It’s Finally Here: The Cover of Broken Homes & Gardens

We went through so many cover designs: the lone tomato vine snaking around the title, the tomato vine peeking through the picket fence. Bright sky, dark sky. Flaky paint on vertical fence slats, flaky paint on horizontal fence slats. It’s a tricky business, landing on the right design. It has to do so many things in an instant. Most importantly, it needs to capture the attention of the right kind of reader. But who is the right reader for Broken Homes & Gardens? I pictured a twenty-something girl with black-rimmed eyes, sitting in a Portland coffee shop drinking Americanos. Her hair would be tangled. She would be wearing all black and listening to The Cure. She would be frowning. Maybe crying.

“Huh,” said the team over at Blank Slate Press. “We were picturing a twenty-something woman as well, but our twenty-something woman would not be wearing that much eyeliner.”

“Interesting,” I said.

“And she wouldn’t be drinking that many Americanos. Or if she was, she’d take them with cream and sugar.”

“Tell me more.”

“She probably wouldn’t be listening to The Cure.”

“I like to think of twenty-somethings listening to The Cure.”

“Okay, she can be listening to The Cure. And her hair can be tangled, but she wouldn’t be crying.”

“Fine,” I said.

And so, after this completely fictional conversation, I began to imagine a different kind of reader, a reader who enjoys off-beat love stories about kind of messed up but mostly endearing characters. She wants a book that is entertaining and also kind of moody and heart-wrenching. But mostly entertaining. She’s going to be walking through Powell’s or browsing through her Kindle and see the perfect book for her. It won’t have a tomato vine or a picket fence. It will look like this:
Broken Homes and Gardens Cover FINAL v. 2
She’ll gravitate toward it. She’ll take it to the coffee shop and start reading it in line. She’ll order her coffee, an Americano. “Room for cream?” the barista will ask.



Broken Homes and Gardens to be Published by Blank Slate Press in Spring 2015!


Okay, I guess that is kind of small. I will transcribe this screenshot for you. I’ve always enjoyed touch typing. Here it is:

Rebecca Kelley’s BROKEN HOMES AND GARDENS, pitched as When Harry Met Sally meets Portlandia, about an unconventional romance between two twenty-somethings who begin a correspondence as friends, end up as roommates when he moves in to help rehab her broken-down first home, and who ultimately realize what it means to create a home without marriage or the picket fence, to Kristina Blank Makansi at Blank Slate Press, in a nice deal, for publication in Spring 2015, by Jennifer Chen Tran at Penumbra Literary.


Portland: A Food Biography Will Make You Fall in Love with Portland

Portland: A Food BiographyPortland: A Food Biography by Heather Arndt Anderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tourists and Portlandia fans may have certain ideas about Portland’s food scene. Visions of food carts, hippie vegan restaurants, grilled cheese buses, blue cheese ice cream shops, and mile-long brunch lines dance in their heads. Yes, those are all a part of Portland’s bustling and dynamic culinary culture today–but how did it all begin?

In Portland: A Food Biography, Breakfast A History author and Portland native Heather Arndt Anderson starts from our fair city’s not-so-humble beginnings, when the land was wild and teeming with native plants and animals. The book shows how the first Portlanders (from the Chinook and Kalapuya tribes) fished, hunted, and gathered Camas and wapato for sustenance.

Later, immigrants from around the world settled in Stumptown, bringing with them their own varied culinary traditions. What will be especially interesting to Portland residents today is seeing the remnants of this history in the corners of our current neighborhoods. Those fig trees dropping their fruit on the sidewalks of Southeast Portland? Those were planted by Italian families around the turn of the twentieth century. Commonly referred to as the whitest city in America, Portland–as revealed in this book–has a richer, more diverse culinary history than I would have imagined.

Portland was also home to its share of lovable oddballs, and Arndt Anderson found them all. Farmers, feminists, prohibitionists, teetotalers, vegetarians, barkeeps, restaurant owners, and canning factory managers populate these pages, often spouting off amazing quips about their love for Portland. Take this one, for example:

American publisher and early game law reformer Charles Hallock wrote effusively in 1891 of the variety of waterfowl that the Northwest has to offer, of “the exquisite preparation nature has made for their accommodation and the long season for hunting them, with which we sportsmen are blessed,” and insisted that the tales of Oregon’s duck-hunting affluence bore repeating until they “resolve themselves into blood-curdling, hair raising traditions similar to the Icelandic sagas and the mythical legends of the dark ages.”

Hallock’s rhapsodizing was not unique to him. Dozens of other newcomers found themselves similarly enthusiastic about the possibilities and abundance in this fertile land.

