Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Screenwriter/producer/actress Lauren Schacher talks about writing rituals,why there needs to be more films by and about women, being a Sundance Screenwriting Lab semi-finalist and more

I first met Lauren Schacher on Twitter. I was panicking about whether or not I was going to be awarded one of the impossible-to-get Sundance Screenwriting Lab Finalist shots, exposing my fear on Twitter, when suddenly there was a tweet from Lauren, who was commiserating. We kept each other company as we waited, and we both made the finals. This year, we're doing it again. Lauren is both an actress, a producer and a screenwriter, and I'm thrilled that she's also my friend. Her film THE CANYONS releases in New York City on August 2, and you can catch it in Los Angeles August 9th. Even better, watch the TRAILER HERE on iTunesI'm thrilled to have her here. Thank you, Lauren!

You move effortlessly from acting to screenwriting to producing (your script DREAM CATCHER was one of the coveted, Sundance Screenwriting Lab finalists last year.) Are all these logical moves, one to another? Was screenwriting something you always wanted to do? And how does acting inform the writing and the producing that you do?

I have been an actor since childhood. I can’t remember ever really wanting to do anything else aside from perhaps dancing. Technically (aka professionally), I’ve been working since 17 from Montreal to NYC, Vancouver to LA. A little over a year ago, frustrated with the state of auditions, I ended up by the grace of a few friends in the hands of Jeff Gordon at Writer’s Bootcamp in Santa Monica. I had been tinkering with a few screenplays for years, and completed one with two good friends, and yet I didn’t really know anything about structure aside from the countless scripts I’d read. My first draft of almost everything read like a play. What I learned in that classroom off Michigan Ave coupled with the support I received was enough to keep me going. I had submitted my first solo screenplay to the Sundance lab and within a few months was floored to see that they’d advanced me to the next round. Now, I can’t imagine my life without screenwriting.

Screenwriting is without a doubt one of the most difficult ventures I’ve ever attempted and yet, one of the most rewarding. Luckily, the more I do it, the more it makes sense and the more it makes sense for me as an actor. Imagine: instead of settling into the mind of just one character (acting), I’m living inside all of them. I’m creating all of them! I speak their words, think their thoughts, breathe their air; it’s an actor’s dream. I’ve often heard directors use this same reasoning to explain their penchant for their own craft. While I am very new to the scene, I’ve always had a desire to tell my own stories. Around 7 or 8, I “wrote” a play—a mish-mash of all the popular Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales—cast myself as the sole princess and all my friends as suitors, did a little publicity, and put on a play for the whole neighborhood.

As far as how I first began writing… I came two it from two directions: the first was from the standpoint of an actor.

As a young woman paving her own way in LA and not of the “mega-hot 18 TPY” (the jargon for the most desirable new clients in Hollywood… to play younger), roles are often few and far between. I, like most actor/writers, initially just wanted to write roles for myself, roles that weren’t the cookie-cutter images that I would stress over auditioning for with the rest of young NYC and LA. The role of women in Hollywood—both behind and in front of the camera—is waning; we’re in a fight or flight position. Statistically, our numbers are down from years previous and most of what remains is comprised of caricatures of women. I see the same types of women being portrayed everywhere in film and TV: the bitch, the angel, the slut, the dumb broad, the misfit, the girl next store, the crazy one—all, in a way, women who need help, who need protection, who need men to pull them out of the mire of their own lives. Surely humans need humans, but ALL women do not depend on men to give their lives purpose. One would think that in 2013, we would’ve moved away from these images. But I can tell you, as someone who goes out on these auditions and sees these roles being cast and still hears friends complaining that they need to “trim down”, to be super skinny to book anything of value, that they’re not pretty enough or hot enough, I can tell you that for as far as we’ve come in other areas, we are regressing with our representation of women. I won’t stand by and let it get worse.

*breathe* Caroline, I could talk about this for hours.

Luckily, once I started writing, even if for myself, I found the real reason that I love screenwriting: I want to be a part of the paradigm shift.

