Sunday, January 29, 2006

Two minute book review

I absolutely loved the Oprah book- of- the- month, Midwives by Chris Bohjalian, from many years ago. I cannot pronounce his last name, but this man can write. I didn't know that Chris had written several other book besides Midwives, his latest being Before You Know Kindness. See what happens when good writers don't get publicized? Fabulous novels slip through the cracks and I missed Chris's last three books. But I did find Before You Know Kindness and for that I'm grateful.

People who turn their noses up at light, chick-lit novels will enjoy this deep, thoughtful, compelling book about how a family can be brought down by a single act and become whole again.

Friday, January 27, 2006

What famous people are reading...

Actress Naomi Watt's tells me she doesn't have much time to read, but just finished Candance Bushnell's Sex and The City novel. For those of you who enjoy that kind of book, I suggest Rachel Pine's Twin's of Tribeca and Lauren Weisberger's Everyone Worth Knowing.

Megan Crane, Everyone Else's Girl

Megan Crane's novel, Everyone Else's Girl is a quickly moving novel about a girl who is needed back at home when her mother goes on a trip to Europe and her father gets in a car accident. Meredith McKay has gone to great lengths to put her childhood behind her and move away from her troublesome family. The book poses the question, can you really go home again?

I know what it's like to grow up in a small town. I spent long hours staring out my bedroom window, wondering which big city I would end up in because I certainly wasn't going to live in Bergen County forever. This novel resonated with me in a big way and it will with you too if you have ever longed to shed your childhood and move on to bigger and better things.

Megan, where in New Jersey did you grow up? Im from Bergen County. As I read the book, I could imagine the very small town I grew up in.

I grew up in Ridgewood, which I guess doesn't qualify as a small town, but it felt pretty small to me. I remember thinking my high school class was tiny, when in fact there were about 300 or so people in it. (Megan, we were literally neighbors, I grew up one town over!)

Did you move away from home? Do you run into old classmates when you go back?

I went away to college and only lived at home for brief periods after that. In my earlier twenties, I saw a lot of old classmates, but these days there aren't too many who are still in the area. Or maybe I don't go looking for them anymore!

Ever been to a high-school reunion and if so what was it like to run into old friends or boys you had crushes on?

I went to exactly one high school reunion and it was awful. I made a complete fool of myself, confessed longtime crushes, and generally behaved like an idiot. I've never been to another. I think a key point to remember about high school is that it is one of the last periods in your life when you have nothing to do with choosing your environment. Your parents moved to that town, or chose that school. Everything after high school, you choose. You might not like your college classmates or your co-workers, but you helped put yourself there and I think it makes a difference. But no more reunions for me!

How long did it take you to write the book?

I think, all told, it took about three or four months. There was a lot of rewriting! In fact at one point I decided everything should be in third person, so I went in and changed it all. Then I decided that no, it belonged in first person, so I went in again and changed everything back. I really don't recommend doing this. Talk about unnecessary work!

Are you like the "good girl" Meredith?

I think everyone has a Meredith in there somewhere. Everyone's the star of her own story. Everyone thinks she's the good one. Meredith tries so hard to do what she thinks is right, and pretty much falls flat on her face in a big muddy pool of her least attractive character traits. I haven't made the same mistakes that Meredith does, and I had entirely different lessons to learn, but believe me, I've been down in that mud just the same.

How do you write- with music? Lots of coffee? Alone? At a coffee house?

I wish I could write in a coffee house, because that sounds so fabulous to me. Very writerly. But I like quiet. Total silence is best, although I'm weaning myself off that, because it's a bit difficult to achieve. I can only listen to wordless music while writing, or I get distracted. And, of course, an endless stream of caffeine.

If you could hold any job in the world, what would it be?

I really like this one! Although, if pressed, I would graciously allow, say, Steven Spielberg to discover me and feature me in his films.

Do you do pilates or yoga? Like to dance? Ever take ballet or jazz as a kid?

I've never done pilates. I like yoga, and have a Bryan Kest DVD I'm a big fan of, although I don't do it as often as I should. I love to dance. I took ballet AND jazz AND tap as a kid, for years and years. I wanted to be those girls in the Noel Streatfield books!

What would you like to see happen in 2006 in your life?

I feel enormously lucky. I have a job I love, friends who are like family, family who are ever more supportive, and a life I enjoy. In 2006, I'd like to make sure I don't allow any of these gifts to go to waste. (And if Mr. Spielberg is reading, I answer all my email...)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A bit from Chapter One

Although I'm hardly a famous writer, I decided to post a bit of my own novel here on my blog. If you are not an aspiring writer you may not know the whole query deal where you send an agent a letter asking them to read your novel, or a piece of your novel in hopes they will love it and want to represent you. Then, if you are super lucky and talented and have put in the hard work it takes to be the next hot author, they will agree to represent you and editors will be clamoring to publish your book and you will receive an advance that will enable you to buy breast implants and a new Infiniti SUV with money left over to fly to Cannes for the yearly film festival.

