Friday, February 29, 2008

Writing fever

I'm lost in work. Rewriting a script, working on a new novel, and editing manuscripts for clients, plus we are going away this weekend because it is Hoboken's annual drunkfest, um, I mean pre St. Paddy's holiday. The city opens the bars at six in the morning and lots of clueless idiots from the suburbs or NYC take the subway in to line up so they can be the first one to have fisticuffs, vomit in the street, terrorize the store owners, get nastily sexually agressive or stupid, and clot up the streets. It's single digit IQ time. Why does the city allow this even though they say they have zero tolerance? Betcha it's because they made thousands in revenue from tickets last year.

I'm really having trouble with this script. It's from a story I wrote which everyone seemed to love, but the script is hanging me up. I've been told I wrote it like a novelist. I've been told it doesn't have a world view (but that was quickly disabused by none other than my hero John Truby whose book The Anatomy of Story everyone should read.) All this got me thinking about how things adapt, especially after reading the script for The Other Boleyn Girl, which It hought was a great script, and then reading the reviews for the film, which aren't very good. How can you ensure that things transfer well from one medium to another? Or is it just impossible to know until you do it?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Feed Me!

I am thrilled to report that my essay "The Grief Diet" is going to be part of Harriet Brown's new anthology, Feed Me! due out from Random House December 2008. My essay is about an ex-boyfriend who wouldn't let me eat because he felt I was fat (even though I was 5'4" and 95 pounds and my friends were ready to do an intervention) and how I stayed with him for a while because otherwise I would have had to grieve for someone I had loved who had died.

With that mouthful of a sentence, I'm off to look at all the snow.

See you later, alligators.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Read This Book! Rachel Cline, My Liar

Rachel Cline's terrific novel, My Liar, explores the complex, thorny relationship between two women--a Hollywood film editor and a director. Like her fabulous debut, What To Keep, this novel is complex, gorgeously written and absolutely addictive. That's her, by the way, in the winsome photo. Isn't the flash of gold light great?

I loved the book so much that I emailed Rachel and asked her if she'd let me ask her a thousand questions (okay, just five) and she graciously agreed.

1. What's the difference between being a part of the film community and now being the toast of a literary one?

First off, the only thing I'm the toast of is my small circle of old, weird friends, which is not a complaint just a clarification. But the differences between the life of a movie-worker on the road and that of a fiction writer in New York are almost uncountable. Writing is truly a solitary activity, and even when I have a "day job," which I usually do, I still find it requires a lot of self-discipline to tolerate the silence, and to persist when there is no-particular-end in sight, and to remind myself that this is the only thing that has ever come close to making me happy so it's got to be a better use of my time than whatever it is that wants to yank me away from the desk. It's funny, because the thing I liked least about Los Angeles was the suburban-ness of it, living on a street where the only people I ever saw were the mail carrier and the neighbor kid on his Big Wheel. And now I live in the hive of all hives and I can barely tell you who lives in the apartment next door.

Right, but you were asking about the film community. I guess I never found the "community" part. I hated working on location--I missed my cats and my favorite New York foods (egg creams, hot dogs, pizza) and though I liked to drive I hated never being able to just walk. I was ultimately fairly happy in Los Angeles for several years, but only after I gave up on my career in the entertainment business and got a regular job where the same people showed up every day and eventually started to get my jokes. And I started to get theirs, too. It's a beautiful place, full of interesting people and great smells (unlike New York), but I grew up in Brooklyn and I don't think I'll ever be truly at home anywhere else.

2. What's your writing day like? Your process?

When I know what I'm doing, which is about 30% of the time, I try to get to my desk as soon as possible after opening my eyes in the morning. And I try to get up in the morning at least 3 hours before I have to be at work. The rule is: 2 hours of sitting or 1000 words of writing, and then I'm allowed to do other things, like shower and dress.
The rest of the time, I'm either choosing a new notebook/pen/talismanic photo, reading something tangentially related to what I want to do next, or worrying about being broke and never being able to write again.

3. At the heart of this terrific novel (well beside many other stellar ideas) is the idea of how work can affect friendships, in both good and not so good ways. Can you talk a bit about that? Do you think it's possible to have a great working relationship with a great friend, or do you think the balance of power shape shifts too much and too often?