I want to bring more realistic, representative roles for women into the mainstream. I don’t pretend to be na├»ve enough to think this is something an unknown like me can do single-handedly. There are women doing this (Mindy Kaling, Lena Dunham, Jenji Kohan, Tina Fey, Katie Dippold, Shonda Rhimes, Geena Davis, Kristen Wiig, pretty much every woman I follow on Twitter, YOU, etc), and I want to be a part of it. There’s been a lot of attention on the topic of Women in Film lately—thank God!—and it needs to continue. The NPR article by Linda Holmes entitled “At the Movies, The Women Are Gone” beautifully shared the experience there not being ANY movies with women or about women in theatres right now where she’s living*.   This part stuck with me:

“I want to stress this again: In many, many parts of the country right now, if you want to go to see a movie in the theater and see a current movie about a woman — any story about any woman that isn't a documentary or a cartoon — you can't. You cannot. There are not any. You cannot take yourself to one, take your friend to one, take your daughter to one.”

*Note that a) the writer lives in DC, not LA or NYC, b) THE HEAT had not come out yet and c) using THE HEAT as an example of “Women in Film” is ONE example. One. One of out of 100s of movies. *

RE: Acting and how it informs writing. From theatrical training, one gains adeptness at building character from the inside out. I’m sure a lot of actor-turned writers would back me up on this. That quality is essential for good story telling: to make your story character-driven rather than plot-driven.  That being said, I spend a lot of the time asking for help. I’m certainly not afraid of it! I’m lucky to be surrounded by good friends who’ve been writing far longer than I have and generously give me feedback, advice, and even just a baseline of support.

You’re hoping to produce your next script, about “slut shaming, “which I find fascinating. How did this idea spark? What made you decide to go into the production end? And how can potential investors help?

“Slut Shaming” is a new term for something that’s been around forever. Wikipedia defines it as “the act of making a woman feel guilty or inferior for certain sexual behaviors or desires that deviate from traditional or orthodox gender expectations, or that which may be considered to be contrary to natural or supernatural/religious law.”  I think that translates more colloquially to shaming someone for her (or his) sexuality, sexual history, sexual activity, or simply just for being themselves in a sexual way. I’ll give you a few examples:

Shaming a young woman for getting herself raped is a horrific yet real-world example of slut shaming. To say it was her fault for ANY reason, that is slut shaming. In the same category is spreading a rumor about someone for having slept around or telling a young woman she needs to cover up because she looks like a “slut.” The idea being that women, of any age really, should not want to have sex, talk about it, or engage in it.
Wait, I thought we were in 2013?
Whether or not most people would admit to feeling this way, this is the behavior we condone in America. A friend said to me the other day during a slut-shaming conversation that “it’s not sexual unless you’re ashamed to talk about it” and I think she hit the nail on the head. Sex is a huge part of all of our lives and to deny women the opportunity to talk about it in a healthy manner from the moment of their first period all the way through and after childbirth, well in a way, that’s repressive, isn’t it? Making someone feel shame for having what are completely natural and OK thoughts? At the root of it all, I think slut shaming has become such an epidemic because we still do not have any sort of comprehensive sex education. And if we’re not talking to our kids about it and neither are the schools, then that leaves but one venue: porn. So by consequence, are we, America, condoning pornography as the best resource for sexual education? Isn’t that sort of mind-blowing?

I think sex should be something we can learn to talk about in a healthy way and start when we’re first thinking about it: high school.

The idea for Daily’s first arose with my sister Sarah as we strolled from her apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan for a yoga class. I was crashing with her as I’d just moved from NYC to LA and we were getting some much-needed sister bonding time. Sarah and I have always openly talked about sex. Our mother talked to me openly when I was just a kid and as a result, I shared everything with my kid sister. We’ve never been shy about it or felt like bad people for being sexually active but that doesn’t mean that we too weren’t sexually shamed. [My first year of high school I found out some senior girls had spread sexual rumors about me because I was chesty. The news (and attention) crushed me.] Sarah and I were discussing that many women we knew—in their 20s—were still scared to openly talk about sex. Adult women! Were they having sex? Yes. But they didn’t feel it was appropriate to talk about. And so we brainstormed and I wrote this film about which I’m now completely obsessed.

As far as producing goes… I’m working with a producer right now and simultaneously looking for more producers. We’re both new to the game but have what we think is a major topic on our hands. I feel blessed that someone such as herself is excited by what I’m working on and wants to help and I think she would say (were she here to speak up) that she’s excited to be a part of something that needs to be said.

