Writing Escapes

As you create your jaw-dropping art, it’s important to invest in outside sources, even commune with the competition, i.e. everything that is not your masterpiece. “Stop, look, and listen, baby,” says Elvis in the song “Rubberneckin’,” which should be everyone’s philosophy.

Here is what I’ve been enjoying this week:

Emergency NYC (Netflix): We all have a boundary we dare not cross. Mine had always been Game of Thrones, but then I saw the corpse trucks outside our nearest ER during COVID, and a lot of death beyond this. Sam and I watched this show out of wanting to celebrate health workers, the real heroes of the city. The show definitely takes us deep into this-is-too-much territory, so I recommend one episode at a time. But if you ever need to honor those who go toward a crisis, this is it.

The Diplomat: For those of us who’ve followed Keri Russell since Felicity, rejoice! A master of intense, suspenseful drama, Keri takes us on a breathless journey through the eyes of a character whose stereotypically rough edges make her perfection for a regime that desperately needs her. She has always been easy to love. I would have cut the scene where she beats up Rufus. That was stupid.

On Writing and Failure by Stephen March: This is a must read for writers who catastrophize over not being Colleen Hoover. Failure is normal, maybe even extraordinary, you secret James Joyces. The best part, it’s short, witty, chock-full of dishy writer anecdotes. And lots of f-bombs!

Snacks: If you write, you know the importance of brain fuel. My new writing snack of choice comes with a story. I have an author relative who inhales peanuts and regularly chokes on “peanut dust.” I’ve listened to the hacking over decades, wondering should I call 9-1-1 (I don’t)? Eventually, the dust follows its downward path, and my relative eats them again. So peanuts have always grossed me out a little, but now I eat them with heedless abandon since (mostly) giving up sugar.

In proper CNN-ian style, I’m signing off for now, wishing you many words put together into sentences–and other things.

Romantic Life Lessons, Whining

Happy New Year!

I’m a little late. Now there’s a loaded sentence. Am I the only one envisioning a trip to Duane Reade to get a pregnancy test? Those days are over for me. Okay, already, I’m wading into TMI waters. Forget all of the above. Happy April 29. And Happy Birthday to Kate Mulgrew and Michelle Pfeiffer.

There is so much to say. What first? I’m not sure where to start. I am healthy, my life is good, I love my husband and my family. I have a roof over my head and can pay my bills. Right now, there is no crisis. For some reason, I’ve achieved a new high* with running. When I was 16, I couldn’t bring myself to run more than 6 miles. At 54, I am easily running 7 miles and climbing. Running is no longer the sport my father gave me as a kid, it’s all mine.

I’ve also written a lot, along with reading everything I can grab. My favorite has been those books I wouldn’t normally pick up. Whenever I feel a storm coming through, I go straight for one of my five books in progress and that helps. Yay, book clubs! Turning that sad tide into something good has been one of the lessons of COVID.

I tried to do some tide-turning this week…and succeeded! Most people have dealt with tremendous loss over the last few years. As we come out of a horrendous experience, the depressing aspects can linger. Therapy has guided me to seek new ways of coping. It’s tough, though, when wallowing comes naturally.

This week, I thought a lot about my Uncle Lenny, who was “100% a saint,” according to my mother. We can say that because we’re not Catholic and it *is* true. Lenny was the one who put a positive spin on everything, showed up for people, and made excellent sandwiches the minute you walked in the door. In addition to working hard and creating an amazing family with my awesome Aunt Rachel, Lenny dabbled in many things, including carving beautiful ducks out of wood, gardening (his annual fig tree updates were more exciting than breaking news), playing saxophone, and cultivating his beloved Model A car obsession. Every time he was around another person, he engaged and made you feel cherished.

