Sunday, April 18, 2021

Romance Daily News, my Interview

 What's the story behind your latest book?

One of my earliest memories is of a cereal box—Super Sugar Crisp, now called Golden Crisp—with an actual, playable cardboard ‘flexi record’ printed on the backside. My mom had just taken the box from the grocery bag, and it sat on the kitchen table, waiting to get stored. At age 4, I was already a music fan and pop culture scholar in the making, so I was both fascinated and excited. Still a preschooler, and so not great with scissors, I enlisted by big sister’s help in cutting the record from the package. I’m guessing the box, missing most of its backside, ended up in the cupboard.

The small album, featuring brightly colored images of Archie and the gang, played at 33 1/3 speed and had 4 songs from cartoon band, The Archies, including one of my favorites, the mega-hit, Sugar, Sugar. The flexi-record stayed on my family’s turntable for at least a day. Which, in little kid time, is forever.

Fast forward about two decades, and I have a son who reads, collects, and studies comics and comic culture. As we strolled through garage sales, flea markets, and used bookstores for old issues of Batman and other superhero comics, he’d encourage me to find some for myself. Just like that, comics, specifically Betty and Veronica, were back in my life.

Fast forward a few more years, and I’ve become a fiction writer and a college professor. As I scroll through TV shows, waiting for something to catch my attention, I spot an ad for Riverdale. I’m intrigued. They’ve created something new yet still familiar. I’m curious and wondering what is similar and what is different. Soon, I’m tuning in to the show on a regular basis and using my fiction writing experience to analyze the storyline and the characters. What works? What doesn’t? Why did the creators make the decisions they did? Eventually, I was so far down the Riverdale rabbit hole that I began to do more formal research.

What is the greatest joy of writing for you?

Two things: telling stories and growing as a writer. Each story is unique because of the characters. So telling stories is a way of giving someone a voice. I know, the characters aren’t real people, but they represent real struggles, difficulties and motivations.

Growing as a writer matters to me; I constantly test boundaries and give myself opportunities for growth. Expanding into non-fiction, after years of writing fiction, gave me a new challenge.

What do you read for pleasure?

Like most writers, I read everything. Most recently, I read Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica and The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse.   

Describe your desk

My desk is a beautiful antique, a gift from my mom. She used it for many years in her law office, then retired and passed it on to me. It’s a dark walnut stain, handmade in the mid-1800’s in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It has super deep drawers, so I have plenty of room for my postcards, extra pens, post-it notes…

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?

I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio which is sometimes referred to as the gateway of the south. There is a tradition of story-telling that is unique to the South and it continues to influence me. I see it in the way I connect characters back to their families and my love of small details.

What are you currently working on?

I’m working on a science fiction novel and an article about creative writing theory. I usually work on more than one project at a time. That way, if one needs to sit for a minute while I sort something out, I can continue writing the other.

What drives you to keep on writing?

Readers! They are the best. Their excitement for the next book is so appreciated and always keeps me excited too. They love reading as much as I do! And, of course, the above mentioned challenge that comes with writing.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Having fun matters. Writing what you love matters. So–if it isn’t fun and writing it doesn’t make you excited, move on.

What is the one thing you want your readers to know about your books?

I switch genres and subgenres to nurture my love of writing. I love a challenge. As soon as someone tells me something can’t be done…I’m off to try and do it.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Solstice MFA Graduate Melissa Ford Lucken Publishes Her First Nonfiction Book

The Solstice Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing Program of Pine Manor College celebrates the publication of graduate Melissa Ford Lucken's newest book, The Binge Watcher's Guide to Riverdale: An Unofficial Companion from Riverdale Avenue Books. Melissa, as her alias Isabelle Drake, has released many fiction titles, such as Everglades Wildfire, The Invitations Series, Satisfaction Guaranteed, Finally Right, Unfinished Business, and many more. 

