Tag: books

Strategic Pseudonyms: An Overview of Women Authors

I had written this post in March, because March was not only reading month, but it was also women’s history month. Unfortunately that didn’t work out. Rather than scrapping this, I realized that confining conversations about women’s history to one month is ludicrous. I’m not interested in relegating women’s voices to one month, especially in context of this post, which talks about one aspect of the road female authors have had to trek: adopting male, and more recently, ambiguous pen names in order to legitimize or ensure success for their works.

bronte_sistersIt won’t come as a surprise to many that female authors have historically had to navigate sexism and prejudice in order to publish; upon submitting poetry for publication, Charlotte Bronte was advised that women had no place in literature. In their time all three Bronte sisters (Charlotte, Emily, and Anne) published under male pen names (Currer, Acton, and Ellis; I’ll refrain from commenting on name choice there).

Other well known authors of yore you might know under male pen names: author of Middlemarch, Mary Ann Evans, who published as George Eliot; George Sand, known for writing Valentine and Indiana, was in fact Amantine Lucile Aurore Dudevant. And while Louisa May Alcott did publish Little Women under her own name, some of her early publications were written under the pen name A.M. Barnard.

Post 19th Century a variation on this trend emerged with female authors adopting ambiguous pen names using initials or androgynous names. A great example of this is Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, whose name is Nelle Harper Lee. Another would be Pamela Lyndon Travers, who published Mary Poppins as P.L. Travers.

jd_robbThis is a trend we still see today. J.K. Rowling has published both under a male pen name (Robert Galbriath, crime novel The Cuckoo’s Calling), and was asked to publish the Harry Potter series as J.K. rather than Joanne after being advised that using initials would help attract male readership. Prolific romance author Nora Roberts has been publishing her crime series, the In Death books (there are currently 50, which she’s been publishing since 1995), under the pseudonym J.D. Robb. Even 50 Shades of Grey author, Erika Leonard, did this (E.L. James)

These are only a few examples of women who have struggled to have their voices heard as a result of their sex. Looking back historically, this might not come as a shock. From this vantage a history of sexism is clearer–hindsight and all of that. What is more troubling to me is the current trend in the publishing industry of removing gender from particular genres under the idea that attaching a female name will detract from readership, particularly those targeted at male audiences, such as crime novels.

Introducing bookshelfies!

Most of us here at the Writing Center are obsessed with books, and we want to share our love for books with you. Enter bookshelfies, an internet trend that’s just what it sounds like—taking selfies in front of your bookshelf. Check it out here: http://bookshelfies.tumblr.com/.

We’ll be featuring new bookshelfies regularly, so be sure to check in!

Introducing our first book nerd, consultant Caitlin Munch…

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Hey y’all! My name is Caitlin Munch. I’m a junior studying Professional Writing with an emphasis in editing and publishing. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with reading. I think it all began with my love for Harry Potter. My dad used to travel a lot to different countries and whenever he was traveling, if the newest Harry Potter book came out he would buy it for me and surprise me with it when he got home. As I grew older,  my aunt introduced me to the world of romance and teen fantasy. She introduced me to series like The Princess Diaries, The Nancy Drew Files, Anne of Green Gables, and The Sunfire Romance series. I would read in every spare moment that I had. I was the kid that was so antisocial that one summer my parents threatened to ground me from reading. Now as a writer with aspirations to write the next best-selling book series, I still find myself reading two to three books a week. I just finished The City of Bones series and I’m now reading The Infernal Devices series. I always read Annie Between the States over Christmas, and currently on my list of books to read I have the Beautiful Creatures series, The Arcana Chronicles, and The Stephanie Plum series. I love reading because it takes me away from the life I’m currently living and allows me to be anyone I want for a brief moment in time. Yes, I’m that person that totally falls in love with men in books. And no, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Curl Up With Something Yummy for Valentine’s Day

A good book!

Rumor has it that Valentine’s Day was just upon us. Rumor, I say, because Valentine’s Day has never been my thing: I’m a romance year round kind of person. And while lots of people like to get their romance on with a partner, I’ll admit I’m picky enough that I want  the freedom to chose my own adventure.

