Author Archives: Jessi

The Books of Gender and Girls’ Fiction

I’ve been wanting to do a round up of all of my books from classes this summer, but I haven’t managed much beyond work and writing. Which seems to be the way of things these days.

I’m actually going to only focus on one class: Gender and Girls’ Fiction. Mostly because I started reading for The History and Criticism of Children’s Literature way back in March, so they’re not in a handy-dandy list right at my fingertips at the moment.

Wide, Wide World– I read probably half of this, not managing the whole thing because I joined the class on a Wednesday and we were supposed to have it read by Friday. It’s approximately 1,000,000,000 pages long.

All-in-all I found it alright. I gave it 3/5 stars on Goodreads. Sentimental novels are not my thing and I found the MC incredibly whiney, but it was an easier read than I was expecting, so on the whole…not bad.

The Flower of the Family– This cover burns my eyes (and also, does not at all accurately reflect the MC or the novel). As for the actual book…I liked it. Again 3/5 stars. It’s heavily Christian, which turned off a couple of my classmates, but it’s by far not the most heavy-handed thing I’ve read…I sort of felt like that aspect was just a product of its time.

What Katy Did– Again I gave this 3/5 stars. I found it fine. A bit saccahrine, and I liked Katy a whole lot more in the first half of the novel before she learns what it means to be the lady of the house (through paralysis!). There is significantly more humor in this novel than the ones before it, which was a welcome relief.

Heidi– Heidi’s charming, and why not? It’s set in an idyllic Swiss Alp mountainside and features a somewhat clueless five-year-old. I think if I had read this as a child, I would have loved it (if only I had listened to my mother’s book recommendations all those years ago!). As it was, I wrote in my response paper how Heidi is basically like a pet–a kitten to be precise. And who doesn’t love kittens?

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm– Rebeccawas the first book in class to earn 4 stars from me. I really liked it, largely because the novel has some distinct feminism going on throughout it, and lovable, clever, selfish MC who doesn’t require total transformation into something meek and insipid. Unfortunately Wiggin’s fell a little short for me in that she focuses A LOT on appearances.

Still, a worthwhile read, especially if you read Adam Ladd (who is a strange sort of quasi love interest) as the spurned heroine of the novel.

Pollyanna- I HATED this book. Hated it. And I said so in my response paper, listing ways in which the MC was annoying and how, if the book hadn’t belonged to the library, I would’ve tossed it. Thankfully, I had a professor with a sense of humor.

Nancy Drew- We were to read two Nancy Drew novels. A yellow cover and a blue, because apparently in the 1950s there was a major rewrite of the first several books and Nancy morphs from a flawed, snotty, but clever girl into something a lot more boring. On rereading I found the books tolerable, and I liked that Nancy’s character (even with the rewrites) demanded respect from the adults around her. I can see why I loved the series as a child.

But if you ever have the chance to read one first four of the original printings (or the reprints of them in ’91), do so.

Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush– Oh, this book. It was so beautiful, and so difficult. It was the first book from class that I loved. It’s also the first Virginia Hamilton novel I’ve read, and the moment my reading belongs to me again, I am returning to her. Such a beautiful, compelling book about family. I especially loved how food came up again and again through the novel as a way to mother, to bond, and to comfort.

The Blue Sword- The second book I loved in this class, and the first majorly spec fic novel of the bunch (though Sweet Whispers is a ghost story, it’s more like magical realism). This novel, for me, was just fun. It’s exactly the sort of thing I love to read, and I particularly enjoyed how McKinley used the fantasy genre to flip gendered expectations. For me, that is the ultimate use of SFF–to talk about something in our world, by hiding it within something new.

I loved this one so much, I sent it to my brother for his birthday. I hope he’s liking it too. 🙂

Because of Winn-Dixie– I really like Kate DiCamillo, and this book was a lovely portrayal of small-town life, loss, and friendship. The thing that most surprised me in the novel was the deft, complex handling of faith, through the MC’s father (a preacher). It was really lovely to read a book where a person of faith is also a person, not a stand in for something bigger–not a stereotype of good OR evil.

I was rereading parts of my response paper and I ended with a passage from the book that is especially poignant on labor day weekend. Hopefully even non-Christians can agree with the sentiments expressed in the preacher’s prayer:

“Dear God, thank you for warm summer nights and candlelight and good food. But thank you most of all for friends. We appreciate the complicated and wonderful gifts you give us in each other. And we appreciate the task you put down to us, of loving each other the best we can…” (153).

