Connections #2

The connections in this post are mostly of a very straightforward type: 1. Begin with something I love that many people were involved in making. 2. Track down other projects done by those people.

My starting point is Slings and Arrows, a brilliant Canadian series about the on and offstage drama at a regional Shakespeare festival. If you’re already a fan, I commend to your attention an excellent Onion A.V. Club interview with the creators, including among many other insights this quote from Susan Coyne on fear and insecurity: “It’s an essential component, actually, of the actor’s or the artist’s life. To be constantly not quite sure that what you’re doing is going to work out and that nervousness is where the sweet spot is. Just before the thread snaps, that’s where it’s really interesting.”

If you’re new to the series, here’s Season 1, episode 1:

From Slings and Arrows you can get any number of places; I’ll tell you about two.

Sarah Polley plays Sophie, the young actress who’s cast as Cordelia in the production of King Lear in Slings and Arrows’ third season. Throughout the series Michael Polley plays Frank, a longtime actor of bit parts at the festival alongside his companion Cyril. As you might guess from their identical last names, there is a relationship between these two actors. That relationship’s exact nature — as well as the nature of memory, the question of who has a right to tell a family’s stories, and who gets to decide what makes someone part of a family, or not — is examined in Sarah Polley’s amazing film, Stories We Tell. The less you know going in the better, so that’s all I’ll say. Here’s the trailer:

One of my favorite characters (although it’s very difficult to choose) from Slings and Arrows is the flamboyant director Darren Nichols (“Deal with that!”), played by Don McKellar. So when friends told me that he’d co-created and starred in a show in the nineties called Twitch City, playing a Torontonian television addict named Curtis who never leaves the apartment he shares with a series of roommates, most notably Holly, played by Molly Parker whom you may know from Deadwood, I was immediately all in.

Here’s Episode 1, Season 1:

If you love it as much as I do, I suggest buying the complete series on DVD. I agree with this review describing the show as the TV equivalent of an underground comic, though I differ with the reviewer about the special features. It’s true that there’s only commentary on two of the thirteen episodes, but it’s absolutely worth it just to hear McKellar leave voicemail for some of the other actors he hoped to include on the commentary track, but who weren’t answering their phones.

Final connection for this post, coming way out of left field: I was reading Michael Pollan’s “The Intelligent Plant: scientists debate a new way of understanding flora” and came across this passage:

The “sessile life style,” as plant biologists term it, calls for an extensive and nuanced understanding of one’s immediate environment, since the plant has to find everything it needs, and has to defend itself, while remaining fixed in place.

Sessile is a perfect description of Don McKellar’s Twitch City character, Curtis.



Connections #1

I’m the daughter of two librarians. I internalized early on that whenever I wanted to know more about a word or person or event, the appropriate response was to Look It Up: find the definition, biography, historical & cultural context.

Whether or not I actually did Look It Up was an indication of how interested I really was. If my curiosity was merely idle, I’d drop the topic. But more often than not, the connections I made kept me going. (And yes, I love the James Burke series Connections.)

So I thought I’d start a series here of some of the connections I’m currently making. Each one will cover a few links in a chain of associations. Starting and stopping points will be somewhat arbitrary to keep the posts from getting too unwieldy. Here we go!

1. I read Stephen Burt’s essay on George Eliot at Essay Daily. I hadn’t known the site before. Since I both enjoy reading essays and want to get better at writing them, I added Essay Daily to my feed reader.

2. At Essay Daily I read Ryan Van Meter’s essay on endings which mentions a children’s book called A Really Weird Summer. Any time someone who is not themselves involved in writing children’s or YA literature references it, it piques my curiosity. Especially if, as was the case here, no contempt or oversweet nostalgia accompanies the reference. Plus, the author’s name seemed familiar.

3. So I checked out & read A Really Weird Summer by Eloise McGraw, whose name, it turns out, was familiar because the Oregon Book Awards for children’s literature are named for her. As I read I thought a lot about the book’s tone. There’s the real-world hardship of the kids’ parents’ in-progress divorce, their being shipped off to live with distant relatives for the summer, Nels’ tremendous sense of responsibility for his younger siblings and equal amount of resentment that the responsibility has been foisted onto him, juxtaposed with the secret room that Nels discovers, and the lure of its secret inhabitants.

