Writers’ Wisdom

(theguardian.com photo)

(theguardian.com photo)

“You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences
and the creation of different words on a page.”

Annie Proulx


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Writers’ Wisdom

(Wikipedia photo)

(Wikipedia photo)

“Writing, I think, is not apart from living.
Writing is a kind of double living. The writer experiences everything twice. Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always
before or behind.”

Catherine Drinker Bowen


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Writers’ Wisdom

(lifeondoverbeach.files.wordpress.com photo)

(lifeondoverbeach.files.wordpress.com photo)

“Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers.”
T. S. Eliot

(Personally, I consider myself both editor and writer — the latter of which I only do publicly only on very special occasions — and maybe slightly successful at that, haha)


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Writers’ Wisdom



“People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing,
that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down
in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that.
You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.”

Harlan Ellison


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The 10 Best Songs of Summer

Note: This story originally published on TheBlot.com on July 3, 2014. 

From DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince and Nelly to the Grateful Dead and Alice Cooper, here are my picks for the 10 best songs of summer.

From DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince and Nelly to the Grateful Dead and Alice Cooper, here are my picks for the 10 best songs of summer.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather relive the Polar Vortex of 2014 than deal with this summer heat one minute longer. I’ve been feeling like a cat on a hot tin roof pretty much since mid-May, and I’m sick of being in a permanent state of sweat.

But there’s one bright spot for me in all this hazy heat: That summer makes me crave not only the highest possible AC setting and copious amounts of ice-cold watermelon, but the fun, light and airy songs of summer, those ones I hum all season long.

I’ll still listen to my moody spirit love Nick Cave, but I need songs that make me smell the suntan lotion — or oil, if you’re like me and grew up not giving a shit about skin cancer, just fully intent on becoming the darkest shade of tan possible — and make me want to say, “I’m working from pool” until the first dead leaf hits the ground in September.

So, without further ado, here are the 10 Best Songs of Summer — according to me.

10. Joss Stone “Super Duper Love (Are You Diggin’ On Me?)” (2004)

This soulful British songstress totally nailed this festive, retro cover of Willie “Sugar Billy” Garner’s 1975 single. Catchy and breezy, it’s a super duper perfect summer track. Play it at your next pool, patio or fire-escape party. You’re welcome. 

9. Nelly “Hot in Herre” (2002)

This song came out right before summer and hearing it always takes me back to going to the clubs back home with my girls, sipping ice-cold drinks on its deck as we tried to catch our breath before heading back in to dance our asses off again. Oh, how I waited for the DJ to play this one.

8. Violent Femmes “36-24-36″ (1993)

The summer I graduated high school (Class o’ 1995), my friend and I would often visit her brother in New Jersey. We’d listen to the Violent Femmes with our hair blowing in the breeze, smoking tons of Marlboros and scream-singing along to the band’s greatest-hits compilation. This song, however, perfectly summed up that last summer before we entered The Real World in one line: “I know this summer’s gonna be the best/If I don’t die from lack of rest.” Oh, Nikki, at 18. You were such a force to be reckoned with.

7. Lana del Rey ft. Barrie-James O’Neill “Summer Wine” (2013)

Bet you thought I’d go with the chanteuse’s “Summertime Sadness,” didn’t you? That song’s good, too, but this dusty, smoky and sultry Lee Hazlewood cover — and the way del Rey’s and O’Neill’s voices vibe — is as deliciously refreshing as “strawberries, cherries and an angel’s kiss in spring.”

6. The Grateful Dead “Sugar Magnolia” (1970)

By far my favorite Dead song, this, too, was a staple of the summer of ’95. When I wasn’t at “the Shore,” you could find me down at the lake sitting under the stars with my best friends, playing drinking games and swimming in murky water I was glad I couldn’t see in the coal-black night as this song usually played several times. Such a happy, infectious song that still makes me want to dance barefoot in the grass.

5. Johnny Rivers “Summer Rain” (1967)

I have loved the man who brought us “Secret Agent Man” for years, and he is seriously (and criminally) underrated. I mean, just listen to his voice, it’s so emotive and full of yearning that you can’t help but wish he was singing about you. Sigh.

