Monday, January 26, 2009

Lane Cakes & Papier Mache

Originally posted on Tuesday, December 23, 2008.

So it's the holiday again. I'm trying to do it right this year. I hope it's charming of me to actually think there is a way to do it right, but I have a sneaking suspicion I'm just being neurotic.

Okay nuts.

As with most things in life I've never found a happy medium for my Christmas celebrating. When I started in show business I usually had to work on the holiday --sometimes we shot the actual Chirstmas show in advance so we had the big day off, but most years we were doing the soap sturm und drang over a holiday punch bowl on the 24th. In those days my yuletide ritual consisted of tossing a couple of ornaments on my snake plant and joining the crowd of hostile travelers on New Haven line as we all headed toward our loved ones in Connecticut -- in my case my mom's house. A couple of days later I'd be back on the set shooting the buildup to the obligatory Miserable Soap Opera New Year's Eve.

Hey, it was a living.

Cut to: a few years later I got married. I was what was called, back in the Paleolithic Age, a feminist. Which meant you didn't read romance novels or those glossy magazines that told you how to run a home. Let me confess now to my consciousness raising group that I read everything Georgette Heyer ever wrote, and I was the guilty consumer of Redbook, The Ladies' Home Journal and McCalls.

When I married Roger, who loved Christmas, I had years of unbaked cookies and uncrafted decorations pent up in my brain. I made several holiday seasons hideous with my Lane Cake which took two days to bake if you insisted on using the original recipe which called for one to "choppe ye raisins into Perfecte thirds." My handmade icicles for the tree resulted in my husband having to have a premature discussion with his two young sons about the meaning of the phrase "phallic symbol." At some point during the holiday I would find myself screaming at the dog who had played with the papier mache for the Father Christmas and glued herself to a light socket.

So this year I'm trying to make it all easy. After all - it's the thought that counts. Right? So this time no fancy food, no handmade decorations, I'm doing my minimal shopping on the internet. If I can figure out how to use the @$%!! thing.

Happy Holidays!

Death Wish Dog

Originally posted on Thursday, December 11, 2008.

Okay, I don't know why this happened to me, I'm basically a nice risk-averse, middle-class lady, who tends to hang out with people who floss and watch their cholesterol. I've never considered bungee jumping or hang gliding. But somehow I wound up with a dog with a death wish.

I could understand it if Charlie was depressed. But he's one of the most ebullient, fun loving, affectionate creatures you'd ever want to meet. I guess it's that way with a lot of our loved ones who harbor secret sorrows the rest of us never know about. Charlie's suicidal tendencies first manifested themselves last year when he ate the Christmas tree. Actually it was the tulle we had wrapped around the tree for a lovely gauzy effect which we will not be repeating this year. Since the tulle, and there were wads of it, didn't sit well Charlie followed it up with a chaser of carpet. Yeah, he ripped a chunk of our carpet off the stairs and gnawed on it hoping to settle his stomach.

I won't go into details about what that did to his intestines because there are some things I just don't want to think about, but two surgeries were required to unclog them. And we replaced our pretty wool carpet with the fancy nap with a plastic commercial floor covering that was pretty much Charlie proof --we hoped. I won't dwell on the expense of the surgeries and the new flooring, I just want to say that there's a reason why I'm so frantic about getting my book advances. But Roger and I thought we were safe. Silly us. We replaced the carpet but we forgot totally about the bath mats.

Yes, Charlie did it last weekend. We had a long talk with him about economics and explained that this time he was going to have to... how shall I say this delicately?... eliminate the rug on his own since we couldn't afford to open him up again. I think he heard us because the backyard isn't pretty and he isn't dead. But last night I found him consuming a Christmas candle loaded with glitter. I am going to talk to our vet about naming a memorial wing at his hospital after us Because Charlie will probably live forever but I'm not sure I'm going to survive.

The Agony & the Ex-Soap Star

Originally posted on Wednesday, September 26, 2007 .

Okay, so since I'm doing a tour and talking about Family Acts right now, I've been thinking a lot about show business. Because I really did channel so much of my show biz life when I wrote it. Not directly, I didn't actually experience most of the stuff -- well, okay, the Emmy sequence is pretty accurate – but I think my love for that world fueled the book. I'm still stage struck after all this time— actually, I'm probably more stage struck now than I was when I was actually working in the industry. I mean, these days no one is refusing to hire me because my ankles aren't right and I remind them of their mother, so I can afford to be a little misty eyed about it all.

