10.31.2004

So my friend Tania and I were talking this evening about how nervous, nervous we are, about how people who only have cell phones don't get polled, and about a concept I hope you are hearing here first (I just googled it without much luck, but I probably just ESP-stole it from somebody else): election sex. Are you getting ready to reprise your blackout moment? I hope you are honey. Not just for New Yorkers anymore! We all need a little comfort wherever we can get it, no? You know it's going to get ugly, so keep your eye out early, I'd say, a little extra lip gloss this week, I'd say.

There is this PBS documentary on in my background this evening on how the witchhunts coincided precisely with rye-growing areas in moldy weather: the ergot mold that rye grows is basically LSD. People act crazy, executions begin. We as Americans don't really have that same "I had food poisoning" excuse at the moment. Although perhaps all the crappy food people eat in the red states may explain their stunted judgement. I don't really believe in fixing so-called health care so much as I do massively increasing organic farming--that would transform the red states, maybe? A girl can dream. The red states can give her the finger. All is right with the world. Except, of course, you know.

(Some of the Born-Agains, the kind who receive the Presidential Prayer email from Bush every week, are way into raw food. I think this is common ground worth exploring, but you know, the Christians aren't allowed to vote for anyone who is pro-choice, no matter how big of a rat they smell in conservative candidates' economic and environmental policies.)

In other news, Time Out New York named cupcakes, the baked goods, a new essential. We'll take that as a shout out, yes'm.

xo
--Elizabeth


10.29.2004

Last night I stayed up way too late because I had to finish Bastard Out of Carolina. I couldn't put it down, and after I was done, I stayed awake just thinking about it for a long time. So many stories that don't often get told find a voice in that book.

There's an good interview with Allison at Identity Theory, in which she discussed her work, its themes, and how it's received around the world. She also discusses pop culture, literature and the travails of the writer's life:
RB: What about the aspirations of the students in the literary programs? Why do they want to get into something that at best means worrying about the decisions that you were talking about?

DA: They don't expect to make a killing. Some do. One of the first things is I say, "Get a decent day job that won't eat you alive. If you think you are going to make a decent living as a writer, ask yourself, why I am here teaching you?" I make a fair to decent amount of money off my books but not enough to live on. If you want to write literary novels you better love the field and you better have something in mind that you want to accomplish that isn't about a large bank account or a 401k. It ain't happening. The thing that makes me angry and really complicates it—it is in some ways almost a vow of poverty to write literary novels that ignore the marketplace element. I find that to be tragic. It was shocking to me when I went to teach in Italy—and I've taught in France and been to visit in England, outside this country the approach to literature is remarkably different. Most countries have a system by which literary writers can at least live and write. In this country it is entirely shaped by the marketplace and, most of the literary writers I know teach. Some of them are good teachers, but a lot of them are not. But they have to make a living. It does have an impact on our literature.
I just had the best daydream, wherein I realized that, in my perfect world, an evening with Dorothy Allison and Maureen Gibbon would be, like, the ultimate Cupcake reading.

Everyone has their own ideas, of course, and I always like to get different perspectives. Who would you most love to hear read at Cupcake?

-Lauren
I find most of the arguments that are advanced in defense of chick lit rather uncompelling. But author Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez makes a pretty good point about what exactly pop culture has produced to appeal to successful women like herself: "I couldn't find in pop culture anywhere people like me and my Latina friends who went to university or are working as (public relations) directors of the United Way and having high-ranking jobs in the government."

-Lauren

Randa Jarrar absolutely rocks my world, ever since I read her memorable short story, "You Are a 14-Year Old Arab Chick Who Just Moved To Texas." She's now the Friday blogger at Moorish Girl, and envisions that her coverage will include:
A weekly introduction, starting next week, to a writer who won't necessarily have a book out that is available to buy, but whose work is interesting. This intro will include an interview with the writer (that I will either conduct or link to) and an excerpt from their work (that I may have to translate).

A weekly giveaway. But don't get too excited: some weeks the giveaway will be a copy of that weird comic Whataburger (pronounced WATER-burger, in case you don't live in Texas) puts in their kid's meals.

A weekly post about/excerpt of/link to an old-ish, relevent book, story, article, or poem that is meant to inspire.

A weekly post/rant/series of rants about random literary news and goings-on, especially if they include free beer.

A weekly "New Releases" post that will not include any of the books on the NYT's lame-ass New Releases list.

Now, in addition to being ambitious I am also highly undisciplined, so, there is a chance that all I will do is the weekly giveaway-- because I have a primal and crazy-loud-as-an-acrylic-fuschia-nails-wearing-bronx-grandma need to give/ be loved.
I was just reading what's she posted today (and catching up on last week) and wanted to link to almost everyone one of them, so perhaps you should just take a peek yourself since you won't want to miss a thing.

-Lauren
The current issue of Ploughshares is edited by Amy Bloom, and worth checking out. In her editor's bio, which is partially conducted as an interview, she makes a genius case for why fiction is more relevant today than ever:
Even against the obvious backdrop of chaos in the world, she still believes fervently in the importance of fiction, refusing to concede that it has been outrun by reality or the ever-spinning news cycle. “The need to understand things that happen right in front of us is no less than it ever was,” she says. “And the capacity of human beings to understand and make sense of things that happen far away is even more pressing than it was because we get the information, which doesn’t mean we have the insight or the understanding. All of which is an argument for first-rate journalism, which I am prepared to say is one of the tremendous needs of our society, like clean water. But the fact that we have a tremendous need for informed and intelligent reporting doesn’t mean that we no longer have a need for informed and informative and insightful and provocative fiction. Do we have to say, ‘Oh, we need trees but not rivers?’
And, because I can't stop quoting this woman, here is more from her introduction to the issue:
A friend of mine finds out from her agent (her editor never calls) that her book, her fourth, has been dropped from her publisher’s catalogue. The work is too difficult. A writer I know is told, “How about putting in some dogs? People love it when you write about dogs.” An editor I admire, at a magazine I have long admired, says, “We’re just not doing emotionally complex work.”

All I wanted to do in this issue was to find room for difficult work, for emotionally complex work, for work that didn’t have dogs where they didn’t belong and for work that loved the word, as well as the story, and believed in telling a story that mattered, in a way that stayed with me, stayed with you, and didn’t shy from imagination or get coy about facts.
This issue includes fiction by Thomas Beller, Bob Bledsoe, Rebecca Brown, Ron Carlson, David Gates, Miles Harvey, Randa Jarrar, Rosina Lippi, Holiday Reinhorn, David Yair Rosenstock, Debra Spark, Jessica Treadway, nonfiction by Leslie Daniels, and more. Some of the stories and content are available online on a rotating basis, updated daily.

-Lauren

Elizabeth Spiers has blogging at her personal site fairly frequently as of late. It's so nice to read her work on a regular basis again.

I think I can count on one hand the people who have the ability to make a post about Foreign Policy magazine both insightful and hilarious:
[Ed.--Three issues ago, they explained email as "a message, written traditional letter format, but electronically transmitted via the World Wide Web, an interconnected and decentralized public network." ... Oh, alright. Not really. I made that up.]
We're looking forward to seeing what she does when she takes over the reins as editor-in-chief at Mediabistro, starting next week.

-Lauren
Once again, the whistleblower is a woman. This is why having 50% women staff in any workplace--and I'd argue especially in writing and journalism--is a revolutionary act. And why it's taking so long to happen: the threat to the current power structure is huge.

--Elizabeth

10.28.2004

NEXT UP: CUPCAKE TREND FORECASTING & MKT RESEARCH, LLC

This is so awesome: As GalleyCat reports, some people's notion of literature is expanding [supress huge, snorting laugh here]. How "PoMo."

I guess we are one reproduced-vintage-espadrille-step closer to the dusky-hued, velour-bound, antiqued chick lit that Elizabeth foresees in Anthropologie's gauzy, faux-bespoke, retail future.

-Lauren

Sometimes it seems like cause for applause when The New Yorker or one of its peers publishes, say, 3 women out of 13 or 14 contributors, instead of the usual 1 or Zero. Here at Cupcake, we'd like to think that the standard for excellence and equity is higher than that, miniscule improvement that it may be.

Then there are those fledgling literary publications that try to be so distinctive with their rebel, rebel ways and edgy graphic design. But, as Elizabeth recently said in a media interview, "If they were really revolutionary, they'd be publishing 50% women."

It's easy to be seduced by incremental progress, so next time your heart softens at the thought of one really amazing contribution by a woman writer in a publication that otherwise usually only publishes work by men (regular readers, you know that this fate recently befell me), please remember this perspective broadening gem, from Poets & Writers' "Basic Info for Writers" primer:
We recommend that you begin by researching literary magazines. This is the market within which most writers start their careers and gain recognition from editors, agents, and other writers...

