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Faith: Hollywood and Vine @ValiantComics #superhero #comicbook

Faith: Hollywood and Vine @ValiantComics #superhero #comicbook

Faith: Volume #1 Hollywood and Vine

Writer: Jody Houser

Artist: Francis Portela

Fantasy Sequence Artist: Marguerite Sauvage

Cover Artist: Jelena Kevic-Djurdjevic

Color Artist: Andrew Dalhouse (occasionally with assistance)

Letterer: Dave Sharpe

Published by Valiant, 2016


*procured at the local library

*This book is part of my 2017 search to find positive representations of fat women in fiction or nonfiction, and that positive representation will not hinge on weight loss and falling in love. Thus, books will either meet or not meet my criteria, which will factor overall into my recommendations. I purposely use the word “fat” because it is not a bad word. Using plump, curvy, plus-sized, fluffy, big-boned, shapely, voluptuous, or any other term suggests that fat is bad and thus needs a euphemism.

You may be wondering why I included all of the key players for the Faith comic book in the credits above. Typically, people don’t. However, there’s something magical about Faith — the work is done almost exclusively by women. Men add the color and the letters, but that’s it. And from what I’ve read, this makes a big difference to the world of Faith Herbert, a fat woman/superhero/writer at a pop culture blog. Faith isn’t new; she’s appeared in other comic books in which she’s ridiculed for her weight or only says ditzy quips. But Faith got a big makeover.

Faith, for the first time in the hands of a female writer and artist, is smart, funny, nerdy, and conscientious. And much like the movie Spy starring Melissa McCarthy, there isn’t one mention of fat in the entire volume. THIS is what I’m searching for in my quest for fat fiction: a woman who happens to be fat but isn’t reduced to her fatness. Her life is full, complicated, wonderful, messy, and awesome, and her size has nothing to do with it.

Thus, the Faith comic book meets all of my criteria for a positive representation of a fat women. But let’s talk about the story and images.

My biggest problem with superhero comic books is that they assume readers know something about the world and characters, which is why I don’t read them. I love other types of comic books and graphic novels — don’t get me wrong — but superhero stories that have taken place for decades are too big to just jump in. Think about it: the first Batman comic came out in 1939 . . . and his story is still going! He’s experienced things and changed and developed, and readers need to know how and why and have lots and lots of context.


Superhero capes get an updated look that I like!

Faith, however, is relatively new. I quickly caught on that later in life she discovered her “psiot powers” (comic book speak for super powers?) and that she used to be on a superhero team called the Renegades and dated one of the guys in the group . Her name is Faith Herbert, but when she works at the pop culture blog, she’s Summer Smith, and when she’s in superhero gear, she’s Zephyr. It’s a bit Superman, except Faith is really normal. She makes Back to the Future and Lord of the Rings references, watches and squees about a sci-fi TV show, and she has a few stuffed animals in her apartment. She face chats with friends and sends text messages. Such details made Faith highly relatable and a joy to read.

Faith still gets a bit of celebrity treatment. When she’s seen flying over the city, news reports it. Her ex, Torque, has a reality TV show. He was part of the Renegades, so people know he dated Zephyr. It’s funny when she’s required to write about his show for work because no one knows Faith’s true identity or her relationship to Torque. I liked the Torque story line because he is clearly a handsome, built guy — but she dumped him because she didn’t want to be on a reality TV show. There’s no weirdness about how a fat girl can’t get love or should be thankful someone so “above” her on a hotness scale gave her a second glance.


Faith asks her ex, Torque, to help her save the world. He looks like a jerk here, but he’s defensive because the Renegades saved the world and one of their teammates died.

The plot was a bit wonky. Teenagers who are just discovering their “psiot powers” are being kidnapped and, we later learn, experimented on. Whenever Faith grabs someone involved and tries to question him, the guy spontaneously combusts. The reason the bad guys are kidnapping teens seemed simplistic and confusing at the same time. I wondered if there was a background story I didn’t know.

The images have the comic book quality that make me laugh, like how mouths never seem to be in a normal shape. But Faith is drawn respectfully, and her look changes depending on the context: nerdy at work, pajama-cutsie at home, prepared for action in her superhero costume. I especially like the cape update. It’s not around her neck, but down by her waist.


An example of a weird mouth. Perhaps an homage to The Joker?

Then there are scenes that are meant to be Faith’s fantasy. It took me a few times to realize a pink hue indicated “not real,” but just as soon as I caught on, some of the fantasies dropped the pink overlay, and I was left guessing as whether I was in Faith’s head or watching her real life. Sometimes the fantasy scenes are more anime than faith comic book. A separate artist was responsible for the fantasy scenes, so perhaps so better communication was needed.

Faith: Volume 1 Hollywood and Vines is a big step toward making comic books more accessible to a wider audience. In an industry that largely shuts everyone who isn’t a straight white male, Faith tries to kick the door open.

*I want to thank Bina at WOCreads for recommending this book to help me in my question to find positive representations of fat women in fiction and nonfiction.

Only Ever Yours #bookreview #readwomen #YAlit

Only Ever Yours #bookreview #readwomen #YAlit

Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

published by Quercus in 2015

procured from the library

At a chunky 406 pages, Only Ever Yours is longer than I usually like to read for Grab the Lapels. However, in a search for friendship, I found a book club in my area advertised online. I was in luck; their next meeting would be 9 days later, and many of the books they had read, such as Furiously Happy and Between the World and Me, I had read too. The library, I discovered, kept O’Neill in the Teen section, which is when it dawned on me that Only Ever Yours is a young adult book. What’s the big beef, you might ask? While I don’t condemn young adult literature, I find that most of it takes societal problems and makes the issue so obvious that the book feels like a JUST SAY NO campaign. Why read YA when I can get my hands on the more nuanced adult versions? I know that YA is often an issue of sellers labeling a book a certain way, but when there are billions of book choices, I’m not really willing to take the chance.

Basically, without my new book club, I would not have picked up Louise O’Neill’s novel.

only 1

This was the cover of my library copy

Only Ever Yours is a dystopian book about women and girls (called eves). They are genetically modified and hatched in a school for the use of men and boys (called Inheritants). These girls are brainwashed through propaganda for 16 years to follow mantras, like “I am pretty. I am a good girl. I always do as I am told” and “I am happy-go-lucky” and “I am appealing to others. I am always agreeable.” Whether they become a wife who bears sons, a concubine, or an unsexed teacher in the girls’ training school, they are told to be grateful that they weren’t naturally born and conceived, because girl babies are thrown in graves. Girls and women are property, totally at the disposal of a man’s desire to procreate or get off. The unsexed school teachers are not necessary, we’re told, but they’re important because they dispense the training to be wives and concubines. Their 16th year of life, the eves are told which role they will play. Whatever a girl’s role, it is expected for boys to get married and have a lot of sex with various women.

