Sunday, December 30, 2007

Welcome to Redroom

I'm happy to announce a brand new website for writers and readers, which just went live! And I'm thrilled to say that I was one of the founding authors, especially since the site calls itself "the online home of some of the world's greatest writers." (blush)

On, you can view my author bio, published works, blog, book reviews, videos, and podcasts, as well as find out more about good causes I support. In fact, once the site has paid advertising, just viewing my page will send a portion of the proceeds to these causes.

Want to be a member of such a cool site? Then go to, and become a member (it's free). Click "Join Now" on the homepage or "Join" in the upper right corner of the page. Then select your unique Red Room username. They encourage you to use your real first and last name; I've done so. Or, if you don't have time to join now, sign up for the Red Room email list at

Once you've joined, please feel free to comment on my blog and media content (I'm a fantatic for comments), helping build a community around my work or the work of any of the other writers on the site. If you have time, you can even write reader reviews of books, adding to the literary conversation. Questions? Contact the member services manager at

Are you a published writer? They're happy to help you as they helped me build my author page. You can be in on the ground floor of building this community. Feel free to forward this invitation to your friends, family, and colleagues, too. And if you are an author, once you've joined (again, it's free), you can apply to create an author page like mine. So come on in, the community's fine!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Happy New Year, well almost

Back from Boston, which is a gorgeous city (I grew up there) even though it isn't as spiffy as my beloved NYC. Lots of fun and now I'm back and here is the nine million dollar question. Does anyone out there know of any decent and reasonably priced health insurance? (Not an HMO please.) Ours just went up a whopping 25% and we are sticker shocked. I belong to a million organizations, but either they don't offer insurance for NJ (we live in Hoboken but our docs are all in NYC) or the policies are just plain scary (a $7000 cap, anyone, which is about the cost of half a day in a hospital or one test)?

Sigh, now I have to go answer 243 emails.

see you later health-insured alligators

Saturday, December 22, 2007

In Which the author gets a ROAR!

Harriet Brown is wonderful. She was the editor of two truly great anthologies, Mr. Wrong (about all those loves you wish you hadn't had) and the upcoming Feed Me: Real-Life Tales of Our Pleasure, Shame, Anxiety, and Ambivalence About Food. I'm really excited about the Feed Me book, and not just because I get to work with Harriet again and because I'm in the company of some truly stellar talents, but because I got to write about an ex who wouldn't let me eat. Writing the piece made me feel as if I were performing a kind of literary exorcism of a fearful time for me (I was 93 pounds and so skinny my friends were about to do an intervention). Why couldn't I leave this guy? Because then I would have had to grieve for another man who had died--which was the reason I got involved with this guy in the first place.) In the essay I also get to put in a little Valentine to my husband--I fell in love with him on our second date because at dinner he insisted that I have no one dessert, but two!

But what really made me so happy was that in her blog, Harriet called me a fearless writer! Who doesn't want to be fearless? I always the writers I work with at UCLA to get that blood on the page, to risk everything--and this comment just made me so joyful.
Here's to a fearless 2008!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Happy Holidaze

We're off to Boston to see my amazing mother (she's 90, lives in her own house, drives and can hear every syllable from ten rooms away!We packing, getting a housesitter and we have an industrial strength alarm system! ) I'll be blogging again when I get back around the 26th--the day after Xmas, so here's what I'm hoping to be blessed with from Santa and the Channukah Bunny,
1. Decent health insurance that will pay all claims, 100 percent
2. literary success--for me and my friends and students and clients!
3. The Writers Strike to be over, so I can add, movie success!
4. Of course, the most important--love, health, happiness, friendship, warmth.

