Thursday, April 29, 2010

Embedded Pictures, and Writing About Same

This post is addressed to my students in Postwar American Visual Culture class. They are working on web-delivered exhibition projects across a variety of subjects. Within two weeks, they should be up and available for review. When they go up I'll provide a link to them.

Gang: I am reviewing your exhibition drafts. Things are looking good--these are going to be interesting projects. Your interpretive writing on the artifacts is often strong and useful.

But I have been struck by how unmoored some of this writing can become. Unmoored, that is, from the material facts of the object. I know that we live in a postmodern moment, and a constant flutter of images is part of our experience. The instantaneous access to Google search results can make it seem as if images live in some metadata ether, forever hovering, at the ready, popping into view whenever and wherever we wish to view them.

With no assist from any search engine, the study of art history can in its way create the impression that images exist for primary purposes of admiration and intellectual decodification.

To review: the objects we have been studying were all created for particular cultural contexts. An animated television advertisement from 1955 was produced for a client (say, General Motors) under the direction of an advertising agency (say, Leo Burnett) by an animation house (say, UPA). The ad was then broadcast during a particular time slot to reach particular viewers, who viewed the ad in their homes.

Likewise, a fiction illustration that ran in the Ladies Home Journal appeared in a sequence of fiction story opening spreads, typically four or five, that referred a reader to the resumption of each story in the back of the magazine. The content of the story, the placement of the story, the juxtaposition of the text with particular advertisements in the second portion of the story, the domestic context of the reader, the spatial environment of reception (i.e., the new suburban landscape) all of these aspects of the artifact are relevant. Such images were commissioned by art directors, who contacted the illustrator or his representative to secure the slot in his schedule. What’s more, the particular look of many such images were determined to a significant degree by the technologies of photography and projection (the latter referring to the ubiquitous but always concealed lucidograph, a projection device used for tracing purposes).

We cannot credibly look at such things without addressing the material facts of production, the cultural claims of advertisers, the market contexts faced by publishers, and the choices available to consumers. The answers, moreover, are never static; the shifting circumstances of commercial culture are always tricky for all participants in such markets.

Bottom line, we must confront the embedded reality of the image itself, both physically and culturally.

Hence, your citations for every object you present must be complete. If a film, cite the studio, the director, and if relevant, the production designer. If a magazine illustration, cite the issue, the illustrator, the author, and if available the page number (and ideally what preceded and followed the spread).

Even more fundamentally, here is the rule: describe first, interpret second. Without description, your interpretations run the risk of analytical rootlessness. They float off, referring to themselves, calling into question their own relevance. Tie your interpretations to observable evidence.

See you later today!

Image: Camel Cigarette adverstisement, Collier’s, February 29, 1936. In addition to selling cigarettes, the ad provides cross-promotion for Camel Caravan, a variety show sponsored by Camel that ran on CBS Radio beginning in 1933, and survived in revised forms until 1954.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Don't forget the service..

I am OBSESSED with happy customers! Sometimes my need to please clouds my judgeship w/pricing as in taking on a lot for very little. But when you get to the bottom of it all, what's a business without fantastic customer service? It's a business that is going to go out of business fast due to it's reputation. How hard is it to find the time when someone trusts you enough to pay in advance for your design skills, to return the favor with swift answers and samples? In my opinion not hard and part of the job. But these past 2 weeks I've heard some outrageous designer faux pas that resulted in them losing their sales and their clients coming to me for reworks or completely new graphics. So let's repeat Customer Service 101 for those that don't know it, which I'm sure most of you do;)

Awesome Customer Service Includes;

1. Keeping In Reasonable Contact With Your Customers

This means answering messages in a timely manner and responding to questions as fast as possible. The lines of communication are so important when working with a client.

2. Be Up Front With Pricing

Hidden costs are a definite no no if you want return business. Who wants to pay up front for something and then be held hostage for more money? Quote as much as possible before money exchanges hands and let your customers know the limits of their purchase.

3. Revisions

Okay, this can go either way and I completely respect those that are strong enough to stand up for what's right and have a limit. On the other hand, if you send your client 3 samples and they HATE them all, why should they be stuck w/something because you have a limit? In this case I think it's sometimes better to part ways and give a partial refund. It's okay to admit you don't have the right style or can't work together. There is a tactful way do it and I'm sure most of you have done it before.

