Novelist. Poet. Professor.

Novelist.  Poet.  Professor.
Novelist, poet, professor, and mother of dogs.

Friday, February 28, 2014

A Constellation of YA Retellings

I just have to share this chart, posted at Epic Reads.  If you love Young Adult retellings of classic literature, myth, and folktales, you just might discover your next book here.  Admittedly, you'll have to zoom in to do it.  And when you do, check out the little circle of retellings based on the Bronte Sisters.  I'm proud to report that both Catherine and Jane made the cut.

Oh, The Indignity!: A Late February Pupdate

With coat

Nico's first real haircut was badly timed to fall on the first day of Pennsylvania's most recent brutal cold snap.  So not only does he have to wear a fleecy coat--he has to be photographed in it.  And that photograph has to be shared on my blog, for--I hope--your viewing amusement.

Neeks may look a bit undignified, but take my word for it: he smells like a flowerbed.  And under that coat, his newly shorn fur feels and looks like velveteen, only increasing his resemblance to a stuffed toy.

While I miss his luxurious curls and his pompadour, I'm loving this new and spiffy little dog, even if he does seem a bit miffed about his makeover.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

"Some quick folk dance of kindness": a poem by Michael Ryan

In the depths of an unkind February, I return to this poem, one I've long admired and often given to my students.  I love how the poet, Michael Ryan, deftly mingles the melancholy feel of an early twilight with the hopelessness of an irretrievable love.  That last line--the speaker's admission that he brought on his own bad luck--always pierces me like a pin prick.  I particularly like how the poem sets up this idea by showing us those "gray women in stretch slacks" and their "quick folk dance of kindness," how we know without the poem saying so that the speaker regrets his own lack of kindness, knowing that if he'd shown a little more of it to his beloved she might still be with him

In Winter

At four o'clock it's dark.
Today, looking out through dusk
at three gray women in stretch slacks
chatting in front of the post office,
their steps left and right and back
like some quick folk dance of kindness,
I remembered the winter we spent
crying in each other's laps.
What could you be thinking at this moment?
How lovely and strange the gangly spines
of trees against a thickening sky
as you drive from the library
humming off-key?  Or are you smiling
at an idea met in a book
the way you smiled with your whole body
the first night we talked?
I was so sure my love of you was perfect,
and the light today
reminded me of the winter you drove home
each day in the dark at four o'clock
and would come into my study to kiss me
despite mistake after mistake after mistake.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Why Ever Not?: Diane Wilkes and the Tarot of Jane Austen

My friend Grand Master Tarot Reader Diane Brandt Wilkes and I bonded over Bruce Springsteen, and quickly learned that we also share a love of literature.  When it comes to the things she cares about--Bruce, the North Carolina Tar Heels, politics, the tarot, or the works of Jane Austen, Diane is easily the most passionate person I know.   A few years back, she found a way to marry two of her grand passions when she authored the Tarot of Jane Austen, a book and tarot deck that draws upon that writer's deep understanding of human nature to speak to our present day concerns.

Diane agreed to let me interview her about her work in two tantalizingly overlapping spheres.  She also graciously offered a free tarot reading to one lucky reader of this blog.  Just post a picture of yourself including my book, Jane, on the book's Facebook page, and I'll choose a winner at random on February 28.  The reading will be conducted via Skype, so this offer is open to anyone anywhere.

And if you'd like to set up your own reading with Diane, please contact her at  I can vouch for how amazing she is.


AL: Could you please say a word or two about what the tarot has to offer in the 21st Century?  (I’m specifically wondering what you would say to skeptics.)

DW: The tarot is perceived differently by people, but I will share my view of what it has to offer and what it has specifically been to me. The tarot is a two part affair--the Major Arcana, which speaks to universality, archetypes that exist in every culture, and the Minor Arcana, which consists of four suits represented by symbols of the four elements (fire, water, air, and earth) and pertains to our everyday lives. The structure of the deck is very balanced, and for me provides the perfect blend of spirituality and the daily weave of our lives. Its very construct, as well as its message, embodies balance.

