Friday, July 27, 2007

Me and Marley and Me






Note: This is an essay reprinted from Salon.com May 5, 2006. The editor wanted me to write a very whiny piece, whereas I just wanted to present an observation on the painful process of being "scooped" and recognizing it was nobody's fault but mine.

HERE IS SALON'S TAGLINE FOR THE PIECE: I wrote a memoir about life with the world's worst dog. But before my masterpiece hit the shelves, a pooch named Marley stole my thunder.

By Lee Harrington

May 2, 2006 | I spent five years working on and agonizing over my first book. And when I finally finished it, I congratulated myself not only for being done, but for producing a work that I thought was truly original, something the reading public had never seen before. I started fantasizing about crowds showing up at my book signings, interviews with Katie and Matt, and enormous royalty checks.

Then four months before my book was due to publish, another book came out, one that had almost the exact same premise as the one I had just written. Both are memoirs about life with the world's worst dog. As I handed in the final draft to my editor, rave reviews of the other book appeared in Publisher's Weekly and the New York Times. While I was hunkered down in the first stages of copy edits, the other book hit the bestseller list and the author appeared on CNN. On the very day I approved the final pass of my copy-edited draft, I poured myself a celebratory glass of wine and turned on the radio and heard a well-known broadcaster interviewing the other author, asking him to explain the sensation his book has created. How is it possible, she asked -- with uncharacteristic flirtatiousness -- to sell so many copies of a book about a dog?

At that point, the wine tasted so bitter my cheeks puckered.

The other book is "Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog" by John Grogan. It is a memoir about the author, his wife and his unruly dog, a Labrador retriever named Marley. If you have not heard of this book, perhaps you have been hiding in a cave in Afghanistan. It is there, front and center, as you enter any Barnes & Noble in any of the 50 states. Marley is mentioned in newspapers, magazines, television shows and radio programs virtually every day. I know this not because I am reading the papers or watching television -- I cannot bear to do so any longer. No, I know about Marley because my ex-husband, who works at a news network, keeps sending me e-mail announcements about the book every day. Even though I have asked him not to. Or perhaps because I asked him not to.

You see, he is in my book, my ex-husband. Because I, too, have written a memoir about myself, my ex-husband, who at the time of the story wasn't even my husband yet, and our unruly dog. My book is called "Rex and the City," and it hit the shelves a few weeks ago. Or perhaps "hit" is not the right word. Perhaps, in the wake of Marley, my book will simply float behind, bobbing up and down like a seagull waiting for scraps.

My memoir is a chronicle of my then-boyfriend's and my adventures after we impulsively adopted a shelter dog. We didn't know anything about dogs at the time, and ours had been abused and abandoned, and trusted no one. When we brought him into our 300-square-foot apartment on the Lower East Side all hell broke loose. He growled at us. He tried to bite us. He was impossible to walk and he kept trying to escape. Three times, he actually did get out -- once right on Rivington Street -- and twice was almost killed.

So our relationship went into crisis mode. We had almost broken up nine months before we got the dog, because we felt we just couldn't commit to one another; now, logic told us to bring the dog back to the pound, to resume our old lives. But in spite of all that pain and trouble -- or maybe because of it -- our hearts told us to keep Rex. Indeed, eventually, through a lot of hard work, love and devotion, we turned our canine catastrophe into a cuddle muffin.

Now, I know this is not the first time in publishing history that one book has one-upped another by a matter of months. Right now, for example, there are two books out about the competitive eating circuit. And I know, because my publicist, agent and editor keep telling me, that the phenomenal success of Marley could work to my advantage. It means people buy books about couples with dogs, they say.

I started writing "Rex and the City" back in the summer of 2000, as a serial column for Bark magazine. The series took readers through our ordeals with Rex, moment by moment, and from the start it was popular and reached an intelligent, dog-loving audience. I was content with its success. Eventually the editor of Bark encouraged me to publish my columns in book form, and I had enough material at that point to do so. But when I approached my agent, she wasn't confident it was the kind of story that would sell. "People just aren't buying books about dogs," she said. And because I trusted her, and because I really didn't have much faith in myself as I writer, I abandoned the idea.

Meanwhile, my editor at Bark was e-mailing me constantly, warning me about the dozens of dog memoirs that arrived on her desk daily for review. She reminded me that my book -- ahem -- "stood out from the pack" because it would be the first dog memoir written about a couple with a dog, not an individual. Not only that, she said mine was the only one about an ill-behaved dog. "You must sell your book now!" she ended each e-mail.

Eventually, exasperated with my inaction, my editor at Bark contacted a book editor herself, and gave that editor my name and some copies of my columns. And what do you know? I got an offer. The contracts were signed a few weeks later and I had myself a book with a due date of spring 2005. Wanting to focus solely on my own work, I asked the editor at Bark not to send me any more e-mails about dog books until I had completed mine. And so, Marley crept up unawares.

In August of 2005 I was in France, researching a new novel, when a friend whose first book had sold only 4,000 copies called to say she had some bad news. I thought she was calling to tell me her grandfather had died, but the news was about Marley. "I thought you should know," she said, "in case you don't want to come back."

Should I be afraid?" I asked her.

"Be very afraid," she said.

At that moment, a dreadful feeling began brewing in my gut and has remained there ever since. Doubt. Self-flagellation. Regret. I tried not to tear out my hair like a wailing Italian grandmother at a funeral.

Still, I am always trying to see the positive side of the situation. I had a writing professor in grad school who said there was no such thing as an original story. She told us everything was covered before the birth of Christ, by the Greeks. But there is such thing as an original experience, she told us. Now, I try to remind myself that it is true. Grogan and I have told a similar story, but our experiences are completely different. He and his wife got along; my boyfriend and I did not. His dog was sweet; mine, at the beginning, was not, (but we loved him madly regardless). No two people can ever have the same exact experience; nor can two dogs. (And by the way, my dog was much worse than Marley. Much, much worse. Marley tipped over trash cans. My dog killed sentient beings -- birds, amphibians and mammals I don't want to name. Frankly, my dog could have kicked Marley's ass.)

But I am not one of those writers who begrudges another writer's success, especially when he's written a good book. I'd like to believe there is enough room for all of us. And each time a book hits the bestseller list, well, that should assure all writers that people are still reading books. As for me, I say hats off to John Grogan. He has succeeded grandly, all for the love of a dog.

But still: Being scooped sucks.