There are rules for eves:

All eves are created to be perfect, but over time they seem to develop flaws. Comparing yourself to your sisters is a useful way of identifying these flaws, but you must then take the necessary steps to improve yourself. There is always room for improvement. — Audio Guide to the Rules for Proper female Behavior, the Original Father

The focus on Only Ever Yours is the girls about to graduate school, at age 16.  To maintain the perfect weight (about 118 lbs) they all have eating disorders aided by pills. The main character is freida, #630. Each week, she and the other eves are ranked by how attractive they are. The top ten eves are most likely to secure a wife role. While eves have zero choices, because choices mean being burned on a pyre or experimented on —  Inheritants don’t have to compete for anything, so they are spoiled, fat, greedy, and demand sex. I kept thinking this whole society is driven by the throbbing penis.

The characters in Only Ever Yours are terribly familiar. If you’ve ever been a devoted fan of the Sweet Valley Twins books like I was, you’ll remember the cast: Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield, perfect size sixes, matching golden blond hair, blue-green eyes. No one can tell the twins apart, except their family and dearest friends. Only Ever Yours has Liz and Jessie, “exact replicas” with “golden-blond hair” and “aqua-colored eyes.” If you’re thinking, the eves are genetically modified…how did they get twins? then I would say, I know, right?! The only explanation seems to be that the parallel between the two books was what Louise O’Neill was going for.

Just like in Sweet Valley, Only Ever Yours has a “bossy bitch,” a girl who wants to better than everyone else. In Sweet Valley, we’re talking about Lila Fowler. In O’Neill’s novel, it’s megan. Such girls give compliments like, “You’re so brave for wearing any old thing! I admire that!”

The eves in this book are painfully annoying because all they focus on is what they look like. This is how they’ve been trained their whole lives. They’re ranked by appearance. There are mirrors everywhere. They are weighed. One person hit 125 lbs, the FATTEST anyone’s ever been!! Then, I think back to Sweet Valley. The first book, Double Love, opens with this paragraph:

“Oh, Lizzie, do you believe how horrendous I look today!” Jessica Wakefield groaned as she stepped in front of her sister, Elizabeth, and stared at herself in the bedroom mirror. “I’m so gross! Just look at me! Everything is totally wrong. To begin with, I’m disgustingly fat….” With that, she spun around to show off a stunning figure without an extra ounce visible anywhere.

double love

Double Love, September 1984

And the eves in Only Ever Yours are exactly the same way. There’s the teeter-totter of competition for prettiest, but the recognition that both concubines and wives are part of society and please men.

Honestly, I can’t tell the eves apart. freida says the eves are “almost interchangeable.” The diversity, she points out, is in “skin tone and hair color.” freida is brown, but her color is only mentioned about 4 times. At one point, frieda’s skin is compared to that of an Inheritant named Mahatma. Perhaps she’s Indian, I thought, but remembered the eves all look exactly the same. There’s no ethnicity.

But as frieda takes more and more drugs to help her sleep, she feels that she looks terrible. Is that true? I’m not sure. Like Jessica Wakefield, most eves think they look terrible (except megan). freida is our biased, brainwashed narrator. One way O’Neill tells us eves are different is by their clothes — so. many. clothes. But I don’t know kitty heels and sweetheart necklines, so it didn’t mean much. And do clothes matter on identical perfect bodies?

Half of the book is backstabbing, manipulating, and alliances created between eves. It’s catty. It’s Sweet Valley Twins galore. Girls record any tiny wrongdoing a fellow eve may commit and immediately post it on social media. I kept telling myself the author is doing this on purpose. Just go with it. It’s a brilliant choice the author made to showcase contemporary jealousy and female objectification. But, ew.

Eves are told how NOT to feel: no crying, no loving boys, no persuading boys. Eves don’t even see Inheritants until a couple of months before the big ceremony. At the ceremony 16-year-old dudes just choose 16-year-old girls to be wives based on their smokin’ hot bodies. O’Neill suggests, this just means give birth to sons and feeling superior to the concubines, who were not ranked top ten. The arrival of the boys is actually where the story gets interesting because there is less focus on hotness rankings.

The author effectively plays with the reader’s feelings. We know who the top-ten hottest eves are. But after the boys show up, eves aren’t ranked anymore. They aren’t allowed to tell the boys how they were ranked. Why? Competition kept them fit and working hard to please, perhaps? Enter Darwin: he’s the only handsome Inheritant, and the son of a judge. He’s the Bruce Patman (if you’re still following my Sweet Valley Twin comparison). Darwin shows interest in our scrappy freida — it’s like there’s some Todd Wilkins mixed in there! Hooray, I thought! Darwin can save freida! Things can turn out okay! HE’S NICE.

bruce patmantodd wilkins

Bruce Patman VS. Todd Wilkins — same person?

Um, hello? Hey, self? Yeah…since when are we interested in a boy saving a girl? And ultimately, isn’t he going to use her body to have sons while having porno relations with concubines? And isn’t he going to set her on fire when she turns 40?? And isn’t she trained to be okay with all of this??? I actually rooted for Darwin and freida for ages before my brain caught up with me. The eves are so emotionally and sexually abused (and they don’t know it) that I thought a good old-fashioned romance between teenagers was the answer. The ending of Only Ever Yours was unpredictable. It kept changing directions, which kept me interested.

If I wanted the grown-up version of this book, I could have read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. But that’s not what book club picked. Despite the aspects that annoyed me — and let’s be fair; they were necessary for the story — I would recommend Only Ever Yours.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman #readwomen #bookreview @thelindywest

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman #readwomen #bookreview @thelindywest

*Author photo from The Guardian.

Shrill (May 2016, Hachette Books) is a collection of 19 essays from comedian/journalist Lindy West, who writes for The Guardian and has pieces at many websites, such as JezebelNew York TimesGQ, and The Stranger. I heard through a Tweet that her collection was being published, and I was instantly drawn to what I learned: West is smart, precise, funny — and fat. As a fat lady myself, I wanted to know more. Rarely do fat female role models appear in the United States (um, or elsewhere), so I put a hold on a copy at the library.

After I got into the book, I realized that I’ve read some of West’s articles in the above mentioned publications. I don’t often remember a writer’s name when I read an online article, but the piece she wrote that I remembered clearly describes the time a troll created an e-mail address and Twitter account using West’s recently deceased father’s name to humiliate and torment her. And then he later came out and apologized to her, which never, ever happens. The main themes of Shrill are fat shaming, rape culture, comedy, abortion, and trolls, and they’re all examined through a feminist lens.

Anytime I read about feminism, I instantly compare the work to Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist. Gay is probably the most notable feminist of our generation. After reading Bad Feminist, I didn’t feel great. I was mostly confused and disappointed. It seemed like she was either telling personal stories, talking about how she likes things that most feminists feel oppress women (like Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”), and listing what she likes and hates (movies, books, etc.). I felt like Bad Feminist started as a listicle and ended up a book. Thesis statements? Not really. Organization? More like meandering. A call to action? I have no idea what Gay thinks feminists can do to move forward. I do not write to demean Gay’s book. But I do know that many other readers, according to Goodreads, found the same issues and are perhaps seeking a different contemporary feminist voice.

bad feminist

Yes, West is a white woman and Roxane Gay is Haitian-American, but both women talk about intersectional feminism, so West is a good alternative if you are also an intersectional feminist. Both women included personal essays that appeared to have little to do with feminism. Both are hugely into pop culture (especially Twitter). But I felt West’s writing was clearer, more rhetorically sound, and presented solutions to problems feminists encounter.