That said, there are stories I always planned on telling when I became a huge star and was writing my autobiography. Since the huge star boat seems to have sailed without me—here goes. This first one is sort of about appendicitis, but it's really about actor ego. I have one. Well, of course I do, I wouldn't have done what I've done for a living if I didn't have one. I mean, the whole point of the profession is, people are supposed to watch you. Even if you're shy, somewhere deep down in your soul there's got to be a part of you that doesn't mind being looked at. And if there isn't and you still insist on acting, get yourself to a shrink today because you are a substance abuse problem waiting to happen.

And this brings me to something that puzzles me-- stars who moan about the pain… the brutal agony of being hounded by the media. This would be the same media they courted so hard on their way up that they made Paris Hilton look like an Amish spinster –right? I'm not sure you get to turn off the attention after you've made it . I mean, doesn't it kind of come with the dinner? But I digress.

I will admit I have a healthy… okay, an unhealthy actor's ego. I try to keep it under control because the cliché of the plumy voiced actor who thinks it's All About Me is a little too funny. I mean, even I don't want to get laughs that way. But it's rough, because the self absorption just sneaks up on you and before you know it, you've been monologue-- ing for twenty minutes and the people around you look the way my husband looks when I insist on listening to Wagner while we're driving to Alabama. So I probably manage to keep the monster under wraps about fifty per cent of the time.

Cut to: The early eighties when I was appearing on Ryan's Hope. I had a full day of scenes and I knew I was feeling badly, but I figured I'd just ride out the pain in my stomach until it went away. By ten that night it finally dawned on me that it wasn't going away and in fact it was getting worse. I knew I should do something. But I didn't have a doctor in New York – after all, I'd only lived in the city for twelve years. My friend Nancy said I should go to the emergency room, and since I really wanted whatever was bothering me to stop because I had to work three days that week, I finally went.

Okay, now here is Louise Shaffer's Rule 1 in case you ever find yourself in an emergency room in New York City after eleven o'clock at night. DO NOT CRACK JOKES. Are we clear on that? Because what you want more than anything else is for the overworked, exhausted staff to take you seriously. Look at it from their point of view, they have six gunshot wounds, two drug overdoses, a knife wound, and you, all sitting in the waiting room. Not only are you the only one who isn't vomiting or bleeding on the floor, you've obviously had the means to bathe in the past three weeks. They do not want to think there is anything wrong with you—they do not want think anything is wrong with anyone because they do not want to do the paperwork – but with you it's touch and go. And then you start doing your standup for them. Wrong. But I didn't know that. When I'm scared I try to be funny. And unfortunately for me, the triage nurse was an easy laugher. So she became An Audience. And to make matters worse, I chose to riff on my tendency toward hypochondria.

Here is Louise Shaffer's Rule 2 for New York City Emergency Rooms. When speaking to health care professionals do not use the words "I am a hypochondriac." They will not understand that you are indulging in charming, self-deprecating humor. They will assume that you are yet another whack job and they will not want to do the paperwork. The nurse sent me home with a giggle and told me I probably had a touch of Korean Flu -- since that was the nation that was exporting germs to us that year. She did not check my white cell count or my temperature.

At about one in the morning, I stopped trying to walk to the bathroom and decided to crawl. At five in the morning, I was carrying on a conversation with a man in a brown robe who seemed to have taken up residence in my ceiling. When my friend Nancy called me at eight to see how I was, I told her about the guy in brown and she called her doctor who said it sounded like I was hallucinating and that I should come right over to see him. When she arrived at my apartment to execute this plan, I refused to go because I couldn't afford to be sick. I said I had to work the next day. Nancy finally threatened to call the cops to break down my door before I agreed.

I had a temperature of 104. My white cell count was astronomical. My appendix had burst and they were going to send me to the hospital. I said no I didn't have time for that because I had to work the next day. Nancy made some more cop threats and I hurt too much to fight. I went to the hospital. I was chatting a lot with the guy in brown by then. They stuck me on a gurney, they were going to take me to surgery. Through the mists, it registered. "I can't go to work tomorrow?" I croaked. Everyone but Nancy thought I was being funny. "I need to make a phone call, " I said. (This was before we all had cell phones)

"She probably wants her family to know what's happened," a sympathetic nurse said and got a dial tone for me, "Now who do you want us to call, dear?"

"My agent," I said.

I informed my agent that I was going to be AWOL for the next two weeks. He tried to reassure me, he told me he would alert the show and they would find a replacement for me. I told him that was what I was calling about. Then -- and I am so not proud of this next part -- I gave him a list of all the actresses who had beaten me out for jobs for the last ten years. And believe me, even with heavy duty peritonitis, I remembered every name. Before I consented to go into surgery I made my agent swear that he would see to it that none of those actresses would play my part.

That's what I mean by an actor's ego. You be the judge of the healthy part.

Opening Night

Originally posted on Thursday, September 06, 2007.