In my better moments, I recognize that it does not serve anyone -- not me, not John Grogan, not my editor, or my agent -- to berate myself every day about not getting my book out before Marley. This is just how life is. I don't have to attach any moral significance to it. I am not being punished by God for being a bad person. I don't have to wish every hour that I could go back in time and turn my book in years ago, when Marley was still a pup.

I didn't. John Grogan did. End of story.

Mr. Grogan has a popular Web site on which he invites fans to share their own stories of their unruly dogs. Hundreds have written in with charming tales about dogs that chew on shoes and overturn trash cans, dogs that won't come back when they are called and dogs that pee on floors. Soon I am going to submit my own posting to Mr. Grogan's Web site. I will tell him the story of my terrible, lovable dog. It will be 265 pages long.

http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2006/05/02/me_marley_me/

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Girl Who Heard The Boy Who Heard Music


A Brief Chronicle of Attending the WOrld Premiere of Pete Townshend's new rock musical.

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There’s not much to be said, in terms of social life, to living in Upstate New York, where stores close at five and restaurants stop serving at nine and the bars call last call at –Good God!—midnight, but this is a New York City girl talking. I spent my formative years in New York City, so I suppose any town that doesn’t offer me 24-hour martinis and drag queens is, quite simply, dull.

But life has its way of delivering nice surprises. Just when you’re about ready to pack it in, and give up your 9-acre farmhouse in Woodstock for a 300 square foot apartment on the Lower East Side (which will take eleven additional years off your life and cost five times as much); just when you are about to have a nervous breakdown because you find out Pete Townshend—your most favorite, most admired artist—played a small gig at Joe’s Pub, and you weren’t there because you were too busy yawning in Woodstock, and spending countless hours on the internet reading about other peoples’ exciting lives; just when you are about to question why the hell you left New York City in the first place, a friend calls you up and tells you Pete Townshend’s new rock opera, the Boy Who Heard Music, is going to be workshopped just across the river in Poughkeepsie New York.

“Are you serious?” I said. And then: “Why?”

Poughkeepsie is not the sort of place you’d expect International Debuts of anything. Poughkeepsie is one of those places no one wants to live, but they have to because they either go to or teach at Vassar. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a beautiful city; a river town, a faded Grande Dame of the Hudson. But it has suffered, dear readers, from years of neglect. Just the sort of place for great Art and Theater wouldn’t you say? Abso-f-ing-lutely.

I looked online and found a few sites selling tickets for $300. This led to a half-hour’s worth of depression and self pity at the thought of not being able to go, but then I had one second of intelligence and called Vassar direct. Tickets via the theater itself were only $25. Won’t get fooled again.

And now, a brief tangent:

In my teens, twenties and thirties I was a rabid Who fan and considered Pete Townshend some sort of soul brother (I still do). The vibration he put out in his music and the vibration I felt as a teen (and wasn’t even aware of ) perfectly matched and that, my dear, is how a fan is born. You connect, you clink, a chink is made in a long, lovely, electric chain, and you find yourself entwined to a person you never met. Forever. These things cannot be undone, although they can certainly be forgotten. By the conscious mind.

In my late thirties, I was told by my then-husband that I had to “grow up” and for some reason I thought that meant having to give up my love for rock and roll. I told myself I had “grown out” of Pete and Robert and Jimmy and Jim and that I should be doing something more sophisticated with my time, (like working at a job I hated, writing stories that nobody read, and arguing with a husband I didn’t really like). Anyway, that is another story, which you can read about in my second memoir which will come out in 2009.

My whole point is to explain why I had never heard of The Boy Who Heard Music until this summer, when it landed in my lap. You see, apparently my soul brother Pete had been writing TBWHM as a novella, and he had published this novella online, and he has hundreds of fans with whom he corresponded online regarding the revisions of the novella. So while I was busy trying to dig my way out of an avalanche of a marriage, Pete’s fans—folks like me—were busy offering input on story lines, plot developments, characters and scenes. They were like talking to Pete! God bless them!

(This is what I do for a living, by the way. I edit writers’ manuscripts. Adult literary fiction mostly. And anything written by my favorite rock stars. So Robert Plant, if you’re looking for an editor, I’m yours.) End of tangent.

Now you know why I am one of the few people who saw TBWHM “blind,” meaning I have not yet had the pleasure of reading the novella on which the play is based.

Pan to the Powerhouse Theater: an alarmingly clean, civilized, user-friendly theater nestled on a college campus so picture-perfect you bemoan the fact that you did not attend college there. I got to Vassar two hours early, expecting paparazzi and mobs, and a parking lot full of middle-aged men blaring Quadrophenia from their car stereos and stoking up hot dogs on their tail-gate grills. Instead, I found a sleepy college campus—sleeping in that lazy summer way: cicadas softly buzzing, willow trees swaying in a light breeze, the grass freshly cut and green, despite a drought, because Vassar has big bucks and can afford to keep the sprinklers sprinkling. I couldn’t find the theater straightaway, but that was fine, because my dog was with me and she needed to pee, so we strolled along the wide paths, she trolling among the old oak trees and clipped hedges, me looking for another Pete fan who could steer me toward the Powerhouse.

But it was the dog who ultimately led me to the theater. She caught a scent trail and bee-lined it toward an impressive looking building: clearly modern, but modern in a tasteful way that did not violate the august codes of the Ivy League, which say a college must have old stone buildings and a colonial scale and a limestone library flanked by lions or statues of dead white men or some such thing....this building was unmistakably a School of the Arts. And the crowd milling outside was a good sign, too: a man wearing a "Keith Moon Lives" t-shirt, a photographer trying to talk his way into the no-photos-no-voice-recorders show; a young dude with pink hair standing next to a woman who must have been his mother. And you could tell his mother had been to Woodstock. She had the halter tap, the long hippie skirt, and most of all that look--a look that says I was there. Her son kept addressing her as "Dude" and she didn't care.

Anyway, my dog seemed to be on a mission. English Setters are always on a mission of course, but mine seemed to have caught a very special scent trail. Pete’s perhaps? Was she determined to go sniff out Pete and get his autograph? “He’s not here,” I told her, sadly. “But that guy from ‘Sex and the City’ is. He's a total babe.”

She howled when I told her it was show time and I had to put her back in the car.

And now, on with the show.