I've actually had a lot of great and lasting friendships with coworkers, so no I don't think it's inherently problematic. But there are certain people in my life, usually--but not always--women, with whom I am just ferociously competitive. And it's not as though there's any overt confrontation or conflict--I've never been up for the same promotion, or compared bonuses, or anything like that. It's much subtler and more unsettling because I can never tell how much I'm imagining and how much I'm creating the situation out of my own squelched feelings. It's as though something in me triggers something in her and we wind up acting out all our childhood resentments, narcissistic fantasies, and plots for world domination while ostensibly sharing fairly innocent office gossip and fashion tips. So the key relationship in My Liar, between Annabeth, the film editor, and Laura, the director she works for, is a portrait of that kind of dynamic.
It's hardly the most important thing in the book, but one of the things I'm most proud of is a little subplot about an expensive blazer that Laura buys and later gives to Annabeth, and which comes to mean more than it should. To me, that's exactly how these things get acted out: through weirdly insincere compliments, exploitative requests for help, inappropriately expensive (or cheap) gifts... And Hollywood is like the world capital of all those things.
The other aspect of this competitive-yet-exploitative friendship that I think is really interesting is how storytelling fits into it. How the way the two people present information to one another is really unconsciously strategic, and the dramatization and plotting that go into the way we exchange histories with new friends. So, in My Liar, versions of that storytelling behavior wind up having consequences for all of the characters.

4. What's your next project?

I'm supposed to be working on a memoir, which is more than half complete, but I'm dying to get going on another novel and I have an idea that requires research in the form of a road trip through the Southwest. So my goal is to be able to do that next summer. My boyfriend lives in Chicago, and we often spend time together traveling somewhere else (usually somewhere like Cleveland or Buffalo), so I'm hoping we can expand our horizons a little more, next year.

5.What's your life like?

It varies a lot. Sometimes, I teach writing, which I love but of course doesn't pay the bills. Other times, I do various consulting jobs having to do with internet "content" and faceless corporations. The funny thing is, the older I get, the less I mind the corporate thing. I finally have more than one pair of dress pants and I actually kind of like it that the place I go to is silent, and airless, and utterly without drama. Plus, I love getting off the subway in Grand Central Station. To me, that's like visiting the Grand Canyon every day.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Essay at

Hey, please go read my essay at the fabulous I wrote about why it's just as important to read in front of three as it is to read in front of 300 (Even though the humiliation factor is certainly different!)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Let us now praise Roy Scheider

Ok, I'm really upset about Roy Scheider's death.

Forget Jaws, though he was certainly good in that. The photo on the left is Scheider in All That Jazz. Written and directed by the great Bob Fosse, this film was and is one of the most innovative, astonishing films of all times, and next to Blade Runner, one of my favorite films.

I saw it when I was living in Pittsburgh, truly unhappily married, yearning for New York City, unsure how to escape, miserable. I wandered into a revival house (by myself, of course, which was my usual state in Pittsburgh) and was immediately transfixed. As Joe Gideon, the self-destructive womanizer-slash-genius-slash-choreographer-slash-Fosse alter ego, Scheider tore up the screen and inhabited the part. The film's brilliant and sly and ferocious and he's just knockout in it, and though he never did anything as spectacular after that, I fell in love with him and always kept hoping he might. (By the way, he was nominated for his performance and didn't win--a travesty if you ask me.)

If you haven't seen the film, go rent it immediately. And if you have, go watch it again in tribute. I swear it's perfect from first frame to last and Scheider saying, "It's show time folks," gets me every time.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Writers' Strike is OVER!!

The strike is over! This is fabulous news! I lost a few opportunities because of it, but I stayed solid and now I am back to work pitching, writing, and generally making a pest of myself.
That's Dana Herko, producer and writer on the left on her last day of strike. She's a fabulous producer and also the co-author of the upcoming The Tao of Fertility. (She's also a wonderful friend.)

On the other news front, Barack Obama is now a member of, this writers' site I belong to. Bet that drives a whole lot of traffic there!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

first chapter!

Oh it's bliss to have a good first chapter. I'm deep into the beginnings of my new novel and I'm at that incredibly hopeful stage where all seems as though it's going to go well. Having that chapter is my lifeline because I know the waters are going to go murky and full of writer-eating sharks very fast indeed. I'm also working on a script that I want to send to the Nichols (hey, I won quarter finalist at Fade in! And I was Nickelodeon finalist! That counts, doesn't it?)

But now what I have to do is find photographs of my characters so I can stare at them while I write, which means going through magazines, but actually, I just emailed an actress/writer friend and I think I'm going to use her as my image of one of my characters. She has this really intelligent sort of beauty (think Cate Blanchett) as opposed to the generic Kate Hudson. Which leads me to another question, how does everyone out there see their characters? Do you use photographs? Do you do a whole list of everything about the character the way Richard Price does?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Writers' communities

OK, I know this is embarrassing, but I am on myspace and facebook and I still don't quite know what I'm doing there or how to proceed. I feel like I'm the odd girl out there somehow and whenever I get emails to be someone's friend or contact, I'm always happy and surprised! If anyone knows the intricacies of either of those places and how I should or could be on there, please let me know.