Thus far, I have a fabulous soon-to-be-a-star actress whom I greatly admire attached as well as an increasing number of people want to help out in various ways, many of them not yet defined. One of those people is, as I’ve dubbed her, the current face of slut-shaming, Katelyn Campbell [former senior at George Washington High school in West Virginia who spoke up about the abstinence controversy and was simultaneously featured on 20/20, CNN, etc]. We spoke recently about her plight and the film. She’s an incredible example of a young woman who did stand up to the sexual bigotry and got tremendous backlash for it and finally tremendous respect.

As far as How can Investors help?...They can invest! This is certainly going to be a low-budget indie, but even low-budget these days is a pretty penny. The topic is ripe and I think vital, and the story is both darkly comedic and sexy to boot. Like Tina Fey masterfully sugarcoated her message of girls being each other’s worst enemies with MEAN GIRLS, I think we can do that with slut shaming and DAILYS. Let’s talk about sex.

What kinds of themes and issue interest you?

I love simple human stories …and as soon as I wrote that, I cringed thinking of how many articles I read where writers talk about “the human condition.”

Relationships, love, loss, death, heartache: all simple topics and yet all but lost among the big budget films these days. The irony here of course is how many of us love the same topic and yet where are these movies? I’d venture to say that the general American population is also yearning for “human” stories and is tiring, whether they know it or not, of the same explosion-sodden franchise films. Perhaps this is already evident in this summer’s “flops” (i.e. R.I.P.D. , LONE RANGER, AFTER EARTH, etc all flops by Hollywood standards despite opening weekends of $12-27 million each). However, unless these “genre” style films do really well, studios aren’t going to budge on their money-making schemes. SO. That being said, we just have to keep promoting the indie market! Go to the Sundance Cinemas! Go see indie films on opening weekends!

What’s your life like and how do you manage writing/acting/producing all at once? 

Because I’m not a household name or even a Twitter-name, I still have a day job (two, actually). I teach yoga and tutor children, both of which are wonderful jobs that I’m lucky to have. In between those hours, I literally spend all of my time either writing, auditioning, or squeezing in time with friends and boyfriend. It is as exhausting as it sounds but I’m quite happy doing it all.

What kind of writer are you? Do you have rituals? Do you share your work in a group or go it alone?

I do! Ha. And it kills me, as Holden Caulfield would say, because I always wondered how writers did it. I set aside full days of writing. I won’t see anyone during the hours I set, I don’t leave the house, I delete Facebook and Twitter apps from my phone and open ‘Self-Control’ on my computer to prevent me from accessing those sites… and then I write. And I write for hours. I write until it’s too dark to stay focused or I have to leave or get in some exercise. And perhaps more importantly, I try not to judge myself on what I’ve accomplished. As I said, I’m very new to this (two years in), and thus I’m very open to criticism. I happily send out my work, terrified but eager for feedback, and then I do what I can. I recently joined a writers’ group and am thrilled to have a regular group of professionals with whom I share my words and from whom I can learn.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

Women in Film. We could do a whole separate blog about this.

What question didn’t I ask that I should have?

If you booked a career-changing role, would you give up writing?
I’ve gotten this question a few times recently and the resounding answer is heeelllll no. I feel so blessed to have discovered this for myself and I’m never stopping. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The sublime Hilma Wolitzer talks about the second life of books

You know that heady feeling when you read an author's book and you love it so much you want to find all of his or her other works and devour them, too? But sometimes an author's backlist is not in print. Thanks to Open Road Media and Dzanc Books rEprint series, that's changing, and I was thrilled to see that Hilma Wolitzer's early works are now coming back out as ebooks. 

I don't remember when I first met Hilma, though certainly I've followed both her and her daughter Meg, through their books for--well, forever. And I was thrilled to be able to meet both of them at an event I did at the wonderful Center for Fiction. I'm so honored to host Hilma here and even more thrilled that lucky readers can now snap up her backlist!  Thank you, Hilma.

I love a book in hand—an actual, as opposed to a virtual, book—as much as anyone.  Almost forty years ago, when the first copy of my very first novel, ENDING, arrived at my house, a process that involved the post office, I was thrilled by the heft of it, the heady scent of paper and glue and ink, the fact that my book looked and behaved just like all those other books by known writers when I placed it among them on a shelf.  And there was a permanent aspect to it.  Nothing as grand as immortality—my children and eventual grandchildren would provide a version of that—but my book still seemed final and lasting.   That was before I learned about bookstore shelf life, about returns and remaindering and shredding.  Before I came to fear that every cushion I sat on might have been filled with the confetti of one of my novels. 