But other writers like myself, labor day in and day out, trying to make contact with an editor or agent that falls in love with the book but to no avail. Letters are mailed, emails are sent as you wait in anticipation....and wait...and another month goes by and more waiting...meanwnile Im not getting any younger. Therefore I'm posting a chapter of my book here, casting a wide net for internet users to read my words.

And so I present to you, a little taste of What It Must Be Like To Sleep With a Star. Book three of my Distressed Jeans collection of written words just waiting for an agent.

a sample from Chapter One

If you ever spot someone sporting a mullet or a tight poodle perm, please give them my name and number and let me set them straight. There are certain things that are just unacceptable in today’s fashion forward society and really, the control top pantyhose with open toe sandals is just the beginning. After that it’s just an avalanche of poor sartorial choices from bohemian-homeless chic to spandex bike shorts and half shirts, especially those of the mesh variety.
I’ve been working on the New York Times future bestseller entitled, The Diva’s Fashion Bible. No, I haven’t secured an agent and no, I have only been making mental notes so I don’t actually have chapter one completed.

But in my own mind, I know it’s going to sky rocket to the top. How could it not, I mean just look at me! In my Prada ensemble, ( a brilliantly fashioned knock-off) croc skin heels and matching purse, the simple strand of elegant pearls culled from the finest oysters in the Caspian Sea, and my perfectly smooth strawberry blonde hair, high-lighted to achieve that ocean bleached, sun-kissed look, I am a picture of perfection. Now listen, it takes time and effort to pull this off effectively. You cannot just assume you can do it, most can’t. Many have tried, few succeed. For example, how many times have you paired a cotton pull- over with a poly-blend skirt and then stepped into low heeled loafers with trouser socks? Exactly.

Before you assume you know my type, cool your jets and let me introduce you to moi. Thirty years old give or take, I work at an illustrious magazine, Ladies Monthly. Have you heard of it? I didn’t think so. You’re not alone, sweetie. It’s geared towards middle- aged haus fraus with strictly a west coast demographic. Our advertisers are items like cleaning supplies, adult diapers and heartburn medication instead of Guess jeans, Tod’s bags and Tiffany jewelry. What was I doing here you are asking, I can read your mind. After a stint working at a national tabloid magazine, performing menial secretarial tasks like making copies and brewing large pots of coffee for executives who wore cheap suits and horrible shoes, I peaked and plateaued, then gave my two weeks notice. A girl like myself doesn’t toil away at grunt work forever. I was desperate for a place where I could move in and take over as a staff writer. And then take over period.

So I didn’t exactly stage a corporate coup at Ladies Monthly but I did get to see my name in print every month and the stress was low. Plus I worked with a bunch of women and I was not only the best looking, but by far the best dressed. With Vogue and Elle as my guides, I continued to wear clothes that made other ladies drool. I drove a neat little car and lived in a cute apartment. I was every inch the essence of a successful woman with money to spend and a life that others envied. Don’t you wish you were me? My paycheck afforded me all the clothes I wanted plus all the ice-burg lettuce salads I could eat. I had to sacrifice somewhere you know, and I would choose Armani over food any day.

At eight o’ clock in the morning after two venti non-fat decaf soy lattes with a single Sweet n’Low, I had zero enthusiasm and even less energy to begin my tasks. Unfortunately, I would feel the same on Tuesday and quite possibly until five o’clock on Friday. A memo floated down on my desk and I picked up the slip of paper that could only mean one thing: a meeting. Maddie Thorton, the editor of Ladies Monthly, loved to hold meetings just to remind us that she was the boss and every single detail had to be done to her liking. She was all khaki and chambray, but underneath the loafers and frosty blonde hair, she was a barracuda who was known to make grown women and the occasional man cry.

So everything wasn’t as perfect as I made it out to be. Every cloud has it’s Swarovski crystal- studded, sterling silver lining and mine just happened to be the fact I worked in a cubicle at the far end of the office, tucked away in the back where I could spend time reading my fashion magazines and indulging in various tabloids. I spent a lot of time scanning the internet for celebrity news. Just like shopping and looking at myself in the mirror, it was a harmless hobby.
Glancing at the pink slip, I saw I had fifteen minutes until the conference. I used my time wisely and got a mug of bitter coffee from the break room, chatted with the girls in advertising then went back to my desk to check email.

Aside from my fashion news and advertisements for porn and penis enlargements, there was nothing of interest in my box. I logged onto Ebay to bid on some Kat Savage concert tickets. One hundred and sixty dollars was a small price to pay for third row seats. Worth every penny. I would drag my best-friend Nicky along and we could get crazy and throw panties up on the stage. Just kidding, of course. You should know that I am too refined for such behavior, although it wouldn’t be out of character for me to toss up a friendly note with my phone number.

