October 2006

Halloween makeup tips

by Susan Henderson on October 31, 2006

We interrupt this week’s programming to bring you some Halloween makeup tips!

If you want to look like the Henderson zombies, you’ll need these materials:

liquid latex
different color cream makeups
glicerine if you want them to look slimy and oozy (we didn’t use it)

And now, Mr. Henderson will show you how to create scars and rotting flesh:

Apply latex to skin in large areas. Let dry clear.

Create base of rotting color.

Pull latex off of skin to form boils and rotting flesh.


Halloween seems as good a day as ever to talk about death. Please check out what Neil Gaiman has to say regarding writers’ wills and then download the pdf for what to do with your literary estate. Thanks! Okay, back to costumes …


The costume party that led to my terrible hangover:

Kathy, Kenny, me, Mr. H; Ritchie (aka, the hangover-maker)

me and Mr H; Candy, Kathy, me, Rich

And a few choice costumes, as modeled by LitPark regular, Aurelio:


And last but not least… make-up tips from your favorite drag queen and mine!


Hello little fishes,

Halloween is just days away, and while the Fundamentalists are busy hiding their children from us pagans, I thought it was time to bring to light one of the truly dangerous practices of the season.

Halloween marks the one time of year when men of all colors, creeds, and sexual deviances (including heterosexuality) feel secure enough to present themselves to the world at large in the garments and accoutrements of the fairer gender.

Sure. It all seems like good fun. A cheap wig. Some dimestore makeup. Ha, ha ha, right?

But bad drag is quickly becoming a menace to our way of life. It’s a sign of our society’s diminishing industriousness and leads to all sorts of laziness and sloth. Like poor table manners. Or bad penmanship. Or starting wars in the Middle East with no concrete escape plan.

So this Halloween, I want all stout pink-blooded American men to take heed. To put a little effort into their drag. And to that end, I’m divulging the secrets of effective cross-dressing.

Publicly sharing drag techniques is a little like a magician sharing the tricks behind the illusions. I fully expect to be shunned by my fellow queens. But I cannot bear another seasonal sighting of a hirsute, six-foot, pot-bellied man wearing summer season Payless heels and a Jaclyn Smith Casual Elegance blouson:

So. Here is a complete and technical guide to effective drag. I urge you to spread this missive far and wide. Forward to your friends. Leave no e-mail address unturned. No blog unblogged. It’s time to end the scourge of bad drag once and for all.

Please. Think of the children.


[For those of you who’ve read my book, “I Am Not Myself These Days: A Memoir” (Harper Perennial 2006) some of this information is included in Chapter 11. For those of you who haven’t read my book, well, there’s a reason you feel uncool in social gatherings. Read the damn book already.]

LESSON 1: Good drag happens in this order:

Go out
Bring home random stranger, expose genitals, and try to forget everything the following morning.

I assume you have the drinking part down already, so I’ll skip those lessons.

LESSON 2: Shower/Shave

Prepare a hot hot hot shower or bath. Shave everything on your body TWICE in opposing directions. Even if you think it’s not going to show – shave it. It might later.
Areas to include: legs, ass, genitals, chest, neck, forearms, face, 1/2 inch around hairline, fingers, toes.

And yes. Arch pluck your brows. Will they grow back? Who knows. That’s to worry about tomorrow. (Mine did.)

LESSON 3: Tucking/Hose/Undergarments

There are several methods of tucking. Some more complicated and potentially fertility-threatening than others. I recommend the following middle of the road one… (Btw, if you don’t tuck, you’re not in drag. You’re in clown costume. And you should always wear something that will reveal that you’re tucked. Contorting your genitalia is the most sincere way to show that you care about your audience):

Must have: one pair of two-sizes-too-small nude colored spandex control panties. They must be thick and tough. Not dainty. You won’t see them when you’re through, so don’t worry about sexiness.

Start with the panties around your ankles. While your package is loose and steamy from the shower, bend forward. Reach around behind yourself and sneak up on your twig and berries. Grab it all while it’s least suspecting and pull backwards firmly. Show it who’s boss. Then quickly pull the tight panties up to trap it all in place. Breathe. Move around a little till it settles into its new home for the evening.

Quickly afterwards, pull on two pairs of panty hose. (We’re not talking L’eggs here. You need to buy Danskins type sheer tights. Mass-market pantyhose all have control top seams that start around mid-thigh. You need yours sheer and seamless all the way to the waistband.

If you want to start feeling sexy, now is the time to put on your decorative “outer underwear” and prance around a bit while pouring another drink. Your bottom half should now look like a naked Barbie Doll. And that should feel inspiring to you. And a little bit dirty.

