card games, then and now

II have done some research on nineteenth century children’s games before, but this time I was looking for card games in particular when I came across a mention of Happy Families, which is played something like Authors.  From Board Game Geek:

This game was designed in England and was originally published for the Great Exhibition by John Jaques & Sons. The outside of the box described the name as Happy Families while the inside of the box describes the name as Merry Families. Each quartet consists of four family members — a father, a mother, a son, and a daughter. The fathers are Mr. Daub the Painter, Mr. Dough the Baker, Mr. Pill the Doctor, Mr. Sand the Grocer, Mr. Saw the Carpenter, Mr. Snip the Barber, Mr. Stain the Dyer, Mr. Smut the Sweep, Mr. Thread the Tailor, and Mr. Tub the Brewer.

What I like about this is the art work:

Compare this game to more current editions of Old Maid:

So maybe I’m being overly picky here, but why are the modern illustrations for children’s card games garish and shoddily done? There are so many wonderful illustrators out there, is it just a matter of the manufacturer going with the cheapest options?


I went to look up Authors just to see if that game has had better treatment, and the answer is, as far as I can tell, no. There are multiple editions of the card game Authors. When I was a kid the deck was all dead white men, but there are now games called American Authors, Women Authors, Children’s Authors. Unfortunately it seems none of them are especially carefully or artistically done, as you can see by this example.

But there are great illustrators who do author portraits. Ryan Sheffield sells his work on Etsy, including his version of Emily Dickinson,  below.

Somebody like Ryan Sheffield should put together a modern version of Authors using original artwork. It would be a good idea to have some info about the author along with the titles of their work, of course.  

Would you be interested in a game of Authors like this?  I’m really curious.

Note: I don’t know Mr. Sheffield and he doesn’t know me. I just found his work on Etsy and my imagination took off.

Back in the Day

“Back in the day” is a phrase that came into broad usage suddenly and spread quickly maybe a decade ago. I remember hearing a character on Entourage (HBO) use it and thinking that it was already on the brink of becoming a cliché.  Which is too bad, because I like it. 

It’s a human thing to attach emotion to particular words and phrases. We hate some words and others evoke nostalgia. There are words that work for me like chalk squeaking on a blackboard (for example: blog, which is why I use weblog).  Others I adore. In grade school Spanish class I fell in love with the word pupitre.  It still makes me smile.

Lately I seem to be awash in nostalgia more generally. I’m hoping it will subside sooner rather than later, but for the moment, here’s my question. According to the statistics quite a lot of people read this weblog. If you’re reading it and you were once a student of mine, I’m wondering if you’d be so kind as to send me an email and re-introduce yourself.  I taught many hundreds of people over fourteen years — first at Princeton, when I was a graduate student, then at the University of Michigan, then at WWU, but currently I’m in touch with only five or so of them.  I also student taught and then taught fourth grade in Austria. 

Call it idle curiosity or nostalgia or whatever. I’d like to hear from you.  To make it easier: email me.  Or comment here. Whatever works.

Illustration by Elvira Wolven Krieger @DeviantArt

Editorial Me

So after futzing around with this for years, I’m officially launching myself as a consultant. Primarily for those who write fiction, but not exclusively.   You can get the skinny on the sub-sub-webpage (click on the header below). 

This is a practical (and necessary) move. You may have read here or elsewhere that over a five year period, incomes for full time writers dropped about 28 percent.  As the cost of living has not dropped 28 percent, the difference has to be made up somewhere. This is something I have done, and can do, and I take great satisfaction in helping storytellers get started. So it’s a practical, necessary and logical move. 

If you know of anyone who might be interested in working with me, please point them in the direction of WRITE

Chunka Hunka Burning Love: Chicago

I was looking for an older document and came across a novel I’ve been working on for oh, twenty years or so. Some day I may finish it. But this bit caught my eye, because I’ve been very homesick for Chicago lately.  I actually remember writing this, because I still now get an echo of the raw feelings it evoked in me. 

From Saving Eliza. All Rights Reserved.

It is rush hour when Kate crosses the Indiana border into Illinois. The traffic is fierce, cars and trucks charging over the Sky Bridge like a pack of dogs jockeying for position, nosing each other from lane to lane. All the way up Stony Island houses crouch together like lepers, shedding shingles, asphalt siding peeling in long blackened strips. The heat shimmers above the parking lot of an abandoned grocery store, weeds growing up through cracks in the pavement; in the window of Larry’s Chicken Shack a hand-lettered sign announces that the air conditioning is in working order.

The heat has driven people out onto the street in search of a breeze. They move along in jittery waves, children and men bare-chested, younger women in shorts or bathing suits, their grandmothers in caftans that billow around them like  sails dappled in jewel colors:  emerald, sapphire, ruby, citrine, amethyst. 

Cornell Drive swings around the Museum of Science and Industry and the traffic surges onto Lake Shore Drive, pulling Kate along. It is always at this point that she feels the thrill of coming home, her first view of the lake, slate blue under gathering clouds. A thunderstorm coming; she can taste it in the air already, bright and crackling on her tongue. When she turns on the radio again the voices that fill the car are pure Chicago: vowels shifted backward, consonants soft around the edges, as familiar as the outline of the Loop in front of her.

The traffic canters past Grant Park and Navy Pier. On the Oak Street beach somebody is flying a kite on the wings of the fledgling storm, a sulphur colored smudge against a charcoal sky. Kate rolls up the window at the first lashings of rain, and heads for home.