday. I know, I know, I know. I shake my head at merchants putting up Christmas trees during Halloween, cringe to hear Christmas carols playing on the radio while I’m making my Thanksgiving pies. “The Season” has arrived and, at least during these weeks, it doesn’t have much to do with anything but retailing. Merchandising. Materialism. Capitalism. You label it how you want to.
Now, of course, I don’t want people to fail in business and I’m all for a recovered economy, but it seems that the glitz and hoopla descends earlier and earlier, crashing through any meaningful attempts at peace and renewal the season might offer. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I like presents. And, yes, I like giving other people presents, too. But, I’m trying to regroup, simplify, make more conscious choices. In the process, I’ve discovered (through a gift given to my husband and me), the world of Heifer International.

Heifer International takes your tax-deductible donations and purchases chickens, goats, cows, vegetable seeds and other goods for impoverished families to help them start businesses that support themselves and their communities. Through your donations, you help to pull people out of poverty and give them the greatest gift – the gift they really want – self-reliance. The best part? You can make donations in someone else’s name and give two gifts at once.

For the people on your list who really don’t need anything – and you know who those people are – why not explore Heifer International, or one of the other many charitable opportunities out there?

Check out Heifer's website:  Heifer International

What are your favorite charitable organizations? Do you have suggestions for charitable holiday giving?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sudden Broken Heart Syndrome

Have you ever heard of Sudden Broken Heart Syndrome? It is a medically-recognized condition where people collapse with the stress of hearing sudden good or bad news. Apparently, women are much more likely to be affected by this syndrome than men are.  The results of such a collapse are not good – heart attack-like symptoms that can take weeks to recover from, and, in rare cases, death. So, those stories you hear of a woman getting bad news and collapsing are more true than not. Researchers are trying to figure out why this syndrome affects women more often than men and think it might have to do with heart size and the amount of stress hormones flooding the body.

It all reminds me of Kate Chopin’s famous story “The Story of an Hour,” which I’ve linked here for you. It takes about 3 minutes to read – so go ahead and enjoy it.

Then, if you’re still curious, check out the link about Sudden Broken Heart Syndrome and see what you think. Perhaps there is sense in the notion that people should sit down and breathe deeply before getting big news?

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Sketch of Fanny Fern
Today, I am honored to be interviewed on Smoky Talks Authors, a blog dedicated to showcasing emerging and small press authors. Blogger Smoky Zeidel is the author of two novels, On the Choptank Shores (formerly titled Redeeming Grace) and The Cabin, and two nonfiction books on writing. She is also the author of Observations of an Earth Mage, a collection of prose, poetry, and photographs celebrating the natural world. Smoky did an impressive job with my interview, as she does with all of her interviews. Her website provides a lovely space for “chats with small press authors about writing and books.”

To see what Smoky asked me about Fanny Fern and Shame the Devil, click this link: Smoky Talks Authors

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Winner!

I don't usually do two book reviews in a row, but today is a definite exception to that way of thinking. I just read (devoured, is probably a better word) Ann Weisgarber's The Personal History of Rachel DuPree and absolutely loved it! It seems I'm not the only one -- Weisgarber's book won the Langum Prize in American Historical Fiction and the Texas Institute of Letters' Steven Turner Award for Best Work of First Fiction, not to mention being a finalist for the Orange Prize for New Writers.
Weisgarber's book tells a story you think you already know -- about the hard-scrabble life of Homesteaders in the early 1900s -- but includes information you didn't even know you didn't know -- about the experiences of black Homesteaders. Consider the narratives put forth by books like The Little House on the Prairie. Rich in detail, readers gobbled up those stories that rarely allowed people to fall too hard. Sure, crops failed and children got sick, weather raged and fancy dresses were rare, but neighbors helped each other through hard times and, in the end, everything worked out (and there was usually a barn dance). There's little prairie romance in Weisgarber's tale -- not only do crops fail, but people starve.  Not only does weather rage, but people, white and black alike, die because of it . . . and, ultimately some of them give up on the land and go back to the cities where they could usually score basic necessities like food, clothing and shelter.