4. Listening

Please listen to what your client wants even if you think it's ridiculous. Not everyone is going to have the same thoughts on what makes up a good design. Example, if someone asks you to give them a bird don't give them a cow instead!! lol

5. I Appreciate You

Thank you, thank you, thank you! Everyone wants to feel like they are your only client, so why not? Say thank you and leave feedback right away.

6. Don't Bit Off More Than You Can Chew

There are 2 parts to this.. One, if someone asks you for something you KNOW you cannot do, be upfront and either recommend someone else for the job or politely refuse. The second part is don't take on too much work at one time or both you and the client will suffer. I am extremely guilty of this and although I think it's come out okay so far, I do spend my whole life working. Too much at once = slow production = angry clients.

I'm sure there's a lot more and if I can think of them I'll add to the list. Please post your comments too.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Poetic Reportage

Last year I showed a few hazy reproductions of Meredith Nelson's drawings in Russia, captured on a digital camera. She came through town a while ago and I was able to see a few more. Now she has posted a full set of her Russian reportage work on Flickr, and it's a treat. The contrast is much clearer from the scans. Meredith began exploring this direction in a reportage seminar I taught during her final semester. The panorama below is from that body of work.

At first she balked at the idea that these marker "comps" she'd made could actually count as the real thing, but they had great presence and freshness. She persisted, and the work that emerged–of abandoned buildings in St. Louis–got her a travel scholarship to Russia. She intended to study abandoned Soviet sites. That proved a little difficult, so she settled in to do reportage in Moscow as well as a few other cities.

I found it quite difficult to select which images to show–the total set is quite winsome. The compositional economy and clarity of purpose (especially as expressed through color selection) are really great.

Many are exquisitely minimal. Bravo Ms. Nelson!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

REVEALING Graphic Design by Tara Feature

OMG! Not another feature featuring moi!! lol It's like being inside my mind...Scary ain't it??

Thanks to the wonderful Kathleen McGiveron for featuring my Graphic Design Shop.


FREE PIF Birdy Happy Earth Day

Show your love for the Earth and do it for FREE! LOL

I felt inspired today to do my part online/offline so if you'd like a copy please visit my site.

Thanks much and Happy Earth Day!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


I am finding all of these fantastically helpful articles today. I think this one is definitely a keeper for all year long to get great ideas on trends.


Why logo design does not cost $5.00

I have been bitching about this all week and I think this just about sums it up!

Why logo design does not cost $5.00

Highly recommending this blog for anyone interested in this industry.

Have a good read!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Let them eat cake!

To kick off my new obsession, Marie Antoinette Treasury on Treasury East...

Thanks for looking!

♥♥♥Join my THREADKILLER for Business Logo Design♥♥♥

Hey all☺

Time for another threadkiller and this one is for a FREE business logo design. Regular price $35, retail price a heck of a lot more! lol

All you have to do is post on this thread, easy peasy! After 48 hours of no one posting anymore the winner will be notified via convo. My posts do not count, multiple posting okay!

Thank you so much for playing, can't wait to see who wins...

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Super Duper Logo Blow Out Sale!!!!

Because I am feeling so happy go lucky today I bring you the "Super Duper Blog Out Steal of a Deal Logo Sale"

I am having a limited time special sale on Logo Design. Regularly $35 now only $15.00!! This is not a premade logo or even one w/limited revisions. You get the same care as if you paid $125 for $15!

How to get your logo;

1. Purchase Listing

If these are sold out please visit:

Graphic Design by Tara
Custom Graphic Design

2. Check out and put "Logo Sale" in message to seller. If you forget to do that or would rather, you may convo me.

3. Please do not pay, I will send you an invoice through PayPal.

4. After you pay we begin!

This sale is not forever, so get yours now. Ends 12:00 AM PST Sunday 25th, (or I guess you could call it early Mon. morning?).

Thanks much for being so great and wonderful! I appreciate all the support/love the handmade community has given me over the years.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Business Cards: Still Currency in the Digital Age

I’ll never cease to be blown away meeting tweeps in real life. Thanks to @kirste (Kirsten Mitchell), who told me about the #SM201 conference, I met a ton of people at the tweetup I would otherwise not know—including some of the conference’s top-flight speakers.

