Saturday, March 16, 2013


One year for Christmas I decided to give my mother a book of my short stories. I had blogged a book, titled Briefs and Other Unmentionables, of ten short stories, none of which was over 2,500 words. This was the book I wanted to give to my mother for Christmas.  I knew I could never find a publisher to publish this book in the traditional way, and I couldn't afford to self-pub. So, I decided to print it myself using my computer.

I searched everywhere until I found a 5x8" notepad of plain, white paper. Page by page, I printed the stories on my computer. I illustrated each story with pictures I found online. Using a heavy card stock, I created front and back covers and a title spine. I gave the book a table of contents, and I wrote an author bio with a picture of me when I was three, a picture my mother had taken. I meticulously stacked the pages, including the covers, and created a binding by gluing the edges using a baby's toothbrush and Tacky glue. Then I pressed them beneath a stack of heavy objects and let the book dry on the radiator for 24 hours. I did the title spine next, and then it was back on the radiator, beneath the weights, for several more days. 
The entire process made me feel a little bit like Diane in Cheers. She had given Sam a scarf for Christmas, one she had knitted herself. All he saw was a scarf; he couldn't appreciate what the scarf entailed until she told him as only Diane could: I wanted to match the blue of your eyes exactly, so I consulted a colorist. I took classes to learn how to knit. I dyed and spun the raw wool myself. I turned down every holiday party invitation to finish it on time!
I was very proud of my finished product. It looked like a book in a bookstore. I inscribed it to my mother -- Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your love and encouragement. -- and wrapped it in gold Christmas paper.

Before I could mail the book to her, my mother had a heart attack, so I personally gave it to her in the hospital. Her face lit up when she unwrapped it. Unfortunately, she thought I was giving her a published book of my stories. When I said no, and explained what I had done, her face fell. 

I thought reading the stories would take her mind off of her health for a while. I never asked her what she thought of my stories, or even if she had read them. The weeks dragged on with no comment from her, not so much as a single word. Needless to say, I was very anxious to know if she had read the stories and what she thought. 

About a month later, she mentioned The Book. Of the ten stories, she made just one comment on the story about a woman who chose desperate measures when faced with being blackmailed by a truly revolting man: 
"Well, I was shocked that you wrote about a woman prostituting herself! Where on earth would you ever get such an idea?" 
Prostituting herself wasn't even the worst thing the woman did; she committed murder, too, but apparently that didn't bother my mother. Only the prostitution. 

It turned out to be my mother's last Christmas. Her health deteriorated after that, and she died of cancer nine months to the day after her heart attack. She never mentioned the book again. Whatever she thought of it, I'll never know because she took her opinion to her grave. I have the book now, and I still laugh when I think of her comment.


Friday, March 15, 2013


While March 15th was not a great day for Julius Caesar, it did inspire this short piece of fiction, which is not totally fiction but somewhat autobiographical. You may have read it on another one of my blogs, although I doubt it from the looks of my hit meter. But I like it -- enough to re-post it here, so here goes...

I took Latin in the ninth grade, and I loved it. I learned more about English by taking Latin than I did when I took three years of French later on. It was common for my class to begin with Latin, or possibly Spanish, and then to progress to the rigors of the regent's classes in high school. (Ninth grade in my school was still considered middle school.) Years later, when I began writing, I dipped into those memories to write this piece of fiction: 
March 15th always reminds me of my Latin teacher, the gawky Mrs. Griswald. She would drape her bony body with bed sheets and flounce about the classroom giving her own melodramatic interpretation of Caesar’s doom, always ending with the foreboding, "BEWARE THE IDES OF MARCH!" She fancied herself Sarah Bernhardt, yet she was hopelessly Lucille Ball. There she stood, arms stretched heavenward, waiting for a standing O, while the class sat there repulsed by the sight of her hairy pits.
Latin was not my choice. I wanted to take Spanish with all my friends, who thought that Spanish was an easy language. Only nerds took Latin, a dead language. But Grandmother had decreed that I should take Latin, and to insure I was learning I had to recite my lessons after each traditionally sedate family full-court weekly Sunday dinner. She positioned me in front of the library fireplace – SHOULDERS BACK! EYES FORWARD! -- while she thumped cadence with her walking stick as I plodded through the declension of nouns and the conjugation of verbs. Amo, amas, amat. Servus, servi, servo, servum, servo. 
I always wondered if Grandmother was fluent in Latin. I asked Mother but she didn’t know. If I had asked Grandmother, she probably would have smiled and said nothing. This was when I still possessed a healthy intimidation of authority, so I never tested her with mistakes. Instead, I was always prepared and, as a result, I was Mrs. Griswald’s prize student, the nerd of the nerds.

Saturday, March 2, 2013


I swear to You-know-who, I honestly did not know that the movie The Lost Weekend was based on a book until I read this article in Vanity Fair. I didn’t care for the movie, so I doubt I’d care for the book, either. It was just too depressing, a real downer. I suppose the fact that my father imbibed a bit....  

 The Lost Weekend—a novel about five disastrous days in the life of alcoholic Don Birnam—was an improbable success when it was published in 1944. Rejecting the novel, Simon & Schuster had assured its author that it wouldn’t sell in the midst of a World War (“Nobody cares about the individual”); within five years of its publication by Farrar & Rinehart, The Lost Weekend sold almost half a million copies in various editions and was translated into 14 languages. [I always like to hear about the success of scripts which were initially rejected by biggies.]
 Production began in October, and the first sequence to be shot was Don Birnam’s slog along the pawnshops of Third Avenue, which Wilder had decided to shoot on location in New York rather than try to re-create that particular jumble of scenery—including the El and its jagged shadows—on a Paramount soundstage. Lest a crowd of pedestrians interfere, cameras were concealed inside delivery trucks and empty storefronts, and for three weeks a disheveled, unshaven Milland waited in a cab for his cue to shamble along for another block or two while the cameras furtively rolled. (Once, he was recognized by a motorist who happened to know someone at Paramount. “I just want to tell you,” the man reported, “that I saw your friend Ray Milland dead drunk on Third Avenue. If I were you I’d try to get hold of him and straighten him out.”)
 When the movie almost swept the Oscars in March 1946—winning for best picture, best director, best screenplay, best actor, and three other awards—Jackson learned, without much surprise, that his name hadn’t been mentioned once during the ceremony. Brackett, who’d won (with Wilder) for best screenplay, wrote to him afterward, “For the reason of your omission, the rules of Academy Presentations are to be changed to include a brief speech by the winners in future, if that’s any comfort.”
 Alas, over time the movie became such a classic that even literate people tended to forget that it had been based on an acclaimed best-seller of the same name. “I have become so used to having people say ‘We loved your movie’ instead of ‘We read your book,’ ” wrote Jackson, “that now I merely say ‘Thanks.’ ”

I’m reminded of Sam Malone of "Cheers." Sumner, one of Diane’s previous lovers, returned hoping to win her back, but Sam didn't want to lose her. So to impress Diane, Sam struggled through what he had heard was the best piece of literature, War and Peace, in five days’ time. When Diane chose Sam, he asked her why: “You did it for me. I think it was harder for you - call it a hunch.”  It was then someone mentioned there was the movie War and Peace, to which he said (paraphrasing): It was a MOVIE!?

Isn’t it always the case: make a movie from a bestseller and it’s the movie everyone remembers. -- I could live with that.