LESSON 4: Makeup

No drugstore make-up. Tyra doesn’t wear it, and neither should you. Go to your local MAC counter. If you’re self-conscious about it, just tell the queen behind the counter that you’re doing a drag part in a play. But trust me, they don’t care. They’ll be excited to get the chance to advise someone other than a menopausal divorcee looking to “jumpstart her look.” (Apologies to my menopausal divorcee friends. But really. You know what I’m talking about.)

First up, if it’s going to be hot where you’re partying, I recommend spraying a little aerosol antiperspirant on your visage. Not a lot. Like perfume – just spray a cloud in the air in front of you, and step into it. This will help keep your make-up on when sweating like Rush Limbaugh coming off of Oxycontin.

Foundation goes on first. You will need three shades. One a little darker than your skin, one lighter, and one that matches perfectly. Buy the cake kind. Work a little moisturizer into your make-up sponge. It will help the foundation sink into your skin. Apply the darker shade of foundation first, on either side of the nose, to slim it. And underneath your cheekbones. (Not on top them. It’s not blush.) Perhaps dab some at your temples. And a little on your chin if it’s prominent.

Then apply the lighter shade of foundation on the bridge of your nose. At your cheekbones. On your eyelids.

Next, apply your natural shade of foundation. All over. Even lightly on top of the lighter and darker portions you just applied. Then blend blend blend.

(P.S. Don’t forget your neck and decolletage in all this.)

Finally, press on powder that matches your main foundation color. Not too much, or it’ll cake and crease. Just enough to take off the sheen and “set” everything up.

Your face should look like a mannequin’s. Only God can help if it looks like a mannequin from Barneys or one from Daffy’s.


Now for the fun bits of the make-up.

The eyes are the most important feature. First – eye shadow. (Please God, not blue. If the last time you noticed a woman’s eyeshadow was a hooker on Barney Miller, pick up an Elle magazine.) Use a couple of different shades. Think of your lid in three vertical zones. Nearest the nose, use a lighter shade. Even put a soft dot of almost pure white at the inside corner. Use your brightest hue (again, not blue) in the center. Use a darker verson of that same hue on the outside near the temple. Draw the shadow gently up into a point as it reaches your temples. And blend blend blend.

Remember. It’s not about color. It’s about dramatic shading. Think of yourself as a silent screen star. Especially if you get overly gabby when you’re drunk.

Now eyeliner: use pencil eyeliner that you can wet a bit. IMPORTANT: EYELINER DOES NOT SURROUND THE EYE. It should line about 3/4 of the outside upper lid, getting thicker as it reaches th
e temple. Same for the bottom, but not as thick.

And finally lashes. You need three pairs of uppers, and one pair of lowers. Press the three upper sets together before gluing them on. And set them towards the outside of your lid, extending just past where your normal lashline ends. Same on the bottom. Keep them far away from your inner eye corner or you will look inbred. (Apologies to my inbred friends, who probably are having a difficult time comprehending all this. Sound it out. Use your phonics.)

Now you may want to touch up your liner to cover any dried glue.


Moving on to the lips.

I can’t stress this enough: NO RED LIPS. Only about 3 women in the world look good with red lips. And one of them won’t be you. Bright red (and all dark colors) will recede the lips, highlighting your prominent lantern jawline. Just don’t do it. I admit, it’s tempting. Instead pick a neutral, slightly colored lip color. It should match one of the shades of your eye shadow.

I outline first, and touch up later. Tho some disagree. Line your mouth with a shade of pencil liner SLIGHTLY darker than your chosen color. This isn’t Spanish Harlem. (Mucho disculpas to my Spanish Harlem friends.) The liner should line up directly at the corner of your mouth, but then as it reaches center top and bottom, you can exaggerate slightly beyond your natural lip line. Shape it how you’ve always dreamed. Within reason. I’m not privy to your dreams, tho I’m sure many of them include moi.

For lipstick, I always mixed my own. Again, MAC. Mix up a batch of liquid lip gloss, bronze and gold metallic powders, and a neutral colored powder. Then brush the glop on, blending into the lip liner. As a stunning finishing touch, put a soft finger dot of your white eye shadow powder in the center of your lower lip as a highlight. Be sure to bring an extra brush and small vial of premixed lip glop with you when you go out. You will need to reapply.

Drink. (With a straw from now on).

Your face is done. That’s right. No blush. Your foundation sculpting should have already given you plenty of shading. Any more and you’ll look like the whore you’re trying desperately not to be. Whores should be felt, but not seen. That’s what my mother always used to say.

