Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Ann Arbor District Library, Neighborhood Theatre Group, and Ann Arbor Book Society - Oh My!

I meant to update this blog yesterday, but life has been pretty full lately - of other writing! (That's a good thing.) 

Not only have I been working diligently on writing and editing articles for the upcoming spring/summer issue of the Crazy Wisdom Community Journal (CWJ) (read current and past issues online today), but my first article for the Ann Arbor District Library's online literary and arts publication Pulp went up on February 12th. Check it out at Fantastic Beasts: Neighborhood Theatre Group's "Cryptic". Hopefully, I will be able to get some more articles for them written soon.

Speaking of Neighborhood Theatre Group (NTG)'s latest production, an original two-act play by local Ypsilanti playwright, and all-around Renaissance man, A. M. Dean, I helped them move their set over to and into Bona Sera yesterday and got to watch the set be built! Then I was too pooped to do more than nap and watch episodes of Ancient Aliens and Face Off on Hulu.

Probably not many remember that one of my first Crysta Goes Visiting columns for the CWJ included an interview with Kristin Danko, artistic director and co-founder of NTG. My ties to NTG do not end there. My husband has starred in two of their Halloween shows, the Black Cat Cabaret, and also twice participated in the yearly monologue competitions (though we have attended all three), all local Ypsilanti productions. 

I've never been involved with theater, so getting to help out, however much, was a real treat (and a lot of manual labor). Everyone associated with NTG is creative and fun, and they put their all into these productions. So please come out this weekend and show your support for local artists and local theater! 

Speaking of support... Were you aware that Ann Arbor is a book destination, home to ten brick-and-mortar, new and used bookstores? Yup! Ten. And there to support and foster this growth is the Ann Arbor Book Society (A2BS), founded by Rachel Pastiva, former manager of the Crazy Wisdom Bookstore, the person who taught me most of what I know about the book industry.  

I pretty much owe my current position working with books and writing to Rachel. If she hadn't hired me at Crazy Wisdom, I never would have met the editors of the CWJ nor learned nearly so much about the publishing industry, book marketing, and the wide reading audience. My writing career would not be where it is today.

So it is with great pride and pleasure that I begin volunteering for the A2BS. Sign up for the newsletter and keep an eye out for my name! Ok, technically, I've already been in it, but I'll be in it even more in the future with longer pieces. And support your local bookstores! 

It's local things like local libraries, theater, and stores that keep every community unique. Think local, buy local, support local. Keep things interesting.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Celebrating Jane Austen in Ann Arbor

Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors. (So are Roger Zelanzy and Harlan Ellison, so I'd say she's an outlier, not the standard.) She has informed how I write and plot romance in my own books. In addition to creating unforgettable, three-dimensional characters, she had quite a bit to say about social conventions of her time, wit that often goes over the heads of modern readers (because we are far less aware of how society worked back then, not because we're dense). 

She passed away at the young age of 41 in 1817. That's 200 years ago, yet she's more popular now than ever. Pulp recently ran a great article that clued me into some terrific Austen offerings happening around Ann Arbor (Ann Arbor's Jane Austen Jones is Sated With Many Bicentennial Events). 

I've sadly missed out on many, but last Friday, I was able to check out Hatcher Graduate Library's exhibit "The Life and Times of Lizzy Bennet" (through March 30th, 2018). The room was small, two walls were filled with 200 year old books, clean and clear, many with brightly colored illustrations. I was joined by fellow author and Austen fan, former roommate, and oft' cohort, Kimmy. (Check out her blog here: Haunt Hunters International.) 

Together we ogled the books; discussed all the incarnations of Austen's characters and the fashion of the day, along with its modern interpretations and representations in film and television; and generally geeked out about all things Austen and Georgian. (All things that cause my husband's eyes to glaze over. He's more for the Reconstruction and Gilded Age periods.)

We also learned, from looking at the books themselves and wondering what that funny f-like swish was, that the English language used to have two letter S's, the long S and the short S. From Wikipedia: "The long, medial, or descending s (ſ) is an archaic form of the lower case letter s. It replaced a single s, or the first in a double s, at the beginning or in the middle of a word (e.g. "ſinfulneſs" for "sinfulness" and "ſucceſsful" for "successful")." 

