Friday, October 31, 2008

Dear Red States

I didn't write this, but I like it, so I am reposting it.

Dear Red States:
We've decided we're leaving. We intend to form our own country, and we're taking the other Blue States with us.  In case you aren't aware, that includes California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and all the Northeast. We believe this split will be beneficial to the nation, and especially to the people of the new country of New California. To sum up briefly: You get Texas, Oklahoma and all the slave states. We get stem cell research and the best beaches. We get the Statue of Liberty. You get Dollywood.  We get Intel and Microsoft. You get WorldCom. We get Harvard. You get Ole' Miss. We get 85 percent of America's venture capital and entrepreneurs. You get Alabama.  

We get two-thirds of the tax revenue, you get to make the red states pay their fair share.
Since our aggregate divorce rate is 22 percent lower than the Christian Coalition's, we get a bunch of happy families. You get the seriously broken families. Please be aware that Nuevo California will be pro-choice and anti-war, and we're going to want all our citizens back from Iraq at once. If you need people to fight, ask your evangelicals. They have kids they're apparently willing to send to their deaths for no purpose, and they don't care if you don't show
pictures of their children's caskets c oming home. We do wish you success in Iraq, and hope that the WMDs turn up, but we're not willing to spend our resources in Bush's Quagmire. With the Blue States in hand, we will have firm control of 80 percent of the country's fresh water, more than 90 percent of the pineapple and lettuce, 92 percent of the nation's fresh fruit, 95 percent of America's quality wines (you can serve French wines at state dinners)
90 percent of all cheese, 90 percent of the high tech industry, most of the U.S. low-sulfur coal, all living redwoods, sequoias and condors, all the Ivy and Seven Sister schools plus Stanford , Cal Tech and MIT. With the Red States, on the other hand, you will have to cope with 88 percent of all obese Americans (and their projected health care costs), 92 percent of all U.S. mosquitoes, nearly 100 percent of the tornadoes, 90 percent of the hurricanes, 99 percen t of all Southern Baptists, virtually 100 percent of all televangelists, Rush Limbaugh, Bob Jones University, Clemson and the University of Georgia. We get Hollywood and Yosemite, thank you. Additionally, 38 percent of those in the Red states believe Jonah was actually swallowed by a whale, 62 percent believe life is sacred unless we're discussing the death penalty or gun laws, 44 percent say that evolution is only a theory, 53 percent that Saddam was involved in 9/11 and 61 percent of you crazy bastards believe you are people with higher morals then we lefties.

Peace out,
Blue States

Shout out for two cool blogs

Two things:

One, check out these cool blogs, both favorites of mine. I am frankly addicted.
Boomergirl and Romancing the Yarn (which gives away gorgeous yarn!!! The site also posts from any knitter/writer or knitter)

Two, Hoboken, NYC's unofficial 6th borough, has been booming and the powers that be have gotten greedier than ever, overbuilding so that they were so far over budget, the state had to step in.  Because of our horrible mayor's avarice, all property taxes went up FIFTY PERCENT. 

I don't think I can breathe.

So, this is my plea.  Vote.  Vote Tuesday for Obama to get the greedy (*&^% out of government, and all you  Hobokenites, vote to get Roberts and his cronies out before he turns Hoboken into an urban enclave so expensive only he and his corrupt pals can live here. Remember, artists and working people are necessary and we need to be able to pay our mortgages an our rents.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

In times of stress, KNIT

Waiting for the election and worrying through the financial crisis is enough to make me live on cupcakes.  I am so stressed that I have decided to knit quick projects that are done quickly so I can have that old satisfaction of a job well done.

I cannot make fingers on gloves, though God knows I have tried. The stitches fall off the double pointed needles, or I pick up an extra stitch by mistake, and really, both the yarn and I end up weeping.

BUT I discovered these very cool mitts which are such a snap to make that I am going to embroider something funky on them and give a pair as a gift (and keep one for myself.) So the question is, what do I embroider? The word WARM in a pale blue yarn? A star in the center? (I still haven't quit finished these, which is why there is a thread of yarn here and there, but it is black wool with a ton of cashmere.  Wonder how long before I lose them?)