LESSON 5: Costume

This one’s up to you. A few tips tho. Think mini-mini’s to show off your tuck. Or very high slits.

And I will let no one walk out the door without an old fashioned lace-up corset. Buy a decorative one to wear on the outside and build the rest of the costume around it.

A corset is the ONLY way you will gain a waist and hips, which is the most prominent visual cue of the female species. I saw this on NOVA once. I don’t care if you’re already a thin-as-a-rail twink. Without the corset to reposition another couple of inches off of your waist and onto your hips, you’ll merely look like a twink in a dress.

But, since I’ve now convinced you to wear a corset, I must warn you – don’t eat anything after a light lunch on the day of your debut. You’ll be far too technically complicated – with the corset and the tucking and the costume layers – to, umm, as my grandmother would say: “make a BM.”

If your biceps and forearms are particularly muscular, here’s a little trick. Buy a pair of CHEAP pantyhose that match the color of your outfit. Cut out the crotch and toes and pull it over your head like a shirt. Pull the legs down off your shoulders. Wear this under your outfit, trimming away the neckline or whatever else you don’t want to see. It’s a very effective way to cover and draw attention away from your arms.

Shoes: if you can’t walk in 7-inch heels, you don’t deserve to wear them. Practice.

And please, wear something revealing. Tho many enlightened woman may disagree, the biggest part of being a woman is being sexy. Unless you’re Barbara Bush. Commendably, and blessedly, she doesn’t even try. (Apologies to my Republican frien….ah, fuck it.)

Two things I can’t help you with. Tits and nails. I always worked opera length gloves into my costumes, because I hated fake nails, and my hands are just too big. And my aquarium tits were my signature, worn in every outfit, so I never had to do the prosthetic route. Sorry. I hear oatmeal or birdseed in pantyhose balloons works. And will help you survive should you find yourself in a car wreck that isn’t discovered for weeks.

Drink more. It’ll dull the pain from the corset.

LESSON 6: Wigs

That’s right. “Wigs” – plural. One wig ain’t gonna do it. You’re not a chemo patient. (Apologies and best wishes to all my cancerous friends.)

Buy three wigs of the same color. If you can’t pin them together and style them yourself, take them to a friendly hairdresser. Tell them to “take it to the top.”

You won’t look sexy in a thin little bob. You just won’t.

Wigs go on last, of course, so you don’t mess up your make-up.

Use a wig cap to keep your real hair back.

Earlier, you shaved 1/2 inch around your hairline. You will want the wig-line to rest where your hairline normally does. If you leave your real hair unshaved, you’ll have to pull the wig forward to cover it, and it will look like, well…like you’re trying to cover your real hair. For those of you with receding hairlines, this may be your one silver lining. Sad, isn’t it?

Poke some bobbypins through your wigs until they dig into your real hair at the scalp. Losing your wig during the evening is a terrible tragedy. I’ve seen it happen once. And I’ve seen a disemboweled human once. Only the fallen wig still haunts my dreams.

If you’re very worried about g-force twirling, brush a line of spirit gum along your (shaved) hairline and press the wig into that.


Now take a deep breath (or as deep as one can in a liver-crushing corset) and head out into the world. You’ve done your part to rid the world of bad drag, and for that you can be proud.

What you do once you’re out at your parties in drag is your own responsibility. I would suggest you try something you won’t be proud of.

Looking as good as you do, it should come easy.

Happy Halloween, and thank you for making this world a prettier place. Please spread the word. Your ugly friends will thank you.

Hugs and Fishes,

P.S. My first atttempt at drag in my mother’s wig. As you can see, I was a natural:


Happy Halloween!


Question of the Week: High School Secrets

by Susan Henderson on October 30, 2006

What were you like in high school? Fat? Skinny? Bold? Mousy? Popular? Unpopular and proud of it? Introduce me to the high school version of you.


Wednesday, Marcy Dermansky, who wrote the deliciously weird page-turner TWINS will be here. And we’re having a slumber party!

If you’ve never been to a girls’ slumber party before, here’s a hint: we talk about loneliness, cliques, weird eating, and the books that saved us. Oh, did I forget to mention …? You’re invited!


Tuesday at LitPark??? Yes! Tomorrow there will be something special for Halloween!


Greg Downs

by Susan Henderson on October 28, 2006

I have to say that there’s something intimidating about Greg Downs when I look at his bio. There’s the Ph.D. and the fact that he’s a professor of history at the City College of New York. He graduated from Yale and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is married to the Associate Dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School. If that’s not intimidating enough, there’s the fact that Spit Baths, his collection of short stories published by the very academic University of Georgia Press, also happened to win the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction.