The Boy Who Heard Music was described in the program as a "hallucinatory tale about the rise and fall of a band made up of three teenagers from different ethnic backgrounds as seen through the eyes of an aging rock star." I knew that the aging rock star was Ray High (I’m not that out of the loop) and I knew Ray High pretty well from Psychoderelict. What stuck in my mind most about that concept album was the little S&M scene between Ruth and Rastus Knight (which to me is one of the best names a fictional character has every received. I want to ask Pete some day if I can steal that and name one of my own characters Rastus). Anyway, as I sat waiting for the show to begin, I wondered just how much of Ray, and/or Psychoderelict, would be in this play. I wondered if there would be any underage sex and or whipping scenes. But the program did not allude to this whatsoever. It was a delightfully humble program--no photographs, black and white type, stapled; so humble I knew I could sell it on ebay someday for like eight hundred bucks (but I'd never!)

I sat in the front row between two Little Old Ladies—both of them seasoned theatergoers who had subscribed to the Powerhouse Theater for many years. We chatted before the show and I asked them, with a straight, kind face, if they knew anything about the show, or the playwright, because I could tell they didn’t. They spoke of a “Peter Townshend” who lived in New York, and was a “musician of some sort.” They certainly did not know of The Who, or of the windmill arm swinging or of the guitar smashing, of Psychoderelict or the original conception of Ray High. They didn’t know about Rastus and his taste for whips. I am not saying they were at a loss for not knowing this, or that I am a superior human being because I can recite and sing all of anything Pete has ever written word-by-word. I just worried a little that they might be, well, surprised, at Mr. Peter Townshend’s interpretation of the term “musical theater.” There would be no men in top hats and canes in this piece, I didn’t think. But there was a formidable looking drumkit up there on that stage. I couldn’t wait!

And sure enough, when the first bass note hit after a lovely piano prelude, and the drums smashed, and the band’s keyboardist, drummer, bassist, and two guitarists ripped into “Pick up the Peace,” the little old lady at my right literally jumped in her seat. We happened to be sitting right in front of a triple stack of speakers, and I was psyched to discover that I could feel each bass note in my heart—kind of a pounding in my chest, like those machines they use to jolt a heart-attack victim back to life---
What are they called? I’m no medic. Just a big-ass Who fan who felt the bass bringing me back to life.

But my neighbor had her ears blocked. I smiled at her, nodded at the stage and gave her kind of a “check it out” look. She smiled back and unplugged her ears. I told her I’d hold her hand if she’d like, and she laughed, and I told myself to remember this moment if I ever got to that age when I decided rock and roll was just “too loud.” :)
Once, when I was seventeen, my father literally kicked me out of the house because I wouldn't turn the music down. I must remind myself of that one too.....

Anyway, The first act consisted of thirteen songs, and begins with Ray High delivering a short monologue about, um, I’m not really sure. He exists in the future, and—as the lovely, lovely director Ethan Silverman pointed out before the curtain was drawn—is living in an insane asylum in London. The casting of Ray was perfect. Because I was in the front row I had the pleasure of studying John Hickok’s face, and the nuanced facial expressions and body language he maintained throughout the performance, even when he was just a spectator to the “main” story.

But I have to confess here that, from the get-go, the plot of this play, and its myriad story lines, were almost totally lost on me. This, I gather, is because I did not read the novella and came into this totally blind. I really tried to follow the story, and latch onto at least some of the plot points, but most of it was over my head. I will take full blame for this, of course. I don’t consider myself a great intellect, and Pete clearly is. But as a writer and an editor, it is programmed in me to always try to find a very clear story in a theatrical piece, and its forward motion. So again, take me with a grain of salt. I actually started to take notes, writing down the areas where I felt confused, making notes of the dialogue that was effective, and the dialogue that was less so, thinking all the while that my input would somehow help the director and the author, until finally, my nice Little Old Lady neighbor asked me what on earth I was doing. “Are you a journalist?” she asked. “Well yes,” I told her, "but not officially tonight. I’m just here to see the show.” Her eyes flickered down to my notepad and she smiled, and I caught her meaning (Check it out, sister!) and put the pad away.

So let’s get back to the music. There I was worrying about the LOLs and how they would react to the volume, but as the show progressed and I surveyed the crowd behind me, I saw that all the Little Old Ladies in the audience were rocking out. Feet tapping, chins nodding, bodies swaying to the rhythm. And smiles everywhere. Some of them looked almost beatific, as if they were being carried to a far-off time, when they were young, and wore bobby socks and poodle skirts, and liked to turn the car radio as far up as it would go and dance on the hood.

This is a real tribute to Pete, of course, and the band. I made notes about the music too—which songs I loved the most, which ones sounded the most “Pete,” which ones fell more into the category of musical theater—but alas, I have misplaced those notes. (Because I did actually pack it all up and move back to New York City after all. And now that I am in NYC and it's like 800 degrees and Pete is hidden away in London, I want to go back to Woodstock, but that is another story.)

The audience seemed to respond most to the “Townsend moments”: “Fragments” with its echoes of both Quadrophenia and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” ; “We Got A Hit,” with its classic Townshend guitar solo; and the kick-ass “Sound Round.” One must keep in mind that most of the audience was wearing old Who concert T-shirts from the 70s and 80s. I’d say the audience once one-eighth little old ladies and 7/8 Who fans, with a Vassar College student or two skulking around at the back.) I too seemed to respond most to those Townsend moments, and found that my body moved of its own accord. Perhaps it’s because hearing those riffs awakens something ancient in me, and reminds me of my teenage years, and brings to the surface those teenage feelings of hope and daring and euphoria and rebellion.

But I also recognized, in Pete’s opera, moments of pure musical theater—which as we know is its own unique genre with its own rules—which made me realize Pete really is branching into new territory with this piece. To hear both elements of rock and “musical theater” in a single song, or (in Act II) in a sequence was delightful. Truly progressive artists will bridge gaps. Kind of like me and my little old lady friend, who’s name, I learned, was (bless her) Gertie. Anyway, the most “Broadway-ish” songs (and the ones that seemed to get the most positive response from the LOLs), were “He Said She Said” (narrated by a couple trying to understand one another); and the lovely, light, and romantic “Tea and Theater.”

Just the line “Will you have some tea/after theater with me” is one of the most romantic things I have heard all year. I love the way Roger sings it on the album and I loved it on the stage. Gertie and I shared a tissue when that song was over. Would that someone would ask that of me!