In back, by the way is the greatest thing a writer could ask for--a couch in her office for cat naps inbetween chapters.   AND my very own copy machine to the right!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Feasting over the famine

A writer's life is feast or famine and right now I am at the feast..I have no much work now that it is soothing me a little bit when I think of our financial statements (and no, none of the money is going anywhere but the bank or CDs.) That is the plus--two huge magazine pieces from two magazines I haven't yet written for, lots of freelance writing work, two great new manuscript mentoring clients, two UCLA classes plus designing a readings seminar for them (I love UCLA.)  The minus is I am crunched for time for my novel and so I get a little cranky, I need a few more red velvet or chocolate marshmallow cupcakes from Sweet down the street, I need Jeff and friends to tell me, "You can do this, you can do this..." 

But can I? I am so sleep deprived that this morning, I snoozed through the alarm, slept through Jeff getting Max ready for school, and then woke only to announce that I was going back to sleep.  Then I was getting up looking for Jeff and saw him sleeping and then went back to sleep only to realize that I had never gotten up in the first place, that it was all this exhausted and very realistic dream.

Are there enough hours in the day? I know the feast won't last and I should enjoy it while it is here, but, but, but I need to give my family attention!  I need to get attention myself! I need to work on my new novel! Plus, I have a tiny splinter in my foot from padding on our wood floors barefoot and no one seems to be able to get it out (A prize for advice on how to successfully remove it). 

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Rev up the readings

I am going to be making a brief film for my UCLA writing classes about how to give a good reading--i.e. what not to do and what to do.  (And I am going to have them film their own readings.) Beyond the obvious, does any one out there have any great suggestions or personal stories they might want to share?

I would be eternally happy.

Plumbers and zombies and headless folk and Palin, oh my!












Here we are in all our glory, complete with fake blood, fake mustache, and costume. I have about a pound of incredibly itchy face make-up on, and the bloody scabs by my mouth were indeed the worst!  I DID scare one kid who ran away from me, and two little girls asked if the blood was real, and when I said "yes," cheerfully, they recoiled, but I made friends with one adorable 5-year-old who came and ate his cupcake right by me, undeterred by the blood and scabs festooned on my hands.  The little witch in the photo also was very friendly. Jeff, in his fake mustache, really looked like my Uncle Freddy, which was disconcerting to say the least. 

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Zombie Nation! Step One!



Here is a try-out of my costume as a zombie writer! I have a bloody t-shirt and bloody ripped jeans and I need to add more blood and stitches here and there, but I do like the slash across my neck. Hope I don't scare the kids! Jeff is going as Joe the Plumber with a T-shirt that we made that says: WE FIX LEAKS, DRIPS AND ELECTIONS! CALL 1-800-PALIN-NO! Max is a headless horseman, which is a v ery difficult and complicated costume.

What can I say, I never grew up and I never will.

Now, where's the fresh HUMAN MEAT AROUND HERE?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

One Minute Book Reviews



Janice Harayda, the former book editor of The Cleveland Plain Dealer, is also a smart, funny person and a great writer. The author of Manhattan on the Rocks and the Accidental Bride, she also runs one of the best blogs on the planet, One Minute Book Reviews. I love talking with Janice and she was kind enough to answer my questions.

1. How did you get the idea for One-Minute Book Reviews? Although all the information is on your site, can you please replay it here because it is so innovative?
A lot of blogs deal with what reviewers call “bookchat” – publishing news, trends and gossip. But surprisingly focus mainly on reviews. Those that do tend to specialize in books in one category, such as mysteries or romance novels. I wanted to try to close the gap with smart daily online reviews that you could read in a minute or so and that covered all kinds of books. Why a minute? I love to read, but some days, I can’t find more than a minute to stay up-to-date on books. So I tried to create a site for people like me: book-lovers who never have as much time as they’d like to read.


2. Can you talk a bit about the Delete Key Awards for the year's worst writing in books?
Ever put down a book thinking, “How in the world did that get published?” The Delete Key Awards began after I’d read one too many of them. The awards recognize writing in books that’s almost comically bad, like a horror movie that makes you laugh even as you’re cringing at the fake blood spurting from a potted plant. It sounds bizarre, but I think winning a Delete Key Award actually boosts the sales of some “winners.” I get a lot of comments from readers that say things like, “That writing is so bad, it’s hilarious! I’m tempted to buy the book just for its entertainment value.”