It was especially fun to meet dynamic afternoon keynote speaker, Chicagoan @williger (Darren Williger), who gave a fascinating, fun and informative presentation spanning the days of bulletin boards (the first engaging social media platform) to the present. He also shared some cool information about tools available that can aggregate all of the social media streams we populate. Also great to connect with were morning presenter @Uschles (Udi Schlessinger), who talked about intelligent tool building; @mikewhitmore (Mike Whitmore) of Fresh Consulting; and afternoon panelist @digitalkvan (Nadia Aly) of Microsoft. Can I just say all of them were just terrific, not to mention friendly and nice?

The lounge at the Belcarra Apartments was lush and inviting, and the food by Russell’s Dining (Bill Gates’ favorite caterer) was fantastic. With all of the talking, shaking of hands, iPhones, Blackberrys and Droids, one thing I noticed was, people still exchange business cards.

In this digital, “wannabe paperless” age, there is still something nice about the tactile and physical experience one has receiving an attractive business card. And it doesn’t seem so “wrong” because it’s such a small piece of paper. To a graphic designer it’s a good thing, because it demonstrates the importance of investing in the creation of identities and branding, and the natural extensions to web and other collateral.

There were a few people and companies there who understood the importance of first impressions, but they were the exception rather than the rule. I noticed a number of the cards opted for a generic “template” look. Cards are reflections of each person and their companies, so it’s curious why cards would be treated like such an afterthought. Two of the speakers had run out of them altogether.

The conference offered a wealth of in-depth information on a broad range of topics. The more exposure I have to social media events such as #SM201, the more I learn and the more enthusiastic I become about Twitter. Is it just that I’ve been drinking the Kool-Aid? I don’t think so. Twitter brings like-minded people together, and I’m looking forward to meeting more of them. Just don’t forget your business card!

Udi Schlessinger and Mike Whitmore
Darren Williger and tweetup attendee
Nadia Aly and Iris Kao
Joe Kennedy

A nice recap of Social Media 201 by Udi Schlessinger @uschles

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Digital Invitations are Here!

Entirely New Shop Section Digital Invite Templates personalized just for you! Easy peasy print yourself or use an online service.

Thanks for looking!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Toby Thane Neighbors

Big week starting tomorrow: our annual Communication Design capstone presentations, running Tuesday through Thursday. Forty-one seniors will present their projects, ranging from books to films to identity projects. Illustrators and designers.

I've been in contact recently with a former student who combines great drawing, rigorous design, a very strong sense of style, a mean work ethic and arch humor: the colorfully named Toby Thane Neighbors. He transferred in from a school in Texas. As I recall in our first conversation, on the phone, he used the word "sir" several times. Toby played football for a year–a tailback–then went beatnik as a senior, a bit self-mockingly. His capstone project was folktaley, somewhat animated, distinctive. When he left St. Louis, Toby was threatening to go herd goats in Mongolia. I almost believed him.

He's back in Texas, and western themes still show up in his personal work. I've always loved his stuff. It's abstract enough to fool you. It goes flat from time to time, always deliberately. But then you look at this array of NBA stars. He captures the distinctive aspect of each character. He describes even as he distorts and flattens.

Toby also manages atmospheric perspective really well, as shown in the Saga of Joshua Cain. His work references wood type and relief printing, the color palettes (most recently) of Push Pin Graphic publications, and other sundry sources.

So check out Mr. Neighbors' stuff at

Congratulations, Toby, on the cool new work. When are you going to design tee shirts? I'll want one when you do...

And then there was more...

Thank you to Etsy for finally screwing up their site so much that we all are running to these newer, better, faster, more caring sites! The more you mess up admin, the harder your competition works to steal your seller/buyers! Great job Rob! You have made me a happy gal!

Visit My Store at

Visit me here, it's like an Etsy site that works!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Booklists Galore

Booklists for Bookworms is taking a little break! There are piles of books that need to be read so more lists of books can be made. In the meantime, here’s one last list—not of books, but of other blogs and websites that can recommend literally hundreds of new booklists and thousands of glorious, wonderful, magical books.

What Should I Read Next? at

Who hasn’t wondered “What should I read next?” Well, here’s a lovely website that can answer that looming question. Simply type in the name of a book or author you like. When you select your desired title, you are rewarded with a handy list of similar books. These titles are linked to, so you can easily access all of Amazon’s user-friendly details like cover art, summaries, and reviews. The recommendations come from the reviews of over a million users of What Should I Read Next?, and you are pretty much guaranteed to find something new and unexpected that will become a well-worn, beloved favorite.