...In general, major publishing houses do not accept unsolicited poetry manuscripts and rarely look at unagented or unsolicited fiction. Editors at major houses are more interested in writers who have already published a book or writers whose work has already appeared in large-circulation trade magazines such as The New Yorker or Harper’s.
Yes, exactly.

-Lauren
Lynn Yaeger, style columnist for The Village Voice, casts a critical eye on the Halloween marketplace:
So, OK, we understand that maybe you don't want to dress up like Madame Curie, or Amelia Bloomer, or even Lizzie Borden. But why should this mean that the most prominent liberated-woman costume on display is that of an 80-year-old stereotype, the flapper? Sadly, this fringed disguise hangs next to kits meant to turn you into a sniveling post-war bobby soxer or a hysterically conformist poodle-skirted co-ed, neither or whom were exactly icons of feminism.

Even outfits that might bespeak strength and power are frequently compromised by an undercurrent of sexual subjugation. So though there is no lack of firefighter uniforms for men, the female version is called Fire Fox. (Could she be the New York Post's famous firehouse nympho?) Likewise, the woman police officer is known as Officer McNaughty.

Though there are bountiful offerings for men of medicine, including a blood- soaked Dr. Kill Joy and a foaming mad scientist, Nurse Feelbetter is all-girl. (In fairness, there is a white coat inscribed Dr. Ophelia Cummings, sex therapist, M.D.) But there is one institution that is definitely female-friendly: the insane asylum, where the voluptuous inmate suffers in a vinyl shorts-and-chains combo.

Could restrictive career choices have led to this stint in the loony bin?
I don't think I've ever purchased a package costume before, and Yaeger's critique would probably explain my lack of initiative to visit Halloween stores. I usually just put something together myself. I'm going as Bonnie Parker this year.

There's a great sequence in Mean Girls that occurs when Cady fails to realize that female American teenagers always go with some variant on the sexy animal theme.

UPDATE: Okay, I would go to this store [link via boingboing].

-Lauren
I can't wait to read Scheherazade, the new anthology of women comic artists edited by Megan Kelso. It makes think of the ridiculous claim from Chip McGrath this summer that the graphic novel is a man's game, and laugh. This book totally gives him the finger, as do I: with the strength of of the art to back it up. Check it out:
For this anthology, Kelso has assembled an all-star lineup of women cartoonists—almost all under 35 years old—and given them the mandate to show what they can do. The result is a dizzying variety of work, most of it impressive and some superb. Andrice Arp takes on the "Scheherazade" theme most literally, adapting a tale from The 1001 Nights that nests stories within stories, and reflecting its structure in her page compositions. Ariel Bordeaux contributes a wordless story whose panels appear between everyone else's pieces. Some of the stories are solemn, like Leela Corman's "Fanya Needs to Know," a chapter from her graphic novel-in-progress about an abortionist in early 20th-century Jewish New York; others are cute and whimsical, like Sara Varon's adorable untitled piece about a dog that builds a robot. There are cartoonists who draw on fine art (e.g., Vanessa Davis, whose "I Wonder Where the Yellow Went" is a series of her fluid autobiographical sketches) and on prose literature (e.g., Gabrielle Bell, who adapts a Kate Chopin story as "One Afternoon"). Kelso's own contribution, "The Pickle Fork," is one of the book's highlights, a dark but loopy narrative, drawn with clean-lined elegance, about a museum of silverware and the people who have to polish it.
P.S.: Stay tuned, next week is the week of Cupcake Loves McGrath Jr. and Sr.

xo
--Elizabeth
Heredity author Jenny Davidson on writing:
When I was drafting my new novel this spring, it all went pretty smoothly in the grand scheme of things but it still felt like very hard work--the image in my head for what I was doing was cutting a usable path through a sugar-cane field with an extremely blunt machete.
Read the rest.

-Lauren
CHEAP LITERARY THRILLS

I was at Powerbooks the other night and I found myself watching people. Cute guys, cute girls, weaving through the fiction shelves. When I am stressed, I think of sex.

I haven't read any novels for quite some time. Back in college, I decided to spend a lot of time understanding the short story form. Mainly a practical decision: it was easier to read and store than novels. So I collected the annual Best American Short Stories. I wanted to collect the Philippine version, but the closest thing was the Palanca compilations--which was published erratically...

...Luckily, with my limited budget (because of an overblown credit card debt), I enjoy reading the blurbs of novels. Pictures of the author is an extra thrill. If the book is interesting enough, I even try to read a few pages, always starting with the last page. And sometimes, while I kneel for the lower shelves, my eye goes of the page and catches a patch of skin, nape, elbow, thigh, of the girl across me.

I love browsing through books.


From the smart, emotive blog, Not Even Wensleydale.

-Lauren
I enjoy taking a moment now and then to read and revisit the series of "Letters from Edinburgh" that writer Claire Miccio wrote for The Morning News during a year abroad.

The collected pieces are great travel writing that conveys a sense of place, and always full of wry and detailed observations that a) make Edinburgh, or wherever she is at the time, sound like a fascinating city, and b) contain little glints of wisdom that are universal, like tapered jeans and their presence as an indicator of one's willingness to rock at a certain age, e.g.
To me, David Byrne is comforting. His voice is my madeleine and tea; I can hear a part of my past in it. That’s why I cannot believe I’m in Edinburgh, pogo-ing a few feet away from him, the big suit guy I pogo-ed to 10 years ago with my brother in a small Midwest town. I also cannot believe what a blast thirtysomethings in tapered jeans are! They get down like nobody’s business! If I could, I would buy them all a round of tonics.
Most definitely.

The Morning News is so fabulous. If it's not currently your first stop while you drink your a.m. coffee, it should be. It is both the only publication to which I have ever made a donation and the only place that Cupcake has ever advertised.

They have more women contributing writers than some other (cough, cough) publications we admire, but still only 4 out of 12 writers listed on the masthead are women. I wish there were more.

-Lauren
The play went great. Which is to say, it went mostly great. Because right in scene seven, Scotty Anderson was looking at me with his nice, sincere look, saying, “People are not so dreadful when you know them,” and I didn’t believe a word of it. The Sprite, and the touch at the door, the kiss didn’t mean anything at all. So I stood up, without a limp, and walked offstage, outside through the backstage exit, and sat behind the dumpster. Scotty Anderson came outside looking for me. I heard him slipping around on his fancy shoes, cussing. I tried thinking of the women in the pornos. I wanted to confront Scotty, to really ream him out, to be bold and sexy and powerful. But it didn’t seem real either.

I don't read many stories online that really blow my mind. "Just Like Normal Girls" by Kati Bambrick is an exception. [at Identity Theory]

-Lauren

10.27.2004

Last night Jen, Elizabeth, and I met with journalist Katherine Lanpher (currently blowing up spots coast to coast as Al Franken's co-host on Air America). She is quite fabulous.

We're still working out the details, but it looks as though she will moderate a brief discussion with Martha and Chimamanda after their reading at the next Cupcake. Very exciting news with more details tk!

In the meantime, you can read the excellent essay she wrote for The New York Times a few months ago, on being a new New Yorker.

I'm off to dinner and then to meet up with Maud and Emma for a drink a little later on. Have a lovely evening.

xo,
Lauren
If you have even a passing interest in book awards, don't miss this article, from the International Herald Tribune:
Every self-respecting tribe has its fertility dance and, in the literary world, this takes place around the temple of annual book prizes. When the oracle speaks, authors are rewarded for years of lonely creativity, their novels lifted from semi-obscurity, their life stories revisited, their ever-fragile egos bolstered and, more crucially, sales of their books are magically multiplied.
As Homer Simpson once sagely observed, "It's funny because it's true."

-Lauren
I worked very hard on one presentation yesterday, but the more I got done, the more I saw that I needed to do. It should be obvious that when you're doing a presentation on Chick Lit, you need to include Helen Fielding. I mean... yeah. And I totally forgot about her, even though every hot pink cover has a blurb saying, "The American Bridget Jones!," "Bridget Jones as a teen!," "Your dead gay son's Bridget Jones!"

From the funny blog, Whatever, Mary Kate.

-Lauren
FEMINIST WOMEN LOVE EMINEM

bell hooks wrote an essay several years ago about how she was invited on the news as a commentator and seriously disappointed her white hosts when she wouldn't trash rappers for being sexist. She sees rappers as "working in the fields of racism, sexism, and homophobia." They're saying all the stuff that the educated rich tighty whiteys perpetuate, get rich off of, believe wholeheartedly. Poorer, less privileged men voice and do the dirty work to perpetuate this violence, however. Of course.