As I rolled my eyes through this week, thinking Sartre was right about hell, I felt my inherent awfulness and knew I’d wind up taking it out on those I loved most. Instead, I wondered what Uncle Lenny would do. Definitely something different. He’d go with Sam to support a classmate’s endeavor in Brooklyn (I’m really bad about going to other boroughs). So I went, and–not a surprise–it was a total blast! We met fascinating people and, best of all, I got to discuss the joys of writing with an impressive kid. There’s nothing better than communing with others when you’re living in your head.

Lenny isn’t here with us…but he sort of is. What a life he had, and we miss him so much. It’s hard to believe that one day, he was just gone. But leave it to him to inspire a packed house in a church on the 20th anniversary of 9/11–during COVID for his funeral. There was no red or blue state, no pandemic, no xenophobia or racism, and no grudges during the honoring of Lenny’s life. Everything about him was about togetherness, and the night of his funeral, my cousins and I wound up standing in a circle doing shots of fireball and going through memories of this great man.

To honor him, I will try to remember the other path when existentialist cliches are being too obnoxious (and let’s face it, boring). There is a bright side. Even though everything is locked up in Duane Reade now, we still have easy access to the occasional Snickers bar. Thank you, Lenny Mercurio, for so much.

I hope you are all doing well, hanging with loved ones, and showing 2023 who’s boss.

*not that kind


Celebrity Dream Fable: Part Deux

It happened again, you guys. This time, Lisa Edelstein visited me in my dream. We were at a White Lotus type of place, like a ship. I shouldn’t have watched Titanic over the weekend. It’s one of those movies that hasn’t aged so well, but it’s embedded in the psyche, obviously. I mean, Kate Winslet’s lipstick alone. Anyway, in the dream, I was on a ship, but it wasn’t moving.

I’d been trying to find “my group” but the elevators kept taking me to the wrong floors. So I retreated to a posh celebrity cocaine couch and parked my butt down. Suddenly, this face popped up in front of me.


OMG, it was Lisa! She was so glamorous and amazing. “HI!!!! I love you I love you I love you!”

“I have a dare for you,” she said. I noticed her frilly blue chiffon dress. What a talented actor who’s been in just about everything.

“I’ll do a dare for you, Lisa Edelstein!”

“How about you give me your phone for the day. Just drop it here.” She put out her bag, and I dropped it in. Didn’t even think about it. Put my lifeline in Lisa Edelstein’s purse! Then she vanished…with my phone.

This is sort of what happened in The West Wing when Rob Lowe and Lisa Edelstein mistakenly had each other’s pager/phone.

In the dream, I had an iWatch (is that what it’s called?) but it was an older one. Messages came in, but I couldn’t send them out. I wandered around the unmoving Titanic and pushed buttons on my watch. Nothing happened. My heart palpitated as I ran up and down steps, trying to find Lisa or my group.

Somehow, I wound up a cargo vessel headed to South Africa (too much Below Deck). Where did my clothes go? I had on one of those Real Housewives translucent beach coverups over some kind of Skims. How did I get this way? I kept looking for clothes. There was nothing I could do except look out at the view. Actually kind of nice.

Moral of the story: Give your phone to Lisa.

But I still want it back…

Writing Tips

Tips on Getting Your Romance Novel Published

Love writing. Love love. Love the process of love.

Write a good book using the following ingredients: love, character, voice, dialogue, movement, intensity, chemistry, obstacles, conflict, backstory, frontstory, sidestory, denouement, climax, third rail hell, and an ending that fuels eternal hope in a reader’s heart.

Don’t do it for the money–even though money is nice, money is important. The writing that you love to do comes first.

Don’t do it because it sounds easy. If I had a nickel for how often I’ve heard, “I want to make some money, I’m going to write a romance.” If only people knew how difficult it was…

Try not to get too attached to the outcome: I must get published. I’m desperate to get published. If I don’t get published, I’ll be miserable forever. Please publish me now. When you write because you love to write, an editor will feel that.

Make one new contact a day with fellow romance-aholics/industry professionals, even if it’s just following someone on social media.

Have other people read your good book and take their suggestions seriously. Reciprocate by reading their work. This is how you learn to critique and develop your expertise in the genre.