4. I was struck by the ominous front cover and the very trippy back cover; those images, in combination with the tone, were reminding me of something I couldn’t quite immediately place. I decided to research the illustrator.


5. The illustrator is Allen Davis. As soon as I saw a few more examples of his cover design style, I remembered what A Really Weird Summer made me think of: the books that Suzy Bishop carries in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.


Those books, which don’t actually exist, are inspired by books from the 1960s and 70s, the era when A Really Weird Summer was published.

One last link: as I was writing this post, a friend tweeted at me about an essay he was reading involving mixtapes, bargain bins, Upper Michigan, and tree roots, which reminded him of some of what I was writing about in Bad Houses

Taking us full circle, the essay was by Ander Monson, who coordinates Essay Daily.

An old year resolution and a day trip

A friend recently introduced me to the idea of old year resolutions: considering how you want to leave a year as well as, or instead of, how to begin it.

We had this conversation right before the holidays, and the old year resolution that came to my mind was this:

Make up stories about characters, not about the actions of others.

Of course, it’s a nearly impossible goal. So much of human interaction is based on guesswork and oracle-like acts of interpretation; why’d they say that, why’d they do that, don’t they know, didn’t they think? 

But I like my old year resolution as a reminder of where to focus my energy.

And the day trip: we went to the Mount Angel Abbey. I didn’t know much about it, except that my friends had been before and were enthusiastic about it, and described the abbey’s museum as a wunderkammer.






IMG_3042 IMG_3043 IMG_3044 IMG_3045

We got to talk for a while to the affable and erudite monk working in the museum. The words on his knuckle tattoos also serve as an appropriate resolution, old year or new: HOLD FAST.


Cuteness, braggyness, and a PDX event



Bad Houses finds readers outside its target demographic,* is reviewed along with several excellent titles from Portland creators in the Mercury with a memorable headline, and makes the iBooks Best of 2013 Comics & Graphic Novels list (warning: that link will attempt to open iTunes). So I felt compelled to document via screenshot:


N.B. If you’re looking for it inside iTunes/iBooks, you’ll have to scroll past several other categories, but trust me, it’s there!

And the event: I’ll be at Cosmic Monkey Comics from 12-2 on Saturday 12/21 along with several other folks, happy to sign copies of Bad Houses for you, your loved ones, and/or any hoarder friends you want to passive-aggressively troll.

* I do not actually recommend giving the book to small children, nor does my friend who sent the photos. But they’re pretty darned cute, aren’t they?



Square shirts

Overheard at today’s estate sale: “Oh look, square shirts!” “What?” “You know, for when you have to attend, like, a square function.”

There was a fairly consistent aesthetic on display. Jewel tones much in evidence.



Nice solid mirror.


It was difficult to resist this aghast-looking greenish ceramic spaniel, particularly set off as it was by the dazzling paisley curtains, but I managed.


Does your growth measure up?


All 5.


P.S. Bad Houses recently made a couple of appearances in distinguished company: Paste Magazine’s 10 Best Comics of 2013, TIME Magazine’s 10 Best Comics and Graphic Novels of 2013.

P.P.S. And in case you were wondering if I bought anything at today’s sale the answer is yes:


He was fifty cents.

Bad Houses: roundup of some reviews so far

As required by law I’m posting on Black Friday about my newest book which you might wish to purchase. Here are a bunch of reviews!

Publishers Weekly starred review: “Ryan’s well-rounded sympathetic characterization and the scrappy energy in McNeil’s art make this a drama with true depth.”

Unshelved book club: “I’ve always thought that I could never live in a small town because I couldn’t stand everyone knowing my business. But I loved how this story unfolded to show that Failin had plenty of secrets.”

USA Today Pop Candy’s Week in Pop: “Ryan deserves props for her examination of why some people can’t let go of their stuff (physical and emotional), and Finder creator McNeil impresses me again with her ability to lure me into a comic within the first few panels.”

