Review: The Elements of Expression by Arthur Plotnik

The Elements of Expression: Putting Thoughts into WordsThe Elements of Expression: Putting Thoughts into Words by Arthur Plotnik

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved Plotnik’s other book about words, Better Than Great: A Plenitudinous Compendium of Wallopingly Fresh Superlatives, and The Elements of Expression is written in the same witty, conversational style. Plotnik’s intelligence and logophilia is evident on every page. I am writer, and like many writers I know I have a whole shelf of books about how to write, how to improve my writing and writing style, how to get published, etc, that I’ve only glanced through but never read. I decided to give Elements a chance, and an hour later found myself deep into the book, for the pure enjoyment of reading.

I got a kick out of the chapter about how English was standardized (Chapter Two: “Standard English: Who Needs It?”) and the way he pokes fun at all the extreme language police. He also explains the difference between a lot of words that get thrown around the writing world, like “style,” “grammar,” “rhetoric,” etc, without sounding stuffy or superior.

The format of the book also contributed to the easy reading. Plotnik intersperses examples, quirky asides and quotes among his definitions and sincere writing advice. Already my writing and verbal expression has improved just by being made aware of my common (and often cliché) patterns of communication. I’m looking forward to breaking out of my old patterns more consistently and “putting my thoughts into words” that are more specific and uniquely expressive. Enjoy!

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My Day with Kate Hopper

(From my intern blog, Curious Confessions of a Cleis Press Intern)

Phew!  The last few weeks went by in such a blur that I only just collected my thoughts about it (some of the fog may have had to do with the impending cold that hit a day later).

Wednesday morning before the Twitter party I did some last minute inviting on Twitter, Facebook, and my own blogs. When I logged onto the Viva Twitter account around 1pm to start making some noise for the event, I was super elated to see that someone had seen my WordPress blog post on my personal blog and sent the info to a women’s networking and event website, which had  posted to Twitter! Of course I shared the tweet around. It’s so exciting to see that people actually read my blog and did something about it!

Kate Hopper came into the office right before 2pm, and we settled down right away and got tweeting! At first, there was over a ten minute delay. A little discouraging. Then the questions started coming through and Kate was typing away. We discussed why the terms “mommy blogger” and “momoir” are offensive and devaluing to mothers who write, and how men who write about parenthood are somehow more credible and commendable in the literary world than women, even though statistically speaking it’s still women who do a large share of the parenting in the United States.

After the intensity of the Twittering (Tweeting?) we all decompressed with some delicious cupcakes. YUM! And we got to meet Kate’s kids and spouse. The girls were absolutely darling, and I love the supportive family dynamic Kate has going on.

Then I just had to wait until it was time to leave for the Mommies Playdate at Good Vibes (Polk Street). Mass package shippings are perfect for a fuzzy brain, let me tell you…except the part where I kept forgetting to include the catalog.

I tagged along to San Francisco with Kat Sanborn–I had to carry the box of Use Your Words books, of course–where we enjoyed mediterranean appetizers and a glass of good wine at Dunya Mediterranean as part of the Happy Hour before the event. We were joined by Carol Queen (the other presenter), Camilla Lombard (GV Media Coordinator), Kate Hopper, and some others. We shared a deal between 3 people and got the Mezze Platter (falafel, sigara boregi, ezme, hummus, dolma, eggplant salad, haydari, piyaz) and a bottle of wine for $30. Food was incredible, wine was tasty, and the atmosphere was comfortable–definitely taking a date here!

At Good Vibes there were even more decadent treats to enjoy (huge red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting? fresh ripe strawberries?! cookies?!! heaven) and a tour of the store and sex toy history by an enthusiastic Carol Queen. The Polk Street location is home to the Antique Vibrator Musuem…very small room but a nice collection of historic models, some of which were featured in the romantic comedy Hysteria, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal.

