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Notes from a Crusty Seeker

Established Writers Don’t Know Who Their Audience Is

Manuel de Lope, Yael Hedaya, Albert Mobilio, Asaf Schurr

“There’s no such thing as an ideal reader,” said In Treatment head writer and Israeli novelist (Housebroken, Eden, and Accidents) Yael Hedaya during yesterday’s Authors and Audiences panel discussion. The program—part of the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature—held on the second floor of the beautiful marble lobbied French Embassy on upper Fifth Avenue in New York City, asked five established novelists from four countries to discuss the possible gap between who they envisioned their readers to be and who is actually reading their books. But what became almost immediately apparent was that most of the panel members had no idea who they were writing for. Read More 

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The Black Stallion: Walter Farley's Steady Gaze and Calm Hands

In 1940, an editor told Walter Farley, “Don’t figure on making any money writing children’s books.” Farley disagreed. He wrote The Black Stallion, the first book in his seminal series, when he was in high school, and he published it in 1941 when he was just twenty-six. His subsequent twenty-one Black Stallion and Island Stallion books not only supported him and his family, but they became a family business that is now run by his sons.

I just re-read The Black Stallion because I just joined a Goodreads.com book club where we are reading favorite childhood books. As an adult, as an editor and a writer, I can see that there are a zillion logic holes in the story; the writing is simplistic and there are lots of little word fixes I'd suggest; but the book made my old adult heart thump and race just has hard as when I was eight. I felt, heard, saw, and smelled the Black, and that, in my opinion, is a feat of writing magic. Read More 

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Second Act for Ukrainian Virgin by Galyna Kolotnytska


Gadhafi's Nurse Says She's Going Home
Wall Street Journal



I am worried about my future. Is common saying that no publicity is bad, and, yes, is flattering to be called voluptuous by Wiccan peoples, but tell me please where is employment for forty-seven-year-old zaftig nurse with specialty in calming excitable Middle-Eastern dictator with lovely dimples but unpredictable taste for exotic Jello-eating virgins, camels, and polka dance?

With job market what is, I am no fool. Even nursing degree from Kiev hospital is no guarantee, and I watch Academy Awards and understand draw of younger demographic of which I am no longer.

"I give you excellent recommendation," Colonel tell me. "Just have them call," he say as he take me to airport disguised as Morgan Freeman playing chauffeur to me as Western journalist named Miss Daisy. Read More 

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J. D. Salinger—What a Life!

J. D. Salinger's life-changing masterpiece The Catcher in the Rye ends with protagonist Holden Caulfield's statement: "Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody." He says this after describing the moving beauty of his little sister Phoebe riding round and round on a carrousel while he sits watching in a drenching rain.

In an interview on The Diane Rehm Show, Kenneth Slawenski, author of the new biography J. D. Salinger: A Life, claims that he doesn't know what this line means. In the biography, he calls the ending of Catcher "ambiguous" and says that "Salinger has deliberately left it to readers to insert their own selves, their own doubts, aspirations, and dissatisfactions, in order to complete [Holden's] journey."

I've never felt any ambiguity in that line or the ending of The Catcher in the Rye. To me, it expresses the essence of the spiritual battle that Salinger and anyone who commits to self-awareness/God consciousness/Oneness (insert whatever phrase suits you) must face. If you connect—to yourself and to others—if you really share beauty, God, your essence, you will have acknowledged that everyone is God . . . and, so long as you can tolerate feeling this epiphany, you will feel a sweet missing. You will simultaneously hurt and feel unbearable sweetness. I believe this sweet missing is a God state. God misses God: Because God is lonely to see God, we fractured little God beings play this game to relearn who we are. Loneliness drives us to know our God selves. And when we do, we feel the sweet missing at the root of the craving. Or, as Holden says, "you start missing everybody." Read More 

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Blood from a Stone or You Can Never Leave Home Again

I think I was inadvertently and divinely prepped before seeing the Off-Broadway play Blood from a Stone by Tommy Nohilly last night. For the last few weeks I’ve been editing some stunning books about life and death, anger and forgiveness, and compassion. I’ve also been speeding down a runway to a “big” birthday—eliciting my keen awareness of how fleeting our time is and how I don’t want to squander it feeling lousy. And I’ve been inexplicably waking at 3 a.m., getting up, and spontaneously meditating. I recommend all of these preparations before seeing Blood from a Stone. Or none.