Okay, so Family Acts is officially on sale. But August 28th, which I'd been sort of thinking of as the opening night, has come and gone. And that started me thinking about the difference between a theatrical opening night and a publication date.
Here's what the day goes like when your book hits the shelves. Your editor will call you to congratulate you and thank you again for all your hard work—at least, mine does, but then I am incredibly lucky. Your publicist will call to congratulate you and reiterate how much she loved the book and tell you that she's booked all of your flights for your book tour out of your local airport so you won't have the hassle of getting to JFK. She doesn't want you to be stressed. After that, the launch is pretty much over. In the next few weeks you'll hear from your near and dear ones who will tell you how much liked your book—after all, only a total jerk would make a special call to tell you they didn't like it –and that's about it.
Contrast this with being an actor facing an opening night – at least if the actor is me. You jolt awake at four in the morning convinced that you're going to die. You don't know why you feel that way—you're still three quarters asleep—you just know you're doomed. After a few minutes you remember that, God help you, you're opening in a show tonight. At eight o'clock this evening, you and your life's work will undergo two hours of the kind of judgment most people associate with the end of the world. Then you will sit in a restaurant somewhere at the opening night party – an exercise in torture if there ever was one-- and you will try not to throw up while you and the rest of your equally terrified colleagues wait for the make-or-break reviews which will determine if you will be employed and able to pay for your apartment, or if you're going to be bunking in with relatives while you beg your old boss to take you back at that gig in food services.
But it's not just about the money and the job—if you're an actor you're used to being broke and desperate -- this is about the animal fear that can be best described as Tonight I Am Going to Stink In Front Of People Who Are So Successful They Rate An Opening Night Ticket. This is when your basic actor paranoia sets in. Now you are convinced that the play in which you are appearing-- the one you thought was so witty and charming -- is actually the theatrical equivalent of toxic waste. It also hits you that the director into whose hands you have so foolishly put your trust and your career, is actually a sadist who has sabotaged you by encouraging you to give a performance so rotten it will make Kelsey Grammar's turn as MacBeth look like something produced by the Old Vic. At this point you're probably awake enough to brush your teeth but you can't because they are chattering too hard. Your day will go downhill from here.
At some point during the afternoon the paranoia will vanish and be replaced by guilt and self-loathing. It's not the fault of your director or the playwright, you realize, it is you and your lack of anything resembling talent that has gotten you into this mess. You start making plans to revamp your life's goals. Maybe you'll work with the deserving poor. Or nurse the terminally ill. If God will just please let you get through this night, you will become a better person, you promise.
By the time you're sitting in your dressing room in front of your makeup mirror you have dumped all bargains with God. You stare blankly at the tiny stuffed animals and snow globes theater people insist on giving each other as opening night presents and you swear if you survive this night you are going to hunt down your last therapist and sue for malpractice. Meanwhile, you try frantically to remember your opening line. Or the title of the play. Or your name. That's the day of an opening night.
I'm not saying this writing career of mine is a walk in the park. It's a lot of hard work and there can be disappointments and rejections and all the usual stuff –good and bad-- that happens to everyone. But you don't have to go through an opening night!

With a Little Help from MySpace Friends

Originally posted on Monday, August 27, 2007.

Okay, there are some other people I want to thank — and this brings me to an area about which I'm a bit dicey—cyberspace. And blogging. I've been given such a boost from both and I don't understand them. Not really.

The thing is, I'm technologically challenged. This is not something that started when I purchased my first computer – I have always had trouble with machines. I gave up my driver's license as a public service when I first came to live in Manhattan. When I was in drama school we all had to do crew work – building sets and costumes-- before we could graduate. After my first week in the set shop, there was a note next to my name that said I was not to be allowed near power tools. I was assigned to the wardrobe department, and after a really scary incident with the ruffles attachment, I wasn't allowed near the sewing machines. I spent three years washing dance tights and sewing on buttons by hand. But I digress.

I'm not sure I believe what I've been told about my computer. I've heard all about chips and hard drives, but I suspect that what's really in that thing is-- gremlins. And if you piss them off by pushing the wrong button they will crash the computer and make you loose three months worth of work because, okay, you forgot to back up your files, and damn it, I can't be expected to remember everything. I have a relationship with my computer that is tentative at best and don't even get me started about the laptop, which I totally don't understand.

But my stepson Colin said I should blog. And he said I should do it on MySpace which I thought was pretty much the home of teenagers who were into body piercing and tattoos -- which I also don't understand because, I'm sorry, there is no way you can convince me that it didn't hurt. I'm not making an aesthetic judgment here. Anyone who's seen my Kitty Litter Cleaning Ensemble knows I have no business commenting on anyone else's fashion sense. But are you guys absolutely sure this stuff is safe? Have there been any studies done? What's the long term impact on your immune system? What's going to happen when you get older and your eyebrows start to sag—and trust me, they will. Just be careful, that's all I'm saying. There are days when it's hard enough to cross the street safely – you know?