Let me fill you in case you’ve been living under a rock or on a planet where leg warmers are still in vogue: Kat Savage was a gorgeous pop star with hair as soft and fine as spun gold. She had big brown eyes and a wide smile filled with bleached white teeth.

The only problem was lately she was looking - how shall I say it? Trashy. Her normally glowing skin was pallid and haggard, dark shadows circled her eyes and her usually glossy hair was dry and limp. Each time I came across a photo of her in the magazines, my heart broke. Sure, that breakup with Trevor Lake was devastating. I mean, he split up with her via an interview on Entertainment Now. And if I hadn’t been sitting on the couch with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s with my Maltese pup, Johnny Depp, I would have read about it a day later when I received my US Magazine in the mailbox along with Celebrity Star and the Gossiper and I would have found out with the rest of the celeb-obsessed world. But as luck would have it, I saw it first with my own two eyes.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Leah Stewart, The Myth of You and Me

Sometimes you just know when you open a book that its going to be a good one. No, a great one. A book you cannot put down or stop thinking about. A book that makes you want to turn to the end to see how things get wrapped up because you cannot read fast enough. Such was the case with The Myth of You and Me by Leah Stewart.

I enjoyed the novel from beginning to end and told all of my friends that they must read this book. Its essentially about two best friends who have grown apart due to a past event. You want to know what happened to drive the friends apart. There is much more to the story but if you have ever been fifteen, ever loved a friend like a sister, or ever lost touch with a buddy and can't stop thinking about him or her, this is the perfect book for you.

Who was your best friend when you were 15?

Her name was Kim. She was, as my brother recently said, "hot," and also one of the most genuinely good-natured people I've ever met. She was a year or two older, and she took me under her wing. She was a Southern Baptist, so I spent a lot of time at youth group, and she was a runner, so I spent a lot of time at the community college track. I used to run a mile or two with her and then walk while she did five or six more. She drove a tiny blue pick-up truck.

Who do you identify with more, Sonia or Cameron?

In the first drafts it was definitely Cameron. I gave her something out of my own life--being a military brat--so when she talks about her experience of moving, she's voicing thoughts I've had on the subject. And I gave her this question I've struggled with myself: If someone betrays you, does that erase the sum total of your relationship with them? Is a story only about its end?

In those early drafts Sonia wasn't terribly likable, so I made an effort to make her more so, because otherwise I didn't think the loss of the friendship would have the weight it should. And in doing that I came to, maybe not exactly identify with her, but definitely to understand her.

Did you plot out the entire book before writing or did the characters surprise you with their actions?

Neither, really. I'm not good at plotting beforehand. If I've thought through something too carefully, I have trouble writing it. I lose the sense of exploration and discovery that keeps me working.

With my first book I had a dead body on the first page, which provided a motor for the story. This book was actually considerably harder to write than that one, because when I began it I had so little idea of what the story was. But I don't often have that experience some writers talk about of being completely surprised by what characters do. It's more that in the process of writing I struggle to find what they should do, and when I find it, it feels like, "Oh, of course," like I knew it all along but didn't know I knew it. There were only two things that really came as a surprise: When I realized, after two drafts, that the friendship was the focus of the story. And when Oliver showed up.

What is your favorite song or group from when you were a teenager? The one you hear on the radio and it always brings you back to being with your best friend on summer break..?

This is not my favorite song, but "Pour Some Sugar on Me" by Def Leppard brings back vivid memories of cruising Main with Kim (who had a cassette she used to play in the pick-up) and going to high school dances.

Has having a daughter changed your writing schedule?

Oh my God, yes. I still try to work in the mornings, but now that's pretty much the only time I get, so there's a lot of pressure on those two or three hours. Sometimes that's good. I get a lot more done when I know I don't have the luxury of wasting time. Sometimes it's bad, because just as the ideas start coming I have to tear myself away from the desk.

What do you think was a major flaw of Sonia’s? I mean, she cheated on her fiancée! And lied to him. Was her adult self an indication of her mothers influence in her childhood? And why did you make Madame Gray so cruel?

I actually didn't mean to suggest that she cheated on her fiance, but that she slept with Will during a brief breakup from Martin.

Madame Gray always was cruel, from my first conception of her, which was as a deeply unhappy woman who loves and hates her daughter in equal measure. As for why, her behavior was crucial to the shaping of Sonia's character. Sonia has a habit of secrecy and compartmentalization, established in childhood because of her mother, that helps explain much of what she does, including lying to Martin.

Unlike Cameron, who has trouble showing affection to people she actually likes, Sonia has a tendency to be artificial. That's why she's good at rushing a sorority when Cameron is not. She's on a constant charm offensive, although it's gotten more subtle as she's gotten older, and she needs a lot of attention and affection to keep herself going. But then she also needs someone who knows the real Sonia, because all that tapdancing is exhausting and she can't be sure people will like her if she stops doing it.

