Monday, December 19, 2005

I'm back...more or less

Sometimes life interferes with blogging. When I last posted, I was living in Charlottesville, VA, and had just put my house on the market. Eight days ago, I moved to Denver--or rather to a hotel in suburban Denver, and then yesterday to a hotel in downtown Denver. (Sooner or later I'll have a real home again, but that's another story.)

Between dealing with the selling realtor & the buying realtor, fixing up & clearing out one house (including disposing of some 500 books), negotiating to buy another, contacting schools here & there, hassling with United Airlines over pet transportation (GRR!), coordinating my panels for next year's VaBook Festival, etc...well, let's just say that blogging fell by the wayside. So did reading other people's blogs. In fact, so did any online activity that didn't directly pertain to Real Daily Life.

As a way of dipping my toe back into the blogging waters, let me point you to the ever-entertaining Miss Snark, the Literary Agent, who wisely observes in a post entitled, "Money can't buy love...and a few other things either":
And remember, throwing lots of money at a publicity campaign is often not as effective as you think it will be. You can BUY advertising and marketing support. You can buy a publicist's time, but you cannot buy publicity. You can generate it, you can support it, but you cannot buy it.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Strong Women on the Road

Novelists Judith Ryan Hendricks (THE BAKER'S APPRENTICE, Wm. Morrow), Daniela Kuper (HUNGER AND THIRST, St. Martin's) and Masha Hamilton (THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US, Unbridled Books) have joined forces to do a traveling road show, "Strong Women Characters: In Fiction. In Person." They're currently touring Colorado and New Mexico, organized by publicist extraordinaire Caitlin Hamilton Summie. (See press release and tour schedule.)

Hendricks sends this dispatch from the front lines:

Strong Women Tour - Part One
Our hotel room looks like a sorority house on Sunday morning. There are shoes—Masha’s cross trainers, Daniela’s black loafers, my cowboy boots. Sweaters and dresses draped over chairs, cosmetics and vitamins litter the bathroom vanity, damp towels on the floor.

We all tell each other, “I really don’t live like this—normally.”

But I think we’ve all been wanting to. Live like this, I mean. We are a sorority. The three laptops plugged into various outlets tell the tale—a sorority of writers. Three midlife women—a war journalist, a bread baker and an advertising CEO who made abrupt exits off the smooth blacktop of known careers onto the potholed gravel road of fiction writing.

It’s not an unknown story. A lot of writers have come from other places. What makes this group startling is the way we have banded and bonded together for this trip…The Strong Women in Fiction Tour, our publicist calls it, for lack of a better description. The irony for me is that on my solo book tour just prior to this, I felt anything but strong. There were too many long drives through rain and traffic that moved by inches to speak to groups of three and four readers, sign some stock and then drive back to my parents’ house in yet more rain and traffic. Alone.

By the time I got to Lizzie’s house in Denver I felt exhausted and beaten, in a way I’ve rarely felt. Elizabeth Eads is an old friend of Daniela’s and she has insisted we stay with her for the Denver leg of our tour. Her house, with its warm wooden floors, comfortable furniture and folk art, is the kind of place that you pull up around you like a blanket rather than walk into. As is Lizzie herself—a tall, lanky beauty with curly hair that I would kill for, a contagious laugh, and a penchant for saying “Oh, shut up,” in an Arkansas twangy voice whenever we try to thank her for anything.

I immediately relaxed in her presence, like butter coming to room temperature. But then Daniela arrived, loaded down with groceries and wine, and Masha, straight off the plane from New York, and Lizzie was roasting chickens, steaming wild rice and the rest of us were cleaning tiny crisp asparagus and washing red leaf lettuce and setting the table. We talked as if we were cousins who hadn’t seen each other in years, not strangers who had only been together once before for a few hours on a panel in Tempe, AZ. That is to say, all we had to do was catch up. We had no need to explain ourselves to each other, tell where we were coming from. Somehow we knew.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Lost & Found in the City of the Dead

1920s graves, Edmonton Cemetery, North London.

