Archives for posts with tag: Essays

parpart

We asked the 97 contributors to the Nancy Drew Anthology (Silver Birch Press, October 2016) to send photos featuring the book in their home environments for a series we’re calling “Nancy Drew Around the World.” Author Lee Parpart provided this photo taken at Riverdale Park in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, with the CN Tower and the downtown Toronto skyline in the background. Lee contributed the prose piece “Nancy drew,” featured below, to the 212-page anthology.

Nancy drew

Whenever things got slow around River Heights, or when there were personnel changes over at the Stratemeyer Syndicate that upset her or made her feel less invested in her own development as a character, Nancy coped by drawing.

Her most fertile period as an artist came in the gap between books 7 and 11. Mildred A. Wirt, aka the first Carolyn Keene, was on strike to protest the lowering of freelance rates at the syndicate during the Depression, and had been replaced by a male journalist, who wrote books 8, 9, and 10.

To distract herself from the loss of her preferred author, Nancy drew. In the couple of years that passed between The Clue in the Diary and The Clue of the Broken Locket, she completed at least a dozen self-portraits, crowding most of them onto a single large sheet of paper left behind by one of the Stratemeyer illustrators. For each drawing or set of drawings, she used a different method to capture some aspect of her appearance or some element of her character that she suspected might have been missed.

The first two sessions took the form of a mystic, Dada-style experiment in automatic writing, with Nancy wearing a blindfold and giving herself exactly one minute per portrait. Instead of drawing her own features, she sketched a rough outline of her body, then attempted, without being able to look at the lines, to fill the image with written notes.

The first one made her look like a polar bear and overflowed with adjectives handed down by various members of the team responsible for her creation: Peppy, Plucky, Curious, Kind.

The other attempt, which came out looking more like a real female silhouette, contained words and phrases not heard around the office, but whose meanings resonated with her as possible clues to her overpowering, lifelong need to identify and solve mysteries. Unflinching. Dogged. Determined. And a more shadowy phrase that was just coming into parlance in America at the time: anti-authoritarian.

In a bad experiment never to be repeated, Nancy drew one portrait of herself while driving her blue roadster through the center of River Heights. This was deeply out of character and almost had dire consequences when Nancy hopped a curb near the soda shop and came close to hitting a young couple in mid-kiss.

An equally frivolous, though much less risky, formal approach involved using vegetable-based watercolors to create a simple portrait of herself driving the roadster, then using treats to encourage Togo to lick the image until it took on a loose, indistinct quality that made her think of beaches and Toulouse-Lautrec.

In homage to both M.C. Escher and her main creator, Nancy once depicted herself as half a silhouette in the process of being drawn by the curved hand of Mildred Wirt. Nancy knew Mildred was a writer, not an artist, but she wanted to be sure to give the almost forgotten original author due credit for her own existence.

In one final drawing carried out shortly before Mildred was reinstated, Nancy used a magnifying glass to closely inspect the skin of her forearm, and devoted herself to reproducing exactly what she saw there. Good detecting was about learning how to look, and she wanted to test her skills at observation with an abstract visual puzzle. She focused intently on this task for several days, finally producing an intricately detailed, almost trompe-l’oeil, rendering of a one-inch patch of skin that included a network of criss-crossing lines not visible to the naked eye, punctuated by a small brown birthmark that she had known was there, but never bothered to explore. At the end of this intense period of struggle and reflection, she felt she knew herself better than at any other point in her story.

Nancy drew until she became tired of drawing. Mildred Wirt returned to the publishing house later that week, almost as though she was summoned back by the creative energies of her own creation. With Stratemeyer’s personnel problems solved, Nancy sat down next to her author and began to think about writing.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: “Nancy drew” isn’t exactly a short story. It’s closer to a piece of conceptual fiction, supported by elements of nonfiction. As some devoted fans of the Nancy Drew series will probably recognize, the references to the Stratemeyer Syndicate and Mildred Wirt’s job action in the early 1930s are based in fact.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lee Parpart worked as an arts journalist and a media studies researcher before returning to her earliest passion, creative writing, in 2015. Her essays on Canadian, US, and Irish cinema have appeared in books and journals, and she has served as a film and visual arts columnist for two major dailies. Her poetry has appeared in numerous Silver Birch Press series, and she  was named an Emerging Writer for East York in Open Book: Ontario’s 2016 What’s Your Story? competition, which highlighted the work of writers in four neighbourhoods across Toronto. Her short story, “Piano-Player’s Reach,” appeared in an anthology published by the Ontario Book Publishers Organization. To find out more about Lee’s work, please visit her website.

Find the Nancy Drew Anthology at Amazon.com.

Author photo by Ron Wadden. 