In honor of Valentine’s, or if you’re like me, simply because you’re an addict, I thought I’d share some romantic book recommendations based on what I’ve been reading lately.  If the thought of romance or Valentine’s Day fills you with horror, come find me and I can recommend something suitably edgy and decidedly non-romantic.

chefs_tableFor some lighter, yet adult romantic reading, I’d recommend Chef’s Table, by Lynn Charles. In it we meet Executive Chef Evan Stanford and Patrick Sullivan, the head cook at Johnny’s Diner. Over the course of their careers and lives they’ve each lost sight of something – for Evan, the connection to his roots and Patrick, passion and drive that take him beyond the contentment of diner cooking. Evan meets Patrick when he’s feeling burnt out and disconnected from what he loves, and in him sees an enjoyment in cooking he hasn’t felt in a while. Shared interests become friendship which then turn into romance. Enjoyably, this book won’t put you through the ringer; instead in it we get two characters falling in love and challenging each other to achieve and enrich their dreams. This book is a light read, romantic, sexy, and a great mental getaway.

selection_cassIf you’re in the mood for something fun and romantic and dig Young and New Adult, I’d recommend the Selection Series, by Kierra Cass.  Here we have your usual dystopian world, but this one is more of a dystopia meets The Bachelor setup.  Thirty five girls are selected from various castes to come live in the Palace and “compete” for Prince Maxom’s heart. Sounds swell right? Any girl would die for this…except maybe American Singer, for whom being selected means leaving behind the boy she loves and a family that depends on her income for survival.  This series was a fast read, and despite the rebel attacks, very fun.

mcrae_malteseMaybe you’re feeling like you want love with a little grit, or romance with a little edge? I recently read the first two books of what’s going to be a six book series – Starling and Doves, from the Love in Los Angeles series by co-writers Racheline Maltese and Erin McRae. In Starling we meet Alex Cook, a PA on who works on a primetime TV show. When the showrunner of The Fourth Estate plucks him from behind the camera, Alex quickly, and resentfully, becomes a star. He quickly falls into a relationship with Paul, one of the show’s main writers, and just as quickly baggage they’re both carrying pulls things apart. This book is written in a more spare style and definitely breaks some romance novel conventions. These books get a bonus for inclusion of polyamorous characters, which I never see. I will warn that they both, especially Doves, have some darker themes.

outlander_gabaldonIf you are really dying to know what my favorite romance of all time is? Head over to read Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon. Picture this: the year is 1945 and Claire and Frank Randall, recently reunited after years of service in the war, are on their second honeymoon in Scotland. You’ll have to bear with me for the part where I tell you that Claire accidentally falls back through time to 1743, because while time travel might not be your bag, but I think that’s just because you haven’t met Jamie Fraser. This book (and series) is rich with historical detail and intrigue, and the start of my favorite romantic pairing of all time.  Espionage? Check. War? Check? Hilarious, frustrating, infuriating, terrifying, mesmerizing and loveable characters? Check.

load_the_dice_gemelLast but not least, for those of you how want to get your kink on for the holiday, I’m going to recommend the episodic book, Load The Dice, by Moriah Gemel. If you’re curious about BDSM, or want to read something that really focuses on important community structures – such as Safe, Sane and Consensual BDSM – as well as a romantic kinky story, maybe skip going out to see 50 Shades of Grey for a more responsible portrayal of this lifestyle. It’s sexy as heck, it’s a character study, it examines the development of trust and love, and it’s very well written.

Regardless of where your holiday takes you – to bed with a good book in my case – I hope you enjoy your romance responsibly!

Curiouser and Curiouser – Why Aren’t You Celebrating Mad Hatter Day?

Adapted from the 10/6 (10 shillings sixpence) price ticket that adorns the hat of Lewis Carroll’s beloved character, the Mad Hatter, this nonsensical holiday is filled with frivolous fun.

Have midterms made you mad? Don’t worry; the best people usually are. We’re all mad here, but we’re not losing our muchness. Instead we’re celebrating our right to silliness, to live in a world where everything is nonsense, to be entirely bonkers. So take a few tips from us and plan your own tea party in honor of Mad Hatter Day.

The Ultimate Checklist for the Mad Hatter Tea Party

The Hat
An indispensible accessory, you can express your madness through the wonders of haberdashery with the small side-fascinator or the traditional gentleman’s top hat. Add style to your personality.

Traditional hat Fashion Mode Styling Outfit DIY
Click images for DIY tutorials.

Unbirthday Invitations
Birthday parties are so passé; impress your friends with invites to a less conventional celebration.


Click image for DIY tutorial.

Sturdy Table
You’re going to get your Futterwacken on, so you’ll need a table that can handle your jaunty jig.

Caffeine is key; keep alert to party all night long. These teas make a zany addition to any table.

Wedgewood Queen of Heartskashmiri-chai-done1
Queen of Hearts Tea (left), Pink Tea (right):  Click images for more info.

What’s an unbirthday party without food? Maximize your madness; don’t celebrate on an empty stomach. Try strawberries with clotted cream, or perhaps a scone or tea cake is in order.

Tea Pot – Dormouse optional, though highly suggested!
Might we suggest these Lansing Craigslist gems?


Chipped China
Whipping teacups across the room can be rough on porcelain. Once your party gets under way, shenanigans and high-jinx will ensue.

Perhaps post-party you’ll be able to answer our riddle: Why is a raven like a writing desk?