WhichBook is a remarkably fun and unique way to decide which book to read next. The big question is: What are you in the mood for? The website consists of a series of sliding bars with one extreme at each end—“happy – sad,” for example, or “funny – serious.” You pick four categories of extremes, slide the cursor closer to one end the other (whatever you’re in the mood for), and then you click GO! Your result is a list of books that match your mood—it’s genius. Title, author, and a brief plot summary are provided, along with similar reads. WhichBook is U.K. based, so non-Brits will have to look up further details on a website like Amazon or local library websites. You can also search for books based on character (race, age, sexuality, gender), plot type (quest, conflicts, lots of twists and turns), and setting (anywhere in the world).

Fiction Finder lets you get really, splendidly, fantastically specific. You’re greeted by a bunch of lovely blue “subject clouds,” words that will lead you to books about that subject. You may not have even known you were interested in books about assassins, cats, grandmothers, magicians, orphans, soldiers, or wizards until you happened upon a list of such subjects at Fiction Finder. With 275 books listed about governesses alone, you know you’re in for a real treat. And when you click “browse,” a whole new batch of subject lists opens up entire new worlds of books to reads. Goody goody.

Hot lists, starred lists, featured titles lists, themed lists, monthly lists, annual lists, coming soon lists… boy oh boy. Overbooked is a classic booklist website, chock full every subject you could ever hope for. Search by genre, literary theme, literary style, summer reading, and more. Featured titles of September, 2009, for example, include Stitches (graphic novel memoir), Windup Girl (sci-fi thriller), and The Coral Thief (historical fiction mystery). Did you like The Thirteenth Tale? Here’s a list of similar reads. Wanna read books about Ireland? Here you go. Interested in exploring the works of Latino and Latina authors? No problem. We could go on and on because the booklists are practically never ending, that, of course, is the best part.

Stop, You’re Killing Me at

Mystery lovers, rejoice. Stop, You’re Killing Me is a killer resource for readers who love to solve crimes on the page. True to its genre of choice, Stop, You’re Killing Me indulges in some truly inventive categories. Browse through the job index. There’s a list of books about crime-solving characters who are also archeologists and anthropologists. There are lists of mysteries that take place in the worlds of horse racing, construction, and high society. Search the historical index for mysteries that take place in ancient times, in the 1980s, and every time in between. If you like mysteries where the dog is the detective, well, you’re in luck: here’s a list of similar books. If you adore Agatha Christie, here are some author mystery writers you might fall head over heels for. With 3,300 authors, 3,700 series, and over 37,000 titles to chose from, readers can begin detecting and never have to stop. A website to die for, indeed.

Oh, historical fiction, the glory of the past: all that historical fact mixed with all that wonderfully imagined fiction. Blogger and librarian Sarah Johnson writes deliciously detailed reviews of new, unique, and unexpected historical fiction titles. In some blog posts, Johnson does a straight-forward review of her latest read. In others, Johnson goes through the ABCs of historical fiction, with posts like “I is for India.” The early months 2010 includes posts like “Tackiness Extraordinaire” featuring a selection of hilariously lurid vintage historical fiction covers, discussions of book award nominees, thoughts on the work of a variety of different authors, and reviews of over a dozen books. Complete with author interviews, guest posts, lots of reader feedback, and links to even more historical fiction blogs and websites, Reading the Past is a historical fiction fan’s best friend.

Let’s all just admit it right now: sometimes we read trashy, no-good books for the sole purpose of escapism. They’re not literary books. They’re not books that teach us anything. They haven’t won a single book award. Well, thank god for Bookgasm, because these bloggers absolutely relish the books that just plain make us feel good. Science fiction, westerns, graphic novels, comic books, and more are cherished and celebrated here at Bookgasm. Recent posts dissect the finer points of a 1975 book that combines Sherlock Holmes and War of the Worlds, admit to absolutely loving a line of WWE wrestling comic books, make fun of the covers of martial arts books, and occasionally present straight-forward reviews of genre fiction. It’s goofy and clever and and action-packed, and you will still find lots of new books to read. What could be better than that?