But back to blogging. Actually I had been tinkering with the concept before Colin gave me his edict. When I was working Family Acts I wrote a character who was a computer whiz. Given my limitations that seems just plain wrong—doesn't it? And I'll admit I did try to make Susie – that's the character's name—into an eleven year eccentric who wrote in longhand only. But – and, okay, this part is really embarrassing – sometimes my characters talk to me. I don't mean they appear in visions and tell me to save France. But while I'm working, if I make a certain decision that they know is wrong, they argue. And Susie was arguing that I was going to have to suck it up and deal with her computer skills—even if it felt like I was translating those sections from the original Chinese. She also pointed out that she would know how to blog. And I would have to do research.

Enter my friend Charlie. And when I say My Friend Charlie, it goes in caps because he defines the title. No matter what I need or want Charlie is there. And we won't even go into the numbers of times he has reassured me that I will not wind up on the streets with our dogs, Josh and Charlie, doing tricks for handouts. I asked Charlie who could give me a quick lesson in blogging. So enter Charlie's friend Richard Simms. My Blogging Guru. What you have to understand about both of these guys is, they are gifted writers themselves. And let's be honest—talented people don't always rush to help other people who are struggling in similar fields. But both of them have helped me endlessly and tirelessly, which not only makes them gifted but amazing human beings. And you can't beat that.

Anyway, Richard spent a couple of hours on the phone—he has to be one of the most patient men on the planet—and he finally managed to explain enough of the basics to me that I was able to write Susie, the blogger. Then, after I started the blogging thing myself, Richard directed my blogs to his own personal list of friends. That's called "pimping" in case there's anyone in the civilized world besides me who didn't know the technical term— and it was such an incredibly kind and generous thing to do, but then that's who Richard is. So thank you, Richard, for being in my life.

Now, enter Richard's friend, who I only know by his MySpace handle, Cat Zen Space. He's been pimping my blogs to his friends. Just because he liked my work as an actress and he wants to encourage me. Now, if that isn't beyond wonderful, I don't know what is. So thank you! Thank you for your help and support and most of all for your friendship, Cat Zen Space. Because I think I'm finally catching on to what this MySpace thing is all about – underneath all the technology and the stuff that scares me—it really is about friendship. And we all need friends. I know I do.

With A Little Help From My Friends

Originally posted on Tuesday, August 21, 2007.

Okay, sometimes people are so good, so kind, that it's overwhelming. I mean, you can't figure out how to tell them what they've done for you and there's no way to thank them enough. Today, as I'm trying to get out the word about my book, I have several people like that in my life. I owe them so much. And the thing that really gets me is -- in every single instance I almost didn't meet them.

So let me start with the time I was schlepping the Emmy to a book fair. I take the Emmy on the road with me because I've discovered that people like to see one up close and I've always felt I should get some benefit from the damn thing. I was fired three months after I won it, and after that I figured it was cursed, and I refused to have it in my house. I asked my agent to keep it until I wasn't mad at it anymore, and she put it on a shelf in her office. I swear to God this next part of the story is true. A couple of months after she took possession – and I use the term advisedly -- a wrecking ball that was being used in some reconstruction work across the street swung out of control, crashed through the front window of her office, and knocked my Emmy on the floor, denting it smack in the middle of it's golden globe. My agent had worked in that office for decades and nothing larger than a fruit fly had ever come in through her window. Then my Emmy took up residence and… but I digress.

At the point I'm talking about, I had reconciled myself to the Emmy and I was hauling it with me. I carry it in a box full of Styrofoam peanuts, which is huge and awkward but does keep the sucker safe. Until you drop it on the sidewalk because you've gotten lost trying to find the venue where you're supposed to make your speech, and you didn't realize that all the streets around the fair would be cordoned off so you couldn't find a cab, and you were trying to board a trolley without realizing that it only took special tokens, and the conductor wouldn't accept the twenty you were desperately waving at him. So the Emmy hit the ground and rolled around in the gutter for a bit, while I tried to gather up the packing peanuts.

By the time I finally found the place where I was supposed to make my speech I was frazzled. My hair was doing its Portobello mushroom imitation. I usually wear long skirts because I think they're slenderizing, and this one had picked up some unpleasant debris in the gutter—stuff you really don't want to dwell on. I almost ducked out of the speech but I have this show-must-go-on thing which has always gotten me into a lot of trouble, but I can't seem to shake it.

So the end of this story should be I wowed them with my speech, and I sold a thousand books – right? My speech didn't get one laugh – not a giggle, not a chuckle. I didn't sell one book. I thought the whole day was a bust.