Anyway, from Air America Radio, here's a little activism for ya from the fields today:
TELL MTV: RUN EMINEM'S VIDEO

Even if you don’t like hip-hop--or if you don’t agree with everything it depicts--Eminem’s new video, “Mosh," is important. It’s animated, but no less stinging for that. It depicts a mother coming home with an eviction notice and seeing a report on Bush’s tax cuts for the rich on television; a soldier returning home to his wife and baby, only to be re-deployed to Iraq; and, at the end, an army of white and black people voting. (Links to Mac-friendly video here). Among the lyrics:

Someone’s trying to tell us something, maybe this is God just saying
We’re responsible for this monster, this coward, that we have empowered
...
Let the President answer our high anarchy
Strap him with an AK-47, let him go
Fight his own war, let him impress daddy that way


Musicians making political statements is nothing new. But there aren’t many recording artists with as wide a following among young people across the country; and fewer still would be willing to risk alienating fans with a video assaulting a candidate this directly, right before an election. And not only is the video unusual, it’s powerful.

Per Kos, you can write-in a vote for the video on MTVs Total Request Live and on their hip-hop request show. On either page, scroll to the bottom, click “Other”, and enter Eminem for artist and “Mosh” for song title. Vote as often as you please.
--Elizabeth

10.26.2004

I always find it rather fascinating that so many anti-chick lit ranty things (including the ones we dish up here for you daily) contain somewhere therein a specific, physical description of a bookstore table laden with fluorescent, candyfloss seemingly interchangeable covers. I like that there is an clear visual image to accompany one's outrage. It's not subtle, you know.

It's right there in front of your face when you go into most bookstores today -- a display that seems to say, "This is what women write. This is what women want to read. This is what sells." Or at least that's the song and dance that the publishing industry would love for you to adopt with fervor equal to its own.

Here's another take on that very subject:
What would Ayn Rand say about Dear Prince Charming? (Which I am sure is a wonderful read). Would Virginia Woolf thumb through What a Girl Wants while sipping her afternoon tea? What could the illustrious writers of the past and the budding present day authors say about a genre of literature that celebrates a women’s independence by revoking it on the very next page.
Did you hear that? Oh, right. SNAP.

Do take a few minutes to read the rest of the hilariously dead-on pop culture commentary that can be found in the whole essay, entitled "Heartbreaking Genius of a Staggering Madwoman: Chick Lit and the Decline of Great Women's Literature." It's so delightful to encounter yet another reader who finds it quite easy to refuse and resist.

-Lauren
With her new book, "The F-Word: Feminism in Jeopardy," political consultant Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner jumps into the fray, offering up both an ambitious analysis of the 19 million politically disenchanted 18- to 34-year- olds who stayed home from the polls in 2000, and an impassioned plea to these very same women to get out and vote.

Happily, Rowe-Finkbeiner refuses to indulge in the trite Sunday style- pages approach to electoral inspiration that many other media outlets have resorted to. (There's nary a mention of "Sex and the City voters," nail-salon- based voter-registration efforts or the like.) Instead, she makes a far more daring gambit by taking two unassailable truths -- many young women are resisting the feminist label, and many young women are choosing not to vote -- and positing a correlation between the two.


Read the rest.

-Lauren

Win a trip to see Oprah. [via Rachel]

-Lauren

There's an interesting conversation at the Readerville forum about women writers and the desire, occasionally seriously reflected upon, to assume a male pseudonym to get published.

Kevin Smokler (creator of the brilliant virtual book tour concept), author MJ Rose (who is also behind the excellent book promotion blog, Buzz, Balls & Hype) and others have chimed in with their take on the sad state of trying to break on through to the other side, so to speak, and whether one should go under deep cover to do so.

I, for one, would never use anything but my real name, but then again, I'm not a published author, am I? Special thanks to writer Martha O'Connor for the shoutout that brought this thread to our attention in the first place.

-Lauren
There was a book that I saw at a bookstore in Palo Alto this past weekend that looked vaguely interesting: I Love Lord Buddha by Hillary Raphael. There is a sample chapter online. The Daily Candy endorsement is a major neg against the book (not because it's D.C. per se, but because it's so poorly written), but she did read at Bluestockings (I missed it). Has anyone read this book? May I persuade you to post a capsule review in the comments section? I would totally love that.

-Lauren
Remember: we are all going to be a little nuts this week, with this election approaching. Granted, this administration has been making us all extra stressed out, panicked, in fact, for quite some time but we all know what the stakes are and we all know what they're capable of, criminally, so we're ready for anything to happen on our televisions next Tuesday.

I say: give yourself a break, do whatever activism makes you feel better and you can handle, but otherwise act like you've already fled to France: eat a little better, move a little more slowly, wear cuter clothes, give your day job the finger, and flirt.

Margaret Cho says:
In truth, I would much rather vote for Leonard Peltier, who runs for the Peace and Freedom Party. Ideally, we should have more than a two party system. Can you call freedom the choice between two masters? We don't live in a free country, and right now we are far from peace. The Peace and Freedom Party is exactly what we need. Unfortunately, I can't risk the chance of Bush winning just to satisfy my hope of what America could be. It's only a few days now, just after Halloween. I love that mystical holiday, when the veil between worlds is the thinnest. If the spirits could vote, I bet they'd all choose Leonard Peltier. He is definitely the most soulful candidate.
--Elizabeth

10.25.2004

The Smart Set, my highly subjective weekly column recommending the most intriguing literary and cultural happenings in New York, is up at MaudNewton.com.

-Lauren
I am totally loving Pistil magazine today:
PISTIL Magazine is a national, independent, Chicago-based publication that showcases groundbreaking talent. With a focus on community, diversity & activism, our content combines high-concept fashion with progressive feminism. Each quarterly, themed issue features five "Groundbreaking Women" making significant strides in their given fields. In addition, the women and men of PISTIL foster activism in the arts through a series of sponsored community awareness events.
I strive to combine high-concept fashion with progressive feminism as well.

-Lauren

REINVENTING ICONOGRAPHY, or because gazing at the billboards of SoHo requires some sort of cosmic re-balance:

Nicole Maynard
Feminist Icons: Paintings, Drawings and Prints

November 2 - 27, 2004

Opening Reception: November 6, 3-6pm

"'Feminist Icons' is an exhibition exploring sexual politics, spirituality and motherhood.    Picasso's minotaur is made into a sex object, a nude Virgin envisions her baby's destiny to be crucified, while a red Buddha-like woman nurses peacefully.  In The War Between the Minotaurs and the Centaurs, a heroine with a unicorn's head takes on a David pose (from the Rape of the Sabine Women) in order to intervene.  The Twin Towers burn in the background.  A minotaur in the foreground holds a gun, casting traditional mythology in a contemporary light.  Women's psyches in all their complexity are given uncensored visual form and are placed in the context of western culture in the twenty-first century.  Maynard is a "painter's painter" who transforms materials into sensuous, visceral, challenging artworks.

On view at the Bowery Gallery, 530 West 25th St. 4th Fl., from November 2-27th, opening reception November 6th 3-6pm.  Gallery hours are Tuesday - Saturday 11am - 6pm.  For more information visit nicolemaynard.com or bowerygallery.org."

-Lauren
Hi lovelies! I am back, just in time to be even more annoyed by the furor over this year's National Book Awards fiction nominees.

I tried to keep up while I was out of town for a couple of days, but even reading one or two things gave me that headache that I always get from too much eye-rolling when I read Us Weekly or Star. Like every time Mary-Kate and Ashley's stylist says, "They're so into vintage right now!" or Jessica Simpson recounts calling her mom during her honeymoon to say, "Gosh, Mom, sex is so amazing!"

That's a fairly good analogy for how I feel about most of the NBA coverage: ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.

This latest hot copy comes from New York magazine, which has gotten a lot better under new editor Adam Moss but still makes me think of a cover with a picture of a shoe and a screaming "hot styles for fall!" headline in terms of word association and sidelong glances as I pass a newstand. On the rare occasion that I do pick up a copy, it's because I really enjoy reading the event picks and short features by Boris Kachka, and am, at least, a little less irked by his take than that of oh, let's just say some publications that might as well have their masthead on a punching bag for what we think of them around here.

Speaking of word associations, I have to say that NEW YORK = PAROCHIAL is not one of them. In fact, when I think of PAROCHIAL, I'm sad to say that there are cities in approximately 49 states that would spring to my mind before New York.

But that's what Kachka quotes the National Book Foundation director as saying:
“And what do we do?” asks foundation director Harold Augenbraum. “We end up with a parochial lineup. Who would expect that all five would be women from New York?”
Since when do talented people of every imaginable persuasion and gender not move by the thousands each year to New York to find success and achieve their dreams? Are they moving somewhere else? Somewhere less PAROCHIAL? Literally, where on fucking earth could that be? Seriously, I DID NOT get that memo.

Countless songs and movies, and every cheesy cliche I can think of illustrate that age-old journey from small town roots to the bright lights of the oh so PAROCHIAL city that never sleeps. Why? Because things happen here. Or maybe not. I mean, I can't even imagine five male authors living in New York! What if all five nominees for a prestigious literary award were men living in New York? How could that occur without fundamentally altering the fabric of the universe? It could never happen! That would be crazy! New York might then even qualify as a bustling village, or even a large town!