Know how to weed out those you don’t help you. That can be just as important as letting the right ones in.

Map out your publishing ambitions: traditional publisher vs. self publish. If the former, which houses would like your book? Do research on publishing houses’ lists. Check out the writing guidelines. I suggest doing this when you’ve completed a rough draft of your book.

If you’re into self-publishing, awesome. Talk to writers who do this often and well. This avenue may be perfect for you or you might prefer a combination of self and traditional.

Have your next story in mind. If you meet with an agent or editor and they aren’t into your project, tell them what else you have. They’re still not into it? No problem because you have other professionals you can pitch to.

Aside: Rejection is part of the process. It takes some time, but you just need to take in the “no” and then put it behind you. You have more writing to do.

Write the query letter, three targeted paragraphs. So easy and nothing to sweat over. Write a synopsis–no biggie.

Go to conferences, Zoom workshops, webinars, and chapter meetings. Follow up on the inspiration you get from these outings, i.e. read the books you find, chat with new friends, go through your notes from the workshops and revise your book accordingly. A supportive network of writers will help you thrive as a writer.

Rewrite as much as you can, until your brain nearly explodes. When you read your book without an iota of boredom/frustration/misgiving, unleash it and see what happens.

It is hard to put yourself out in the public world as a writer. Give yourself lots of credit.

Patience is a virtue (I had to throw that in there). There is a lot of waiting. It’s part of the deal. What do you do while you wait? See the second tip.


Celebrity Dream Fable

Last night, I dreamed I was walking topless through the Jardin du Luxembourg with Jake Gyllenhaal. It was broad daylight, and he was slightly ahead of me–sort of how Nicole had to walk behind Tom during their marriage. You may find this hard to believe but there was nothing romantic between me and Jake*. I was covering my boobs with a magazine, hoping the paparazzi didn’t catch us walking together. They’d get the wrong idea. Even worse, I feared we’d be Deux Moi-ed, which is far more frightening because anyone can out you. I was more worried about Jake’s reputation than mine. How shameful for him to be caught with me. My reputation could take the hit since I am not really on an upward trajectory professionally. And, you know, sometimes one walks topless through a garden in the daytime. Frankly, I’d seen worse behavior IRL and the “offenders” wound up thriving. But Jake. No, his career wouldn’t survive this scandal caused by me.

The scene changes and it’s evening. My best friend is Winona Ryder, but I am trying to avoid her. She’s wearing this beautiful burgundy dress, posing against a bright yellow building. Her hair is very Marilyn, like she’s about to do a commercial shoot, except she’s suddenly escaped the pageantry and is coming after me for a chat. The setting couldn’t be more gorgeous for a party, which is where we are. I’m hiding around corners, dreading the moment when she realizes I don’t want to talk. You don’t run away from Winona Ryder. Except I’m a little drunk. She would ruin the buzz, my moment as queen of the night. Then I feel bad because what are we if not royalty together? I let her find me and that’s where the dream ends.

There are so many morals to the story:

Never let Jake walk in front of you.

Sure, you might get arrested for exhibitionism but just take it one step at a time.

If Winona Ryder wants to be your best friend, you accept this with gratitude and joy. That’s it.



You Probably Don’t Smell Bad

During my week of Typhoid, I’ve fallen prey to ads that have become like earworms, worse than that haunting cars for kids commercial. Blaring like Max Headroom is the near-alarmist ad for a product that preaches a cure for crotch odor, including front and back and pits included–all natural ingredients, too, to combat your natural emissions. The ad is just one person very close to a camera, urging you to try the product because butt sweat.

I miss FDS ads of the 70-90s where a woman walks through a mist and feels good.* Even Summer’s Eve doesn’t go into detail but shows women walking across a verdant field and one of them is feeling no-so fresh. It’s not an emergency, just maybe a twinge of putrid nether fungus. Generally, though, everyone smiles while malodorous droplets are beading through their white pants. There’s no shame–just friendship and confidence.