KDL What’s Next Books in Series Database at

There is nothing more frustrating than reading the first book in a thrilling series and not knowing which book comes second, third, fourth, or fortieth. Kent District Library in Michigan maintains a series database so that all of us can avoid precisely that problem. You can search by author, book title, series title, and genre. Before you know it, you have a wonderful list of series books in the order they are meant to be read. Soon you know for certain that Seeing a Large Cat is the ninth book in the Amelia Peabody Mystery series, that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire comes after Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and that Suzanne Collins is the author of both the Hunger Games trilogy and the Underland Chronicles series. And for the voracious reader in all of us, that is a very big relief.

More Genre Booklist Websites:

Cozy Library at (sweet, friendly, gentle mysteries to cozy up to)

I Love a Good Mystery at (a mystery a day keeps the doctor away)

Urban Fiction at (the dirty, gritty, thrilling realities of street life in the big city)

All About Romance at (bask in the romance)

No Flying, No Tights: The Lair at (everything you always wanted to know about graphic novels but were afraid to ask)

Uchronia: The Alternate History List at (what if history took a different path?)

Webrary at (the ultimate list of book list resources)


Novelist is a subscription database, but if you belong to a public library (and you should because it’s free), odds are you have access to arguably the best book resource in the business. Once you log in with your library barcode, you can search for books like crazy. Basic search includes author, title, series title, and “describe a plot,” with the added benefit of narrowing your search by audience (adults, teens, older kids, younger kids). You can also find author read-alikes, that all-important source when you’ve devoured everything your favorite author ever wrote but still can’t get enough. Genre outlines can help you explore your old favorites or branch out in new directions. Popular fiction checklists keep you up-to-date on all the hottest new releases. Award winners, recommended reads (from nice friendly book-obsessed librarians), special features, and discussion guides for your book club, there’s hardly anything about a book that you can’t find on Novelist. This database will be your new book best friend.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hello people! Finally some down time to rant and rave. I just joined DeviantART and I'm hoping to add some more things as I go along.

I've also joined Zibbet as I previously posted. Etsy is all in a bunch over Zibbet so I know it's gonna rock!

Other than this so many, many, new items have hit the pages of my Etsy shop since my last post.

I did graduate from my business logo class and I think I learned a lot by default. Meaning, I got the books and illustrator a month before so I was forced to read them and learn first. Still more to go, I want to master illustrator by the summer if not sooner.

Thanks for following my trials and tribulations!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Colored Eggs, Monochrome Passion

Waning light on Easter Sunday. The busiest time in the life of a university is the spring. My months of March and April are always harried ones. Partly as a result–and partly as a result of my own laziness–I never seem to get in synch with Lent. The march toward Easter is a blur, with none of the contemplative approach I associate with Advent, a liturgical season with which I seem to have more success.

Recently I came across a cache of Jack and Jill magazines from 1946 to 1957, and I scooped many of them up. Above, one of my favorite covers, credited to Rita N. Oliver. Most of the illustrators who worked for the publication during this period, its best, were women. The art direction, illustration, writing and printing are all first rate. Published by Curtis, J & J almost always satisfies. I’ll post other material as time permits. Somehow this cover captures the childlike joy of Easter, sans sugar or cloying dewy-eyed critters. Rich color, clear shape-making. (Zero line.) Warm, pleasant, happy.

On Friday I went to a Tenebrae service. Last month in New York we saw the Limbourg Brothers’ work on the Duc de Berry’s Book of Hours. The (disassembled) volume covers a surprising variety of material, including the expected Passion sequence. Most the leaves are brilliantly colored, which makes the one below surprisingly powerful in context.

A representation of the very moment of Jesus’ death, the image is an essay in murk. The sun goes dark. Fear and regret descend. A rainbow-tailed comet scorches the heavens. The landscape cracks open. And our witnesses are terrified. (Circa 1407.)

The power of the Tenebrae follows on the shallow rejoicing of Palm Sunday and the ominous tones of the Last Supper. (Two years ago, I noted the Tenebrae with a few Eric Gill engravings here.)

The persisting power of humans' celebrations of spring–which take many forms in many traditions–can scarcely be argued. This week the magnolia in our yard exploded. Things bloom. The earth reawakens.