I won't spoil the story line of this amazing book, but will just suggest that the harsh realities of the early South Dakota Badlands were even harsher upon the few blacks who drew up their courage and tried to carve out their existences there. Loneliness and racism do much to make harsh conditions almost unbearable. This story, the story of Rachel DuPree, shows that world and illuminates a narrator and character of incredible strength.

Read this book -- soon!  You will not be disappointed.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Bell Jar

Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar remains one of my favorite novels – to read and to teach.  Published in 1963, just months before Plath’s suicide, the work is an autobiographically-based, witty account of female angst, depression and self-discovery.  Narrator Esther Greenwood is talented and smart, but feels pigeon-holed within the era’s gender roles and expectations.  Encouraged to succeed in college, yet given covert messages about the appropriateness of female ambition, Esther, understandably feels starved as she gazes upon the feast of her future potentiality.  Her dilemma?  If she chooses to have a career, it seems it will be at the expense of some future husband and/or children.  If she chooses to plan to be a wife and/or mother, she ultimately forfeits important career opportunities. 
This book always generates bountiful classroom discussion.  My students tell me that, in their eyes, things haven’t really changed!  Women are still “expected” to plan their careers around future children, families and husbands.  Men are still “expected” to shoulder the majority of the financial responsibilities.  Worse?  Women have a limited time frame to have children and that knowledge is like a time bomb that ticks ticks ticks.  Never mind that the young women haven’t even met someone they’d consider making a life with.  Never mind that they haven’t decided whether or not to have children – the awful social pressure is still there . . . and, like Esther, still threatens to smother their other career-based callings to affect humanity.

Perhaps this is one reason that women still make up only 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs and still account for only 16 percent of our elected political representatives.  Because of ancient gender expectations that women must be more responsible for the doings of all things connected to the home, even if they have a career, it is still harder for women than it is for men to pursue certain career paths – those that offer a lot of responsibility, not to mention a lot more money.

What are your thoughts?  Do women still feel this unspoken dilemma?  Do men? 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Women for Women

I recently heard about a fantastic organization, Women for Women, a group dedicated to helping female survivors of war and civil strife heal and rebuild their lives and communities. 

 Women for Women’s cause is justified and necessary. War takes an enormous emotional, physical and psychological toll not only on the military personnel who have to endure it, but also on the citizens who must cope with as much, if not more, war-induced trauma as soldiers do.

Women for Women’s amazing website is:   Women for Women International

Women for Women’s stated vision is:  “Women for Women International envisions a world where no one is abused, poor, illiterate or marginalized; where members of communities have full and equal participation in the processes that ensure their health, well-being and economic independence; and where everyone has the freedom to define the scope of their life, their future and strive to achieve their full potential.”

Take a peek.  See what you can do to help out a sister in need.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Spirit World

Do you believe in ghosts? Spirits? Things that go bump in the night? How about things that walk around your house in the broad daylight?

Yesterday (ahem, officially “The Day of the Dead,” according to my calendar), while I was sitting at my desk, deeply concentrating on my work, I heard footsteps. Oh, it’s just my husband walking to the kitchen, I thought, and then remembered that I was alone in the house. I looked up – in fact, had a perfect view of the kitchen and dining room – and saw nothing. The footsteps “walked” through the dining room and into the kitchen, then stopped.

I was a little freaked out. Okay, more than a little.

“Things” like this have happened to me occasionally my whole life, so, I must say that, yes, I do believe in ghosts/spirits/vibrations from another plane of existence. 

When I told my husband about it, he confessed that he, too, had heard footsteps in our house, once, when I wasn’t home. He investigated and found nothing.

Our house is over 130 years old. Word has it that one man both was born and died here.