Tonight begins Yom Kippur, the day of atonement and remembrance of the dead. So it's about time that I finally recount my August visit to Edmonton Cemetery in London. As I wrote in the July 29 post kicking off my Fabulous Yiddisher Britisher Tour, I and long-lost Stander cousins Dan and father Howard went to Edmonton but were denied entrance. The helpful person who told me the cemetery closes at 4:00 pm on summer Fridays neglected to mention that the gates are locked at 3:00 pm. So we left in defeat, after I snapped a retaliatory photo (see 7/29 post).

I went back by myself the following Tuesday at 1:00. Thanks to the databases on, I knew where three long-ago kin were buried, and figured I'd find others on my own by looking at each and every grave as I had in Margate. But after walking back and forth through maybe 20 rows of tightly packed graves in Q section nearest the entrance (the sections go A-Z, with dozens of rows in each), I realized that I had to rethink my strategy.

At the entrance of Edmonton Cemetery, with the
caretaker's cottage on left & section Q on right.

So I trudged the 1/4 mile or so to the office, where there was a group of men in jeans and T-shirts huddled about. I thought maybe I'd interrupted some frum religious ritual, but on closer inspection they turned out to be playing a mid-day game of poker. I asked the caretaker, a freckled and sandy-haired bloke with a classic Nawf Lunnen accent, whether there was a map to the graves. No, just a plan of the various sections. I left my heavy bag in his care and traipsed back out into the blazing sun (yes, London does get hot & sunny) with just my camera, notebook & pen. This time I decided to look for the graves I knew about, then go through sections T-Z, which weren't yet in the JewishGen database.

Wall near office, Edmonton Cemetery. Ladies' sign is
in Yiddish: "Fuhr froyin." For detail of large sign over
fountain, see August post "Signs of the Times: London."

I threaded my way through the claustrophobic K section (see photo at top), dodging leaning headstones while also trying not to step on the graves; an impossible task, as they're maybe six inches apart. Eventually I found the grave of Harris & Jane Stander, who died respectively in 1940 and 1921. I knew they had a son, Benjamin--named for Jane's father, I deduced from the headstone inscription--and wondered why there was no mention of him. Then I righted the tablet at the foot of the grave that had been knocked over so long ago that there was a thick layer of soil under it, embedded in which were lead letters that had fallen off the stone. (Many of the gravestones had letters stuck onto them, instead of carved inscriptions. Must have been cheaper; definitely less durable.) It was a memorial for Benjamin from his sisters; he was killed in action in 1915, age 22. Poor boy; I wondered whether anyone alive besides myself knew he had existed. The grave had obviously not been visited in decades.

Grave of Harris (Zvi) & Jane (Simchah)
Stander, and memorial for son Benjamin.

Let this be a virtual memorial candle to Benjamin Stander and all the forgotten dead wherever--and whoever--they may be.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

What Are You Doing?

Thanks to a reader's comments on the inestimable Miss Snark, the literary agent's blog, I found some fantastic essays on writing and publishing by author Jennifer Crusie. (Yeah, so she writes romances. Get over it.) One of the best is It's All About You: The First Step in Finding an Agent. Even (and especially) for writers who already have agents, Crusie's advice is spot-on. She emphasizes looking at one's whole career, not just this one book--something I've been increasingly honing in on in my Book Promotion 101 workshops. She asks:

[W]here do you see your publishing career in a year? If you interviewed an agent now, could you tell her what you want her to do for you beyond “sell my book”? Do you know what editors you'd like to work with, can you pitch the kind of books you need to write, do you know how long you need to have between books, can you tell her how you feel about starting in midlist? Can you tell her where you'd like to be in five years, the improvements in money and contract terms you want to have by then, the kind of things you want to have happen over the next five years to make those improvement feasible? Do you know where you want to be in ten years, the kind of career and life you're aiming for?
Read the whole essay, and then check out the rest of Crusie's website. It's an object lesson in how to do a perfect author site.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Rolling Stones Report

Here's what you don't want to see part-way through a Rolling Stones concert: An empty stage being minutely examined by three bomb-sniffing dogs and their policeman handlers. But I get ahead of myself...