3. Has any recipient ever come after you?
Not with a hatchet. But I’ve had a couple of e-mail messages from authors that made me wonder if critics can go into the federal Witness Protection Program.

4. I also love the Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides, which really are a smart alternative to the regular fare. Are there other new features you are planning for the site?
Yes, definitely. Video technology has improved so much lately that it’s become very easy to add video even to sites like mine that use a 100 percent free template. So I’m going to add video soon, especially to posts about children’s books, which I review every Saturday. You don’t need video clips for reviews of novels and many other kinds of books. But they would add a lot to reviews of many children’s picture books.


4. The praise and awards the site has generated are amazing. Did you ever expect this?

Never. I’m so low-tech, I have trouble when I visit friends and have to use a microwave with a few extra buttons. It never occurred to me that I could succeed with a new technology like blogging.

5. Tell us about your writing day, what happens and when? And what are you working on now?
I have a WordPress blog on wordpress.com, which doesn’t let you accept advertising, so my site doesn’t earn money and I support myself with freelance writing. My goal is to do the reading and writing for my blog at night and on weekends, then have my days free for rent-paying work. But it almost never works out that way. That’s partly because when you post every day, you don’t have enough time on nights and weekends to do seven or more posts. So you have to steal time wherever you can find it.

6. What should I have asked you that I didn’t?
Nothing. This was so much fun. Thank you!

Overworked pros and cons

One thing about being a freelancer is that it is either feast or famine. Neither is very good for my real writing. When it is famine, i can't concentrate on my novel or script because I worry about the bills and the mortgage and health insurance which costs the size of a small country and Max's college fund (of course, now this economy makes it even ten times worse We have stopped socking money into his 529 and are putting it in the just-about-no-interest bank account instead.)

But now, it is feast, when to my amazement, I have so much freelance (and it is all jobs that I love)--manuscript consultations, magazine articles assigned, naming and teaching that it is hard to carve out time for my novel/script work. Added to this, Max went off for two days with his classmates on a trip so Jeff and I want to go play and do the things that we can't do when Max is around, like go see three movies in a row at night at the Angelica in Soho, and then go to the Empire Diner for the peach pie! The house is a wreck, with laundry breeding on chairs and paper everywhere, plus Max's computer fried so the *&^%$# Dell people were their usual unhelpful self. They were supposed to be here Monday, but the wrong part was sent, then they came yesterday, and couldn't fix it, so they are coming today, and since we are sure it is their buggy Vista program, we wanted to just wipe the computer and put XP back in and Dell refuses to cover it, which made Jeff so irritated he told them that he and I ditched our Dells to get a Mac and Max was next. (They were unmoved.)

So, the question is, how on earth do you find balance? Do you do your freelance first to get it out of the way and then be exhausted, or do you do your writing first because that is what is truly important? I tend to do my writing first but I am really curious about others. And by the way, just because I am busy doesn't mean I don't want more, more, more freelance to hedge against the lean times.

I also am planning a virtual reading series for my students at UCLA--I think it's great to have practice reading and to have the chance to read your own work and see and hear others do it as well. I've put in a call to my fabulous UCLA tech guy, but I think the series is just going to be for the students. I plan to read a work-in-progress, too, which means I need to figure out the technology. So, you with Macs, I probaby just film myself on ichat and then can I save it and post it as an attachment to a file? or is there a better way?

I guess I had better start working....

See you later, alligators.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Let us now praise John Truby

I love John Truby. Breathe, my novel that is coming out from Algonquin in 2010, was originally called Traveling Angels in homage to something he said about story structure. I revere his book on the Anatomy of Story, and for years I listened to his tapes not just because the information is so spot on, but because he has this incredibly calming voice. I also badgered him for a quote for my new novel, when it was called Traveling Angels and he was gracious and wonderful and kind enough to oblige.

