the ocean at the end of the lane

Madeline Carol Matz – Artist

Madeline Carol Matz aka M. C. Matz aka mcmatz (depending on the time of day, where you are looking, and the disposition of the humours). I am an artist that typically works in fantastic subject matter placed in vintage settings. In my youth, I was accused of copy work because “it had to have come out of a book.” Highest compliment yet.

I did the art for the graphic novel Sticks & Bones: Home Is Where the Hearth Is written by Valya Dudycz Lupescu which was funded by a successful Kickstarter. I also ran the Kickstarter and did the product design for the Amanda Palmer Tarot, with art from 78 different artists to which I also contributed the Knight of Cups card.

Good things to read.

Outliers:The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell.  This book should be read by everyone. It reveals an essential truth about life that I think can lead to a more compassionate viewpoint. Yes, the much trumpeted 10,000 hours will bring you mastery of a skill and set you up to be ready for success but the key to success is not inherent in the talents, skills or hard work of these individuals but lies in their circumstances – the luck of the draw.

Examples of success and lack of success and the reasons are vividly illustrated. The time, the place, the family you are born into, even the month of the year you born or the disposition of your university administrator, all these small things, not only shape your character but also present the opportunities you have available to exploit and capitalize on that well-honed skill..
I think if we stopped lionizing the individual as being the sole author of their life and recognized that chance plays a much larger role than we are comfortable admitting, we might not have a less contentious, greedy society and improve our own lot by the raising of others.

Runners up: The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell, The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies, and Nations by James Surowiecki, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach (I like my non-fiction titles with semi-colons.)

The Lives and Times of Archy & Mehitabel by Don Marquis.  A vers libre poet cockroach who writes by jumping head first onto the keys of a typewriter (Archy) and a cat who believes she is the reincarnation of Cleopatra (Mehitabel) and their exploits delightfully illustrated by George Herriman.

Archy, heroically types out his work at night in exchange for scraps left in the trash. archy types in all lowercase because the shift key was too hard on his old bean.  Whimsical and philosophical in best possible way.  Toujour gai is my motto, cheerio my deario.

Runners up: Little Nemo in Slumberland by Winsor McCay, The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.  This is one of my favorite books of all time. The underground world, the rats, the tube stations, the night markets the Beast of London, Vandemar and Croup, the Marquis, the lovely Door and Richard Mayhew’s fall into that world are all mesmerizing. It is dark and dank and glistening with the possibility of anything. It is a grown up fairy tale in a modern, urban setting that is well-worn at the edges.  When I cannot go to sleep I play the audio version as read by Mr. Gaiman himself and nod blissfully off, often to the lulling rhapsodies of Mr Croup.

Runners up: American Gods by Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (is there a pattern here?)

Good things to watch.

Sherlock,   BBC/PBS.  Yes, this is the Steven Moffat/Mark Gatiss updating of the classic Arthur Conan Doyle tales that is oh so popular and I am an unapologetic fangirl for it. There I said it. There are plot holes and improbabilities but the pacing, the dialogue and the acting is superb. Holmes and Watson played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are a perfect pairing of imperfect flatmates. Even the smaller roles of Lestrade, Mrs Hudson and a non-canon character, Molly are energetically written and played.

They have done a wonderful job updating Sherlock Holmes into the 21st century. A good part of the fun is watching how the original canon ids used and referred to in each episode. The serendipity that Watson being an army medical doctor returning from Afghanistan is both amazing and depressing. The only complaint is the dearth of episodes. It began in 2010 and to date there are only nine 90-minute episodes.

Runners up: Supernatural, Sleepy Hollow, Doctor Who (in tumblr parlance SuperSleepyWhoLock)

Singin’ In The Rain. The MGM musical that was meta before meta was cool. Gene Kelly, a wonderfully athletic dancer and witty director helmed this production. With a rubber-boned Donald O’Connor and introducing Debbie Reynolds (who in an ironic footnote did not do her own singing!), we are taken back to old Hollywood and the dawn of the talkies. Every musical number is a gem from the titular “Singin’ in the Rain”, to “Make ‘Em Laugh”, “Good Morning” and the pull all stops out “Broadway Melody Ballet” featuring Cyd Charisse and in the inevitable cheesy MGM closeup pullout shot at the end.

Runners up: The Blue Brothers, Gold Diggers of 1933.

The Tall Guy.  I do love my Richard Curtis rom-coms. This one stars Jeff Goldblum and Emma Thompson. Goldblum is a struggling actor and Thompson the nurse he is crushing on. Along the way there is a musical version of The Elephant Man – Elephant! Which includes the tear jerking number “He is Packing His Trunk” along with one of the funniest sex scenes ever. Good times.

Runners up: Crossing Delancey, Bull Durham, Tin Cup, Four Weddings and a Funeral(duckface!)