My favorite song from the show, and from the album ENDLESS WIRE, is “In The Ether,” and I’d have to say it’s because of the lyrics. I’m Buddhist, and we Buddhists are all about that Ether (what we call “Emptiness”) and it just seems like such a nice place to be. We’re all there, actually, ‘tho most of us humans are too ignorant to realize it. Myself included. This is one of those songs that reminds me that there is more to life that what “meets the eye.” We were treated to it three times in TBWHM. Thanks, Pete

I had a writing professor tell me once that, if you want to get a true critique of your play script, don’t turn to Frank Rich of the New York Times; no, you should hide in the ladies’ room during intermission. There, you will find your true critics—the earnest, hapless theater goers who sincerely want to be enlivened, enriched, and entertained.

These are the subscribers—the little old ladies, the retired English professors and librarians—who see virtually every single play every single day. They do not speak through the warped sieve of an ego, or of a failed playwright; no, as I said, they just want to see Good Theater.

This is what they had to say about The Boy Who Heard Music (remember these opinions do not reflect my own:

“It sure is loud.”

“They should turn the music down.”

“It’s a rock concert, Hettie, it’s supposed to be loud.”

“That girl (Bree Sharp) is weak. She does not have a stage voice. Where did they find her?”

“I think she’s supposed to look like a Muslim.”

“Well she can’t sing. Those boys can though.”

“I’ve seen that other young man (Jon Patrick Walker) on Sex and the City. He’s very good.”

“Yes very good.

“Very loud.”

“Good looking, too.”

"Can anyone tell me what's going on?"

Then they got onto the topic of the story line:

“What year is this set in though? Are we in the future or in the past? What’s taking place in real time?” No one seemed clear on this. At the beginning Ray High mentions something about living in the future, but we weren’t sure if he was flashing back to memories of the Band, or if the Band’s story took place in real time, or what. But the band’s story couldn’t be in real time, someone pointed out from inside the stall, because they are presenting it as a reminiscence. “And you simply can’t expect to have true forward motion in a play set up as a reminiscence.” I never got to see the owner of this disembodied voice. But she sounded like my writing professor.

But the general consensus seemed to be that the plot, if any, was hard to follow, but that was all right because it was a “rock concert.” And remember, dear readers, this was only Act I. Act II was much more clear. The audience was much more engaged during Act II, I thought. The songs were just phenomenal, and dear Bree Sharp finally came into her own and delivered some of her notes with real authority. We were treated to: We Got A Hit, Heart Condition, He Said, In the Ether (again!) and Mirror Door.

The band were phenomenal, too. Ted Baker, the pianist/keyboardist and also musical director of the show, seemed to have a complete and full grasp of the inner workings of Pete Townshend. I heard, in his work, traces of Quadrophenia and Psychoderlict and even, unless I imagined it, a whisper of Tommy. And yet I heard him, too. That’s a true artistic collaboration—both musicians meeting at a higher place than either could have taken alone. And the way Baker translated Townshend large concepts to this small, intimate stage were astonishing. Bravo.

The best sign of a show’s success is, of course, how long the audience lingers after the close. TBWHM closed with, as already noted, Tea and Theater. It made us all want to go out and have tea together, out on the one of those wide green Vassar lawns, perhaps, with a picnic basket and a nip of champagne. The moon that night was inviting and gentle—the perfect moon under which to discuss a play. We all wanted to linger and discuss. Sure, we had our questions (about plot, etc), but the most important point is we knew we had been in most capable hands. I, for one, was honored to have been able to witness this work-in-progress. The cast and crew had had only eight rehearsals, and yet you could feel the moment they stepped on the stage that they trusted us. They could, to put it in sixties terms, feel the love. It was really quite a lovely and precious experience.

AND NOW HERE’S ANOTHER PARAGRAPH IN WHICH I REPEAT MYSELF. BUT I DON’T HAVE TIME TO CONDENSE THE TWO PARS RIGHT NOW:

Back outside, after the show, it was one of those warm summer nights you fantasize about all winter long: soft, balmy, with a smattering of light stars. There was just enough breeze to ruffle up your skirt and make you feel feminine; but not enough to make your skirt goes flying up around your waist and make you wonder why you bother to wear skirts at all. I made my way through the post-theater crowd, too shy to talk to anyone but not afraid to listen. Most of the audience, it seemed, felt that the music was great but the story was hard to follow. The better act, they said, was Act II because “at least it had some real story, and some real humor.” Most of them seemed to have read the novella online, and were using that as a reference point for the things about the play they did understand. I felt so left out, so behind anything that mattered. I felt—good grief—as alienated as I did when I was sixteen.

So I went to the parking lot and let my dog out of the car. Nothing like a dog to bring you back to earth. She immediately ran back toward the theater, seemingly on that same mission to find Pete, leap on him, cover him with slathery kisses, and tell him, in her unique doggie way, how much she loved loved loved him. Dogs can say all the things we can't, without fear of rejection.

I reminded her that he wasn’t here, “But he was in spirit,” I think. I told her it was a terrific show.

But she wasn’t listening. I don’t think she ever does. But that doesn’t stop me from speaking to her, in a baby voice, in public. She was following a possum, or some such thing. The possum disappeared under a dumpster and stayed there. My dog bent over, poked her nose underneath the dumpster and barked and barked, demanding that it come out and surrender itself. Some of the Pete fans laughed. I admire how when my dog sees something she wants and goes after it. Who cares if the whole world is now looking straight up her butt.

I wondered if that’s what it felt like to be on stage.

Eventually I convinced my dog that no possum in his right mind was going to surrender. So she ran up to a middle-aged woman wearing a very cool “Who Came First” t-shirt and gave her some love. The woman told me she’d made the t-shirt herself. "But don't tell Pete that becuase ain't this copyrighted?"

“What did you think of the show?” I asked, hoping to get into a nuanced discussion about story line and forward motion and the disadvantages of flashbacks in a stage play. But all she did was light a cigarette, blow out some smoke, and said, “Hey, it’s Pete being Pete. What’s to say? It’s all good.” And I realized she was absolutely right.

Then we saw Gertie. She hugged me goodbye and I saw that her hands were shaking. “I have arthritis,” she told me. “And Parkinson’s.” I told her, in response, that I’d send her a copy of “Who By Numbers.” This wasn’t meant to be a reaction to her unfortunate ailments; it’s just what came out. She seemed to understand. In fact, she took the slip of paper on which I had written my address as one might a prescription. Albeit with shaking hands. “We'll have tea one of these days, dear,” she told me. “After theater.”

