Monday, September 18, 2006
I interview her via email Sept. 17, 2006.
* Why did you choose the plot point of Chloe breaking up with Hank after she found his folder with her background check? This seems to be the most common reason females break up with males in stories (on TV, movies or in novels). I never see men breaking up with women over such. Why do you think that is? What does this say about male vs. female nature?
The book was published in 1993 (thirteen years ago), and I recall feeling unsettled with the newly emerging background check businesses popping up. Chloe is a deeply conflicted private person, and carries a lot of demons within due to her childhood and trials suffered in the foster care system. It's difficult for her to trust anyone, so when Hank has her investigated, it seemed natural for her to withdraw and feel angry.
* What is it with the close connection many women have with their horses? It seems to be different from the connection many men have with their horses?
If I knew the answer to that I'd be a rich woman because I could sell that story to all men and retire a jillionaire. Here is what I can tell you from my own experience. From atop a horse the world looks different. There's a sense of perspective that is missing from everyday life. It's the closest relationship. There's this thousand pound animal beneath you, doing what you ask. You're communicating without words. He/she is gentle when you need it, responds to the lightest touch, and watches out for rattlesnakes. Riding horses is a ton of fun besides.
I firmly believe (because I saw it happen) every troubled child should be given horseback riding lessons. Horses heal. Let's face it, women have had it worse than men for centuries. They are beautiful, poorly designed animals and women love those kinds of conundrums. It's as natural and nurturing to love a horse for me as it is a baby. Animals respond to kindness. They love unconditionally. Women like that. I have witnessed men who've had it hard in life also feel this way about their horses.
* How important is it that your reader sympathizes with your characters or likes them?
Very, or else they won't read on. Liking my characters means identifying with them, and I try to write as honestly as I can, respecting each character's integrity. We are all flawed beings. Stories allow us to have compassion for our fellow man, woman, dog or horse.
* What are the juiciest (most shame-filled) things your peers say about writing and their careers as writers? I'm digging for stuff writers don't like to talk about publicly but admit to their friends.
Oh, we pretty much all think we should have been picked for Oprah instead of James Frey. We lament that we can't write better. When someone else gets a good review we're envious and to overcome this envy chocolate must be ingested.
* Have you written books that you didn't publish? Are there times when you get sick of a book and though unsatisfied with it, you want to publish it anyway?
I have written one entire book that never got published which is now in The Jo-Ann Mapson Collection at Boston University in its Twentieth Century Writers Collection. Many false starts were set aside. I have a couple of rejected proposals as well. There comes a point in any book that the writer becomes sick of it. Proofing galleys is sometimes like that, but the inverse can also be true. I don't think any writer is ever truly satisfied with her "final draft."
* Have there been any dramatic differences in your experience of writing a book? Was one book a delight and another an agony?
Some books are easier than others, sure, but all have their agonizing moments. I loved writing Hank & Chloe because I had no deadline. I loved writing Blue Rodeo because that was a hard time in my life and I found solace in writing the story. Though it came out of a time of great doubt, Bad Girl Creek had some truly fun moments. The Owl & Moon Café took so many rewrites I felt like I'd lost half my brain cells someplace.
* Why did you move to Alaska?
Because I was tired of Southern California, the endlessly choking traffic, the endlessly sunny weather, neighbors living so close I could hear them cough, and there was no open land or beautiful scenery that didn't involve a long car ride on a congested freeway. I wanted to take this chance on doing something different before my age prevented it. Additionally, I wanted my husband, who had supported me for years, to have his chance to devote his time to making art. We chose Alaska because of the beauty in the landscape, the four seasons, the snow, and emancipation from our former lives.
* In what ways are your perceptions of life keener than other people's?
I think that I have (figuratively) one less layer of skin that other people. Often I can sense emotion in people who have no outward sign of it. I am the person who walks through a crowd and picks up bits of conversation and idioms that are simply chatter to someone else, but are authentic conversations to me as a writer. I listen, and then I write it down.
* How has your choice of vocation affected you, and your relationships? I'm indoors a lot, sitting at my computer, so I don't interact with the outside world as much as non-writing people do. My husband is an artist, so he understands the process and is very understanding about the hours I log in and the distractedness that is always a part of me. Our son Jack, 28, inherited the artistic sensibility, but uses it differently-he works in a hospital E.R. and plans to study medicine.
* How do you know when you've done good work?
When I look up at the clock and see that hours have passed without me knowing it, and I've written a number of pages that feel hopeful, then I know I'm within spitting distance of good. After rewriting, trimming, and sharpening until I am moving commas around is when I feel I've produced truly good work.
* What have you sacrificed to be a writer?
Working out, being able to set work aside after eight hours, making great meals all the time, doing the laundry before it piles up and takes all day, a clean house, lunch with friends, spending more time on my appearance, a neat office, and I feel sure that I shortchanged my son on some things -- my full attention, being a soccer mom, stuff like that, but luckily he's forgiven me.
* What do you do best and worst as a writer?
I am naturally good at dialogue, which I attribute to growing up in a large family and listening. Readers tell me that I create characters so believable they would recognize them walking down the street. I am overly wordy and dense in plot. I'm not a bestseller.
* Why do you write what you write?
I have to find out what happens to these women, their boyfriends, the children and the animals.
* Were there any events in childhood that prefigured your adult work?
Oh, plenty. I grew up in a large family with a talented older sister and a smart older brother, and a younger sister who was into science and a younger brother who showed off a lot. From my spot in the middle I sort of watched it all and wrote things down. My great aunt was a working writer, and she gave me excellent books to read. My mother, an avid reader, took us to the library a lot, read to me when I was sick. And these crazy, dramatic things happened around me all the time, and left an impression on me that could only find release in writing.
* What do your books say that has not been said before?
Ordinary lives matter. Love is always possible. Forgiveness is a good idea.
* Surely you feel that your view of life that is unique? How so? How do you find your understanding of life differs from everyone else?
I see the trees before I see the forest. I believe Gandhi was right when he said that you could tell the worth of a society by the way it treats their animals. Come at life, work and leisure from a place of kindness.
