Monday, March 31, 2008

When is an idea too weird?

I've been working on a new novel when out of the blue, two other ideas sprang up. One is really grabbing me, and I'm too superstitious to talk about it here, but it's very, very odd. Think odd in the sense of Time Traveler's Wife (except I may be the only person on the planet who didn't love that novel.) I don't know if I can pull it off. I don't know if my agent will like it--or any editor. I've written novels before that bridge the gap between reality and a curiosity about what is and isn't real (Lifelines was about the struggle of a daughter to come to terms with her mother's being a medium--hey, it got starred PW and Kirkus because it was really about one of my favorite themes--identity. Are we who we think we are? I bridged that sense of strangeness in writing Lifelines by making it never quite clear whether or not the mother had a real gift or not--though she certainly felt she did and lived her life that way.)

I think I'm going out of my comfort zone and I'm a little unnerved and scared, which is probably the right way to feel. But what if that unease means this is not a path I should be taking?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

creativity and its contents and oh baby

First, here is a detail of the brass with inlaid bugs and jewels switchplate in jeff's office (the paint needs to be cleaned off the top a bit, but this is a very cool switch plate. His office is this mustard color which isn't showing up. Above is the alcove under the skylight with a cool black ladder and Miles Davis poster.

I'm just coming out of bronchitus and I've been doing nothing but working on my novel and juggling some new novel ideas and rewriting a script. Last night I couldn't sleep at at four in the morning I began thinking of quantum physics and different universes and how there really is no time and made myself panicked. And--In the midst of this flurry of activity and this creative and hallucinatory work, Max has composed the music and lyrics for a song, and we painted the inside of our 1865 rowhouse. So, of course, the final creative yearning for me is.....for a baby.

I know, I know.

I can't have any more kids because I'm too old now and anyway my first pregnancy jumpstarted a deadly one in a million blood disorder (see my novel Coming Back to Me and numerous articles--and it's all resolved and won't ever come back unless I need a million transfusions all at once) and we tried to adopt a few years ago (See my novel Girls in Trouble) so I think my best shot is for someone to deposit a baby on our doorstep. I know we can't possibly afford this, I know it's not a great idea, and I know if we had a baby here I'd be way too exhausted. I still remember 5 AM feedings, night terrors, and having mashed banana on everything I own, including in my mop of hair. But, but, but, there is something intoxicating about the idea.

But wait, there's more! I also want to cook all day today, and knit and rearrange everything in my office. One bit of creative spark is starting a fire. Does this happen to others?

I think I'm going to go to the bookstore with Max and give and get extra kid-sized hugs from him. And a brownie.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Let's hear it for the boy take 400

Guess who got his first cell phone and knows how to use it?

Me and my bronchitis on the radio tonight

I'm thrilled to announce that I am going to be on Calling All Authors tonight, along with authors Barbara Abecrombie, Victoria Zackheim, Margot Duxler and Aimee Liu to talk about our essays in Victoria Zackheim's anthology, For Keeps.

The call-in number for listeners is:1(605) 475-6006 ACCESS CODE 763624#
The show is on the air today at:7PM Central time.

To listen to it later, go to

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Firefighter writer

Holly Volz is amazing. She's a firefighter and a writer and she's just completed a manuscript about her life called Going In that is truly fascinating. "Fire does whatever the hell it wants," Holly says, and reading her book made me think about flames (and firefighters) a whole lot differently than I did before. The haunting photo on the left is from her website, which also has an excerpt from her book.
All I can say is I wish Holly lived closer than Indiana because I'd love to travel along with her for a day.

Monday, March 24, 2008

cough cough

Bronchitus has struck. Antibiotic city. Working on scripts, novel, class. Can't even write a full sentence, but I feel disjointed and dizzy like the photo on the left. But the good news is the house is gorgeous and after four days with the TV out and all four computers stuck on dial-up, things are back in order.

