Archive for the 'Writing Life' Category

If Only THE MAGICIAN’S ELEPHANT WERE as Interesting as the Title and Cover

Dear Reader,

I found THE MAGICIAN’S ELEPHANT dull. I understand it deals with loss experienced by almost all characters, but the loss became boring, heavier than the elephant, yet hollow. Maybe it’s because there are too many characters to cover in too few pages. Maybe it’s because philosophical concepts are dealt with almost in a childlike level, but without childlike wonder.




CORALINE: “… after all, it is always easier to be afraid of something you cannot see”

Dear Reader,

I finally read CORALINE because I’d heard lots of people say they loved it. I did not love it. I did not much like it either. It didn’t scare me. And I don’t know if it would have scared me when I was a kid. It’s hard to say. I think now, as then, I need more depth of story, more than the premise of a bright girl being ignored/neglected then scooted to a new reality, where she realizes “there’s no place like home” and Mom.

The best line of the book is the title of this review: “… after all, it is always easier to be afraid of something you cannot see.” I absolutely believe this.

Elie Wiesel’s DAWN, my Tears, and a Baby’s Smile

Dear Reader,

The words of the novel Dawn, by Elie Wiesel, affected me as much, or more, than its content. As in Night, Wiesel writes with pointed prose, much the way a poet does. There are no superfluous words. There is only repetition with purpose. His sentences are taut but not tight. His poetry invites me to participate in his narrator’s disgust, struggle, fear, and forced numbness. He asked that I sob with his victim’s good humor even though he has no idea why he is supposed to die.

I did what he asked.  And tears fell on the baby in my arms, my 3-month old granddaughter.  She looked into my eyes and smiled.

What’s an ARTObiography? Read STORM OF THE i to find out

Dear Reader,

Tina Collen’s Storm of the i: An Artobiography is an autobiography/memoir that is:

  • Satisfyingly heavy (a compact paperback weighing as much as a hard-core tabletop book),
  • Densely appointed (composed of luscious illustrations; touching, humorous, and/or clever photos; pop-ups; foldouts; cutouts; and other surprises),
  • Beyond creatively designed (the author is also a visual artist with a strong graphic design background), and
  • Compellingly written (utilizing journal entries, hers and others’ poetry, snippets of letters, casually written notes, song lyrics, and personal narrative).

Collen’s words keep the reader asking questions like:

  • What is Collen going to discover next?
  • What is her problem with her father?
  • What is her father’s problem with her?
  • Is there really a problem between them, or is she just imagining it?
  • Will her perceptions change as the book progresses?
  • Will she change as person as a result of writing this book?
  • Will she accept responsibility for who she was and is, or will she just cast blame?
  • Why was she driven to write this book?
  • Will I, the reader, change as a result of reading this book?

How did Storm of the i affect me?

  • I began to urge myself to explore my creativity/thoughts through making colleges.
  • I re-remembered that I want to try sculpting with clay.
  • I realized I’ve used the excuse of not being a trained artist to keep me from making art.
  • I began to question my assumptions about the meanings behind “hurtful” things my parents said in my past.
  • I wondered how other women might learn about themselves through combining visual art and writing.

Dear reader, Storm of the i is an experience you’ll want to share with (buy for–you’ll want to keep your copy) people you love.




If you’d like to see a bit more about how Artobiography came into existence click here.

To purchase a personally autographed copy of Storm of the i go to

(In the comment box include how you’d like it signed.) Books are also available at Barnes & Noble, Borders and Amazon. If your favorite bookstore doesn’t have it on the shelf, they can order it for you.

Tina Collen is giving an autographed book away in a contest, asking people to leave a comment answering this question:

Oftentimes the objects we hold onto contain cryptic clues that point towards something deeper about ourselves. Take a look around your house (or your room) at the things with which you have surrounded yourself. Is there anything you are still hanging onto that seems to contain a hidden message for you? What do you think it is?

What Backstreet Boys, Joe Cocker, and Justin Timberlake Do to Me

Dear Reader,

I have to tell you what’s going on right now. I’m supposed to be writing a direct mail letter, but I can’t focus because I’m listening to my 22-year-old daughter sing the Backstreet Boys’ song “Everybody” (Denniz PoP, Max Martin, 1997) while she paints my bathroom. I’m wriggling in my seat as she bellows, “Everybody, rock your body. Everybody, rock your body right. Backstreet’s back, alright.” My daughter’s happy again. Happy. She’s back in 7th grade, crushing over Nick Carter, and prodding her dad and me to take her to Florida so she can bump into him on the street. Like a coupon fiend, she’s cutting photos of the boys. “If you want it to be good, girl, get yourself a… bad boy.”