In 1949, Rita N. Oliver did her bit to capture it.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Historical Figues Doing Strange, Strange Things


Famous people are meant to be remembered. The achievements of presidents, rulers, writers, and scientists go down in history, as they should. But sometimes famous people have secrets. And not the secrets you’re thinking of—there’s much more going on than skeletons in the closet and lovers on the sly. Instead, the best-known historical figures cavorted with unsavory members of the underground or snuck out at night to keep our ancestors safe and sound in their beds. Want to know what history class didn’t—or couldn’t—teach you? Read about these famous fellows and their strange secrets and hidden talents.

Jane Bites Back by Michael Thomas Ford, 2009, Ballantine Books (Fantasy/ Humor/ Historical Fiction)


We love Jane Austen. We love her so much, in fact, that even though she only wrote six books, there are dozens upon dozens of sequels, prequels, knockoffs, spin-offs, and mash-ups to be found on bookshelves everywhere. And here’s another one: Jane Bites Back. Jane Austen is still alive and well. How? She’s a vampire, of course. She’s also a bookstore owner and an aspiring author. Her last book has been rejected for nigh on two hundred years. But now she’s finally found a publisher—and a handsome one at that. She's beginning to feel truly comfortable with her daffy assistant (who reminds her of sister Cassandra) and her admiring neighbor Walter (who is not at all a Mr. Darcy, even though he’s very sweet and caring). And her books are selling better than ever (even if they have to compete with knockoffs like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). But when Jane’s renewed fame as author “Elizabeth Jane Fairfax” of the new bestselling Constance shoves her into the spotlight, our heroine finds herself involved in a couple familiar entanglements: one a wicked battle-of-the-sexes with ex-boyfriend and fellow vampire Lord Byron, and the other a fierce catfight with Charlotte Brönte-fanatic Violet Grey. Now Jane's treasured privacy as a human and her dark vampire secret are threatened--and just when things finally seemed to be going her way. Author Michael Thomas Ford joyously plays with popular culture's current mania for all things Austen and still gifts readers with a realistically warm, witty, and sometimes sarcastic Jane who fans will recognize and relate to. The first of a planned trilogy, readers can rest assured that Jane will be back to bite again and again.

Queen Victoria, Demon Hunter by A.E. Moorat, 2010, Eos Books (Horror/ Humor/ Historical Fiction)


Ah, Queen Victoria, the stiff-upper-lipped little woman whose long rule oversaw the British Empire’s growing power in all things industrial, political, military, cultural, and scientific. She was a controversial monarch whose assassination was attempted some dozen times in her life. The first attempt, though few know it today, came on the eve of her ascension to the throne when a foul demon (yes, demon) infiltrated her bedroom and attempted to slice her into little pieces. Young Victoria, as told in author A.E. Moorat’s new biography Queen Victoria, Demon Hunter, is not too surprised that there are demons—she has received an excellent education, after all—but it does come as something of a shock that she, as queen, is to be the lead demon hunter of the land. Still, Victoria is determined to be a successful ruler in all areas, and willingly begins training under the Protektorate, a motley crew of warriors in possession of all manner of demon-slaying skills—and in Victorian England, demons come in all sizes and shapes. As Victoria learns the proper way to behead a zombie, defeat a werewolf, and tackle other evil spirits, her mind occasionally wanders to daydreams of handsome Prince Albert. Trying to balance the desires of the heart with the demands of a demon-ravaged kingdom is certainly a trial, but no one is better suited to meet the challenge than the new Queen Victoria. There’s enough gore here to thrill raving horror fans, enough historical detail to satisfy devoted Anglophiles, and plenty of dashes of humor, romance, and satire to tie it all together in a neat little bow—and then, of course, good old Vicky will come along and lop its head off.