I'm going to get ginger tea and watch a movie. See you later alligators.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


The house is done! To the left is the bedroom which actually is about five shades darker than this picture, but at least you can see some of the details--the house is from 1865, and when we bought it, it was covered in wood paneling (the tackiest kind imaginable), all the ceilings were lowered, and all the fireplaces were hidden. This particular room was covered in orange shag carpeting, which we ripped out immediately and revealed wide plank wood floors. The light is actually a brass chandelier (the previous owners painted it black. Don't ask me why. We were about to toss it when we got a bit of ZipStrip on it, and suddenly there was brass) The intricate mouldings (you can't see the big rosette in this photo but you can see the openwork mouldings along the ceiling) were the one thing that the previous owners left alone. Oh, and above the marble fireplace? The old owners had installed a totally mirrored surface--the kind with webs of faux gold. We took that off immediately, too.

I keep wandering the rooms and I love the colors so much I want to marry them. I've never had a home that I've cared for so much. When I lived in Manhattan, I loved my postage stamp apartment but I never decorated or cared for it, and never kept anything other than a tin of yogurt and water in the fridge. I feared moving to a house, too, even one in as urban an environment as Hoboken. I didn't want to be a domesticated person (oh fool that I was!) and for a long time I couldn't call it a house. I had to call it a brickstone, or a rowstone. Now, of course, I am no longer foolish--at least not about that--and our next project is new blinds, which will probably cost as much as going to dental school.

A while ago I was bemoaning how rapidly the letters on my keyboards fade. Someone wrote in and told me it was probably the acid in my skin. I ordered these press on letters, which look cool, but they are so large and so bright that it is a tad annoying. Worse, once on, they don't come off. Has anyone used these? If they stay on, then it's absolutely worth it. But will they?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The lost diaries

Moving a desk for the painters (three more days to go), I found three diaries that I had been keeping for a woman who was my first friend when I moved to NYC. She had an even tinier apartment than I did, right across the hall and I spent most of my time camped out on her couch until I got my bearings. She took care of me when I arrived, crumbled from my divorce. She took care of me when my fiance died. We leaned on each other for support. But oh, what great times we had! She always found cheap tickets to Broadway, to the ballet, to any sold out show and she and I crashed the parties that turned out to be revelations rather than just fun.

She was funny and smart.

She was amazing.

And then, five years into our friendship, she had a full blown psychotic breakdown. Diagnosed late onset schizophrenic. She attacked a child, demanding to see his ID. She punched a professor in the face and drew blood. She thought the government had spies out after her and she nearly caused an accident on the California freeway because she thought spies were trying to drive her off the road. And then she was hospitalized and medicated.

She's been in and out of hospitals for years now and the last I saw her, she was delusional and paranoid, sure people were following her. She blamed me. She yelled at me and then stepped out into NYC traffic while I, screaming, tried to grab at her. She jumped into a cab and that night called me to tell me that she didn't want to talk to me anymore. I was so upset I went to a shrink myself to figure out how I could help her. ("You can't," was the answer.)

So yesterday, I sat on the floor among all my boxes and read her journals (she always said I could) and it was an ache in my heart.

I don't know where she is anymore. I don't know how she is.

I've been wanting to write about her for years, which is something she always wanted. I suppose I want to do this to try and heal that wound, but I can't find the way into the story. Maybe it's just too soon or maybe I just want to still protect her. Maybe I feel guilty that I couldn't save her. Maybe it's my next novel or maybe I should mind my own business and be silent.

Does writing heal? Writers want to write about what is often a thorn in the heart, but what if it involves someone else's pain (as well as your own)? What do you do then?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A paint break!

There's Rod Serling Conference! Don't you want to go? And they are having a Twilight Zone marathon!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Ack! The painters are here!