While working on my new novel today, I realized that the major Truby points I return to time and time again are these (apologies to Truby if I muck this up. Truly, he says this so much better in his book, which everyone should run out and get, by the way):
1. Moral choices. A character is faced with two decisions, both of which carry a price tag. What he chooses tells us what kind of person he or she is and how he or she intends to live in the world.
2. The never ending story. You don't want to end your novel with everything all happy go lucky and tied up in a neat bow. The best stories seem to go on past the last page, making the reader wonder what might happen next.
3. Wants vs. needs. What does each character want desperately and how is that different from the deep psychological need that the character will realize later in the novel?


Those three points have become a kind of mantra for me, a lifeline that keeps me floating when my sea of pages threatens to drown me! Instead, thanks to Truby, I swim, still looking for my way, but swimming in a direction!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

movie moment

You know those movie cliches? The guy goes into the dark basement and you know something awful is going to happen? Well, I became a movie cliche today. I was the woman who was so upset there was nothing else to do but get the scissors and lob off my hair. I grabbed big hanks of soaking wet hair and yup, I took off four inches--I still have a long mane of hair, so maybe I am not QUITE the movie cliche, (I have had very short hair only twice in my life. In second grade when I had a cut called shingles of all things, and after I was very sick when my hair fell out and grew back) but it was the same moment--the silver scissors glinting, the emotional roil, the hair falling into the sink. Gasp!

Sigh. I miss those four inches. But at least the drama moment is gone, along with the hair. Hair grows back quickly, though, right?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Fun and games

A little Palin humor in these tough times.

Zombie writer



OK, I figured it out. this Halloween, I'm going as a Zombie writer, in honor of the local Zombie parade (A bunch of people roam the tonier NYC streets dressed as zombie doctors, zombie shop owners, zombie soccer players.)

I figure I can glue pages and pencils to me, but the makeup sort of has me stumped since it has been a while since I have seen a zombie up close. (Speaking of Zombies, there was a great book, written by Wade Davis, a Harvard anthropologist, called The Serpent and the Rainbow. This book was made into a terrible movie, by the way. In the book, Davis investigates the phenomenon of zombies and zombie belief. Apparently, in some cultures, there is a drug from plants which can put people into a living sort of coma. Paralyzed, they seem dead, even though they are not. They are buried in shallow graves with breathing holes, and unburied a day or so later. By then, they are so terrified and crazed, they half believe they are zombies anyway, and are used as slaves by whomever zombified them. Or they simply wander, confused. Most acts of zombification are to grab someone's property.

So anyone got any ideas about the best way to do zombie makeup? (And no fair saying I look like a zombie already-!) Any better ideas to make this costume mine all mine?

(And speaking of zombification, I do wish everyone who insists that Obama is going to raise taxes and that he is a terrorist would please wake up, because this set of erroneous beliefs is getting scarier than The Exorcist. This time, fear is the drug at work and I think the antidote is an easy one. Fact after fact after fact.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What is working hard enough?

I just had a really interesting conversation with another writer about what constitutes working hard. She said after working four hours, she feels exhausted and needs to watch TV or read magazines, but I think sometimes you can be exhausted after one hour. Do you need to feel as if you have run the marathon after a day of writing? Does having an easy day make it less valuable? I think, for me, the thousand words a day that Clea and I have pledged to, is a way to get around this. I see pages build up (maybe not good pages, but I'm working on a first draft right now and that goal is way far away), I get deeper and deeper into my story. Some days it takes me only two hours, other days three or four, and of course, some days, I never get to those thousand words. (Clea and I have decided that thinking about the word and outlining also count!)

So, I'm curious how others feel. When do you know it is time to stop writing for the day? And how does that feel?

"Deep down I've always been a writer," says Madonna about her screenplay

OK, so why does this comment bother me so much? I teach writing and work privately with writers and I do everything I can to help anyone who wants to be a writer, but somehow this statement from Madonna riles me up. Yes, she writes songs, but the lyrics are sort of lame and the tunes dancey and she is certainly not Elvis Costello or Irving Berlin, now is she? This comment was about a film she wrote, which didn't get a great critical response. So why should it bother me? What does it really have to do with me? Do I want to exclude people I don't like from the world of writers?

I don't think so.