Before I began reading Spit Baths, I wondered if there would be something too academic or inaccessible about the book. I wondered if the characters themselves might be academic and inaccessible. But right away, I found the stories to be populated with boys caught in the middle, boys staying quiet as other people direct their lives, boys with emotions and secrets they must keep to themselves.

So when I spoke to Greg, I was determined to find someone behind all the fancy credentials that knew about lonely boys, failures, and kids that don’t fit in.

Here is Greg in his very together, handsome author shot:

But soon you’ll see the fancy layers peeled away until you get to something soft in the middle.


What are you afraid of?

Forgetting how ugly I looked with long hair. Boy, do I hope someone stops me if I ever get started on that project again.

Did you have any recurring nightmares, either as a child or an adult?

See above. That long-hair dream is a killer.

You know exactly what I’m going to ask for, don’t you?

Greg’s reminder!

I hear you used to coach.

Yes, I was a helluva basketball coach. Right after college, I came back to my alma mater, took over the team with all my dreams of Pat Riley style stardom, and led them right into the cellar. The first year that they had the benefit of my expertise, they managed to go a robust 3-24. Now, lest those three big wins mislead you, I should also say that one of those wins was against a church school that played their games in the cafeteria on the tile floor – literally, another we won on a 30-foot-shot that banked in at the buzzer, and the third we won because the team we played suspended their three best players for drinking. I think their coach figured he didn’t need his good players to beat us, but he was wrong! So those three wins didn’t come cheap.

To start off the season, my best player tore his ACL, my second-best player was kicked out of school for carrying a gun in his car, and my fourth-best player was a freshman who weighed – literally – 120 pounds. There were times when the shortest player on the other team was taller than our tallest player. Good times, all around.

Have you ever been fired?

No, but that may be because I walked out the door before they could slam it behind me. I have, however, fired somebody, right before Christmas to boot. I think I cried more than she did. One nice thing about writing stories is that you don’t have to call anybody into your office to tell them they’re being let go.

Look! Greg spills food while eating!

What kinds of things do you do in your free time?

When I was wooing my wife Diane, we used to travel around with a group of hardcore karaoke addicts, people who sang 3-4 nights a week, all night, at bars around Boston. There was a famous karaoke deejay named China whom they followed from bar to bar. These were folks who carried their own slips with their favorite songs already filled in; instead of scrambling for the book, they’d coolly take out their slip, hand it to the deejay, then take it back at the end of the night.

These people actually had talent. A couple of them had been in bands when they were our age – we were in our 20s and most of them were in their 40s – but just didn’t have the patience to deal with people anymore. But they had routines, shtick, outfits, and decent signing voices.

I had none of those things, so I just made up for it with volume. You knew I was coming up when you saw China turn the volume knobs way down.

I did also try to distract people in the audience by dropping to my knees, tearing open my shirt, pounding the floor, and in other ways try to display an emotion that was sadly lacking in my voice.

My key songs–chosen for their limited vocal range–were “Wanted: Dead or Alive” by Bon Jovi, “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain” by Willie Nelson (I liked to slow it down), and especially “Heaven” by Bryan Adams, who was clearly twice the artist Ryan Adams is.

I’m begging you for a karaoke photo!

Yes! The Karaoke Writer!

Ha ha ha! I love it! See, now no one will ever forget you. You’re the Karaoke Writer.

Now tell me about your hometown and how you fit into it.

I have a couple of hometowns, which is confusing for other people (and sometimes for me) but was actually really useful. Anybody out there trying to raise their children to be writers (and who isn’t?) should definitely try this. First, divorce, which makes the 2-3 hometowns much simpler to manage. Then parents should move thousands of miles apart, to strange and isolated places. Then ship kid back and forth between said strange and isolated places. Shake, stir, leave to settle, and one writer emerges.

My mother’s family, who mostly raised me, have for 150 years lived in and around Elizabethtown in Hardin County, Kentucky. This is the place that Cameron Crowe used as the name for his movie (though not for much else.) Kirsten Dunst is not walking around, though. Neither was Cameron Crowe for that matter. It’s a medium-sized town near Fort Knox. My mother’s family had been farmers, mostly, and gravestone cutters and local politicians and self-taught “doctors” for a long time. There’s a street named after my great-grandfather who lived to be 102. Now, my cousin is the deputy chief of police there. Along with a taste for some foods, a slightly midwesterny version of the southern accent, and complicated feelings about army bases, the main thing I carry with me from there is a recognition that nothing is quite as important (or painful) as University of Kentucky basketball. Iraq? Pretty big deal, but not like UK losing to Louisville. George Bush’s election in 2004? That was a bad moment, but not as bad as UK’s loss in the NCAAs. As a kid, I once saw a neighbor throw his television out of his window after UK lost a game. From that day on, I set my sights on earning enough money to be able to afford to do that, but so far I’ve had to settle for kicking my toe hard against the wall. This year, though, the TV is a possibility. So 36-0, Tubby Smith, or the TV gets it.