Why did English need two S's? It didn't, and the long S fell out of favor with publishers in the late 1700s (though clearly whoever printed the books we saw that included it either didn't get the memo or were stubborn about change). Why we picked the s over ſ, I don't know because ſ was used for the beginning and middle of words while s was used for the end of and only sometimes the middle of words (so "words" would still look like that). ſ does bear a stronger resemblance to f than S, so I'd pick s over ſ, too, just for simplicity's sake. 

So what else is in store for Austen fans in Washtenaw county? The Jane Austen Book Club Discussion kicks off tomorrow with a discussion of Longbourn, a modern companion book to Pride and Prejudice by Jo Baker at Nicola's Books. I haven't read Longbourn (Pride and Prejudice is not my favorite Austen novel), but I admit to being interested so I may have to pick that up from the library. Austen was only able to complete six novels (seven if you include Lady Susan), which is simply not enough for fans like me. 

Live nightclub is also playing host to Jane Austen LIVE on February 8th which will feature games such as the delightfully named Who Wants to Marry a Single Man in Possession of a Good Fortune? and is open to cosplay.

While the festivities may soon end, I will keep reading and watching Austen's stories. There is so much out there! And what better inspiration can I have for writing romance novels?

Monday, January 22, 2018

Monet: Framing Life at the Detroit Institute of Art

Though a number of the Impressionist painters lived into the 20th century, the style and movement are a product of the 19th century. It has an intent that 21st century Instagram aficionados can relate to as Impressionists wished to capture the feeling of a moment, the emotion, the play of light at that instant, and so on. They painted outdoors (en plein air) and portrayed common, real life (as opposed to rich or "important" people posing). To the 19th century world, this was shocking (much as I observe baby boomers have reacted to Instagram). Their paintings were considered unfinished, some overtly so and on purpose, thus unfit for showings in respectable art galleries. So they did what anyone of my generation would do - they put on their own exhibitions.  Famously so!

Right now, you can see an exhibition of Claude Monet's paintings, and a few by his friend and fellow Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir, from Monet's time living outside of Paris with his family in Argenteuil as part of Monet: Framing Life at the Detroit Institute of Art (DIA). Most of the paintings have been gathered from around the world, but the DIA does own one Monet painting, the recently retitled Rounded Flower Bed (Corbeille de fleurs). In putting together this exhibition, the curator discovered that the painting that the DIA has owned for nearly 100 years and had been calling Gladioli underwent a name-change at some point as it changed owners. Rounded Flower Bed has been de-framed and set in a glass box so that you may walk all around it and observe the back of the canvas, a unique experience. 

Renoir (who is, admittedly, possibly my favorite Impressionist because he, like me, was drawn to portraying people) is included because he visited his friend Monet at Argenteuil and painted him there. There are two "paired" paintings, one painted by Monet of a garden scene, and the other painted by Renoir of Monet painting said garden. I loved how it humanized both now-famous men. Which of us with a camera hasn't taken a picture of someone taking a picture? Another portrait of Monet by Renoir, Claude Monet (The Reader), is also included. 

You are also treated to one of Monet's most famous paintings, Woman with a Parasol, of his first wife Camille (who died young) and son Jean on a windy day. There are no Water Lilies nor Haystacks, which were painted at his later home in Giverny, but possibly more enjoyable (at least than the haystacks) are depictions of the beautiful gardens of Argenteuil and its river scenes. 

If you're really bummed about the Haystacks, you can find some at the not-so-distant Art Institute of Chicago. Chicago also has one Water Lily, and, even closer to Detroit, the Toledo Museum of Art boasts two Water Lilies. But in the meantime, enjoy the colors and impressions of Argenteuil and Camille and Jean's windy day. You have until Sunday, March 4th, 2018.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Felice Anno Nuovo (Happy New Year)

This year's new year greeting is in Italian because that is the language I have been studying for the past year or more. 

It's hard not to feel like January 1st is a clean slate. So far this year, I have had a miserable cold that kept me inert for three days and my husband Greg and I cleaned out boxes and bags full of junk from one of the spare rooms, most of which were donated to places in need, and some of which went out to the shed once Greg was able to de-ice the lock. 

