Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Winnefred Ann Frolik

Brooding YA Hero – Becoming a Main Character (Almost) As Awesome As Me


I am the brooding hero found in all your favorite books, from that lush, dramatic fantasy you adored, to the contemporary, swoony romance that made you giggle.

Brooding YA Hero was a concept dreamed up by Pittsburgh native Carrie DiRisio on a dark, stormy clichéd night for Twitter.  Broodie McHotpants, descendant of such figures as Romeo, Mr. Darcy, and a thousand literary vampires is the self-obsessed, gorgeous, mysterious, arrogant jerk who’s been the ‘hero’ of countless YA novels through out the land.  Broodie gifted his followers with such pearls of wisdom as It’s a well known fact that every successful fictional monarchy accidentally misplaces a princess every century or so.  

Now Broodie, finding himself bored and feeling rejected by a lack of Authors using him at just that moment, has written a guide for all us lesser mortals on the Art of Becoming A Main Character. He carefully catalogues the importance of Adjectives and possessing Gem Stoned Eyes. How the ultimate goal is a trilogy of books that Hollywood will turn into four movies. He even dares a trip to the Deleted Files Hall to meet characters who never made the final manuscripts to help us learn from their mistakes. Alas, his evil ex-girlfriend, Blondie DaMeanie, is out to thwart the enterprise because you know she’s Just Evil. Or is she?  Could it be there’s more to Blondie and even Broodie than meets the eye?

Aided with terrific illustrations/comics by Linnea Gear Brooding YA Hero is so on point and cutting in its dissection of the clichés of the genre that it garners equal points for groans and laughs. The more you read the more you realize that while some of the tropes in question (high school cliques, for example) may only apply to YA fiction, a great many other problems identified by DiRisio do not. Like the way White Saviors are glorified and how anything other than Anglo-Saxon cultures are too often fetishized in fantasy and syfy novels. How female characters too often demonstrate strength and independence by setting themselves up as ‘Not Like All The Other Girls’ and heaving contempt on traditional femininity and their female peers. DiRisio asks us to stretch our minds not only to what YA fiction is and can be, but toward the realms and boundaries of stories in general. And it’s funny too!

Brooding YA Hero: Becoming a Main Character (Almost) as Awesome as Me
Carrie DiRisio
Illustrated by Linnea Gear

Prairie Fires – The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder


Wilder was not a historian…Her depiction of the West was drawn less from newspapers or encyclopedias than from her inner life.  It was a work of pure folk art.

As a child I adored the Little House books and even into adulthood, I’ve continually re-read them over and over. I am not unique in this regard. The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, have been adored by generations of children all over the world. The books and the TV series starring Michael Landon have become cultural touchstones, informing our understanding of the prairie and frontier life. We think we know Laura’s story as well as those of the pioneers. But do we?

Caroline Fraser, author of God’s Perfect Child and Rewilding the World, took on the daunting task of writing the first truly comprehensive historical biography of Wilder using unpublished manuscripts, drafts, letters, journal entries and financial records. The result is a sprawling epic tale spanning centuries that tells a far more complicated, grittier, and darker tale than what we’ve heard before.

Laura’s childhood was characterized by dire poverty, malnutrition, instability, and tragedy, including the loss of her infant brother, Freddy, and her sister Mary’s blindness. Charles Ingalls or Pa was just as charming as the books made him out to be; he was also an utterly impractical dreamer who kept hopping on one railroad scam after the next. On one occasion, time the Ingalls were forced to move in the dead of the night to escape his debtors. The famous Little House in Indian Territory that the Ingalls family had to abandon was, in fact, a completely illegal homestead. It was neither the first nor the last time Charles tried to wriggle around the law.

There was a sordid period, left completely out of the books, when Charles operated as a saloon keeper in a tough town and Laura was nearly molested by a drunk. Understandably, Wilder later cut out a lot of these horrors as being inappropriate for a children’s series, but there was a deeper psychological impetus to her edits as well. She felt ashamed of her hardscrabble childhood, which continued through the early years of her marriage, and wanted to protect her father from suspicions of being a less than ideal provider.

As Fraser exhaustively documents in this more than 500 page book, there was a political dimension to the stories as well. Contrary to the books’ repeated sermons on the importance of self-reliance, the family often depended upon charity and government assistance to survive. They never really it made it as homesteaders. Almost nobody did, and Fraser makes a compelling case for why economic factors and environmental issues made the whole notion of small scale farming in the Midwest a failed concept.  