Some examples of West’s intersection feminism include the socioeconomic. She talks openly about her abortion (and created #shoutyourabortion to de-stigmatize abortion rights) and how she discovered, “It didn’t occur to me, at the time, that there was anything complicated about obtaining an abortion. This is a trapping of privilege: I grew up middle-class and white in Seattle, I had always had insurance, and, besides, abortion was legal.” Later in the essay, West states what privilege is, referring to the abortion clinic making her promise to pay her bill instead of charging her up front like they’re supposed to: “Privilege means that it’s easy for white women to do each other favors. Privilege means that those of us who need it the least often get the most help.”

West again touches on intersectional feminism when she discusses fat-shaming, which makes fat women feel like they don’t deserve anything. She argues, “Denying people access to value is an incredibly insidious form of emotional violence, one that our culture wields aggressively and liberally to keep marginalized groups small and quiet.” Throughout Shrill, West considers feminism that benefit her more than women of color, with disabilities, etc.


The best part of Shirll is that West helped me “figure out” my own feminism. While I feel that rape jokes are never, ever funny, I would not have an answer that appeased the folks who shout about freedom of speech, say “you’re just not funny,” or call you “too sensitive” for your claims. But West breaks it down. When she was younger, West constantly went to comedy clubs and saw rising stars (who are now super famous), like Patton Oswalt, Mitch Hedberg, Marc Maron, and Maria Bamford.

One night, a comedian was telling a joke about herpes, and everyone was laughing. Except West. She analyzes why she didn’t laugh. Because the comic wasn’t making fun of his herpes, the joke was designed to shame people who have herpes. Statistically, West points out, many people in the room have herpes. So why are they laughing? They laugh, she argues, because if they don’t, they will be outed for having herpes. The joke works “brilliantly”because there is no chance that people won’t laugh, essentially, because the comic was lazy enough to embarrass everyone into laughing. Those who don’t have herpes are now vindicated in their feelings that people with herpes are gross. This moment changed the way West felt about comedy, which led her into arguing publicly that rape jokes are not funny.

Rape jokes are not funny, West points out, because they come from a person of power profiting on the traumas of people with no power. She compares it to the CEO of a company getting up at the Christmas party and roasting the janitor for barely making enough money to feed his family. Similarly, a white man will most likely never be raped, nor will he fear being raped, nor does he have a game plan for how to avoid being raped and what to do if raped (women like me know these plans in detail). Therefore, the joke is funny to men. West was invited to debate Jim Norton on a TV show over the issue. If you know Norton, you know he’s a bit if a dark comic, and I’m not surprised he’s pro-rape jokes.

west norton.png

What’s interesting is that West’s rhetoric was sound, but she didn’t change Norton’s mind. Off camera, he said he agreed that it’s wrong to take advantage of victims, but he was more concerned about free speech for comics. Norton felt that comedy didn’t translate into real life — that people who believe rape jokes are funny won’t go rape people. West disagreed, and then something happened…

Jim Norton fans bombarded West’s Twitter feed, e-mail, the comment section sof her articles — all over the internet. They wrote things about raping her, thinking she’s too fat to rape, cutting her up with an electric saw, etc. Norton had to admit that his fans were being aggressive and translating the “right” to tell rape jokes into real-life rape threats. He even wrote an article asking his fans to cool it. This was in 2010. West notes that since then, the comedy scene has changed; comedians are changing their tune. Thinking about how speaking up helped, and how using the rape threats to make a point helped, changed the way I thought about treading the internet, and about the maxim “Don’t Feed the Trolls,” with which West disagrees. Why should women be silent?

West also argues that fat is a feminist issue. She notes, “You have to swallow, every day, that you are a secondary being whose worth is measured by an arbitrary, impossible standard, administered by men.” West also describes how as a fat child, she was so ashamed of her body that it kept her silent. Women, both online and in life, are silenced constantly. Heartbreakingly, West explains that as a child, “[she] got good at being early on — socially, if not physically. In public, until [she] was eight, [she] would speak only to [her] mother, and even then, only in whispers, pressing [her] face into her [mother’s] leg.” West doesn’t have these earth-shattering traumas to report (if I compare her to Jessica Valenti, for example, whose new memoir catalogs all the sexual trauma she’s experienced). Yet, she is affected for most of her life by fat-shaming and the way it shuts her down as a woman, helping me to think more about my own silences — and the voices we’re missing from other fat people. There’s no need to compare traumas (sexual, emotional, physical) and decide whose is worse by some made-up standard. Traumas that shut women down are all appalling.

No matter what she’s writing about, West is ridiculously funny. She starts Shrill by describing all the fat female role models from her childhood, a list that included Auntie Shrew, Lady Cluck, The Trunchbull, and Ursula the Sea Witch. There are almost none, is the point. But did you ever wonder why King Triton is so ripped? West writes, “History is written by the victors, so forgive me if I don’t trust some P90X sea king’s smear campaign against the radical fatty in the next grotto.” Oh, man! I almost died!

auntie shrew      lady kluck3      the trunchbull      ursula2

In a nutrition class West signs up for, back when she felt like she needed to lose weight to be somebody, the teacher tells the students that if they get hungry after breakfast at 7Am and before lunch at 1PM, they should have 6 almonds. If they’ve gone over their “almond allotment, try an apple. So crisp. So filling.” West remembers, “Then everyone in nutrition class would nod about how fresh and satisfying it is to just eat an apple.” Lindy West labels this scene…wait for it… “the Apple Appreciation Circle-Jerk Jamboree.” I laughed so hard about this I called my mom and read her the scene! My mom, too had experienced such a class years ago.

Here’s one more great line: West compares her first experience in first-class flying and compares her seat to the ones in coach: “It has succeeded at being a chair instead of a flying social experiment about the limits of human endurance.” I read this passage at work and started cackling, despite the dead silence of the building.

Sometimes I wondered if I found Shrill so terribly funny and relevant because I am a fat woman. I tried reading passages to my husband, who didn’t laugh as much as I did, but he’s also a thoughtful person who may dismiss the humor and feel bad, wondering instead if I’m feeling bad for having read about fat-shaming and rape. My verdict is you must read this book. Lindy West is a feminist who’s doing something; she fought –with results — the fat-shaming that became acceptable around 2005, rape jokes in 2010, and internet trolls who make the internet unsafe for women.

This is what revising LOOKS like! #amwriting #romancenovels #writerslife

This is what revising LOOKS like! #amwriting #romancenovels #writerslife

I want to thank romance author Rebecca Brooks for taking the time to answer my questions. Last year, I reviewed her romance novel Above All and noted that it steered clear from the cheesy tear-jerker stuff and was both funny and super hot. This post was born out of my curiosity at a Tweet she shared. It looked like a giant roll of paper and was an example of how Brooks edits. I wanted to see how a writer revises! Here is what Brooks is working on — in the final stages of her forthcoming novel, Make Me Stay.