PS – For a clear summary of what TBWHM is about, visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Boy_Who_Heard_Music
Whoever wrote this entry knows a heck of a lot more than me!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Harry Potter and the Disorder of the Phoenix's Plot: An Unprofessinal Movie Review


Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:
Produced by Warner Brothers, Directed by a Dolt, Written by a man who apparently has not read the book he was allegedly adapting.

Well, this non-professional movie critic was sorely disappointed in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I and twelve million other people stayed up way past my bedtime to see the premiere show at 12:01 am on Wednesday July 11th; and I and the hundreds of people at the Imax theater in New York City left the theater two hours later feeling dissatisfied, depleted, and terribly let down.

Of all the fine directors who have translated the Harry Potter series from book to film, David Yates is by far the worst. OOTP was, quite frankly, cheesy. Even the seven-year old boy who accompanied me to the film agreed, concluding that the movie was “confusing” and “not scary.” This from a boy who has not yet taken film studies 101 at NYU. This from a boy who came to the theater with a wand in hand and a lighting bolt scar drawn on his forehead. All of us were underwhelmed.

Why? Well, first of all, the pace was too fast—can we blame the film editor perhaps?

No one can deny that it is a major challenge to reduce an 800 page book to a two hundred page script, but, gentlemen, there was no need to rush things as much as you did. Most of this movie came across as a series of blips. The audience had no time to process what we had seen before another image blipped on, then another, then another. It was almost like flipping through a deck of cards. Not even a person who had read OOTP the book could string these images together into a coherent story.

And then there is the horrible screenplay—for Christ’s sake! There was NO reason for the screenwriter to change dialogue and change essential plot points in this movie. If time was a factor (and it always is in film), the director certainly could have cut down other non-essential scenes. And if the screenwriter changed all these plot points in order to create a more cohesive script well, sorry Michael, but there was nothing cohesive about your final product.

The main story lines of the book—the plot points that gave OOTP its forward motion—were reduced to codswallop. Harry’s recurring dreams about the door in the Department of Mysteries, for instance: why did the director and screenwriter not develop that? When it would have given the film some very clear and concise forward motion? And why was Cho’s role changed from a partner in a botched-teenage-crush to one of villain? How did *that* serve the movie plot? It did not. It was just another fake subplot inserted and abandoned, so quickly and so feebly moviegoers barely had a chance to latch on. There was NO REASON to have Cho nark on Dumbledore’s Army, because the two outcomes of her actions: crushing the Army and ruining things with Harry—could have been achieved just as easily and just as quickly (in terms of the amount of film time required) by sticking to the original plot of the book.

And why not let us see Harry bumble his way through his relationship with Cho? That was part of the charm of OOTP—we got to see teenagers making the sort of romantic snafus teenagers make. There was NO NEED for the screenwriter to attempt to turn Harry into an invulnerable hero. We all know Harry is a hero in the truest sense, but we HP fans like the fact that our hero is flawed and made mistakes with Cho. TO make poor Katie Leung the scapegoat for the director’s lack of scope and the screenwriter’s lack of empathy with a real character is just plain wrong. And lazy.

You wouldn’t believe how many people left the theater one hour into the film, because in that one hour nothing had really happened yet. These were New Yorkers, serious HP fans. Many of us were in costume, with wands, and big cups of coffee to help us stay away until three o’clock in the morning, when the next show would air. Many of us left because we were disgusted. How is it possible for a Harry Potter movie to suck? How is it possible for a movie based on the most wonderful, imaginative, rich series on earth to be dull, incomprehensible, and laughably lame? How could these filmmakers turned some of the most multi-dimensional characters in publishing history into clich├ęs?

I could go on and on about how appalled and shocked I am, but I shall now talk about what I loved about the movie:

Every single line Alan Rickman delivered.

He is just such a f----ing brilliant actor, and Snape is probably one of the most heatedly-debated characters in fiction right now.

Every single line Jason Isaacs delivered.

Even though much of Isaacs’ dialogue never appeared in the actual book, he gets away with it, because his portrayal of Lucius Malfoy is dead on. Pure evil has never been sexier, or scarier, when you have Rickman or Isaacs on the screen.

I also loved Evanna Lynch as Luna, which seems to be a unanimous opinion. Lynch’s lack of pretension and her dreamy self-containment completely brought the character of Luna to life---despite the director’s efforts to scrape her role across the pavement. And Lynch’s voice was heavenly perfection. I can’t wait to see her in Half-Blood Prince.

I thought Daniel Radcliffe was outstanding. I’ve always been underimpressed with Emma Watson’s acting (or rather, over-acting) and for some reason her painful performances have colored my faith in the other actors. But Daniel showed an emotional range in this film that was actually an improvement on the book. I always wondered why Harry, as a character, did not suffer from Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder based on his lifetime experiences. I am serious about this! Trauma at age one, ten years of abuse and neglect at the hand of his aunt and uncle.....and nothing but horrific trauma ever since. As I reader, I always admire those characters who suffer trauma and still manage to keep a positive life outlook......and that is our Harry. But in OOTP the Film, we see Harry being upset, having nightmares, rejecting his friends, lashing out. Of course Harry did all this in the book as well, but Radcliffe was on fire in this movie. His performance was raw and real and genuine.

Watson’s performances strike me as those of an immature teenager trying to act like a mature woman acting like a mature teenager. So it’s like she goes out of her way not to be herself. But Radcliffe, man. He goes straight into Harry. I could watch him for hours. I’d like to make out with him, too, but I’m near forty and he’s not of legal age. Lucky Cho Chang. Did you see that slip of the tongue in the kiss scene? (In my mind, the only scene in the movie worth seeing).

The other terrific scene was the battle between Dumbledore and Voldemort that took place like eight hours into this two-hour movie. The magic those two used showed true imagination on the part of the director. It’s about time, David Yates. I guess, if your specialty is commercials, you are used to working in a three-minute format. So these were some good three minutes.
Why, oh why, did you have to sabotage your own crowning moment with that painfully cheesy inner-thought-sequence in which Harry “remembers all the good times” with his friends. Why did you have to insert a f---ing AT&T commercial in the middle of a crucial battle scene? You did everything except show Harry skipping through a field of flowers with Madame Rosetta.

Why did you not STICK TO THE BOOK? Harry, while inhabited by Voldemort, decided that it would be worth it to die, because at least he’d see Sirius again. Plain and simple. Exit Voldemort. Instead, you wasted three minutes of precious film time pouring on the saccharine. Saccharine that we did not need.

