What’s On My Nightstand? (A Random Smattering Of Book Reviews)

I’ve written some posts here in the past that touched on different books that I’ve read and the impacts they’ve had on me. I thought it might be fun to examine what’s currently on my nightstand—some of them finished, some of them started, some of them just staring me in resentment at night when I choose a different volume over them (book guilt is a real thing and I defy anyone with a bookshelf to say otherwise).


Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. I knew literally nothing about this book before I picked it up at a local bookstore—I thought the cover was intriguing and the mysterious bookstore setting sounded promising, and it delivered intrigue and mystery in spades. But it’s more than just a mystery—it’s also funny and smart, and part of the plot involves data visualization and learning different coding languages, and much more. Verdict: go out and read it, folks!

Currently Reading

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. Oh my goodness, Roxane Gay is fantastic. I’m not even halfway through this collection of essays, but I’m already adding her novel, An Untamed State, to my reading list. Her topics range from feminism to Scrabble to the Sweet Valley High book series, and that’s just the first couple of essays. I can’t wait to see what else is in store.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. I know, everyone has read this already, but I have not! And I figured it would be a good choice given the holiday season. I’m not far into it yet, but I have a feeling it’s going to be creepy, and it’s been a while since I’ve read something spooky (Bonus: it’s been adapted into a YouTube series a la the Lizzie Bennet Diaries!).

The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain. What can I say, I love me some Samuel Clemens. Again, only partially through this one but I’m already finding myself chuckling at his descriptions of the fellow passengers and European scenery.

I Give Up

Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. I tried. Believe me, I really, really tried. And I’ve read (and enjoyed!) other Russian literature in the past, but this one is just not working for me. I can’t keep up with the names/nicknames/alternate spellings of names, and I don’t know enough about communism to keep up with the speeches. I do not admit defeat with books often, but I cannot do this.

Yet To Be Read

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Great Expectations: Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens by Robert Gottlieb

So, that’s my nightstand. What’s on yours?

Matilida Reading


Noelle is an email copywriter (yes, that is a thing) and occasional freelance writer. When she’s not typing or running, she can be found eating, sleeping, quoting a movie, or curled up in an easy chair with her nose stuck in a book. Sometimes she tweets too.

Musical Accompaniment For Your Everyday Writing Needs

Between all of the writing that we ladies of VALCANA do, sometimes silence just won’t cut it. While silence is golden, it can also be as distracting as a cacophony of sounds. Now, I can’t speak for everyone else, but for me, sometimes it helps to have a bit of background music. Here are some of my personal favorites.

Broadway/showtunes – Stephen Sondheim. Rogers and Hammerstein. Jason Robert Brown. If it’s been on Broadway (or even off-Broadway), chances are I’ve heard it. I would suggest a word of caution with this particular genre — I have caught myself typing lyrics (or even singing them aloud). Not a bad thing, but it can be a touch distracting if you aren’t concentrating.

Vitamin String Quartet – I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am a sucker for string arrangements. String arrangements of pop music in particular are a thing I didn’t know I needed. And if you don’t feel like shelling out money to buy music, you can try the magical world of YouTube (they have numerous playlists on their channel), or give them a listen to on Pandora.

Movie Soundtracks – I defy you to write anything mundane—an email, a Google calendar entry, a grocery list—whilst listening to the soundtrack to the Lord of the Rings or The Last Of The Mohicans. It can’t be done—you will feel like you’re soaring, I guarantee it.

Electronic (Ratatat) – For those days when you want something a little funkier than strings or orchestras, and I’m not suggesting dub step by any means, but something like Ratatat or Daft Punk can add a harder (better, faster, stronger) edge to your writing (and you may find yourself having a mini dance party at your desk—always a plus!).

Opera – If you like some soaring vocals with your orchestral arrangements, look no further! And if you think you don’t like opera, deep down, you probably do, at least a little bit. And what’s nice with this as compared to musical theater, is that I’m less likely to sing along (mostly because my vocal range is not nearly large enough to pull off the typical aria, and in most cases these divas and their men are singing in another language).

So, there you have it! But enough about my favorites—what sorts of music do you all listen to?

Noelle is an email copywriter (yes, that is a thing) and occasional freelance writer. When she’s not typing or running, she can be found eating, sleeping, quoting a movie, or curled up in an easy chair with her nose stuck in a book. Sometimes she tweets too.