Grab the Lapels: What is your newest manuscript about? Do you have a title yet?

Rebecca Brooks: The manuscript I’m currently working on is called Make Me Stay, and it not only has a title, but a (tentative) release date! It’s coming out in Fall 2016 from Entangled Brazen, and it’s the first in my new Men of Gold Mountain Series, set in the Cascade Mountains in Washington State. I’m working on the edits now—you can see the massive outline I worked out to help me think through my revisions (more on that below).

IMG_2489_outline_full table

Dining room table taken over by 22-chapter outline

Make Me Stay is an enemies-to-lovers story with a hidden identity twist. It’s about a prestigious Seattle executive, Samantha Kane, who’s poised to develop sleepy Gold Mountain, Washington, into the most profitable ski resort in the country…until she falls for Austin Reede, a rugged Olympian and racing coach who’s determined to stop the deal from going through.

Both Sam and Austin have secrets about who they are and why they’re in Gold Mountain—secrets that unravel as their one-night stand turns into something more. In this story I’m interested in how trust works in a relationship, how two people come to open up to each other and share their full selves, and how much falling in love changes our best-laid plans.

P1030426_Cascades photo

This is where the series is set *dreamy sigh*

GTL: What has your writing process been like so far?

RB: I wrote this novel in the spring of 2015. I’d been planning it for a while and had a detailed outline, so the first draft didn’t take long. I remember thinking that, since this was my third romance, I must really be getting the hang of things now. From here on out, this whole writing thing was going to be easy! Cue major eye roll from present self to former me.   

I wrote Make Me Stay as a single title romance (my first two novels, Above All and How to Fall, are both single title). With thumbs up from my agent and me, my editor wound up placing the novel, and the Men of Gold Mountain series, in a category imprint. It’s a great fit for the book and I was excited, but I knew this would require some pretty big structural changes. Even though I was prepared for it, I was still pretty overwhelmed when I got my edit letter. Whether or not you agree with your editor’s suggestions or want to make the changes asked for—and how to process an edit letter in the first place—are blog posts for another day.

(Un)fortunately, as a writer I know all about getting stuck, so I have some methods for unsticking myself. After a day to let my thoughts percolate, I got out the GIANT roll of butcher paper I use to map out storylines when I can’t figure out my next steps.  

IMG_2543_butcher paper

Dining room table taken over by 22-chapter outline

I don’t know why, but it’s helpful for me to write everything out so I can see it at once, which is why I use this huge roll of paper. Doing this by hand and not on a computer is key. I feel like a 108-year-old Luddite when everyone else is using Scrivener, but I’ve found something that works for me, so I’m sticking with it.

I started my outline with two columns. On the left I put the bare bones of the original plot. On the right was what I’d have to change. I included all the possible changes I was considering, so I could see each step mapped out from chapter to chapter and know I wasn’t missing anything.

The outline focuses on the issues I needed to fix in my edits: strengthening and clarifying the conflict from the very beginning, trimming the B-plot and making it directly tie into the main romantic conflict, and making the hero’s major flaw more legible early on. The outline is color coded according to each of these issues. If my edits had focused on a different problem, I would have centered the outline on that. (I’ve done outlines where each character gets his or her own color, for instance, to help me see where each person is in the narrative at any one time.)

IMG_2483_beginning outline.JPG

I wrote out the two columns then used colored markers to box the text.

For the record, this took me two days, six hours per day, and was tiring but very, very satisfying.

IMG_2485_outline in progress

It’s growing.

Then I went through my Outline of Awesomeness and did the edits chapter by chapter. I also kept a legal pad next to me as I was writing so I could jot down notes that came up. If I get stuck, wondering what a character is supposed to say or do, I like to turn to the legal pad and write out what I’m trying to accomplish in this scene. This usually helps me figure out the problem I’m having and keeps me on track.

IMG_2519_with legal pad

Sometimes there is wine.

This was a LOT more work on edits than I thought I was going to have to do. Previously, I’ve tinkered with character arcs and rewritten a scene or two, but I’d never done so much throughout the entire manuscript. But the actual rewriting went pretty quickly because I had such a clear sense of what needed to happen. I wasn’t floundering trying to figure out what came next or how that small change to one line in chapter three was going to impact the black moment two hundred pages later. I wish I’d been able to do this earlier in the writing process—like, why couldn’t I have written this draft the first time around?? But I know that’s not how writing works.

I’m writing this interview the day after I sent the edits back—YAY! I can’t wait to hear what my editor thinks and move on to the next steps—line edits, proofreading, seeing the sexy cover revealed…and finishing the next book in the series! 

IMG_2546_empty table

Happy to have my table back!

GTL: How has your writing process evolved from your previous experiences writing novels?

RB: I have a much better sense of who I am and the kinds of stories I want to tell (well-rounded characters, gorgeous settings, rugged guys, lots of heat…). That’s helping me be more focused as I think about what’s next, and I feel more confident that I can make the worlds I imagine come through on the page. I’ve also gotten more ruthless about edits. It can be the perfect scene, but if it’s not the perfect scene for the book it’s in, it has to go.  

But as much as experience helps, there are always new challenges. Whereas the first draft for Make Me Stay went pretty easily for me, the next book in the series, Make Me Beg, was much harder. It was my first time writing with a deadline and out of a sense of obligation—I already have the contract, so I’m writing with a new kind of pressure now. It’s also my first time working on a series. This is a good kind of stress to have! But the truth is that the difficulties don’t go away, they just shift.

The process is the same, though: start with a kernel of an idea, work it into an outline, put butt in chair, get typing.

IMG_2541_paper rolls

These are some of the rolls of paper I’ve used for other novels.

GTL: Have you learned anything from writing this book?

RB: After these edits, I have a stronger handle on how category romance works. I’ve read plenty of examples, and single-title romance follows a lot of the same beats and tropes, so in a way it’s not that different from what I was writing before. But I learned a lot from dissecting how these novels are structured and making my manuscript stronger, clearer, and more streamlined as a result.

I love thinking about genre, how books work, and how books work upon the reader, so I’m really into taking apart a text in this way. This isn’t so much about the book itself, but it gives me a lot more tools in my toolbox that I can use going forward, no matter what I write. I love that being a writer means I’m always learning.

GTL: What, so far, has been the hardest part of writing your book?

RB: Getting started! I’d had the idea for the book in mind for years, but then I was busy with the release of my second book, I had other things going on, and the notes for Make Me Stay were hanging out in a drawer somewhere, not getting written. It took me a while to sit down and say, “It’s time to do this.”

Then, starting the edits presented another challenge. I read and reread the edit letter, tossed around some ideas with my editor, and I knew vaguely how I wanted the final product to look…but it was hard to know where to begin. That’s where the outline came in. I felt like maybe I was wasting time and should just dive into the manuscript itself, but I was so daunted, I didn’t know where to start. At least once I’d done the outline, I had no more excuses.