And why did you make Harry’s hair straight? IT was little details like these that made me think Yates simply has no respect for his viewers. He seems so busy trying to “make his mark” as the new director in this series that he seems to have forgotten an essential point: um, this is based on a Harry Potter book?

And Neville, poor Neville. Why spend all that time building him up in the film if you were going to CUT OUT his spectacularly heroic moments in the Department of Mystery. The Neville fans in the Imax theater literally stood and booed during that sequence. There were twelve of them, dressed up like Neville, and you, David Yates, ruined their month. There is a Neville in each one of us, and you took away our moment of glory.

Oh, I can’t go on anymore. I won’t talk about the let-down of Bellatrix. I won’t ask why Ron had like two lines. I can only pray at this point that the Extended DVD can offer even a slight improvement on this complete failure of a film. Thanks for listening.

Here’s a shorter version of this review posted on Fandango:

OOTP was a huge disappointment for this Harry Potter fan. It failed as a book adaptation and as a stand-alone film. I won't even talk about the botched plot points that caused dozens of fans to leave the midnight showing in disgust. Nor will I talk about the rapid-fire editing that gave the audience no chance to digest anything. David Yates and the new screenwriter (I forget his name) managed to take one of the most exciting books in literary history and turn it into a dull, cheezy movie--over-ripe with cliches and saccharine sentiment. I am appalled to think that this duo will write and direct the next HP film! My seven year old son had this to say: "When is it going to get scary?" (He said this near the end of the film, after the Dept of Ministries scene, which was supposed to be the most dynamic scene of the film.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

So You Finish Writing a Novel--Then What?



Dear Someone:
(Originally posted June 19, 2007)

I finished my novel yesterday. Nothing Keeps A Frenchman From His Lunch. Forthcoming from the mighty Random House in 2008. It was due to my editor at 4:30 on Monday, July 18, 2007, (according to our contract) and i pressed the “send” button at 4:27. Voila. Finished. At 4:28 I shut my computer down and thought, okay, now what?

There wasn’t a sense of relief so much as fear. Who’s going to read it? Who’s going to like it?

It sucks sometimes being a writer. Even though i have said there is nothing else in the world i could be. It is my lot, my fate, my talent, often my joy but also, often, the thing I hate most.

And yet, and yet, I must remind myself I am so very lucky—honored—that Random House agreed to publish this book. The legendary Dan Menaker bought this novel, Nothing Keeps A Frenchman From His Lunch, on faith alone. He read the first twelve pages and said “I’ll take it.” They offered some money, my agent said “go for it,” and I went.

I spent two years on this book. Two years and 500 pages. In those two years I rejected many offers of dates, dinner parties, no-strings-attached sex, and the chance to meet Viggo Mortensen. Viggo! Is that hari-kari or what?

So at 4:29 on June 18, 2007, I had to ask myself: Was it worth it?

Writing is a gamble. Especially if you are my type of writer, the one who sets everything aside for the sake of my “art.” I lost a husband because he knew he would always come second to my book. Now he is engaged to another writer. Who cooks for him and puts him first. My husband fell in love with me because I was a writer devoted to her writing, to determined to “make it” in the writing world. Then he began to resent me for the very same reason. I fell in love with him because he was (among many wonderful things) responsible and a caretaker and a take-charge kind of guy. I left him for those very same reasons. I wish him and his new writer-wife them well. In a way, I envy them. I envy all those who live a real life. Who put Life before Art.

Writing a novel takes all of your time. You start to live through your character rather than your own self. It’s hard to explain. Writing a novel is like spending two years, alone, with many fictional characters, on a submarine. Submerged at the bottom of a dark ocean. And although I must confess my characters are fun, there is still the submarine aspect. In those two years, I “forgot” to eat a lot. I forgot to call back friends. I angered three friends, to the extent that I suspect they may have dropped me. I don’t even know because I have been in a submarine. But my characters—they have loads of friends. They have great sex, eat good food, go on adventures, travel to France, win triathlons, win, at the end, Mr. Right.

Is this why I am a writer? To create a perfect life? One that, in reality, I don’t have?

In reality, I have no children, no husband, no savings and now, no home. I kind of “forgot” to find a new place to live in when the house I was renting sold. I “didn’t have time” to find a place to live I (drum roll please) “had to finish my novel.”

When you are writing a novel you have to set your whole life aside. In order to “finish” it. I’ll find a mate when i “finish” the book. I do those dishes when I “finish” the book. I’ll—Lord have mercy—open that gargantuan pile of mail (but trust that I have already weeded out all the freelance checks). I’ll get the car fixed, take the dog to the vet, return the email to the editor who wrote me two months ago asking if I’d like to write another memoir.

Can a novelist even write a memoir? A memoir about how writing a novel means you have no life to write about? And on and on it goes. I guess I could write about being homeless, while my main character lives in a villa in the South of France.

Anyway, I have vowed to stop whining. I have vowed to stop asking “Who even reads my work?” and to move on. To music. To some dates. To wine and laughter and song.

The best direction I plan to move in is to become a rock star. My brother gave me his guitar. I am going to learn how to play it. By the time I am eighty I want to be the female Jimmy Page. With those fingers, that focus, that angelic, poised face. I even want that dragon jacket, which will look rather comic on an eighty year old woman, but who cares when you can make music like that.

Talent is a curse, my writing instructor once told me. Because you have no choice but to use it. It’s a contract you make with Source, I guess. Before I was born, I probably signed a legal binding contract stating that I would turn in my second novel at 4:27 on June 18, 2007.

So there. I am finished. I have returned to planet earth, never again to descend to the bottom of the ocean in a small iron submarine. And so I say, to God, Goddess, Krishna, Buddha, Tankashala, Allah, St. Francis, Archangel Michael, Viggo, Sai Baba, the moon the sun the stars: all off you guys. I did what I was deigned to do. I release my novel, and my first book, Rex and the City, to you and to the universe and to all sentient beings.

Now give me my hundred thousand bucks. And a diploma or whatever it is St. Peter doles out. I now wish to channel the divine consciousness of Jimmy Page. Thank you very much.

I wonder: do gods read blogs? Do the gods have time for blogs? Or are they too busy trying to reign in George W. Bush, and put a stop to the devastation he is inflicting on this planet?

Is anyone on this planet reading this blog? That’s a topic for another day.....