Brown Bear, Brown Bear takes on Marxism

As Banned Books week comes to a close, we decided to highlight one of the most surprising books on the listBrown Bear, Brown Bear by Eric Carle and Bill Martin.

Yes, the delightful and beautifully drawn children’s book from our childhood made the list following one of the most spectacular Google fails in history. Bill Martin happens to share his name with a little known Marxist Theorist. Instead of fully researching if Bill Martin, the children’s author, is one and the same with Bill Martin, the Marxist Theorist, a superintendent decided that immediate action must be taken to protect his school’s youth, and banned the book outright.

In the hope of trying to make the superintendent and school district feel better for having banned Brown Bear, Brown Bear, we decided to put on our Marxist goggles and read through the book to find all of the hidden Marxist propaganda. Are you ready Comrades?

To start with, the entire book displays not only a diverse group of multicolored animals, but also a culturally diverse classroom full of children. This portrays the theory that Marxism is about including everyone and making them equal. Each animal doesn’t see another of its own kind, but rather acknowledges and accepts an entirely different species. The students themselves are all equally learning regardless of culture or race. They have become one and the same, participating within their teacher’s class.

The teacher within the book has a secret secondary purpose as well. If you read through the book, you may wonder why there are no parents present. Not for the adorable purple cat, or cute yellow duck, and none for the children at the end. This in fact is trying to slowly acclimate its readers to the idea of losing the family unit. As families are simply a byproduct of the capitalist and bourgeois way of life, Marxists support the dissolution of the concept of families. Instead, children become the entire community’s responsibility, and schools become their home. The teacher is tasked with molding these young minds with only the approved curriculum of the Marxist state. This ensures that outdated thoughts on religion and family are eradicated.

So as you can see, Brown Bear, Brown Bear is full of propaganda hiding under the mask of an innocent children’s book. Of course, it could also be that the author was trying to teach children colors and animals through repetition and artistic pictures. Whatever floats your literary boat, at least we can say that we have been reading banned books since childhood, which is a great conversation starter. So check out a list of banned books, read a few, and get ready for next year!

Currently reading “Merce on the Page,” essay by Sarah Stromeyer

This week I’ve been reading essays written in the second person point of view, preparing to attempt to write one of my own. In doing so, I have fallen in love with this particular essay by Sarah Stromeyer from You: An Anthology of Essays Devoted to the Second Person.

41RBdlEWGKL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_“Merce on the Page” is a formal-textual tango of language and dance. The text is arranged in columns of different widths and text blocks spaced so they curve across the page. The essay plays with the limits of form in as much as the text moves about the page in nontraditional ways, but also because it plays with smaller formal elements like capitalization, punctuation, and even the space after periods. Stromeyer uses the layout of text on the page as well as the text itself to portray Merce Cunningham in a way that pushes the reader to feel the rhythm and grace of his choreography. Each element that is played with affects the reader’s understanding of the text—not only does the form visually add to the text, but the text is about the form. The second person point of view challenges the reader, telling them what is happening formally and how they are reacting to it as a reader. The text lyrically describes what the form is, what it does, how the reader feels about it and is approaching it (magical second person trick), and gives it the dance context necessary to understand the form. Here’s an example from the essay:

“and you find as you read without capitals, you tend to lean less hard on those first words, put less of your weight on each beginning. which makes you carry more of your weight onto the next word, and the next, and the next thing you know you’ve not plopped yourself down and heaved yourself into a sentence in the usual way, nor come to a crashing halt at the end. no. you have made of each sentence the kind of gesture launched by that lighter, more seamless, beginning. you have ‘held’ your weight even as you let it fly, and this, you will feel in your muscles, is like what a trained body feels when dancing” (Kupperman, Simons, and Chesbro, 173).

Stromeyer’s playful form and lyrical tone work together and ask the reader to feel the similarity between language and dance. They ask the reader to, through reading this essay, connect with Cunningham and feel his passions.

Stromeyer’s essay, in addition to being seamless and gratifying to read, proposes some intriguing things to consider with your own writing. How can you break formal conventions to further your writing’s impact? What power does the second person point of view have? When is writing in the second person point of view helpful?


Kupperman, Kim Dana, Heather G. Simons, and James M. Chesbro. You: An Anthology of Essays Devoted to the Second Person. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: Welcome Table Press, 2013. 173-174. Print.

Currently Reading: Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World, by Haruki Murakami

After reading When the Emperor was Divine, my silly self was expecting this book to follow similar literary patterns. At the very least, I was expecting it to be as realistic, as tangible, as the last. Admittedly both assigned for an Asian American literature course, I expected this Japanese novel to touch on the concerns of identity and race in the same way. Then I started reading.