* How do you feel about your author photos and how do you choose them?
I dislike having my picture taken because it's hard for me to hold a natural smile while someone is focusing the camera. Put a dog in my lap and I'll smile all day. Hence, my photos usually have a dog or horse in them. I try to pick the one I hate least. Sometimes I send them to my siblings and have them choose.
* When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
* What did your parents want most for you and from you?
My dad wanted me to have a secretary job. My mom wanted me to be happy and to get married and give her grandchildren.
* What crowd did you hang out with in high school? (Where did you go?)
I graduated from Troy high school in Fullerton, California in 1970. Who I hung out with varied. My dearest friends were mostly the hippie-types. For a while I had a group of girlfriends who liked to drink and smoke, but eventually our interests were too different. I went away to a university. Most of them stayed in town and went to community college and became nurses. My favorite hangouts were The Velvet Hog, a beer joint on the Campus of Cal State Fullerton, the public library, Newport and Balboa beaches.
* Where did you go to college and when did you get your degree(s?) and in what?
Initially I attended Johnston College at the University of Redlands, but left after two years. I finished my B.A. in English with a Creative Writing option from California State University Long Beach in 1977. In 1992 I received my M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Vermont College of Norwich University with projects in both prose and poetry.
* What's the story of you and God and religion?
I was raised as a strict Catholic, communioned, confirmed, et cetera, and at age twelve I was allowed to stop going. For a long time I did not believe in God and was very angry at religion in general. Now my beliefs have their roots in the twelve-step tradition. I believe in a benevolent God and the promise of afterlife.
From the Jewish Journal Sept 15, pg. 19: "Forever diffusing the image of schlubby Orthodox slackers who don't see much of the sun..."
I thought "diffuse" meant to scatter widely or spread evenly?
Twelve years ago when I was an actor, I could dash off a scene in a few minutes. For whatever reason, that muscle has atrophied.
Now I'm helping a friend (he likes my blogging touch with non-fiction dialogue) with a script and I'm coming up empty.
My protagonist is a 40-year old DEA Chief with two-wives. His second divorce has just come through. He's a workaholic. He's at a New Year's Eve party and does not look happy. This 30 year old trophy wife of a senator twice her age has been after our guy for eight months.
I'm told to think Bogart/Bccall Mcqueen/Dunaway Beatty/Benning. The scene ends with his beeper going off and he has to return to work.
I also have to knock out another scene with him on a date (could be with this woman or a different one) and his beeper goes off and he has to work.
Background Check As Relationship Breaker
In Jo-Ann Mapson's novel Hank & Chloe, Hank checks out Chloe's background without her knowledge. When Chloe finds out, she gets mad and leaves him.
This is about the most common reason for women leaving men that I see in TV, movies and novels. I don't get it. I don't see the harm into checking out a mate's background, be it via Google or a private investigator or just asking questions of your mate's friends and family.
In stories, women experience this as a violation of trust. As a journalist, I see it as legitimate (of course you can go about it the wrong way). The truth is your friend.
I remember I met one woman at synagogue. We hit it off. We made plans to go out. I Googled her and found out she was married. I waited until a few months into our chaste relationship and, when she never mentioned it, I brought it up. It turned out she was separated and planned to divorce.
If Amy Alkon Calls You at Home--Hang Up!
Elizabeth Rosner writes in The New York Times Sunday Magazine May 28, 2006:
I call her Thursday afternoon, Sept 14.
Luke: "When did you first attempt a novel?"
Elizabeth: "When I was in graduate school in my early twenties, I was supposed to be writing fiction. I kept on feeling pulled toward memoir, so I wrote a pretend fictionalized memoir that felt like a deformed baby. I got my degree but I wasn't happy with the writing outcome. I gave the narrator the name Irene so I could trick myself that I was still writing in first person. As someone pointed out, every time I inserted an ellipse, I was hiding something, which was a good point that I did not take kindly to at the time.
"I ended up discovering that it was a [free verse] poetry collection in disguise.
"All my poetry is free verse.
"My prose has always been lyrical and my poetry prosaic.
"In my new novel, I'm working in autobiographical territory. I'm expecting it to become more fictionalized as I work with it. It might end up a memoir."
Luke: "How do you know that people are engaging with your poetry when the audience for poetry is so tiny?"
Elizabeth: "That's the truth. I don't know. I imagined that more people would find my poetry after I became published as a novelist but I'm not sure that has happened. I have this collection of poems that I sell when I do readings and speaking engagements. It is the autobiographical companion to my novels."
Luke: "How did your life change after you published a novel?"
Elizabeth: "I felt legitimized. Even so, there was something about the publication of the second novel that really affirmed that. Several people said to me after the second book came out, 'Now you're a real novelist.' As though the one book was a fluke.
"I left my teaching job when my first book was bought. That was a leap to full-time writing that I wouldn't have made [without a book contract]."
"For a long time as a kid, I was aware of being different from my peers. I grew up in a WASPy part of upstate New York (Schenectady). I was an Orthodox Jew with parents who survived the Holocaust. I was odd. When people would talk about WWII, it was so abstract, and I would think, 'My parents were there.'
"A lot of my parents closest friends were also European Jews but most of my friends were not Jewish.
"I graduated highschool at 16 and went to live in the Philippines for a year by way of a scholarship from Rotary International, who, many years later, sponsored me to live in Australia for a year.
"That (the Philippines) added a bizarre layer to my life, living in this Catholic and exotic landscape, where, again, I was a complete freak."
Luke: "Have you sought out situations where you would be isolated?"
Elizabeth: "It's starting to sound like that. I know I've sought out experiences where I would be challenged. My father turned 16 in Buchenwald. I had a profound realization of how different my life was from his, and at some level, I wanted to test myself in a difficult place. I don't have anything like a death wish. I don't choose life endangering things."
"I lived in Israel for three months in 1980. I was 20. I stayed on a radical kibbutz in defiance of my father. It was about experiencing Israel through my own awareness, not as it was imposed upon me by my family.