“It’s a friendly spirit,” my husband said. “Don’t you think?”

I could only hope. And then it dawned on me that, yes, it must be a friendly spirit – a helpful one even. Why? Because as I was sitting at my desk, deep in thought, the topic I was thinking about was my next blog. This blog. What could I write about? Nothing seemed quite right. The footsteps interrupted my musings, shook me from a bunch of dead end topics (no pun intended) and pointed me, well, straight to this one. 

And, here I am, typing out a rather lengthy entry, all courtesy of the friendly footsteps and their inspiration.

What about you? Do you believe in “ghosts?”  Have you ever been visited by a spirit presence? What was your experience like?

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Best and Worst Halloween Candy

It’s that time of year again – time to feed sugar to the little monsters and princesses and super heroes and hobos who come a’ringin’ your door bell. 

True, some people don’t give out Halloween candy. Some people are like the dentist who used to live in my neighborhood who handed out toothbrushes. And, some people are like the dentist’s next door neighbor who handed out pumpkin-shaped erasers. And some people don’t turn on their porch lights and sit in their basements watching T.V. so as not to be bothered by the little darlings. But, you are not those people, are you?

If you give out toothbrushes or erasers, I am awed by your treat-giving integrity – something I do not have on Halloween. And as much fun as it was trick or treating as a kid, it is much more fun, in my opinion, handing out the treats. It’s warmer, for one, and you get to pick your treats –meaning you will like the leftovers.

This year I’m giving out mini 3 Musketeer, Snickers and Milky Way Midnight bars. And I’m sure hoping there are some leftovers, not to mention being secretly relieved I will never again have to eat those icky black and orange wrapped peanut butter things or nasty bit-o-honeys as long as I live. Remember those burnt orange globs that looked like spiky raspberries (but tasted like burnt orange)? Or the candy cigarettes that tasted like damp chalk? And don’t get me started on black licorice (yuck) or those gummy Dots. Worst candy of all? Those wafer things that all taste the same (pressed powder with a fake-sugar aftertaste).  Extra double gag to the black licorice wafer things which taste worse than any of the other wafer things and make regular black licorice seem okay.

What are you giving out to trick-or-treaters this year?  Do you have an old favorite standby candy?  What was your least favorite Halloween treat?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Liquid Inspiration, Anyone?

The Writer's Room

Doesn’t this place look cozy? It’s called The Writer’s Room and, in its 1950s hey-day, its doors only opened to such literary drinkers as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner. But, now, patrons have restored this smallish (only 1000 square feet!) bar to its former masculine cave-like glory and have invited the general public in for liquid inspiration – or to just feel the vibe of the place that nursed these literary greats when they weren’t cavorting with Parisians. If you’re in Hollywood, track this nook down and tell the rest of us what it’s like. Rumor has it they serve up drinks in authentic 1950s glassware.

The Writer's Room, 6685 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, CA

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Comfort of Comfort Foods

Whenever we are gone for more than a day, we notice that our cat eats like crazy.  She’s always been that way.  Once, for less than a year, we had another cat and he traumatized her so much she practically lived under that bed – except for her mad dashes to the food bowl.  She gained two pounds in six months and our vet was none too pleased.  How strange, we said.  How odd.   

But, then again, how typical.  Whenever I have a particularly stressful, crazy, busy week, I also make mad dashes to food.  Particularly comfort food.  Now, I’m not advocating this coping mechanism, just fessing up to it.  I’ve always wanted to be one of those people who waste away living on tea and toast when they’re stressed, instead of the kind of person I am – the dash to the food kind.   

My comfort foods?  The short list includes meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, fried chicken, stews and soups, garlic bread, pasta, and every and all manner of baked desserts – pie, cake, cookies, preferably in various forms of chocolate.  Weirdly, I’ve never been crazy about ice cream, some folks’ Achilles heel. I have one friend who chomps chips.  Another who stirs up scrambled eggs.  Another craves macaroni and cheese. 