It’s strange, but I think a lot of people don’t like to put moms and sex in the same context–even though sex is what made them moms in the first place! It’s like people think “sacred” equals “innocence” so in order for motherhood to be considered sacred the mother has to be removed from all indecent ideas. Way-to-go, sex-negative culture!

Despite this, Kate found an excellent way to segue and I loved listening to her talk. She’s a very sweet, sometimes bubbly person, and her sincerity is clear when she talks about motherhood and writing. She started off by sharing her own story of motherhood: how none of the parenting resources prepared her for having a premie, how no one, no even other mothers usually talked about the darker parts of motherhood, and how she found solace and a creative outlet in blogging about her experiences. She read a few excerpts from the book of her own writing–I was impressed by the distinctness in her style, the way her sincerity carried throughout her written voice as well. I was also impressed when she shared some writing tips and broke down some of her favorite tropes to use.

But why should I repeatedly impressed and surprised? I think even I had to let go of some predisposition to think of her as a mother first, and a writer second. Kate Hopper excels at both jobs, and yet she and many other writers who happen to be mothers and write about motherhood have to fight against discrediting terms like “mommy blogger” and “momoir.” After this day with Kate, I will definitely take her writing seriously.
You can read Kate’s own account of the day here, and visit her website at Kate Hopper and everyone else who I shared this day with! It was incredible fun.

You can buy her book Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers on Cleis Press and on Amazon.

Review: Transitions of the Heart by Rachel Pepper

Transitions of the Heart: Stories of Love, Struggle and Acceptance by Mothers of Transgender and Gender Variant ChildrenTransitions of the Heart: Stories of Love, Struggle and Acceptance by Mothers of Transgender and Gender Variant Children by Rachel Pepper

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I settled down yesterday afternoon to peruse Transitions of the Heart and couldn’t put it down until the sun set. Each of the stories in this collection compound the unifying message of the book–love your child unconditionally, whether they conform to society’s (and your) expectations or not. The essays come from a wide range of individuals with varying experience with writing, but even the most simply written stories sing with voices that resound with truth, strength, and transformational love. I was delighted at the diversity Rachel Pepper collected here: varying religious, ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds, childhood upbringings, and parenting styles. And the perspective is unique as well. The stories come from the mothers, rather than the children. While this area of literature is still very new, most books are about the experiences of trans* and gender variant individuals, and not from the perspective of the families and parents who must learn to accept and support, or lose their child.

As a queer woman and trans ally, reading this book was both poignantly painful and a spiritual tonic. I welcomed the bravery of these women to fight their fears for the sake of their children and to share their experiences with the world, so that more people can educate themselves and understand the struggle for survival and validation so many transgender and gender variant children go through. I also hope this book will find itself in the hands of other parents who are struggling in the same ways, and that it will give them hope and strength.

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Party time! On Twitter

Today’s the day! Author and blogger Kate Hopper’s Twitter party for her new book from Viva Editions, Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers. Thanks to whoever shared the event info with ShesConnected and @EventsforWomen. They gave us our first shoutout on Twitter!

Join me at the “Use Your Words” Twitter Party w/ Kate Hopper

Hi, friends, family, followers, and supporters! I’ll be helping host this Twitter party on Aug 1st as part of my internship at Viva Editions and Cleis Press, and I’d love if you joined in to support me and this wonderful book. I’ve read most of Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Motherhood and think it’s super helpful and funny, with fresh ideas about writing about motherhood and sharing the little things of life. And there will be prizes for the attendees who bring along the most guests. Best of all, you don’t have to go anywhere, just log into your Twitter account and follow the hashtag #UseYourWordsBook! This is the first Twitter party I’ve organized and I’m super excited to see how it turns out.

I know some of you are not mothers or never plan to be, but I think this book still has valuable advice for anyone with a writerly inclination, no matter their gender or feelings about motherhood. I think you each might have some sort of insight or smart comment to input into the conversation and I’d love it if you could make it! 🙂 I’ve listed the most important information below and you can go to the Facebook event link for more details. Hope to see you there!