This title is her first nonfiction book. In a world where binge watching television shows is almost a cultural expectation, it can be difficult to keep track of which character did what five episodes—and seven hours—ago. The online resources don't cut it (spoiler alert!), and your viewing buddies are of no help to you; they're just as lost as you are. Never fear! The Binge Watcher's Guide has got you covered. 

Enjoy the first four seasons of CW's hit gothic horror show Riverdale with this book as your unofficial companion for trivia, quotes, episode commentaries, literary analysis, and even connections to the comics that inspired the show. This fun and interactive experience will keep you informed and entertained throughout the entirety of your viewing journey.


As an undergraduate institution consistently ranked among the most diverse in the country, Pine Manor College emphasizes an inclusive, community-building approach to liberal arts education. The Solstice MFA in Creative Writing Program reflects the College’s overall mission by creating a supportive, welcoming environment in which writers of all backgrounds are encouraged to take creative risks. We strive to instill in our students an appreciation for the value of community-building and community service, and see engagement with the literary arts not only as a means to personal fulfillment but also as an instrument for social justice and real cultural change.
Directions to Pine Manor College, complete bios of our authors, and more information about the Solstice MFA in Creative Writing Program can be found at


Quintin Collins
Solstice MFA Assistant Director 

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Binge Watcher's Guide to Riverdale, out now


Busted families, broken hearts, secrets and corruption are the lifeblood of The CW’s gothic horror series Riverdale. The show is based on the original Archie comics, but this sinister town is a far cry from the wholesome, anyplace USA depicted in 80 years of the teen adventures featuring Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica, and the rest of the gang. This Riverdale is an other-worldly, ominous place where enigmatic parents and cunning town leaders hide wicked secrets while teens struggle to survive.

The Riverdale gang face the definitive dilemma: good vs. evil. They fight ghouls, a cult leader, a serial killer, and each other—all while sporting inspiring outfits and photo-ready hair. Great music, the occasional Vixens cheer dance-off, and too-steamy-for-high-school sex scenes add an undeniable layer of watchability to the fan-favorite show.

This Binge Watcher’s Guide will get you through the first four seasons. Keep the book beside you while binge; the trivia, quotes and episode commentaries will inform and entertain. Want more? The literary analysis, connection to the comics, and resources have you covered.

Get your copy on Amazon or the publishers website.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Expression and Inquiry: An OER Nuts 'n Bolts Academic Writing Text


This is a college text that focuses on the nuts and bolts of academic writing including research, textual analysis, narrative and other inquiry methods as well as analysis. This is an ideal text for first year composition courses.

An OER, paperback 5.89, available on

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Gothic as All Get Out: Riverdale

When a show is titled after the setting, viewers know the setting counts big time. In Riverdale, the place is everything.

That wasn’t the case in the classic comic world of Riverdale. That pleasant anyplace serves mainly as a background for the antics and events of Archie and his light-hearted high school gang. It is so unimportant that the writers could create an ever-changing town with museums, airports, and other landmarks that came and went over the decades as the stories needed. As a result, there was no reason for creating a local history to impact the storylines, and the town of Riverdale did little to influence the actions of the characters.  The Riverdale of Riverdale couldn’t be more opposite.

The setting of Riverdale itself is the character most changed from the classic comics. This new place is more than a backdrop, it complicates the plotline and motivates the characters. The Gothic setting gives the show a dark edge. Broken families, hearts, and spirits replace the humor and happiness of the comic Riverdale of the past. It is from the setting that the darker elements and some transgressions result. Riverdale’s storyline is built around the misdeeds, lies, and subversive connections of the adults. The teens struggle against the adults’ actions, trying to return their town to normalcy and safety. Intergenerational family dysfunction, secret societies, and local superstitions are classic elements of Gothic fiction and all present in CW’s Riverdale.

Fred Botting, one of the go-to academic folks on what exactly is Gothic, in his go-to book Gothic, describes how the otherworldly setting, such as the one seen in Riverdale, provides an effective backdrop for

movement from and back to a rational present: more than a flight of nostalgic retrospection or an escape from the dullness of a present without chivalry, magic or adventure, the movement does not long for terrifying and arbitrary aristocratic power, religious superstition or supernatural events but juxtaposes terrors of the negative with an order authorized by reason and morality.