In the latter part of 2017, I made some goals to be completed in 2018 that have turned out to be harder to undertake than anticipated. There were some stumbling blocks that proved themselves to be real thorns in my side! Switching jobs was a bonus (from bookshop to library), but unexpectedly mentally taxing as I learned the requirements for the new position, and it was not a clean break from one to the other. I also spent roughly three months sick. (The changing of Michigan's seasons are brutal under climate change.)

So what is in store for this year?

For starters, I have declared that I will edit and produce a book of steampunk fairytales to be released June 1st. The contributions from various authors are in and awaiting my acceptance and editing. Much of this work was put on hold due to illness, but I am determined to meet the deadline.

Second, I had wanted to produce a book of my own poetry and have it out by the end of 2017. This was not done, mostly due to illness. I have decided to put this on hold for now and concentrate on the steampunk book.

I have also promised to help other writers out, which I have made more of a priority for now because it was easier to do while sick. I will get back to everyone, soon!

Motor City Steam Con is coming up this July, and Greg and I will again be in attendance doing panels and selling (and signing!) books. This is why I set June 1st as the launch of the steampunk fairytale anthology - I intend to have copies available at MCSC. If I really throw myself into it, perhaps the poetry book, as well.

As always, look for my columns in the Crazy Wisdom Community Journal, the newest of which just came out, and check back here for the latest goings-ons.

Happy new year!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Gifts for Book Lovers

I've been alternating my updates every Monday between Life from Ann Arbor and Adventures in Food & Word, but hey, it's Yule, so here's a bonus post! 


Do you know someone who loves books, but their house is so overcrowded by books, probably the last thing they need to be flooded with this holiday season are books? (If you know me or my husband, the answer is yes.) I'm here to solve your gift-giving dilemma! 



Storiarts is a great site for book lovers that offers shirts, fingerless gloves, scarves, pillow covers (and insert), tote bags, baby blankets, and baby hats. They tend to use more words than pictures, but there are pictures, too.


Out of Print is constantly expanding their products and now offers clothing for all ages, jewelry, pins, tote bags, mugs, coaster sets, tea towels, and more! Heavy on book covers, light on text. Also much library nerdiness.


Litographs is notable for its unique shirts and scarves featuring designs made up of all the words of a book. So this one is word-heavy and artistic! Also they have literary temporary tattoos. How cool is that?


Not a books-only site, TeeTurtle has many adorable, nerdy, and geeky shirts, pins, and more. I am specifically highlighting their Bookworm collection because I own a few of these T-shirts, and they rarely fail to garner complements when I wear them.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Songs to Add to Your Holiday Playlist That Have Nothing to Do With the Holidays

Once upon a holiday season, I worked in a gift shop with a young woman who was uncomfortably 8 months pregnant. The world outside was bitterly cold, snowy, and icy, and she had to waddle 15 minutes through all this to the nearest bus stop to get to work, where she then had to stand for 8 hours on her feet on a concrete floor in an old building with only a single heating vent and walls largely made of single-pane windows. She was not in the "holiday spirit," and listening to the nonstop overly chipper Christmas tunes we've all heard a million times on our store playlists drove her insane.

So I made a special playlist, hoping to help ease her stressful December. The bright look of utter delight and relief on her face when "A Hazy Shade of Winter" by Simon & Garfunkel came on the stereo is something that will stick with me. I still listen to this playlist, my "Crystmas" playlist (yay puns) every season. Being more than long enough to get us through an 8+ hour day, there are holiday songs on my list, but I strove to find nontraditional songs, or versions that were less well-known, and Hanukkah is featured alongside Christmas and secular tunes.
Here are 30 of my favorite non-holiday seasonal songs:

1) A Hazy Shade of Winter
Originally released by Simon & Garfunkel in 1966, this song was covered in 1987 by the Bangles as "Hazy Shade of Winter." I enjoy both versions.

2) Winter Weather
This an older song by Peggy Lee with the Benny Goodman Orchestra. I like it for its swinging sound, exploitation of the cold to snuggle with your special person, and lack of Christmas.