ENDING received some wonderful reviews, but like most books that don’t become classics, it soon went out of print, out of sight, out of mind.  I wrote several others that met the same fate, as new writers and new books kept coming up like chorus girls.  Then, recently, Open Road Media resurrected all my seemingly perished novels as ebook downloads.  It’s true that you can’t heft them, you can’t smell the paper or the glue or the ink, or even slide them onto a shelf.  But the words and the characters and their stories are still here (or here again), and maybe I’ll find some new readers for them.  All these years later, many of the original ones are probably dead. 

I’m old now and a little cranky, so I didn’t come to digital technology easily or willingly, but I embrace (or at least air-kiss) it for the second life it’s given to my forgotten books and to so many books I’ve loved by others that have fallen out of favor.  I even own an e-reader myself, a not-so-guilty pleasure, and tonight I’ll read with considerable joy by its tiny rechargeable light.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Open Road Media partners with Dzanc to bring the backlist into the future

For a long time, one of the sorrows of my life was that my early backlist was out of print. Those books sometimes showed up on Ebay (and for either ridiculously high or low sums) and while those novels can be found in the library,  they weren't living their fullest lives out in the world. And that made me frustrated and unhappy.

Until Dzanc, partnering with Open Road Media, picked them up.

I'm thrilled to report that Meeting Rozzy Halfway, Lifelines, Into Thin Air, and Family will all be available as part of Dzanc's rEprint series this fall, which includes the likes of T.. C. Boyle, Abby Frucht, and me. And I'm even more thrilled to talk about Open Road Media in this blog.

Co-founded by former HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedmann 2009, Open Road Media decided to go back to the backlists, find books that had never been available as ebooks, and publish them to new audiences. And not only that, Open Road will be focused on really marketing these books. I particularly love that they develop a marketing plan for each book each quarter, and if that campaign is not as effective as they would like, why, they develop another one. The goal is to keep selling every author's work. Open Road partners with retailers, offering them promotional ideas, and it uses video as what they are calling their "special sauce," filming many of their authors, and pushing its content to venues like Daily Beast, Huffington Post, and more.

Open Road can bring out lost literary fiction, mystery, science fiction, and romance, and it will be publishing up to 15-20 new titles a year, Open Road Originals and E-riginals, which are printed either through print on demand or short print runs, such as The Salinger Contract, by Adam Langer. Some titles will also be offered as print-on-demand, including a never published manuscript from literary legend Pearl Buck.

So thank you, Dzanc Books. Thank you Open Road. And thank you Algonquin Books. Publishing can thrive with innovation--and we lucky authors (and readers) will worship at your feet!

Rhonda Riley talks about The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope, writing a sequel, how we know the ones we love, and so much more

I first met Rhonda Riley at the amazing bookfest Booktopia in Bellingham, Washington. But I knew of her long before that, because I had fallen in love with her novel, The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope. The novel's about a young woman finding injured soldier Adam on her family's farm. He's not like her. He may not even be human. But even so, they fall in love. Sound magical? It is, indeed. Gorgeously written, the book really asks: how do we come to know the ones we love? I'm honored to have Rhonda here on the blog to talk about her creative process.  Thank you, Rhonda!  
For me writing has always been a process of getting a single idea, image, or sensation and following it without worrying about where it is taking me.  The question of “where is this going?” of “what am I trying to say?”  comes later in the revision and refining process.  Writing that first draft feels like lucid dreaming, like those  rare times in dreams in which I realize I am dreaming and therefore creating the scenes of the dream as I am moving through the dream.  Perception and creation are simultaneous, a buoying and lush process and completely non-editorial.  When I was a girl, there was a small swampy pond nearby choked with water hyacinths.  I discovered that if I moved quickly and did not pause, I could walk on them, crossing the pond.  If I stopped or slowed, I sank.  I still have a scar near my Achilles tendon from the time when a submerged stick skewered my ankle after I paused to marvel over the fact that I was walking on water.  
In some ways writing feels a lot like reading.  Good fiction inspires me.  I read for the same reason I want to write, both satisfy a similar itch in the brain and the heart.  How-to-write books, though they may be helpful in the editing process, are the antithesis of creativity for me.  They make me anxious and hyper editorial.  And anxiety is synaptic white noise, it neutralizes my creativity.
For those times when it I can’t find that creative “on” button, environment and structure are crucial.  Now that my book tour and vacations are over, I am working on a new novel, unrelated to The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope, while also researching a sequel to Adam Hope.  Once again I am discovering how significant environment can be.  I’m in the process of setting up an e-free writing zone and returning one of my computers to its virgin state. That is, I will be writing on a computer that is unplugged in a room without other distractions (BTW such computers have the advantage of being unattractive to other, especially younger, family members).  No phone, no Internet.  My “new” study doesn’t have windows. It’s lit by skylights. So I won’t even have the distraction of squirrels and butterflies.   I really, really hate to admit what a lazy, distractible person I am.  It’s necessary for me to create a good writing space and try to maintain a kind of schedule.  Believe me; I have tried operating on whim--my natural inclination. And I am not one of those people who can easily form habits.  But I find that if I make myself sit down and start writing, I will at least get something done.   If I feed the muse with space and time, she will eventually come back.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Meg Waite Clayton talks about The Wednesday Daughters, mother and daughter relationships, why characters misbehave, how chocolate sustains us, and so much more

