25 best sites for literature lovers

themillionsFlavorwire, as regular readers know, is one of my favorite websites, where I’ve been known to spend too much time (thought because it’s about all things literary, artistic etc I don’t feel too guilty). Recently, Jason Diamond, one of their writers,  came up with The 25 Best Sites for Literature Lovers. I expected that I’d know most of them, but I was intrigued and surprised by the list. It included stalwarts like the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Paris Review Daily, and Granta, but there were many others I hadn’t heard of, like The Millionsrecommended_reading_logoElectric Literature’s Recommended Reading and the Public Domain Review – even a couple of literary podcasts. Well worth a look when you need to take a break from whatever you’re supposed to be doing…

P.S. Last Monday’s headline post was An English Room: Photos of Benedict Cumberbatch, Stephen Fry and more in their favorite rooms. What’s not to like?

How to tell the drama of a life in 15 words

My friend Spike sent me this email the other day. I’m not a person who forwards just anything, but this piqued my interest, because of the fascinating way in which the story was born. I’d never heard of this competition, but the short film that won is a lesson in the economical use of dialogue and the pictures that dialogue can inspire in the reader’s mind. If you do nothing else, watch the video. But read this first…

In April 2010 Phillips Electronics launched a global competition, giving aspiring film makers the chance to have an original work judged by one of the world’s greatest film directors – Sir Ridley Scott, director of Hollywood blockbusters including Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982) and Gladiator (2000). The competition, called “Tell It Your Way,” gave one lucky winner the chance to gain a week’s work experience at Ridley Scott Associates (RSA) offices in Los Angeles, New York, London or Hong Kong. The idea behind the contest was that there are a million ways to tell a story.  The competition involved creating an original 3-minute film that used the same piece of dialogue – a scant six lines.

 “What is that?”

 “A Unicorn.”

“Never seen one up close before.”


“Get away.”

 “I’m sorry.”

There were over 600 entries.  Scott Chose “Porcelain Unicorn” as the winner. Bruce Schroffel is an old friend from the ad agency biz.  He started the first Internet ad agency in LA.  Retired now, he has a couple of fun hobbies.  Sings in a barbershop quartet.  And acts in neighborhood-theater plays and, occasionally, in small movies.  (He’s a SAG member.)  He’s the man with the box at the end of the winning entry, which you can see below.

And here’s the one that got the People’s Voice award

Creating a story in 3-D

As a writer,I like to recharge my creative batteries by checking out an art exhibit or going to a concert. Using a different set of senses to take in ideas gives me a boost. So I was pleased to meet the artist Andrea Morganstern recently at the Westport Arts Center’s exhibit Foodies – where all the art has some connection to food. It’s been one of their most popular exhibits, with good reason, and you can see it (provided they’re open after the storm) until November 4th . Andrea’s artwork stands out, though; for one thing, it’s taller than she is. And it tells its own story.

In fact, the piece, entitled Corn Bird, was produced using a process similar to  a 3-D printing, a fascinating thing in itself. I wanted to know more.




GC: Please tell us something about yourself

AM: I am an artist based in Bridgewater, CT, a small rural town in the northwest part of the state.  I relocated here after living in New York City for many years.  The closeness to nature has been very inspiring for the development of my recent work.  I have been exhibiting my artwork widely throughout the US since 1995 in galleries, museums and non-profit spaces.


GC: How would you describe the figures you are currently making?

AM: The sculptures, like all of my work, are about two main concepts. The first is the interconnectedness of all things in nature. I explore this idea by blending botanical, animal and human elements to create hybrid creatures. My work is also about the existence of other dimensions or parallel universes besides this physical one we normally perceive as reality, and an exploration into who or what might dwell there.

GC: It seems to me that your figures tell a story. Could you explain the ideas behind the corn figure, specifically, or the stories which influenced you as you were creating it?

AM: My work is inspired by the art of ancient civilizations, particularly Egyptian, Pre-Columbian and Hindu, as well as travel to places where traces of these civilizations remain. Corn Bird, for example was inspired by a trip to Peru where I learned that corn is considered sacred by the native culture and I was inspired to create a deity made of corn.   I see the figures as spirit beings or deities from my own imaginary ancient civilization or parallel universe. I intended for Corn Bird to have a dignified quality, like an ancient Egyptian pharaoh or priest or some other kind of ancient wise being, with the corn husks doubling as robes. Every creature has a golden botanically inspired headpiece. I paint them gold to suggest an elevated status or high spiritual level.