Turns out there was no activity bus for Darling Child on Thursday (I was too tired to write this up yesterday) because every school bus in town was being used to ferry people from outlying parking lots to Scott Stadium at UVa. We parked at a 500-space garage about a mile away, which by 5:45 was almost full (showtime was 7pm), and joined a couple dozen other clever people for takeout at Foods of All Nations, a local gourmet supermarket. (BTW, you haven't lived till you've had their chocolate-dipped almond macaroons.)

At 6:30 or so we joined the throngs heading to Scott Stadium, and at 7:00, when opening act Trey Anastasio began, we were shuffling up a ramp toward our seats at the bottom tier of the nosebleed section. (I joked that we'd be singing "Nearer My God to Thee.") I'm no Phish fan and Anastasio's band left me cold. Evidently most of the ticketholders felt similarly, as the stadium was maybe 1/3 full. Anastasio's best number was the Beatles' "I Am the Walrus," but even that lacked much vitality. Sure wish we'd had the Black-Eyed Peas, who are opening for the Stones elsewhere. The band was off the stage by 7:30, to deservedly tepid applause.

At a few minutes before 9:00, by which time the stadium was full, the Stones came on with a bang--literally--with "Start It Up." A five-story (!) structure at the back of the stage shot off flames and fireworks from both ends of its swooping wings (the jumbo video screen was in the center). I could feel the heat from 120+ yards away. Yowzah!

Next came "Only Rock 'n' Roll," then "Shattered," "Ruby Tuesday," and a song from their new album. Interestingly, the videography for the latter was in black & white, while the rest were in color, so the new song looked "old." (I might have missed a couple songs in there.) Then Jagger got out an acoustic guitar and harmonica and said, "We don't get to play this one very often," and brought the house down with "Sweet Virginia." The crowd, including Your Humble Correspondent, all sang along, and went wild when the video screen showed a young woman in the audience with a "Sweet Virginia is for Stones Lovers" t-shirt. Much to my surprise, Darling Spouse--he of the 700+ record album collection & encyclopedic knowledge of popular music--had never heard "Sweet Virginia" before & was astonished that practically everyone there (especially YHC) knew it. It just goes to show: You think you know someone and then...

It hardly seems possible, but Jagger then brought the house down even more with a tribute to Ray Charles, complete with b&w pix of Charles on the Jumbotron, singing "Nighttime Is the Right Time" with the female backup singer. Besides her amazing voice, she provided a good deal of visual excitement, as her jiggling embonpoint threatened to overflow the cups of her low-cut vest. But the levees held and there was no wardrobe malfunction.

After that, Jagger started introducing the band and was just turning to Keith Richards when he abruptly left the stage, then a couple of minutes later reappeared to say that he was very sorry, but there was a"technical problem" not of their making & they had to stop the show. He stressed that this was not planned and they'd be back in about 10 minutes. Next thing we knew, the stadium lights were all on, the Jumbotron was off, and the stage (including the few hundred seats in the 5-story structure) & first 20 rows of the field seats were cleared out. Hmm, that's weird, I thought. Weirder still was when I saw the policemen and dogs. I and some other bystanders figured (correctly, as we learned from the news next day) that someone had phoned in a bomb threat. Ugh. I uneasily recalled that a friend had joked that if a bomb went off in Scott Stadium that night, half the teenagers in Charlottesville would be orphaned. Suddenly it didn't seem so funny, especially with my own teenager right there.