3) What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?
Another old song from the 40's, covered by countless artists, that I appreciate for its lack of a religious holiday. New Year's is arguably a holiday (I do get the day off work), but a secular one, and one that, like Thanksgiving, is losing its importance in the retail world while more and more businesses stay open.

4) A Winter Romance
The title song from Dean Martin's 1959 album is about meeting his love in winter. The last few seconds include the tune for "Jingle Bells," a secular song originally intended as a Thanksgiving song that, like the Halloween "Soul Cake/A' Soulin" song, fell victim to Christmas absorption. 

5) Winter Winds
Mumford & Sons brings us into more modern times. This is a catchy, uplifting-sounding song with interesting lyrics.

6) Winter
Joshua Radin offers up a sweet-sad, pretty song devoid of holidays.

7) Song for a Winter's Night
Winter is not the happiest of seasons being so deathly cold in so many parts of the world and all. It's a time for solitude and reflection as Gordon Lightfoot has penned in these haunting lyrics.

8) Song at Midnight
Another New Year's pining romance song from Peggy Lee.

9) Our House
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young sing about lighting a fire and snuggling cozily. That's how I wish to spend my winters!

10) Winter Time
Steve Miller Band would like to remind you that the leaves are brown in winter. I love the instrumentation in this one.

11) Early Winter
Gwen Stefani uses double entendre to perfection in this song from January of 2008. (January is kind of a late winter, though, Gwen...)

12) Cold Cold Heart
Cold. Just like winter. (Get it?)

13) Don't Gotta Work It Out
Looking for songs for this playlist is how I discovered Fitz and the Tantrums. Another song where it's cold outside.

14) Peace
This beautiful song by Norah Jones sounds Christmasy, but it's not, though it is included on a Christmas album.

15) In the Cold, Cold Night
Though Tracey Thorn covered this song on her 2012 Christmas album, again, not Christmas. In fact, that entire album has a lot of secular winter songs. I recommend it in general.

16) December
Basia Bulat sings another catchy breakup song. I guess people are looking to start the new year fresh - and single.

17) A Long December
How could I not include this mid-90's classic by the Counting Crows?

18) December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)
Here's a much happier December remembrance!

19) I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm
This classic was written in 1937 and covered by pretty much every crooner ever. For a more modern take, try the Stuhr Remix of Kay Starr.

20) Wintertime Love
A hopeful winter romance song from the Doors. (Yes, those Doors.)

21) White Winter Hymnal
This song by Fleet Foxes in July of 2008 is pretty and makes interesting use of rounds.

22) A Winter's Tale
Let the sultry voice of Freddie Mercury ease your winter blues.

23) When You Wish Upon a Star
Idina Menzel includes this one on her CD Holiday Wishes. A non-Christmas song from a not particularly Christmas album, which is fitting coming from a Jewish artist. Also fitting: it's a Disney song.

24) I Am Blessed
Nina Simone is one of the greatest singers of all time. If you must have a more modern sound to this song, try the Wax Tailor Remix.

25) Hold Each Other
This is an adorable song by A Great Big World that I had on my wedding playlist.

26) Everything is Sound
A song about love and singing by Jason Mraz. 

27) Sweater Weather
A winter song from SoCal by the Neighborhood, where it rains and people wear sweaters.

28) Winter
Tori Amos' song "Winter" is layered and filled with fairytale imagery. The piano gives it a very wintery sound.

29) Snowbound
Sarah Vaughn really warms up winter with this one.

30) Dreidel
This song by Don McLean has nothing to do with Hanukkah outside the metaphor of a dreidel, or spinning top. When you think about it, a dreidel is a pretty good metaphor for life, but this song is still not a holiday song.

Songs That Are Secular But Overplayed:

1) Jingle Bells
2) Let it Snow!
3) Sleigh Ride (original lyrics)
4) Frosty the Snowman
5) Winter Wonderland
6) Baby, It's Cold Outside

Honorable Mentions:

1) "Fairytale of New York" should be on every holiday playlist. If you're looking for a "work-safe" version, try KT Tunstall. (It's still Christmas Eve in the drunk tank, though.)