Hang In There, Folks

In the last couple of weeks, two of my favorite actors passed away. All hell broke loose in a Missouri town after an unarmed teenager was shot by a police officer in broad daylight. I began the process of moving to a new apartment. My older sister is now engaged to be married. My parents are in the process of putting the house I have spent the majority of my life in on the market as they prepare to move to Grand Rapids. My baby brother is about to be a senior in high school, and my younger sister is entering her final year of college.

In short, I’ve had a lot on my mind lately. Most of it good, some of it not-so-much (I could write an entire post about my feelings about just the loss of Robin Williams or Lauren Bacall, and don’t even get me started on what’s happening in Ferguson). My family is on the brink of quite a bit of change (again, most of it good), and I consider it very typical that all of it should occur within the next year or so. As with most big changes in my life, I’m turning to writing to sort out my thoughts and make sense of what I’m feeling.

Here are a few things that I’ve found so far:

We can try to change the conversation about mental illnesses such as depression, and stress the importance of seeking help and treatment. We can be supportive, and non-judgmental. Everyone is going through something no matter how they may seem on the outside.

We can continue paying attention to what’s happening in Ferguson (and in other areas of the U.S. where this type of flagrant disregard for human decency continues, sadly unchecked in most cases). We can offer sympathy, donations, offers to help in whatever way we can to those affected by the violence and strife.

We can remember that sometimes it’s necessary to reinvent ourselves, to pick up the pieces when our lives are shaken up in some way, and to continue finding work and causes that mean something to us.

We can plan ahead, but we also need to be able to take things as they come — you can still be expected to make big changes no matter how old you are or what your position in life is.

We can continue to learn and stay curious about what’s going on around us, whether we’re in a classroom setting or about to leave one for the first time.

And we can always remember that no matter what is going on in the world, life goes on.

Of course, many of these things are easier said than done, and nothing can be completely fixed or righted overnight. But (and I know this is naive and probably foolish for me to say), I have to believe that it will all work out in some way. So, hang in there, everybody. We’re going to be fine.


Noelle is an email copywriter (yes, that is a thing) and occasional freelance writer. When she’s not typing or running, she can be found eating, sleeping, quoting a movie, or curled up in an easy chair with her nose stuck in a book. Sometimes she tweets too.

Happy (Almost) 1 Year Anniversary, GSL!

Has it really been a year? One whole year? 52 weeks? 365 days? 525,600 minutes?

Well, dear readers, it has indeed been roughly a year since a group of fabulous ladies from MSU’s Professional Writing program hatched a plan to create our very own blog, Grammar Style Life. If this is your first post, welcome! If you’ve been following us from the beginning, thank you.

It’s hard to believe how much has changed since this endeavor began—members of VALCANA have graduated from college, moved to far-off places, started/quit/excelled/failed at various jobs and tasks, and throughout it all we’ve written our experiences down and shared them with you once a month.

I had no idea what to expect when GSL started. I assumed it would be a chance to get a more personal style of writing out into the interwebz, and help me keep in touch with the other fantastic young women who have written, edited and shared via social media pieces of writing that are at times funny, informative, or just plain awesome. In turn, I have also enjoyed writing/editing/sharing things via social media, but I thought I’d include a list of my favorites from each VALCANA member so far:

Vanessa: On Failure and Optimism

Alexandra: When I Started Calling Myself a “Woman in Tech”

Lauren: Life, Edited

Chelsea: Summer Cocktail Round Up

Allegra: To my sixteen-year-old self.

Noelle: (honestly, I’ve enjoyed every GSL post I’ve written — I could never pick a favorite!)

Ashley: Giving Technical Writing A Reality Check

I have no idea what the next year of GSL will bring us, but I can only hope it will be as fun and silly and, dare I say, empowering as it’s been this past year.

Pat yourselves on the back, ladies of VALCANA, and here’s to another year!

Tina Fey


Noelle is an email copywriter (yes, that is a thing) and occasional freelance writer. When she’s not typing or running, she can be found eating, sleeping, quoting a movie, or curled up in an easy chair with her nose stuck in a book. Sometimes she tweets too.

Hey Adults, You Can (And Should) Read Whatever You Want

I recently came across an article on Slate about YA (Young Adult) books. Perhaps you came across it as well.