The journey from the past to the food cart and artisanal ice cream shops of twenty-first century Portland is a delicious, captivating one. Portlanders, especially, will find themselves swept up in this mouth-watering history. Outsiders are advised to read this book with caution, as they may feel the desire to pack up and move to Portland immediately. I have a feeling our mile-long brunch lines are about to get even longer.

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How to Grill Artichokes without Boiling Them First

Today’s post will be about artichokes. This has nothing to do with writing at all, except for the fact that I am writing the recipe out. To be honest, if you want to make your artichokes truly delicious, you’re going to have to roast them. (475-degree oven, covered, 35 minutes.) Cranking the oven up to 475 when it’s already 90 degrees inside the house is taking the quest for a perfect vegetable too far, and therefore, grilling makes an acceptable second choice. Most recipes require boiling or steaming the artichokes first and finishing them off on the grill. Forget it. I am too lazy to double cook anything, and I believe I already mentioned the ninety degree indoor temperature.

So here’s what you do. 1. First, you make a little bath for the artichokes in a bowl: a bit of lemon juice and water. Then you cut the tops off the artichokes, slice them in half, and cut out the chokes with a paring knife. Toss those in the bath. I did not take a picture of this step, so you’ll have to try to imagine it.

2. When you’re done doing that, drain them. Toss them with olive oil (a few tablespoons, at least), some onions and garlic and lemon halves if you want, and salt and pepper. Throw in any spices you think might go well. I chose red pepper flakes. Also add water to this mix–at least 1/4 cup.


3. Put the artichoke halves in a foil packet. (Note: I do feel bad about all this foil.) Make sure there is water in there! That will help them steam a bit, allowing them to cook without burning. If you have a really hot grill, you should probably add more water. Remember, I am not a professional griller, and this is not an exact science.

4. Then grill the packets on low heat (if you have a gas grill) for 15-20 minutes on each side. I didn’t take a picture of this, either, because it would just be a picture of a foil packet on a barbecue. I cooked them for 15 on each side and the outer leaves were still a bit tough. The heart was perfect, though.



Scent and Subversion

Scent and Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative PerfumeScent and Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative Perfume by Barbara Herman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve been fascinated by scents for years now—not perfumes, but everyday scents: cedar closets, wet earth, cement, tea leaves, tree leaves, fir and pine needles, pencils, basements, matches, old books. When I started learning about perfume, my interest was really more solipsistic than academic: I dreamed of finding the perfect concoction that somehow perfectly expressed my thoughts and moods. Herman says we can “see perfume as instructive, a bridge between the world and our oft-neglected sense of smell. Like reading poetry to understand the lyricism in demotic, everyday speech, perfume connects us to the olfactory wonderland that is around us.” Scent and Subversion moves beyond—way beyond—the personal connection we have to scents and digs into the history, art, and science of perfumery.

Most of the book is like an encyclopedia of landmark vintage perfumes, organized chronologically. For each scent, author Barbara Herman provides cultural, historical, and social commentary; describes, analyses, and interprets the fragrance; and lists the top, heart, and base notes. We have different taste in fragrances: she favors animalic chypres and I suppose I’m more into minimalist woody scents. But Herman had a knack for imbuing each fragrance with mystery and allure, almost tempting me to bid on decants of Bandit so I could smell “a bouquet of flowers wrapped with a black whip” and Tabu, “the prostitute’s perfume.”

I was so taken with Herman’s descriptions of perfumes that I started a long list of scents I want to sniff or re-sniff. I’m especially curious to smell the perfumes I remember from my childhood and early adulthood now that I know more about them. It turns out that I have memories and associations with many, many perfumes. As a preteen, I had a small sample of Dior’s Fahrenheit for men (1988), which Herman describes as “classically masculine.” I was surprised that she didn’t mention what I’ve always found so striking and appealing about Fahrenheit—that unmistakable petrol note that rises up out of the fresh, citrusy opening.

Another one on the re-sniff list is Bulgari Black (1998). I’ve never quite understood they hype surrounding this one, which Herman declares a “masterpiece of twenty-first century perfumery.” For me, after the initial blast of rubber, which is so intriguing, the scent charges straight to the dry down. On my skin, the rubber turns into a bland, powdery vanilla and stays there. I want to try it again and see if I can get the complexity. I want to pick out the lapsang souchang in the top notes. The base sounds more dynamic than I remembered, with a blend of cedar, sandalwood, and leather in addition to the vanilla/musk/amber I could detect the last time I tried it.