1. Take deep breath.
2. Don't panic. The colors chosen are great.
3. Breathe paint fumes. Think about four days of this, six if you count the weekend.
4. Panic at the amount of dirt and dust behind book shelves that haven't been moved in 14 years.
5. Worry that the feng shui is all messed up.
6. Worry that I won't be able to write.
7. Think about going out for every single meal which perks me up immeasurably.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Another cool paint job

Isn't this fantastic? This is from one of the writers in my UCLA class, Viva Barkowski. She says it was painted for a nursery, but she loved it so much (how inspirational can you get?) that she's kept it. I would love to write in a space like this!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Please, do NOT think pink--we need beauty in this bath

Ok, we have three gorgeous blue swatches in the bedroom, I chose for my office, Max's room is this buttery yellow and Jeff's office is beachy. But this second tiny bathroom is making me crazy. It's got an old fashioned pedestal sink with cool handles, a gorgeous wood framed medicine chest, and the tiles are sort of peach, the stuff with the three paint samples is textured--sort of wainscotting. We can't change those tiles, but the pink has got to go. Any suggestions? Obviously the three samples painted on are not working.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Five Chapters

Several years ago I did tag team fiction for the fabulous David Daley which was in The Journal News. Tag team was an innovative idea where two writers were paired and one wrote the first half of a story and one wrote the other. The story I wrote with Rochelle Shapiro is on my website.

Now, David's doing something even more spectacular. Five Chapters rolls out a short story in serial form through the week. He's got an incredible roster of writers, and I was invited to submit. (OK, I emailed him and begged, but still--)

Go check it out.

Friday, March 7, 2008

One writer's very cool office

Rachel Rappaport sent me this really cool photo of her workspace, which really ramped up my desire to throw some color on my walls. Many, many thanks, Rachel! The green is so refreshingly wild and I also really love the lamp. I could write a novel in this space!

Rachel also runs a really fantastic food blog, Coconut & Lime . You can find all sorts of incredible and inventive recipes, from Japanese to vegan to Korean, and everything has a delectable edge.

And photographer and pal Susan Benjamin just told me that she has the same problem with her keyboards. It has something to do with the acid or alkaline properties of your skin and she swears that if I paint the keys with some sort of plastic coating, I should be able to hang onto my keyboard for more than three weeks. (As i type, my H is gone and my I, and my N has just said sayonara.) I'm trying this.

Color confusion

There are four shades of blue in my office. Our bedroom has four shades of a different blue dabbed on the wall. The bathroom is a riot of try-out shades and none of the colors Jeff liked work in his office. I have paint on my fingernails and probably in my hair. I wish an interior decorator would show up and say, "Yes! This is the perfect color!"

I think I've lived in a white wall environment for far too long.

My friend Jimmy, an architect, has two bits of wisdom he's been repeating to me since we were 18:
1. Don't be afraid of color. (He's right on this.)
2. Don't destroy the natural beauty of the hand with rings. (He's wrong on this one.)

Does anyone know how you can tell from a swatch on the wall what the full-room color is really going to look like? Also, if anyone wants to come over and choose the colors for us, I'll cook dinner and that includes chocolate mousse for dessert.

On a related problem. I seem to be destroying my keyboards at a tremendous rate. I type so fast and so hard that I wear out the letters on the keyboard in weeks. Does anyone else have this problem?


My friend Leslie Lehr has written a fabulous new novel, Wife Goes On. The novel is as wonderful as Leslie is, (both brim with character) and I decided Leslie had to talk about her book here.

Wife Goes On is the story of four women with nothing in common except divorce, who find that it’s more than enough to be friends.

Leslie, why did you write this particular novel?
I wanted to write something funny and romantic, but with all the drama of real life, so these women run the gamut from Diane, an MBA turned PTA Supermom, whose husband gambled away their home, and a former homecoming queen with two babies and an abusive ex jock husband, to a recovering actress hiding in plain sight following the public humiliation of her superstar husband’s affair, and a hotshot divorce lawyer who lost custody of her daughter and has to pay alimony as well. The word “divorcee” is as false a cliché as the term “Chick lit.” This is the story of complex women searching for happiness – and finding it.

I want to paint a positive face on divorce, lose the stigma. Despite the numbers, there is still a stigma - if only from that fear of failure inside us. Who doesn’t dream of the white dress and the fairy tale ending? My parents had an ugly divorce and I didn’t want to follow in their footsteps, so I spent a good ten years resisting the “D” word. No matter how easy the statistics make it look, when you have children, it’s not remotely easy. It’s heartbreaking. I wrote an essay about how hard it was to make the decision, (“Welcome to the Club”) for an anthology called, The Honeymoon’s Over. Then one day, I woke up so happy – it was like I got a Do Over card. I recognized the old me in the mirror. Maybe I made some poor decisions early on, but this is my life! I get to try again!