It can be hard to stare down a first draft, and a revision, and know there’s so much work ahead. Once I’m in it, I’m thinking about the characters all the time and I love being immersed in their world. But for me, the hardest part is taking that first step and committing to such a large and long-term project. I have a feeling that nervousness might never go away.

GTL: Does your newest novel include any research?

RB: I always do research for my books, including a mix of experiential research, online research prior to starting, and more as things crop up during writing. I use the information I gather to inform my choices as a writer. I’m sure I’ve taken some liberties, but I want the story to have the details and specificity that make characters and their lives feel real.


Researching the new series. Life is tough.

The hero to Make Me Stay is a professional skier, and he and the heroine meet on the slopes. A lot of the novel is based on first-hand experience skiing, plus a very short-lived racing career in high school (um, those race courses are TERRIFYING). Before writing I also visited the Cascade Mountains, where the series is set. I really wanted to get the feel of the place, which I could only do by traveling there. I think those details really come through and make the setting come alive.

I also did a fair amount of poking around online. I knew nothing about real estate development and had to figure out how Sam’s land deal was going to play out. Sam also gets pushback from her board as she delays the sale with Austin, so I needed to look into how and why she could be kicked out her position, and what her recourse might be.

Same thing with Austin—I researched the process to get to the Olympics, as well as life as a ski coach and a Ski Patrol member, to make his story as realistic as possible. Some of this I looked up in advance, so I’d have a better handle on his character. Other things, like what exercises he should tell his team to do for practice, I Googled on the spot and then incorporated.

I think research is a broad term that can mean everything from poring over primary sources in an archive to quickly verifying something online. I do a lot of the latter to make sure I’m including details that are evocative and help advance the story in key ways.

Rebecca Brooks headshot copyRebecca Brooks is the author of Above All, How to Fall (a 2016 HOLT Medallion finalist), and the forthcoming Make Me Stay, book one in the Men of Gold Mountain series. Rebecca lives in New York City in an apartment filled with books. She earned a PhD in English but decided it was more fun to write books than write about them. She has backpacked alone through India and Brazil, traveled by cargo boat down the Amazon River, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, explored ice caves in Peru, trekked to the source of the Ganges, and sunbathed in Burma, but she always likes coming home to a cold beer and her hot husband in the Bronx. Her books are about independent women who leave their old lives behind in order to try something new—and find the passion, excitement, and purpose they didn’t even know they’d been missing. You can Tweet at or Facebook her!

Hung Up

Hung Up

Hung Up
by Kristen Tracy
March 2014, Simon Pulse
282 pages

“Once upon a time, last semester, I took a course called International Foods. I did this because I liked the idea of eating at school, and also learning in a room that had ovens. They were electric ovens, so that was a tad disappointing. I like flames. Anyway, while taking this course, I fell madly in love with a girl named Valley. Valley didn’t seem to notice me too much. But I sure noticed Valley. She had long dark hair and she sat in front of me. Each class, I had an urge to reach out and touch her hair. When she leaned forward, her hair rose up her back. And when she sat up straight, it draped longer down her chair. It was like watching a water line climb and fall. I learned a lot that semester.”

Lucy and James are both high schoolers who live in Vermont. They don’t know each other, though, as they go to different schools. The teenagers speak to one another on the phone after Lucy leaves several voicemails for James, thinking he is a salesman who sold her a plaque. Unfortunately for her, James has purchased a recycled phone that used to belong to a scamming salesman, one who has left several unhappy customers in James’s lap. James feels bad that Lucy got screwed out of her money, and they begin a connection based on the fact that they both have midterms at school.

The story of Lucy and James is speedy. The entire thing is written in dialogue over the phone with a few text messages thrown in. Because the book is all dialogue, Kristen Tracy had to know what an enormous task she’d given herself. Many famous authors completely skip dialogue in their novels, for it is a notoriously difficult aspect of fiction writing. However, I grew to like Lucy and James because they said things to one another that were natural and realistic, things that I might have said to my friends over a decade ago. Tracy beautifully avoids the overly the cheesy things — no, flat out garbage — that authors have teenagers say, making both the book and the age group represented therein seem like the important and interesting part of the population that they are. James and Lucy often call each other for help brainstorming on essay subjects or to talk about how school was. The exchange regarding a diorama shows off James’s snarky attitude, but also a caring sensitivity:

James: I want to hear about your diorama. No joking around. I promise.
Lucy: Okay. Mine wasn’t elaborate like CeCe’s.
James: Sounds like hers had structural issues anyway.
Lucy: You said no joking around.
James: I meant about your diorama.
Lucy: Well, I figured you meant all dioramas.
James: Sheesh. I had no idea you had such serious hang-ups regarding craft projects.”

Here, James isn’t above teasing this girl he hasn’t met, one whom he likes, because he’s not willing to change his personality. On the other hand, he does care about Lucy’s life. When Lucy and James have a fight and do not talk, Lucy decides to leave voice messages instead, assuming that James cares enough to listen to them, but has the pride to not answer her immediately. In her message, Lucy’s mind wanders (though the point is that her family is visiting a candidate for her college education), like most of ours do, making her more human:

Lucy: Hi, James, today is Armed Forces Day. I know this because it says so on my calendar. But I don’t know any traditions associated with Armed Forces Day. Do you? Okay, I’ll be away tomorrow. My parents are I are leaving for Maine this afternoon. We’re taking a tour of Bowdoin. I think that’s where they want me to go. Because it’s small. And my parents equate small with safe. Which is stupid, because sometimes bombs are small. And poison capsules. And deadly bacteria. And scorpions. Anyway, I worry that I’m not going to like it there. They keep using the words ‘cozy,’ ‘nourishing,’ and ‘comfortable.’ It sort of sounds like they’re describing how I feel about waffles.”

I really liked the way Lucy’s and James’s thoughts weren’t “cleaned up” to seem cooler, or like they fit into a stereotype, or extra dorky-but-lovable. Both characters had real questions and issues that shaped them, and through the phone they developed a safe space — something not all teens have but need — to communicate.

I was uncertain as to why the characters didn’t text one another. Lucy doesn’t want to, but because James immediately respects her request that they not text (or Lucy’s insistence that she won’t reply), the reasons behind Lucy’s refusal were a bit lost on me. Especially confusing is the cover of the book, which is covered in emoticons (which are only sent through text messages). Of course, authors oftentimes have very little say about the cover art and are at the mercy of a designer who hasn’t read the book, so I tried not to think about it.

The other part of the cover that is misleading is the picture of the two teenagers. Both are sexy, and I doubt either model is actually teen aged. This is problematic because Lucy and James don’t describe what they look like to one another. Since visual media rules (or screws it up by photoshopping models to pieces), I was impressed with and amazed by Kristen Tracy’s choice to leave out looks. James wants to know what Lucy looks like and requests she send a picture, but she refuses on the grounds that he could choose to stop communicating with her based on her looks. After the deep connection formed on the phone, it won’t matter what Lucy or James look like because the feelings come first. The book appears to be marketed as a sexy phone romance, which is a real shame because the author has worked much more conscientiously than that.