New York Times bestseller Meg Waite Clayton is surely one of the most generous and funny authors around. (Yes, this description includes the fact that Meg came to my rescue at the circus-themed Pulpwood Queens Book Festival, cheerfully using her mascara wand to dot  on the freckles I needed to complete my clown outfit.) But really, Meg has done so much more. She tirelessly supports and cheerleads other writers and she's the person you want to go to if you want to talk about craft. Meg's newest book, The Wednesday Daughters is already a Top Summer Read from the Chicago Tribune and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and it's been picked by the Poisoned Pen British Crime Club.

The Wednesday Daughters is an off-shoot from her bestseller, The Wednesday Sisters, but it really stands on its own two glorious and original feet. It explores the bonds that make and sometimes shatter a family, the way mothers and daughters can switch roles, hand down secrets, as well as dreams and identities. The story begins when Ally, one of the original Wednesday Sisters dies, and her daughter Ally enlists the help of two of the other "daughters," to come with her to her mother's writing cottage to offer support and help her untangle her mother's personal effects. But when Hope finds a stack of her mother's old notebooks, all three of this next generation will confront their own hopes, doubts, and grief. 

I'm thrilled to have Meg here to talk about her book, and even more, I'm truly honored to be her friend. Thanks, Meg for both!

What made you return to the daughters of the Wednesday sisters? Did anything surprise you in the writing?

I didn’t actually mean to write a sequel. I wrapped up The Wednesday Sisters with an epilogue, and thought I was done with their stories. But then I was talking with someone about his children, who are biracial, and it dawned on me that Ally’s daughter Hope would likely have faced the kinds of identity issues many children of mixed race do. I thought those issues would be really interesting to explore, and so many readers had asked if I would do a sequel that a sequel that involved the daughters of the original five friends seemed somehow meant to be.

One thing that surprised me was the role Peter Rabbit author Beatrix Potter ended up playing in the novel—which in part arose from how surprisingly Beatrix potter turns out to be. I sent Ally (from The Wednesday Sisters) on a mission to write a Potter biography, and I thought that was going to be it—her doing research on Potter in the English Lakes. But Potter is such a delightful character that I wanted to do more with her. She shows up in Ally’s journal entries, in ways that completely surprised me, but were an absolute ball to write.

Another was that Kath—who would not be made to do what I wanted her to in The Wednesday Sisters—took her own path again. I can’t seem to make her behave, which is I suppose the good news.

It turned out to be such a warm pleasure to revisit these old friends—and to see them through the eyes of their grown daughters—that I find myself wondering if there might be another Wednesday book of some sort, someday.

There's something so mesmerizing about the relationship of mothers and daughters, what we think we know verses what we need to find out. As Hope and the other Wednesday Daughters go through Hope's recently deceased mother's letters, they don't just confront her life, they confront their own. What do you think makes our mother-daughter bonds so important? Do you think we need to find a new way to navigate those relationships.

The fact that I revisit parent-child relationships here, having already considered them from various angles in all three of my previous novels, suggests how important it those relationships are to me, both as a daughter and as a mother. I think it’s particularly complicated for women of my generation, who grew up with 1950s-style mothers and are now trying to negotiate life as women in the 21st century. Some of us have chosen paths our mothers abhor. Some of us feel pressure to live the lives our mothers couldn’t, and so want us to. It’s impossible for a parent not to have dreams for his or her child. And yet at some point, we have to let go of our parents’ expectations for us, and then when it’s our turn, let our children loose to make their own mistakes. But sometimes I think we are getting worse at that rather than better.