But that event was where I heard about Kathy Patrick, the Pulpwood Queen. And my fellow speechmaker – a wonderful author named Robert Dalby -- offered to introduce me to her. And now Kathy Patrick is one of the people in my life that I thank The Universe for on a daily basis. And I want to thank her –even though I'll never be able to do it enough.

Let me tell you about my friend and guardian angel, Kathy Patrick, the Pulpwood Queen (check out her website at Kathy is the owner of a beauty salon/ bookstore in Jefferson Texas. She says -- and I believe her – it's the only one in the world. She is also Head Queen of the Pulpwood Queens who are the probably the biggest book club in the world – it's structured so that there are individual Queens and individual book clubs, but she is the den mother/Queen who makes the monthly book selections and creates a dizzying array of book related events. I don't think it would be going too far to say that Kathy Patrick is single handedly saving the art of reading in America. She wins awards all the time for her work on literacy. But that doesn't begin to describe the warm, generous, unique and incredible woman she is. Think of all the best qualities of all your best girlfriends and that's Kathy. If you want to know more about her and her inspiring personal story she's written a book called The Pulpwood Queen's Tiara-Wearing, Book-Sharing Guide To Life and I urge you to buy it. It will make you happy to be alive. Kathy has chosen to make my book Family Acts her September Book Selection. She's listed my book on her website and has invited me to come to Texas and Shreveport to meet with her book clubs. How do you thank someone for help like that? I've tried, but she just tells me she loves books and authors and she wants to help. I guess, in the end, you just write a blog and try to express your gratitude even though you know there's no way you can do enough. So, thank you, Kathy.


Okay, there's someone else I almost didn't meet who is now being so generous and kind to me. It all started when my publicist at Ballantine Books told me that I had been selected to go on a cruise to Bermuda. The cruise was sponsored by a group called Gather Inc, and they are fabulous –but I'm not going to tell you about them now, because I'm determined not to digress.

So there was an all expenses paid weeklong cruise for me if I wanted it. A fun vacation for my husband and me. No one in their right mind would turn it down – right? . Now I've got to tell you something about me. It's not pretty and I'm not proud of it. I'm not a fun person. Over the years I've tried to be and it just doesn't work out. I don't know how to make small talk. I don't dance because I have no sense of rhythm and when the other kids my age were listening to Motown I was so clueless I was listening to Rogers and Hammerstein and you really couldn't do all those rock and roll dances – I think one of them was called the Frug -- to If I Loved You.

At parties where everyone is drinking champagne and having a ball, you'll find me hunkered down in a corner with some poor soul and I'll be chatting about world hunger. I'll be sucking on a diet coke. The poor soul – who probably didn't do anything to deserve his punishment except say Hi to me -- will have a desperate, glazed look in his eyes. When I was in high school I belonged to the debate club. I led us to the state championship twice. You could get yourself beaten up for doing that in Woodbridge, Connecticut back in the Fifties.

Not only am I no fun, I don't take vacations. I will say this in my own defense. When I was a young actress on the hustle there was a rule – I think it was somewhere in the Actors Equity Handbook – that said if you left Manhattan or Los Angeles for longer than fifteen minutes, that was when your agent would call you to say you had an audition for the part that would make you into the next Diane Keaton. The rule went on to say that by the time you came back into the city, the role would have gone to Diane Keaton and you would continue your career as a looser and it would serve you right because you weren't properly dedicated to your art.

So I was inclined to say that I couldn't do the Bermuda cruise because it sounded not only like it might be fun but it smacked pretty heavily of the dreaded V word—no, no, no, not that word—vacation. But my husband, who has been married to me for a long time, and knows me well, and does like fun and vacations, pointed out that I was going to be giving a talk on this cruise. I could spend days practicing it in our cabin and going crazy worrying about it, he said. I could obsess about what I was going to wear. I could schlep the Emmy with us and get our baggage inspected at the airport. There was absolutely no reason for me to be afraid I might have a good time, he said.

Of course he lied. We went on the cruise and I actually did have a wonderful time. Gather Inc had booked several authors for the cruise and they all gave speeches and they were brilliant to talk to and amazing speakers and I loved being a part of it. And the people who had booked the cruise so they could hear us all talk were phenomenal. And that brings me to—Julie Rogers.

Julie Rogers won her trip on the cruise. She introduced herself to me on the first day and she was one of those people that you just like right away. She's smart and she understands the problems and the joys of doing what you love for a living. She also gets the jokes. We started talking about books and I went on about how hard it is to promote them these days—little ray of sunshine that I am—and she totally got it. She told me about her website called, which is an outreach to mothers primarily, although it is so comprehensive anyone will find it fascinating. Just check it out. There are sections devoted to all kinds of practical issues – like ways to make extra money and recipes -- and there is a whole section dedicated to books and reading.