Laura’s only child, Rose Wilder Lane (with whom she had a stormy relationship), was her chief editor and  a devout Libertarian who hated the New Deal. (It was under the influence of Rose and her adopted son that the books became the paen to Rugged Self Reliance we now know them to be.  Rose becomes the second dominant figure in Prairie Fires alongside her mother. Rose sympathized with Nazis, ran up unsustainable debts, was a classist snob, plagiarized as a reporter, wrote unauthorized biographies, had no journalistic scruples whatsoever, and in letters described herself as being devoid of a conscience. There’s almost pleasure to be had in her sheer awfulness. But as her mother’s chief editor, her influence is deeply felt throughout the Little House series.  

Prairie Fires is not always easy reading, but Fraser’s analysis of how fact and fiction overlapped in Little House and the making of an American mythos is a powerful and necessary cultural corrective that shines new light on history.  

Prairie Fires
Caroline Fraser

Top photo: Bigstock

Five Films About the Newspaper Industry


With the upcoming released biopic, The Post, starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep already garnering Oscar buzz, it seems like a good time to consider other times movies have brought the news industry into the spotlight. At a time when the future of newspapers and journalism seems so uncertain the following films are especially relevant.

All The President’s Men (1976) This classic political thriller tells the now legendary story of how Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) investigation and reporting of an a minor break-in at the Watergate led to a tangled web that brought down the Nixon presidency. (It also ensured that all future scandals would have the title ‘gate’ attached to their name.) Directed by Alan Pakula (Klute, The Parallax View) and with a screenplay by William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Princess Bride) it was an instant commercial and critical success. It would garner eight Academy Award nominations and four awards including Best Screenplay for Goldman and Best Supporting Actor for Jason Robards. It currently holds a fresh rating of 93% on the Tomatometer.

Fletch (1985) Los Angeles Times reporter and master of disguise Irwin Fletcher (Chevy Chase in what he would call his favorite roll) is posing as a junkie while researching an expose on drug trafficking. A millionaire approaches him and claiming to be terminally ill hires Fletch to kill him. When further investigation reveals the millionaire to be in perfect health, Fletch realizes he’s on to a potentially much bigger story. To get at it, will take all his considerable wits. The movie was a critical and commercial hit spawning a sequel and has gone on to garner a cult following as well.

The Paper (1994) Ron Howard (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind) directed this American comedy-drama taking place over 24 hectic hours in the life of Henry Hackett (Michael Keaton) Metro editor for the New York Sun, a fictional tabloid. The Sun is experiencing cash flow problems and is making drastic cuts. Meanwhile Henry’s wife, Martha (Marisa Tomei), is expecting their first child and aggravated with his workaholism. She wants him to take a job at the New York Sentinel (a thinly disguised version of the New York Times). Meanwhile a sensational double homicide of two white businessman and subsequent arrest of two African American teenagers has Harry’s news sense tingling. The all star cast also includes Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Randy Quaid, and Jason Robards (again!). It currently holds an 88% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes with critics praising the film for capturing the frenetic high energy environment of actual newsrooms.

State of Play (2009) This taut political thriller was an adaption of a six-part BBC series by the same name. Russell Crowe turns in a pitch perfect performance as investigative reporter Cal McAffrey who probes the suspicious death of Congressman Stephen Collins’ (Ben Affleck) mistress. Matters are further complicated by the fact that McAffrey and Collins were once old friends and that Cal had an affair with Stephen’s wife Anne (Robin Wright). Cal convinces his wary, long suffering editor Cameron (the always fabulous Helen Mirren) to let him dig deeper into the matter with the help of young reporter and blogger Della (Rachel McAdams at her most charming). Needless to say twists and turns abound in an intricate plot of layered conspiracy. State of Play garnered generally favorable reviews and Crowe won the Best Actor award from the Australia Film Institute.

Spotlight (2015) This searing biographical crime drama follows how The Boston Globe’s ‘Spotlight’ team uncovered a pattern of widespread systemic sexual abuse by priests in the Boston area, that kicked off an international scandal. Starring Michael Keaton (again!), Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams (again!), Stanley Tucci, and Liev Schreiber it’s an instant masterpiece demonstrating how a culture of complicity and silence enabled generations of abuse. It was nominated for six Academy Awards and won Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture. (Read our earlier review.)