What I loved so much about both The Wednesday Sisters and The Wednesday Daughters is that you look at the mother-daughter bond from the viewpoint of each. Did being a mother, as well as a daughter, color what you wrote? (I know, being a mother certainly has changed the way I look at my own mother-daughter relationship.)

I only have sons, but I have to say that being a parent has completely changed my view of my mom. Who knew when we were growing up how hard what she did for us was? The Wednesday Sisters was certainly meant as an homage of sorts to my mom and her friends. It gave me an excuse to talk to her and explore what her life was like, and trying to put myself in her skin really changed my view of her—for the better. And I do carry her mothering and my own into everything I write. I even lift some moments from my journals, and then fictionalize them. Quite a bit of what children do in my novels has been done by my sons.

So much of both these books are about writing, what it means to us, how it frees and sustains us. How much of what you think and feel about writing finds its way into your characters?

I think the best writing comes from exploring what we are passionate about, and I’m certainly passionate about writing. I’ve come to know myself so much better as a writer than I ever did before. And that was true long before I started publishing. In some ways, it’s easier to be your genuine self writing before you’re published, when there are no expectations for you. So I dip into that emotional space pretty regularly through my characters—I suppose in part to invite readers to try it themselves. (Really, jump in, the water is fine!) But like most writers, I came to writing first as a reader, and so much of how I think and feel about writing has roots in my love of reading, and the books that have really made me who I am, or at least brought out whatever good there is in me. When I sit down to write, one little part of me is Scout Finch.

What's your writing life like? I'm always interested in process, maybe because part of me always worries that I could be sharper, clearer, or that I'm somehow doing it wrong. What's your process like? Do you map things out, fly by the seat of your pen, follow your muse?

My answer to pretty much all the “do you” questions about writing is “yes.” I start any way I can, often in my journal. Since no one but me reads them, the pressure is off, which I need when I’m starting a project. Often I just sit down and write a word—any word—and hope other words will feel sorry for it and come sit beside it, in the next empty space. And once I spill ink, the words do come eventually. So the one rule I have for myself is to sit down and write every day. 2,000 words, or 2:00.

One of the things I find very helpful for writing an ensemble novel is a character scrapbook.  It is, quite literally, like your high school scrapbook or a scrapbook from your childhood—a collection of all sorts of bits that help me define each character. It often starts with pictures I’ve torn from magazines. I start with the physical, but it’s not one picture of a person, it tends to be one person’s eyes and another person’s nose and another’s physique and another’s wardrobe choices all put together on the page.  I set aside pages for each character, and for settings, too. There are also things nobody needs to know—like what car they drive or who their childhood boyfriends were—but it helps me to flesh out the characters in a way that makes them feel real to me. They need to feel real to me for me to make them feel real for the reader. I also add snatches of dialogue. And I continue adding to the pages of the scrapbook as I go along.

I also use outlines and flow charts.  One of the things I find useful about a flow chart set up by chapter and character is that you can see if, perhaps, you haven’t touched on any particular character’s story in four or five chapters.  It’s a very helpful visual aid.  Also, in my office, I surround myself with inspiring, thought-provoking pictures.

What's obsessing you now and why?

Chocolate. No, seriously. Chocolate. I’m thinking of using it in a big way in my next novel. My favorite thing to cook has always been brownies, and I once received a marriage proposal based on the fact that the suitor in question would get to eat my brownies until death did us part. Now I’ve got my eye on a class in making fancy chocolate candies.

What question didn't I ask that I should have?

Whether I got to visit the gorgeous English Lake District setting? (Yes! Mac and I went just after our youngest set off for college, as we were facing the empty nest. It is seriously one of the world’s most magical places: waterfalls and lakes and mountain ponds, bracken-covered fells and green valleys, stone manor houses and cottages, friendly people, walking paths everywhere. Stop in Bath, England, on the way, and stay in the bed and breakfast there with a slipper tub at the foot of a lovely four-poster bed in the top-floor room—exquisitely romantic bubble bath! If you don’t find yourself madly in love with your traveling companion on that trip, you need to trade him in for someone else.)