I want to thank Kristen Tracy for sending me a reviewer’s copy of her book in exchange for an honest review.

Meet the Writer: Rebecca Brooks

Meet the Writer: Rebecca Brooks

I want to thank Rebecca for answering the “Meet the Writer’ interview questions. I found her answers to be inspiring to me, and encourage bravery! You can find Rebecca in a variety of places: Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and at her website!

Information in brackets was added by Grab the Lapels.

What kinds of writing do you do? What kinds of writing do you wish you did more of?

I write contemporary erotic romance about independent women who leave their lives behind to try something new. My debut, Above All, is about an artist and a chef in the Adirondacks. [Read my review on Grab the Lapels!]. My second novel, How to Fall, is now published and features a Chicago teacher and an Australian television writer who meet in Brazil. I’m interested in stories with well-rounded characters whose sexual adventures form a larger narrative about self-discovery and fulfillment. I’ve done a lot of different kinds of writing, including poetry and literary scholarship, but there’s nothing else I’d rather be working on now!

In what ways has academia shaped your writing?

Academia is actually how I got into romance. I wrote my dissertation on the romance plot in contemporary feminist utopian and dystopian fiction. Through that project I a) got hooked on romance and b) came up with the idea that would become Above All. Although I’ve since left academia, the experience helped prepare me to write full-time. Grad school taught me how to get serious about my writing. It also made me want to be more creative. I get to explore a lot of the same issues in fiction that I was in scholarship—feminism, sexuality, identity, how to imagine alternative futures. But I have more opportunities to connect with readers, which I really enjoy.

In what ways has life outside of academia shaped your writing?

The other major influence on my writing is travel. I lived in India when I was 18 and spent time in Brazil during college and after. I’ve also done a lot of hiking around the world. It’s no coincidence I’m drawn to writing with a strong sense of place. I love hearing from readers who tell me they’ve Googled the small mountain town in Above All so they can visit and are disappointed to discover it isn’t real. (Sorry!) My beta readers for How to Fall are now dying to spend New Year’s in Brazil. [How to Fall was published in November of 2015. Congrats, Rebecca!]. I want readers to feel truly immersed in the world of the novel. It’s a great excuse for me to ditch the computer and go somewhere great so I can write about it later.

What was the first piece of writing you did that you remember being happy with?

In middle school I went to a writing camp that I hated, but one of the counselors said something that stuck with me. He said you have to write a lot of shit before you get anything good. This permission to write badly was revelatory. I wrote a short vignette asking how you can tell if your writing is shit. It’s cliché to write about not being able to write, but it felt like a risk for me to use the word shit, admit to self-doubt, and understand that I was going to keep writing anyway. I remember reading over this piece and being surprised that it had come from me. I’m less afraid of writing shit now. I know it’s inevitable. But my best writing always includes this same disbelief.

What happens when you’re not happy with your writing?

I’m rarely happy with the first draft, but that’s what drafts are for. I start tearing my hair out when I go through revision after revision and the same problems persist. That’s when I stop and put it away. The break can be anywhere from a few hours to weeks or even months. I might take a walk, work on something else, or read other novels that tackle similar issues. The important thing for me is to remember that the problem isn’t permanent. Going back to an earlier question, that’s one of the main lessons I’ve taken from academia. I couldn’t put an article in a drawer and forget about it—there were due dates. Even if I keep writing the wrong thing over and over again, I have to trust it will eventually work out.

(This all sounds much more optimistic than how I actually feel, which is like the world is imploding and I should have gone to law school.)

How do your friends and family respond to your writing?

Above All has been out since July 2014 and it amazes me how positive the response has been. It was initially a little awkward to announce, “Oh, hey. I’m finishing my PhD but not going on the job market because, um, I want to write graphic sex.” But it turns out people love graphic sex! I wrote an essay about being embarrassed to tell my mom when I found out Above All was going to be published.

Now she posts every link on Facebook, hands out flyers and postcards, and talks it up to everyone she knows. My friends who don’t typically read romance want book recommendations. I don’t take for granted how lucky I am to have this support.

Furiously Happy

Furiously Happy

furiously-happyLast week, I reviewed Jenny Lawson’s first memoir, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir). Since then, my number of visitors to Grab the Lapels has increased by a lot (though I will admit someone was earnestly looking for “Steven Hawkings Wife” and found me). Like most people, I had to immediately get my hands on Lawson’s brand new memoir, Furiously Happy (Flatiron Books, Sept. 2015). On the cover, we get yet another taxidermied animal, this one named Rory. Some fans have taken to photoshopping Rory around and sharing him at #WheresRory. Honestly, I couldn’t quit calling the book FUR-iously Happy thanks to that thrilled corpse.

Last time, Lawson spent ten years composing a single memoir. This time, she got it down to somewhere around three. As a result, the stories are contemporary and do make reference to current cultural markers. Furiously Happy at times felt like commentary on what’s up with people today while remaining true to the memoir genre. Again, Lawson include fights with head-shaking husband Victor (I’m so glad they didn’t divorce; I was sure they would), and there are mentions of daughter Hailey, but Lawson respects her child’s privacy and mostly leaves Hailey out of it.

In my review of Let’s Pretend this Never Happened, I complained that Lawson mentioned huge topics (like anorexia) and then ran from them, like digging deep into a certain topic was too hard. It’s you’re going to write a memoir, though, readers are asking you to go to those hard places. And, in Furiously Happy, Lawson does. She spends much time talking about mental illness and embracing a diagnosis in a way that allows her to protect and understand herself and reach out to others. Lawson explains medicine:

The side effects and troubles with taking medication are very real and (if you have a chronic mental illness) are something you have to deal with for the rest of your life. Even if a drug is working for a while, it might stop working and you’ll have to start all over again with something new, which can be incredibly frustrating and disheartening.

Lawson also explains how mental illness is one that people don’t take seriously, which is unfair:

Clearly I wasn’t as sick as I said I was if the medication didn’t work for me. And that sort of makes sense, because when you have cancer the doctor gives you the best medicine and if it doesn’t shrink the tumor immediately then that’s a pretty clear sign you were just faking it for attention. I mean, cancer is a serious, often fatal disease we’ve spent billions of dollars studying and treating so obviously a patient would never have to try multiple drugs, surgeries, radiation, etc., to find what will work specifically for them.

By Shawnte Orion @ShawnteOrion

By Shawnte Orion

This sort of deep exploration of American’s understanding of metal illness and how that definition affects Lawson is a theme throughout the memoir. She brilliantly encourages readers to join the conversation in order to make mental illness less taboo, as many readers have already done at her blog and on Twitter. Lawson herself reaches out for help, sharing one pleading post from her blog as an example.