4. The Drifters “Under the Boardwalk” (1964)

We vacationed at the Jersey Shore every year when I was a kid, with many years spent in Wildwood, and no matter what anyone says about the Garden State’s beaches, I will always love them. My favorite summer memories are tied to the warm sand ‘neath my feet, the sun kissing my flesh, the cool of the ocean, the wafting scent of lotion mixed with a salty, fishy breeze … oh, those vacations were the best.

3. Alice Cooper “School’s Out” (1972)

From the moment my older brother introduced me to this song, this was the song I sang, listened to and blasted on the last day of school every year for years. If there’s a more perfect anthem of 1) those amazing summer days of youth and 2) “Fuck you” to the establishment of school and teachers, I’ve yet to hear it.

2. Mungo Jerry “In the Summertime” (1970)

No “Songs of Summer” list would be complete without this light and airy one-hit wonder close to the top. It’s simply summerrific!

1. DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince “Summertime” (1991)

I’m usually not a fan of Will Smith, but when he was the Fresh Prince with DJ Jazzy Jeff? C’mon! This was the first major song of summer I can remember. I was just about to turn 14 when it came out, and in the 23 years since, it ain’t summer until its catchy chorus gets stuck in my head. Also, I’m not going to lie, Will gets an extra point for wearing a “Speed Racer” T-shirt in the video.

Nikki M. Mascali is the editor of TheBlot Magazine.

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Writers’ Wisdom

(quotessays.com photo)

(quotessays.com photo)

“Vigorous writing is concise.
A sentence should contain no unnecessary words,
a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”

William Strunk Jr.


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The End of the Mall Rat

Note: This story originally published on TheBlot.com on March 17, 2015. 

As many shopping malls fall into ruin or get repurposed as schools or medical offices, a former mall rat, like, totally, reminisces about their '80s/'90s heyday. (universalstudiosentertainment.com photo)

As many shopping malls are falling into ruin or getting repurposed as schools or medical facilities, a former mall rat, like, totally, reminisces about their ’80s/’90s heyday. (universalstudiosentertainment.com photo)

I was an ’80s kid and a ’90s teenager, so I know a thing or two about being a mall rat. Oh, don’t know what that is because you’re an uber-hip Millennial? Well, a mall rat, also stylistically seen as “mallrat,” is defined via Google as “a young person who frequents shopping malls, usually for social purposes.”

There was a time, see, long before you could text your BFFs or Snapchat a provocative duckface pic to your crush, when you could only talk to your friends via a landline phone or — sit down for this one — in person. Quelle horreur!

One of the best places you could hang out with your friends, especially in suburban areas like where I grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania, was the mall, which truly had its heyday when I was coming of age. The mall was the perfect place, really, to hold court with friends: not so much supervision (save for the rent-a-cops who halfheartedly patrolled the complex looking for snot-nosed kids doing something wrong), a food court with cheap options that wouldn’t break your allowance, a movie theater, stores to dart in and out of and, most importantly, other kids like you, maybe from other schools, who you could flirt or become friends with (or, if they were from a rival school, you could start shit with). And don’t even get me started reminiscing about time spent in the mall’s obligatory arcade. I was, I will have you know, a skee-ball champion.

It was epic, really, the kind of coming-of-age that you see in movies (think 1987’s “Can’t Buy Me Love,” or, better yet, 1995’s “Mallrats,” for example). I honestly don’t think I’d trade in my tween or teen experience for what kids today have. There was just something magical, and albeit a little dangerous, to be so out of touch withe everyone, but it was charming all the same. It was, after all, all we knew. Cellphones and smartphones and tablets, hell, even the Internet and personal computers were still quite a ways away for mainstream society.

Well, those days are over, largely thanks to the popularity and ease of online shopping, among other factors. I’ve seen, and ogled with thine own eyes, all the photos online of abandoned malls, eerily empty and in various stages of disrepair, a haunting glimpse into the pastel and commercialized ’80s.