"I was with Israelis who were communists. They were Zionists in a completely different way.
"I had an Israeli boyfriend but it never occurred to me to imagine my life there. I never felt like I belonged there. I have mixed feelings about even traveling there now."
Luke: "Did you find teaching enervating?"
Elizabeth: "Yeah. I love teaching, but to teach well, you have to draw from the same sources as writing. You have to be present and spontaneous and attentive. I use that up in the classroom and when I get home, I'm empty."
Courtney, I am a young woman going into Journalism, and wanted you to know that your accomplishments and the work of others like you are what motivate me to stay focused and not be discouraged by the challenging road that pursuing this path can be.
Going into this field is especially daunting as a female, and its inspiring to see that others who share my values and ambitions have made it- and at a young age. Thank you for being a role model to those of us who are up and coming in the industry. And your mag is awesome -- I might even apply for an internship in the near future.
Courtney, I was inspired by your article to question another journalist -- Lexie Karlson, the Penthouse Pet of the Month for July 2006. She wrote for the Arizona Republic and Stuff magazine.
She says she does not get offended when men hit on her.
Lexie: "My two year old watches me model. When I say, 'Mommy has to go off to work,' he says, 'Model!' and pushes up his shirt. And he poses."
Lexie laughs. "I try to create an environment where he knows that it is very natural and he won't be embarrassed by it. In my house, I have my covers on the wall. Not that they're explicit. I've never done anything hardcore. I do censor out if there are boobies. I just want to raise him in a world where it's very natural and a job like anything else.
"I'd rather him be able to survive in the world than to keep him sheltered from everything. People are judgmental but they're going to be that no matter what."
I call her Tuesday, September 12, 2006. She's the middle of three kids.
Elizabeth: "My parents were Holocaust survivors and that found its way into everything. They wanted us to be able to take care of ourselves. That I wanted to become an artist made them nervous."
"My father was from Hamburg, Germany, and my mother was from Vilna, Lithuania.
"My father was a research scientist and then an entrepreneur. My mother was a homemaker and then an interpreter."
"They were big on education. My boyfriend calls me an overachiever. It was instilled in all of us."
Luke: "What you found that children of Holocaust survivors have in common?"
Elizabeth: "We feel that we're carrying our parents' histories. We want to compensate our parents for what they endured. Sometimes this is imposed by the parents -- when kids are named after the dead, after lost children. Some children resent this and leave their parents.
"There's an unusually high frequency of artists and psychotherapists. We want to express ourselves and to heal."
Luke: "How do you react to the rampant victimology in our society? How do you ration your compassion?"
Elizabeth: "I want to say that compassion should never be rationed. It should be infinite."
Luke: "Do you ever tell anyone, 'Buck up! I'm a child of Holocaust survivors!'"
Elizabeth laughs. "No. People feel equally strongly about their own drama. I have a hierarchy about which dramas are more deserving of empathy.
"I grew up in an environment in which my suffering was never counted as legitimate. It was measured against something so extreme, so incomparably excruciating... I was denied a sensibility about my suffering."
Luke: "Should survivors of great evil and their children be held to the same standards of moral accountability as anyone else or do they deserve a break?"
Elizabeth: "That question comes up around Israel. In some ways, people who've suffered should be held to a higher moral standard."
"I was always infuriated and saddened when I'd hear anything that sounded like racism from my parents or from other survivors. You of all people should know that that is completely unacceptable under any circumstances."
Luke: "What crowd did you hang out with in highschool?"
Elizabeth: "I was somewhere between the nerds and the cool people. I never felt like I belonged to any of the crowds."
Luke: "What attitude were you raised with vis-à-vis God and Judaism?"
Elizabeth: "It was complicated. We were Modern Orthodox in our affiliation. My parents had huge disagreements about how to observe [Jewish law]. We kept kosher. We kept the Sabbath. My father and the kids would walk to synagogue on Saturday mornings and my mother would go shopping. We went out to dinner, we'd eat fish and vegetables and she'd have a shrimp cocktail. It'd piss my father off. My mother's way of being Jewish was internal, how she felt and identified. My father was more about observance and rules and affiliations. Yet, it was shocking to me to find out in my early teens that my father did not believe in God. It wasn't a theology for him but a way of life.
"It was a brutal way to grow up. I became a feminist at a young age because I felt so pissed off about being a second class citizen. My father and I had fight after fight about it. He blamed my mother for setting a bad example.
"I went to a public school and then to Hebrew school in the afternoons.
"When I became an adult, I rejected [Judaism and God]. I became a kosher vegetarian. It was a way of retaining a tribal identity. I searched in vain for a Jewish community but I'm not much of a joiner. I was looking for a place with more liberal interpretations of love and no longer referring to God with male pronouns, but even that didn't do it for me. I had mixed feelings about declaring myself as part of us vs. them.
"I feel a lot more drawn to Buddhist and other Asian notions of God that are more abstract and less patriarchal and domineering, more god in the self, god in the collective, god in oneness."
Luke: "That picture of you on the dust jacket of Blue Nude. Is it just me or is that a very sensual photo?"
Elizabeth: "It is. The photos for Speed of Light and Blue Nude were taken on the same day by the same photographer. It was a five hour session. I hadn't written Blue Nude yet. I decided to use that photo for that book because I felt it went with the book. A lot of the themes in Blue Nude are reflected in that photograph."
Luke: "How important is it to you to look good?"
Elizabeth: "That's a loaded question. In our culture there's so much emphasis on appearance. We respond to beauty. That was reinforced by my mother. The theme in Blue Nude -- can beauty save your life? That has a literal association for me with the Holocaust. I did hear stories from my mother that implied or even stated explicitly that a particular kind of non-ethnic beauty saved her life.
"One of the reasons that I chose writing over other art forms was that it wasn't going to be about me and what I looked like."
"The things that writers do to get their books read and how willing they have to be to put themselves out there. John Updike wrote recently that in the early stages of his career, he never went on the road. He never put himself out there. It was just the books went out. Now there's so much emphasis on book tours and interviews and making sure your name is on everybody's internet site.