Well, that will be the day. The day that people get over their 1950s hang-ups.

xo,
Lauren
Oh how I love me some Maud Newton. This question-and-answer post from her Secret undercover literary Agent is pretty much exactly why I now wake up happy every morning that I didn't sell my book to a big publisher, and that we get to start our own imprint here at Cupcake:

[Q:] It seems that all my friends who write have been stymied of late. One sank all the proceeds of his advance into promotion, then found he would not even get a PW review. Another has been told that the publisher wants yet another book “like” his first three. I observe my own so-called “career” as moving in this direction: I managed to get a good agent and a top literary publisher. I didn’t manage to be “lead” book. There’s no “push,” no way for the books to become visible, even when they get good reviews here and there in this great big country. Seven books on, I’m wondering what to do. What practical advice can you give a mid-list writer who has never gotten any push? Is there anything he can do? It seems to me that a writer can drive himself crazy attempting to make up for what a publisher doesn’t do–and never make a dent.

[A:] Publishers take what works for them and try to replicate it ad infinitum, so it’s not surprising to hear your publisher wants more of the same from you. Actually, it would seem to say that you are indeed a successful author if you’ve published seven books. But with over 150,000 books published last year in the US, it is a challenge, to say the least, to get any one book much attention, and clearly only a very few can be “lead” books. So what then? Be creative. That’s both the lamest and best advice I can give. Start a Web site, have a contest, streak at Wimbledon, buy a billboard, self-publish. There’s no easy answer. The one piece of practical advice I always give an author is to hire an outside publicist if he or she can afford it, because the publisher will only be able to afford to do so much in most cases.
Thanks, Maud! This feature rocks.

xo
--Elizabeth
You know, Kate Walbert's comment that writing workshops have given women permission to write--where previously the, oh let's call it the cliche of male genius was, say, subjugating women into thinking only Norman Mailer and F. Scott Fitzgerald could do it--has really got me thinking.

She's so right.

It was such a little wrestling match for me, in graduate school, to commit to writing: it was all about whether or not I had the authority to write a book at all, and I think most women go through this. The devaluation of domestic, "feminine" subject matter in contrast to the centrality given to epic "masculine" content, the blatant and apalling sexism from professors and students alike, and the lack of women represented in the highest echelon of American letters--none of this helps you get the words on the page either.

But women keep at it--the writing workshop phenomenon is pretty gendered. Most workshops I've been in have been pretty heavily women, and the ones that I teach have been as well. Counter this with the guys I know around New York--I can think of four of them off the top of my head, two of them published--who have written novels and have never set foot in a workshop.

Very, very interesting.

xo
--Elizabeth

10.22.2004

Kate Walbert, National Book Award nominee, is so smart and cool. Definitely check out this interview:
Interviewer: For a long time it was primarily men who wrote and published & there were the "scribbling women."

Walbert: That's interesting. I never thought of it that way. I mean it's interesting to think that maybe the fact that there are many more writing programs and many more writing courses, that they might give women the permission to write. I agree that the myth of the writer as having to step off the whale boat, or come from some great adventure, or be knighted by some higher power, is one that probably has allowed men to enter the profession in great hordes and women to be left behind. I think that women are read differently than men are. In my mind that's the greatest barrier right now, not that there are not women who are writing and writing extremely well and worthy of recognition, but that there are systems that are in place that prevent women from being read the way they should be read.
What a Cupcake, this one!

--Elizabeth
WILL JESUS SAVE ME IN PRADA? (THE MOVIE)

Chick lit continues to find new fans. Harlequin Books, best known for its old-fashioned bodice-rippers, has found success with its trendy Red Dress imprint, and is now going after an overlooked segment of women with what senior editor Joan Marlow Golan calls "Christian chick lit." While these novels - which begin hitting shelves in October - will be carefully tailored (there will be "no booty calls," she notes), the heroines will still be young, single and sassy: "Christian girls wanna have fun, too," Golan says.


FANTASTIC! My mind is reeling with scenarios

WILL JESUS SAVE ME IN PRADA? - The movie

FADE IN: JERRY FALWELL UNIVERSITY - NIGHT

A night cap up in her off-campus studio apartment.

He's drinking cooking sherry. She's having chamomile tea.

Judgmental stares from her two cats as he drunkenly spills his glass of 'evil' all over her inspirational, hand stitched throw pillows.

Awkward silence.

And finally, they go in for their first kiss.

One thing leads to another...

She plays hard to get with,

MARY: "For fudge-sakes Matthew, watch it. This liz claiborne cardigan is only a week old."

Another kiss.

Things really start to get steamy and just before she loses herself into the devils throw she comes to her senses as he begins to do the unspeakable...

MARY: "What do you think your doing with those rosary beads?!"

BLACKOUT

CREDITS ROLL

I want to see that movie!

- Jen (...been going to hell since 1970)
Hey everybody. I am off for the weekend, once I figure out this whole "doing laundry" thing, but I would like to leave you with this thought:

How amazing is the new Elvis Costello album? I am a little in love with it, and haven't quite been able to stop playing it all month. I know some people think that he and wife Diana Krall have been a bad influence on each other musically, and I don't really know her work, so who knows, maybe he's taking her down a few notches. (Ann Lamott just wrote a cute essay about this, in Oprah magazine for October, I think, in which she refused, finally, to play tennis with her boyfriends if they were not playing at her level hence hurting her game, but it's not online, sorry).

But it seems, from this new album, Delivery Man, that Krall's influence on him has brought added complexity and depth, a smart but not too brainy inclusion of jazz elements that I can listen to on the subway over and over and over. I recommend. Cool things happen to guys' art when they don't date down.

xo
Elizabeth

10.21.2004

EW EW EW EW EW EW EW

National Book Awards. Lauren told you to expect a backlash. This one so fast and furious, though, so close to what Lauren predicted, I almost spit out my drink at Barbes two nights ago and had to stop reading until this morning.

New Yorker--I am beyond a love letter on this one. It is time for some dirty talk: you are the biggest slut in town and you deserve a smack for that. I am putting this reactionary Talk of the Town piece about the National Book Award nominees all being women up here in its entirety because you have been a very, very bad boy.
PRIZE FIGHT

The host of a dinner party on Fifth Avenue not long ago, greeted guests with a question: “Can you tell me how clichés subjugate people?” The occasion for this puzzler was that afternoon’s announcement of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Literature, which was awarded to little-known Austrian writer named Elfriede Jelinek. Jelinek, according to the Nobel citation, had won “for her musical flow of voices and counter-voices in novels and plays that with extraordinary linguistic zeal reveal the absurdity of society’s clichés and their subjugating power.” Pardon us?

Rumors began circulating that even Morgan Entrekin, the head of Grove/Atlantic, which has published Jelinek, didn’t know who she was when people stopped to congratulate him at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Not true: “I’d heard of Jelinek,” Entrekin said last week. “But I had not read Jelinek.” Anyway, Entrekin had already moved on to a newer topic of literary-prize chatter—the National Book Awards, whose finalists were announced last Wednesday. “I haven’t read one of those books,” Entrekin said, of the five fiction candidates. “I’m sure they were all worthy in their own way. But I had only heard of one of them.”

Consider some of the writers who were eligible this year: Philip Roth, Tom Wolfe, Joyce Carol Oates, John Updike, Cynthia Ozick. And the nominees are: Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, Christine Schutt, Joan Silber, Lily Tuck, and Kate Walbert. All of the authors are women, and each lives here in New York City. According to the Times, only one book has sold even two thousand copies.

“I’m sort of astounded at this list,” the novelist Thomas McGuane said last week. “It’s got a provincial tone—five women from New York? Maybe it should be called the Municipal Book Awards.” [Will somebody please do a count of how many times it has been five men from New York? Did anyone call it "Municipal" then?--Eliz.]

McGuane, who was a finalist for the award in 1973, for his novel “Ninety-two in the Shade,” is no stranger to the selection process. He chaired the fiction committee in 1995—the last time, incidentally, that Roth won, for “Sabbath’s Theater.” “The judges range from cynical to earnest,” McGuane explained, noting that, with hundreds of books to choose from, the task is, on its face, impossible. “You have some judges who just read forty-three words and give up.” (Michael Kinsley, one of 2002’s nonfiction judges, caused a minor furor when he admitted that “you must put aside any fuddy-duddy notion of not judging a book by its cover, or at least by its title.”) “Generally, the winner is three people’s second-favorite book,” McGuane said.

Stewart O’Nan, one of this year’s fiction judges (and a decidedly earnest one), doesn’t see what the fuss is about. “This is just five really good books,” he said. “There were a lot of books this year written by writers with large reputations, but it’s not a popularity contest. I think we’re all happy.” He went on, “If I were handicapping I’d give all five an even, twenty-per-cent shot.” [Stewart O'Nan: please come read at Cupcake's Men We Love night happening sometime in 2005. Thank you. --Eliz.]