So where else do I hang out?

I like Backspace (see a few entries down), which I've just discovered, a lot. I also like Hybrid Fiction at first glance. I'm a rabid fan of Linked In, too. And I love redroom. Mostly, though, I'm at my computer writing and if I break it's to get to my real online community--I email other writers to talk about our latest projects, offer and receive encouragement and support and bad jokes.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Smart, savvy women's forum about to launch

Seal press does these really smart, quirky books about all sorts of women's issues, (Ah Hem, I'm in one of them, For Keeps, edited by Victoria Zackheim, about how women view their bodies) and they now have a forum for women to talk to other women and build a community.

Go join. And say hi to me when you see me there!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Writing, writing

OK, I have a new first chapter of a new novel. And no title. Sometimes titles just come. Traveling Angels was from a John Truby story structure lecture and the image just stuck. Two novels back, my novel Coming Back to Me was renamed in England Come Back To Me, because it sounded stronger to them. But does it?

How does anyone find a great title? I'd love to hear from people on how they find their titles or on what titles grab them in bookstores, because every title I'm coming up with just sounds....well not like a good fit.

Sky Pilots

Jack Bordon (he's a former Boston TV newsman) is the famous founder of this very cool organization called For Spacies Skies, a nonprofit based in Massachusettes, which I just love. Dedicated to fostering awareness of the sky (Come on, what could be more fantastic?), he urges millions to look up and gain access to what Ralph Waldo Emerson called "the ultimate art gallery above." Borden has stamps that he calls skyscapes (they're gorgeous) and his work has been the subject of Smithsonian Magazine, the New York Times, and more.

Says Jack, "How do I get turned on looking at the sky? I just say keep looking at it, and sooner or later it will happen to you, too."

Bordon's sky program goes from the sublime (a look at the sky in great art) to the inspirational, where he gets inner city kids to write poems about the sky. Sky awareness, Bordon also believes, can be a crimestopper, because the sky is just so soothing!

For more info contact, For Spacious Skies, BOX 191, Dept S.A. Lexington , MA 02173

By the way, I have my own copy of his cloud chart, and it's breathtaking. "The sky is a show that you are mising," says Jack Borden. And admission is free.

Coffee, tea and me

When I was writing my first novel, I lived in fear that I wouldn't finish in time for my deadline. I lived on these lifesavers called Eat a Cup of Coffee. Each one was supposed to power-pack as much jolt as six cups of coffee. Wired to the gills, I wrote and panicked at warp speed, and of course, since all good things must come to an end, the company stopped making the lifesavers. (But I did finish my novel way ahead of schedule.)

Sigh and alas.

Though I love caffeine (I know, I know, it's not healthy, but sometimes you really need it), I'm more of a tea fanatic than a coffee one. But Laurel at the fabulous mediabistro alerted me to a brand new coffee joint opening in Soho, the all-new Gimme! Coffee bar at 228 Mott Street (between Prince and Spring.) All I have to know is that a. she loves it and b. they have pastries from Balthazar, to know this might be my new home away from home. (Though I am partial to Hoboken's Frozen Monkey Cafe.)

Oh and another fun coffee fact: For years now, when I sign books, I always draw a coffee cup, spoon and fork beside my name.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Come on, you know you love Chip Kidd!

You can tell a book by its cover, especially if it's one of the flat out fabulous covers by Chip Kidd. Case in point, the cover of his new novel THE LEARNERS actually has the red part as a kind of overleaf. It's smashing to look at and to touch (I dare you not to.)

The great news is that cover designer and novelist Chip Kidd will be coming to Boston for an event at the Art Institute and to read at Borders Back Bay on Thursday, February 21.

Not only is Chip Kidd the man who singlehandedly changed the world of book design, but he is a clever and thoughtful novelist in his own right. His new book, THE LEARNERS is out February 19 and it brings the advertising culture of the 1960s to life. The main character, Happy – who is, well, happy -- becomes part of the 1961 Milgram experiments (faithfully recreated here by Kidd) which measure just how far people will go to inflict pain on another person when under orders from an authority figure. His life is changed forever.

Augusten Burroughs says “This gleefully roguish satire of 1960’s advertising-gone-mad is delightfully shrewd, droll and urbane. And any novel that includes the phrase ‘bloated dirtpig’ and features the beloved Milgram Experiments earns a place on my shelf. A must-read for the ambitious, creative, or chemically unbalanced.”