My mother and I lived for a quite a while, though, in Nashville and for several years in Kapahi, Kauai, Hawaii, at the end of a dirt road that was itself at the end of a one lane road, just a valley over from the wettest spot on earth. We lived there a few times, and my dad lived there for the duration, alongside a commune of burnt-out hippies and groups of paniolos (Hawaiian cowboys) and Filipinos and assorted refugees from the life on the mainland. It was strange being a “haole” with a funky accent in 2nd grade, but I knew from day one that there were some far out places on the planet, and that the idea that the whole world is getting homogenized is, frankly, a lie told by people who live in boring places.

Now, I live in Philly, which is neither homogenized nor home, even though there are parts that do feel like the old South, which is to say homey, impoverished, and a little violent.

Were you one of those Iggles fans throwing ice balls? (Aurelio, the Eagles are a football team from Philly, but I like to say it with the proper Pixtburgh accent.)

My lawyer advises me not to answer that question. If I did throw an ice ball, though, it would only have been in the direction of a known war criminal like T.O., and never at a saint like Big Ben.

I don’t know, when you’re 2 and 5, “saint” isn’t exactly the word that comes to mind. But let’s not talk about my Stillers right now or I’ll get cranky.

How about you tell me about this Philly band you’re wearing on your t-shirt. And what were you doing that got you so sweaty?

Greg likes Marah!

On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I like to call Marah the best Southern band around, which confuses people since the brothers who run Marah – Dave and Serge Bielanko – are from Philadelphia. But the kind of music they do is not Southern merely because they play banjoes and harmonicas but because they sing with the oldest Southern faith in the reality of pain, the recognition that anomie and displacement and soul-searching are luxuries of a rich world. In the Nation of Defeat, people experience loss of a more corporeal kind. “A History of Where Someone Has Been Killed,” a life making “nothin’ in a factory,” a record of a day with “seven dollars in my pocket and sixteen cigarettes that somehow I just ain’t smoked yet.” And a place that is haunted by failure, where people “walk out past the spot/ Where there used to be a swing set/ Where a little girl got shot/ I know you’re thinkin about your brother Richard, too/ I wish we could bring him back.”

Southern music, like a lot of Southern literature, was really about poverty, not necessarily about being poor but about the experience of living around poverty all the time. Not a political platform about poverty but just a take on life that grew out of an awareness of it. A lot of Southern artists weren’t poor themselves, but until recently if you lived in the South you lived around a whole bunch of poor people, and no chance of fooling yourself otherwise. The same thing for violence.

Now, there are poor people in the South, but as the South has suddenly got rich and put on its fancy shoes, it has become much more adept at doing what the North was always adept at, hiding them away. And now a lot of the poorest places in the country are northern cities. So it’s no surprise to me that really good Southern music – really Southern – comes out of places like Philly and Detroit and Chicago once you get off the lakefront. What people experience there is what people used to experience in the South.

So Marah are a hardworking band that plays honest, painful rock and roll and sings tough songs but without an ounce of self-pity. Going is like going to a revival, and even someone as self-conscious as I am ends up shouting by the end. So that photo is after a show they did at Asbury Park, New Jersey at the Stone Pony. A friend of mine had seen the author photo they were using for the back book jacket – which is beautiful – and told me that she was going to take a picture of how I really looked, and that is the picture she took.

On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, though, I say the best Southern band around is the Drive-by-Truckers who are actually from the South and who have a sense of history to keep them from turning the Southern thing into a cliche.

On Sundays, I say the best Southern band around is My Morning Jacket, because you’ve got to stick up for your fellow Kentuckians when they do good.

Greg fails to quiet new baby Sophia!

[Okay Greg is fun, but I suppose we should start talking about writing at some point.] What inspires your ideas for short stories?

I wish it were images. I always think it would be a better idea to start writing from an image and move out into the story. But I don’t think that way. I start with a character or a bit of the story or a voice and try to fill in around it. Often there’s a bunch of ideas floating around in my head, and I wait to see which one becomes an itch that I need to scratch.

Do you like doing readings? What do you worry about most before a reading?