I think writers write. All the time. Not just for fame. Not because they already have fame and their grocery list could land on the bestseller list. Because they have to. And somehow, a statement like this denigrates what real writers do. She has had all the time and income and drive to write since she was 17, so if deep down she felt that her mission was to be a writer, what was stopping her before? If she had said that she wanted to try writing a script and how hard she worked and how meaningful the process was, my respect would have been enormous.


I had a really close friend who decided she wanted to write. I offered to help anyway I could, but the questions she asked me were always about what size font she should use or how much money she might expect to make on her first novel. Of course, those are reasonable questions to ask, but not before you have put words to paper, and in the end, the only writing she did was in her pocket diary, which was jotting down things people said because "it would sound great in the book she was going to write!" It's like Sarah Palin proclaiming that she knows all about foreign policy because she can see Russia from her backyard. And it doesn't show a respect for the long hours, the angst, passion, dedication and the very hard and lonely work that go into being a writer. It reminds me of all the times I have gone to parties and as soon as people know I am a novelist, I hear, "Oh, I have a book in me, too!" or "If I had a bit more time, i would be a novelist, too!"

Hey, I say, everyone is invited to sit at the table and join the party. The more the better. I will pour the wine and clean up afterwards and urge everyone to stay. But all I ask is that you bring something to the table. Am I just being grumpy here?

Monday, October 13, 2008

When good friends go bad (and how to write about them!)

I am one loyal cookie. I am still friends with my best friends from Northeast Elementary Kindergarten (a happy shout-out to Carolyn Zeytoonian who stole all my pens and pencils and along with me, was the terror of the safety patrols; Judy Hartley, who taught me how to wear makeup in sixth grade and who showed me where her mother's "pep pills" were; and Kathy Hill, whose house was my home away from home--loved you then, love you now), and I just like the long ebb and flow of a forever kind of friendship. But I've had friendships tour sour and it has always taken me by surprise.

This is the roster:
1. A great friend of Jeff's and mine suddenly got into bodybuilding, and began photographing himself pulling a Mack truck chained to his chest. He ditched his wife of 17 years (we loved her) in a very cruel way. OK, he isn't the same person, so maybe that makes sense.

2. A fabulous rock and roller journalist we both really liked--sweet, generous, funny, smart--a nice Jewish girl who heard God talking to her one night and veered 180 degrees to right wing Christianity. She ditched a Christian beau who didn't love Jesus as much as she did and she doesn't want to talk to anyone who does not believe as she does. This one I really miss.I think, too, that she is just lonely and for her, Jesus is the one man who will never leave her. I don't really mind what she believes as long as she allows me my beliefs.

3. A great friend of years and years who changed the day she got married. It seemed clear her husband didn't like me (WHAT? How could he not like ME??!!!) and it rubbed off. This one I really mourn. I tried to patch this one up, but it never gelled.

4. The last and scariest. A writer friend--a very successful writer friend--who was furious when I wouldn't take her suggestions for rewriting a manuscript and proceeded to write about it. Publically. Not using names, but most of my writer friends knew what and who it was about. I've been very "go with God-ish" about this particular person, but I have heard that this person refuses to blurb anyone who is blurbed by me, which is sad for the authors who could use that person's blurb.

So, why am I still obsessed? Because I can't let anything once good go? Because I don't quite understand why these friendships couldn't weather change? Because I am obsessive by nature? Outside of number #1, whose cruelty made it impossible to forgive, why couldn't things resolve with the others somehow?

I imagine, too, that it is a writer sort of question. What makes a friendship die? When do you walk away and say Do Not Revive?

Help! Halloween ideas!



This is us at Halloween two years ago, (I was an angel with wings in blue jeans) but this year not a single one of us has an idea in our heads what to wear as a costume. I go and help out at the school Halloween party and costume is important (last year, I was a soccer mom. I sewed about fifty socks to a leotard and jeans and wore a long purple wig but I didn't win the contest, though Max told me all the kids thought I was highly cool, which counted for more.

What should I go as?
A neurotic novelist?