Drood by Dan Simmons, 2009, Little, Brown and Co. (Historical Fiction/ Horror)

Charles Dickens may be a classic writer of fine literature today, but way back when, he was a major celebrity. Readers waited on edge for the newest installments of his novels to come out in weekly newspapers and magazines; his book readings were carefully crafted performances and boy, were they packed. And according to author Dan Simmons, Dickens was a strange and secretive man. In Drood, Dickens is the main character, though his real-life friend (“frenemy” is perhaps more accurate) Wilkie Collins narrates the story. The starting point is a horrifying and near-fatal train derailing in 1865 that Dickens survived but never entirely recovered from. Simmons uses this factual event to introduce a mysterious character who Dickens encounters amid the gore and wreckage of the train—a gaunt specter, calling himself Drood, who emits a decidedly creepy aura and has a sinister agenda of his own. Dickens becomes obsessed with tracking Drood and enlists Collins to assist him in nighttime voyages though London’s grotesque underground caverns and crypts. Collins, as portrayed in Drood, is bitterly jealous and opium-addicted; Dickens is an egomaniac of the highest order who’s keeping heavy secrets from friends and family, including the motive behind what will be his final, uncompleted book, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Things get weirder, spookier, and more bizarre as the final years of Dickens’ life draw to a close for a wholly atmospheric blend of history, historical fiction, and supernatural horror that’s as dramatic (and melodramatic) as the novels by Dickens and Collins that inspired it. Be sure to check out Dickens’ novels (especially The Mystery of Edwin Drood), and don’t let Wilkie Collins, who remains largely in the shadow of his better-known contemporary, be forgotten again—his novels The Moonstone and The Woman in White are masterpieces in their own right.

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith, 2010, Grand Central Publishing (Horror/ Humor/ Historical Fiction)


Best known for living in a log cabin as a boy and ending slavery as our illustrious sixteenth president, a diary by the man himself (fortuitously discovered by Seth Grahame-Smith, author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) reveals that Abraham Lincoln was also a skilled slayer of vampires. Following his mother’s death at the hand (or bite) of a blood-sucking creature of the undead, young Abraham vows to spend the rest of his life ridding this great nation of the foul demon presence. And since slavery is a projection of the vampires’ natural desire for control over their victims, Abe vows to defeat that vile institution as well. His legendary strength and height are a definite advantage; his practiced skill with his sharp ax serves him well as he fights to crush the vampires’ political power—and just plain chop their heads off. The road to victory (and the White House) is not easy, and Abraham faces an uphill battle fraught with failed love affairs, sickly sons, dying soldiers, disguised vampires, and bloody fangs. Complete with documentary photographs, diary entries, quotes from letters, and explanatory footnotes, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter has the look and feel of a grand historical biography—but with tongue firmly in cheek. Continuing his tradition of adding scenes of gory mayhem to solid classics, Grahame-Smith might cause history buffs to grumble, but horror and humor fans will be tickled pink by the image of Honest Abe swinging his trusty ax at hoards of blood-thirsty sharp-toothed fangs.

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists by Gideon Defoe, 2004, Pantheon Books (Humor/ Adventure/ Historical Fiction)


Charles Darwin changed the world with his theory of evolution. But first, he frolicked with pirates. When the very silly Pirate Captain and his crew of jolly buccaneers mistake Darwin’s ship The Beagle for a treasure ship from the Bank of England, Darwin charms the pirates with his fancy trained chimp, Mr. Bobo, who is a perfect little English gentleman and destined to be a start of the British stage. Chumming it up, Darwin and his new BFF the Pirate Captain head back to England to save the day. Darwin's brother, Erasmus, has been kidnapped by the vile Bishop of Oxford, who has invested heavily in P.T. Barnum’s traveling freak show and doesn't want any competition standing in his way—especially not from the likes of Charles Darwin and his upstart monkey. But with the pirates on the case, Darwin is certain to come out on top--if he can only convince the unruly crew to pose as scientists, dress in drag, and stop obsessing with ham. Author Gideon Defoe spins a yarn that is deliriously goofy (the 19th century characters indulge in such modern anachronisms as dental floss and post-it notes) but always endearing and charming. The Pirate Captain and his merry crew have several more adventure with noted celebrities of the age, including Karl Marx (The Pirates! In an Adventure with Communists) and Napoleon (The Pirates! In an Adventure with Napoleon), and even a run-in with the fictional Captain Ahab (The Pirates! In an Adventure with Ahab). But with Charles Darwin the Pirate Captain strikes up a true friendship (if only because Darwin has no comparable sword, beard, or ship to envy) and their adventure together is a droll, nonsensical romp with a light-hearted flair for the enjoyably ridiculous.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Thank you EtsyVeg!

My wonderful teammates have added me to their fabulous bunny themed treasury!

Please visit and see all the fluffy cuteness!

Rampaging Rabbits Running Realistically,