Blood from a Stone is an admittedly autobiographical play about what must be one of the world’s most dysfunctional families. Travis (Ethan Hawke) comes home to Connecticut—a state name that literally chokes him when he demonstrates articulating it. He’s on his way to, once again, throw his life off a cliff and start all over again, and he’s dropping by to see his family, get some money, get some pills. His mother (Ann Dowd) rages at his father (Gordon Clapp). His father rages at his sons (Hawke and Thomas Guiry) and anybody who’s not white and the world. And the house rages at the whole family—pouring water on them through the kitchen ceiling, electrocuting them through the broken thermostat, and haranguing them through intrusive telephone ringing. The family attacks the house. The house attacks the family. The family attacks each other. And everybody wants to destroy the whole thing and start all over again. Read More 
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On Language Police and Naked Emperors

I have an ambiguous relationship with the language police. On one hand, I appreciate that discouraging the use of belittling, offensive, or just plain inaccurate language can move our culture toward inclusiveness and respect. I lived through the days of being called a “my girl” when what my boss meant was that I typed for him, and even before anybody thought there was something wrong with that, it used to make my skin crawl. But I used the phrase myself when writing about that period in my novel, Plan Z by Leslie Kove, and I dug in my heels when an editor suggested changing my references to the “boys and girls” of the Vietnam draft and protests to the P.C. language du jour: “young men and young women.” We were kids, which was a lot of the problem. Nobody knew what they were doing! Especially the people who claimed to know.

As an editor, I’ve altered offensive language. “I thought he was only a clerk” worked just as well as “I thought he was a clerk,” and the writer never even noticed.

As I story lover, I’ve cringed every time I’ve listened to the audio recording of one of my favorite authors, Eudora Welty, reading one of my favorite stories, “Why I Live at the P.O.” (written in 1941), when I’ve heard the line: “Of course Mama had turned both the niggers loose.” I was surprised to discover many “N”-word lines rewritten in the 1980 edition of the collected stories. But this was done by or at least with Ms. Welty’s approval. Read More 
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Growing Roots

FULL DISCLOSURE: Although I do eat, I am not a foodie. Most of my best friends are foodies and they would laugh if they knew I was reviewing a food book. I do not eat animals and I really hate reading about animals as products to be slaughtered and consumed. That's about it . . . except for one more thing: although I sometimes portray myself as a curmudgeon, I really do like people — not to eat, but to know about. I especially like to know about their deepest stories.


Growing Roots: The New Generation of Sustainable Farmers, Cooks, and Food Activists by Katherine Leiner, with lush photography by Andrew Lipton, is an absolute tour-de-force encyclopedic collection of stories (along with recipes and websites) about the new generation of sustainable food activists. I know Katherine from Central Park, a place where people with dogs become friends. I liked her on first sight, but I didn’t want to eat her. I wanted to know her story, so when she told me she had written a book, I couldn’t wait to read it.  Read More 
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Please Banish Beyoncé from the Bra Dept.

I dislike buying bras so I do it only when I must — about once a decade I buy a bunch and wear them until they stretch out. Well, bra day is here, and I decide to go to J.C. Penney because I hope it will be cheaper than where I usually go and it's en route from where I'm working.

Apparently there have been major changes in the world of brassieres in the last decade. First of all, they come with boobs. Really! When I finally find my way to the underground lingerie department, what I see is aisle after aisle of hanging boobs. A decade ago, these were called "padded bras," but apparently women now prefer lingerie that requires no actual flesh to maintain its form. Read More 
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Mad Men … Lost People … and Coming Clear

I came to the TV series Mad Men late. Although I'd heard about it from friends, it wasn't until a few months ago that I began borrowing the first three seasons from the library. I thought I'd be interested in it because of my background in advertising. My father was an account executive, my mother was one of the first female copywriters, and briefly toward the end of the seventies, I entered the family trade as a secretary and production assistant (material I put to good use in my novel Plan Z by Leslie Kove). But none of this prepared me for the kind of euphoric, sometimes shattering, shock I felt watching this show. Read More 
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The Holy Woman

I’ve just finished reading The Holy Woman, the self-published third book of Susan Trott’s formerly commercially published “The Holy Man” trilogy. Like the first two books (The Holy Man and The Holy Man’s Journey), The Holy Woman is deceptively simple and charming. But what a complex story about our human drive to “get,” to achieve status or stuff, to win.

The book starts after the death of “the Holy Man,” a guy named Joe who everybody visited because they believed he was holy. Just before dying in a faraway country, Joe anointed Anna as his successor, but when she returns home, not everybody — including Anna — is so sure. After all, she is quite judgmental about Joe’s teacher, Chen, who runs a spiritual resort called Universe-city where he promises people immortality and seems to worship stuff.

Bad guy, right? … Not so fast.  Read More 
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