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The Diction of Dance (Excerpt)

by Wendy Lesser

…Like poetry, choreography speaks to us about the familiar, but in a way that makes us see it anew. The materials, in both cases, are part of everyday life (speech, movement), but these materials need to be transformed in a way that makes them more than merely documentary. So a certain level of stylization (whereby the real gets stripped of its excess, turned into something clearer and sharper and more shaped) is required in both art forms for them to be art forms. At the same time, the ever-present danger is that stylization may interfere with feeling—may get between the artist’s expression of something and the audience’s reception of it.

To combat this danger, poets and choreographers remain eternally alert to the sensibilities of their own times. Just as Wordsworth revolutionized the poetic diction of his time by bringing it closer to ordinary speech, choreographers must continually replenish their known storehouse of stage gesture with movements that they observe in life: on the street, at home, in offices and playgrounds and parks. Yet to abandon the languages and gestures of the past entirely would be not only silly but impossible. Poetry and choreography both derive from all the work that has gone before them, even as each maker tries something new and special with the form…

MORE: Read “The Diction of Dance” by Wendy Lesser in its entirety at poetryfoundation.org.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Wendy Lesser is an American critic, novelist, and editor based in Berkeley, California. Lesser did her undergraduate work at Harvard College and her graduate work at University of California, Berkeley, with time in between at King’s College, Cambridge. She is the founding editor of the arts journal The Threepenny Review, and author of ten books, including one novel, The Pagoda in the Garden (Other Press, 2005), and her latest nonfiction book, Why I Read (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014). She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, the Dedalus Foundation, and the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, among other places.

IMAGE: “Fred and Ginger” by Mel Thompson. Prints available at fineartamerica.com.

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I recently received a copy of The Novelty Essays by Adam Matcho and have enjoyed the author’s humorous essays about working in a novelty store. Anyone who’s ever suffered and struggled while working a “maintenance” job will find something to smile about in this debut collection.

BOOK DESCRIPTION: The Novelty Essays by Adam Matcho is a memoir-in-essays about the author’s working life. Twice flunked out of college, Matcho — newly married and a new father — finds himself in school again, rushing to classes between shifts at the mall, where he works in a novelty store that sells lava lamps, pot-leaf necklaces, along with some x-rated items. In there, the weird have turned capitalist. Customers need goods. Adam needs work. He needs a degree to get a job where he’s not piercing noses and selling “pornaments.” The hours are endless, the pay not enough. The bills are due. The car is broken. In these true stories, Matcho’s dreams of becoming a writer mix with the reality of paying the rent. (For more information, contact wpapress@gmail.com).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Adam Matcho is the author of the chapbook Six Bucks an Hour: Confessions of a Gemini Writer, winner of the Nerve Cowboy chapbook prize, and The Novelty Essays (WPA Press, 2-13). His poems and essays have appeared in numerous publication and his nonfiction regularly appears in The New Yinzer. He works as an obituary writer and lives outside of Pittsburgh withis wife and two children.

Find The Novelty Essays at Amazon.com.

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Z  (Excerpt), An Essay

by Tom Robbins

…It’s the most distant and elusive of our twenty-six linguistic atoms; a mysterious, dark figure in an otherwise fairly innocuous lineup, and the sleekest little swimmer ever to take laps in a bowl of alphabet soup.

 Scarcely a day of my life has gone by when I’ve not stirred the alphabetical ant nest, yet every time I type of pen the letter Z, I still feel a secret tingle, a tiny thrill. This is partially due to Z’s relative rarity: my dictionary devotes 99 pages to A words, 138 pages to P, but only 5 pages to words beginning with Z.

 Then there’s Z’s exoticness, for, though it’s a component of the English language, it gives the impression of having zipped out of Africa or the ancient Near East of Nebuchadnezzzar…Take a letter? You bet. I’ll take Z. My favorite country, at least on paper, is Zanzibar; my favorite body of water, the Zuider ZeeZZ Top is my favorite band…Had Zsa Zsa Gabor married Frank Zappa, she would have had the coolest name in the world…

Photo: Tom Magliery, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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The above essay taken from Tom Robbins‘ essay, “Write About One of Your Favorite Things” (Esquire, 1996) and collected in Wild Ducks Flying Backward: The Short Writings of Tom Robbins (Bantam, 2005)

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We’re celebrating the first anniversary of the Silver Birch Press Silver Anthology (Silver Birch Press, November 2012) with a free gift — and feel free to spread the word.

From Thursday, 11/7 through Monday, 11/11/13,  get a FREE Kindle version of the Silver Birch Press Silver Anthology –  a 240-page collection of poetry, short stories, essays, novel excerpts, and stage play scenes from over 60 established and up-and-coming writers in the United States and United Kingdom. The writing ranges in style and subject matter — but all the work touches on “silver” in a variety of creative, original, and compelling ways.