The Chaos– Nalo Hopkinson’s weird-ass surrealistic novel about a biracial, bigoted girl and what she does when the world falls apart. I wrote (and presented) my big paper of the semester on this book, so my thoughts on it are multitude, but hopefully I can distill them. While the surface-level details of the book aren’t my typical cup of tea, I love the messages Hopkinson’s sending, the big ideas she’s wrestling with–about identity, about how we see ourselves, about what a happy ending really means. I can’t say much more without totally giving it away, but sometimes Cinderella’s transformation is a bit different than you’re expecting.

Also, there’s a volcano in Toronto.

And that’s it! That was one half of my summer. Which, now that it’s all distilled nicely doesn’t seem like a whole lot. But there’s a reason my grad school updates tapered off after Week 2, and that reason was Gender and Girls’ Fiction. Still, I loved it.

This fall I’m taking a creative course on Writing Diverse Books. It’s hard topic, especially at the moment, but it’s important to me to try, so I’m glad to have a safe space to dig in, experiment, practice.

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Grad School: Week 2

Week two has come and gone, and I thought I ought to post again.

Not too much has happened outside of classroom work, though I was surprised with an unexpected visitor on Friday of this week.

Kyle came down!

Turns out he had Friday off for the holiday, so we decided it’d be a good time to visit (also a good time because it’s the only week I don’t have a MAJOR project due the following week). We didn’t do a whole lot while he was here–checked out some local restaurants (ate at an AMAZING Mexican place), saw a movie, celebrated the fourth with some of the other children’s lit students.

We also explored the library. Kyle approved.

We also explored the library. Kyle approved.

Celebrating the fourth was really just heading over to another dorm on campus, eating some junk food, and waiting to have one of the super-talented illustrators from the program paint our faces. Apparently, it was Kyle’s first-ever time having his face painted!


A close-up. Isn't it gorgeous?

A close-up. Isn’t it gorgeous?

After face-painting we trekked up one of the big hills on campus to where the cemetery is (it’s a really old campus) to watch the fireworks. It was pretty amazing how many different towns’ celebrations we could see–there were at least 3 really visible, with 2-3 mostly hidden behind trees and mountain peaks.

Finally (sadly) Sunday came and my homework beckoned and Kyle went home.

Other things I did this week:

* A big presentation comparing Female Body Representation in Fan Art from Ovid’s Pygmalion myth and Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park

* Read 2-3 Novels

* Read a whole bunch of chapters from my textbook

* Wrote a couple of response papers (no fiction)

* Began my research for my giant term paper

* Met with my advisor about my plan of attack for the next 3 years.

* Ate and talked and ate and talked

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Grad School: Week 1

The library. The giant, tall, windows are the reading room and my favorite place on campus so far.

The library. The giant, tall, windows are the reading room and my favorite place on campus so far.

If I had been wondering if this was the right place for me, these two sitting in the Children's Section (which is massive!), reminded me I was welcome. We had two just like them growing up.

If I had been wondering if this was the right place for me, these two sitting in the Children’s Section (which is massive!), reminded me I belong. We had two just like them growing up.


I’m about to start a new week of classes in a few hours, and thought I should make a post about the first week.

Not completely unsurprisingly, it started out a little rough. My only creative class for the semester met on Monday-Tuesday and while interesting, was not what I’d hoped it would be. The class was so large that we were writing very little, and had very, very little time to give feedback to one another.

On Wednesday morning I was at breakfast talking about my disappointment to a new friend and 3rd year student and she asked me which other classes I was interested in. None of the other creatives, which were either also large or focused on picture books or nonfiction (two genres I have little interest in, currently). But I was interested in a second critical class. She told me to sit in on it. It was meeting in 15 minutes.

I said okay.

She took me to meet the professor and the professor took me to class and we talked about feminism and literature for 3 hours and I fell head-over-heels in love with the class. It was exactly what I wanted.

So I switched.

I was sad to leave behind my creative class, as it was something I was really looking forward to and the professor is someone I really, really wanted to work with, but she’ll teach other (hopefully smaller) classes and I have other summers.

In the meantime, I’m in Gender and Girls Fiction and even though it may drown my with the amount of work required, I absolutely love it.

My books (minus one) for Gender and Girls Fiction. My the end of 6 weeks, I'll have read all of these.

My books (minus one) for Gender and Girls Fiction. By the end of 6 weeks, I’ll have read all of these.