GC: Most of your figures have been around a foot tall (correct me if I’m wrong here). What made you decide to make one that’s taller than you are?

I decided that as separate artworks, the sculptures might have more presence and really come to life if I created them large-scale so I decided to experiment by creating a much larger version of Corn Bird.

GC: Please explain a bit about how you used technology to make the sculpture.

AM: For my small sculptures, I make the original out of clay, create a mold out of silicone rubber and then create castings out of urethane resin. I then paint the castings with acrylics.

For the larger scale version of Corn Bird, I worked with a fine art fabricator. I provided them with a small version of the sculpture which they scanned with a three-dimensional laser to create a three-dimensional model. This model was then used to create a machining path that was used to guide a three-dimensional milling machine. The sculpture was milled out at the new larger scale in high density urethane foam. A surfacing compound was then applied to the foam model to smooth out the surface and to replicate the detail of the original. The surfacing compound dried into a thin coat of resin which was sanded and finished.

A mold was created from the foam model using urethane rubber and rigid resins. The mold was used to create a hollow resin casting. The casting material consisted of fiber reinforced polyurethane. The casting was soda blasted (which is like sandblasting except using baking soda rather than sand) to remove surface residue. Then the casting was sanded. Finally, the casting was painted with a combination of automotive urethanes and acrylics and finished with a urethane automotive clear coat.



GC: Could you tell us something about how you use the smaller figures? Do you sell them as separate artworks?

AM: Originally I created my sculptures to be used as props in my photographs. I take the sculptures into nature and photograph them, incorporating many natural elements into the composition and narrative. Eventually, I began exhibiting the smaller sculptures in addition to the photographs as separate artworks.

GC: Where can readers find you? (website, art galleries if any are exhibiting, or will be exhibiting in the future, Facebook???)

AM: My work is currently on view at the Deborah Colton Gallery, in Houston, TX.  My work can also be viewed on my website at: www.andreamorganstern.com.

You’re never too old to publish

At the beginning of February, I wrote a post called It’s never too late for fun, about a woman, who, aged 88, wanted to sit on the cannons at Compo beach again, and, with the help of friends and strangers, did it. You can see from the photos on that blog just how delighted she was.

Now she’s done it again. Not cannons, this time, but a book. Illustrated, written and published with the help of friends and strangers. And Susan Malloy is very happy indeed. Here’s how it happened:

A year ago Susan, already a successful painter, was in Paris with her grandchildren, aged 10 and 17. As always, being an artist, she was sketching what she saw, when it struck her that there might be other young people who would like an illustrated introduction to Paris. And so the idea for a book was born. When she returned home to Connecticut, she gathered her pen and ink sketches and wrote brief paragraphs to go with each, introducing the famous sights.

Next she approached a friend of hers, another well known and multi-talented artist, Miggs Burroughs. He’s known particularly for his lenticular works (see one here: http:  Go to the site and click on one of the black & white photographs to see how they work. If you want to see another, you’ll have to leave the site and come back, since it only shows one at a time.) Miggs designed the layout for the book, and then came the long trek to publication.

A local copying and printing company produced a mockup of the book, and a French teacher in New York looked at it to make sure all the French words were spelled correctly. This is what one of the pages looks like.

Then it was time to find a printer who could print a small but high quality book. Susan turned to her friend, Helen Klisser During, curator of the Westport Arts Center, who immediately decided that a) she wanted to help, and b) she wanted Susan to submit the drawings to the Arts Center as part of the annual juried SOLOs exhibit, which features WAC member artists. The judges chose Susan as one of the artists to be exhibited. Taking the sketches to the local framing shop to have them matted and framed for exhibition, Helen asked the owner for advice on printing. The owner recommended a printer not too far away. He couldn’t do it, but recommended the guy upstairs, who was a printer of specialized materials. He couldn’t do it either, but came up with the name of the man who could, and did. He was Stephen Stinehour, a lifelong publisher of art-quality books, in a tiny town in the North East Kingdom of Vermont. Stephen helped Susan choose the right typography and weight of paper and agreed to print 300 beautiful copies at a very reasonable price.