Julie offered to help me get out the word about Family Acts on her website, and she also offered to throw a book party for me if my publisher sent me to her neck of the woods.

It's almost a year later, I'm not going to be going to the West Coast which is where Julie lives, but she has posted the first four chapters of my book on her website, she sent the rules of my cake recipe contest to all of her recipe websites, and she has given her huge email list the heads up about Family Acts going on sale at the end of the month. When I try to thank her, she just tells me we all have to stick together and she likes to help. So here's to sticking together and thank you again, Julie.

The Real Family Acts

Originally posted on Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Okay, so this is about the real family acts behind the book Family Acts—which is going on sale on August 28 – in case I haven't mentioned that fact, which I have been trying to do every chance I get. See, someone told me part of a successful marketing campaign is repetition, the theory being that in this day of over saturated media and the constant bombardment of information if you want to make something stick, like the date your book hits the shelves, you've got to pound it into people's consciousness. So I've been trying to pound. Which means, since I'm not much good at consistent thought, when it occurs to me, I somewhat sheepishly mention that the book is going to be making it's debut ON AUGUST 28. Then I apologize for being pushy. Hey, what do you want from me? I grew up in the fifties when girls weren't supposed to be smart or get above themselves.

But I digress. The reason the push behind Family Acts – the book, not the family team to promote the book - which has been dubbed TeamLu – has become a family affair is… well, my stepsons decided I needed help. Which is usually a fair assessment of me. Writers today have to be a part of their own marketing. Publishers, even super supportive publishers like mine—Ballantine Books, for those of you who write and would like to work with the best people on the planet – simply can't do it all alone. The days of the reclusive writer-genius hiding out in his or her ivory tower are over. Today even Emily Dickenson would probably be hustling her act on Oprah. So the boys, Christopher and Colin, decided they would help me with some merchandise. That's one of the things they do for a living, they build sets, and props and promotional stuff. They have a business in Birmingham, Alabama where they can pretty much create anything you want—including a green Styrofoam T Rex which is the size of the actual beast according to the latest scientific research, and if you don't believe me, check out the pictures on their website and

The guys offered to create a logo for me, which would then go on tote bags, mugs, tee shirts and the like. At the time that this was taking place my book The Ladies Of Garrison Gardens had just gone on sale and the jacket featured a garden full of sunflowers. I like flowers. I think flowers, puppies, birthday cake and Puccini operas are proof on earth of God's existence. Also ball gowns and Strauss waltzes. So we decided to take the sunflower as a part of my logo

. Cut to —two years later when the Ballantine art department is in the process of creating the jacket for FAMILY ACTS WHICH IS GOING ON SALE ON AUGUST 28. The cover we all loved and accepted was mostly purple and it featured a pair of green shoes. No sunflowers. Christopher and Colin pointed out that we had a theme going with sunflowers. But what those yellow flowers were going to do to the purple and green jacket wasn't going to be pretty. God bless Ballantine, they came up with a pink sunflower, which was placed, on the spine of the book and all was well (See? I told you they were amazing). Then a decision was made to change the book cover—it was the right decision, and I'm eternally grateful that it was made -- but the boys had already started making tote bags and mugs with the old Green Shoes design. We now had a bunch of defunct tote bags and mugs. And the pink sunflower, which had been a holdover from the previous book jacket and then retooled for the now defunct book jacket now had to be worked into the new book jacket.

Of course it all came together—it always does-- and the new book cover is spectacular. Please check out the pink sunflower on the spine when FAMILY ACTS GOES ON SALE ON AUGUST 28.

And TeamLu has a limited edition of the defunct Green Shoes Tote Bags and Mugs which my stepson Colin will send to anyone who would like one as long as the supply holds out. Just email him –

Oh, and please forgive me for being so pushy about August 28th – WHICH IS WHEN MY BOOK, FAMILY ACTS, GOES ON SALE!

Girls and Posses and Novelistas

Originally posted on Friday, November 24, 2006 .

Okay, I'm going to whine again. I was in a car, on the way to the airport. I'd just been a panelist at the Southern Festival of Books in Memphis—which was an absolutely fabulous experience, by the way. I made four terrific new friends, had a great time doing the panel with Robert Dalby who is not only funny and charming, he is one of the nicest people I've ever met. He's having a huge success with his book, Waltzing At the Piggly Wiggly which just goes to show that Karma exists. I also got to spend some time with a dear friend who lives in Oxford Mississsippi and is one of the brightest, most creative women I know. So overall, the trip was a huge success, and I loved it, but I'm not talking about that part now. This is the whining part.