Even Victor prompts his wife to explore herself more deeply during a mock interview. Lawson admits that there were so many interviews after the success of Let’s Pretend this Never Happened that this time she’ll include interview Q & A in the book so she won’t have to suffer the crippling anxiety. Victor points out, “It seems like by this point in a book about depression you would have explained what depression is.” Lawson replies, “It’s hard to define.” Victor prods, “Well, this is a book, so maybe try.” Here, I applauded Victor for expressing my very thoughts while reading Let’s Pretend this Never Happened, and I was thrilled when Lawson tries again and again to define depression. Meanwhile, Victor says, “Hmm” and “So…?” and “I want to be helpful but I don’t know if that means that I should ask you to elaborate or tell you to stop elaborating.”

Of course, the main feature of Furiously Happy is how funny it is. Lawson combines her self-analysis with humorous storytelling. When it comes to beauty aids, Lawson doesn’t believe in adding to the body, like Botox or augmentations, but instead she is for stripping away. She writes, “Somehow that all seems healthier to me. Or at least more likely to make me less of who I am. Which is probably pretty unhealthy, now that I think about it.”

One of my favorites was when Lawson was missing, sending Victor into a panic. She can only explain how she was at a “surprise funeral”:

In a nutshell, I stopped at a nearby cemetery because I love the quiet, but unfortunately I unwittingly pulled into the cemetery minutes after a funeral procession had pulled in. I would have driven off…but when I turned to reverse I saw a line of cars right behind me and that’s when I realized I was fucked….I wanted to explain that I was just browsing but thought it would sound weird, so I just got out and went to the funeral, which was odd because I avoid most social occasions of people I know and love and here I was, willingly participating in the burial of a dead stranger.

It’s good to read that Jenny Lawson is still taking life one step at a time and promoting the #FuriouslyHappy way of thinking to combat all the assholes and bad days. I’m happy to know that Victor is still there, even when they seem so ill-matched (he has a retirement fund, whereas the author keeps change in a drawer–though not quarters; those are for gum). I was also pleased to see that while not in color, the photos were bigger/clearer this time. Overall, Furiously Happy is a much more introspective book that doesn’t lose the humor, and I recommend you read it.

By Manning The Merciless @pooinanalleyway

By Manning The Merciless

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened
Hamlet von Schnitzel, actual taxidermy mouse the author owns.

Hamlet von Schnitzel, actual taxidermic mouse the author owns.

Jenny Lawson’s newest memoir, Furiously Happy, was published this past September. I saw the cover with the crazy raccoon all over the advertisements on Goodreads. So, I looked up Lawson, who already has a tremendous following, originally the result of her blog, but also from the success her first memoir, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir). I wanted to read the new raccoon book, but I figured that I had to start at the beginning and picked up Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (2012, Penguin Books).

Lawson grew up in a tiny town in Texas with her younger sister, lunch lady mother, and taxidermist father. Living in relative poverty and having a father who constantly brings home animals, both dead and alive, makes for an influential childhood. Then, Lawson meets a college student in a book store named Victor, who is from a wealthy family, and the two marry. After much heartbreak, Victor and Lawson have a child named Hailey, and they live happily ever after in Texas. The end.

Sort of.

Except that Lawson has this way of exaggerating common situations. Except, she also has experiences that are highly unusual to those who grew up with enough money to not wear bread bags filled with newspaper inside their shoes in the winter. Except, Lawson also has severe anxiety that causes her to ramble, panic, and say exactly what she’s thinking, even if it’s telling her husband’s co-workers that she was stabbed by a chicken. And it’s all these “except”s that make her so damn interesting.

Lawson’s clarifications throughout the book will bother some readers, but I found it spastic and fun. Right away, she starts clarifying what she means:

Also, I just want to clarify that I don’t mean “without my vagina” like I didn’t have it with me at the time. I just meant that I wasn’t, you know … displaying it while I was at Starbuck’s. That’s probably understood, but I should clarify, since it’s the first chapter and you don’t know that much about me. So just to clarify, I always have my vagina with me. It’s like my American Express card. (In that I don’t leave home without it. Not that I use it to buy stuff with.)

The entirety of Let’s Pretend This Never Happened isn’t so circumnavigated, and Lawson’s splashes of silliness make the book light when some stories are terribly serious in content.

There are, however, serious topics that are mentioned and then fade away, and I hope the author addresses these issues in Furiously Happy. Lawson mentions she’s anorexic, but abandons the topic quickly, whereas later she devotes more than a page to a hypothetical huge labia. In the last paragraph of a chapter, Lawson has and then corrects her anorexia. In this scene, Lawson and Victor are newlyweds:

Still, I felt sorry for Victor, because he did know that I was kind of mentally ill, but he also thought I was naturally thin, so he was kind of expecting “crazy,” but I think he was expecting hot, sexy crazy. Then Victor insisted I start seeing the college shrink, who coaxed me away from the anorexia, and I immediately gained thirty pounds, which was very healthy, but which seemed not hot at all. Also, I suddenly stated eating solid food, so I cost a lot more than Victor had originally expected.

Lawson also describes her and Victor’s wedding, which was incredibly cheap, including the Sears wedding photo. The author had previously shared how wealthy Victor’s family was and that an actual wedding (not a court house contract signing), and I wondered why some information is dropped in my lap and left to sit.

The majority of Let’s Pretend This Never Happened is humor-driven, though. During a lunch break, Lawson’s co-worker mentions he saw a documentary about a woman whose top half was normal, but her bottom half was “enormous.” Lawson’s train of thought is both funny and creative:

…My God. I bet her labia is huge….If I were her, I’d roll it up with binder clips. Or foam curlers. And then on special occasions she lets it out of the curlers and bingo: spiral perm. Totally ready for prom….If you got attacked you could throw it on someone to swat them back, or you could catch children jumping out of burning buildings….You could put a lantern behind it and make shadow puppets.

Meanwhile, the coworker is getting angry because he’s brought a tuna sandwich to work that day, and Lawson works in Human Resources, adding a new level of inappropriate to the situation.

Some of the stories truly are not remarkable, but it’s all in the telling. The chapter entitled “Stabbed by Chicken” gets your brain thinking the worse, but by the end readers learn that Lawson’s dog accidentally tripped her and she cut herself on the dried chicken jerky she wanted to feed him. In the telling of the story, though, everything is disastrous, life-or-death, and hilarious. In truth, the humor is the build up of each story as opposed to one-liners, and Lawson’s funny bits are pretty much too long to quote to give you a good example. This is why you have to read the book yourself.

Several times, Lawson pins her fears on the zombie apocalypse or chupacabras. I couldn’t tell if the author was genuinely afraid of these fictitious creatures, or if she was using zombies because they’re in vogue. Again, I wanted more conscientious digging into her fears to determine what’s going on with her mentally, and if she truly is terrified of said creatures.

Rory, the taxidermic raccoon, who I am told fell in with a bad crowd. We'll see in book two!

Rory, the taxidermic raccoon, who I am told fell in with a bad crowd. We’ll see in book two!