Do you read your books all the way through once they are published? And if you do, do you ever wish you could change things?

I don't. I read them all the way through for the last time right before I deliver them to the publisher. Afterwards I don't think about changing the plot or the characters, but in each book there are certain sentences that make me cringe. I'd like to take a red pen to a few of those.

What do you like to do for fun?

Read, go to the movies, watch TV, then talk about books, movies, and TV. I'm a narrative junkie, which is one reason I love character-driven TV, because the story just goes on and on. It's a real indulgence for me to watch my DVDs of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And now Veronica Mars. That's good stuff.

Are you currently working on another novel? And when will your next book be out?

I'm working on a novel about a young nurse on the frontlines of the European Theater in WWII, based in part on my grandmother's experience. I have in mind to make it a visceral adventure story, with danger and romance and possibly a villain. We'll see how that goes. I have no idea when it will be out, because I don't know how long it will take to write it. The first book took about two years, the second about four. I'm hoping this one won't take eight

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

When A- Lister meets Z- Lister

Best friends forever: what could have been

Click here to read about Gigi and her novel, The Starter Wife

Gigi and mega producer husband, Brian

A few months ago I got in touch with Gigi Levangie Grazer. For those of you who don’t know who she is, she is a best selling writer who penned the screenplay to the Julie Roberts/Susan Sarandon vehicle, StepMom and is married to one of the most famous and prominent movie producers in Hollywood, spiky haired dynamo Brian Grazer.

I told Gigi about my interview site and asked if I could meet with her to promote her novel, The Starter Wife. I read her other books and couldn’t wait to discuss The Starter Wife with her. We agreed on a time and place to meet and naturally I was beside myself with anticipation. Gigi is a gorgeous, accomplished woman whose connections to the A-listers runs deep. Surely we would hit it off and become friends and she would give me advice on my career and help steer me in the right direction. Gigi alone could make things happen for me. Surely! We might be best friends forever and our kids would frolic on the beaches of Malibu and we would shop and attend movie premieres together. My imagination got the best of me and soon I was planning spa trips together and skiing vacations in Aspen with our respective families.

I lamented about what to wear, calling my dear friend S. in a panic. “Whatever you do,” she ordered, “don’t wear jeans and don’t wear your hair all fluffy like you usually do. Pull it back. Be understated and elegant.” My hair is kind of big, but it’s the badge of honor I wear from my home state of New Jersey. Okay, okay, so I could wear my hair in a low ponytail but I didn’t want to wear my normal uniform of jeans because that would be too casual. I didn’t want to look like a hoochie, but I didn’t want to come across like a stodgy librarian either. Image is everything!

I nervously pawed through my closet several times, each time hoping a new Marc Jacobs ensemble would pop up. I began trying on different clothes and attempting to come up with something that would say, fashionista! Writer! Cool! Pulled together and charming! It was important that I come across the right way, after all, Gigi and I were going to be embarking on a friendship and this first step was crucial!

I finally decided on a cranberry colored skirt, a lace trimmed top and a knitted, caramel colored shrug with coordinating shoes and a cranberry colored Prada bag. I was armed with a small tape recorder and several witty questions. I almost needed an Ativan I was so excited. Yes of course I’ve met numerous celebs before and was totally cool and collected, but this was a woman who was not only successful in her own profession but was married to a man who practically ran Hollywood. I had much to be nervous about.

On the morning on our meeting, my friend T. and I drove to Los Angeles, fueled by venti non-fat mochas from Starbucks. Not a wise choice because the coffee mixed with my nerves produced an uncomfortable sensation in my colon. I prayed there wouldn’t be traffic on the journey to Beverly Hills.

“Did you read the book?” T. asked as we zoomed by a Barnes and Noble.

“, but I read all her other books and I did extensive research about her.” I said, fully confident that I didn’t need to read the book to perform the interview. Plus, I reasoned, I read all of her other books. Now, please note that each time I have interviewed anyone before and after Gigi, I’ve read the book, cover to cover. I take notes and am ridiculously prepared. This one misstep was a major faux pas on my part. The first of a few little judgment calls I failed that morning. Let's continue...

Gigi and I were to meet at 11am. I purposely didn’t do my full face makeup because I wanted to appear fresh as a daisy when we met at the ultra hip Urth café. I secretly hoped to run into Jake Gyllenhaal who is an Urth regular. I parked my car on a side street and in my teeny tiny car mirror, did my full face makeup and pulled my hair into a ponytail even though I wanted to hide behind a large coif. Big hair is my security blanket. I felt naked and vulnerable without it. But again, I need to scream Pulled Together Professional, not big haired mall rat from Jersey.