I like the moment the reading is over. Not because I love signing my name – I actually was never one of those kids who practiced his autograph all day – but because I do like talking to people. Right after it’s over, you feel so vulnerable; you’ve just stood in front of people and read something that was written to read on the page, not heard aloud, and probably you’ve read something that wasn’t quite as funny as it should have been. And what will happen if everyone just scoots politely out the door without even acknowledging your presence? Will I have to stand up and wave my arms and say, “Hi Mom! It’s me, Greg!” But then people – strangers – come up and start talking about your story and about writing, and it feels like a real moment of intimacy between people you’ll never see again.

So, this book, Spit Baths, what was the hardest part about writing?

Finding ribbons for my portable Royal typewriter.

You did not write your book on a typewriter. Did you?

Some of the first drafts were written on a manual portable Royal typewriter that had belonged to one of my grandmothers. More recently, though, I switched to doing first drafts longhand. My wife jokes that pretty soon I’m going to be chiseling first drafts in stone.

Um. Okay, on the cover of your book, I have to say the little pencil drawing thing is very eye-catching, but what exactly is it? A puddle?

I think someone at the press spilled their beer on the cover mockup, and they drew the circle around the edges to make it seem artistic and not a mistake.

Or maybe that’s the explanation for the stories inside.

Why did the book cover designer write “Flannery O’Connor winner” around the sticker that says “Flannery O’Connor winner”?

No idea. It was so nice they decided to say it twice?

How long did you shop the stories in this book before you found a home for it?

Maybe a year and a half or so, not nonstop. I had an earlier, longer, uglier version of the book that included all the stories I had published. I was proud of those stories. Getting those stories made me want to keep on writing. I couldn’t imagine that they wouldn’t end up in my collection. Hadn’t people – strangers – at literary magazines flooded with submissions already accepted them?

I submitted to the Flannery O’Connor, and then I got a nice note from a judge asking why I was spoiling a good book with stories that didn’t belong. And I had to admit that she was right. Not that those stories were bad, just that they didn’t belong. A couple were too raw, a couple were repetitive, a couple were just in a different tone. So I cut them out, wrote a couple of new ones, submitted to the Flannery O’Connor again and got a phone call the next time around, which is always a good sign. What kind of fool calls to give you bad news, when it’s so much easier to send it by mail? So it was good news.

The house in Swisher, Iowa where Greg started the stories.

Have any of your colleagues in your department read your book?

None of my history colleagues, though a couple of English professors and administrators who work in the same division that I do. I think the other history professors are happy for me, but they don’t understand what I’m doing or why I’m doing it. Come to think of it, I don’t understand it either! One is sometimes reminded of the aphorism that writing is not a vocation or an avocation but simply a bad habit.

What’s next for you?

Right now, a bottle of Troeg’s Pale Ale, brewed in Harrisburg, Pa. Kentucky and Tennessee have the bourbon and whiskey down pat, but I do love the Pennsylvania beers. Troegs and Yuengling and Yards, especially.

But you probably meant beyond the next five minutes. Well, I’m turning my dissertation (don’t ask) into a book of academic history (which is a polite way of saying a book with a readership even smaller than a collection of short stories.’) I’m also revising a novel that
I’ve been working on for a while and am ready to finish up. And I’m playing with some essays about Southernness (often in non-Southern locales) called “The Capital of the Nation of Defeat.”

And I’m obsessively checking the recruiting websites for information about high school sophomores and juniors the University of Kentucky is recruiting to play basketball. Clearly the whims of a 16-year-old with a glandular disorder are more important in the bigger scope of things than my family or my work. If only I were kidding.


So, we stripped Greg down. And when you see him at a reading in his fine leather jacket and his hair all combed . . .

Remember, underneath it all is . . .

(Ow! Okay, this is a different Greg Downs!)

But no more will we think of Greg Downs as a fancy, award-winning author with a PhD. Oh no. He’s the sweaty karaoke singer who spills his food and worries you’ll duck out of his reading without saying hello. He’s the one who knows about a boy standing in a parking lot in a catcher’s uniform and punching himself. He’s that guy.

Greg’s duet with pal Sergio Camacho: “Stop Dragging My Heart Around.”!

Be sure to “friend” Greg on MySpace and leave a comment about his karaoke and long hair day photos. He’ll love it!

Thanks, Greg! You were a great sport!


Weekly Wrap: Our Hidden Selves

by Susan Henderson on October 27, 2006

You are now seeing a side of me that only Mr. Henderson and my children know. I click on iTunes, hit SHUFFLE, and get the following top 20 songs. . .