Friday, October 10, 2008

What I did Today (and what I didn't)



Yep, I did my thousand words on my novel which I am thinking of calling WAKE (as in awake or is AWAKE better? Wake seems more like a command to me, which I like. I think I am entering the single name of titles. Breathe, Wake...) and then, as these ripped up pages will show, I worked on my script. I can hardly read my own handwriting on these pages, and some of the notes, for some odd reason, l are written on a press release I wrote for someone else's book. Besides this, I:

1. Agonized about the 20,000 that flew the coop from one of our money-markets and did the "do I take the money out and put it into treasury bills or leave it in to recoup" dance.
2. Worried about the increasing ire going on in the McCain campaign. When someone yells, "Kill him?" when Obama's (or anyone's) name is mentioned, that is frightening, no?
3. Made myself feel better by remembering the visuals--sleek, calm young Obama with his foot casually perched on the chair vs. old-looking angry McCain who doddered around the stage as if he were lost and could not bend at the knee. Of course, the issues are important, but visuals count, too.
4. Gathered things for the great Hoboken Clothing Swap. Every year, sometimes twice, the women of Hoboken gather in a huge loft with all the clothes they don't really want anymore. We are talking leather jackets in pristine condition, wool winter coats with a five figure price tag. Silk shirts with nary a scratch on them. (these are chic, high profile women.) You can bring in clothes to swap or nothing, and you can take as much as you want. There is wine and sometimes pastries and the women who come are really smart and interesting and last time I got a black leather jacket, a new black winter coat, a silk shirt for my sister, a denim jacket and a velvet skirt. Plus, I had a blast talking to all these interesting women. Even better, since I have eclectic tastes, most of what I want, no one else does, and most of what everyone else wants, really would look funny on me. (Think red spandex or very tight tops). So it all works out beautifully.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Writerly talk

I had a really terrific lunch with a brilliant writer friend and after two hours of fabulous talk about our lives, the end of the world and politics, we turned to writing. One thing she said really struck me, that you need to know your destination as you write, so you can write to it. That doesn't mean there are no surprises as you work or that things won't change, but you do need some sort of a spine. My students in my Novel V sometimes grouse or want to hurl their computers at me because I make them write a supposed last chapter before we even look at the first one, but I think it's a kind of stretching exercise that forces you to think about the shape of the novel.

All I know is that this new untitled novel is far easier right now to write than Breathe or Girls in Trouble was, and I know it is because the spine is there, because I have an idea of my destination. It thrills me. It make it so I can't wait to sit down again at my beloved Mac. (We will be celebrating our month anniversary, and being a romantic, I may buy my Mac a lovely present. Some special cleaning cloths!)

Monday, October 6, 2008

How we Do It: Two Writers Talk Technique

Clea and I are switching blogs again, to write about our thousand words a day edict. Check out Clea's great blog for my post. Thanks, Clea so much for this great post!
Caroline

“Bash it out now. Tart it up later.” – Nick Lowe (with thanks to Brett Milano)

A thousand words. What is that, three pages? You can write three pages, right? Well, if you can write three pages, then three pages more, then three pages after that, you can write a book.

That’s the theory anyway and as I peck away at what I hope might become my fifth mystery – and eighth book overall – I think it’s a good one. A thousand words. Every work day (some folks work on weekends, I don’t), Monday through Friday, I write a thousand words. And if I miss it. If I turn in 857 or 929, well then I try to make up for it the next day or the next. Rain or shine.

“Don’t you lard it all up with adjectives?” That’s what a friend asked me today. “Or just go on and on with the dialogue?” Well, yeah, some days I probably do. But you know what? Some days I don’t, and some days simply the act of writing – of typing out 994 lousy words – will open up the spigot to that perfect six-word phrase. Or to a stunning scene or breakthrough the next day or the day after.

A thousand words works, and I don’t always know why. Some of it is simply practice. The ability to write is like a muscle; the more you do it, the stronger it becomes.

But there’s something else going on here, too. I think that by focusing on bulk, on word count, on pages, I can distract myself from worrying too much about quality. No, no, don’t get me wrong. The thousands I’m piling on right now will need a ton of rewriting, revising, and editing before they’re fit to show anyone, even my husband! But too often revising is the enemy of creativity, especially in these early phases. If I worry too much about getting each scene perfect, about continuity. Even about what needs to happen when, I won’t get on with it. Focusing on the word counts lets me make mistakes, mangle metaphors, and court clich├ęs. Focusing on the word count means I get the draft done. And once I know what my book is about, well, then I can get serious. I can even cut thousands of words. Because they’re there. On the page, for me to work with.


cats & crime & rock & roll
http://www.cleasimon.com

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Novel to Screen help and an interview with Val Frankel


First up, please check out Jeff Lyon's terrific Storygeeks blog for an interview with Stephanie Harrison, the author of Adaptations: From Short Story to Big Screen.