I say (I just got the book) "Genius outside. Genius inside."

Monday, February 4, 2008

Is it true? The Writers Strike may be over this week? And pint-sized politics

Oh God, would this be FANTASTIC if the writers strike were over! I cannot wait, I cannot wait. I have all these ideas for scripts I want to do.

But on the political front, yesterday we drove two 9th grade boys along with our 6th grade son to a chess tournament. The whole ride, the big boys were arguing about politics (Max quietly listened as they shouted over his head--he was sitting in the middle) and boy, was it polarized and strange.

Both boys go to a top notch private school and are really bright, by the way. Both have really smart parents. The Republican boy announced (scarily) that he wants to join the army as soon as possible, that every person should own a gun, abortion clinics should be bombed if it were possible not to harm the picketers, and he insisted that the reason why George Bush failed was because of democratic interference.

The Democrat boy debated him on every point (yeah, yeah, of course I sided with him, but outside of one, "You're a little delusional on that point," I kept my mouth shut and just listened. ) It was truly fascinating. First, because I was so happy that young people are so intensely interested in politics now, but also because I couldn't fathom how a 14-year-old could be so, rigid! He believed there absolutely were weapons of mass destruction and even if there weren't, "there could have been." Absolutely pro-war, he believes we are fighting for freedom. He believes, most frighteningly, that there is no such thing as global warming, but it is a Democratic plot and "a bunch of crap" and he knows for a fact that the footage on George Bush reading My Pet Goat for seven minutes after 9/11 was doctored, maybe even by Michael Moore, whom he insisted was the anti-christ. (He insisted this with a straight face.) Hillary was the spawn of Satan and anytime any criticized Obama, he said it was racism, so therefore you couldn't really tell where he stood and you wouldn't want "soeone like that" as a president.

More bon mots he came out with:
Jimmy Carter and Clinton were the worst presidents ever.
Bush was the best. And of course he adores Reagan.
The sixties were a time of civil war and produced nothing of value.
Democrats produce nothing of value and Clinton is responsible for the fiscal mess that we are in, and it doesn't matter that Clinton produced a surplus after the Bush bust years, and that that surplus was quickly depleted by George W. because Clinton orchestrated it that way so Republicans could get blamed.
Everyone should own a gun because it's in the Constitution.

What was also fascinating was how well these kids debated. No one got so furious they were calling names, no fists were flying, tempers were in check, and there was a real dialogue going on here, and it was great. Freedom of speech rules! It's just great to hear kids talking! A few weeks ago, we were driving Max's friend home (another 6th grader) and he started saying, "Let me tell you what I think about same sex marriage," but he had to run home before he could answer the question for us! (Later, we found out he was against it, but he didn't know why.)

It also made me now think that I may vote for Obama simply because if he's the one firing up the youth who may be Democrat, than I want to fuel that flame, too.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Writer's Voices_Who's LIstening

From Jeff Lyon's great blog,

In these dangerous, polarizing, and sometimes too politically correct times, writers who bravely tackle issues of international or homeland security, or U.S. involvement in you-know-where, and who are not sufficiently cautious to keep at least one creative foot firmly planted in God-Bless-America territory, are quick to grow bullseyes on key body parts.

Just ask
George Larkin, a Los Angeles writer, developer, and producer of award winning film, theater, and television. For the past five (or more) years, Larkin has been trying to get his play, Baghdad Prom, produced and the reception of the project has been other than embracing; even in liberal-land L.A. The play is a weaving of an American writer’s life and family, with five Iraqi writers and their lives and families; people who have lived through the invasion and occupation, and who are doing the only thing they can to deal with the horrors of that life—write about it. In the play, the main character “talks” with the Iraqi writers through e-mail and these e-mails act as the source material of vignettes from the writers' lives, which are acted out.At one point, Larkin tried to gather help for the production and contacted the main Yahoo bulletin board for Los Angeles-based actors, some 1,200 members strong.

Here’s what Larkin wrote on the bulletin board:"For the past three years, I've been getting in touch with writers and artists in Baghdad and getting their stories about what's going on now. We've heard from our media, government, pundits and even soldiers, but we've heard almost nothing from the Iraqis themselves. I've gotten amazing stories of life there, both fiction and nonfiction, of kidnapping, robbery, murder and forbidden love. They've also written to me what it was and what it is now like to be an artist there, and how dangerous that was and still is. I think we have a real chance to have our artists working with theirs. If you're interested in helping, or think your theater group would be, let me know."“Smart boy,” you say. “Artists helping artists,” you say. “This is a no-brainer. He’ll have to turn actors away!” Well, the result? "I got nothing," he says. "Not a peep."