Historically, all the judges do not end up happy. Antonya Nelson, who chaired last year’s fiction committee, said that she’d received an e-mail from Rick Moody, this year’s chairman, asking for advice. “My only advice was that they ought to commit to being agreeable with one another,” she said. She recalled a cocktail-party conversation with another former judge. “The committee he’d been overseeing had been acrimonious,” she said. “He sincerely felt that the book they’d chosen was a real compromise.” So she told her panel, “I don’t want to be at a cocktail party in the future bad-mouthing any of you.” (They chose Shirley Hazzard’s “The Great Fire.”)

McGuane’s committee was notably contentious and didn’t decide to give Roth the prize until an hour before dinner was served at the awards banquet. “I loved ‘Sabbath’s Theater,’” he said. “But not everybody agreed with me. In fact, I’m confident that at least somebody on my committee was disgusted by the experience and sorry to be associated with the prize.”

Whatever the case, the judges seem to be working from a murky set of guidelines. “We were charged with finding something that’s enduring,” Nelson recalled. “So we inclined ourselves toward the bigger palette, the historical sweep.”

O’Nan said that he has read “The Plot Against America,” Roth’s new book, which, arguably, has been the year’s most celebrated literary release. “I think it’s a wonderful reworking of history that he tries to then fulfill. And it works for a while, but then he realizes he’s painted himself into a corner he can’t get out of, and he throws his hands up and says, ‘Oh, help!’” He added, “It’s a good try.”

Roth ranks higher on O’Nan’s list than Tom Wolfe, however, whose novel, “I Am Charlotte Simmons,” is due out next month. “Ay-yi-yi, John Irving was right: the guy’s not a novelist,” O’Nan said. “It’s nice that he thinks he’s the new Dickens, but he’s just not. Wow! What are you gonna do?”

McGuane, for his part, thinks there’s not much you can do, given that the awards are inherently anti-democratic. “When I see an institution like this one apparently tanking, I’m not all that sorry, because there’s just no way to make it viable,” he said. “My first thought was, Well, this was the meltdown we were promised.”

— Ben McGrath
O'Nan giving me a little hope here. The rest of you: no more love letters from me.

Will someone tell McGuane not to worry--the men-to-women ratio in the New Yorker and all the others of its kind, the New York Times Book Review, tenure track teaching positions, and the number of serious novels published should keep that meltdown from happening until you are long gone, dude.

And, Ben McGrath, you were so coy up there at the beginning, jeez louise. The last time I turned on my television, society's cliches were out in full force subjugating people to the point where extensive cosmetic surgeries, designed to make everyone look like an LA aerobics instructor, can be viewed pretty much any hour of the day, where despite orange alerts blah blah blah the local news still tenaciously stirs up ratings by portraying young black men as a major threat to public safety, where you can't find a woman above a size 4 and if she's a size 8 there's a press junket about how it's so great a full-figured gal gets her own tv show about how imperfect and slightly pathetic she is. *

Snap.

We here at Cupcake have our work cut out for us, but, in a way, that's good news, because we are going to have a blast doing it. Watch for the Cupcake Liberation Front this spring.

xo
Elizabeth

*Not to mention that old chestnut of the genius male writer, toiling away, sentence after inspired sentence in a oak-lined study, winning prizes, smoking a pipe, teaching at Yale, publishing in the New Yorker. Could this one possibly subjugate anyone?
A CHILDREN'S BOOK - O'REALY?


I know it's petty and imature but I LOVE IT!.

O'Reilly's new book is going to make a great stocking stuffer.

Only in America could Mr. O'Reilly appear on "Live With Regis and Kelly" to plug his new moralistic children's advice book (sample dictum: "Healthy sex is a combination of sensible behavior and sincere affection") just as old and young alike were going online to search thesmokinggun.com for the lewd monologues attributed to him in Ms. Mackris's 22-page complaint.


jen

10.20.2004

OH SISTER

I had no idea that Lynne Cheney was a published author. Her book is too expensive though...hmm, I wonder why?

Jen
HONEY, THAT'S MY MOTTO

"No cowboys," pronounced Alessandra Bazardi, editorial director of Harlequin Mondadori, a joint venture between Italy's leading publishing house and the romance fiction giant. "And no babies, or at least not on the cover."

Read more of what sells (and what doesn't) in Women's fiction for Europe.

-Lauren
Dearest Cupcakes:

I am heading out of town in just a few short hours for a little r&r in sweet San Francisco... I know. Right now you're asking yourself how on earth my life could be more fabulous. To tell you the truth, I have no idea (well, there is this one thing...), either. I've been kissed by fortune lately, darling, and fortune frenches.

I will miss our witty little banter here, of course, but must be consoled by that fact that I leave you in the ultra-capable hands of SuperJen and Miss Elizabeth, who blog like crazy when they are not out dancing on tables with handsome, mysterious strangers -- kind of like the Hilton sisters, if their handbags weren't so much larger than their brains.

xo,
Lauren

PS One last link before I go [via feministe].

PPS Back Sundayish. XO.
Lorrie Moore goes all cash-money all-star to the tune of 30,000 smackers. Sweet.

-Lauren

10.19.2004

LITERARY LUNCH

100 Hispanic business women got together last week to support un-published and published Latina writers.


"There are a lot of Latinos who want to write a book, and they don't even know where to start," said Sobeida Cruz, the 100 Hispanic Women group's local president and the organizer of yesterday's event at Manhattanville College. "I'm hoping if they hear Latina writers here, they will say, 'Hey, we can also do that.'

Michelle Herrera Mulligan, said, "It's not just getting published, it's getting supported."

Mulligan urged Latina readers to search out Latino-themed books, like "Border-Line Personalities," a collection of memoirs by young bicultural Latinas she edited with Robyn Moreno.

"If we don't tell our own stories," said Quintero, "someone else will, and they will misrepresent us."


respect!

Jen
LADYFEST EAST starts Oct 28!

The festival features lots of fun and interesting workshops, shows (The Gossip, Le Tigre, etc), performances, films and more, including GirlComic (and Cupcake alum, January '04) Becky Donohue.

Funny woman Chelsea Peretti is also in the comedy line-up. We would tend to tend to agree with her vision of an improved new york:
If you could change one thing about New York, what would it be?

Lower rent. Add more sexy men. Raise salaries. Make opportunities to eat private, complimentary, buffet style food. And I don�t mean buffet-style like a bunch of shitty hotel food, I mean this decadent smorgasbord of all my favorite foods. It would have chocolate fondue and oysters and great salads and tart pies, and tart lemon cake and lots of appetizers and seafood and pasta. And cheese/fruit plates. As well as an olive bar. Also ice cream sundaes with fudge and almonds, dim sum and sushi (+ grilled shrimp with garlic and butter). Drinkwise it will have: cranberry Calistoga, vitamin water, coke, wine, saki, margaritas, and more.
Most definitely.

-Lauren

10.18.2004

The excellent Sarah Weinman points us to an article in The Guardian about a potential shake-up in the upper eschelons of HarperCollinsUK.

Here's a really telling quote:

"'Bringing in Caroline Michel was a brave experiment. Has it worked? No,' said one commissioning editor. 'It is the kind of run of bad luck or bad judgment that allows a certain type of man in the industry to complain there is too much oestrogen around.'"

Is that what's keeping you from being successful? Too much estrogen flying around? I can imagine that must be rather disconcerting. So disconcerting that you can only be quoted anonymously. Classy.

-Lauren

It's Monday afternoon, so that means that, as always, my picks for the week are up at the superlative MaudNewton.com. I slaved over a hot laptop for hours last night -- just for you, darling -- so do take a peek!

-Lauren

Remember when I predicted (with a yawn) some of the potential critiques of this year's fiction nominees for National Book Awards?

Here, we are, just a week later, and the New York Times presents a few choice quotes, tied with a neat little bow ("New Novels, Big Awards, No Readers"):

-OUTDATED?
""We are completely closing ourselves off from the culture at large," said Larry Kirschbaum, the chairman of the Time Warner Book Group, "we are supporting our demise.""

-IMMATERIAL?
"Esther Newberg, a literary agent at International Creative Management, said, "We are not helping the book business this way, and we're not exactly flourishing already.""

-IRRELEVANT?
"Jason Epstein, former editorial director of Random House and the first recipient of the National Book Award for distinguished contributions to American letters, said it was particularly surprising that the panel did not choose Philip Roth's novel "The Plot Against America" (Houghton Mifflin). "I can't imagine what the conversation was that produced these results," Mr. Epstein said."

My favorite section is this claim made by the reporter: "The awards were once more firmly planted in the cultural mainstream," which he qualifies with the following passage: "From Here To Eternity," by James Jones, won the fiction prize in 1952, followed by Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" the next year. Faulkner, Cheever, Updike and Roth all have won, as have Joyce Carol Oates, E. Annie Proulx and Alice McDermott."