What about you?  What are your favorite comfort foods?   Or are you the tea and toast type?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Best of the best -- Beloved.

Toni Morrison’s Beloved is another must-read. Winner of the 1988 Pulitzer Prize, the book tells a powerful tale of murder, mother love and redemption amid the history and legacy of slavery.  Told in a lush, poetic voice, the novel’s style is as mesmerizing as its plot. Set in 1873-4, but flashing back up to two decades earlier, the novel shows what life was like for African Americans during the heyday of the Fugitive Slave Act (the law that allowed slave owners to pursue runaway slaves into non-slave states and that penalized Northerners who helped or hid fugitive slaves) and during the years following the Civil War when ex-slaves tried to make a place in the newly-defined union. The book, one of my all-time favorites, has been called both disturbing and exhilarating. It is one of those books you hate to see end.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Model Husband

The Model Husband 

His pocket-book is never empty when his wife calls for money. He sits up in bed, at night, feeding Thomas Jefferson Smith with a pap spoon, while his wife takes a comfortable nap and dreams of the new shawl she means to buy at Warren’s the next day. As “one good turn deserves another,” he is allowed to hold Tommy again before breakfast, while Mrs. Smith curls her hair. He never makes any complaints about the soft molasses gingerbread that is rubbed into his hair, coat, and vest, during these happy, conjugal seasons. He always laces on his wife’s boots, lest the exertion should make her too red in the face before going out to promenade Washington St. He never calls any woman “pretty,” before Mrs. Smith. He never makes absurd objections to her receiving bouquets, or the last novel, from Captain this, or Lieutenant that. He don’t set his teeth and stride down to the store like a victim every time his wife presents him with another little Smith. He gives the female Smiths French gaiter boots, parasols, and silk dresses without stint, and the boys, new jackets, pop guns, velocipedes and crackers, without any questions asked. He never breaks the seal of his wife’s billet doux, or peeps over her shoulder while she is answering the same. He never holds the drippings of the umbrella over her new bonnet while his last new hat is innocent of a rain-drop. He never complains when he is late home to dinner, though the little Smiths have left him nothing but bones and crusts.
He never takes the newspaper and reads it, before Mrs. Smith has a chance to run over the advertisements, deaths, and marriages, etc. He always gets into bed first, cold nights, to take off the chill for his wife. He never leaves his trousers, drawers, shoes, etc., on the floor, when he goes to bed, for his wife to break her neck over, in the dark, if the baby wakes and needs a dose of Paregoric. If the children in the next room scream in the night, he don’t expect his wife to take an air-bath to find out what is the matter. He has been known to wear Mrs. Smith’s night-cap in bed, to make the baby think he is its mother.
When he carries the children up to be christened, he holds them right end up, and don’t tumble their frocks. When the minister asks him the name—he says “Lucy—Sir,” distinctly, that he need not mistake it for Lucifer. He goes home and trots the child, till the sermon is over, while his wife remains in church to receive the congratulations of the parish gossips.
If Mrs. Smith has company to dinner and there are not strawberries enough, and his wife looks at him with a sweet smile, and offers to help him, (at the same time kicking him gently with her slipper under the table) he always replies, “No, I thank you, dear, they don’t agree with me.”
Lastly, he approves of “Bloomers” and “pettiloons,” for he says women will do as they like—he should as soon think of driving the nails into his own coffin, as trying to stop them—“cosy?”—it’s unpossible!
What do you think of this?  It's Fanny Fern's very first published article, circa 1851, via the Olive Branch.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Wonders and Marvels

A 19th-century bride
Don't you just love Fanny Fern's insights about marriage and women's careers?  In one of her many New York Ledger columns, she wrote, "Marriage is the hardest way to get a living."  Today, I got to explore that quote and Fern's ideas about 19th-century marriage as the guest blogger on Holly Tucker's "Wonders and Marvels" blog. 