"I was dumbstruck by how many people asked me if they were going to turn my book into a movie. I'm asked if I'm going on a book tour and how many cities I'll be going to. Everybody knows the marketing lingo now."
Luke: "How necessary were the science definitions in The Speed of Light?"
Elizabeth: "To whom?"
Luke: "To you."
Elizabeth: "There were times when I thought that if some readers skip these, I'd be OK with that. They were there for people who wanted to make use of them. They were useful to me as a fourth voice in the novel, as a way for Julian's inner voice to become visible to the reader. Structurally they were important for transitions and framing.
"I had a lot more in my draft than my editor allowed me to keep. He was right.
"Did you not like them?"
Luke: "I started skipping them."
"Do you write your books so that they are a pleasure to read or is there something more important to you than the reader's pleasure?"
Elizabeth: "I'm not thinking about pleasure, either my own or the reader's. I'm trying to get at some emotional honesty. I want the reader to feel met in some deep place."
"I have a short attention span. I watched a lot of television as a kid. I can be focused but for a short period. So I listen for the sound of one of my characters and that would last as long as it lasted [even if just for two paragraphs in the case of The Speed of Light]. For a while, I just wrote in pieces thinking I'd assemble them and they'd be longer but it felt more mosaic and I just had to surrender to telling the novel as a braid of three overlapping interweaving narrations. Any number of readers said that was challenging for them. Most people who talked to me said that once they got used to it, they loved it.
"When I started working on Blue Nude, I knew I did not want to repeat that structure. It felt right to linger longer with each character [there are two main characters, a German artist and an Israeli model]."
Luke: "How has your choice of vocation affected you?"
Elizabeth: "I have a lot of freedom. I'm free of the day-to-day grind. I choose my own schedule. I have a more insecure life, wondering when my next check is going to come. I feel that I use my best self when I write.
"I felt the same way about teaching, which I did for 20 years at the college level [Elizabeth graduated with her MFA from U.C. Irvine in 1985].
"When I get up on stage or at a book store to talk about my work, I feel lucky to do that. Having this conversation with you feels like a great privilege to me. There was a lot about my childhood that made me feel I wasn't being listened to. Now I feel seen and I feel listened to."
Luke: "If a reader feels that Julian and Paula [two of the three main characters in Light] are self-absorbed spoiled brats, is that a legitimate interpretation?"
Elizabeth: "Are you speaking personally?"
Luke: Yes. I wanted to say to them, "If you had to work for a living, you wouldn't have this privilege of self-absorption." Did you have sense of them?
Elizabeth: "I saw them as damaged and needing to grow. I was more empathetic towards them and less judgmental. I feel that's my job as a writer. If I had those judgments, I wouldn't have been able to keep going.
"I had more critical feelings about [the German artist] Danzig in Blue Nude than I did about either Julian or Paula. Danzig's more narcissistic.
"Writing for me is an exercise in compassion."
Luke: "You love that word 'compassion.'"
"How has your choice of vocation affected your relationships?"
Elizabeth: "It matters what people close to me think of my work and their willingness to read my work and talk about it with me and respond to it, preferably positively. I remember having a brief involvement with someone who was dismissive of my writing, and that was completely unacceptable. When I write, it's on my mind all the time and I want to be able to talk about it."
"It's heightened my sensitivity. I'm more easily affected by other people."
I Am A Trope At Cathy Seipp's Roast
4 p.m. I arrive at the Hotel Figuroa. There's already 50 people on hand. I recognize most of them.
I'm told I'll be a trope throughout the evening.
"What's a trope?" I ask.
I learn that it's a theme.
I feel flattered that I have so thoroughly wormed my way into Cathy's life.
She sits up front by the mic.
"...When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. When life hands you cancer, you make canceraid. That's what we're doing today." (Youtube.com video.)
"Welcome bloggers. You are in the outdoors. ...The objects next to you are people..."
One highschool boy tells me that bloggers are pretentious to think that anyone cares about their opinions.
"What about people who express their opinions in newspapers? Are they pretentious?"
He says no.
"What about people who express their opinions on television? Are they pretentious?"
"What about people who express their opinions on the radio? Are they pretentious?"
About half the crowd raise their hands to say they're Democrats.
A few weeks ago I was asked to speak, but I could come up with nothing funny. I've been mildly depressed for two months and drained of creativity.
Rob Long and Sandra Tsing Lho host the program
Rob: "We've asked our speakers to keep things short, Luke Ford." (Audio)
Rob introduces me. "Our next speaker is unembarrassable...in the Freudian personality disorder wheel."
I wrote out the brief talk below but then winged it at the mic (I was the second speaker after Andrew Breitbart).
After Luke Thompson's five minutes of stand-up, Rob Long says: "It makes you appreciate professionals."
Allan Mayer, former publisher and editor of Buzz magazine: "Reading her blog and her columns at National Review Online, I'm amazed at how Cathy continues to hold my interest, even when I have no idea what she's talking about."
"She can be totally clueless about the effect her writing has on people."
Rob: "Mickey Kaus sent a video, even though he's here today."
Mickey on the video: "She won't let me bring bimbos to Yamashiro. If Lindsay Lohan showed up to Yamashiro, she'd say, 'She's not a journalist. What is she doing here?' Everything has to be literary. Everything has to be professional.
"Have you seen her blog? Look at the prose. She's no Tiffany Stone."
About three years ago, Cathy forced Mickey Kaus to stop bringing Tiffany Stone to the monthly Yamashiro meetings of various top writers including Allan Mayer, Scott Kaufer, Matt Welch and company.
Seipp's trump card? "We got extra security for you at that AFI panel [with Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs]."
Mickey: "What is it with this Luke Ford thing? I know the bee-stung lips, the leonine hair, the strong stream of urine, but he doesn't even own a bed."
Ross Johnson says that if you look carefully at my smile, you'll see Jon Benet Ramsey's DNA.
Matt Welch describes the late laexaminer.com as "like Kevin Roderick [LA Observed], except funny."