From 11/7-11/11/13, get your free Kindle version of the Silver Birch Press Silver Anthology at Amazon.com.

CONTRIBUTORS INCLUDE: Barbara Alfaro / Jena Ardell / Melissa Berry / Jane Buel Bradley / John Brantingham / Rachel Carey / Chiwan Choi / Billy Cook / Barbara Dahl / Walter de la Mare / Colleen Delegan / Gillian Eaton / Barbara Eknoian / Merrill Farnsworth / Syed Afzal Haider / Andrew Hilbert / Donna Hilbert / Gaia Holmes / Zack Hunter / Diane Eagle Kataoka / Ruth Moon Kempher / Linda King / Thom Kudla / Moriah LaChapell / LeeAnne McIlroy Langton / Vickie Lester / Ellaraine Lockie / Gerald Locklin / Amy Lowell / Sandylee Maccoby / Tamara Madison / Clint Margrave / Daniel McGinn / Marcia Meara / Ann Menebroker / Jack Micheline / Ben Myers / Jax NTP
 / Hank Perritt / Meghan Pinson / Jackie Pledger-Skwerski / Kathy Dahms Rogers / Conrad Romo / Luke Salazar / Joan Jobe Smith / Clifton Snider / Dale Sprowl / Kendall Steinle / Adelle Stripe / Paul Kareem Tayyar / Kati Thomson / Jeri Thompson / Winston Tong / Margaret Towner / Mary Umans / Dirk Velvet / Melanie Villines / Fred Voss / Mark Weber / Tim Wells / Steve Williams / Pamela Miller Wood

If you don’t have a Kindle, no worries — download free reading apps at this link.

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LOS ANGELES NOTEBOOK (Excerpt)

Essay by Joan Didion

It is three o’clock on a Sunday afternoon and 105 degrees and the air so thick with smog that the dusty palm trees loom up with a sudden and rather attractive mystery. I have been playing in the sprinklers with the baby and I get in the car and go to Ralphs Market on the corner of Sunset and Fuller wearing an old bikini bathing suit. This is not a very good thing to wear to the market but neither is it, at Ralphs on the corner of Sunset and Fuller, an unusual costume. Nonetheless a large woman in a cotton muumuu jams her cart into mine at the butcher counter. “What a thing to wear to the market,” she says in a loud but strangled voice. Everyone looks the other way and I study a plastic package of rib lamb chops and she repeats it. She follows me all over the store, to the Junior Foods, to the Dairy Products, to the Mexican Delicacies, jamming my cart whenever she can. Her husband plucks at her sleeve. As I leave the checkout counter, she raises her voice one last time: “What a thing to wear to Ralphs,” she says.

“Los Angeles Notebook” by Joan Didion is found in her collection of essays Slouching Toward Bethlehem, available at Amazon.com.

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THE SUMMER GAME (Excerpt)
by Roger Angell

Baseball’s time is seamless and invisible, a bubble within which players move at exactly the same pace and rhythms as all their predecessors. This is the way the game was played in our youth and in our father’s youth, and even back in the country days there must have been the same feeling that time could be stopped.

Since baseball time is measured only in outs, all you I and have to do is succeed utterly – keep hitting, keep the rally alive, and you have defeated time. You remain forever young.
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Originally published in 1972, The Summer Game, a book of essays by Roger Angell is available at Amazon.com. The site describes the book this way: “The Summer Game, Roger Angell’s first book on the sport, changed baseball writing forever. Thoughtful, funny, appreciative of the elegance of the game and the passions invested by players and fans, it goes beyond the usual sports reporter’s beat to examine baseball’s complex place in our American psyche.”

PHOTO: Joe DiMaggio (New York Yankees) at bat, with Hank Erickson (Cincinnati Reds) catching (1936)

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THE WHITE ALBUM (Excerpt)
by Joan Didion

We tell ourselves stories in order to live. The princess is caged in the consulate. The man with the candy will lead the children into the sea…We interpret what we see, select the most workable of multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience. Or at least we do for a while.…
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The White Album (1979), a book of essays by Joan Didion, is available at Amazon.com.

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“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”  JOAN DIDION

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“When I’m working on a book, I constantly retype my own sentences. Every day, I go back to page one and just retype what I have. It gets me into a rhythm.” JOAN DIDION

Graphic: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live” is the opening line of Joan Didion‘s essay “The White Album,” featured in her collection of the same name.

Find The White Album (1979), a book of 20 essays by Joan Didion  at Amazon.com.