See you later, alligators.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Synopsis gives me headaches

First, the Nurse Molly Pin I have on (thank you, Houston Street Flea Market and forgive the blurry cell phone shot. My hand looks the size of Jupiter!) is indicative of my writing state of mind. I need Valium!
I know, I know. I make my students write synopsis because I feel that when you have 300 pages of mess and you don't know where you are, writing out a synopsis of your novel can help you identify story holes and pacing problems. Having one when you are starting out (and knowing you will probably throw out everything but the main idea which urges you to write) is helpful, too. But I agonize over my synopsis. I start surfing the net to see if it's too late for me to go to dental school (yup. It is.) I stare at it and think why did I ever imagine that I could write a grocery list, let alone a novel? The characters sound moronic, the plot forced, and the theme like something that should be in a fortune cookie. I pull out my Truby Story Structure notes and stare at them and then go alphabetize my books. I make notes and print them out and them hurl them on the floor. (My office is not exactly neat. When I had a job job, my review always said, "Excellent work, but you need to keep a tidier office."

I have one main reader who reads my stuff and I showed it to her and got the OK. (Bless her, bless her.) But here's a question: why can't I give myself the okay? Why can't I be sure of my own work? I can look at my students' writing and tell what needs to be done. I can look at my private client's manuscripts and know what they should do. But with myself? Clueless. Absolutely clueless. Sometimes I believe that every other writer knows exactly what he or she is doing at every moment. This other writer sits down gleefully, writes twenty pages a day in a heartbeat (and they are GOOD pages) and never agonizes over a single syllable.

Of course I also believe that huge quantities of chocolate are good for you.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Let's hear it for the boy!

Everyone who knows me knows how crazy I am about my son, Max. Chess champ, piano wiz, Johns Hopkins scholar (ask me about double replacement equations--he taught me!), novelist (he wrote MOVIES OF DOOM last year, which came complete with his own author page, reading group guide, author photo and cover design), voracious reader, and theater star. He auditioned and got into the company of the Hoboken Children's Theater (run by Chase Leyner who is amazing, and who is also the sister of hilarious author Mark Leyner) and here he is in Annie (tuck your shirt in, Max!)

He's just a superlative boy, and no, no, Mom, he is not cutting his hair. (Jeff and I aren't cutting ours either!)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A mouse in OUR house and a pox on health insurance

Eek! A mouse! Vermin. He races from behind my bookshelf. He's in the kitchen and he tore through a whole plastic wrap to get at some spicy potato chips. There are bite marks on the chocolate.

We tried humane traps. He laughed at our pitiful attempts and ate the chocolate we used as bait, gobbled the peanut butter and then used the trap as his personal lavatory before whisking away unharmed. I won't use glue traps (I used one once in my old NYC apartment and woke to agonizing squeaks and a tiny writing body.) The snap traps seem too brutal. So we hired an exterminator who told us about the brownstone down the street that had so many mice he had to open the walls where he found hundreds (HUNDREDS) of them nesting in the walls. So now we have green pellets that they seem to love to chew on so much they want their friends to join in the fun.

I found a dead mouse in my office. Jeff found a dead mouse tucked under the stove.

Added to this are health insurance woes. When you are freelance you have to buy your own policies which are about the same you might pay to buy a small country all your own. And they don't pay for anything. Ten years ago, when I was critically ill, I spent a whole year after I got well fighting the insurance companies because they refused to pay. Conversations would go like this:

Insurance: We need you to pay that 800,000 bill (this is for real) right away because you didn't sign a consent form for the operation. Your husband did.
Me: I was in a coma! I couldn't sign anything!
Insurance: It doesn't matter. Can you write us a check today?

It took us two years of fighting to get things settled (and I can never thank my doctors enough, who often told us, "You don't have to pay me." My beloved obgyn wouldn't except payment from me for years.

We are now battling the insurance again because a procedure they assured us was covered and in network, they are now claiming was not in network, and they say they have no records of our ever calling. Clearly, something has to be done about health insurance. So many of our friends don't even have it because they can't afford it. And even when you do have it, they don't pay. I know we are going to have to find a new policy but what? And how will we ever afford it? If anyone knows of any great insurance in NJ (we use all NYC doctors) that is at least semi-affordable (the price of a small city, rather than a small country), please let me know.