Top photo: Bigstock

Five Great Books About Dogs


The phrase ‘the dog days of August’ isn’t just a reference to the month’s notorious mugginess but also to the fact that August, 26th is National Dog Day! That’s right there’s even a website and everything. Nationaldogday.com Obviously the best way to mark this auspicious day honoring Man’s Best Friend would be to spend it with a dog; yours or someone else’s and of course to make a donation to one of the many excellent animal rescue organizations out there. But besides the obvious, you might want to do a little reading for this event as well. Consider one of the following.

White Fang by Jack London (1906) Ok this one may be cheating just a little bit because the titular main protagonist is actually three-quarters Wolf.  Taking place during the Yukon Gold Rush it recounts how White Fang’s parents wolf-dog hybrid Kiche and One Eye came to meet and mate, his early childhood in the wilderness, his first (mostly negative experiences) with humans, and finally his journey to domestication when he finally meets a master he can love and respect.  It was an immediate worldwide success that’s been adapted for film numerous times.

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls (1961) After rescuing a stray coonhound, Billy Colman reminisces about his childhood in the Ozarks and the two Redbone coonhound dogs, he saved for, bought, raised, and trained. A beloved ‘coming of age’ story that’s now required reading in many schools.

If Only They Could Talk by James Herriot (1969)  James Herriot was a former RAF pilot during WWII, and veterinary surgeon who achieved international fame writing about his work with animals. The books are described as ‘animal stories’ and Herriot referred to them as his ‘little cat and dog stories’ but they also brilliantly illustrated Yorkshire country life. Herriot’s mastery at bringing animals and people to life would earn him both a private museum and a statue of himself. Though numerous books followed, this was the one that started it all.

Hotel for Dogs by Lois Duncan (1971) Andi Walker and her brother Bruce have to give up their beloved dog Bebe when they move in with Great-Aunt Alice who’s allergic to animals. Shortly afterwards they meet stranded dog ‘Friday’ and her pups and they move them into the abandoned house across the street. Soon Andi and Bruce have fellow conspirators and Friday and her puppies have fellow canine roommates. This beloved children’s classic inspired two sequel novels and a film adaption.

Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know  by Alexandra Horowitz (2009) Cognitive Scientist Alexandra Horowitz takes readers inside the minds of dogs exploring how they perceive day to day activities. What’s it like to smell not only all the food in the house but your owners sadness? How does a Pomeranian play with a Great Dane? These questions and more Horowitz takes on and the answers will surprise and delight you. The book garnered excellent reviews and was on the NYT best-seller list for over a year.

Winnefred Ann Frolik is the author of The Dog-Walking Diaries: A Year in the Life of an Autistic Dog-Walker.

Top photo: Bigstock

American Eclipse – Seeking the Dark Side of the Moon


A total eclipse, is a primal transcendent experience.

It’s no coincidence that David Baron author of The Beast in the Garden has released American Eclipse about the total solar eclipse of 1878 across the American West now as the nation eagerly prepares for yet another rare total solar eclipse on August 21st.  But precipitous timing isn’t the only reason Baron wrote American Eclipse. He is a self-confessed umbraphile who’s been chasing eclipses since experiencing his first one in Aruba in February, 1998. He completely understands the magical, cosmic allure of such phenomenon and the irresistible attraction it holds for so many. But there’s a dark side as well; some see eclipses as signs of the apocalypse and this inspired a shocking father-son suicide in Texas that fateful July day in 1878.

The solar eclipse of 1878 lasted for only three glorious minutes; Baron’s book is over 200 pages. How you ask does he do it? Baron’s focus is actually not the eclipse itself breathtaking though it was, but how anticipation of the eclipse became a world wide frenzy that inspired countless travelers to head out West to observe the phenomenon for themselves. Among the scientists, spectators, National Weather Bureau personnel and more, Baron pays especial attention to three. Pompous astronomer and asteroid hunter James Craig Wilson who brings his telescope and wife out West hoping to prove his theory of the planet Vulcan believed to be between Mercury and the Sun. Maria Mitchell, America’s first female astronomer who led an all women’s team out West in hopes of advancing women’s education and entry into the sciences. And Thomas Alva Edison already a legend with over a hundred patents to his name, but craving respect and recognition from the scientific community hoped to prove the efficacy of his tasimeter in measuring solar radiation. Three very distinct and disparate personalities that Baron makes come alive for us along with numerous other figures as well.