I think that combination of balance and universality makes the tarot a tool for all ages and times. I use the tarot for myself and others for determining, understanding, clarifying, validating, judging, and ultimately choosing the best path(s) available at the time. Prediction is not my main focus, but I am interested in the future--and investing in the present for a better future. The tarot is one tool that allows me to do that.

To skeptics I would say, there are many tools you can use for wisdom and insight and you should choose the ones that suit you. I'm no tarot evangelist. I don't harbor any desire to foist my views on anyone. I find it amusing, though, when people who know nothing about tarot speak as if they are authorities. But that amusement isn't limited to the subject of tarot, but all pseudo-authorities. Sadly, gullible people will always exist and there will always be those who will prey on them. 

AL: What drew you to the tarot?  And how did you become such a central figure in the world of tarot?

DW: I started reading cards when I was exposed to the Gypsy Witch Fortune Telling Deck at a kid's party. The adults were in another room and a woman was using them and I was fascinated--I ignored the kids' room and burned to do readings myself. I had the chance shortly thereafter when my cousin gave me a deck. It was similar to a regular playing card deck but with small images and messages of meaning. I would read your “fortune” and then play “War” with you right afterwards. I was ten or eleven. I found my first tarot deck at that upscale department store, Nan Duskin, while the rest of my family was looking at designer clothing, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I don’t know that I would call myself a “central figure in the world of tarot,” but my website, Tarot Passages, received several million hits when I was still updating it. I do plan to redo it, but having made the computer switch to Mac, I need to learn a new website program first. My reviews were fairly well-respected and a publisher asked me to create a screenplay for a deck (stating what should be on each card) and a companion book. I didn’t intend to say yes, but a friend and spiritual advisor said, “This is a great opportunity. Isn’t there a literary subject to which you’d like to devote a tarot deck.  I said, “I love Jane Austen…” and that was my forethought behind that concept! 

AL: Why create a Jane Austen tarot?  

DW: Why not? Or should that be, “Why ever not?”

As I have affirmed, I really didn’t think much about it before I decided to do it—I had read Pride and Prejudice over 100 times, Emma about 50, and the others at least 10 times, plus I had read the Juvenilia and some biographies. I figured I knew enough about the tarot and Jane Austen to “do it right.” The problem is that the “little bit of ivory” Jane is so brilliant at creating is that it’s a very self-contained world. Her books aren’t expansive epics with lots of plot twists and turns, and I had to come up with 78 cards that matched a character or scene in a book. But the universality and timelessness of her characters matched the universality and timelessness of the tarot. So, it worked out.

Tarot is not the easiest thing to learn—it takes time and practice. A lot of people buy a deck that ends up in a musty drawer because they discover the investment of time necessary to become a reader. I primarily created the deck for those familiar with Jane Austen who were curious about the tarot, because if you know Austen’s work, the stories are great mnemonics for learning. I think storytelling is the best way to teach anything (think: Christ and his parables). 

AL: Describe your life as a Janeite.

DW: I’m a devoted and eclectic Janeite and have been one since high school; I have a quotation from P&P on my yearbook page. I belong to JASNA (the Jane Austen Society of North America), which is a literary society. I have attended three Annual General Meetings (AGM). In fact, I gave a lecture on the Jane Austen Tarot at the Philadelphia AGM, which was great—lots of skeptics in that room who just didn’t want to go to the ball. To see them realize they weren’t attending a gimmicky, fluffy-bunny presentation and become intrigued and open to what I was doing was quite satisfying. I was a member of a Jane Austen book club for several years and have been to several Jane Austen lectures and events, in addition to the AGM.

I see many of the movies and read some fan fiction, but am not usually overfond of either. What I love is Jane’s words, Jane’s characters, Jane’s wit and wisdom. Never have those two words been more connubially placed than in describing Jane Austen, I believe.

AL: The Jane Austen Tarot was a collaboration—you wrote the book, and worked with an artist who illustrated the deck.  Were there frustrations involved in the process?  Unexpected joys?