I did some research and found statistics that implied that women are happier after divorce mainly because we are better educated and have work experience – but I didn’t buy it. It’s really tough financially for most women. The laws have caught up with our professional degrees in terms of potential earnings, but most of us have been too busy running home for softball games to make that kind of money. I was no exception. So there had to be another reason. Then I realized that my mom’s generation, often still bitter, was ashamed to talk about it, to air their dirty laundry Now we wash it together. Going through this with my friends made all the difference in the world. I felt so strong, I wished I hadn’t been so afraid for so long. Instead of crying to my friends, I wanted to celebrate with them. And I want people to see there is a light at the end of the tunnel – and it’s not another train. It’s the bright sun in a blue sky.

So what's the deep down message in your book?
That you are not alone. Sometimes you feel so alone when you are married that it seems like that feeling will never go away. But it does. You just have to allow yourself to get through the grief process – a dream has died, after all - and friends can help you do that. You know that rule of wing-walking: don’t let go of one airplane until you have hold on another? A lot of women do that, go from one man to another. But I think it’s really important to find out who you are and be happy with yourself, to free fall a bit and look around. Later, there will be so many airplanes to choose from, you’ll make a better decision.

So let your friends give you that vital emotional connection. They can help you define yourself and gain the confidence that you have value. Often they are waiting for a signal, so reach out for help. It doesn’t have to be one group of friends, either. The characters in Wife Goes On would never be friends if not for this emotional connection of recognizing the mutual experience. Different women provide different kinds of friendship, from a hiking buddy, to a crying buddy, to a talk about sex buddy, to a single one who wants to go dancing, or a married one who can go to a matinee. Also, the legal process has such a huge learning curve. Often, you need a simple answer that doesn’t cost a million dollars an hour. Then the information is wasted - unless you help the next person along. You begin to recognize other women who need you. As you gain friends, you learn how to be one. Like the Girl Scout song, “make new friends but keep the old; some are silver and the others gold.” I like to put it another way: Husbands may come and go, but friends are forever.

What's the buzz on the book?
I’m celebrating all over the country. Cake and champagne on my book tour! My new website,, has questions for book clubs, a contest, a joke of the week, and a place for women to share success stories. Friends are helping me put on a benefit at this great spa in Ventura to help women starting over. My brother-in-law made a cute no-budget video, and my kids are teaching me how do MySpace. Plus, I’ll be on panels at places like the LA Times Festival of Books.

How did the writers’ strike affect you?
I had to stop working on an original movie for Lifetime. It was my first union job, so I was hugely in favor of the strike, but this was a really funny second draft, so it was awful to work so hard and not be able to turn it in. Or get paid. It was right before Christmas, so the timing was bad, but in another way, the timing was good, because I had time to enjoy my family and to focus on Wife Goes On.

You, lucky one, have a movie, Welcome to Club Divorce.
It’s the story of one women, a really current take on what its like today, in 2008, to have a sizzling second act. It’s a custom story for Lifetime, who, as you can see from their new shows, is expanding from being the number one cable channel for women to being a source of original programming with a rich sense of story telling. My project will evolve as everyone gets back to work, but for comparison sake, the reviewer who said that Wife Goes On is an updated version of First Wives Club meets Sex in the City, would say that “Welcome to Club Divorce” is Lifetime’s response to “Starter Wife.”

Do you have another novel in the pipeline?
Yes, a novel called, The Long Way Home, about a mother who goes to such lengths to protect her teenage daughter that she loses her – and everything else. I actually started this novel earlier, but when Wife Goes On bubbled up, I had to put that aside. I’m excited to go back and give it a happy ending.

What’s the best tip you could give a person starting out as a writer?
Read. When I teach in the Writers Program at UCLA, I’m always amazed at how little people read. You don’t have to be limited to the classics, read everything: books, newspapers, cereal boxes. Don’t be afraid to not finish a book, there’s plenty more out there and something is bound to speak to you, be it for the characters or the story or the voice. The more you read, the easier it will be to learn the ebb and flow of storytelling and find your own style.
And read a ton of books on writing. Every artist constantly hones her craft. Anatomy of Story is my current fave; the author is brilliant. Besides, what’s more fun than reading about what you love to do?