Baron also gives us a brilliant, vivid rendering of the times. The Eclipse may have happened out West but its observers came from the East and their journeys often had their origins in events that took place years before. Baron takes us from the American Centennial celebrations in Philadelphia, to the corridors of academia, to Edison’s famous workshop at Menlo Park, to majestic mountains of the Rockies. Of course in 1878, the Wild West was indeed still wild, and the rugged, often dangerous conditions that greeted would be astronomers only adds to the sense of tension and excitement of the story. It’s the best kind of true history account that entertains as much as it educates.

American Eclipse
David Baron

The White Road – Haunted in Thin Air


Who is the third who walks ALWAYS beside you?

The White Road, a tale of terror and suspense by South African Sarah Lotz is inspired in great part by this line in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. Eliot in turn was inspired by the account of Ernest Shackleton who during his traumatic journey through an barren Iceland experienced an ever present sense that some unseen, incorporeal being was present as a comforter and protector.  This statement by Shackleton prompted numerous others to come forward with similar experiences in a phenomenon that has come to be known as ‘Third Man’ syndrome.

Lotz takes ‘Third Man Syndrome’ and turns it on its head; what if the spirit with you wasn’t benevolent? What if in fact it meant to destroy you? This is the question that comes to haunt main narrator Simon Newman a self-described Time Waster Extraordinaire and co-founder of a website Journey to the Dark Side that specializes in listicles and footage of ugly, scary things. To that end Simon, went on a tour of the infamous Cwm Pots caves that had been closed off for decades in hopes of finding corpses to film, only to have things go horribly awry thanks to flash flooding and a mentally unstable guide. In the wake of that incident, Simon decides to go to another notorious graveyard; Mount Everest in hopes of finding more dramatic footage. While there though, he has to struggle with low oxygen, his own limitations, as a climber, and buried secrets. Twelve years earlier Juliet Michaels, perished on Mt. Everest leaving behind a journal detailing her belief she was being shadowed by something.

Lotz addresses how real life sites similar to Journey to the Dark Side exploit real life tragedies for entertainment and the slimy moral places Simon’s led to. Lotz is writing in the distinct voices of two very different main characters and pulls them both off beautifully with an incredible attention for detail that makes you feel like you’re breathing the harsh, thin, air of Everest right with the people there. Her characters are well rendered and layered with some unexpected but welcome bits of humor thrown into the mix. Much like the classic short story The Horla by Guy de Maupassant the reader is never sure if what’s being described is delusions by hypoxia and PTSD or something more sinister and supernatural. You’re kept guessing right through until the final pages and the conclusion with linger with you for days and nights to come.

The White Road
Sarah Lotz

Five Films About Nuns


The Indie release, The Little Hours, coming out on June 30, takes place in a medieval convent where a young, runaway, servant (Dave Franco) takes refuge. The early buzz on the film has been good and it will be joining a cinematic tradition of nuns and convent life on screen.

The Bells of Saint Mary’s (1945) Directed by Leo Carey (The Awful Truth, An Affair to Remember), starring screen legends Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman as respectively a priest and nun who despite a good-hearted rivalry work together to save an inner city school.  It was a massive commercial success grossing over $8 million on its initial run making it the highest grossing movie of 1945 and the most profitable film in the history of RKO. It also won the Academy Award for Best Sound Recording and was nominated for Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Director.

Agnes of God (1985)  Norman Jewison (In the Heat of the Night, Fiddler on the Roof, and Moonstruck) directed this mystery drama based on the stage play of the same name. Young novice Sister Agnes (Meg Tilly) is found directly after giving birth with a dead infant she insists was the result of a virgin conception. Psychiatrist Martha Livingston (Jane Fonda) is assigned to assess Agnes’s state of mind and she quickly comes to clash with Mother Superior Miriam (Anne Bancroft). Tilly won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress and was also nominated for an Academy Award in the category as well.

Sister Act (1992) Emile Ardolino (Dirty Dancing) directed this American musical comedy. Whoopi Goldberg stars as Deloris a Reno lounge singer who sees her married mobster lover shoot a guy. The local police decide the safest place for her is to hide her in a convent in San Francisco under the alias of Sister Mary Clarence. ‘Sister Mary’ soon becomes choir director and begins turning things upside down in the parish as her ex-flame seeks high and low to find her. It was a huge box office smash grossing over $200 million worldwide on a $30 million budget and generally well received by critics.