When I was growing up, there were two malls about 20 minutes away from my hometown of Dallas, Pa. Only one of them remains now. A little further afield, about 40 minutes away, were two more. Both still stand, but one, the Mall at Steamtown in Scranton, seems to be heading in the direction of a soon-to-be ruin. Of the 10 spots available in the food court, only two are rented. Of the 47 available store fronts, 23 are shuttered, reported the local Times Leader newspaper. Some residents are trying to bring an indoor marketplace similar to the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia to a section of the mall, hoping to breath a new life into the property.



There are about 1,200 enclosed shopping centers in the U.S., and one-third of them are either in disrepair or close to it, but 211 are getting new life breathed into them as schools, churches or medical facilities.

It’s a tactic that regions across the nation are trying as well, to repurpose dying malls before they fall into disrepair or get demolished. There are roughly 1,200 enclosed shopping centers in the U.S., and about one-third of them are either kaput or close to it, architect and Georgia Tech professor Ellen Dunham-Jones told The Atlantic, adding that 211 centers across the country are being reborn. “Malls are being turned into medical centers, colleges, elementary schools, churches,” she said.

Once such mall, the Highland Mall in Austin, Texas, opened in 1971 and was nearly vacant by 2010. It was painful for employees in the administrative offices of Austin Community College, which were near the shopping center, to watch, so the school ended up buying the mall. “What happens when a mall beings to deteriorate and no longer functions as a mall? … the whole community surrounding it begins to deteriorate,” said ACC President and CEO Richard Rhodes.

The former JC Penney space now boasts more than 600 computer stations, 200,000 square feet of instructional space, a library and offices, The Atlantic reported. Austin voters, via November’s elections, approved nearly $400 million to further renovate the mall with work centers, STEM simulator labs and media, culinary and hospitality centers. Additionally, a San Antonio-based cloud-management company will move more than 500 employees into the now-empty Dillard’s location, giving students a convenient internship opportunity.

“It’s turning around the local neighborhood,” Rhodes said.

Other defunct malls have turned into churches, like the Lexington Mall in Kentucky and the Grand Village Mall in Michigan, while some have become medical facilities. Others have been revamped into mixed-use city centers, like the Cinderella City Mall in Englewood, Colo. Opened in 1968, it had been the largest mall west of the Mississippi River; now it features a light-rail service, residences, a civic center and stores. After the City Center Mall in Columbus, Ohio, closed in 2009, it was transformed into a park that features performance space, gardens and cafes; upscale apartments and retail shops will soon become part of the property.

The often-cavernous space of an indoor shopping mall is pretty perfect for just about any repurposing effort, and the possibilities are endless. For one, a mall would make a kick-ass music venue. Different stores could be home to different genres or music-related retail stores, the food court a perfect place to catch your breath — shit, I might be on to something here … don’t steal this idea, OK?

In the same vein, malls could become performing-arts or art centers with individual theaters or studios in storefronts. Why not turn one into a teen center, since kids obviously are not hanging out at the mall these days, or housing for the homeless? Can you even imagine the quality of life someone in need could have if they had someplace safe and clean to go like a converted mall? I’m sure greedy landowners/landlords could work out pretty hefty tax breaks for such a thing, right?

I think the idea for an indoor marketplace like Scranton hopes to do with the Mall at Steamtown is a viable option, too. Awesome New York marketplaces like Gotham West Market (one of my absolute favorite food porn Instagram accounts) and Chelsea Market are not only great neighborhood and business additions, but they’re also destinations for tourists and people from other neighborhoods, too.

We have become such a throwaway society, and reading about these many reinvented malls really struck a chord with me. I’d hate to drive down Kidder Street in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., someday and see the Wyoming Valley Mall — which, unlike some of its regional shopping complex cousins, seems to be chugging along just fine these days — crumbling or fenced-in, considering it was my home away from home many a Friday or Saturday night when I was a not-driving-age lass.

Sure, times they are a-changin’, but instead of letting a once-buzzing building like a mall just go or be knocked down in hopes another builder will come along to make that property shine again, doesn’t it just make sense to seek out other options that may have tremendous benefits for a community?

All you have to do, areas with defunct or soon-to-be defunct shopping malls, is just think outside the box … store.

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