I left T. to shop while I strolled to Urth to wait for Gigi. When you are in Los Angeles, everyone is checking Everyone else out because Anyone can be Someone. A heavyset guy wearing an ear piece and a white track suit kept staring at me and I was watching him wondering if he was from William Morris. Would he notice my potential? Surely if I had the big hair going on, I would be on the E! channel right now. Even Ryan Seacrest started out with oversized and gelled hair.

Now here’s my faux pas no. 2. When I saw Gigi, I was so overcome with the excitement of meeting her (as well as relief that she showed up to meet me) I gave her a hug. A handshake would have been professional. The hug should have been held off until she invited me to accompany her to the spa for duel colonics. A hug is reserved for friends and relatives. As soon as I did it, I knew I committed a social crime. Suicide. Now we would never be best friends!

“Oh my God! You’re so… normal!” she exclaimed, shaking off the embrace. I found out she was expecting a boho chickie wearing Birkenstocks, driving a Mini Cooper and smelling of Patchouli. Not a fashionista with a French pedicure! Oh please!

Gigi and I ordered our food and I was very flattered when she told me I was pretty. Naturally I was looking fabulous: I had put hours into planning my skirt and shrug ensemble and had just completed full cosmetic application less than ten minutes ago!

I was equally impressed with her good looks. Gigi is like most of the woman in town: very thin and fit. Her hair is long and wavy and her skin is flawless. She is simply stunning. For someone so famous, Gigi has no air of pretension about her. Not even a looming bodyguard like the Olsen twins.

We sat down and immediately launched into a conversation that spanned all topics including breast implants, botox, children, husbands, writing, the Red Carpet, the Valentino dress she was going to wear to the Emmys and other things I won’t repeat because it was total girl talk. But Ill tell you this- I don’t know whether it was nerves or what but my mouth was off and running like those bulls at Pamplona. I told Gigi things that I don’t think my friends are aware of. I talked about my horrible high-school years and confided in her as if I had known her for years. She was just so…cool.

Gigi was quick witted and we had a good banter going on but I’m afraid I committed faux pas number 3 when I asked if I could come up to Malibu to visit her. I imagined walks on the beach and our kids building sandcastles while we sipped ice tea with fresh mint. I tend to be overzealous and star-struck at times and I think my smooth demeanor crumbled a bit when I hinted that I’d like to see what Malibu was all about, I’ve never been to the glorious neighborhood which is home to many A-listers.

“Well, did you read my book?” she asked.

Silence. So much for the Prada bag and mini tape recorder.

“I read every other book you wrote.” I stammered. “I was meaning to read it…”

“I describe Malibu in my novel. You should read it.” She sniffed.

We chatted so much, we never got around to actually doing the interview. This took place a few months ago and somehow, I never received that invitation to join Gigi for a night of dinner and drinks or a day at the beach while we would surely run into Jennifer Aniston and Britney Spears who also live in the exclusive community.

I can take the experience and tuck it away and reflect on it and now I know how not to be when coming face to face with a person I’m to interview. Gigi was just…so much fun! I wanted to sit and chat with her for the entire day and shop at Fred Segal and Kitson and hang out. While her life is filled with personal trainers and shopping and big events and all the very best the world has to offer, mine is…not quite the same. I thought perhaps a Grazer family Christmas card would find its way to my humble house but I wasn’t surprised when it didn’t. To be fair she doesn’t have my home address.This is what happens when an A-lister like Gigi meets a Z-lister like myself. Hugs and social ineptitudes combined with ill- timed mentions of invites up to Malibu.

For the record, I’d like to say that The Starter Wife is a hilarious book and you should buy it and read it and school yourself in the Hollywood life. Or study up before you go head to head with a famous wife in Beverly Hills. I’m just thankful I didn’t meet with Jake G. Can you imagine how embarrassing that would have been? On the other hand, maybe he is a hugger?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Michelle Herman, DOG

This book arrived in the mail one day, unexpectedly. The wonderful Lauren Cerand sent it to me. How did she know that I had just adopted a Great Dane puppy, a dog that would actually change my very comfortable routine and my life? The timing was perfect. How could anyone not want to open the book and begin reading with that cute dog on the cover? Just look at him! Don't you want to tuck him into your purse and show him off to all your friends?

DOG is about an independent woman whose life, much like my own, is turned around by a puppy she impulsively adopts. It's a short novel and can be read in a few evenings, to be enjoyed with a cup of tea in front of a roaring fireplace.

Michelle Herman is the poetic and smart and talented author of this clever book.

Jill is such a lonely character. Would the story have worked if your protagonist was a busy, bustling happy character with a boyfriend or a husband?

Well, it would have been an entirely different story, I think. It might be useful here if I tell you how I came to write Dog. I was walking my daughters puppy, a week or two after we'd adopted her. (The dog--Molly--has the same early history as Phil, the rescue puppy in Dog--which is to say, a sad, hard backstory: on the streets alone at four weeks, no siblings or mama; picked up and taken to the pound, where she was kept for two weeks; was about to be "put down," then was rescued by a "foster parent" who kept her for three weeks until my daughter found her photo on'd been looking for just the right rescue puppy for her, for weeks--and fell in love.