Where has the romance of smelling bad gone?

My inner tween is horrified by this age’s blunt commercial, though in a way, the directness of it provides more information, which its ancestors didn’t. As a tween, I thought FDS was a body hairspray of sorts and Summer’s Eve, somehow related to menstruation or sex (I didn’t know which and there was no Google and my mom just said, “It’s not necessary.”). Another thing to worry about when you’re already immersed in worry.

After three years inside, we must all be nervous about being in public again. How terrible to go out and stink. Julia Roberts doesn’t worry about this, so we shouldn’t.

*Officially, am old.

Celebrities, Romantic Life Lessons

Matthew Perry’s Book and Pumpkin Pie

What other way to celebrate the beginning of recovery than a book about addiction? After an eleven-hour sleep, I emerged from the shallow end of my pool of phlegm. Last night’s nadir–a wet coughing fit mixed with choking on an Altoid–became a distant memory. Since I missed Thanksgiving, I walked over to Westside Market and got myself a giant slice of pumpkin pie and whipped cream. I’ve never been so attractive.

So began a perfect day and reading experience. In our friend Matthew Perry’s book, I’m learning about his battle with opioids and alcohol, beginning with the tale of how his colon exploded. It sounds funny, but really, when you’ve dealt with addiction for that long, an exploding colon becomes one of those milestones where the body warns that you’re about to visit the Pearly Gates of Hotel California. If you go back to drugs after this, it’s been nice knowing you. Many of us who’ve watched Friends since the 90s have been worried about Matthew Perry for quite a while. We know what happens in Less Than Zero.

Perry’s memoir is an engrossing read. And I may be wildly wrong, but it reads as if Matthew Perry wrote this himself. Ghostwriters are gems. I wouldn’t mind ghostwriting as it is a skill that offers a voice to those who can’t/won’t/shouldn’t write. So many valuable works out there wouldn’t exist if not for ghostwriters. But I do give an extra gold star if there’s no ghostwriter for a celebrity memoir (hello, Jane Lynch’s Happy Accidents). Kudos if the ghostwriter perfectly mimics the celebrity’s voice (Brandi Glanville’s Drinking & Dating). With Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, there isn’t the practiced, beautiful flow of most “high level” memoirs. Here, I’m finding repetition, choppiness, stylistic choices not everyone makes, which reads like someone reliving the experience while writing. An interesting part of memoir reading is one’s change of profession, from ordinary person to brilliant armchair psychologist of a stranger.

Surely, the crux of this memoir, addiction itself, will be its neon warning to users. The accidents, medical emergencies, radical behavior changes, and life on a larger scale–both in the chemical joys and horror shows. From the shame of stealing meds from strangers’ houses to your body breaking down, there is no advantage whatsoever to addiction. I always see it as the last thing you need if you’re on a deserted island. No one can help you. In any situation, especially a real crisis, you can’t really rely on yourself. And yet, how terrible to be sober while saying the below line of dialogue. Forgive the humor. Like Chandler, I use it as a defense mechanism.

Since 9/11 and even the blackout of 2003, I’ve thought about what I would do if I had to leave with just the clothes on my back. What if I only had myself and whatever I was wearing and I had to hunker down for a few days or weeks? I keep a packet of tranquilizers wherever I go to get me through just such an event. With a prolonged crisis, this would never be enough. I would suffer a little, not as much as I imagine. An addict would truly go through withdrawal, which seems especially scary, but perhaps less awful than continuing using. In 2001, my only bad habit was smoking and Altoid consumption, both of which weren’t so bad.

Over time, I’m not sure I’d do so well on the deserted island since I’ve added to my dependencies since my thirties–though I don’t smoke anymore. Maybe due to denial or just laziness, I keep pushing off thoughts about the catastrophe that has me running off this isle and bearing life without my long-time, seemingly normal Rx cocktail. I’m nowhere in the vicinity of exploding colon phase. More like pernicious worrying about one day having an exploding colon–or that I’d even need to run at top speed out of Manhattan because of a plane going into a building. The better idea would be to address issues in a gentle way before the body says enough. This is when I remember that the book I’m reading is not my story, but someone else’s.