Sigh. I hear the mouse.
POSTSCRIPT: Our incredible GP called the place on our behalf (he's a mensch, a writer, and a stellar human being) and got them to drop the bill. All of it!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Let us now praise

When I'm writing, I have to have music. A steady stream of it. It relaxes me (and it drives my writer husband crazy because he writes about music for a living and the thought of listening to the same thing over and over again is sacrilege to him--it may even be punishable in six states.) So I've discovered It's this very cool website and it plays a steady stream of music for you--most of it new music. You rate the songs when you remember (I sometimes forget) so it somehow knows to play music that is like (or unlike) what you've just rated.

Plus, the people at Pandora are really, really wonderful.

And other big news, I'm going to be reading at the AWP (The Associated Writing Programs) in NYC the last week of January. I'm reading from my prize-winning story, BREATHE, which was published in the Bellevue Literary Review, and which became part of my just finished novel TRAVELING ANGELS. If you come, please grab me and say hello.

Monday, December 10, 2007

NBCC Reviews the Review Process..sort of

I belong to the National Book Critics Circle, a great organization if there ever was one. Recently they took a survey of all of us members about the whole process of book reviewing. The finds are the kind that made me dying to know who in the NBCC thought what! Shoot, it's anonymous!

Anyway, here are just the facts, ma'am, and see if you agree with them. For me, this all applies to the reviewing I do for newspapers and magazines, not for my blog, where I give full disclosure if I know someone in any way before I rave about his or her book.

68.5 percent of book reviewers think anyone mentioned in a book's acknowledgements should be barred from reviewing it. (I agree)

64.9 percent think anyone who has written an unpaid blurb for a book should also be banned from writing a fuller review. (I agree)

76.5 percent think it's never ethical to review a book without reading the whole thing. (Oh, gosh, I agree. You have to read the whole book! What if a dull book catches fire on page 450?)

And 52 percent think it's not okay for a book-review editor, in assigning books for review, to favor books by writers who also review regularly for that editor's book section. (Oh gosh, it's the word favor that gets me....)

40.1 percent think a reviewer shouldn't read other reviews of a book before writing his or her own, but 17.9 per cent think that's perfectly okay, and 33.5 per cent feel it's complicated enough to require commentary rather than a firm answer. (I don't think it's okay, but sometimes it's hard not to see the other reviews!)

60.5 percent think it's okay for a newspaper book section or magazine to ignore self-published books that authors submit to them, e.g., iUniverse type books. (Well, it depends. Nowadays there are some writers who started out that way and ended up with deals with the bigger publishing houses. It's worth a three minute read of a first page, no?)

See the whole survey here:

Sunday, December 9, 2007

And the winner is.....This Young House

Novel writing (and screenwriting, but after the writer's strike!) is as hard as it is glorious, and sometimes while I am taking a work break from my new novel in progress, I like to wander the net and look at blogs. Of course I look at writing and bookish blogs, but I also love film ones, knitting ones, vegan cooking ones, and anything out of the ordinary. The keyword is fun.

Jeff and I spent almost a year renovating our 1865 rowhouse, so I fully understand what the whole process is like and how things can look much worse before they start to look better, and how important a sense of humor is--which explains why I adore Sherry and John Petersik's uber-cool blog, This Young House. The truly cool news is that she and John just won (beating out 46 other blogs in the running) the Remodel, Blog & Win contest by a few months ago--a $5000 win which will presto chango into any number of things like tiles, sinks or built-in bookcases.

The blog is quirky and hilarious. They watch paint dry, they yearn for neighbors, they post gorgeous pictures (I wrote Sherry because she seemed to have discovered the perfect blue and I wanted to know the exact name so I could grab it up for our bedroom.) They have entries like "Our kitchen cabinets are like Brangalina" and "Our kitchen cabinets are like slugs". The photos are fab, the writing is stellar, and the house in progress is to die for.

So go check out the blog and send congrats to Sherry and John--and then please, tell me if I should paint my office white or a color..(Is a color to distracting? Is white too clinical?)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Praise-worthy Jewelry

Kar 5 Home is home to the coolest jewelry I have ever seen. Note these way cool vertebrae earrings that shimmer and sway. I've been wearing them every day since I bought them at the Hoboken Gift Fair. She's also got amazing bracelets and necklaces, like the one on the left that is made out of a washer.
Hint, hint, these would make great giftts!