I should also say that our Molly has a personality utterly unlike Phil's. Phil is a cool, calm, collected, dignified puppy; Molly--even at three, which she now is, is a bundle of energy and neediness--a real people-person of a dog. She also barks CONSTANTLY.) Anyway, it It was midnight, a cold night. As I had been doing every night, and many times during the day every day, I was walking Molly. Because my daughter, despite the puppy being HER puppy, was at home asleep--and because, as I should have known, ALL the care of the puppy had fallen to me.

So Molly was yanking me down the street, and I'd already stumbled a couple of times. It was pitch-dark-­there are no street lights in my neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio--and the sidewalks were icy. I was freezing, I was exhausted, I'd had too much wine with my dinner and so I felt a little unsteady, I'd forgotten to put socks on before I put my boots on, and I was MAD. And I thought, "This dog, this dog, this dog is taking over my life."

And even though I was so tired and cold and feeling so put-upon, the thought made me laugh. It was a ridiculous thought. My life had already been taken over. I was my then nine-year-old daughter's mother, and I was in the middle of writing a book about being a mother (my book of personal essays, which has been labeled a "memoir," The Middle of Everything), and I was teaching two classes and volunteering at my daughter's school and trying to keep my house from collapsing into total disorder and doing my best to remember to occasionally say hello to my stoic husband­-and really I had to shove everything over a bit to make a little room in my life for Molly the puppy. But it struck me that it was not so hard to imagine what it would be like to have a dog take over my life­-a different life, the life I might have had.

The there-but-for-the-grace-of-God life I would have had, I thought, had I not met my husband, Glen, after living alone for seventeen years; had I not had my daughter, Grace, who is the center and central fact of my life. It wasn't hard at all to imagine how easy it would be for what I'd so crossly thought to be true. And so I went home and started writing, and Jill and her puppy Phil were born. (Had I written instead the story I've just told you--the put-upon overwhelmed but essentially happy [because I have a wonderful life, I love my life, and I am very, very grateful for it]--I wouldn't have been talking about the connection that reminds the dog's "owner" that life is--or can be--good. I would have been talking about something else entirely.... Would that "something else entirely"--my own life, say--have "worked"? Sure, I guess--who knows? But it's never the life that I'm living that I want to write fiction about [I have nonfiction for that--it's why I started writing nonfiction at all, in my forties, I guess]; it's the life I haven't lived.)

Have you ever had your life touched so deeply by an animal? Can a dog -or any animal - really change a person's life?

I've had my life touched deeply by a whole series of animals. Years ago, when I was single, I had two cats I adored (I should mention that a reporter who interviewed me said that she felt that Jill "seemed more like a cat person, really," which cracked me up. She DOES seem like a cat person. That's why her getting a dog was so perfect!

Back in the day--when I was in my twenties, living in a tiny apartment on Christopher Street, in NYC--I would never in a million years have gotten a dog. Aside from the fact that I didn't have room for a dog--there was barely room for ME in that apartment, plus the two cats--a dog requires so much effort and energy, the kind of connection that I had no interest in at all. It was just interesting--back to the above--to think about what I might have done had I still been living alone twenty-five years later, in a house that had plenty of room, and a sense that there was no one who was counting on me).

My two cats, Cadence and Elizabeth, were very much my family for many years (Cadence died in Columbus, Ohio, when she was close to twenty years old; Lizzy died in Columbus, too, four years later, just after my daughter was born. I think she died of a broken heart. Although it's true she was very elderly by then). I have a bird now--also my daughter's, but the bird has totally bonded to me and has no interest in anyone else; she sits on my shoulder or knee while I write. That's a cockatiel named Cody. I've been thinking about writing a bird story, actually. This bird has a very big personality. Once when she was sick, I was so worried about her, I couldn't work or eat, for days. So--yeah, I believe in deep connections between humans and animals and have experienced them.

Can a person's life be changed by her love for an animal, and an animal's love for her? You betcha. No question. And I'd say the chances of it being changed for the BETTER are about a thousand percent greater than the chances of that happening around another person (that sounds cynical, doesn't it? But like Jill, I had a checkered love life. Most of the guys most assuredly did NOT change my life for the better. Now, my daughter--that's another story...but I've told that, in another book).

Where did that adorable dog on the cover of the book come from?

Alas, I have to disappoint you with the news that it's a stock photo from some image bank. But it's such a wonderful photo! I was thrilled when the book's designer showed it to me. It's just perfect for the book, isn't it? (But people are always asking me about that puppy! I'm going to attach a photo of the actual puppy who inspired the character of Phil. This is Molly a few days after we got her. She doesn't look--nor does Phil look, in my mind's eye--like the adorable puppy on the cover. But I don't mind that.