What’s the best thing and worst thing about being a writer?
The best thing is: you can always be working.
The worst thing is: you can always be working.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Let's hear it for the Boy!

My accomplishments pale next to those of my son, Max's. Now 11, he is heading on the directorial trail. He and his friend Mike have just started M and M Productions and they are beginning their first film. My friend, screenwriter and story guru Jeff Lyons ( suggests that this high octane team should do all our movies, and if he refuses, I can play the mom card and send him to his room! (Max, I won't do that! I promise!)

Anyway, here is his very first video for Youtube, a picture paraody of one of his fave songs. I hope everyone will go see it and support young talent and even post a comment.

Breaking news, sort of

I'm excited to report that I have some events coming up. Ya hoo!

1. Calling All Authors Radio Show
Wednesday, March 26th7:55 Eastern Time
I will be talking about my essay, Belly Wars from the anthology For Keeps. The essay, first published in Salon, is about a year of terror for me when I was critically ill and looked horrific--and how I discovered the real meaning and depth of beauty. No, I will not be posting photographs of what I looked like for that one terrifying year, so please don't keep asking.

2. Canadian TV, CTVglobemedia
Filming in May, Show date to be announced-stay tuned. They are going to film in my home, so this means I won't have to dress up and I can get away without having to do Today Show hair and makeup (even though that was fun, mind you.) It will be a portrait of the artist as a neurotic and I'll be talking about the above essay and my infamous Cassandra essay which was in The Other Woman, New York Magazine, staged with other essays at the NYC Player's Club, and now has film interest.

3. Backspace Writers Conference
August 9, 9-9:45 I'll be speaking along with novelist Leora Skolkin-Smith, Details to follow when we figure out/firm up what we are going to talk about.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Office Politics

I've made the huge decision to paint my office! This has been 14 years without paint and the white is going and I think it's going to be icy blue.

I'm fascinated by writers workspaces. Are their office neat, messy? Do they have talismans? My office is on the top floor and used to look out on the World Trade Center towers. I've got about 75 snowdomes on a file cabinet, a huge bulletin board stuffed with picture, books everywhere on every surface. Most of the books have post-its so I can tell what their pub date is and when I need to read them for review. There's a clock whose face is a Halloween shot of Jeff, Max and I in costume, which doesn't work (I love it, and refuse to take it down), A Malibu Barbie with a broken leg, and various plastic purses from the 50s that my mother-in-law gave me. are wedged into one of my two big bookshelves. I have an old rocker that I bought and love, a couch I nap on when I'm overwhelmed, an eliptical trainer so I can stay skinny and two of my favorite things. One is a picture Max drew when he was in kindergarten that says, "That's Mommy! She's telling me a secret! It's a surprise! I can't tell you!" And one is a photograph of me when I was six, sitting on the stoop with my mother on my way to camp. I have bangs and a little ponytail and I don't look happy (I hated camp) and the caption, in my six-year-old squiggle says, "Here I am (caroline) raddy to go to camp with Mommy."

So what does your workspace look like? Are you neat? Messy like me? If anyone sends in photos, I will post them. (Of course now I risk embarrassment because if no one sends anything in, it means no one is reading this post!) Oh well, what's a little risk? I'll show you mine if you show me yours.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The way to a girl's heart is Peeps

We've just come back from a weekend at our friends' country house, complete with fireplace, kids, videos, snow, wine at dinner (not for the kids), and Peeps.
Ok, let me clarify. The way to MY heart is with Peeps, those sugary delectable marshmallow candies that come in all varieties of colors (none found in nature, mind you.) I am so dedicated to these candies that we went to visit a Peeps show (no, not a PEEP show, that's something different.) I'm a purist so these cocoa bunnies (Just Born! says the label) are not as cool as the chicks, but I've already polished two.

The only other candy that compares is SkyBars, which can be found only in Boston.