So, I was in the car going to the airport. There were two other novelistas in the backseat on the same mission. One of them I recognized from the previous day when we had driven in from the airport together. They were chatting, so I turned around until I had reached Maximum Neck Twist, and introduced myself in the general direction of the two voices, since I couldn't see their faces over the front seat headrests. I waited for someone to dodge around the obstacles and offer a handshake or a name in return. I got a brief, totally disinterested Oh hi, and the twosome resumed their conversation. They managed to convey – as only girls can, I don't give a damn what age they are —that I was intruding, and being really pushy about it. Like I said, I couldn't see what was going on back there, but I just knew eyes were rolling. And Some People Just Don't Know When They're Not Wanted looks were being exchanged. The reason I was so sure was, at that point my own girl history had kicked in and I was once again on the playground of Woodbridge Elementary School, and Carole Costello had just announced to her posse that I was to be shunned on the totally false grounds that I had cooties. It was a mark of my total lack of female battle skills back then that I attempted to counter the libel by promising a letter from my mommy. It is a mark of my continued lack of said skills that I risked permanent neck dislocation and tried for another ten minutes to join the car coffee klatch. Unseen behind my upholstered barrier, I listened and nodded as the twosome – both professors of creative writing I gathered— yukked it up in the backseat.

The problem was, when I met Professor A on the previous day —I'll call them Professors A and B since I want to rise above petty name calling—I made the mistake of admitting that I have a show business background, that I'm not sure you can teach creativity in a school setting where you have to give out grades, and I figure if people don't have a good time reading my books I've failed. These women, I gathered, from my listening post in the front seat, write "literature." I think I heard about a plot including a couple of dead babies. I know I heard that they feel it is a mark of their success if they get bad reviews.

None of which explains or justifies the fact that I knew one of them was going to be going home to New York on my flight and I spent the entire waiting time in the airport with my nose buried in a really bad magazine so I wouldn't have to make eye contact with her. Carol Costello lives within me. I will never, ever lose her.

The flip side to that is, my women friends are also my rocks. Nimet and Melissa who are not pet people will listen for hours while I weep over the loss of one of our dogs or cats. My friend Ellen, who was my teacher on the very first book I wrote, will still talk me through writer's block, stalled plots and the massive attacks of self doubt which I refer to as the devil voices. We have an enormous power, we women. I want to write more about that later.

I Believe in Paula

Originally posted on Saturday, October 28, 2006

Okay, I've been watching the Food Channel a lot lately. It's something I do when I'm trying to loose weight, and no, I don't want to hear about the ways in which some of us self sabotage, thank you. But here's my question –do any of us really trust the recipes that come from those size two girls whose aprons are wrapped three times around their non-existent hips? While they cook, they do all the obligatory cooing… "Oooh, I just wish you could smell this cheese melting into the béchamel!" and "Look at that gorgeous carmelization on those onions!" But I look at those non-existent hips, and I'm thinking there's got to be a trainer waiting in the wings to ward off the calories that come from just breathing in the béchamel. And then when the Tiny Ones taste whatever it is, they do the standard eye closing, head nodding, and groaning–with-pleasure thing, but does anyone buy it? I mean, I watch those skinny little chests heave with bliss, and a part of my brain is going, "Take two bites of that mousse, I dare you. And let me see you swallow." I just know she spit it out as soon as the camera cut away.

Give me Paula Deen any day. First of all, when Paula walks into her kitchen set she's dressed to cook. Her clothes are pretty, but they're practical, and even though she's beautifully made up and her hair looks great, I know she's not going clubbing. I know it even when she forgets to take off her rings and I see a rock the size of Staten Island on her finger. I like her dogs too, and the way they make her step over them to get to the oven. I don't trust a canine who sits politely in a corner when bacon is frying. But mostly what I like is that wicked/guilty grin Paula wears when she tastes her food. She may not be a size two – and all of us who aren't a size two know how it happened -- but her grin says her recipes are worth it. She makes me want to go into the kitchen today with a pound of butter and to hell with clogged arteries. I believe in Paula.


Originally posted on Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Okay, I've been thinking about whining lately. It's something I do a lot. And I don't find it very attractive. I mean, there aren't any big catastrophes going on in my life—I'm actually rather good in a crisis – it's the good times that seem to bring out the worst in me.

I've been whining because my mother, who is ninety two, informed me that she would rather have a frozen chicken pot pie instead of the one I spent a whole day making for her.