The "10 minutes" stretched to an hour, towards the end of which the audience passed the time by doing multiple stadium waves. All those pale arms (I think there were more African Americans on stage--5?--than in the stands) looked like coral fronds in an undersea current. Finally, the Stones came back at 10:30, appropriately with "Miss You," then launched into "Honky Tonk Women," which brought on the rain that had been threatening for the past two days, though fortunately not very heavily. The humidity had been something like 110%--we were sweating just sitting still, and that was up where there was a breeze. Earlier Jagger had observed that it was "a sultry Southern night." I'll say! (We're still desperately awaiting fall weather. Please send some this way!)

To cut a long story short, the Stones rocked out with many of their golden oldies: "Midnight Rambler" (great visuals in sync with the music); "Sympathy for the Devil," which had the audience singing "woo woo" long before Jagger chimed in; "Get Off of My Cloud," "Paint It Black" (Jagger seemed off-key on that one). There were one or two new tunes in there, then a grand finale of "Jumpin' Jack Flash." The encores were "You Can't Always Get What You Want," with the female singer's powerful operatic soprano, and "Satisfaction." By then it was after midnight and despite the late hour, there was another spectacular jet of flames followed by a bunch of loud, bright white fireworks. I'm sure they were appreciated by every dog, cat and baby in the neighborhood.

We didn't get home till 1:20 a.m. (we'd originally estimated we'd be back by 11:30. Ha!) and not 10 minutes later the rain came down in torrents, which didn't let up till this afternoon. I imagined Jagger looking in his hotel-room mirror, saying "Après moi le déluge."

In conclusion: You can make all the jokes you want about "geezer rock," but the Stones still have It. And Charlie Watts makes every other drummer look as though he's working too hard. Also, our drought is officially over.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

TJ* Would Not Be Amused...Or Would He?

The Rolling Stones are playing in UVa's Scott Stadium tonight and they're the biggest thing from Britain to hit Charlottesville since...well, probably since the Redcoats stormed the town in 17-whatever. (I guess all those lectures at Monticello didn't stick.)

There is no other news here in Charlottesville, VA. Seriously. Except that Darling Child's activity bus from school is late and his Doting Parents are anxiously waiting to start up the flivver and join the throngs looking to park near the stadium (i.e., within a mile).

Full concert report tomorrow.

*That's Mr. Jefferson to you.

Monday, September 19, 2005

How Much Is Your Career Worth?

I met an author at BookExpo who was all upset because her publisher had been sitting on her manuscript for more than a year and wouldn't give her a pub date or tell her what was going on. Should she bail, self-publish, or what? I told her that I'm a consultant and gave her my card. She called a few days later, wanting my advice. I told her that I charge $75 an hour. "Seventy-five dollars! Ohhh, I don't know..." Then I told her that I offer a free 15-minute initial consultation. That was fine by her. When would she like to schedule an appointment? The next morning, "but it has to be early because I'm going into New York to have lunch and see The Producers."

Which got me thinking...

How much is your career worth?

You spend $1000+ on a computer & printer; hundreds more on a sturdy desk & ergonomic chair, stationery (gotta have nice paper to send out agent queries!), business cards, postage, toner, internet service, computer programs, etc. All those are considered as the cost of doing business in the 21st century.

But what about the other stuff?

1) Do you belong to the Authors Guild?
If you earn less than $20K a year from your writing, dues are only $90 a year. That's $7.50 a month -- the price of a breakfast special (if you don't leave a big tip). And it's tax-deductible as a professional expense. For that you get free legal advice on contracts, a free web page and the AG's excellent quarterly bulletin, which always has useful information (an article on FOIA requests and the write-up of the January symposium on publicity were alone worth this year's dues), plus other perks.

2) Do you belong to other writers' organizations?
Examples: Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators, Romance Writers of America, National Book Critics Circle, American Society of Journalists & Authors, press clubs, etc. They are invaluable for making connections (and friends even!), learning the tools of the trade and publicizing your work. Also tax-deductible.

3) Do you subscribe to Publishers Marketplace?
It's only $20 a month (one latte & a cookie per week), for which you get a daily email news digest & weekly book deal digest, plus access to the stupendous database of book deals, agents, book reviews, job board, rights postings, etc. Again, tax-deductible.