So. Dear someone, I thank you for listening. For considering my words. It is for you I wrote this novel, I guess—you of the great, grand void. May you read it well.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Why I Love Harry Potter and Y ou Should Too


Mad About Harry

First of all, when I say I love Harry Potter, I am not referring to the, um, wand that is currently on display in London at Equus. Nor am I referring to the scene in last year’s movie version of Goblet of Fire, in which the 16-year old Daniel Radcliffe crawls into the tub in the prefect’s bathroom and begins to soap himself off. And I am absolutely not referring to his buff young body, and the almost-glimpse we got of his butt as he sunk into the bubbles in that scene. Or of the almost certain glimpse Moaning Myrtle got of his wand (which leads us to ask, why does Myrtle Moan?) No, no, no. I am not even talking about the creepy feeling I got as I realized that I, a 39-year old woman, was now lusting after 16 year-olds. We cannot talk about that on the internet at all. [Because Big Brother George is watching!]

No, I am talking about the fact that I was sitting in that movie theater in the first place. Me, a so-called adult, among all those children in the audience. Me, who has no child. (I had asked a friend if I could borrow her 15-year old son to take to the movie with me, as a sort of walker or beard, but said he was busy that night. And much too cool, he added in that mumbling way teenage boys have, for Harry Potter. Maybe he just meant he was too cool to be seen with me.)

For the record: I still fit into the same leather pants I wore in high school, and sing back-up in a rock band, so you can’t say I am totally uncool. But I am also happy to say that I am well past that age when I care whether I am thought “cool” or not. That is one of the rare advantages of growing old. You just don’t care anymore.

One disadvantage of being this old, however, is that I did not have Harry Potter when I was growing up. As a product of public school, my classmates and I were asked to read Hamlet, and Herman Melville, and the wonderful Catcher in the Rye. But I must confess that I felt the majority of these texts by old white men were not magnetic page-turners. These books were--and are--“classics” meant to turn us into all well-rounded citizens, who will learn that it is wrong to kill your father, noble to annihilate a whale, and really quite fun to spend a week in New York City. Whatever.

I’d have to say that none of the books I read in high school changed my life or world view. Nothing I read taught me how to tap into my own personal power. No, I just left high school worrying about how horrible it would be to have to spend the rest of your life wearing a scarlet “A” on your frock while Reverend Dimmesdale got to skip off into the sunset scott-free. Sexist. Totally sexist.

Anyway, I feel in many ways that, in missing out on Harry Potter in my youth, I missed out on something wonderful that could have changed my miserable adolescent life.

The other day, I heard a discussion on an early episode of Mugglecast (#43) about what you do if your peers make fun of you for reading Harry Potter. (Yes, I listen to Mugglecast weekly, and read Mugglenet.com daily, even though I am supposed to be acting like an adult, and promoting my first book (a memoir called Rex and the City) and finishing my second novel, and stacking firewood for my woodstove, and getting new snow tires for my car because it is supposed to snow two feet, like, tomorrow. But how can any of this practical stuff really matter, in this year 2007, with the fifth movie and the seventh book coming out? Cold harsh reality or kick-ass fantasy? Which would you choose?

Anyway, back to Mugglecast: I think the caller was thirteen years old, and she wanted advice from the wonderful, knowledgeable team of teenage Mugglecasters regarding how to respond to her tormenters.My first thought, as I listened to this discussion, was fuck them. The nay-sayers, I mean, not the Mugglecasters. Fuck the people who make fun of people who read Harry Potter. Fuck the bullies, the Cretans, the illiterate, the realists, the non-magical. Why should a reader who loves a book care what some non-reader thinks? Why, for that matter, should Harry care what Malfoy thinks? Let’s be ourselves, people! Let us love what we love and stay true to our truths.

But this is not an essay about being oneself. And “fuck them” is not the sort of thing one can say on a teenage podcast. One point I want to make is that one is never too “old” to read Harry Potter. I am not the first person to say this, of course, but consider this story:

In the summer of 2003, Order of the Phoenix came out, and I was still an ignoramus. I was also jaded, having worked as an editor and writer in the publishing industry for over ten years. I knew hype, and I knew how it works, and how it is manufactured, and I knew, that 99% of the time, the well-hyped book never meets up to a reader’s expectations, and the resulting disappointment is, because of the high expectations, crushing. And maddening. Hype gets people to buy books. Hype meisters don’t care what happens after the book is sold. If the reader is disappointed, who cares? The money has been deposited into the bank accounts of the giant publishing houses: Bertlemann's and the like.

Thus, jaded beyond my years, I tiredly assumed that the hype about the Harry Potter couldn’t be true. As a serious, hungry reader, I just didn’t want to be set up for such disappointment again. But then I saw, on a New York city subway, two sights that changed my life.

One was a young boy of about eight, wearing a Rudolph Steiner school uniform, reading Sorcerer’s Stone. He had a look of such rapture on his face I got teary-eyed, because I remembered what it was like to get so excited about a book. I remembered the abject thrill of getting lost in a fictional world. Then, three seats down, I saw a man in a business suit with that same look of rapture on his face. He too, was reading Sorcerer’s Stone.

It was one of those moments, one of those New York City moments, when you realize not much really separates us. We may be old young black white rich poor, but all of us—all of us riding that subway, all of us on this earth—just want to experience moments of rapture in our daily lives. So I got off at the next stop and bought the first book.

Now, I can honestly say, without being pseudo dramatic, that Harry Potter changed my life. My writing life, I mean. And my reading life. I was an avid reader as a child, an English major at college, and a creative writing major in grad school. Last year I published a best-selling memoir called Rex and the City. I don’t profess to be an expert on all books, but I can certainly spot a stellar one. Me and 300 million other readers.

So. I was in the middle of writing my second novel at the time—an ordinary story about ordinary humans experiencing ordinary things like loss and heartbreak called Nothing Keeps A Frenchman From His Lunch (forthcoming from Random House in 2008). I was actually living at an artist’s colony when I bought the first book, and working under a tight deadline to hand in the manuscript within a month.

But oh my, Harry Potter! The hype delivered one hundred fold. Every night, I stayed up until 4 in the morning, pouring through Book I, Book II, Book III. During my waking hours, I thought about young Harry. I worried about him. Why didn’t he just tell Draco to fuck off? Why didn’t he tell Dumbledore about the abuse at the hands of Snape? All I could talk about with friends, with my shrink, was Harry, Harry, Harry. Ron, Hermione, Harry.