2) "Don't Shoot Me Santa" by the Killers is a fantastic song for people sick of conventional Christmas songs.

Monday, November 27, 2017

6 Books That Will Take You Away This Winter Season

I love traveling and reading, and when I can't travel, I read about places from around the world and throughout history (bonus points for a book that has both). These six books are some of my absolute favorites that have stuck with me and that I know I will continue to think about long after the last page was turned.

If you have a favorite book that swept you away to another time and place, please post it in the comments!

Amy Tan is probably best known for her book The Joy Luck Club, a now-classic story of mothers and daughters that was made into a movie in 1993. I have yet to read the book or watch the movie, but I was impressed by Tan's 2013 novel The Valley of Amazement, another tale that involves the complicated relationships between mothers and daughters largely set in Shanghai of the early 20th century. The characters are complicated, have depth, and the backdrop of Shanghai is beautiful, well-developed, and has its own complexity. I felt completely absorbed by this unique and colorful landscape, and I was sad when I had to let it go upon completing the novel. The audiobook is excellent, as well, and I very much enjoyed the different ways the narrator was able to capture each character's manner of speaking. For fans of Amy Tan and historical family sagas.

I read Ruta Sepetys' young adult novel Between Shades of Gray as part of Washtenaw Reads 2012. Though rated for ages 12 and up, I was riveted and horrified by the ordeals that the characters face after being forced from their homes and ruthlessly transported across Russia to winter in Siberia where many froze and starved to death. I could not put this book down! It's a chapter of history that I was previously completely unaware, and I suspect so are many others, as well. For fans of The Book Thief, Number the Stars, Diary of a Young Girl, and little known historical events.

National Book Award finalist Pachinko by Min Jin Lee is another chapter in history of which I was not well aware. I read books as a teen about the Japanese occupation of Korea from the perspective of Korean children living in Korea at the time, and I studied in overview, as only a college student getting a degree in Asian Studies could, the history of the Japanese occupation and lingering hostilities between the three countries. But Pachinko sheds light on a population that was never touched on in any of my classes or readings: the Korean people who lived in Japan during and after the occupation. This novel transports you fully to that world of early to mid-20th century Japan. The characters are distinct and have their own unique struggles as each generation grows and the world changes. For fans of family sagas, historical fiction, and anyone with an interest in east Asia.

The plot of Yangsze Choo's historical and supernatural novel The Ghost Bride is unusual to modern readers. Taking place in late 19th century Malaysia, the main character is offered the chance to become a "ghost bride" to a wealthy family's dead son. Choo beautifully brings to life not only colonial Malaysia, but a Chinese afterlife filled with wonder and perils. For fans of Amy Tan, Lisa See, and the film Spirited Away.

French mystery and thriller author Michel Bussi transports his readers to Giverny, a village in northern France and home to impressionist painter Claude Monet' home and garden with its famous Japanese bridge and water lilies. As far as I can tell, Black Water Lilies is only Bussi's second novel to be translated into English, the first being After the Crash. The narration style is unique and took me some time to get used to as it floats seamlessly between first and third person. (I listened to the audiobook with the fabulous narration of Joan Walker, who has an English accent, but pronounces the French very well.) This story and its characters struck me as very French, a mystery and a love story, and I felt I learned a lot about one of my favorite eras of painting along the way. Though I haven't read Agatha Christie, I've seen a number of BBC specials made from her books and short stories, and I'd say Black Water Lilies is one for fans of Agatha Christie, mystery, and romance.

If you aren't familiar with international bestselling author Kate Morton, that is a damn shame that needs to be rectified. I love every book I have read by her so far, but The Forgotten Garden is my favorite. (The Secret Keeper is a close second.) This saga spans over a 100 years and crosses two continents, taking place in both Australia and England. It contains a family mystery that two generations of Australian women are seeking the answer to while also following the story of the ward of a wealthy English family of the early 1900s as she and her beloved cousin grow up together. How do these three stories fit together? That's the beauty of Kate Morton's writing. You don't see the whole puzzle until she wants you to, and it's always a delightful journey. For fans of family sagas, mysteries, and historical fiction.