Reading Rants: “Each person in this intricate character-driven graphic novel will feel familiar as someone you know or love, and each one will lodge deeply in your heart…A well-told and astutely drawn story of fate and forgiveness.”

Darling Dork: “In my opinion, Bad Houses is one of the best graphic novels I’ve read in the last year, and I say that in spite of my general distaste for comics that aren’t at least a little fantastical. The writing is funny, smart and moving, and the art manages to serve the story well.”

Paste Magazine: “Bad Houses is not only notable among Dark Horse’s large catalog, where it could easily lie buried, but it deserves your attention as an excellent quarter life crisis work of graphic art.”

And because it wouldn’t truly be shameless self-promotion without links to ways to buy the book:

Thanks to everyone who’s been reading & spreading the word about Bad Houses!

If Bad Houses is the first thing you’ve read of mine…

Since Bad Houses is the first full-length graphic novel I’ve written, it’s likely to be some comics readers’ first experience of my work. If that describes you and you’d like to know more, a while back I had a great conversation with Sara Zarr on her This Creative Life podcast about everything from my writing routine to what I love about writing comics & collaborating with artists, to recurring themes in my work and whether or not I feel boxed in as an LGBT writer.

I also enthuse at some length about this excellent & creepy piece of art in my writing space:



Some of my other comics: a story in Hellboy: Weird Tales volume one with Steve Lieber, the only comic in the Welcome to Bordertown anthology with Dylan Meconis, a story in Comic Book Tattoo with Jonathan Case, a short-short called “Orienteering” with Erika Moen, and three stories about characters from my first novel Empress of the World, all included in the expanded reissue edition that came out last year.

Beyond that, although it is not itself in comics format, my essay in Chicks Dig Comics is very explicitly about my journey from comics reader to comics creator. Spoiler alert: it involves Elfquest. And Sandman.

Rookie Yearbook Two event in Portland

photo (30)

Last night I went with a friend to the Rookie Yearbook Two event sponsored by Reading Frenzy, held at the Q Center. We arrived early enough to help set up chairs and observe the process of the excellent letter balloons getting inflated via bicycle pump. I cannot tell you for sure but I bet the balloons were this kind. They added a fine shiny festive quality to the stage.

There were a lot of people. This isn’t even everybody.

photo (32)

If you are unfamiliar with Rookie you may be wondering what exactly brought out this crowd. Rookie is a magazine for teenage girls that is okay with people who do not fit that demographic enjoying it too. The interviews are particularly good; try, for instance, The World Is Bound With Secret Knots and Girls With Power and Mystique.

Rookie has many contributors, but its driving force is founder and editor in chief Tavi Gevinson. Gevinson’s sensibility — curious, smart, and much more interested in appreciating than in denigrating — informs the magazine.

I’ve been following Gevinson’s work since the early days of her style rookie blog, and it was very cool both to see her and to see the crowd seeing her.

photo (33)

She read on her phone from what will be the December Rookie editor’s letter on the theme of Forever, and then took questions for a while. Yes, she’s going to college — she’s applying now. No, she doesn’t know what her major’s going to be. She regretted her inability to make a judgment call on birthday cake Oreos. Rookie behind-the-scenes involves but is not limited to long email chains, a private Facebook group and Skype sessions. To the girl who asked about finding similarly-minded friends, she recommended “everyone in this room. You have one thing in common already, right?”






After the party it’s the afterparty

Actually, after the party it’s the collapse.

Last night was the Bad Houses early release party and it was swell.

A friend brought flowers.

photo (28)

There was a nice mix of YA authors, library types, comics people, otherwise-unaffiliated friends & some folks I did not know (always exciting!). It was fun to play comics and neighborhood tourguide for attendees unfamiliar with either or both; among my recommendations: Equinox and Saga.

Today the crud I’ve been resisting has fully taken over.

Fortunately I am equipped with a stack of books and a television and the cat:

photo (29)

But if I were going to go out to a Halloween party, which I am not, I would emulate these ladies.