When: Wednesday, August 1st, from 2-3pm PT

Where: Twitter, at #UseYourWordsBook

Guest: Author Kate Hopper!

You can find out more about the event and prizes here:

If you happen to be in the San Francisco Bay Area, after the Twitter party you can join Kate Hopper at Good Vibrations’ “Mommies Playdate” at their Polk Street location:

Visit Kate on her website:

I just read this collection of intimate and heart-truth stories from mothers of trans* and gender-variant children. I’ll be posting my review of the book soon, but I thought I’d share this inspiring interview by blogger Lula Lisbon with the Editor, Rachel Pepper.

Kisses Like Wine

About Rachel Pepper and Transitions of the Heart:

When she was working as Coordinator of Lesbian and Gay Studies at Yale University, Rachel Pepper was shocked by the paucity of resources available to gender variant people and their families. Her book The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals, co-authored with Stephanie Brill, did a great deal to fill that void and has sold almost 10,000 copies in the three years since its publication.

In the same way that the 1987 Cleis Press book Different Daughters: A Book by Mothers of Lesbians changed the discourse for many families in this country, TRANSITIONS OF THE HEART shares an intimate view of the joys, challenges and triumphs of families with trans members for the first time. As Kim Pearson, Executive Director and Co-founder of TransYouth Family Allies, writes in her foreword, this book “is a support group, a tutorial…

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Katniss Everdeen: Another Cookie-Cutter Heroine, or a Feminist Role Model?


“A heroine owns her power and controls her own destiny.”
(Dorothy Snarker,

The whole theater is laughing. The trailer continues to wail its sad-serious music, but no one’s listening. Every line and intense stare on-screen gets a new burst of ridiculing laughter. Apparently these Hunger Games fans really don’t have patience for Twilight: Breaking Dawn: Part 2. We are waiting for fem-power fighting action in the form of Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist of the latest of Hollywood’s book-to-film young adult flicks, based on Suzanne Collins’ novel The Hunger Games. The premise: Surviving in the dystopian world of Panem is close to impossible when Katniss becomes a sacrificial tribute in the Capitol’s [sic] yearly games to-the-death.

I went to see The Hunger Games in San Francisco with my partner Jess the night after it opened in theaters. I went as an avid fan of the books, having read the whole series, and my partner went not having read the books and knowing little about the actual plotline, except that it was some sort of cross between Battle Royale, Gladiator, and Twilight. I was amazed at the range of people waiting in line with us. The expected audience of high schoolers eating fast food while shouting their favorite quotes at each other, gangly middle schoolers with their wary-looking mothers, and giggly college students, was joined by men in sleek business suits just off of work, power lesbians masking their glee that they were first in line by discussing their friends’ serious relationship problems, and older couples glowing in rekindled love.  It’s strange what a little bloodshed and kickassery will bring out of the woodwork.

But is it really the predictable American penchant for blood and violence or sappy heteronormative romance that brought all these people out to see The Hunger Games? What is it, exactly, that has made this movie gross over $302.5 million in sales and land top at the box office for a third weekend in a row, beating a remastered version of James Cameron’s 1997 “Titanic”?

The Hunger Games has been applauded as an advancement in gender equality in film. The author is a woman; the main character is also a “strong” young woman; total proof that women will someday rule the silver screen. Right? The Hunger Games takes it place among many other action films said to have strong female leads, including but not limited to Thelma & Louise, the Tomb Raider series, Hanna, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Twilight, Sucker Punch, and Alice in Wonderland. Yet the recent rise in female film protagonists in blockbuster films does not necessarily mean that feminism has abolished misogynistic tropes from popular media. Many of these heroines succeed based on their innocence and/or stereotypical beauty, instead of their intelligence, their strength, and other internal traits. They float through the plot, surviving because of their impenetrable naivety and the aid of their knights-errant. The reinforcement of these tropes teaches a new generation of young women that their power comes from their appearance and their ability to catch the opposite sex. This is not a feminist message.