Other things I did this week:

* Read 2 novels (and a million articles/book chapters)

* Wrote (and submitted!) a poem

* Sat in on conference meetings, for which I’m the co-chair of the silent auction

* Ate and talked and ate and talked

* Made a billion new friends while eating and talking

* Wrote a teeny 2-page paper

* Babysat two beautiful professor’s daughters

* Talked about adoption and faith and speculative fiction with said professor

* Sat in 2 guest lectures and 6 classes (4 is normal!)

* Slept very little

So many bunnies on campus! I see them munching away on the clover almost every morning.

So many bunnies on campus! I see them munching away on the clover almost every morning.

Grad School: Days 0-1

Kyle and I made it down to Hollins very late on Friday night, after spending time with friends in DC and a bit further north in Virginia. It was a long trip, made worthwhile by company and amazing food.

Saturday I checked in. We found my dorm and moved in very heavy suitcases.  Then, we found the Goodwill. Because priorities. IMG_2617

Sunday I put Kyle on the train back to Jersey. More errands. More bitten nails. Some of the first years got together to eat pizza and walk around exploring the campus.

Dropping Kyle off in Lynchburg. I'm way off to the right of the picture, leaning against the pole.

Dropping Kyle off in Lynchburg. I’m way off to the right of the picture, leaning against the pole.

Yesterday, the fun finally began. We had orientation, then library orientation, then computer-lab orientation. A big break in the afternoon gave me time to run to Target. Then dinner with the rest of the students on campus (screenwriters, playwrights and dancers are all sharing this place with us this summer), followed by my first class of graduate school ever.

I won’t say it was magical, but it was about as close as you could get. The teacher is lovely. We talked about and experimented with poetry (what your mother always warned you about). I wrote a limerick. And failed to write a couple other styles. Tonight we meet again to share poems we love and poems we’ve attempted ourselves.

I’ll be sharing “Pronouns” by Kristin Elizabeth Clark. It’s excerpted from her novel Freakboy, which I’ve never read but plan to track down when the summer’s over and my reading is my own again.

The view from my dorm room. The brick building in the foreground is the theatre. The irony of my room overlooking the theatre is not lost on me, particularly since I think it's one of three rooms on the entire campus that face the theatre building.

The view from my dorm room. The brick building in the foreground is the theatre. The irony of my room overlooking the theatre is not lost on me, particularly since I think it’s one of three rooms on the entire campus that face the theatre building.

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    Writing Assistant Monday: Off and Away!


Cat bellies increase productivity. It is known.


It’s hot.


If only writing assistants could also be tidying assistants. Between packing and trying to finish up this novel, the house is a bit of a mess.

This will be the last Writing Assistant Monday featuring either of my darling cats for at least six weeks. I leave for my first summer residency at Hollins on Friday morning. We’re stopping DC on the way to visit with some friends and have lunch, then we should be Roanoke sometime in the evening.

I’m nervous. Really, really nervous. And I’ve been focusing a lot of energy on worrying, which I want to try to stop. So in an effort to shift my focus: a list of things I’m super, duper excited about for the summer.

** Meeting amazing authors and industry professionals. Um, hello. I’m going to be taking classes for Alexandria LaFaye and Hillary Homzie. Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman and Terri Windling are amazing and will be all be there for the summer. Visiting are greats like Cece Bell and Andrea Brown and Charles Vess and freaking Maggie Stiefvater. I can’t wait to absorb the energy and knowledge of so many talented, dedicated people.

** Being just beside the BEAUTIFUL Blue Ridge Mountains. Kyle and I already have plans to hike next weekend.

** Bluegrass.

** Books.

** Reading and writing and talking and breathing children’s lit with people who are just as passionate about it as I am.

** Not having to cook (much). Hello cafeteria and meal plan!

** Books.

I’ll miss Kyle and the cats and my friends in NJ, but with each new move (however temporary) there is the chance to expand. A new place to explore. New foods to eat. New favorite people to add to my already long list of favorite people.

And of course, new books.

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Old Camera Surprise!




My nephew came out this past week to visit. He’d never been to NJ to see us, and we wanted him to know where we lived and what our lives were like here. He was pretty excited. Not really about visiting us, though. More because it meant he got to go on an airplane, then take a subtrain (his word) in NYC and see the Statue of Liberty.

To make his visit special, we gave him an old digital camera to use. Before doing so, we wanted to make sure it was empty. Lo and behold! It was not. Included in some random shots of our old place and a vacation to Florida, was this pretty little bonnet I remade for Christmas Carol 2 years ago.

Not the best photographs, but I’m still quite pleased with the hat itself. And it’s held up! 3 Christmas Carols later, it’s still going strong.