Next, Val Frankel has written a provocative memoir that reads like a great novel (yes, I said it in Dame Magazine). Thin is the New Happy is really about how and why weight should not define you as a person. Val was gracious enough to allow me to pepper her with questions, too.

1. What I loved most about your book is your assertion that being a good person has nothing to do with the numbers on your scale. Can you talk about this a little for us?

For too many years, I equated my personal self worth with how much I weighed at the time. If I were at a low weight, I was a virtuous and accomplished. If I were at a high, I was pathetic, a loser, etc. I think most women feel better about themselves when their weigh is under control. One thing I realized, in the process of purposefully limiting my negative body image thoughts (a process that included counting them over a day, realizing their pervasiveness, and then conscously redirecting the thoughs as they came up), was the self-absorption of a weight obsession. When I was thinking fewer body image thoughts, a vacuum was created, and more productive thought were sucked in. Among them, instead of obsessing about the state of my belly, perhaps I could devote more thought energy to loving my kids and husband, calling back friends, doing charity projects, anything BESIDES worrying that my gut looked fat. And what a relief it has been, to give up the negative, and think about the positive. It made me a better person, for sure.


2. Your book has very rightfully racked up the raves, including stellar reviews from Entertainment Weekly and People magazine. How do you feel about reviewers (actually it was only ONE review that I know of) that missed the point and thought your book was about the urge to be lean and nothing else?

The funniest critical review accused me of "potty mouthed narcicissm." Guilty as charged! Another said that "there was nothing special" about my story. Well, we all think of our lives as unique and special, but one of my goals was to present my experiences with body image (fatphobic mother, teasing boys in junior high, seeking approval via impersonal sex, etc), hoping that other women would relate, to see their stories in mine. In that regard, one woman's story is every woman's. So, yeah, not special in that many of my experiences were typical. Other critics have complained that I had no right to write a memoir about body image because I was never more than 40 pounds overweight. The one time in my life I wasn't fat ENOUGH. Still others, who apparently didn't read the book, think it's a weight loss memoir. Wrong! It's a body image memoir. My goal wasn't to be a size or number on a scale. I had emotional goals. Reaching my emotional goals helped refocus my attitude about dieting and food, which did result in weight loss. A long answer to a short question. Basically, reviews that miss the point are frustrating, but you can't please all the people, ever. If you put yourself out there, you have to expect some people are going to trash it.

3. You've written a lot of wonderful books and some fabulous essays (I remember one on lingerie in the NYT). What drove you to write this book?

The motivation to write a memoir was seeing my two daughters get to the age I was when my body image crisis began. My older daughter Maggie had just turned eleven, and was in the sixth grade. I was that old when my mother put me on my first diet. Looking at Maggie and her friends, I couldn't believe I was that young when my decades of self-loathing began. I decided that the time had come for me to deal with my body image issues NOW, so that I could stop being a bad example to my daughters as they entered the years when the shape of bodies would become factors in their happiness. My kids have eyes, and saw me on various diets. The food monitoring, the truimph/defeat cycles. This was no way to live, and no way to teach my girls about healthy eating and self love. I needed the motivation, to be a bette rmother, to deal with these issues in myself. I decided to write it because I wanted other women to be inspired by my efforts.

4. In this book, you are fiercely honest, even about painful subjects like the tragic, early death of your first husband and about your own family life. Was that difficult to do? And what has been the reaction from your family?