3) Do you pay for professional advice and assistance?
Confused about how to deal with your publisher, agent, editor, or publicist? There's only so much help you're going to get from friends and family. ("I hate it when writers talk to their friends," an agent recently confided to me. "They have no idea how the book business works.") Pay for knowledgeable advice, even if it isn't from me (though of course I'd prefer it were). What's the price of an hour or two with a consultant when your publishing career is at stake?

You want an opinion on your just-completed Great American Novel before you send it out to agents? Leave your friends, family & fellow writers alone, and find a freelance editor or manuscript doctor. An author I recently consulted with, whose first book is coming out in January, told me that she paid $300 for a line edit of the first chapter. She said, "My friends were horrified that I spent the money, but it's the best thing I could have done." The editor got her going in the right direction and the author was able to clean up the subsequent chapters without any further help. BTW, that book is the first of a 3-part series, with the others following in Feb & March, and the author has a deal for another 3-part series.

If you are too busy and/or inexperienced to do your own publicity, pay for someone to do it right. And pay that someone enough to do it right. I was mortified to learn that an author friend I'd referred to an independent publicist asked her whether she'd give him a "divorce discount" (and not only because I didn't know that he was being divorced). I'm sure he didn't ask for a divorce discount at the supermarket or the gas pump, or from his plumber. I'm also sure he wouldn't have expected less work for the lesser rate, either. An author who took my workshop hired an out-of-work cousin as a publicist, who put up an abysmal website larded with fake blurbs, including one from me that credited me as a reviewer for the New York Times (as if! I mean, I tried, but the little guy in the plaid shirt & big specs was So Not Interested). On the other hand, another debut novelist who took my workshop used her advance to hire a top-gun publicist, who squired her to an awards dinner and introduced her to the NY press, plus pitched the book like crazy to media and reviewers. Consequently it got a lot more media attention than other "midlist" novels and made it as an Amazon pick and a Readerville featured title.

Monday, September 12, 2005

When Worlds Collide 3

After nine years of marriage, yesterday I decided that it was probably safe to finish consolidating my 1 shelf-foot of vinyl records into Darling Husband's 14 (plus one hundred or so 45s). They're organized alphabetically by artist, which resulted in Miles Davis ("Bitches' Brew") nestling against Doris Day ("Greatest Hits"), something that I'm sure (I hope!) never happened in real life. I called out to Darling Child to expect an explosion in the record shelves, and why. His response: "Who's Doris Day?" Whereupon I played snippets of "When I Fall in Love" (which he naively thought would be the Beatles' "If I Fell") and "Whatever Will Be, Will Be." Whereupon Darling Child started gagging, and threatened to fall on the floor in a fit. So I've done my duty: Another generation has been scarred by "Que sera, sera!"

I started wondering how I could have married someone who even posseses a Doris Day album, but consoled myself that maybe it was a joke, or had belonged to his parents. The important thing, I kept telling myself, is that he also has two Fugs albums--which he even plays from time to time. To my surprise and relief, when I recounted the above incident to Darling Husband, he said, "I have a Doris Day album?"

Looks like we're good for another nine years.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Noshing Around London I

The incomparable Poon's, London

When I was planning my Yiddisher Britisher Tour back in June, I left a phone message for long-lost cousin Larry in London, asking whether we could meet. I knew that he and I were going to hit it off when he emailed a response that began as follows:

Picked up your message as just about to go in to see Yoko Ono on the South Bank therefore more alive to the unexpected than usual - though believe me an hour was plenty (it must have been very wearing for John)...

He then further secured a place in my heart by suggesting that we meet for Chinese food. However, not knowing Larry's tastes or London restaurants, I was a bit apprehensive about his choice: Poon's, off Leicester Square. When I mentioned this to his sister-in-law Lorraine, she told me that Poon's is one of his favorites, and assured me that if Larry recommended a restaurant, it was guaranteed to be: 1) inexpensive and 2) really good. I asked her whether Larry was, you know, frum. "Oh no!" Lorraine responded. "He's like the French--he'll eat anything that moves." I took this as high praise, though her tone of voice didn't entirely support my interpretation.