I thought the author made some interesting points, but I would like to say that I respectfully disagree with her opinion.

Yes, there has been a recent surge in YA popularity — The Twilight series, Divergent, Hunger Games, and the recent box-office smash TFIOS — and yes, there are some that say these books aren’t well written, that they’re catering to teenagers, and that it’s degrading/embarrassing for adults to be seen reading/enjoying them.

I have mentioned in other posts that I am a major bookworm. I am the type of person who will have anywhere from four to five books started at once. I know that not everyone is like that. For some, it’s a challenge to even read one book at a time — and I don’t mean that as a slight or as an insult, because reading is great, not matter what pace you’re doing it.

Basically, who are we to judge someone else for what they’re reading, especially if it’s not hurting anyone? Who am I to deny someone access to a wonderful story because it’s advertised as a book for kids?

The author of that Slate piece also said something about how YA books are replacing classic literature. Once again, I respectfully disagree.

While I am still in my 20’s and only a few years out of college, I would classify myself as an adult. I work full-time and I pay my bills/support myself almost entirely without assistance from others. I would also say that I am an adult who has read TFIOS and The Hunger Games series, along with The Giver (which is also part of a series), The Book Thief, and numerous other authors whose work is considered suitable for a “YA” audience. I’d also like to point out that one of the biggest Harry Potter fans I’ve ever met in my life is my own mother — she binge-read all seven books over the course of one summer.

In fact, I think part of the appeal of “YA books” for “adults” comes largely from parents reading the same things as their kids. And why not? If it helps families find a common interest (especially one that encourages reading), I don’t think it should be shamed — it should be encouraged.

Furthermore, I do not see so-called “YA books” replacing my interest in literary fiction or any other genre. I would instead argue that reading a wide variety of materials allows you to expose yourself to numerous ideas and themes, most of which are encased in interesting word choices and story lines. Plus, reading (or even rereading) “YA books” at an older age gives you a chance to find other layers and depth that you might not have noticed or fully understood as an adolescent. I don’t delve into a story and think “Hmm, that’s a nicely written book for 13-year-olds,” — I am enjoying the author’s choice of words to create a scene or set the mood.

In short, if you want to read something, don’t let a marketing tactic by a publisher (because really, that is what the label “YA” is), or the so-called “shame” of reading something targeted toward a younger demographic stop you. You might miss some amazing stories otherwise.


Noelle is an email copywriter (yes, that is a thing) and occasional freelance writer. When she’s not typing or running, she can be found eating, sleeping, quoting a movie, or curled up in an easy chair with her nose stuck in a book. Sometimes she tweets too.

What Is Email Marketing? (AKA What I Do At Work Each Day)

Some of you may have noticed a certain passage in my by-line that goes a little something like this: “Noelle is an email copywriter (yes, that is a thing).” Some of you might know what that is, and others might not.

In short, I am someone who works almost exclusively in the writing, editing, sending, and analyzing of emails.

The company with which I am employed is a marketing company of sorts that runs a series of charitable websites. What can be confusing about this is that the company itself is for-profit—we just happen to work with a LOT of non-profits, and all of the products and sales we offer have a charitable component. We also have petitions, and we have a “click-to-give” function that allows users to click a button at the top of each site’s home page: from there, a donation is triggered from viewing the various ads we put onto each site.

We have several teams devoted to the running of each website as well as the content/ads/offers that are on said websites and we have a team devoted just to email (that’s where I come in).

I currently work with about 8 other writers and designers, creating email campaigns that blast up to 7 days a week / 365 days a year. My daily tasks include constructing links with the correct origin codes and UTM tracking, writing up copy for ads for everything from sales to petitions to alt tags, and making sure that the designers in charge of the HTML aspects of each email have the ad/folder names and other information they need to make their portion. I also help write the text-only versions of each email, so that any users who don’t necessarily have the ability to open an HTML email can still see what we’re offering (it is true that some email campaign programs will generate the text-only file for you, but we prefer to customize what goes into them a bit more).

The majority of the emails I am in charge of are focused on getting users to go to the websites and click their respective charity button, but we also encourage them to check out hot sales or discounts, donate to specific charitable/topical organizations, and encourage the signature/sharing of petitions and other types of longer content.