I immediately forgot all expectations for the book as I laughed my way through several pages of the main character’s ramblings while he was stuck in an elevator. When he finally got out of the elevator (which happens on page six), I realized I was in a noir-esque story, following the hard-boiled “detective” character through what was a not-so-typical workday. Then I got to chapter two. The even-numbered chapters of this book are an entirely different universe. There is a town called The End of the World, a forest filled with unspeakable creatures and unicorns, and a man who goes to the library to read dreams out of unicorn skulls.

Throughout the whole book, the chapters alternate between these two worlds, these two different characters, and their lives and stories. They are both fascinating and engaging, yet have little direct connection to each other—at first. The book is a fantastical, noir-esque trek through human consciousness and the life and mind of a Japanese man with a passion for American frivolities and pop culture icons. I realize that this makes little sense. Reading the book is near about the only way to make sense of it. That being said, it is definitely worth reading.

Currently Reading: When the Emperor was Divine, by Julie Otsuka

book cover for When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka - origami bird Situated in 1942, this short novel pulls the reader into the unfortunate situation of Japanese American internment during the second World War. However, if you’re expecting a run-of-the-mill historical fiction, you’ll be disappointed. Julie Otsuka walks a fine line between the fiction novel and the creative nonfiction gray area of the lyrical essay, pulling you into the turmoil while maintaining factual accuracy and a poetic style. Instead of simply reading about a character’s experiences, you are pulled into the lives of each of the main characters as they pass around the narration, nameless yet identifiable. Yes, that’s right—nameless.

The book concentrates on the experiences of what seems to be one family, though these characters are written entirely without names or identification. In this way, Otsuka makes the reader take a step back—this isn’t only one family, this is the story of many families that were uprooted and torn apart during this period of Japanese American internment and discrimination. While the story is being told emotions are, for the most part, absent. Each character’s narration seems to be somewhat detached from any expected emotional response. This gives the reader the power to infer the emotional state of the characters on their own, identify with them more closely, and draw conclusions about the internalization and repression of the characters as a result of their experiences.

All that technical, literary analysis mumbo jumbo is all well and good and yes, if you’re studying World War II, Japanese American culture, racial discrimination, emotional trauma, or any number of other things, I do recommend that you add this book to your reading list, but in addition to all of that—it is a beautiful and inspiring piece of writing to read. It is poetic and moving and had me hooked from start to finish. If it hadn’t been for class, work, and the desire to get at least a few hours of sleep, I likely would have finished the whole book in one sitting (fortunately, two did the trick).

Reading this book made me consider my own writing: What does anonymity do to the message of a story? What does a fixed, singular narrator bring to a text? How can I use anonymity, identification, and multiple narrators to tell a story? I highly recommend reading this book for the sake of reading a well-written historical novel, but as you read, consider how you can apply some of Julie Otsuka’s artistic choices to your own writing.

Creating a Digital Narrative Through a Video Game

It’s easy to overlook the thought and development that goes into creating a story-line for a video game. Sometimes, it’s easy to say, “that looks fun, I’ll give it a go” without really considering the story that pulls it together and makes it interesting. Usually, at the end of the game, gamers want to know what’s next. It’s not just the awesome game play that leaves you yearning for more; it’s the story.

Of course, what is a good story without a cliffhanger to keep you going? The anticipation has to build up so that when the next game, or book, comes out, you’re anxiously waiting for the release. It’s probably the best and worst part of a narrative.

Is the effect the same if there is no cliff hanger? What if you have complete control over every aspect of a narrative?

In the novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, each person is given the opportunity to create their own narrative of their own life however they want. In the year 2044, the “reality” world has gone into chaos as natural resources are running out, living space is hard to come by, and trying to exist in any way is nearly impossible if you aren’t rich. Similarly to now, when Wade Watts, the main character, or any of the other citizens of this futuristic earth, want to escape from the misery of their reality, they play a video game.

ready player one

The OASIS is the video game that everyone owns, but it’s not just a video game; it’s a new way of life, and a new way that people live, work, and communicate. Think of the ultimate social networking site plus a MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing game) with quests and all that comes with it.  In a way it’s Facebook meets World of WarCraft, but so much more than that.

In the OASIS, people go to school, have houses, form relationships, have paying jobs, and everything else that one would do in reality. The currency in the OASIS is how people buy things in real life too. The OASIS is the replacement for reality. You can be whoever you want, do whatever you want, even live in any type of world you want (Firefly, Star Wars, anything).

The book is filled with 80s references and video game, movies, and TV shows that any nerd or 80s aficionado would love. I won’t go into super details about the plot other than to say that it becomes a competition to who will inherit the fortune that the creator left behind. There are flaws in the writing overall that makes one question the story, but that’s not why I’m writing about it. The focus for the sake of this article, is the OASIS.

Continue reading “Creating a Digital Narrative Through a Video Game”