The chapter about my first husband Glenn, and how I was happy about losing weight even while he was dying of cancer, was extremely difficult to write. A lot of crying at the keyboard, for sure. But, in the process, I forced myself to think about his dying, our marriage, how I defined love, how he treated me, how I treated him through our time together—memories and feelings I'd put on a shelf and probably wouldn't have had the courage to look at again if it weren't for this book. I'm so glad I did. The healing has been worth the pain of dealing with difficult emotions. Glenn's family has been very supportive of the book, and happy to see him on the page. My parents, because of the content about my mother's insane fatphobia when I was a child, have decided not to read the book. They want it to be a success, and are glad it's getting good reviews (which they also refuse to read). Their blind eye is a bit strange and sad, but I accept their decision, even if I don't agree with it.


5. Although I really want to promote this insightful, beautifully written book, I have to ask, so what was it like working with Joan Rivers, and ghosting her book?

I just finished co-authoring a book with Joan Rivers called "Men Are Stupid . . . and They Like Big Boobs: A Woman's Guide to Beauty Through Plastic Surgery." Joan herself is exactly what you'd hope she would be. A funny, smart, kind, thoughful generous Jewish grandmother. She also worked her ass off on this book. It was not one of those celeb books, where the co-author does all the work and the celeb just slaps her name on the cover. No, no. Joan put in hours and hours with me, on her own, writing, editing, adding jokes. She has a great instinct for structure. I have said many times that if Joan wanted to give up the comedy thing, she would make a great magazine editor! One thing I did learn doing this book: Plastic surgery is an excellent option for anyone who wants it, but it's not for me. I went to three office consultations with doctors for reporting purposes, and talked about tummy tucks and breast reductions. By the end of that week, I put any surgery fantasies to rest. I'd rather keep my belly—and all it's flaws—than have pain, scars and a depleted saving account. I guess I realized that I must not hate my belly all that much after all.

6. What question didn't I ask that I should have?
Who do I support for president?
Barack Obama, of course!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Dangerous times and tarot



Every once in a while I pull a tarot card for myself and it's always somehow appropriate. I have been feeling so out-of-myself and hopeless and ill at ease that this card sort of says it all. I'm grateful it isn't the card where the woman is sitting up in bed with her hands over her face while many swords hang on the wall over her. This, the 9 of pentangles, means out of myself and not showing it. At least to me.

The solution is to write, to dig deeper, to grab at hope and to be very, very grateful for what I do have. Tomorrow, Clea Simon and I are going to switch and write another essay on each other's blogs, this time bout our thousand words a day plan and how it is (or isn't working.) We decided that thinking about writing, plotting, outlining also counts, since it is work--and sometimes is the hardest, fiercest kind of work.

Friday, October 3, 2008

What, is she ranting AGAIN?

Sigh and alas.

1. She wants to have more power as Vice President, like Dick Cheney. Gee, we saw how brilliantly that worked out.
2. She says she isn't going to answer questions, but will talk about what she wants to talk about--and she didn't and she did.
3. She pronounced nuclear Nuke ya lar.
4. She used Reagan's name and his "there ya go" phrase.
5. She didn't really answer the questions.
6. She mugged for the camera.
7. She mentioned Guilliani and Lieberman with reverence.

I'm just happy the numbers are showing Obama way ahead, but I am still wary.

And I cannot sleep...

However, Jeff just cheered me up with Paliln Bingo.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Calling all technies

I got Dreamweaver for my new Mac and have been updating my website. I finished today, but when I tried to upload the pages, nothing is happening! I'm connected to the remote server and it looks like the files are going somewhere, but when I refresh the pages on the website, it is the same old files. Does anyone have any idea what I am doing wrong? I am on the verge of screamdom so any help from a Dreamweaver or website pro would be appreciated.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Pre Palin interview and writing when it is easy

I'm very anxious about the Palin debate. Will people feel sorry for her? Will she have a microphone hidden in her hair that feeds her the answers to difficult questions like "What magazines do you read?" Every time I start to feel hopeful, I remember the last two elections and something freezes inside of me

Meanwhile I had a lunch with two writers I know and I blurted out that I was worried because after struggling for months on a novel that was branching out in all sorts of messy and complex ways, I broke away one of the twigs and suddenly, IT became a novel which seems to be writing itself. I question it every hour. If it is this easy, does it mean that it is facile? If the characters seem to be developing themselves does it mean that I am bastardizing my own past work and not digging deeply enough? Is this a state of creative grace or am I fooling myself?