Oh yes, because nine (hardly related, with the exception of two successive years) examples over 54 years certainly denote a major cultural trend.

-Lauren
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (who reads at Cupcake on Nov. 9), is interviewed at All Africa:
What is your writing process like?

I don't have a schedule. I'm always amazed at writers who need to light a candle or something. I like to write on the train. Sometimes I like to write at night. Whenever I'm alone and the house is silent. I need to know that I have the time to write, that I have the whole day. That's probably also why I work best at night, because I know that I don't have to go anywhere at 3:00 in the morning, or take care of my nephew, or cook for anybody.

How important is silence in your writing?

The kind of literature I love has a lot of silence. The power of the things left unsaid. I think really Purple Hibiscus is about Kambili finding her voice.
[Link via Moorish Girl]

-Lauren
British feminist Beatrix Campbell reimagines progress.

-Lauren

The vaguely controversial children's book The Lonely Doll and its creator, Dare Wright, were somewhat forgotten but then rediscovered.

-Lauren
Stephany at MaudNewton.com has the details on a show of art by Zelda Fitzgerald in New York through November 7.

I was recently moved by Marion Meade's description of Zelda's attempts to become a writer (and a ballerina, among other things), in her excellent Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin. It's a history, more or less, of the 1920s and the intertwining lives of Zelda Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Edna Ferber during a heady time in American History. Highly recommended.

Also fabulous: The Nancy Milford bio of Zelda with the peacock feathers on the cover.

-Lauren

Todd went to a booty bass party and did not have a good time:
Were it not for the company I was keeping, the whole experience would have made me feel existentially glum, especially when the DJ started asking (screaming) who, in the audience, was fucked up and drunk. Satisfied with the percentage of respondents who were affirmative, Disco D proceeded to play a bunch of tracks that promised "women are ho's" and having sex with a woman who has fake tits is OK, as long as they feel all right. As DD dug deeper into his set, pausing only to assure us he had been provided with "the shittiest mixer in history," it seemed like his every musical cue had the following subtext: I AM NOT GOING TO LEAVE HERE UNTIL I TURN ONE OF YOU FELLAS INTO A RAPIST.
Yet another reason smart girls heart Todd forever.

-Lauren

LADIES, CLOSE YOUR PURSES

Did you all get this email? Check it out:
Subject: She Stops Shopping to Conquer - October 19, 2004

If women shut their purses and didn't shop for a day, would the economy suffer? The idea gets tested on Oct. 19 by 85 Broads, a networking group founded in 1999 by Janet Hanson, who worked for Goldman Sachs-headquartered at 85 Broad St.

Business Week has learned that 85 Broads is asking its 4,000-plus members in 450 companies, colleges, and B-schools not to spend that day.

Hanson says the "buycott" will show the gap between women's purchasing power and their underrepresentation in boardrooms and executive suites.

Members plan to spread the word to friends and to women on college campuses. Women control $3.3 trillion in yearly consumer spending, 44% of national spending- a sum that isn't just symbolic. According to Business Week, the U..S. economy has become increasingly female-driven...

Did you know that women in the U.S.:
1) Control $3.3 TRILLION in annual consumer spending?
2) Make 62% of all car purchases?
3) Take more than 50% of all business trips?
4) Control over 50% of the personal wealth in this country?

UNFORTUNATELY, WOMEN'S PURCHASING POWER STILL HASN'T TRANSLATED INTO ECONOMIC POWER.

According to Catalyst, only 6 CEO's in the Fortune 500 are women, 12.4% are board directors, and 5.2% are among the top earners in the country.

On TUESDAY, OCTOBER 19th, we invite you to leave your checkbook and credit cards at home as a symbolic gesture that we no longer "buy" the glacial pace of change for working women in America. Instead of shopping, go for a walk in the park, write a letter to a friend, enjoy a museum, or help someone in need.
Deep.

--Elizabeth
DIRTY FRIENDS

A former "Friends" assistant is suing for sexual harassment. She says the writing staff made lewd jokes about the actress Courtney Cox. Not so sure her case is strong enough but it does bring up interesting questions on censorship. What will the late night writing rooms be like without the creative flow of silly, crude, potty mouth jokes? I myself am a huge fan and practitioner of scatological humor and believe that All is fair in the comedy war room.

You decide.

But it's the blurb below that really makes we want to scream profanaties:

WITH few exceptions, situation comedies are written by large groups of predominantly young white guys - often under-socialized, smart-alecky guys for whom "Portnoy's Complaint" and "American Pie" are sacred texts - who are cooped up together in small spaces late into the night. (According to the Writers Guild of America, of the 1,576 writers who worked on network television programs in the 2002-2003 season, 425 were women.)

what the f#@*!?

Jen
For all you southern Cupcakes (we know you're out there), upcoming Cupcake Martha Witt is coming to you. She is a major talent, so check her out:

10/18 at 7:30pm at the Barnes and Noble in Cary, NC.

10/19 at 7:30 at the Barnes and Noble in Durham, NC.

10/20 at 7:00pm at Malaprops Bookstore in Asheville, NC.


xo
--Elizabeth
 
I just hit a point where I can't remember what I've blogged about before and what I haven't. Lauren is fresher and dewier than I am, not to mention bigger-brained, and doesn't have this problem, or won't until she's an old lady at least. Everything is so dense for me right now as I am registering new students for my workshops like mad (so cool that things are filling up fast!), trying to get Girly out into the world as we start a new Cupcake publishing imprint, and working on our new website--so exciting!--and our 2005 activist effort, the Cupcake Liberation Front.

I don't know if I said it before, but I woke up feeling it again: I am so grateful that I had a really hard time finding an agent who thought Girly would be able to be sold as a first novel. At the time, of course, I was disappointed and pissed, but now it's pure excitement (not counting the mild constant fatigue and detail-overload).

Because I've gotten to create a little community with Jen and Lauren who both feel like this glorious happy fate working in my life, and I've gotten to hear such great readers at Lolita once a month, and we get to create an alternate world where the publishing industry dinosaur is just being all lame all over town, and we get to start a group with the words "Liberation Front" in it.

Cool.

xo
--Elizabeth

10.15.2004

NOTHING SACRED

I just found my Halloween costume on gawker. Sorry Martha.

Have a great weekend!

xo

jen
FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Coordinating your outfit with the wallpaper is so very.

Alone! Alone! Lives of Some Outsider Women: "In the course of over thirty years of writing about psychology, child development, biography, and fiction, Rosemary Dinnage has encountered a variety of outstanding women, all of whom, in one way or another, felt powerfully alone. Here she brings together her reflections on some of the most memorable of them, including solitairies like the painter Gwen John and the philosopher Simone Weil; muses to partners of genius like Clementine Churchill and Giuseppina Verdi; unstoppable characters like the birth-control advocate Marie Stopes and the children's novelist Enid Blyton; literary survivors like Isak Dinesen and Rebecca West; and, along the way, an assortment of aristocrats, lawbreakers, manic-depressives, transvestites, and storytellers."

"Nymphoto is a collective of women photographers dedicated to creating a community of and for female artists, in order to span the gender divide that pervades throughout the art world today. Our primary concern is to increase the exposure of our photographers and the work they create. ... We are our own school; we are our own representation; we are our own gallery." Member Tema Stauffer currently has a solo exhibition of her gorgeous contemporary photography at Jen Bekman (open tomorrow from 12-6pm.)

I'm off for the rest of the day, to attend to other projects and later to see Regina Spektor at Housing Works tonight, and then on to points and destinations unknown thereafter. Have a lovely weekend.

xo,
Lauren
WEEKEND UPDATE

Looking for someplace new to dine in the city? Clare "Maccers" (Cupcake alum, Sept '04) moonlights as a restaurant reviewer for TheBubbly.com.

Congrats to Elizabeth Spiers (Cupcake alum, Sept '04) on her new gig building an empire at Mediabistro.com!

Jenny Davidson (Cupcake alum, July '03) has an intriguing piece on psychoanalysis in The Village Voice Literary Supplement.

Rachel Kramer Bussel (Cupcake alum, Sept '04) will guest-host Barbes' reading series later this month with fellow woman-about-town and anti-chickliteer Nichelle. Note: Nichelle also produces Chicks & Giggles, an all-women stand-up comedy show.

-Lauren
Identity Theory announces its First Annual Nonfiction Contest. "Please submit your nonfiction stories, rants, confessions, plots, plans, embarrassments, love stories, escapades, etc. Anything counts, so long as it really happened. No amount of words is too few, or too many. Pictures are fine."

IT has many excellent interview with authors. One of my favorites is with Donna Tartt, who discusses the practice of writing novels that are a long time in the making, the hazards and demands of publicity and fame, and the visual acuities of readers today:
Rober Birnbaum: ...One thing that struck me as I finished The Little Friend is how you [the writer] knew it was finished? How did you know when you wanted to end the book?