"In a way, we're all Cathy's ex," says Rob Long.
Near the end of the roast, Cathy's ex-husband Jerry Lazar gave a moving speech.
"Cathy asked me to be here today," says Jerry. Cathy shakes her head.
"She wanted to prove that long time ago there was a time she did suffer fools gladly.
"I didn't come here to speak but more to listen. [Having been married to Cathy,] I've always been a good listener. What else is there to do?
"The biggest difference between me and Cathy -- I'm guessing that through the years very few people have asked her what it is like to live with me."
"Wow, we're getting good all of a sudden," says Rob. "We have a video from Toby Young, otherwise known as the English Luke Ford."
Rob Long met Cathy in 1990 when he was 25. She asked him if he'd like to be in Penthouse magazine. He said yes.
Lionel: "I wasn't supposed to speak but after three meetings with Jim Beam..."
"I first met Cathy when she came to the Wednesday Morning Club, an organization that started in my backyard and later became the property of David Horowitz, who you may or may not know. I know him but we no longer know each other."
Poked By An Acupunturist
"Do you have any phobias?" she asks.
"Homophobia," I say.
"At least you're honest. How are you doing?"
"My life is falling apart like my elbows."
"That's a good analogy."
She pokes me with needles and then leaves me alone.
When she comes back 20 minutes later, she looks at me with concern. "Are you ok?"
I say yes.
"It's normal for people to become emotional during acupunture," she says. "It releases the emotions."
She pulled the needles out and worked on my back with suction cups. "It's good you're bleeding," she says. "It's a release. And it lets me see your blood."
I don't care whether or not acupunture is scientifically valid. I simply enjoy the female attention. Where else are you going to find a woman who cares about the texture and color of your phlegm?
9/11 Was An Atrocity, Not A Tragedy
I Got The Wrong Chinese Massage
For the first time in 17 years, I went in for acupuncture Friday. I have tendonitis in both elbows which limits my time on the computer.
The acupunturist spent four hours with me, taking a detailed history, and then poking me. I kept my eyes closed through the entire needle session.
I was told I needed to get a massage to loosen up before my next session.
So I walk into the place Sunday and get two women for $100 to massage me all over.
I expected a fondle, perhaps a rub and a tug. What I got was two ladies with a cumulative age of 100 inflicting Chinese torture. It was so bad I even said the f-word.
My Sunday Got Off To A Bad Start
While I was lusting after Cathy Seipp's Google page rank of seven, I got my penis stuck in my zipper.
I Love Novelist Andrea Seigel
Here are some excerpts from her blog:
Jewish Whistleblower writes:
1) Sep.11, 2006 - Rabbi Mordecai Tendler - pretrial conference civil trial NY
Dates To Be Determined:
Rob Spallone's Brother Roy, 48, Dies Of Natural Causes In Costa Rica Sept. 5
I've known Rob for eight years. If I ever needed a favor (get bailed out of jail or have someone whacked), he'd be one of the first persons I talked to.
Rob (firstname.lastname@example.org) calls me Friday morning: "Do me a favor. My brother died. If you could just put something up there and leave it there because I've been getting nine million phone calls. Anybody who wants to pay respect can come by my house at 3 p.m., Sept 13, 20058 Friar St. 91367. We're leaving for New York Thursday."
Blessed is the one true Judge.
Luke: "When did Roy die?"
Rob: "Tuesday I got the phone call."
Luke: "What killed him?"
Rob: "They did the autopsy yesterday. I had him cremated. Natural causes. He'd been sick. He didn't tell anybody. That's it.
"He was supposed to go to work Monday. He didn't show up. He didn't show up Tuesday. They sent somebody over. They found him in the bed dead."
Luke: "When did you last talk to him?"
Rob: "I went to my mother's office Tuesday morning. She said she spoke to Roy Saturday. He'd been depressed and sick. He sounded good. He was getting a new job. He was moving.
"Three hours later I got the phone call.
"I was supposed to fly down today and leave him down there because he liked it there. I was able to give the rights to this girl to identify him. I've been on the phone with the embassy for two days. I sent them all the money they needed."
Luke: "When did you last talk to him?"
Rob: "About a month ago."
Luke: "What did you talk about?"
Rob: "Nothing. He was the same as always. Crazy Roy."
Luke: "Didn't he have surgery?"
Rob: "Yes. His gallbladder exploded when we were in New York five months ago."
Roy has a 23-year old daughter. "If you met Roy, you'd think he was the happiest guy in the world. He was a tough kid. He wasn't a bully. Anybody who met him, liked him."
Rob chokes up.
My clearest memory of Roy is from Las Vegas in January 2005. I stayed with Rob and Roy and company for a few days at the Bellagio. Rob and Roy were bickering most of the time. On a Friday night, Roy was freaking out because he hadn't heard from Rob all day.
Then Rob stumbled in with Tommy Sinnopoli (who sells herbal viagra). They were both drunk as skunks.
It was pouring rain on the drive home to Los Angeles Sunday evening. Rob was exhausted so Roy gave me a ride home from Rob's house in the Valley, saving me an $80 cab fair.
Roy was always helping people like that.
May his memory be a blessing.
Novelist Laurie Gwen Shapiro
* You did not disguise Sheila Nevins much. What's your relationship with her and HBO?
She can talk in a loopy grandmotherly way, but damn she is a sharp businesswoman. I coproduced two low budget docs that she bought for HBO about Frank McCourt and his brothers. She did put in a respectable bid for a feature doc (Keep the River on the Right) that my brother David and I ultimately sold to IFC for a theatrical release. But I do place a small bet with my film pals exactly how many minutes into the Oscar documentary section she will get a brown-nosed call-out as a saint. Hilarious. Documentary makers know how hard it is to get films commissioned.
* What did you learn from writing your first novel, Salami? Your style seemed to change after it.