Has your writing changed/evolved after having your daughter and if so, how?

It has changed. It's gotten better. And--oddly enough--I work better, overall. I concentrate better, I get more done, I've gotten wiser and more precise. This makes motherhood sound like magic, and that's not what I mean. But for me, motherhood seems to have focused me. I used to have whole days to write--weekend days, any day I wasn't teaching and didn't have prep to do for my classes, all summer long--and I would waste so much time and energy! Now I never waste a second. Give me forty-five minutes of quiet time, I can write. Give me my laptop and a roomful of chattering children--and I can still write. And I've had to grow up fast, and hard, which has done my writing a world of good, too.

Plus--this will sound sappy, and I avoid sappiness like mad in my writing, so it's funny to be so sentimental here in an interview--but I am HAPPY now, and I wasn't. I'm not suggesting that parenthood is the antidote to life's troubles--that everyone should have a baby and get happy. But for ME it was exactly the thing I most needed to do. I enjoy being Grace's mother more than I've ever "enjoyed" anything; and I find being Grace's mother more interesting than anything I've ever done. Now that I've begun writing ABOUT being her mother, I really have found a way to combine the two abiding passions in my life. What more could you ask for?

What book are you currently reading?

I am not a monogamous reader, I'm afraid: I'm always reading a BUNCH of books at the same time (just last night Grace eyed the bedside stack--a tower of books with bookmarks stuck in in different places--and said, mildly, "What's wrong with you, anyway? Why can't you just read one book at a time?" I didn't have an answer for her, and I don't have an answer today, either. But I NEVER read just one book at a time).

Here's what I'm smack in the middle of now:Veronica by Mary Gaitskill, Until I Find You by John Irving, The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster (in galleys) A World of Light by Floyd Skloot, The Plot Against America by Philip Roth, The Carousel of Progress by Katherine Tanney, The End of the Novel of Love by Vivian Gornick and I just finished Joan Didion's memoir (like everyone else in the country, and like almost everyone else, I loved it. I'm going to have my nonfiction-writing workshop read it this spring, so I'll be rereading it soon) and J.M. Coetzee's Slow Man, which is easily the best book published in the last year, and Alison Lurie's Truth and Consequences. (oye vey, Michelle! How do you keep them straight in your mind?)

Where do you get your inspirations from?

As you can see from the anecdote I started with, my own everyday life. Which isn't to say that I necessarily write fiction "about" my life--only that it seems to me that "inspiration" for fiction is everywhere. I'm sure if I wrote stories that were driven in any way at all by "plot"--if "what happens" were as interesting to me as who it happens to and why--then it would be quite a different matter. But I'm really interesting in feeling and thought, not event. So it's easy to find "inspiration" in ordinary life. As if life were ever "ordinary"!

What is your favorite:

Color? pink

Food? lobster, cold steamed artichoke, raw littleneck clams, and anypudding likeddinglike dessert--flan, creme caramel, tapioca, good old MY-T-Fine chocolate pudding made from a box (see--I have my perfect meal in mind at all times)

Day of the week? Sunday

Memory? My daughter's birth

Lastly, if you could look into a crystal ball and glance at your future, what would you hope to see?

My daughter--she's twelve and a half now--brilliantly happy, doing work she loves (right now she is fixed on a career on the stage, in musical theater, and who knows? She has talent, she has drive--already--and she has the example of her father and me, two people doing the ridiculously impossible things they wanted to do from the time they were younger than she is now), with love in her life, and in excellent health.

My husband's paintings in museums, and written about in the Times (and he's in excellent health too). And for myself: half a dozen more books (how far into the future are we looking, anyway???) written and being read by lots of people--each one much better, much more interesting and complex and wiser, than the one before. And I am right in the middle, knee-deep, let's say, of writing a new, ambitious, much more interesting book and it's going well. And my parents are very, very, very old but still doing nicely. And--while I'm at it--my brother is healthy and happy, and his eldest son, who is one of the people I love most in the world, has found work he loves and is having a wonderful life.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Lynn Messina, Mim Warner's Lost Her Cool

I first heard of Lynn Messina when my friend Stephanie called me up and said, "YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK!" She was talking about Fashionistas. A while after that, I saw loads of photos from the Fashionistas book party. I wanted to know why Lynn got this big book party well after the book was published? Suddenly there was a rumor that Lindsay Lohan was going to be playing the main role. I wondered if Lynn Messina was some sort of celebrity herself?

The party thrown for this book was fit for a Hollywood socialite. Which is exactly the kind of extravaganza I want when my books are published, complete with a hot pink carpet and candles that smell like gardenia and pink tinted vodkatinis. And free Stella McCartney clothing.

