Valya Dudycz Lupescu is the author of Amazon bestselling novel, The Silence of Trees, and founding editor of Conclave: A Journal of Character. Since earning her MFA in Writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Valya has worked as a college professor, obituary writer, content manager, goth cocktail waitress, and co-producer of an independent feature film. Her comic book with artist Madeline C. Matz, Sticks & Bones was successfully crowdfunded via Kickstarter. Valya’s poetry and prose have been published in Danse Macabre, Abyss & Apex, Fickle Muses, and other places; and she has work forthcoming in Mythic Delirium and Scheherezade’s Bequest. These are her good things.
Good things to read.
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury is a book that so perfectly captures the feeling of nostalgia and childhood magic. Told from the perspective of twelve-year-old Douglas Spalding, the book is less a novel and more a series of vignettes about one summer spent in a northern Illinois town that’s modeled after Bradbury’s own Waukegan. It’s highly sentimental, but I love it with a softhearted attachment reserved for The Muppets, Little House on the Prairie, and warm nights spent chasing lightning bugs, toasting marshmallows, and looking for shooting stars while stretched out on a blanket in the backyard. Dandelion Wine reminds us that we have our treasures from childhood, memories that serve as touchstones for who we are and where we’re headed.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. Another book about childhood and memory, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is my favorite of Neil Gaiman’s books so far—a haunting novel about sacrifice, boundaries, and things remembered. Like Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a beautifully written reflection on childhood and the magic of those days, but Neil’s story is a darker, more monstrous nostalgia. So many twisted and tattered new characters to get into our heads and under our skin. Once again, Neil does what he does so well: he takes us by the hand and introduces us to a dark, tangled corner of the universe full of things that make us shiver and hold our breath in the dark.
Naked City: Tales of Urban Fantasy by Ellen Datlow. I have always been fascinated by cities. Maybe it’s because I grew up in Chicago, where the lake, architecture, and weather have such personality. I love places that have stories: the gritty ruins of Rome and saucy spirit of Paris, the sensual cacophony of New Orleans and sultry cities of southern Spain. So I am naturally drawn to short stories where writers feature the city as a character. In Naked City, Datlow assembles a collection of 20 short stories that feature international cities as diverse as: New York, Butte, Chicago, Berlin, New Orleans, Seattle, and Haifa. I love so many of Ellen Datlow’s anthologies, but this one is my current favorite. I loved each story; and just like the cities they highlight, the stories were delightfully different in flavor and character: haunting, clever, gloomy, ethereal, funny, sexy. However, two stories have stayed with me for both their writing and their characterization: Delia Sherman’s “How the Pooka Came to New York City,” and Matthew Kressel’s “The Bricks of Gelecek”—gorgeous stories housed in a unforgettable collection.
Good things to watch.
Carnivále is a wonder-filled series that ran for two seasons on HBO (2003-2005). Set in the Depression-era Dust Bowl, we follow young Ben Hawkins, a boy with healing powers, as he joins a traveling carnival. His story is woven together with the story of Brother Justin Crowe, a Methodist preacher in California whose façade of righteousness dissolves as the show goes on. I loved the lush, mythic landscape, which blends gritty realism with elements or horror and fantasy; and the characters from the show are unforgettable and complex as they struggle with issues of identity, transformation, sacrifice, and destiny. Carnivále is provocative and fantastic food for the imagination—rich with riddles and contradictions that get more contorted and rewarding on subsequent viewings.
Orphan Black. I have a few television shows that I really love, among them Sherlock, Doctor Who, and Battlestar Galactica; but I decided to highlight instead the lesser-known Orphan Black, a Canadian science fiction show recommended to me by a friend this past summer. The sexy and suspenseful show stars the incredible Tatiana Maslany, who plays several characters—identical women who are soon revealed to be clones. The writing is strong, but the real magic of this series is Tatiana, who is able to portray such dramatically diverse women. The show is smart, provocative, and compelling. The second season begins in April, and I can’t wait to see where they take the story.
Once (2007) is a musical film written and directed by John Carney. Set in Dublin, it stars Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová. They meet one night while he’s busking, and she stops to listen to him play one of his original songs. She brings her vacuum cleaner to him for repair (his day job is a vacuum cleaner repairman), and the two bond over music. Music is their passion, it is the language that connects them, and it is the thing that saves them. Tender and gritty, wistful and raw, the low-budget Once is unforgettable in its naturalism. It’s a story about sacrifice and compromise, a story about life’s complicated choices. Once illustrates so beautifully the power of connections—even if our paths cross for just a short while, some people change our lives, and change us, forever.
Good things to use.
VRBO.com (Vacation Rentals By Owner) is a website that helps to match people up with homes and apartments available to be rented (by the owners) in cities around the world. We love to travel, and whenever possible prefer to stay in an apartment in a fun neighborhood of the city we’re visiting. Hotels are fine, especially for a quick weekend, but we prefer the experience of living in a place that is a part of the community. I love to cook and one of my favorite things to do is visit the markets and grocery stores to stock up on fresh and local foods. VRBO provides maps, descriptions, and reviews that help to match you up with the perfect place to stay within your price range. Whether it’s a castle in the hills of southern Spain, or a farmhouse in southwestern Wisconsin for a group of friends, VRBO.com helped us to find the perfect place for a holiday.
Penzeys Spices began as a coffee and spice business in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the 1950s, evolved into a catalog business in the 1980s, and expanded into retail shops in the 1990s. I became a fan of Penzeys by way of their catalogs. Not only do they offer amazing spices, but their catalogs feature recipes and other valuable information. The quality and diversity of their spices are amazing. They currently offer 250 spices, herbs, and seasoning blends (include four types of cinnamon: Ceylon, China Tung Hing, Korintje, and Vietnamese). Easily 75% of my spices are from Penzeys. Most of the others I collect while traveling. My top five at the moment are: Sunny Spain Seasoning, Bavarian Seasoning, Berbere Seasoning, Chili 9000, and Chicago Steak Seasoning.
Nutella (and Nutella jars) are both staples in my house. After living in Germany for a few years and travelling around Europe, I have to mention that all Nutellas are not created equal, and I prefer the European varieties by far. My favorites are Nutella from Germany (richer chocolate flavor), from France (slightly sweeter and creamier), and from Italy (a stronger hazelnut flavor). My favorite way to enjoy Nutella is on crepes, but Nutella makes even the most bland piece of gluten-free toast taste delicious. I also have a slight obsession for giant Nutella jars. The heavy glass jars of Nutella purchased overseas can be enormous, and I love to wash and reuse them to store nuts, pasta, bulk spices, and other kitchen staples.
Connect with Valya on Twitter, @Valya.