Good things to use.

Bulletproof coffee with cinnamon. Bulletproof Coffee is available from the Upgraded Executive website They use single source beans processed in a way that reduces micro-toxins. Whatever. It is just yummy. The classic Bulletproof Coffee beverage involves using these beans to brew coffee and then blending the brewed coffee with KerryGold unsalted butter and MCG oil/coconut oil – which is really very good but too complicated for me most days – who needs to clean out a blender. These days I opt for adding some Frontier brand ground Vietnamese Cinnamon (Cinnamomum loureirii) to the beans when I grind them and then have Kalona Supernatural whipping cream with my brewed coffee.

Logitech Trackball.  My Logitech Trackball, how do I love thee? Oh so many ways. I work at my computer all day and this trackball mouse has saved me from carpal tunnel syndrome. It can be a little awkward to get accustomed to using it but once you do you will never ever miss your mousepad.

Golden Matte Fluid Acrylics. It does seem like I should mention some actual art supplies. Golden Matte Fluid Acrylic paints are what I used to paint Sticks and Bones: Home is Where the Hearth Is and they are what I use for most of my painting. I prefer fluid paint to tube paint because it makes for easier mixing and thinner layers. They are matte which causes less color shift as they dry and the when they do dry the painting surface has less of that glossy plastic finish you usually get with acrylics and instead has a lovely velvety matte finish like gouache. This is especially important when you are going to be scanning the work for reproduction. It eliminate glares from the scanner light bouncing off the surface.

Connect with MC on Twitter, @MCMatz.

Valya Dudycz Lupescu – Author

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. (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, 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.

Emma Newman – Author

Emma Newman is the author of the Split Worlds series published by Angry Robot Books, a podcaster and an audio book narrator, these are her good things.

Good things to read.

I’m currently reading The Scar by China Miéville. I say ‘reading’, I should say I’m currently ‘madly in love with’ The Scar. I adored Perdido Street Station and this is just as immersive and imaginative.

I’m also reading the YA novel Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve which is damn good. The world-building is gorgeous and I find a new delight on practically every page. It’s the first part of a trilogy forming a prequel to the Mortal Engines books. Highly recommended.

I recently read The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. It’s one of those books which is very simple on the surface but plumbs great depths at the same time. It’s also one of those books that you read as a writer and think, “damn, I may as well give up now”. Funnily enough, I felt exactly the same way when I read American Gods. Oops, that’s four.

Good things to watch.

I’ve started to watch Legend of Korra (about 7 episodes in) and I think it’s fabulous. I loved the Legend of Aang (don’t mention the film) and was concerned Korra would have too much to live up to. The writers have done a fantastic job on several fronts; the world is fascinating and feels wonderfully different to Aang’s setting. It’s more politically complex. But most importantly (for me anyway) is the fact that the lead character is female and doesn’t fall into so many of the traps we see in film and TV. She’s rounded. She’s strong and afraid. She’s not sexualised (hallelujah). In episode 6 there was a battle fought between two women and various attackers and my goodness, it made me so happy I nearly burst. The female fighters were tough, capable, proactive and worked together beautifully as men stood by and watched. There was no damsel rubbish, no “Oh please fight while I stand and watch with adoring doe eyes”. They just got on with it. I want more please.

I’ve recently binged on the first three seasons of Mad Men. I love it. I think the first season is the strongest – having such a mysterious protagonist at its centre really fascinated me. The acting is superb and I have a raging lady crush on Joanie.

I feel almost redundant saying this, seeing as practically everyone I know has been telling me this for years, but please, watch The Wire. It is simply the best television I’ve ever seen. It’s complex, elegant and beautifully constructed. Idris Elba is delicious in it too.

Good things to use.

I was tempted to talk about good manners online, but hell, I’d be pissing into the wind. Instead, I’ll talk about the three things I use when writing novels whilst travelling.

Scrivener is the best thing that happened to me since… since I learned how to use a computer. Seriously, it has removed all of the time-wasting agony of Word and is well worth the investment (small) of time to learn how to use it. Even though it provides templates for screenwriting and other things, I’ve only used it for novel writing, so I can only speak about that. The other things that are great about it? The man behind it is a lovely chap and the support is excellent. Oh and it’s very reasonably priced too.

Plaintext, a very simple app that I use on my iPad when I’m travelling, which I’ve done a lot of this year. It’s free with ads but such a tiny cost to remove them that I happily did so. Coupled with a ZAGG flex keyboard I can happily bash out a few thousand words without feeling irritated by not being at home in front of my PC.

Dropbox is the third pillar of splendid. Plaintext can sync directly with it, so when I get home it’s easy to bring the stuff I wrote on the road into my Scrivener project. That’s in addition to the back-up facility that I primarily use Dropbox for and it’s very easy to use.

Connect with Emma on Twitter, @emapocalyptic.