I had ever so much fun writing Unexpected Salami. I wrote in six weeks during my lunch hour at an evil company simply to entertain myself. A top agent took it right away and sold it in a week. Seriously. I then labored for two years over a novel that was thoughtful and "well-written" but didn’t sell. So I’ve learned to keep pushing motivation on my characters (This comes naturally though as I get older) – but not to chuck light sentences that come to your fingers instantly.
* Anglophile was so much fun to read. Was it fun to write? Where did that book come from?
I think Matzo Ball Heiress is easier to like – Food, Dynasty Jews, Sex, Jokes. I have old and young fans for that. Unexpected Salami I’ve heard described as Seinfeld meets Spinal Tap (lots of male reader emails for that one). But The Anglophile, while humorous, it got into sexual fetishes and is a bit sadder. Not as wide a net. Attracts a little more intense quirky people. But that’s okay. Let me be the first to say nearly all of my favorite people are intense and quirky. It came from my completely indulging myself. I love all things British, except Chinese food in Liverpool.
* Does it matter that your books move from being fun to read to being literature? The writers I love to read for relaxation are fun but literary. Ben Elton. Hanif Kureshi. TC Boyle. Bill Bryson. Lorrie Moore. (Okay Ben Elton is not always literary, but when he is on, which is not always, no one is funnier. I embarrassed myself on a Manhattan subway when reading a passage in Stark that featured an elegant French Canadian cursing all wrong in English. ) The reason that I’m (for the time being) stopping adult fiction is that at Random House I have an amazing editor for my young adult novels who is pummeling me daily into not sailing on my natural comic ability but to delve deeper and deeper. I’m kind of shocked that she even talks seriously to me like this. Frankly, I’m taking less money for Young Adult simply because that’s all I ever wanted as a writer. Someone who believes in me in a big way. I think my other editors were simply amused by my quirkiness and could maybe get lucky on a breakout book.
* When you were a kid, what were your ambitions for your life?
I wanted to first be a magician, then a writer. My 4th Grade teacher, Miss Hayeem, an intense Jew from India told she had a dream I would be a writer, and I utterly believed her. My parents also thought I would be a writer. At my summer camp Camp Tranquility I never learned to swim, but I was the editor of the camp paper from the age of 10.
* Was there a point when you realized you would be a writer?
When I sold my first novel. I can never recapture the utter glee in that moment. Second only to the birth of my kid. My agent said, before she announced the amount, "keep your day job." But I didn’t. I hated it. Money went down, but happiness ensued.
* What crowd did you hang out with in high school?
I went to Stuyvesant, a math and science high school in NYC. It really wasn’t a pocket protector place you might imagine. It was in downtown Manhattan, at the time in the East Village. Lucy Liu and Tim Robbins went there other years, and if you can imagine them young, that’s what most of the people would be like. No mall rats or pom-pom girls, thankfully. Ultimate Frisbee much more important than football. Girls wore sexy short black dresses to the prom, which was an ironic affair. My brother’s year was even at the Playboy Club – mine was at the World Trade Center, RIP. I had friends, but I dated out of school. I had a thing for a guy much older than me, though we always stopped short before actual sex. Thinking I was ultra mature was in retrospect idiotic. He was just immature. What kind of 30-year-old man dates a 17 year old. A wanker. A near pedophile. When I reached 30 I couldn’t dream of being involved with a 17 year old. Shudder. My first teen novel will be published in October 2006 by Random House. (Brand X ) It explores this time.
I hung around with the people who hung around with English teacher Frank McCourt, that is to say the creative ones who somehow got into this hallowed math school despite a lean towards verbal over math ability. They were going to make their parents happy (the school is not just prestigious, it’s free) but miserable by the rigidity. I am really shocked that the talented creatives from my gang hardly followed though on creative careers. My reunion was lawyer after lawyer. They are well off though! (My husband and I have fantasy counterparts living in genteel rusticity in rural France with no bills. We took early retirement after a corporate lawyer life.)
* What do you love and hate about the writing life?
Love that I get the publicity off my own creative ideas. Hate that when I occasionally fall flat, get the publicity too. Love staying at home. I have nasty PMS and by I hated to go to work on those days. I once saw a long check list for PMS and I had everything on it (highlights on the list -- PMS dandruff, dizziness, paranoia and hunger). Luke, I mean I had every symptom on that effing list except suicidal thoughts. Now I can work extra hard on the days I am functioning and eat a steak and down three homemade screwdrivers during the worst of my hormonal cycle. I can blub at the drop of a hat with no one in the next cubicle to pity me, and once my daughter is in school I can go back to bed at 9:30 a.m. The other day was a bad PMS day and I caught the tail end of American Iron Chef’s "Battle Pea" –and watching the unthinkable chocolate-coated pea popsicle being considered by wary judges was my sole semi-intellectual activity for the day. Screw regular work. This week is good hormonally and I have huge productivity.
* What role has Judaism/god played in your life? Did you feel called by God to write novels and produce docs on gay cannibals?
I would say my morality is derived from an intensely questioning Jewish background. There are a lot of famous rabbis a few generations back. My family were Religious Zionists to Jerusalem in the 1890’s. We’re talking Mea Shearim, the most orthodox area. My atheist grandfather, son of a rabbi, came to America partly to get out of this lifestyle. My parents are not religious, but I went to Hebrew School twice a week after school, like many Americans. I was Bat Mitzvahed. I also was the first girl at my Conservative synagogue to read from the Torah. Then I went to Israel and was really turned off by the fact that women couldn’t be next to their son during their bar mitzvahs at the wall. My mother said I was a mini-suffragette for a year. I never went to Shabbat service again unless for a family thing. Maybe because of this Hebrew schooling, when I was younger, before Israel, I believed in God. My parents never talked about God. Later I found out they were agnostic, my father more so. I am agnostic though, not atheist. Who am I to know what everything means? Science is more of a God for me than a traditional God. I am baffled what I should teach. My daughter knows what a synagogue is, and that she is a Jew with a Christian father, but I have not yet brought the concept of God up yet. I wonder what to do all the time. I look to Alduous Huxley as a role model. He spent a lifetime searching, and all he could come up with a the end of his hardcore delving was "Be Kind." I think that is where I am now too. My religion in 2006 is that I don’t shit on people if I can help it, and I mean that figuratively by the way before you crack a joke.