And this one seems to be focused more on the headblock than the bonnet.

Side view! With tools in the background. Photography fail.

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Writing Stats, Part 1

We’re halfway through 2015 and it’s been a pretty amazing year so far–full of family, and friends, and writing. A LOT of writing. Because I’m really proud of myself (and Christie Yant’s amazing google workbook Tools for Writers makes it easy to keep track), I’m going to share my stats with you. This is going to look like bragging, and maybe it is. I’ve worked hard for these achievements. Will you celebrate them with me?

102,633 – new words written.

14,253 – most words written in 1 week.

0 – fewest words written in 1 week (I have a few of those actually).

1 – novel drafted and revised once.

4 – new short stories drafted and revised and on submission.

40 – days spent revising not adding any new words.

About 90,000 words of that are the first and second drafts of the novel I’m working on, the rest were all done for the short stories. I’m probably most proud of those 40 days spent revising and nothing else. Those were hard days, and I have a lot more of them ahead of me.

For the rest of the year, I don’t have any wordcount goals. It’d be nice to get another 100,000 written, but I doubt that will happen. I leave for my first summer at Hollins in 2 weeks, and then when I get back I’m going to be focused on readjusting to everyday life, work starting back up, and completing this novel. So for the 2nd half of 2015 my writing goals are pretty simple:

* Survive School

* Finish Novel

* Query

I’ll let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, today is national donut day and I’m headed out to celebrate.

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Lady Cintron and the Bull

“Lady Cintron and the Bull” is live over at Every Day Fiction today! It’s a strange, dual POV, flash fiction, cyberpunk story featuring virtual reality, sibling rivalry, moral superiority, and bullfighting.

My favorite part of it is possibly the avatar ‘Lady Cintron,’ named for Conchita Cintrón–a famous female bullfighter.

A minor warning for the sensitive among us: it has a bit of violence.

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A Lady in Red

I’m so bad about posting this sort of stuff, but the vast majority of what I do isn’t quite so flashy.

But here: A Thing I Made! Isn’t she pretty? She took approximately 1 million hours. Or…two weeks? I think. The cutting of the fabric alone took 10+ hours.



In case anyone ever tells you that theatrical costuming isn’t detailed or precise, please show them the little lace do-dads on this bodice. Not only is each one hand applied, but they’re individually cut out of yardage, and then hand applied. In the scheme of things, not something that took a long time, but also not something you probably even noticed in the full-scale image, and DEFINITELY not something you notice on the actress when she’s on stage.

Still, pretty.

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News! Of the Grad School Variety.

I don’t know how to start this announcement, but I want to tell you still:

I got into grad school.

I’m going to grad school.

As long as I can figure out the funds (and I think that I can), I start this summer. June 22.

So…okay. I’ve wanted to attend grad school for a long time. I first tried back as an undergrad to get into a costuming MFA program, but I was too much of a baby and they didn’t want me (which was very good). Over the years, I’ve toyed with the idea again. I even applied (and was accepted!) to a couple of programs, but when it came time to make the final decision, I didn’t do it. I wasn’t ready to invest the time or the money into studying what I was sort of already doing. Not that I don’t have A LOT to learn, or that an MFA in costuming wouldn’t be useful, but… I don’t know. It never felt right.

Recently, I started looking into MFA programs in writing. I had mixed feelings. While I think craft can be taught (and I have a lot to learn!), I don’t think you need an MFA to write. You can just write. The books or stories or poems you’re writing will teach you new things every time you attempt them. Some (most!) of my favorite authors don’t have big, fancy degrees.

And yet.

I still wanted to do it. And not just any writing program, but writing for children.

Oh, and also, I didn’t want to give up costuming.

So. MFA program. Writing for children. Low Residency. There are actually multiple programs that fit this very narrow bill.

But I wanted one more thing. I wanted the chance, down the road, in the program, to study literature. To delve deep in a scholarly, academic way, into words and themes. To extract meaning. And all of the programs do this to some extent. But one did it better than the others. So I applied to that one.

And Monday evening I received THE letter: Hollins University has accepted me to their MFA in children’s literature program. So far, on paper, it’s a perfect fit. It’s an MFA program, so I’ll be focused on writing. It meets for 6 weeks in the summer, when I’m off anyway. And best of all, there’s an MA track. So if I want to take those meaty literature courses, I’ll be able to. Or maybe, I’ll have to. I haven’t gotten that far yet.

So. There you have it.

I’m going to grad school.

Also: here’s a picture of a cat. You’re welcome.

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