On the day of her gallery opening, book signing and launch, she sold 50 copies at $10 each, and told Helen that this was one of the happiest days of her life. She’s a living example of what staying consistent and focused on the goal can do. And she’s a testament to the value of friendship and teamwork in making dreams come true.

Susan distributes the books through the Westport Arts Center, the Westport Library, and the Westport Historical Society. You can also buy them from her directly. If you’d like to buy one, let me know and I’ll be happy to put you in touch.

You’re never too old for fun…

I’m not big on heart-warming stories, especially when they’re designed to tug at your heartstrings. But this one is true, and I think you’ll like it, too.

My friend Helen Klisser During was walking along the beach in Westport the other day with another friend, Susan. It was a blustery day, but the beach always makes for great photos and Helen is am professional photographer, among other things. Westport likes to pride itself on having repulsed 2000 redcoats British in 1777 (after they’d set fire to the town of Danbury), and to commemorate this event there are two cannons located at the beach, pointing out to sea, in case the British (my friends and I) ever decide to invade again. Too late, of course, we’re here already, but I’ll let that pass…

“When I was a little girl, said Susan wistfully, “I used to sit on those cannons.” Helen’s ears pricked up. What she heard was” I wish I could sit on that cannon again…” Susan was 87.

Helen decided she’d never forgive herself if she attempted to hoist Susan up onto a cannon and anything went wrong. But she really wanted to make this wish come true. Across the parking lot, she spied a couple of young men who had descended from their motor bikes to smoke a cigarette in the fresh sea air. Helen marched up them and asked if they’d be willing to help.

“Sure,” they said. They swaggered over to the cannon and, very gently, helped Helen’s friend to sit astride. Then they supported her, but out of sight, so that Helen could record the whole thing on film. Here are some of the pictures:

Easy does it!







“By the way,” Helen told me, “Susan’s family think I am a bit of a risk taker, because Susan mentioned at the end of last summer how she used to love to go  sailing with her sister  in the sound– (something I do 3 or 4 times a week – racing with a crew at Pequot Yacht club and renting little Hobie cats for an hour after work, from Longshore sailing school-for an evening sail…”

Helen’s response to this was to find a day that was: ‘breezy, but not too breezy. I needed to keep the chances of capsizing to a minimum. Hobie cats aren’t really ‘senior friendly’. They don’t have any rails or a solid bottom. You just have to take your life jacket and go sailing.”  And here’s the result of that!

Ahoy there!

Here’s what Helen, with her usual modesty, concluded from these events: “If you have a little idea, make sure you’re with someone who listens.” And I’d add that she’s stacking up karma for when she needs a hand climbing cannons when she’s 87.

All photos are by Helen Klisser During and she holds the copyright. You can also check out her weekly ArtCafe blog for updates on the local and global art scene. Lots of great ideas there.

Where I write

My internet friend Pauline asked me to tell her where I do my writing. Since I live in my car as I travel between my two houses, one in Connecticut and one in New Hampshire, it was a tough question. But I took a stab at it. Here’s the link:


And when you’ve finished reading my brilliant essay, check out some of Pauline’s terrific writing about her son and the one-foot-in front-of-the-other way that she deals with a mother’s worst fears. And keeps her sense of humor, too.

A Landfill Waiting to Happen

You’d think it would be easy. The plastic, glass and cans go in there, and the newspaper, card and junk mail goes there. The men I live with have a dozen (more or less) university degrees between them. And yet, when it comes to recycling, it’s harder to get them to do it right than it would be to put socks on an octopus.

Let’s take my husband. Please. I can’t deny he’s getting a bit better, but it’s taken me at least ten years to explain that cardboard you can bend (like cereal packets) is, for the purposes of recycling, paper. He still takes the card to the dump inside a corrugated cardboard box, where he proffers it proudly to the tired man who’s given up trying to explain.

Please don't squeeze...

As for plastic – when the town started recycling, it would only take plastics 1 & 2, but it seemed to be beyond my husband to find the symbol on the container. I tried to make it easier for him by explaining that it meant clear plastic like milk containers and water bottles, and colored containers from dishwashing liquids and other household cleaning products. After a while, I gave up and started weeding out the yogurt pots, the paper milk cartons, Styrofoam coffee cups and used flowerpots, and putting them in the trash.

As for washing things before recycling – it seems a concept that’s completely alien to my men. Not only do they not wash their soda bottles, but they twist the bottle caps on so tightly that I can’t open them to wash out the bottles myself. Aaargh!