DT: I knew it from the very beginning. This is very much the book I set out to write when I set out ten years ago. This is how I envisioned it. I wanted it to end in a fairly uncertain place. I didn't want to tie things up too neatly. I don't think it's really the business of a writer today, to tie up narrative too neatly and deliver it in a box. And to lead the killer away in handcuffs. Do you know what I am saying? It's too much about television and movies and it's too much a kind of narrative that we are inundated with. It's a writer's business now, to work at the edges of narrative and different kinds of experience, which is just as legitimate but not as stylized and ritualized as the kinds of things we all have been used to for many, many years.

It's impossible to be a novelist in the 21st century and not be influenced by media—by film—we are creatures with enormous visual cortexes. For us seeing is believing. We have become so visually sophisticated. Everyone is visually sophisticated because of television; because of advertising we are inundated with images.

RB: Are you suggesting that many novels have become more like visual media than like old-fashioned stories?

DT: No, not quite. It's impossible to be a novelist in the 21st century and not be influenced by media—by film—we are creatures with enormous visual cortexes. For us seeing is believing. We have become so visually sophisticated. Everyone is visually sophisticated because of television; because of advertising we are inundated with images. This has been going on since the early part of the 20th century. There is no one alive today in this culture that really hasn't been inundated by images. That necessarily colors writing, not necessarily in a bad way. A writer like Vladmir Nabokov is influenced by film and he talks about it. He uses visual puns in his work very often. And then you have a writer like Jane Austen who very seldom describes what a character looks like. We don't really know what they look like. "A nice well formed gentleman of twenty-four…", the descriptions are very vague. That's not necessarily a bad thing. It's a different thing. Our enormous visual sophistication as a people and as a culture has infiltrated us in every way not just in the writing of novels and the reading of novels. So, no, I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing.
She is so genius. I absolutely love her work.

-Lauren
Whenever I am running late and need to grab something off my bookshelf to read on the subway, I often end up with two-time Cupcake alum (Oct. '03 & Sept. '04) Jami Attenberg's Deli Life. It's a terrific, slim little volume of stories about the relationship between a woman and her convenience store. Jami has a new project out, and we're delighted to report that you can now obtain a little instant love for yourself for less than the cost of a latte:
I am starting to hate this book. So here is the deal with Instant Love. Through Hilarious Hijinks TM with the printer, I now have double the print order. What does this mean for me? I get to fold and staple an additional 100 copies. What does it mean for you? I'm halving the cost of the adorable little book with very dirty art. So $7 gets you two books, and if you really insist, $4 gets you one book. But I am hoping that you'll buy two books, one for you, one for the one you love. So please buy one (or two) now. Or let me know if you want to trade.

A little bit about the book:
The short story is called "Spare Change" and it takes place in Seattle. Daniel's art work is awesome. I didn't realize how dirty it was until I was at the printer last night, and they were like, that's naughty. It's a bunch of pictures of naked ladies. If you like naked ladies, this is the book for you, even though my story is not about naked ladies at all, though there are ladies in it. And even though I hate this book because there were so many problems making it (it had to be laid out twice, the first printer was mean, the second printer was really nice but made too many, I kept forgetting to bring artwork to work or to the printer and I generally was an idiot throughout the entire process), now of course I love it madly, because it is done, it is sweet, and as always with the Instant Love collection, it fits very nicely in your pocket.
Available now at whatever-whenever.net.

-Lauren

This columnist, writing for the Allentown Messenger-Press, who admits to being "a voracious reader, running a book group and working in the library," wryly observes of Bergdorf Blondes:
The characters were — to borrow a phrase from Sykes herself — absolutely "beyond" and not in a good way. The writing was done, I believe, on scraps of napkins from Starbucks and tickets from dry cleaners on the Upper East Side.
I think this an example of that small-town graciousness that people are always talking about, because she's really being kind in that description.

-Lauren
Love this lede*:
IF NIGELLA LAWSON did not exist it would be necessary for someone - India Knight, say, or Marian Keyes - to invent her. Her life story has all the ingredients of a chick-lit bestseller: celebrity, beauty, tragedy, politics, food, wealth, marriage to a restless and elusive art dealer - and a hint of fetishistic sex.
But seriously, can anyone name a chick-lit bestseller that even remotely contains that many interesting story elements? 5 out of 8 even?

*If you're curious, it's from an article about the branding of inexplicable culinary sensation Jamie Oliver.

-Lauren

10.14.2004

AIN'T NO PARTY LIKE A WEST COAST PARTY

From the latest Bitch newsletter:

:::Shake N'Fake:::
When Saturday night rolls around, you gotta think Bitch. A lovely, new issue (The Fake Issue) + a lovely, newish Oakland venue = a night of dancin' and
genuinely Fake fun. Fake like it's Halloween, and wow everyone with your best, Fake-themed, outfit. It's been a long time coming, us getting together, don't you think?

Saturday, October 16th - 9pm @ Mile High Club

Music by Lipstick Conspiracy, the cold war, Lizzy and the Redbirds, DJ Neil Martinson

Donations gladly accepted: $10-20 sliding scale. (ages 21+)

-Lauren
This passage from an article on the National Book Award nominees is so wild:
The list of fiction finalists consisted of five female authors, all living in New York City, and included two first-time novelists, Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, for "Madeleine Is Sleeping" (Harcourt), and Christine Schutt, for "Florida" (TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press). This is the first time the fiction short list has not included any men.
What could account for this...anomaly? Did men not publish enough books this year? Is the whole publishing industry falling apart?

My instinct, of course, is to say that indeed, the world has changed and our work is done. But first, I think I'll just wait for the inevitable essay in (1) Harpers, (2) The New Yorker, or (3) The Atlantic that decries the awards as (a) "irrelevent" in the marketplace, (b) "immaterial" to the literary world, and/or (c) simply "outdated."

Maybe it's just the sky that's falling, no?

-Lauren
BECAUSE EVERYONE LOVES WOMEN WHO GET AROUND

I am totally charmed by this review, by Jennifer Hunter of The Chicago Sun-Times, of the new travel writing collection by Susan Orlean. Noted:
These travel writings tended to reflect more about the domestic habits in foreign lands than they did about the actual locales. They were less about adventure and more about the fragmented details of daily, human life. It may seem a bit of a stretch -- and a leap through centuries -- to compare these early feminist travel writers to Susan Orlean, whose book My Kind of Place is described as a collection of travel pieces. But Orlean's book, like Wollstonecraft's and Sand's, is not about conventional travel.

It does tell you something about place, but it tells more about the ordinary people who inhabit that place and the ethos that governs their lives. It certainly isn't about the orthodox concerns of most travelers, the great hotels and lavish dinners. At one point Orlean finds herself sleeping on a hard bunk in a hut on Mt. Fuji after a dinner of plain boiled rice. What Orlean does, in the fashion of her 18th and 19th century forebears, is to explore the domestic at home and abroad: the sandlots where Cuban boys play baseball, an independently owned supermarket in Queens, a trailer park just outside of Portland, Ore.
I love the perspective that the writer provides in that piece.

And then, of course, there is the post that inspired this one, a wonderfully dense collection of related ephemera at the always interesting -- in the best, fullest sense of the word -- kimsaid blog. Topics noted therein: Off the Beaten Track: Three Centuries of Women Travellers, "the history of Silhouette-making", and "an upcoming exhibit features two beautiful portraits of the Senior sisters, 'the toast of London society in 1858.'"

I am heading off on an adventure of my own next month, one that may include a perusal of the inscriptions in the catacombs of Paris. The New York Times notes that the city is in the throes of a George Sand revival.

Related reading: Persepolis 2, The Book of Salt, Madeleine is Sleeping.

-Lauren

My mother mails me articles and things from time to time, as she has not expressed an interest in email beyond a brief flirtation every other year or so, and recently she sent me a couple of pages from the New York Times Book Review from a couple of weeks ago.

I should admit that I get at least 98% of my news online, and frankly, hardly ever read anything as stultifying as the NYTBR. So it was nice to flip through a few pages I could hold in my hand. Different.

The article she sent was a review, by Jed Perl, of Hunter Drohojowska-Philp's recent biography of Georgia O' Keefe. He wasn't particularly jazzed by it, but there was a interesting discussion of individualism in modern art. Noted:
What connects O'Keeffe with Kahlo, Modigliani and Dalí is that they were all unwilling to allow a style to take on a life of its own. In the work of these artists style remained a private matter, and the public flocked to their work precisely because it seemed the revelation of a secret -- a kind of visual arts exposé. For Dalí there was nothing but the preternatural weirdness of his dreams. For Modigliani the whole world was a succession of bohemian Everymen and Everywomen. For Kahlo life was as intricately tangled as the figures on an antique Mexican votive painting. For O'Keeffe all experience was a cycle of blossoming forth and withering away. And for the public these signature styles became like an actor's beloved mannerisms -- like Clark Gable's swaggering toughness or Marlene Dietrich's suave seduction.
It goes without saying that I could read Jed Perl's work all day. I found his review, for The New Republic, of an exhibition of Icelandic artist Louisa Matthiasdottir at Scandinavia House to be particularly moving.