Throughout the book, Herman rants against the banality of the insipid fruity and shampoo-y clean scents that have dominated the perfume scene for the last two decades. She makes a great case for embracing older, more complex formulas that blend pleasant smells with darker, animalic notes. Though I’m not sure I’d ever grow to love the musky and civety concoctions of ages past the way Herman has, I feel like I get them now—or I could learn to get them. Maybe it’s time to give Shalimar and Chanel No. 5 another sniff!

Scent and Subversion is a well-researched, well-written, fascinating tour of modern perfumery (from the 1880s to now). Barbara Herman makes a compelling argument for considering perfume as an art form, “as an aesthetic of pop culture that is worth of analysis, shaped by and shaping the culture in which it is embedded.”

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Taipei by Tao Lin: The Way We Live Now

TaipeiTaipei by Tao Lin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tao Lin is like a robot who is trying his hardest to understand human emotion. Or maybe a wooden puppet who yearns, more than anything, to turn into a real boy. Paul, the point of view character in Taipei, tries to feel, but he has a hard time pulling it off. He and his friends buy groceries, go to movies, have conversations, do drugs, have sex, get married, go on trips, and film themselves with their Macbooks. No matter what they’re doing, it’s all flat and bloodless. Dramatic emotions, Paul feels, are something you might read about in a book or see in a movie, but not something to expect from real life.

Paul is constantly taking his emotional temperature, trying to gauge how he feels. He’s never simply feeling, completely lost in the drama of his life; his emotions are “vague” (a word that must have appeared more than fifty times in the book), but still, he struggles to identify them:

. . . he calmly turned his head a little and asked if Erin was bored.
“I don’t know. Are you?”
“I can’t tell,” said Paul. “Are you?”
“Maybe a little. Do you want to go?”
“Yeah,” said Paul, and slowly stood.

Some might argue that writing is about finding the story: a good writer needs to take his observations of ordinary life and craft them into a narrative that allows us to make sense of the world around us. Tao Lin doesn’t subscribe to this idea. If his literary influences (the 1980s minimalists like Lorrie Moore, Anne Beattie, and Raymond Carver) taught him anything, it’s that life does not have narrative structure. Life is a series of moments, most of them mundane. (It’s funny and almost impossible to imagine his characters engaging in high-stakes drama: a car chase, a murder, an emergency tracheotomy with a ballpoint pen, a flash mob wedding proposal.)

Tabitha Blankenbiller, in her review of Taipei on Spectrum Culture, says, “In the end, I felt as though I had refreshed my Facebook wall for 260 pages, waiting for a real story to come along. But aside from some grainy selfies and viral videos, nothing ever quite shows up.” The pages of Taipei are bleak and empty, yes. But as repetitive and mind-numbing as it is to refresh that Facebook page all day long, you have to admit it’s addictive. It becomes a way to pass huge chunks of our time, a way to experience life. Unlike, say, A Visit from the Goon Squad, Super Sad True Love Story, or The Circle, Taipei doesn’t present us with a hazily dystopian future, where technology has replaced normal human emotions and interactions. Taipei is trying to show us how we live now. Tao Lin’s vision is depressing, sure. But not altogether inaccurate.

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The Broken Homes and Gardens Book Trailer is Here!

As this book trailer will soon make evident, my sister (director of photography and editor, Gina Kelley) and I are no strangers to film making. We got our start in our grandparents’ basement in Denver, Colorado. Along with our cousins, we wrote, acted, and directed a groundbreaking piece of cinema we called “The Forbidden Toilet.” It was a story of a detective–toilet plunger in hand–on the case of a pink toilet that took hold of all who sat upon it and flushed them into a sort of swampy netherworld. We followed up on the success of this first film with a sequel (The Forbidden Toilet’s Last Flush) the following summer.

Now, in our first film making collaboration since the 1980s, we’re at it again, this time with a little trailer for my novel manuscript (working title: Broken Homes and Gardens). For our early Forbidden Toilet fans, you’ll see a dramatic shift in our film making style:

This is the Nietzsche version of the trailer. We have three more versions with different taglines, which we may reveal sometime in the future. Unfortunately, Nietzsche was unavailable to blurb my novel, but I imagine him declaring it a “delightful romp.” In addition to our favorite 19th century German philosopher, we would like to thank Central City Music Company for allowing us to use their song, which perfectly punctuates The Broken Homes and Gardens’ characters’ emotional ups and downs.


“Broken Homes and Gardens is a delightful romp.” Thus spake the author of The Antichrist and The Death of Tragedy