Gnarls Barkley – Go-Go Gadget
Big Mato, Daddy Yankee, Gem Star, N.O.R.E. & Nina Skyy – Oye Mi Canto
Miles to Dayton – Hero for Another Day

System of a Down – B.Y.O.B. (Oh my God, I love this song!!)
DMX – Party Up (Up in Here)
The Monkees – Daydream Believer
John Hiatt – You Must Go
Shakira – Ojos Así

Mary J. Blige – No More Drama
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood
Kanye West & Lupe Fiasco – Touch the Sky

Syd Barrett – Love You
System of a Down – Chop Suey
MC Solaar – La vie est belle
Gillian Welch – Wrecking Ball
Muse – Time Is Running Out

Los Fabulosos Cadillacs – El Matador
Steve Earle – The Devil’s Right Hand
Shawn Mullins – Yellow Dog Song
50 Cent – Hate It or Love It

Only on iTunes shuffle can you go from DMX to The Monkees!

So there you have it, my bizarre mix of speed metal, country, rap, and bouncy songs. I picked more than 7 because I couldn’t see the trend. And then I thought about how I use my iTunes. I play music to get energized. I play music when I need to type up 20 pages of notes and not lose momentum. I play music and bellydance when I do the dishes. I dance at the stove while I’m waiting for the kettle to boil. I love music that’s bold, raw, grand, risky, tongue-in-cheek, bouncy, or over-the-top in any way. If I feel sluggish or flat, music injects me with a new mood.


The main thing I wanted to do with this game is to show the fun and the vulnerability of being caught off guard. I think this is what we hope to discover in our characters. They want you to believe they’re listening to Ben Harper and Lucinda Williams, but they are really listening to ABBA and Edith Piaf, and that’s what we love about them – not just their hidden sides but the reasons they hide.

See if you can find that tension in one of your characters – the person they want others to believe they are vs. who they are in private. Write (or draw!) for an hour and see what you come up with.


Thanks to those of you who shared a little of your hidden side this week: Lori, Myfanwy, Lance, Robin, Megan, Jordan, Jolene, Richard, Carolyn, Anneliese, Robert, Lauren, Mikel K, Kasper, Teresa, Sarah, Claire, Jim, Amy, Terry the amazing webmaster, Noria, Shelley, Gail, Juliet, Aurelio, Joe, Kathy, Maria, Pia, Ric, Keith, Jessica, and Annde. And thank you to Danny Gregory for inspiring us to express ourselves without feeling we must be perfect!


Tomorrow: Peeling away the layers of the Flannery O’Connor Short Fiction Award winner, Greg Downs. Don’t miss it!


Danny Gregory

by Susan Henderson on October 25, 2006

Danny Gregory can convince anyone that they can draw, that they have time to draw, and that they can silence their inner critic by drawing often and drawing in pen. There’s something wonderfully un-labored about his drawing, that’s what I like best, that you can see enjoyment in the strokes. Maybe you’ll see what I mean in today’s interview and also if you check out his books, Everyday Matters and The Creative License: Giving Yourself Permission to Be the Artist You Truly Are.

Tell me your story of becoming an artist.

I had loved to draw and paint when I was small but by the time I graduated from high school, art had seemed like an impractical and limiting way to spend my time (ah, the arrogance of youth). By the time I was in my mid twenties, I had stopped making any sort of art. When I was in my mid 30s, my wife was run over by a subway train and left a paraplegic. I was left with a profound sense of pointlessness and loss. After floundering around in all sorts of direction for some sort of meaning and purpose, I started to draw one day. It quickly built into an obsession as I recorded every aspect of my everyday life. A few years later, I had a few books published and, more at the prompting of others than anything I perceived, I started to think that maybe I was an artist.

What can drawing do for a person with no real skill for it?

First off, the only way any one gets skill at drawing (or any other sort of worthwhile pursuit) is by practicing. Within a few weeks, any one will see a dramatic increase in the accuracy and fluency of their drawing. It’s a lot easier than golf, French or Grand Theft Auto.

I have heard from several thousand people who have started to draw, and they are universally enthusiastic. Drawing gives them a sense of accomplishment, of appreciation of their world, of tranquility. It means never being bored in an airport again. It can be a solitary or a communal pursuit and no matter how good one gets at it there are always new things to learn and try.

Is there anything in particular (object, emotion, theme) that you draw over and over?

I draw a lot of buildings as I live in a big city. I draw my dogs, cups of tea, people relaxing, products and packages, meals as I eat them….

Anything you can’t seem to capture?

If something is reasonably still, I’ll draw it. There’s no real difference in what a thing is to me. If it’s complicated and irregular it’s generally more interesting but everything I see is made up of colors and shadows, lines and forms. It’s pretty simple. Oh, wait, there is one subject that I find tough: drawing musicians while they play. For some reason my mind finds it hard to listen to live music and draw at the same time.