Even better, I flipped the page to discover another one of my favorite bylines - Liesl Schillinger. I always read everything of hers that I come across, and this case was no exception. Her review of a writer's memoir of love and its lesser outcomes in Russia was sharp, amusing and actually a pleasure to read.

Maybe I will read the Times more often. Although I certainly try, but usually end up feeling embarassed for the editors of the "Sunday Styles" section and most of the features. And anything that McGrath touches. Cringe-worthy.

-Lauren
I am just in love with the Pulpwood Queens of East Texas, who hold court at Beauty and the Book, billed as "the only hair salon/bookstore in the country."

Says founder Kathy Patrick:
I told all of my clients and friends to come to my shop and we had six brave souls venture to the first meeting. I told the group that we were going to read a book a month, meet on the second Tuesday evening of each month and we would all wear tiaras. They looked at me like deer caught in headlights! I kept plying them more wine, cheese, and crackers and continued announcing that our motto was going to be “where tiaras are mandatory and reading good books is the RULE!”
I only wish that we had thought of tiaras.

-Lauren
Readings this evening:

NEW YORK:
Felicia Luna Lemus reads from her novel, Trace Elements of Random Tea Parties at the Brooklyn Public Library, with Manuel Munoz, as part of the Latino Authors Series.

CHICAGO:
Claire Zulkey, author of Girls! Girls! Girls! reads: "If you're interested, Thursday night I will be reading at a reading and reception sponsored by Bridge Magazine and the Chicago Public Library, 8-9:30 PM at the Bridge space at 119 N. Peoria, featuring students and faculty from Northwestern University's Masters in Creative Writing Program such as Charles Fiori (NPR's Stories on Stage winner), Matt Pagano (ImprovOlympic Theater), and Mike Newirth (Bridge Magazine.) The piece I am reading is not humorous per se, but you can laugh nonetheless. I hear that beer will be provided."

-Lauren

10.13.2004

Jen, that Hanne Blank article is exactly right, thank you so much for posting it.

Yes: "the domestic, the mundane, the sensual, the emotionally fraught" are feminized and given NO authority in literature--any book that deals with these things gets knocked down to "middle-brow" by unspoken sub-genre lines or actual critics.

THIS is why Jonathan Franzen didn't want Oprah's Book Club sticker. He didn't mind the very boy-boy FSG sticker on his book, now did he? But his panic was this, in my belief: putting Oprah's Book Club on there knocks him down to the realm of giving blow jobs and sweeping floors and dating bad men and surviving the pink collar ghetto, none of which make for "serious literature," or what Alice Sebold so geniusly calls "big boy books." Oprah's Book Club meant to him: "you write like you have a vagina and nobody with a brain will take your book seriously."

(By the way, getting blow jobs does in fact make for serious literature, the last time I checked).

And then don't you just love it when Franzen in interviews on The Corrections starts going on and on about how he's finding new turf in literature--writing about family dramas and the domestic sphere is this big, new crazy world he's discovered! (with a pathetic Eastern European coup storyline tacked on for street cred with his homies, of course). I actually really loved The Corrections, but I find embarrassing and laughable most of Franzen's brouhaha about a) the novel being dead (I think he forgot, when he wrote that Harper's essay, that he meant the Total Old White Guy Cranky Ass Novel being dead) and b) his novel doing something totally new because it deals with people who talk about their emotions.

Women and other Not Old White Guy Cranky Asses have been writing amazing new turf in the novel for the past 30 years and still are, which Franzen failed to notice when he wrote that Harper's Is-the-Novel-Dead? article.

And in these Not Old White Guy Cranky Ass novels, people actually sometimes talk about their emotions.

But a hetero white guy comes along, writes a decent novel, and says he invented these things, you give him the National Book Award.

Louise Erdrich rivals Faulkner in scope and depth, and surpasses him in style, and she gets passed over.

I'm just saying.

xo
--Elizabeth

Just stumbled onto this interesting article on chick lit by Hanne Blank. She delivers a very important message on what this genre is doing to not just the literary industry but our gender as a whole.

"The problem is that when critics (professional or otherwise) rip into Chick Lit, what they're really scoffing at most of the time isn't the worn clichés, the puerile plots, or the graceless prosody, it's women. As a writer and editor with five books on the shelves whose work has been featured in magazines from Southwest Art to Penthouse — and specifically as a woman whose work deals in-depth with issues of sexuality and gender — I should know. Sexism has a long and storied history, and part of the game is that certain topics — the domestic, the mundane, the sensual, the emotionally fraught--have for centuries been feminized, associated with women in order to be dismissed. The literary equivalent of "you throw like a girl" is "you write like a girl."

"I say all this not to excuse Chick Lit's failings — I personally can't stand 95 percent of what I've read of it — but to point out that most of the people who pooh-pooh it, including most of the feminists I've heard dissing the pastel-colored, shoe-festooned covers and the unthinking heterosexism that pervades every page, are being distracted from getting at what's really wrong with the genre. It isn't the writing, the packaging, or even the genre — it's the way these books deal, and fail to deal, with gender."

"I, for one, would welcome a Chick Lit that backed up its cute shoes with a bit of clout. I want to see Chick Lit women who are able to overcome (even briefly) their tendency to flail, women whose strength may be imperfect but is nonetheless evident. What's really wrong with Chick Lit now isn't that it trades in floundering frustration, Jimmy Choo sandals, and helplessness over role-modeling, feminism, or, for that matter, proper grammar. What's wrong is that, in this incarnation as in the one George Eliot lambasted well over a century ago, it's too unconscious of itself to care."

She nails it on the head! I can, and will, learn to live with chick-lit. I will even embrace it, just as long as they "make it better".

xx

Jen

Lauren just sent me this article about SNL:
Mr. Michaels said that while he knew the decision to create a two-woman team would probably be seen as admirable, he emphasized that he and Ms. Fey had only comic chemistry, not equal opportunity, in mind as they chose a new anchor.

"It has to work because it's funny. No one's going to say, 'I admire the choice, therefore I'm going to watch it.' "

Mr. Michaels chose Ms. Fey to be an "Update" anchor four years ago, when she was head writer, a decision that he described as "kind of risky at the time" but that has been well received by critics.
Two Female anchors on Saturday Night Live. It's about time!

I have been a huge Amy Poehler fan ever since my Chicago days. Lorne Michaels did a very smart thing casting Amy Poehler and Tina Fey side by side. I am just amazed at how far Lorne Michaels has come. He has been known in the past to not cast a female comedian on the show on the basis that they were, and I quote, "not fuckable enough." Harsh language but the truth must be told.

That show and the comedy world in general has always been a boy's club and it has been only in the past few years that women have emerged into the spotlight. Thanks to the amazing comics like Wanda Sykes, Margaret Cho and Janeane Garofalo, not to mention hundreds of other 'no-names' who have forged the way.

When I first started my stand-up career I had club bookers suggest to me that I wear a skirt on stage instead of jeans -- this was in the mid-nineties! Another club booker refused to have me back at her club because she thought my material was "too dirty". We should leave potty humor up to the boys, right?

I recently did a show on the Upper West Side where there were a lot of female comics on the bill who were all fiercely hilarious. One of the male comics, who did not do well on this particular evening, turned to me and said, "Well, I guess it's the year of the girl comic." I couldn't help but laugh at this, "C'mon," I said, "It will always be the year of the man in this business, always." Let's just hope I am proven wrong.

hugs & giggles,
Jen
Last night Elizabeth gave me a book to read, Madeleine Is Sleeping by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, that I hadn't heard of before. How nice to see that it's been nominated for a National Book Award today.

UPDATE: Sarah was there last night! I totally recognized her from her author photo, and then Monique confirmed it! Very cool. I'm so excited to read her book.

-Lauren
Amanda Stern -- Cupcake alum (April '04), author of Softskull sensation The Long Haul, and director of the Happy Ending Reading Series -- is the subject of today's interview at Gothamist.com. The whole interview is worth a read, and she mentions Cupcake:
There are a lot of amazing series out there. I can never get to Little Grey Book Lectures because it’s on the same night as Happy Ending, but John Hodgman is enormously talented. KGB obviously has consistently good people. Cupcake promotes strong female voices; One Story devotes their nights to one author, Sunday at Sunny’s and Barbes are also pretty special. There’s a lot going on.
Amanda also gave a shout out to Cupcake when she spoke with Maisonneuve earlier this year. As if we didn't already have enough reasons to adore her.

If you're in New York and looking for something smart and fun to do, the Happy Ending Reading Series is tonight.

-Lauren

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