But I digress! One day, lo and behold, there came an email from the very author who wrote Fashionistas asking if I would like to see a copy of Mim Warner's Lost Her Cool. Of course! Why, wasn't a certain celeb caught reading this very book recently? Yes!

Mim Warner's Lost Her Cool is about a woman who spots trends as a career- a cool hunter if you will. Now what happens if the all knowing cool hunting, trend spotting, know it all loses her cool? That is the premise of the book.

I'm so lucky to have had a chat with Lynn about her books, tiger stripes and Lindsay Lohan.

Fashionistas was an enjoyable book about what goes on behind the scenes at a magazine. How much of it was taken from real life, how much was totally fiction?

The vast majority of Fashionistas is fiction, although there were little things I borrowed from my experience at In Style. Like the incense in the second chapter. One day someone decided to burn incense and the intense smell was everywhere, even in my hair. It was completely random. People burned candles almost constantly but never incense except for that one time.

The book (Fashionistas) was released and then released again with a big star studded party, why the two releases? Did you get to meet any interesting celebrities? Is Lindsay Lohan still signed on to play Vig?

I don't know what exactly went into the decision about the new edition. I think it's because the movie deal was getting so much attention and the timing seemed right. I, of course, was delighted with the decision. The party was a blast. It had an actual red carpet (well, hot pink) and I stood on it having my photo taken. At one point there was a statuesque blond next to me and I looked up and realized it was Natasha Henstridge. It was a bit surreal. As was meeting Paris Hilton.

And: Yes, Lindsay Lohan is still attached to star and I've heard that she's exec producing as well.

I haven't read Tallulahland yet, sum up the book for me.

Tland is about a gifted industrial designer named Tallulah West who thwarts her own talent to spite her father, who didn't, as she perceives it, mourn the death of her mother. As the book opens, she realizes the only person she's hurting is herself and she starts getting herself out of the hole she's dug.

Is there movie talk for Mim Warner's Lost Her Cool?

My agent in LA is showing it around. What the result of that is, I don't know. I keep myself as removed from it as possible. I'd rather hear the happy news, if there is any, than follow the inevitable ups and downs (and it's mostly a lot of downs).

Regarding cool hunting/trend spotting- have you ever tried to spot trends ahead of time? I see hot pink as the new black.

I tried once. I really, really thought that the modified mullet--a sort of two-tiered look with a hip twist--would be the defining haircut of the zeroes. I based this on two pieces of evidence: Meg Ryan's 'do in Kate & Leopold and figure skater Evgeny Plushenko's hair at the 2002 Winter Olympics. I was devastated when the trend never took off.

Your books have a great sense of humor about them. Are you funny in real life? Some people are witty in books but are totally serious in their personal life.

My husband says yes.

If you could be best friends with a characterfrom any of your books, who would you chose and why?

Nick from Tallulahland (Tallulah's buddy and love interest). Because when I was writing him, I was trying to create the perfect friend.

Are you a full time writer or do you have another job?

Alas, no. I still have my day job as a copy editor at Met Home and Self magazines. But I'm a freelancer so I have a couple of weeks off every month to write.

Leopard print or tiger stripes? Madonna or Mariah? Beer or wine? Los Angeles or New York City?

Tiger stripes. Am very into stripes at the moment. Madonna. Impossible not to, now that's she's assumed the air of elder stateswoman (bowing before the queen!). Beer and wine, depending. NYC. I never, ever want to own a car.

What's the last book you read?

Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris.

If you were to have the opportunity to star in a major motion picture, would you do it?

Gosh, no. I can barely stand having my photo taken. (me too, Lynn!)

What's your next project?

I'm taking a stab at a young adult novel. I thought it would be hard to get into the mind of a teenager, but it's been surprisingly easy (and amazingly fun). Apparently I'm not as grown up as I thought.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

In The Flesh reading series

If you live, work or play in New York City you might be interested in the following. I wish I could be there but I'm stuck out here in the warm California sunshine!

302 BROOME STREET(B/D to Grand, J/M/Z to Bowery, F to Delancey

Stay warm this winter with the hottest and juiciest words in the city! January welcomes a stunning mix ofperformers, including romance novelist Edith Layton(Gypsy Lover), fiction writer Danyel Smith (Bliss),and erotic storytellers Iris N. Schwartz (Stirring Upa Storm) and Rob Stephenson (Best Gay Erotica), along with a naughty tale from host Rachel Kramer Bussel.

In the Flesh is a new monthly reading series hosted at the appropriately named Happy Ending Lounge, and features the city's best erotic writers sharing stories to get you hot and bothered, hosted and curated by Village Voice sex columnist and acclaimederotic writer and editor Rachel Kramer Bussel. From erotic poetry to down and dirty smut, these authors get naked on the page and will make you lust after them and their words. Future themed nights include fetishes, true confessions, GLBT stories and erotic memoirs.