Dead Man Walking (1995) Tim Robbins directed and adapted the screenplay for this movie from the non-fiction book of the same name by Sister Helen Prejean who has worked as a spiritual counselor to death row prisoners. Susan Sarandon stars as Sister Helen in a role that won her an Oscar and Sean Penn gives an astonishing performance as unrepentant killer Matthew Poncelot. The movie holds a current fresh rating of 95% from Rotten Tomatoes and was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Song.

The Madgalene Sisters (2002) Peter Mullan wrote and directed this heart-breaking and infuriating Irish-British drama about three teenage girls sent to the Magdalene Asylums (otherwise known as Magdalene laundries) for ‘fallen women.’ The cast includes Anne-Marie Duff (The Virgin Queen, Suffragette) as young heroine Margaret and five time Olivier Award nominee Geraldine McEwan as the evil Sister Bridget. The characters themselves are composites, but their stories horrifically are quite real. It was one of the biggest commercial successes in Ireland that year, won the Golden Lion at Venice, and holds a 90% fresh rating on the Tomatometer.

Five Films for Father’s Day


Ah, Father’s Day when we celebrate dear old dad. This year instead of giving him an lousy tie, consider a family bonding experience like going out to the movies. Or staying in with one of the following movies about the paternal bond.

Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979) Robert Benton adapted and directed this tearjerker from the novel by Avery Corman.  Workaholic ad-man Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) is shocked when his wife Joanna (Meryl Streep) leaves him to raise their son Billy alone.  It’s tough going for a while, but over time Ted and Billy develop a closer bond – at which point Joanna comes back wanting custody.  It received five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actress.

Father of the Bride (1991) A remake of the 1950 comedy of the same name. George Banks (Steve Martin) is a successful businessman, happily married to Nina (Diane Keaton) and with an extremely close relationship to his eldest child and only daughter Annie (Kimberly Williams in her film debut). When Annie announces her whirlwind romance and engagement to rich young Brian McKenzie (George Newbern) dad finds he’s not ready to give his little girl away.  There’s an hysterical performance by Martin Short as the wedding planner the family hires. The film was both financially successfully earning back four times its budget and positively reviewed by critics as well.

In the Name of the Father (1993)  Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In America) directed and co-wrote this courtroom drama based on the true story of the Guildford Four. Young hoodlum Gerry Conlon (the only and only Daniel Day-Lewis) is arrested on false suspicion of terrorism and tortured to confess along with three of his compatriots.  When Gerry’s father Giusseppe (the late great Peter Postlethwaite) goes to England to help his son, he’s arrested as well as a co-conspirator.  After a ridiculous sham trial everyone is sent to prison with Gerry and Guisseppe being assigned to the same facility and indeed being cellmates. The movie gets a lot of great drama from the courtroom antics with Emma Thompson playing Gerry’s lawyer, but the heart of the film is the bonding that takes place between father and son behind bars. The movie was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress for Thompson, Best Supporting Actor for Postlethwaite, and yet another Best Actor nomination for Day-Lewis.

He Got Game (1998)  This sports drama was written and directed by Spike Lee starring Denzel Washington, in the third of the four movie collaborations the two have done together. Denzel plays Jake Shuttlesworth a convicted murderer whose son Jesus (real life NBA star Ray Allen) is the number one high school basketball player in the country with colleges fighting over him. Jake is given an one week furlough by the governor with the condition; if he gets Jesus to play for the governor’s alma mater, he’ll be released early from prison.  Milla Jovovich , John Turturro, and Rosario Dawson round out the cast.  It has an 80% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes and was nominated for three NAACP film awards.

Finding Nemo (2003)  Overprotective clown fish Marlin (Albert Brooks in one of his best roles,) goes across the ocean to rescue his lost son Nemo, and along the way has a series of adventures while meeting a fabulous cast of characters including Dory (Ellen Degeneres) a blue tang who suffers from short term memory loss, surfer dude tortoise Crush (Andrew Stanton) and Bruce (Barry Humphries) a white shark trying to go vegetarian with mixed results. It was the highest grossing animated movie of all time AND helped establish Pixar’s reputation not only for CGI wizardry but also heartfelt storytelling. It won the Academy Award for Best Animated Picture and was nominated for three other awards including Best Original Screenplay.

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