Tucker is a well-known historical novelist and professor at Vanderbilt University.  She hails from none other than The University of Wisconsin-Madison and her book Blood Work is a wonder and a marvel itself. 

Check out Holly Tucker, her marvelous book, AND her fascinating blog.  You won't be disappointed!   Wonders and Marvels Blog

Monday, October 10, 2011


Okay, we can all look at this picture and define sexism.  But, what about the pictures that are harder to place, like those found over and over again in contemporary society?  Images of gender stereotypes still permeate our lives -- but do they matter?  Aren't we so over advertising brainwashing by now?  Aren't we sophisticated enough to withstand social messages about gender, to take the little jokes and punches of media imagery with a grain of salt? 
Watch this little video.  Some of my favorite people, like Jackson Katz and Jean Kilbourne, make appearances in it.  Then decide if media images are harmless little nothings . . . or not. 

Oh, and please copy and paste.  Spread the word about this film, and this topic!

Click here:  Missrepresentation

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Next Chapter Bookshop Reading/Signing

Many thanks to all of those who came to my Shame the Devil reading and book signing event last Monday at Next Chapter Bookshop in Mequon, Wisconsin.  What a lovely turnout we had!
 It was great fun to see some old (well, not really "old") friends and neighbors, again, and to introduce them to my idol, Fanny Fern. The usual group of wonderfully supportive relatives attended, too, and I'm grateful for their efforts to travel far and wide to support me.
   It was especially nice to see a cohort of new-to-me people there, too -- readers who just happened by or who have made Shame the Devil a book club selection.  I'm excited to have set up some future book club skypes and visits!
Special thanks to Lanora, Next Chapter's spunky owner, for organizing and promoting the event.  Please do all you can to support your friendly neighborhood independent bookstores.  Visit them.  Buy your books there.  Go listen to authors ramble on and on about their passions.*

*This author, indeed, appreciates your time and kind attention!  :)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Supermarket No-Nos

A friend recently confessed to me that he is bewildered by the shelves and shelves of toothpaste offerings.  Each time he goes to the store to pick out toothpaste, he forgets the exact branding of his favorite one.  He knows the manufacturer – but they make dozens of varieties.  He knows he wants mint, but doesn’t know which version.  He likes peppermint, but doesn’t know if peppermint translates to cool mint, fresh mint or ultra mint in toothpaste-ese.  The other day, he said, he opened the box of what he thought he wanted and tasted – to make sure!  He had to, he said.  He had no choice.  If the labels made more sense, he would be able to figure them out.
I’ve had my own supermarket no-no.  Sometimes, I need more twist ties than I seem to be able to collect from old bread packaging or from buying produce.  I hunt and save and collect twist ties at will, but every once in a while, I run completely out.  I know this shouldn’t matter, that there are greater issues in the universe to worry about, but when I don’t have a single twist tie in the drawer that should house them, I am unsettled until I can go to the produce department and tie a few extra ones around the plastic bags of potatoes or oranges I buy.  Home, I put the extras away feeling guilty and relieved at the same time.
What are your supermarket confessions?  Do you sample the grapes?  Open packages?  Pocket a free sample to take home to your pet?  Go ahead and let us know.  We understand . . . sort of.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

My Other Desert Island Book

I’ve already told you that if I had to be stuck on a desert island, and couldn’t bring along a how-to-get-off-a-desert-island book, I’d bring Jane Eyre for the good company it has always provided me.  But, if given a bigger backpack and the luxury of a second choice, I’d also bring the best Jane Eyre companion book ever – Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea.  If you haven’t read it, you must.  If you love Jane Eyre, you’ll never be the same after also reading Wide Sargasso Sea, which is essentially Bertha’s story.  Told from the perspective of the woman destined to become the quintessential madwoman in the attic, and from the perspective of an unnamed male narrator (presumably Mr. Rochester), Rhys’s gorgeous, lush novella deepens the questions about society, gender and relationships that Charlotte Brontë’s book begins.  And for those of you who are already fans, let’s vote for the next possible spin-off (perhaps to be written by one of us?).  After gorging on Jane and Antoinette (Bertha) in the above-mentioned desert island books, which Jane Eyre or Wide Sargasso Sea character would you also love to hear from?  Grace Poole?  Christophine?  Céline Varens?  Amélie?  I know . . . choices, choice, choices!