A few months ago, the town started recycling almost everything, telling us that we could put all the paper together and all the plastic, glass and cans in a separate container. You might be thinking that this surely made it all easier – but I’m afraid that the only difference is that I’m now retrieving all the yogurt pots, Styrofoam cups, and  flowerpots from the trash, washing them, and recycling them myself. As for milk cartons, the middles of toilet rolls and paper towels, egg boxes and the like, my men just can’t seem to grasp that they are made from paper of differing thicknesses. Paper bags covered in grease from the Chinese take-out, on the other hand, are squashed into a ball and lobbed at the recycling bin.

Last week, the Good Men Project, http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/is-recycling-for-girly-men-naaaah/, an online men’s magazine that I write for, ran an article intimating (the way I read it) that women were much more likely to recycle than men. I don’t think that my guys assume  recycling is a woman’s job. But I do think they don’t seem to understand the value of it, even though our town dump tells us how much money they’re making by recycling. It’s on a huge sign that gets updated regularly as you drive in.

A landfill waiting to happen

Maybe it’s because my husband doesn’t quite believe in global warming.  “We had more snow than ever last winter,” he says, and of course, our tiny part of the world is the entire globe to him, so it must be getting colder. My sons believe in global warming, but don’t care enough about the planet – they’re already planning to colonize Mars. All I can hope is that they end up with women who do care – or Mars will be a landfill before they know it.

Jabba the Hut Beats Irene

I’m still running into people I haven’t seen since Hurricane Irene came through, and the opening remark is, inevitably,
“Any damage from the storm?”  I’ve been gratefully waving off this question with the truth – our house in Fairfield was absolutely fine – something I put down to the fact that we practically back onto the Police and fire stations.  Presumably they have to have power to keep them working.

Frankly, though, I was skeptical about the storm. I was in London when Irene first threatened, then hit, then blustered and finally faded into a depression, the way one does… The thing about being in London was that there wasn’t really anything I could do about Irene, except try to keep informed, and hope it would all be OK. Keeping up to date wasn’t as easy as you might think, given the internet, global news etc.  The BBC kept showing us the same bits of film of the Carolinas, and of Mayor Bloomberg trying to boss New Yorkers about. On the internet, I kept looking for a moving radar picture of the storm, but couldn’t find one. Weather Underground, Weather Channel, Accuweather – all showed static photos or maps. Eventually, I called my engineering son back in the States and asked him to send me a link.

“Why do you want to know?” he asked. “It doesn’t matter whether you see it or not. You can’t do anything about it.”

I gritted my teeth. “Just send it,” I said. This wasn’t a time for listening to reason. I just needed to know.

I never did find out exactly where it was. My friends had battened down the hatches, and as the storm rolled over New England, cutting power as it went, there was no way for them to keep me up to date.

All I knew was that because of Irene, my other son and I spent three days travelling to and from Heathrow Airport in London trying to get a flight back to Boston. It was a kind of adventure to begin with, but it got old pretty fast. Eventually, on Monday night, we were booked onto a flight for Montreal. It wasn’t too bad; we even managed to have the only free seat on the plane between us. But driving out of Montreal itself was rather like trying to get somewhere in the wake of a hurricane. It was only road works, I guess, but it took us an hour of driving past the same piece of the city, as we followed one detour after another, and ended up in dead ends. It reminded me of driving in Poland in the 1960’s (but that’s another blog post).


The point is that yesterday, I wandered down to the beach, and I found it – in great heaps beside the houses on Fairfield Beach road.


There were piles of soggy belongings still stacked outside the houses, which had a distinctly sorry air about them. Forlorn “For Rent” signs flapped in the breeze. New houses, built in the boom times and to code, seemed fine, but the oldest ones had really taken a beating.


My nephew’s built-on-stilts house turned out to be one of those. This building is unsafe, read the sign on the house. I’m not even sure how they reached the house to put up the sign. He’ll be OK, I expect, but it made me realize that I’d been rather cavalier, and how extremely lucky we were.

Only two things survived the storm completely intact – the giant pumpkins grown annually by an aficionado near the beach. They’re still sitting there, looking a bit like Jabba the Hut, ready to face down all competition in the annual pumpkin-growing contest. The irresistible force met the immoveable objects, and the pumpkins stared Irene down.

Jabba the Hut