Now I’m YouTubing Joe Cocker singing “Cry Me a River” during his Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour. “Now you said that you love me after being so untrue. I want you to cry (cry me a river). I want you to cry (cry me a river) … Oh, I cried a river over you.” (Arthur Hamilton, 1953) Unlike “Everybody,” “Cry Me a River” doesn’t send me to the past, as I have no past with it. But Joe Cocker’s performance makes me want. Now! I want his shredded voice as my passion, his syncopation as the force that jars my poems from complacency, and his spark as a trigger that mushrooms my poetic courage.

My daughter has finished with the bathroom and has begun to paint her former bedroom. I’m back to wriggling in my seat, this time to Justin Timberlake singing, “I’m bringing sexy back. Them other boys don’t know how to act. I think it’s special what’s behind your back. So turn around and I’ll pick up the slack.” (Nathaniel Hills, Tim Mosley, Justin Timberlake, 2002) I’m happy too!

Respectfully Yours,

The Editor

Why I Watch the Special Features on Movie DVDs

Dear Reader,

I never return a rented DVD before I’ve watched its special features. Sometimes I don’t like the movie, but that doesn’t keep me from learning about how it was made. For example, on the music special feature for Tim Burton’s film Ed Wood, I see a man standing behind a wooden box that resembles a 1940s radio which is called a theramin. He presses his left thumb and forefinger together and then, as if waving a conductor’s baton, he coaxes from the air eerie, human-esque “o-o-ooo”s, like hollow voices stretched by tinny whistles.  Theramins accompanied many 1950s sci-fi and horror films.

In another feature I see Martin Landau made up to look like Béla Lugosi. He describes how the makeup artists change his nose and jaw line to resemble Lugosi’s. This is interesting, but what’s more interesting is how he duplicates the way Lugosi, a native Hungarian, spoke. First Landau learned to speak Hungarian. Then he taught himself to act like a native Hungarian who speaks English with an American accent. What?

Next there’s Enemy at the Gates, which dramatizes “a duel of the eyes” between a Russian and a German sniper during the Battle of Stalingrad during WWII. The screenplay is based on a famous event that’s celebrated in Russia but hardly known about elsewhere. Director Jean-Jacques Annaud says he cast Ed Harris as the German sniper because “I needed the powerful eyes of birds of prey. Those eyes [Ed Harris’s] were like a light in the darkness.”

Then there’s “Costumes: Road to Perdition,” in which I learn about the challenge of costuming actors to portray the mood of a Depression-era winters. The costume desigbers says in winter “everything is dead,” so she wants to illustrate the bleakness of that time by using heavy, textured fabrics in muted grays and browns that absorb, rather than reflect, light.

I love watching special features. (In case you didn’t already figure this out.) My writing improves because I listen to composers, actors, directors, costume designers, lighting and set designers talk about their work, their decision making process. They provide a new approach to defining characters and settings I wouldn’t have thought of by myself.


The Editor


Dear Reader,

I recently read Black Beauty: The Autobiography of a Horse for the first time. It’s one of those books I thought I’d read as a child but hadn’t. But perhaps it’s good it only found me now, because my then limited horse–and human–sense would have kept me from understanding much of what British author Anna Sewell (1877) wrote about the nature of horses.

(Note: “Horse sense” in American English colloquialism (1870) may have referred to strong, bold, simple common sense. I’m talking about sensing what a horse’s body language and behavior communicate.) (Note-note: I understood one horse, a skittish deep brown pony whose name I’ve forgotten.  I, a fearful, soft-spoken child, never scolded her for shying away from my hand. We both needed gentleness, so it was easy for me to ride her. )

You might not know this, but, according to Wikepedia, Sewell intended Black Beauty to be an adult novel written for people who work with horses. Her book demonstrates how a person’s character is revealed through how s/he treats her horses. In the early chapters she gently preaches the virtues of kindness toward horses and humans and the benefits of upstanding behavior. Unfortunately, the later chapters her admonitions become annoyingly pontifical.

I think what I liked most about this book is its history lessons about painful treatment of horses, which included docking their tails and putting them in  “bearing” reins that forced them to hold their heads unnaturally high, both a reflection of the day’s fashion.  It also talks about taxi drivers who leased horses and then had to drive them hard to recoup their costs as well as earn a living. Was a tough life. Yet Sewell didn’t write only about cruelty; she writes about Black Beauty’s early days in his masters meadow and describes dedicated and competent  grooms who kept his and other horses’ lives safe and comfortable.

I recommend you read Black Beauty, even if you’re not a horse fan or a kid.

Respectfully Yours,