So no, I am not a practicing Jew. But I happily identify myself as a secular Jew. For one, I was born and still live on the Lower East Side. I mean give me a pickle and I can immediately tell you if it is quarter sour, or three quarters sour. I knew in a millisecond when word came that Monica Lewinsky said "Schmucko" that she was not merely of Polish heritage like Tara Liapinski. I love Old School Lower east Side Yiddish, which my Dad can speak. The newer take in Hasidic Brooklyn is not salty as the old Socialist Yiddish. I love visiting old synagogues when I travel. But I don’t want to be kosher. Or go to synagogue other than the occasional special event. A little bit of synagogue is just right for me. I enjoy myself when I do go once or twice a year.
* Did you take your husband's last name? Any qualms?
Why should I take his name? He had his life, I have mine. Also, I didn’t want to be a Jew with the name O’Leary. My husband loves my last name so we briefly considered sharing the O . Laurie and Paul Shapir O’Leary looked weird though. My daughter took her father’s surname—although she has my "religion" and two Hebrew names to honor her great grandmas.
* What are the juiciest things your peers say about writing and their careers as writers (that they don't reveal in interviews)?
How obsessively they read Publishers Marketplace online for lowdown on advances. Jealousy is weird emotion to control. I suffer too. I finally canceled my internet subscription to get away from that place.
* In what ways are your perceptions of life keener than other people's?
Honestly I have decided that I have a very light form of ADHD which allows me to hyperfocus on what keenly interests me. (Never diagnosed.) I feel a little like my eye is akin to Glenn Gould’s ear – except instead of teeny rhythms all around me, I remember odd details. I can still tell you what color the piping on the tube socks this hot guy in my calculus class in 11th Grade had on. (Teal.)
* How has your choice of vocation affected you, relationships?
Pisses off some people. My family says, "Watch what you say around Laurie." Also it’s weird what people will read as themselves. I had three guys who I used to date all contact me and say hey so weird you put me in a book as the ex-boyfriend in your book. One was a Type A luging sex-obsessed Mayflower descendant, one was a hilarious perpetually-broke Jersey shore type, and one was pretty darn effete writer though 100 percent straight, like Lyle the Effeminate Heterosexual from SNL. All saw themselves.
* How do you know when you've done good work?
You feel it in your bones. I love my essay in the Modern Jewish Girl’s Guide to Guilt. It was short. But I knew when it was done. On the other hand I chucked half a novel once because when I thought about it – it was crap. And this was a contracted novel with a deadline. I started over with a new plot, The Anglophile, which I raced to get in on time. If I could I would rewrite the end of the book. The last three chapters were rushed.
* What have you sacrificed to be a writer?
Not much except a regular bankable income. Everything now comes once a year or every to years. I was due to get half a million for a film deal, but that crumbled on the last day of an option after nine years. That stung. I’m not really stuck in a solitary situation as I make films too. No one who says they made a doc by themselves is telling the truth – even our small documentary had 80 people involved.
* What do you do best and worst as a writer?
I think I am on paper as least a reasonably funny woman. I think more men than women risk humor, but that may be changing. Sarah Silverman and Samantha Bee from John Stewart are fearless. Worst – I like my digressions, but often I go overboard. I fight for some though even if an editor begs me to take them out. Digressions are in my brain, and I think people my age and younger deal better with them and often they work. But a big red pen is a good thing for an editor assigned to me, whatever her age.
* Why do you write what you write?
I can’t do much else except talk on the phone rally well. I use to think I was someone really special. Did you feel that way as a kid? A sense of "I’m different." But again now I think I have a mild form of ADHD that would be different in a girl that gifted me with an intense creativity and a different nature from most. I was given an award by the Soros Foundation for being the most creative on a campus of 50,000. But they could have also given me an award for most things lost while enrolled. If you are a ditzy smartish woman with really bad handwriting – I think you have to look up ADHD. What has convinced me is that many ADHD women have a fear of escalators. I read that and I was like. WHOA. That is my exact phobia. I will take an elevator if there is one even a mile down a hall. I read girls almost never get diagnosed, and can achieve in a big way in what they like. Two highly successful creative women I hang out with have just been diagnosed and are taking action so they don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. They have stains all over their shirt and glowing press for their journalism and fiction. And hate escalators.
* Were there any events in childhood that prefigured your adult work?
I was quite popular in elementary school -- happy girl. I was just fine in high school, not an A lister but okay. But I have a scarring memory of being ostracized at the end of 8th grade. Partly because I wouldn't do drugs, partly because the last place pollyannas are appreciated is in eighth grade. It was brutal, and just a handful of people caused the torment, the rest were sheep. Sometime when I write, I simply really want to show those motherfu**ers. Revenge if channeled well, is a good tool to get you to write. But I’m sure none of the ringleaders give a shit about whether I sell a book or that I won the Spirit Award. But in my fantasy they do care, and I get my writing quota done. Whatever works.
* How has marriage/motherhood affected your philosophizing and writing?
Motherhood rocks, although I think I need another one. I obsess over her so much that she may hate me soon if I don’t bring another in to balance out my love. I write during the time she is in school. So in that way she has focused my writing more. No more dilly-dallying. Except during PMS days.
* What do you want from your kids aside from their happiness?
I want my daughter (so far only one kid) to have a sense of humor. Because when life is sucking, you need one. Thankfully she does. She is a cute funny little blonde without a traditional girly girly nature. She reminds me of a teeny Amy Sedaris. Also a sense of heritage. I want her to travel to Vilnius, Lithuania and Mea Shearim, and when she is older to Auschwitz, even though my family were in America before the war. She can already tell you every Aussie animal, and one day I want to take her to Cork, where the O’Learys once ruled. She listens to the usual Disney Channel music dreck, but she is very musical via her dad and we sneak in traditional Celtic music and Yiddish music on occasion, as well as alternative rock.
