Books you don’t like can be great writing teachers.

When you’re really blocked and despairing, a “bad” book might give you just the help you need.

This tip first appeared on JaneFriedman.com, here.

Today’s guest post is by author Susann Cokal (@CokalSusann), whose latest novel, Mermaid Moon, is out now.

4 Reasons to Spend Time with “Bad” Books

We’re all so judgy. We peer at storylines and dialogue lines and individual words, and we snort when a writer makes a choice we wouldn’t have made. We snort even more loudly at ourselves, those times when we just absolutely hate what we’ve written and think the author (Me! I’m the author!) must be an idiot. And then we’re…


On Barbie’s bff and female friendship.

“Midge was, as all Mattel’s toys and books and marketing materials identified her, ‘Barbie’s Best Friend’ — not simply herself. She never even had an essay written especially for her till now.”

This essay was published in Broad Street Magazine’s first issue, “Dangerous Territory.” Citation: Broad Street 1.1, “Dangerous Territory“ (fall 2013).

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Making Friends with Midge

Travel Pals

If you were a well-indulged little girl in the early 1960s, playtime confronted you with a couple of overwhelming questions. First, which of your slick-bodied, perfectly coiffed Mattel fashion dolls should be dressed for a party, which for a career? And second, when you and your friends…


Susann Cokal, originally published in Writers on the Job.

“I used to counsel young women never to do two things, or not to do them in conjunction: 1. learn to type; 2. buy pantyhose.”

Could I talk to you about pantyhose? Below, you’ll find the link to an essay about their storied past, their relationship to typewriters, and just how thoroughly they shaped a young woman’s work life in the 1980s … and how one plucky young woman struggled against them.

Misconduct in a sexually charged workplace is finally getting the attention it needs, late in 2017. It has affected…


“THE KINGDOM OF LITTLE WOUNDS is a young adult book. It uses elements of fantasy and history to deliver a modern message: Bad things, terrible things, happen to good people; but it’s still possible to find a path to your own kind of power.”

A few years ago, I published a novel for teens, The Kingdom of Little Wounds. …


A scholarly look at ladies’ most private hairstyles, first published in Pop(Porn): The Proliferation of Pornography in Popular Culture, 2007, and glancing backward at 19th-century reformist movements touting “Cleanliness is next to godliness.”

“Our culture particularizes and aggressively markets hygiene, and these days, one of the ways for a woman, traditionally considered the ‘impure’ sex, to show she’s clean is to remove her private hair.”

Citation: Susann Cokal, “Clean Porn: The Visual Aesthetics of Hygiene, Hot Sex, and Hair Removal.” In Mardia Bishop and Ann Hall, eds. Pop(Porn): The Proliferation of Pornography in Popular Culture. Westport, CT: Praeger/Greenwood Publishers, 2007. 137–154.

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Clean Porn: The Visual Aesthetics of Hygiene, Hot Sex, and Hair Removal

What was once commonly called a woman’s pudendum, a term rooted in the Latin word…


Of love after prison and the impossible girl at the dive bar you called home. First published in Gargoyle 57, summer 2011: 273–283.

“She was the kind of girl who likes to be told people are in love with her. Maybe he should tell her that, but he suspected that once she had what she wanted, she would leave him.”

Photo by Susann Cokal.

The first thing Big Walter could think to do when he got out of prison, other than smoking a whole pack of cigarettes by himself, was to visit Christine in her office at PerfectForYou.

She had never been his girlfriend, but he had known about her ever since he moved to San Diego and discovered the Pink Panther bar. When the regulars voted…


“When you have magic powers and know it, it can be a fine feeling, like a pleasant tingling inside. But in order to enjoy that tingling, you have to know just how much magic you have and what the rules are for using it.”

My appreciation of Edward Eager (1935–1964), one of the greatest writers for kids in the twentieth century — and a great writer, period — appeared in Rain Taxi Review of Books in spring 2017.

I was thrilled to get the chance not just to reread his marvelous novels but to buy some expensive “also-wrotes” by him…


“Belief in mysteries — all manner of mysteries — is the only lasting luxury in life.” (ZKS)

Zilpha Keatley Snyder meets a fan, from Daily Kos.

This essay about one of my all-time favorite authors of books for young readers was published in Rain Taxi in fall 2015.

I say “books for young readers,” but I’ve been reading Zilpha all my life, and I’m far from young now. I was heartbroken when I heard she’d died; she’s on my list of people, living or dead, whom I really want to meet and have lunch with someday. Maybe that’s a reason that I, like her legions of fans, feel entitled…

Susann Cokal

Author of novels MERMAID MOON, THE KINGDOM OF LITTLE WOUNDS, BREATH & BONES, MIRABILIS. Peacock wrangler. Sjögren’s warrior. Editor, essayist. SusannCokal.net.

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