Monday, September 26, 2011

National Punctuation Day

I’m a bit behind, apparently, in wishing everyone Happy National Punctuation Day (which was Saturday).  What’s that?  Good question.  It’s only been on the books for six years, hasn’t become a Hallmark holiday yet, but might be worth exploring.  Punctuation Day creator Jeff Rubin, from California, said he started the day to instruct about the good manners of proper punctuation and to allow for venting of punctuation pet peeves.  His website is full of funny examples of wrongly punctuated statements, like a sign for a day care center called “Diane’s Play Pen for Little Genius’s.”  <Shudder> 

I remember one of my teachers asking our class, “Doesn’t anyone know anything about commas?  It looks like you grab a handful of them and throw them at your finished essays and where they land is where they land.”  Yes, I’m still traumatized!  J  (Which makes me wonder if perhaps I overuse exclamation marks, parenthesis, and/or emoticons and slash marks.)  Perhaps I should utilize a semi-colon or two instead of allowing fragments to “pepper” my work.  ;)  Ha!  (Sorry.)

What are your irritants?  Using quotations marks to connote irony?  Misplaced apostrophes?  Colons?  Dashes?  Hyphens used as dashes?  This is your moment to vent, my friends.  And, don’t worry if you use incorrect punctuation – I’m sure someone will be happy to correct you.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Emily Dickinson & Fanny Fern: Soul Sisters?

Some scholars maintain that Emily Dickinson was familiar with Fanny Fern’s writing.  Frankly, being alive and breathing in the 1850s and 60s meant you were probably familiar with Fanny Fern’s writing.  So, while it is no surprise that Dickinson had likely read Fern’s work and likely discussed that work with others, less is known, of course, about Dickinson’s possible poetic reaction to Fern’s often provocative newspaper columns and novels.  Some scholars have posited that Dickinson might have penned her poem “I’m Wife” after reading Fern’s work, especially given Fern’s staunch views about (traditional 1850s-style) marriage being “the hardest way to get a living.”  On the other hand, Dickinson was quite the forward thinker herself and perhaps didn’t need a bit of outside influence to inspire her artistry.  Take a look yourself.  Do you see any Fanny Fern in Emily Dickinson’s poem “I’m Wife”? 

I'm "wife" -- I've finished that --
That other state --
I'm Czar -- I'm "Woman" now --
It's safer so --

How odd the Girl's life looks
Behind this soft Eclipse --
I think that Earth feels so
To folks in Heaven -- now --

This being comfort -- then
That other kind -- was pain --
But why compare?
I'm "Wife"! Stop there!

Compare Dickinson’s poem to Fern’s famous lines in the Olive Branch on Aug. 28, 1852:

Fanny Fern
"Never mind back aches, and side aches, and head aches, and dropsical complaints, and smoky chimneys, and old coats, and young babies! Smile! It flatters your husband. He wants to be considered the source of your happiness, whether he was baptized Nero or Moses! Your mind never being supposed to be occupied with any other subject than himself, of course a tear is a tacit reproach. Besides, you miserable little whimperer, what have you to cry for? A-i-n-t y-o-u m-a-r-r-i-e-d? Isn’t that the summon bonum—the height of feminine ambition? You can’t get beyond that! It’s the jumping-off place! You’ve arriv!—got to the end of your journey! Stage puts up there! You’ve nothing to do but retire on your laurels, and spend the rest of your life endeavoring to be thankful that you are Mrs. John Smith! Smile! you simpleton!”