Not sure what all that means? No worries. You will by the end of the first episode. Academics who study Gothics are intrigued by how this genre is transgressive in terms of social norms; they explore the world of vice. Botting observes that “Gothic texts are, overtly but ambiguously, not rational, depicting disturbances of sanity and security…displays of uncontrolled passion, violent emotion or flights of fancy to portrayals of perversion and obsession.” All these characteristics are visible from the start of Riverdale. When you watch the first episode, note that all these traits are encapsulated in unscrupulous teacher Ms. Grundy. The corrupt femme fatale, a sexual predator who represents the Gothic tropes of abuse of power and eroticism, coerces an underage student, Archie, into a sexual relationship. Her depiction sets the tone for the new version of Riverdale and paves the way for other disruptive and disturbing adult behavior.

The parents of Riverdale generate much of that screen-gluing tension mentioned above. Disruptions of sanity and security are visible in Betty Cooper’s parents, Hal and Alice Cooper. No spoilers here, but keep an eye on these two and observe how they manipulate others, their children in particular.  As you spot their controlling actions, examine the tension created, and observe how their control harms those around them. Portrayals of perversion and obsession are accomplished through Veronica Lodge’s parents, Hiram and Hermione Lodge. These unapologetic criminals take advantage of their wealth and power to manipulate Riverdale’s citizens, including their own daughter. Again, watch how the parents’ actions contribute to the plot and force those around them, specifically the teens, to struggle.

Collectively, the characteristics and actions of the parents and other adults in Riverdale represent and create Gothic tropes, including aristocracy, corruption, isolation, madness, and family secrets. The antagonists, the adults, generate the story conflicts and produce the tension; the teenagers, the protagonists, respond to the evil, chaos, and threats created by the adults’ attitudes and actions. This dynamic is the essence of the Gothic and the essence that defines the newly envisioned characters and shapes the overall storyline of Riverdale.


This excerpt from The Binge Watcher's Guide to Riverdale.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Jaws: Hooper and Quint: Two Halves of Brody's whole

 Hooper and Quint are opposites of each other in all regards with one exception—their personal relationship to sharks. Both Brody and Quint have self-defining shark narratives. 

Hooper’s shark story is revealed at the Brody’s dinner table when Ellen, Brody’s wife, awkwardly says to the just arrived Hooper she’s been told he’s “in sharks.” He confirms that he loves sharks then relates a childhood experience in which a baby thresher shark wrecked the boat he’d been in. He swam to shore and watched the fish finish destroying his boat (0.41.43–0.42.26). This story explains his very personal and emotional connection to sharks. 

Quint’s story comes later, at night, while the three of them are aboard the Orca, preparing to face the shark. The captain tells of his time aboard the USS Indianapolis and how, after their ship was hit by a Japanese sub, sharks devoured many of his shipmates (1.29.28–1.33.15). This famous monologue, another product of the script collaboration as the scene was initially created by Sackler, then expanded by John Milius, only to be later condensed by Quint actor Robert Shaw, explains Quint’s relationship to sharks. As the two men bond over their harrowing experiences, Brody stays physically away from them, showing that he doesn’t share the experience or have a personal defining story to offer. Brody is pushed out of their converging narrative. In this way, Brody’s internal conflict is externalized. 

The union of Quint and Hooper adds tension as it highlights Brody’s aloneness. This isolation is emphasized through character wardrobe. On the day when they battle the shark, Quint and Brody both wear light shirts. Brody wears black. He is a man alone, on a personal journey, and not yet whole.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Binge Watchers Guide to Riverdale


A book of sassy episode summaries, quizzes, trivia, fun and resources. Out April 2021.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Why not a question for a thesis?

When you ask a question, you engage the reader but you cannot control or guide their thinking. The goal of the essay is to control and guide their thinking. I suggest you not use questions. Instead, make statements expressing your points and provide evidence to  support them.