Why do these books appear in my orbit at the exact right time?

Ps. Turns out I’m right about MP writing this himself.


Tis the Night Before Everything Needs to Be Cooked or Else People Will Be Very Disappointed in You…

To get into the spirit, I am watching cheesy holiday movies on Lifetime and scouring Facebook for kitchen activity. There are vegan orange creamsicles in the freezer, all kinds of Fresh Direct items in the fridge, and a bottle of sparkling rose waiting for me…whenever the Typhoid?Sinus infection?That other thing?Common Cold leaves my body. I am sick but feeling the joy of the season–when I’m not coughing up my lungs.

Because my family (mostly me and my brother) has a history of being sick on Big Occasions, I don’t think lightning will strike me. In these COVID times, it’s better to stay home than infect others. If I were where I had planned to be, I’d be lying on a guest bed with the door shut. I might have jinxed this Thanksgiving with my post from a few days ago. Despite this, I am choosing to remember with fondness times when sickness played a part in the holidays.

We had many Christmases when either my brother (Christmas is his birthday) or I would be staring feverishly into space while everyone else was celebrating the birth of Jesus and Patrick. Sometimes, I’d get a whiff of Patrick’s sick vibes and would feel a little queasy myself. This lasted into adulthood. Soon after I moved to Manhattan, Patrick came to his birthday dinner feeling “fluish” and, while I kept an eye on him, I secretly wondered if I might be sick, too. The second he went to lie down in another room and because I thought he might eventually develop stomach flu and be barfing his brains out, I stopped eating and made lame excuses to my mother, skedaddled my butt right home. Patrick admitted years later that he’d had a hangover and not flu. Damn him!

My fifteenth birthday gala was marked by me doubled over with gastritis at the family meal. It was in Cape Cod, and the third time something bad had happened to me there so I’ve never returned to the breathtaking haven that normal people enjoy. It’s possible my 500-calorie diet and pack-a-day habit contributed to my stomach issues.

Then there was the time my high school BFF named me her Maid of Honor and on the wedding day, I developed strep throat, suddenly massive sandpaper hell strep throat. Somehow I made it through the ceremony (almost fainted). But at the reception, I did spend most of the time with my head on the table. In the pictures, I still look fresh as a daisy, the magic of being 25.

Sam made one cameo sick disappearance on my birthday when he caught strep and had to confine himself. You can tell Sam is sick when he wants nothing to do with you. It’s a bit shocking since, as we know, he’s friendly as can be. Not when he feels bad. Just close the door and go about your life.

So maybe you can’t be 100% there for every occasion. At least for me, there’s comfort in knowing my loved ones will be having fun…and hopefully, the pumpkin stuff will exist for another couple of weeks.

Celebrities, Romantic Life Lessons

Bachelor in Paradise Finale!

I’d like to think that I’m above reality shows but the above is my guilty pleasure each year. The Bachelor/Bachelorette has become unwatchable in recent years. In fact, I stopped investing in shows where everyone fights over little things, like who said what to whom (I’m looking at you, Real Housewives). BIP does some of that and, let’s face it, true love is unlikely to happen on this show, but the escapism is lovely. And you get to know these characters as they deal with the heat, close confines, competition, and constant booze infusion.

Going forward, I’d love to see more LGBTQIA+ contestants, more diversity in general. Over the years, there have been some baby steps in terms of change, which at least makes it watchable.

And now I’m at the point where two of my favorites run off together. I knew Jacob and Jill were a good pair from Day 2 or was it 3? They are so joyfully benign!

Maybe they are splitting up as I write this. At least we can find out the truth about Rodney and Eliza. So much drama here! I feel as if I’m reliving my twenties, just without cigarettes and aerobics.