Lawson does work to make sure you believe her. She has photographic evidence. The photos, however, are pretty small, and all are in shades of grey. In several, I couldn’t distinguish the different parts from lack of color, and I wanted Penguin Group to pony up the dough for color photos. Then again, I can see how that would increase the cost of the book, and most likely the pictures wouldn’t appear in the right places to serve as evidence (most publishers use special shiny paper and put all the color photos somewhere in the middle of the book, which makes no sense when you see people the book hasn’t discussed yet, but also images that would have been relevant 100 pages ago).

In the end, I found myself eager to return to Lawson’s life, and I appreciated that she kept the focus of the book on her. As soon as she had a baby, I worried Let’s Pretend This Never Happened would turn into one of those books about how funny moms think their kids are. It didn’t. *Whew* I caught myself laughing out loud many times, much to my own embarrassment, and became vigilant about reading away from public places. Totally recommend.

This book was procured from the public library. I have zero relationship with the author, and all thoughts are my own. Please keep an eye out for my forthcoming review of Furiously Happy!

Women in Clothes

Women in Clothes
Book Cover

Book Cover

Women in Clothes (2014, Blue Rider Press) is an anthology unlike any kind before it. At 515 pages, you may wonder what so many women have to say about their clothes, their relationship to clothes, and what they think of other women’s clothes. In 2013 I was still an active on Facebook (you won’t find me there now). Sheila Heti was a FB friend of mine, though we didn’t really know each other. She had done a reading at my college, and I liked that her work was odd, and that she, too looked unique in a way I couldn’t place, so I friended her, which many of us do. Through FB, Heti put out a call for participants in a survey for women about clothes. That was about all I knew, but I felt the tug of my past quizzy self asking me to do it, thinking of those years as a teenager when I filled out hours of questionnaires (what’s your favorite color? what’s the first thing you do when you wake up? etc.) my friends sent to each other, typically through AOL e-mail. I responded to Heti’s request and filled out a long survey about clothes, style, make up, and jewelry.

Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton, & Sheila Heti (L to R).  Photograph by Gus Powell.

Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton, & Sheila Heti (L to R). Photograph by Gus Powell.

In 2014, I learned that Women in Clothes was not only a reality, but it was a huge project. Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, and Leanne Shapton collected surveys from around the world, conducted interviews, gathered photo evidence, stories, and diagrams about fashion from over 639 (myself included) participants. The anthology is described as “essentially a conversation among hundreds of women of all nationalities—famous, anonymous, religious, secular, married, single, young, old—on the subject of clothing, and how the garments we put on every day define and shape our lives.” I received my contributor’s copy and must admit, I was a bit shocked when I held it. This book is enormous, and because it’s not a narrative, I wasn’t sure how to approach it. In all honesty, I put the book in my bathroom and decided it’s short sections would make such a room the perfect place for it. Occasionally, I would take the book into another room and read it there, but there is so much information that it seemed better to read only one small section at a time.

I read Women in Clothes cover to cover, skipping very little. One page shows a diagram of stains on clothes, which I didn’t care to read thoroughly. The fiction stories, though there aren’t many, were too avant garde for me. But overall, I read the whole thing, front to back.

The anthology begins with a conversation between Heti, Julavits, and Shapton. It’s a bit gossipy and teenager in tone, which I found grating, but I can see how the authors were trying to keep the dialogue as real as possible, or perhaps they even recorded what they said and typed the conversation verbatim. I’ve read a number of reviews on Goodreads that point out a dislike of this introduction to how the idea for the book began, and I must admit that I also wish it started more professionally.

What I didn’t notice about Women in Clothes at first is its power to change the reader. First, I was copying quotes I enjoyed onto my Goodreads account to share with others. But half way through, suddenly it dawned on me that I was staring at strangers’ outfits, comparing the clothes people in groups wore, and grabbing and feeling all the fabrics in clothing stores as I walked by the racks. I began trying on clothes, noticing cut and color with a more fastidious eye that I had previously, back when I figured if it covered my body it must “fit.”


Tania Van Spyk’s dress sets part II

People tended to respond to my quotes on Goodreads. I often found women funny, strong, curious, and confused about clothes in a way that I am, but didn’t realize. Here are some excerpts where women discover things about themselves:

from You Don’t Know What I Deal With: the women from the podcast BLACK GIRLS TALKING:

“That’s an advantage of living in an area that’s populated by actual black people. You get to see other black people living relatively normal lives, with bangin’ hair. I only found natural communities because I have scalp issues…probably related to getting relaxers, and I was just Googling, and I was like What else can I do? Then I found natural hair, and I kind of just waded my way through the murk.”–Alesia: (25-27)

from a survey titled “Men Looking at Women”:

“In my family, I was know for my ‘sausage fingers.’ There was a family friend I really respected, a father of one of my friends. One day in the summer when I was reading on the couch, just being an awkward teen and feeling really ugly, he walked through the room and said, ‘You have the hands of the Madonna.’ I realized that we tell ourselves stories about he we think we are. It’s better if it’s a nice story.”–Karima Cammell (329)

And then there are informative moments, where readers can learn something:

from Flower X: smell scientist Leslie Vosshall speaks to Heidi Julavits:

LESLIE: “The current fashion in perfumes I find very depressing. A lot of people smell like vanilla blackberry ice cream: very vanilla, very musky, but with fruit layered on top.”

HEIDI: “I hate to tell you this, but I’m wearing a vanilla scent. It makes me feel like a cookie. A happy cookie.” (253-256)

And, of course, there is lots of humor when women talk about clothes:

from a survey titled “Strangers”:

“I once met an elderly woman on an airplane and we started talking. I told her how much I liked her outfit, which I can’t remember in detail now but which I definitely remember as being quite fabulous. She thanked me, then said, Every morning that I wake up and realize I’m not dead is a chance for me to say ‘Fuck it.’ So I dress like this.”–Fatima G. (351)

Women describe photos of their mothers

Women describe photos of their mothers

Women in clothes isn’t just pages of writing; there are a number of images, such as photocopies of women’s hands, pictures of mothers, and a series of women who swap outfits (so we can see how clothes change with bodies). There are tons of images, both in color and black and white. I found the most touching to be pictures of mothers that daughters submitted, who then describe what they think of their moms.

I recommend this book as a cultural artifact. I recommend it for it’s uniqueness. I recommend it to get you thinking about your own exterior and how it affects your interior–and vice versa.

This review was written after I read my contributor’s copy. I make no money and gain no success from having two of my survey answers appear in this book, but it could cause some bias because I want the book to do well, yet feel that it stands on its own merit.

Hello, Twitter


Today, I finally got a Twitter account. I’m so far behind on social media (mostly because it’s scary) that Twitter will probably be obsolete by the time I master it! You can find me there with the handle @GrabTheLapels. Do they call them handles? Don’t worry; I plan on schooling myself this evening to learn more about communication in 140 characters or less.

What did surprise me was how many people had written about or shared materials from Grab the Lapels. I was honored and humbled, to say the least. So, if you’re a Tweeter (Twitterer? One who Tweets?) then find me so we can spread some book-ish love.


What are your favorite reasons to visit Twitter?

How often do you Tweet?

What do you Tweet about?