Friends, already converts themselves to the Fellowship of Rowling, would nod and give me knowing, beatific smiles as I prattled on about the books. My shrink suggested we schedule extra sessions when I finished Book IV. “Why?” I asked. “Someone dies,” he said mysteriously. He refused to tell me who, citing patient confidentiality or some such shit.

I read that book cover-to-cover in about three days and spent the next two weeks in shock. How could Jo Rowling just kill off the dreamy Cedric Diggory? He was good, handsome, kind, smart--everyone's image of an ideal big brother (and, good Lord, did you see him in the movie? Total, total, young, illegal babe). Anyway, after Cedric's death, and Harry's torture, I was no longer certain that the good guys always win. And I marvelled at the fact that a so called "children's" book could inspire such "adult" emotions.

My own novel, the one I was supposed to be polishing off, seemed like drivel in comparison to HP. Who cared if so-and-so broke up with so-and-so, and left a rift in so-an-so’s heart that seemed impossible to mend? Who cared if I had Viggo Mortensen and Orlando Bloom in mind for the film? After finishing Book IV, my perspective about writing had changed so much I had to set my novel aside for an entire year.

In grad school I studied creative writing, and read many, many wonderful stories and novels—all of them falling into the publishing category of “literary,” most of them beautifully written, and all of them meant to “shed light on the human condition.” Thus I learned how to write and craft stories that addressed human emotions and personal journeys, domestic conflicts and crises of faith. But we did not learn, for whatever reason, how to entertain. I think this might be because we--at the serious writing programs such as the one I went to--feel that an entertaining book falls into the category of genre, and genre books, in the minds of us literary writers, have no soul. Daily life, we argue, does not move at the pace of a page-turner or a pot boiler. Life is a series of quiet conflicts, that force us to become either better or worse human beings. With this aim in mind, I wrote a series of quiet novels and short stories, with tender, thoughtful characters who simply wanted love, and comfort, and to find their places in the world.

Reading JK Rowling was like getting struck with a celestial two-by-four by the god Hermes, who is the protector, they say, of poets and writers.

My book, I realized, was not a page turner. My life, I realized, was not a page turner. I was weak and non-magical. Suddenly I craved wizards and magicians. I wanted to write an epic of good and evil, not another low-pulsed version of what they call “domestic fiction;” what the New York Times would call a “quiet and thoughtful book on the minutia of heartbreak.”

Accio, plot!

For years I was a literary editor in New York, and helped judge an annual competition for the best literary novels published by writers under forty years old. After reading Harry Potter, I had to retire, because I just wasn’t enjoying contemporary novels anymore. Where was the Voldemort in the novel about the adulterous couple? Wouldn't it have been much more interesting if the character (in that American bestseller) who goes to Russia to search his roots could have flown over there on a broom? I started reading fantasy. Devouring it, is the word librarians always use. I started reading all the books I never read as a child: Lord of the Rings, Narnia, the Pullman series. And while I enjoyed those worlds, nothing, nothing, nothing ever compared to Harry Potter, and I wonder now if any book ever will.

Sometimes I think adults might need fantasy fiction more than children do. Our need

for escapism, these days, is dire. What adult wants to read literary novels about

husbands and wives, dirovrcees and disease, when we ourselves are diseased and

divorced? The best books allow us to escape, and what better place to escape to then

Hogwarts.

What will happen to us HP fans when the series ends? I think we're talking about like one-sixth of the entire human population. Imagine the collective shock! Will the energy of the earth literally shift with our seismic sorrow? Will it be like the day JFK was shot, when schools closed and the entire nation wore black?

My shrink was right about scheduling extra appointments. I hear that bookstores in England are already setting up special support groups and bereavement hotlines for readers who complete Deathly Hallows. And I don’t think only children will need these support groups.

I’ve read the series three times now, and I swear my moods change based on what is happening with Rowling’s characters. As I read further and further into the series, and the plots turned darker, I kept finding that my thoughts get darker too. When I witness the cruelty and injustice of Snape and Malfoy, I start to believe that the entire world is cruel and unjust. Each time Sirius dies I feel as if a dementor has sucked out my belief that goodness can prevail. I literally get depressed. I didn’t even realize this was happening—that my fantasy life was having a negative impact on my “real life.” But then my second go-round with Professor Umbridge nearly sent me over the edge. I walked around during the day raging. I was mad at Umbridge; mad at the whole world. I hated the injustice of the Bush Administration, of slavery, Hitler, female genital mutilation. I hated the people who were cruel to me in my past. I could not stand the fact that people like Umbridge could exist in this world – people who will inflict cruel punishments and get away with it.

One very good but insensitive friend (who has never read Harry Potter, I might add) actually suggested I take a break from Harry and “get on with my real life.” But then my shrink pointed out that perhaps the books were helping me “release old issues from the past.” And he had a point I guess. Reading Harry Potter was conjuring up real feelings in me as few books ever had: anger, joy, triumph, rage, sorrow. I always wanted to save Harry. I wanted to swoop in and kick all those Slytherin asses. I imagined all the ways i would have handled the antagonists: ignoring the asinine taunts of Malfoy. Telling Dumbledore about Umbridge. Dismissing Snape. And imagining ourselves as heroes can be truly fun. And empowering. You start to believe that each of us is capable of magic.

So there I was: thirty-five years old and wishing I was a wizard. My patronus, I knew, would be an eagle. I would be a Gryffindor. Ginny. I wanted to be the girl Harry Potter loved.

So does this bring us back to the Wand of Equus again? Or am I simply trying to say, in a long-winded way, that no one is too old or too young to love Harry? All I know is that I will never write, or read, in the same way again.

It is now February of 2007 and the final draft of Nothing Keeps A Frenchman From His Lunch is due in June. I started working on it again twelve months ago, and I am happy to say the plot has changed. There are no witches or wizards, alas, nor any epic battles between good and evil, but my characters do have to find within themselves some inner strengths, and to recognize what is good or evil inside themselves. You might say that they are able to discover what is magical about this world. And I thank JK Rowling for that.

My book is one year late, due primarily to the fact that I read Half Blood Prince while trying to complete the first draft (and decided, once again, that there was no point in trying to be a writer). But much good has come of this delay. Had I been on time, Frenchman would have been published on July 16th--four days after the HP film release and five days before the book.

Can you imagine? As Ron might say, “Bloody hell.” I probably would not have even gone to my own book party. I’d be too busy waiting outside the Union Square Barnes and Noble, dressed up like Professor Sinistra, waving a silver wand.