Once this is all said and done, we then test each email by sending it out to people on our team to check for errors or linkage issues before each mailing is then scheduled and set to blast the following day.

Some other things that come into play:

Mailing Time
There’s a great deal of data out there about what the best time to blast an email is—we choose to blast most of ours starting very early in the morning (4:00 a.m.) to mid-afternoon (noon-ish).

A/B Testing
When we have more than one hot promotion running at the same time, sometimes it’s unclear which item should be featured where and at what time. We use A/B testing and other metrics to see which offers or products our audience prefers. We can also do this sort of testing with just subject lines as well.

Analysis Of Data
After all of the emails are written/designed, tested, and blasted, we then take a look at various bits of data ranging from clicks to open rates to how much revenue certain links made and what other outside effects could have impacted results (we’ve had things come into play like news events, day of the week, etc.).

Weekly/bi-weekly meetings of all shapes and sizes go into developing where we need to promote certain events/newsworthy items—for instance, one of our email campaigns promotes awareness for autism, so it made sense to include content that mentioned Autism Awareness Month throughout April.

Project Management / Working As a Team
Each person on the Email Team (or E-Team, as we are sometimes called), is responsible for his/her share of work. Each person has their own set of things to write/design, and then other members of the team are there to edit/critique them.

All The Spreadsheets and Calendars
We have to make sense of what we’re posting in each email each day/week, so we use Google Docs, Google Calendar, and various Excel spreadsheets and templates to help stay organized/efficient.

Prior to graduating, I had no idea this kind of work existed, or that it would be something that would require so many of the skills I gained from PW. Just goes to show that you never know what kind of work is out there.

Now You Know Something

Noelle is an email copywriter (yes, that is a thing) and occasional freelance writer. When she’s not typing or running, she can be found eating, sleeping, quoting a movie, or curled up in an easy chair with her nose stuck in a book. Sometimes she tweets too.

826 Michigan (And the Importance Of Reading (and Writing) At A Young Age)

Ladies. Gents. Whoever it is reading this post.

You need to know about 826michigan. Er, well, 826 National is the actual organization name, but for the sake of geography and familiarity, I’ll be talking about 826michigan.

This organization is basically a dream come true for a girl who was once told by a guy she liked in middle school that she “read too much” (said boy’s appeal diminished quickly after that).

My love affair with 826 began last summer with a chance encounter and a robot. Namely, a robot that was part of an adorable display window for an adorable store — Robot Supply & Repair — on Liberty Street, just a hop skip and a jump away from Ann Arbor’s Main Street shopping area.

Robot Store

Who wouldn’t be intrigued by this display window?

Now, being a lover of all things adorable, quirky, and occasionally robot-related, I decided to take a look. The result was initially disappointing (they sell robot-related products, not actual robots), but ultimately mind-blowing. This was no ordinary store. It was a front for a non-profit devoted to tutoring children ages 6 to 18, particularly in reading and writing.

Most importantly, they publish their kids’ writings. Into actual books. And. Sell. Them.

I immediately flashed back to age eight, when my second grade teacher (whom I consider a saint to this day), told us we’d be writing our own stories, and then we’d “publish” them into little paperback books. I can barely remember what the story was about, but I’ll never forget how I felt when I saw my story as a “book” (I use quotation marks because it was really just a bunch of paper stapled together with a laminated piece of construction paper). It was sheer joy.

Returning to the not so distant past of last summer, I stood there in that robot store and knew that I had to be a part of it somehow. This past January, I finally got my act together and signed up to be a volunteer. I now spend a couple of hours every Wednesday evening working with 6-8 year-olds on simple writing exercises. It’s not much, but the idea that I could be fostering a love of reading and writing to kids who are roughly how old I was when I first realized I loved to write — that means more to me than anything else.

I encourage anyone and everyone to check this organization out. The main chapter in Michigan is based in Ann Arbor but also reaches as far as Detroit. You can also find it in a few other cities across the U.S., and even if you don’t have time to volunteer, try checking out their stores, picking up one of their story anthologies, or you know, just spreading the word about how awesome they are.

Noelle is an email copywriter (yes, that is a thing) and occasional freelance writer. When she’s not typing or running, she can be found eating, sleeping, quoting a movie, or curled up in an easy chair with her nose stuck in a book. Sometimes she tweets too.