I read this and my jaw fell open. For the past three months I’ve been reading how militant, and activist, and committed actors are (and have been) to union activism supporting the writer’s strike, and I have a hard time reconciling this image with the deafening silence Larkin received in his appeal for help. When it comes to Iraq and the war, people get weird, and it becomes easy to slough off the indifference to, “L.A. isn’t a political town.” Well, tell that to the Democratic front-runners! They’re banking on just the opposite come Super Tuesday.But, it’s not just L.A. that sees the world through narrow, self-interest-colored lenses. I suspect Larkin has had similar responses in other parts of the country, and not just from actors, from everyone. How does someone create a sense of urgency about something like this? How do you shake people awake or distract them from their mortgage worries, or their daycare problems, or general life-stuff that in the moment seems (and is) so important, and get them to care about five pissed off writers from a country we’re all sick and tired of hearing about?

Sadly, I don’t have the answer to that question. If I did, Baghdad Prom would be at the Geffen Playhouse.Now, granted, I haven't seen the play and don't know if it's good or bad as art, but I'd sure like the opportunity to see it, and make up my mind. What Larkin is doing is heroic, important, and uncomfortable. You don’t have to even like what all these Iraqi writers have to say—because these guys (yes, they’re all men) don’t sugar coat anything. But, as one of them (Safa Saad) stated so eloquently, “If they [his stories] can reach the American reader, I will write all these stories and I will never be tired. All the people in the world are brothers."

Baghdad Prom recently had a reading at a theater in Massachusetts, and they were overjoyed 45 enthusiastic people attended. What’s next? They don’t know. No one has stepped up to take this project under his or her wing. This play has no home. It is one more Iraqi refugee.So, the next time you're browsing through Yahoo bulletin boards looking for a job, just remember: writers helping writers, artists helping artists, and like the man said, “All the people in the world are brothers."

How do we know how our reading affects others

The AWP was fantastic. I mean it. 7,000 writers, editors and booklovers all in the fabulous Hilton. Within ten minutes of milling around, I ran into the wonderful writer Jo-Ann Mapson, who told me she had run into someone who said he had seen me. (We never figured out who he was, though.) Of course I was anxious, but armed with my tips and my mantra, I went to my reading. The room held about 70 people and by the time I got up to read it was packed! People were standing up! Best of all, writers Masha Hamilton (The Camel Book Mobile) and Susan Ito (A Ghost at Heart's Edge, fiction co-editor of Literary Mama ) were there to offer support to me! Afterwards, I met with Edges's author Leora Skolkin-Smith.

I read from Traveling Angels, the novel I just finished, a passage where the weary mother of a chronically ill son has just reached her tipping point, gets in a car with a small suitcase and is about to leave for destinations mysterious. Her son, coming home early from school, sees the car (she's inside the house) and the suitcase and hides under a blanket. When he wakes, they've been on the road for hours and she discovers his presence and something terrible happens.

I read and read (you could read for 15 minutes), really getting so lost in the story I forgot the audience, but then I looked up and I felt sort of stunned because everyone was so silent. I thought, oh God, was this too intense to read? Do they hate me? Do they want me to go away or die? But I kept reading, propelled and when I finished I looked up again, and the room was dead quiet. I felt sick to my stomach at that point because usually people are talking or picking at their nails or smiling encouragingly, but this was absolute quiet and no seemed to be moving and everyone was looking at me sort of shocked. I went to my seat and listened to the other two writers who were funny and everyone was laughing and I thought, great, the story of my life, too intense for the planet once again, and I've failed here.

But when it was question time, I got a barrage of questions and people began to tell me how knocked out they were by my story and my reading and how much they had loved it! One woman afterwards (thank you, thank you, I don't remember your name) came up and grabbed my arm and told me she had never heard anything like it, and she was amazed and dazzled. I was astonished! How could I have not known that they all liked the reading?

I think the answer is, that as a writer, you never know how people are going to respond to your work. You do it alone. So your clues to what works are often from your own gut, or from readers or your agent or your editor, but they know you, and you know them, so there's already a sort of sacred covenant going on. But somehow that eerie audience silence and stillness, which I thought was the worst thing I had ever heard turned out yesterday to be the best.

I'd be really curious to know others' stories about readings. How do you take the temperature of your audience reaction? Has this ever happened to you? And has anyone ever read before an audience that didn't like your work? (You can be anonymous on this.)