I've been whining because none of the pets we love are getting any younger. At our high point — or our most intensely whack-job point, it depends on your mindset -- we had eight dogs and fourteen cats. I can't take credit for this; I am married to a man who is one of God's natural care takers. "But he/she/it needs us," he will carol. And we have another dog. Or cat. On in one case, a 700 pound hog – don't ask. I've often thought the "she needs me" mantra figured rather heavily into his decision to marry me. This is not something I've asked him. I don't care what the experts say about communication in relationships, the real trick to any long term marriage is knowing when you've hit Do Not Go There Territory. Anyway, Dorothy, our little Border Collie/Chow Mix is seventeen and having Little Old Lady Days and Willie Cat who is at least seventeen and probably a lot older--we don't know because he was an adult stray when Roger conned him into joining the household – is having health problems that we can't seem to fix.

I'm whining because I am not getting any thinner even though I now traipse over to the gym to pedal—somewhat languidly, I will admit—for thirty minutes on the bike with the back rest. I've been doing this for almost a week and a half and I do think I should be seeing some results by now.

I'm whining because there isn't any good TV, and I've finished all the Janet Evanovich books that have been published.

For a long time I tried to tell myself not to whine. I was very stern on the subject. "Appreciate the good stuff, you idiot!" I used to scold. "If you're not grateful enough for what you have, it'll all be taken away." A substantial part of my brain is three years old.

Then one day I emailed all my complaints to a long suffering friend. And the weirdest thing happened. When I finished with the litany, I found myself thinking about how lucky I am to still have Mama in my life. And I thought about how wonderful and amazing it is that she's so independent and together that she prefers to nuke her own chicken pot pie instead of letting me cook for her. It's not like I really love cooking. Not unless it's a national holiday and there are more than a dozen people present to applaud my efforts. Unfortunately, I've always been what's known in show biz as a money player.

So I called Mama to say how proud I am of her, gave Dorothy and Willie extra treats and thanked them for staying around so long and informed Roger that while I wasn't prying, if I had been one of his rescue efforts twenty seven years ago, I wanted to thank him too.

I'm going to whine a lot more from now on. It seems to bring out the best in me.

Everyone is Doing it, So Why Not Me?

Originally posted onTuesday, August 29, 2006

Okay, so they tell me I really should blog. There's nothing to it, they say, everyone does it. Just write whatever comes into your head. That should be about as fascinating as watching grass grow. To say nothing of being heavily narcissistic I mean does anyone really care about my mental meanderings? What about spelling? Do I have to use correct punctuation? Im really shaky on punctuation because my family took its annual vacation during the months of April and May when my school taught the new rules they expected us to know for the next year. Don't even ask how I am with fractions they taught those in the spring too. As for the vacation thing my fathers slow season happened during April and May so that's when he was free to take off and he figured to hell with the school schedule. As my mother said to me recently, Howard was an individualist. Back in the day, when she was trying to explain to the school principal that I was going to be out of the country for six weeks, she had other things to say about him. But hes been dead since 1957 so hes achieved the usual post- mortem sainthood people always acquire when theyre not around to annoy us.

See what I mean about this blogging thing being a snore fest? I meant to talk about my new book and the book that's coming out in paperback at the end of the month and instead I wound up talking about my dead father. And its dangerous. I just realized how badly I dated myself by admitting that they taught punctuation when I was in school. And fractions. Was that a complete sentence? I missed a whole bunch of grammar when I was a kid too.

So about the books. The one I'm working on will go to the editor at the end of this month. Then, while shes editing, Ill spend a couple of weeks desperately reviewing all the other careers that were open to me that I should have pursued. Like cake decorating Or a dog grooming. Actually the dog grooming thing probably wouldn't have worked out for me. I don't know if you've ever seen a dog laugh. That's what happens whenever I ask one of our dogs to do something Joshie, sweetheart, I say, Put down that library book. Now! I say it firmly, I project pack leader authority the way the dog trainer keeps telling me to each week. Well, that dog will rolling on the floor with mirth. He will be laughing and pointing. He will also decimate that book in forty two seconds and bring the remains to my husband for whom he actually does have respect. I dont like to complain, but its hard being married to a man who gets the kind of canine approval I imagine was once reserved for St Francis of Assisi. But I digress. Again.

Meanwhile, while my new book is being edited, and my life is passing before my eyes because I have self esteem issues -- and I'm not going into them because I'm going to stay on track The Ladies Of Garrison Gardens will be coming out in paperback on August 27. For anyone who might be reading this who is not a member of my family and God love you if you arethat is the book after I wrote after The Three Miss Margarets. We got good reviews with it, its a sequel to The Three Miss Margarets in a slightly circuitous way and Id love for you all to buy it, for a variety of reasons, including I think you'll like it and we need to redo the bathroom but Im wandering again. If you have a book club, please get in touch with my stepson who runs my website and set up a time when I can get on the phone with you guys and we can talk about it. I love talking to book clubs and it keeps me busy so I dont go too crazy wondering if I shouldn't have bought that Taco Bell franchise back in 1992.