What makes a good reading?

I don't know about you, but doing readings makes me anxious. I worry, who will show up? What if they don't like what I'm reading, or what if they hate what I have on? Going to readings can be dicey, too. I've gone to readings where authors have droned on and I've had to entertain myself by doing math equations in my head until it's over. Some authors are incredible writers but they speak in tones so soft or emotionless that you want to just open up their book and read.

So, let us now praise Clea Simon's reading. It was freezing cold last night--17 degrees with the wind chill, dark and windy but of course I went to see her. She's a great reader, her books are wonderful, and she's my friend. A handful of people showed up, but we ended up having an amazing time. What was so interesting about last night was how the event really was an event, and here's why.

1. First, the bookstore, Partner's & Crime on Greenwich, is wonderful and cozy. There's a fireplace and there are tons of shelf-talkers (you know, those labels that call out why you need to buy a certain book). The owner is wonderful and you just have a sense that this is a bookstore where they really know and love books.

2. Second, Clea. Clea got into a conversation with the audience. We talked about her book, we talked about the animal groups that want to do away with domesticated animals, we talked about reptiles and different kinds of cats and writing, and every single person was engaged and laughing and talking and not wanting to stop. It was electric!

Next reading, I'm cutting down on the actual reading and talking more to my audience. By listening to her audience and really wanting to know what they had to say and feel and think, Clea really made the night, well just plain special.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Guest Blogger Clea Simon

I'm thrilled to have author Clea Simon guest blogging here. Clea is the author of Mad House: Growing Up in the Shadow of Mentally Ill Siblings (Penguin), Fatherless Women: How We Change After We Lose Our Dads (Wiley), The Feline Mystique: On the Mysterious Connection Between Women and Cats (St. Martin's), and the Theda Krakow mysteries, Mew is for Murder, Cattery Row, and the upcoming Cries and Whiskers (Poisoned Pen Press).

She's also a writing instructor at my beloved UCLA online and a journalist for my other beloved, The Boston Globe. Clea is also one of my favorite people on the planet and one of the most giving to other writers. And so with no further introduction, I give over my blog to Clea:

How’d she get that?

Doesn’t matter what “that” was: placement in a bookstore window, a review in the New York Times. A bookseller recommendation on a little shelf-talker card. When I was first starting out as a writer, I was envious of everyone. I wanted it all!

Amazing what a few years will do. Six books in, and my appetite hasn’t decreased. I still fall in love with every one of my creations, and I can’t understand it when reviewers/bookstore staff/the nice couple across the hall don’t respond as I do. But I’ve gotten a bit mellower in my response to other writers.

How could I not? This group of potential rivals – often better established, more practiced in the craft, more gifted in the art – has proven to be the most generous community I have yet to meet. Other writers have read my drafts and made kind, but useful comments. They have hosted me at their neighborhood bookstores (and on their blogs!) and shown up to cheer me on. They have given me the use of their guest rooms while traveling, and their shoulders, when everything gets to be too much and I need a good cry.

These wonderful colleagues have also crept into my books. I have long been a believer in the wonderful nurturing qualities of “families of choice,” the warm group of people we choose to be around us. But now that I’m writing fiction – mysteries – I find that same type of family coming to life in my pages. And as much as I work on burying clues, killing people in ingenious ways, and making sure all the cats in the book come out okay (my number one rule with my mysteries!), often it’s the characters readers email me about. It’s the characters I come back for, too, and now, with my third mystery, “Cries and Whiskers,” coming out, I look forward to revisiting my heroine, Theda, and her own family of friends. There’s Violet, the punk rocker/shelter worker, and Tess, her high-strung buddy, and Patti, a prim realtor, and the antithesis of Theda’s free-wheeling rock fan.

What do they have in common? Very little. But I like to think that, as in my life, they’ve found some bond in being women, being friends, making it in what can be a tough world. They’re my homage to my real friends, the writers who have helped me become a better writer.

Do I still get jealous? Sure. But only of the writers I haven’t yet met. --Clea Simon