• Bonus Post: Books for Black History Month

    Bonus Post: Books for Black History Month

    We get a bonus day in February this year, which seems as good a day as any to share a bonus post from The Wingback. I’ve put together a quick list of a half-dozen titles by Black authors that immediately spring to mind as favorites. You can find all of these books (plus a few…

  • Hanging in There

    Hanging in There

    I’ve been thinking a lot over the past few months about this little newsletter and you, its readers. Most of you signed up ages ago and probably mostly forgot about it for a couple of years while I published sporadic updates about the publication of my books. And yet you’re still here years later, which…

  • Ineffectual Thorns

    Ineffectual Thorns

    I recently pruned my roses, as I do every February. I used to do this on or after Valentine’s Day, but climate change is real and upon us, so now this chore gets done at the beginning of February. It’s a pleasant chore, the kind that makes a noticeable and immediate difference when it’s done.…

  • Hold, Please…

    Hold, Please…

    I regret to inform you, dear readers, that I wrote an essay for The Wingback at the last minute, and it was absolute shit. So rather than pass that off as anything you might possibly want to read, I am posting a picture of my dog being impatient about her walk time. If you’re looking…

  • Is AI My Competition?

    Is AI My Competition?

    In the summer of 2023, I stopped writing for How Stuff Works after more than a decade of freelancing for the company. After I left, I learned from my editor (who has also since left the company) that article updates would be performed by artificial intelligence. I posted about this change in several places, including…

  • Hot Takes on Cold English

    Hot Takes on Cold English

    When winter storms bring the city to a halt, I apparently think of poetry, which I’m kind of surprised to learn about myself. In 2021, when ice encapsulated every twig and leaf of every tree and shrub and bent them to the ground, I thought of Robert Frost’s “Birches.” This year, as a storm that…

  • Rebellion: Behind the Scenes

    Rebellion: Behind the Scenes

    Tomorrow, January 16, 2024, my translation of Memoirs of a French Courtesan Volume 1: Rebellion will be published. I’m really proud of this project, and it’s gotten great reviews from advance readers. So far it’s earned four out of five stars on NetGalley, which makes me happy. Paperback and ebook copies will be available just…

  • 2023 Reading Review

    2023 Reading Review

    Let’s start this reading review with the stat that most people use: I read 52 books this year. A tidy average of one a week. Several of those were for school; a couple of them were for a class I ended up not taking. Nearly a dozen of these books were by Annie Ernaux because…

  • Welcome to the Wingback

    Welcome to the Wingback

    Happy New Year! I love a new year. I’ll celebrate a fresh start any day. I don’t make resolutions or even pick a word or phrase; I just like turning a new page in my planner and looking forward. You may have noticed a new logo for the newsletter: The Wingback. The Substack URL is…

  • Automotive R&D for Writers

    Automotive R&D for Writers

    For about a decade, more than half of my freelancing gigs were in automotive journalism. I still keep a hand in, but I do more editing and authoring these days. Automotive journalism involves a lot more travel and fancy dinners than you might expect. Car companies fly journalists from around the country, and sometimes the…

  • Happy Birthday to Me

    Today, November 20, is my birthday. Not a milestone birthday, but a solidly middle-aged year, just past the likely halfway point of my natural lifespan, if my family is any measure of that. My grandmother has been lying about her age for as long as I have known her. Once I became an adult, I…

  • Miraculous Nuns of the 7th and 21st Centuries

    Miraculous Nuns of the 7th and 21st Centuries

    The New York Times is reporting from towns across the country to explore “how America defines itself one place at a time.” On September 9, the dispatch came from an abbey in Gower, Missouri. The founder of the Abbey of Our Lady of Ephesus, Sister Wilhelmina—a real firecracker, from the descriptions—died in 2019. She was…

  • A Writer’s Vacation

    A Writer’s Vacation

    In honor of this being Labor Day weekend, the last three-day weekend of summer, let’s look at “The Writer on Vacation,” a short essay by Roland Barthes contained in his collection Mythologies. In the summer of 1954, a footnote in the 2013 edition of the book says, the right-leaning newspaper Le Figaro asked French writers…

  • Agency of Influence

    Content warning: quick mentions of suicide and depression Spoilers: The Girl Who Was Plugged In, James Tiptree, Jr., 1973 In December 2022, Channel 4 in the UK reported on the very bad factory conditions of Shein (pronounced shee-in), a fast-fashion clothing company. Given that during Shein’s July Fourth holiday sale a plain t-shirt was on…

  • I Was Replaced by AI

    I Was Replaced by AI

    For more than a decade, I wrote for How Stuff Works. I started as an automotive writer, and after a few years, the editors figured out that I could take on almost any topic they threw at me. So I was farmed out to other departments (except health; they were very picky about those writers…

  • Mogador: A Translation Diary

    Mogador: A Translation Diary

    When I started revising my translation Celeste Mogador’s memoir from 1848, I thought I’d try keeping a translation journal, similar maybe to the writing journals Steinbeck kept while he worked on his novels. I took a month off of editing work over the holidays just to work on this book, so it was a limited-duration…

  • That One Time I Was Wrong

    A few weeks ago, I was struggling with a paper I needed to write for my course on Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf. We’re reading his translation as well as the original in Old English, and critiques of and essays about both poems, plus many of Heaney’s other poems. The assignment was to respond to…

  • Digging into Metaphors

    Digging into Metaphors

    I’ve been reading The New Life by Tom Crewe, a novel about gender and sexuality and the cultural expectations of domestic life in 1890s London—to put it in a very small and inadequate nutshell. It’s a very good book, one I would very much recommend (content warning: sex scenes). However, this is not a review…

  • Introducing Leo Bloom, Courtesy of His Cat

    Introducing Leo Bloom, Courtesy of His Cat

    Leopold Bloom is the protagonist of Ulysses, yet he doesn’t show up until page 55. And even then, he’s not the first to speak in his own chapter. James Joyce gave that honor to Bloom’s unnamed cat. Scholars have long noted that Joyce was a cat lover and that he may even have preferred their…

  • Ice, Isolation, and Solitude

    Ice, Isolation, and Solitude

    I. On Friday, the snow started falling and falling, but it was soft and dry, unusual for the Portland area. The ice came quickly after in some areas, which is not so unusual. The snow in my back yard remained about a foot deep. The city is famously ill-equipped for dealing with snow, but no…

  • A Gawain for All Seasons

    SAYING IT IN LARGE TEXT: I 100% REVEAL THE ENDING OF THIS MOVIE IN THIS ESSAY. If you’ve seen it or that doesn’t bother you (it is a good movie worth watching), read on. Here’s the thing about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: every version depicts an imagined past. The original, written in the…