DW: Yes, both. My publisher, Lo Scarabeo, is Italian, and the artist didn’t speak English. I would send over my descriptions of how the cards should look and then my friend Riccardo (who works there in a very different capacity than translator) would translate what I wrote for the artist, who had never read any Jane Austen. I sent over videos so she could at least learn a little about Jane Austen from them, including the Greer Garson Pride and Prejudice, hence the time-inappropriate attire on some of the cards. But seeing and using the deck has been incredibly satisfying. There’s no deck I know more intimately and I love reading with it. Sometimes I feel like I’m channeling Jane! I occasionally do readings with it at the Southeastern Pennsylvania JASNA events and always for clients who are familiar with Austen’s work. 

AL: What are your plans for the future, in terms of both tarot and Jane Austen?

DW: Well, in terms of tarot, I have another idea I’m working on for a deck—not the Bruce Springsteen Tarot, which you know I created a few years ago as a gift for some friends.  It’s another author that I love and think her work will really lend itself well to the tarot. Fortunately, I am very familiar with her writing and life/journals as well so I am hoping it will be a similar labor of love. As for Jane Austen, you never forget your first love. Ask Anne Elliot if you don’t believe me. I will go on re-reading Austen's books and mixing with my Jane Austen “tribe.”

I am lucky enough to have three tribes: my Bruce tribe, my Jane Austen tribe, and my Tarot tribe.  As I said earlier, I’m an eclectic type of girl.


Monday, February 17, 2014

February Pupdate

This winter has been a bit much, even for a snowstorm fan like me.  Only two things have made the high banks of snow worthwhile:

1) Days off from school (and even that is wearing thin)


2) Letting the dogs out into the snow, and watching them bounce joyfully, roll, romp, and chase each other.

Reuben, our elder statesdog, has been particularly puppylike lately.  Though he was skeptical when we adopted Nico the stray cockapoo, he has clearly begun to come around, and to enjoy a little backyard company.

As for Nico, he's getting more civilized every day. He has learned to lie down beside us while we eat instead of doing his trick-circus-dog begging dance.  He splits his time and affection among his four humans, making sure we all adore him equally. And if he occasionally still finds ways to scale the garbage can and dig out a discarded sandwich...well, we're working on that.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Greetings from Asbury Lanes

Before spring semester really started rolling, and before things got incredibly blizzardy and I stopped being good about posting here, there was a brief shining weekend in January.  A weekend when we saw our beloved Del-Lords twice.  And a Friday night when we fell head over heels for a band we'd hadn't heard of before: Low Cut Connie.

The event was d.j. Rich Russo's Anything Anything concert at Asbury Lanes.  The show was part of the annual Light of Day festivities benefitting Parkinson's Disease Research.  Most years Andre and I make it to the big Saturday night extravaganza--the one famous for "surprise" appearances by one Bruce Springsteen.  This year we didn't have tickets to that show.  And we should have minded.  But we didn't...not really.

Why?  Because: Del-Lords.  (Or half of the Del-Lords anyway.  Scott Kempner and Eric Ambel put on another amazing acoustic show.)

And then there was Low Cut Connie whom we'll definitely be seeing in concert again, because they are one of a kind: vibrant, quirky, electrifying, and fun.  The band has two lead singers--charismatic Adam Weiner with his kung-fu moves and Jerry Lee Lewis-style piano chops:

 and the more subdued, but equally talented Dan Finnemore:

Here's a little taste of what Low Cut Connie are like.  In person, they're the kind of act that grabs you by both ears and won't let you look away for even a second.

Friday, February 14, 2014

LOVE, LUCY: the cover

Just in time for Valentine's Day, here it is: the cover of my new novel, Love, Lucy.  Words can't express how much I love it--the cherry red Vespa, the sun-drenched Italian archway, the charming cover typeface--all of it.  

And here's some jacket copy:

"While backpacking through Florence, Italy, during the summer before she heads off to college, Lucy Sommersworth finds herself falling in love with the culture, the architecture, the food...and Jesse Palladino, a handsome street musician.  After a whirlwind romance, Lucy returns home, determined to move on from her "vacation flirtation."  But just because summer is over doesn't mean Lucy and Jesse are over, too."

The book is set half in Italy--Florence and Rome--and half in Philadelphia, and it's due out in January, 2015.  And though it's very much it's own thing, it draws inspiration from E. M. Forster's A Room With a View.

Free the Mice!

  Thanks to Bearings Online , for publishing my poem about trying--and sometimes failing--to be kind to the mammals who only want to sha...