Dear journal,

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? So much has happened. I think this is an habitual pattern that I no longer feel the need to break. Long absences, silent intervals, with great bursts of poetic prose and color and action. Maybe not a true reflection of my life but an interesting persona.

I’m writing this from the Olin Library at Mills, on a Sunday, the day before my Hell Week truly begins. Well, really, these next few days might be hell and this is just the beginning. I just finished the outline for Spanish that was due last Wednesday, with the first draft due on Monday. I’ve been slipping all semester. I got an academic warning in my Tuesday class, Creative Non-Fiction Workshop. Yes, me. Miss A-student-always-because-B-is-failing, and I’m not minding except the fear my GPA is going to fall too far. So I’m scrambling to pick up the scattered pieces of my academic frame of mind and find some way to love myself through these awful, painful hours of dredging up words I don’t feel like typing. It helps that my last few projects are going to be on topics I like. Feminism, patriarchy, queer desire, embodied memory, and translation, etc. Somehow the learning is finally clicking and becoming a part of me, and thus transferring between classes. I’ve been trying to reflect back on how much I’ve actually learned here, to try to put a value on my education, and I haven’t been able to quantify it yet.

It’s easier to identify in the ephemera, in comparison and déjà vu. Like watching a movie I used love and realizing how sexist it is and at the same time running a queer analysis on it and trying to find moments of trans-ing and queer desire and colonialist objectification…oh yes, there are definitely things I’ve learned.

Also, my writing has definitely developed. I won the inaugural Annual Queer Studies Writing Contest this year. I submitted one of my papers from an American Lit class on a whim, not thinking I would be picked but mad at myself at how many contests and opportunities I’ve passed up this year because I “haven’t had the time.” And now I have a beautiful award along with a check for $100! Go me. *does a little victory dance*

But I really must get back to this epic research paper for CNF. Yes, a research paper. Somehow I didn’t think about how much research would be needed for this, and now I’m in deeper than I could possibly be. I’m hoping my result will be adequate enough for an A, an obvious improvement. At least writing about the Hunger Games and feminism and pop culture movies is entertaining. Just a lot of reading and referencing and synthesizing. Ugh.

Last days are approaching! Oh noes!

Manuscripts and Red Marks

…and it feels like Doomsday. I am really going to miss Berrett-Koehler. Hopefully I can get some more profiles written out so you can all meet the endearing and quirky characters that populate this house of publishing (and much literary nonsense).

This feels so final, especially since I just sent out several emails for my last meetings with staff, including the one below to Jeevan (click image to magnify)…my last days are in print! It’s for real now! *runs off and sobs in a corner*

*dries tears with a Kleenex and gets over herself*

In other news, I’ve found two promising manuscripts after a pile of rejections. The one I found today compelled me to keep reading despite my tired, Friday-spacey mind. The author did her job in research, editing, and presenting a clearly organized narrative. In Jeevan’s words, I “appreciate the diligence and effort” she put into it. He’s…

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A mini-review of one of my favorite SF haunts. Enjoy the mouthwatering pictures!

Manuscripts and Red Marks

…I’m having an affair with San Francisco.

I almost never came into the city before I started working at BK. Now I’m here at least twice a week–usually more if I accompany Jess to work, like today.

I really love Cinema Cafe. It’s in the New People building in Japantown, which is fronted by a three and a half story glass wall. The guy who owns it brought Pokemon to the US. I watch the weather and the people go by, study, cruise the internet (because it’s free!), sip on green tea or chai tea lattes, nibble at vegan baked goods, like Lemon Poppyseed Cookies from Fat Bottom Bakery, or the Chocolate Coconut Donut from Pepple’s Donuts below:

And when I get hungry, I can chow into some delicious Ume and Eggplant Onigilly:


Or if I’m still in the mood for sweets, I have a Cinnamon Toast…

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The Big DayMay 25th, 2013
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