Has your art changed since you became a father? Have your goals in life changed?

Well, I started making art after I became a father but my son has a lot of influence on me. He is a very fluid and confident artist and draws all the time. We share our work and talk about what we are doing. It’s great to have a fellow spirit right in my own home.

You have a very generous nature. Where does that come from?

Huh, I guess I don’t really think of myself that way. I assume I’m sort of a crab and I come from a family of basically misanthropic people. I think my wife has had a lot of influence on me and being a dad and someone who lives with a disabled person have made me a little less self-involved. I have started to wonder, however, if my drive to encourage others to draw isn’t more of an ego thing, a desire to control others, than generosity. I don’t know. I’m rethinking my perspective on many things these days and wrestling with the right path.

Tell me about the Everyday Matters group.

I started blogging at the end of 2003. As my site gathered momentum, there seemed to be a lot of discourse among the readers on the comments section of my posts and I was functioning as moderator. I thought it might be nice if all these people, who were speaking so separately about similar things, could all get into the same room and so I set up a Yahoo group. We now have almost 2000 members from all over the world and they have sustained a vibrant, stimulating conversation ever since. The group also meets off line in so-called Sketchcrawls, the drawing equivalent of a pub crawl. We get together in various places and do a series of short drawings in one location after another and then have coffee or lunch together and share our work and our thoughts. There are new people joining every day, some are complete novices who have never drawn, others are professional illustrators and teachers. We have developed a wiki to share information on supplies, books, etc. One of the members began offering a weekly subject for drawing and many of the members have started their own blogs to share the work they do. It’s a wonderful community.

Explain the weekly drawing challenge.

It’s generally some sort of universal topic like draw your dog, draw an important door in your life, draw something that feels refreshing, etc. Ideally people will write a little something along with their drawing. The idea is to give people simple accessible subjects that feel personal to them. Then they share them on their blogs and on Flickr and we all give them comments and encouragement.

You and my regular guest, Pasha Malla, both work for The Morning News. Want to tell my readers about TMN and what you do for them?

I am a contributing artist for TMN. It’s a website that has been around for quite awhile and has hundreds of thousands of readers. Each day, a new article, generally something topical or funny or personal is posted along with a review of interesting news-stories, some major, some bizarre, all interesting. I illustrate some articles, write and draw others, and created many of the bits of art that were part of the design. The site just underwent a facelift and it’s less visually oriented and slicker so my work is less prominent.

My youngest son is a marvelous little creator and sometimes talks about becoming a cartoonist or illustrator when he grows up. But much of his drawing is spent crumpling and ripping papers and becoming furious at himself or his drawing. What advice do you have for a little boy with a love-hate relationship with drawing?

The key is to keep art as a part of his life, like playing, building, running, etc. And look at yourself as an example: Do you draw? Do you beat yourself up about your own creativity? Do you sing with him, draw with him, etc? If he feels that creativity is just a part of life, like eating and breathing, he’ll be less judgmental. Also, moderate your encouragement. I find that if I give my own son too much praise and we make too much of a fuss about his drawings it can turn into a sort of pressure to perform that makes him too hard on himself. It’s as if positive judgment can feel as heavy as negative judgment.

Tell me three people who inspire you.

Vincent Van Gogh inspires me because the art he made in the last three years of his life was so amazing. His career is an amazing case study in what a self-taught, dedicated person can accomplish. At first, his stuff was terrible, murky, lopsided, ham fisted. Then he went to Paris and in a few months, he took off. He had so little positive feedback and yet he persevered. I tell myself that if he could do it, I could. After I’m only slightly insane.

I also admire Ronald Searle‘s work a lot. He was a great recorder of the sorts of things I like to draw and he combined careful observation with a looseness and a personal drawing line that I aspire to with each drawing.

I admire my friend d.price a great deal. He is also self-taught and a great observer of the simple pleasures in life. He showed me a great deal about how many forms and topics once can express with an illustrated journal. Whenever we speak, I feel refreshed, renewed and inspired. Our lives are a different as can be and yet, we are similar spirits.

What are you working on these days?

I am taking a major break from doing art for anyone but me. For the past few years I have been pulled between my books, my blog, my readers’ community, teaching, etc., and I desperately want to reconnect with my original impulse to draw. This summer, I decided to step back from all external demands and just get back to my little drawing books. I am open to the possibility that a new idea or adventure will come a long but feel no pressure to look for it.


If you’re on MySpace, you can “friend” Danny and say hello by clicking right here.