* What does philosophy teach you about dealing with a man with an angry erection?
All I can remember from Philosophy 101 is that Sartre thought lust was ill-fated. Indeed: all of my early experiences with angry erections, while memorable, led to nasty breakups. My husband and I started out as friends who slept together, and there have been far too many bungled sexual encounters that stem from excessive wisecracking in our bedroom, but we’ve lasted a long time.
* How often do you experience the consolation of philosophy? At moments of crisis since you became an adult, how often has it been as genuinely useful as a sympathetic friend?
Rarely. However. I do have two brilliant philosopher friends who comfort me during crisis – I figure they have done all the deep reading I could never slog through. During crisis I read humorous nonfiction. Bill Bryson saved me this year during a family crisis that has eased (someone close was very sick.) Jeffrey Steingarten too. I can never read fiction during crisis.
* Your husband and your writing. Does he read it in advance? Is he allowed to critique it?
My husband is an Aussie musician and by this very background finds it distasteful when I use a big vocabulary word. His idea of a perfect book is Catcher in the Rye – "Unpretentious." As I pointed out to him recently – that was also Mark David Chapman’s idea of a perfect book. I find not using a juicy vocabulary ridiculous if the word is used well. I like words. Not just fancy ones, but ones with good sounds which includes all words that start with P. I try to steer clear from him when writing: One bad look and I’m done for the day. Likewise, I am banned from his live performances. He says I am the pits as far as a live audience goes. Apparently when I went to his Melbourne gigs I would cross my arms and cringe even when I liked something very much. We are not a good collaborative unit. Stupidly, we are working on an experiment now – a bildungsroman (a word he of course abhors) of his life in Australia and after two weeks of collaboration I am ready to drop it. He wants everything to stay exactly the same, and I am all for combining events and characters. And I would safely say he hates me right now. I work much better with my brother. But my husband makes me laugh much harder. My brother and I produce good work but we are forever bickering over sibling crap.
* As you travel, what depresses you and what inspires you about Jewish life?
I was in Paris this spring working on a novel involving Jews, and it was an eye-opener to say the least. I keep forgetting that in NYC I live in a bubble, thinking there is no anti-Semitism. Even in Australia, I’ve heard quite a few people who are otherwise educated use Jew as a verb. They didn’t even realize what they were saying to me. What inspires me is history. Remembering occasionally that NYC is not center of universe. Jews can exist in China, and have no idea what a bialy is, but damn is their story interesting.
* Which contemporary writer is the biggest wanker?
I hate to slam people in public, I really do. I have two in mind though in a big way, both blog.
* Are there any exhortations or questions you repeat to yourself on a daily basis?
Two pages. That is the way to write any big thing. Break it down. I thank a post-college writing mentor Abigail Thomas for that wisdom. She used to say that if you simply wrote two pages a day for a year you’d have over 700 pages, so you can miss quite a few days and still have a novel’s worth in a year.
* What left you unsatisfied when you read Jewish-American literature?
It is almost impossible to write about intermarriage without hearing about it. Secular Judaism topics are thought of as immature and lesser. But the reality is that most American Jews are secular, and these lives are real. I don’t feel I have to have my Jewish characters apologize for not keeping kosher. I wouldn’t even though my great grandfather determined that he was the final word in Jerusalem for Ashkenazi Jews on what was kosher. I don’t hate my heritage because I love lobster. Nor do I think of myself as self-loathing simply because I love a man who is not Jewish. I truly love him. My grandmother, born Orthodox, fell in love with an agnostic Jew. She kept Shabbos more as a reminder of her youth, and she’d let me roll out the balls of ball of challah dough. Her dinners start with the cliché: chicken soup. We had jars of the stuff in our freezer. I loved her, and the smell of Jewish food is still blissful. How could anyone say I hate Jews in a review? Idiotic.
* Has the Holocaust changed literary structure so that the traditional linear narrative is no longer appropriate?
Interesting, and people gasp for air when I tell them this as I am known for light comic fiction, I am 2/3rds through a Holocaust novel that I just sold to Random House. My husband who has not read a word calls it my "Chick Lit meets Holocaust" novel to piss me off. But it is not that. I am simply stretching my skill set, challenging myself to go to a darker place, learn things I don’t know. I have been doing a lot of research, and conducted some harrowing interviews. But I still want to be entertaining in a noble way. I would imagine that even in the camps people would try to stay sane by looking for even the smallest shred of entertainment. Mainly I am reaching inside me to my sense of self as a Jew. I am confident I have found the voice I need, the language – but it is precisely the sinew of the novel that is still baffling me. Can I get back to you on the structure question in 2007 when the book is due?
Rachel Kramer Bussel - One Step Closer To God
Lainie Speiser writes:
1. Sex columns are a sub-set of relationship columns, ergo dominated by women. 2. If men were to share as much as female sex columnists do, they would look like pigs. 3. I hate it when female sex columnists aren't hot.
Twelve Silly Questions for Cathy Seipp
Cathy Seipp is a local journalist and columnist whose work has appeared everywhere from Penthouse to the Wall Street Journal and pretty much everywhere in between. Currently you can find her writing a weekly column for the National Review Online, and also on her blog, Cathy's World which usually gets between 60-100 comments per post.
A member and contributor of the controversial, mostly-conservative Pajamas Media, there was little surprise that when Ann Coulter was in town earlier this summer, she accepted the invite to attend Cathy's teenage daughter's backyard birthday party; not because they both lean Right, but because Cathy is an intelligent, classy, quick-witted woman who is easy to like when you meet her.
One of Cathy's best friends is the controversial local journalist Luke Ford, who you might have seen on the cover of the LA Weekly's "LA People" edition this April. Luke is so controversial, in fact that Pajamas Media let him go just days after hiring him before he even wrote one word. Some presume that Luke's resume was brought to the attention of some at PM who probably should have seen it before accepting him.
With only a few more days to go before Cathy is "honored" with a roast by her closest pals, Luke asks his BFF twelve silly questions:
Do you believe that if people knew you better they'd like you more?