Poon's wasn't quite as easy to find as Larry had led me to believe. Leicester Square was far larger than I imagined, as well as choked with hordes of clueless tourists, making it quite a challenge to find someplace "just off" the Square, as Larry airily described it. The address I had was on Lisle Street, which wasn't on the map I had. Eventually I found my way into Chinatown--"just off" the Square--and struck gold when I asked a Chinese shop proprietor for directions.

And so, not two hours back from my sojourn in Kent, I was hunkered over a bowl of hot and sour soup at Poon's. It was thinner and much more chili'd than its American cousin, though unfortunately had just as much MSG. I wasn't impressed. However, the entrees (seafood something and duck something) were out of this world. And the fried rice was like nothing I'd ever had: ungreasy and light in color as well as texture, with little bits of crunchy green onions. I'm making myself hungry just thinking about it. Oh, right...I haven't had lunch yet. Wish I could have it at Poon's; will have to settle for what's kicking around the fridge.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Life intrudes

What with the horrendous news from New Orleans, schlepping to the doctor with Darling Child in the a.m. (stomach pain from as-yet-undiagnosed ailment), and then to the emergency room with him at 6 p.m. (who knew he'd developed an allergy to apples?), I'm in no humor today to prattle on about my fabu travels or the State of Publishing. For the record, I can think of few more depressing places--other than the Superdome--to have watched the NBC Nightly News than the E.R.

However, Bloomsbury USA saved the day somewhat with a review copy of a debut YA novel by Rick Yancey, The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp, which I found on the front porch on the way out this morning. Darling Child dove into it and was laughing aloud by page 2. (Unlike his doting mama, he can read in the car without getting nauseous.) He read all 339 pages through without stopping. Lest you get too impressed by his reading prowess, he noted that the type is large and there's a lot of leading between the lines. But still...Looks like another winner for Bloomsbury USA's impressive list. Incidentally, for those needing escapist fare, whether young adult or old, I heartily recommend the Stravaganza and Faerie Wars series, both Bloomsbury imports from the UK.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

When Worlds Collide 2

Latterday pilgrims in Canterbury, Sunday, 31 July.
(Hmm...Which will they visit first: the cathedral or the Starbucks right next door?)

After the beach walk and head-banging finale (see Aug. 26 & 27 posts), long-lost cousin Cyril #1 (there are 3; also 2 Mervins, 2 Laurences, 2 Dans & 2 Howards--all cousins of varying degree to each other & very confusing to keep straight) took me, Enid & her daughter to the cemetery of the Margate Hebrew Congregation. Founded by Cyril's father, it's tucked into a little corner of the Thanet Crematorium and contains maybe 200 graves.

Sad to say, this was the largest Stander gathering I'd ever attended. And these were the only family graves I'd ever seen, apart from my father's at Forest Lawn Glendale ( is a blessing and a curse). Apparently the latest deathly fashion in England, for Christians as well as Jews, is to fill in the grave surround with glass (stone?) chips in a bright bluey-green that contrasts hideously with grass--and anything else found in nature.

I remarked upon the headstone of Sadey G., who had the same unusual last name as the Texas descendents of a long-ago Stander. "Oh," said Enid, "she was Howard's godmother." Great: Even more loops in the family tree to track down.

Cyril at the tiny Margate Hebrew Congregation cemetery.

Cyril at the massive gateway by Canterbury Cathedral.

From the ultimate Jewish place of repose, Cyril then took me to the ultimate center of English Christianity and commerce: Canterbury. Along the way we passed a road sign in a roundabout proclaiming, "Minster-in-Thanet, A.D. 670." A few miles further on was a sign for "Fordwich - Smallest town in England, established 1066." America suddenly felt very new.

Which is not to say that there are no modern innovations in Kent: Outside the 16th century Flying Horse Pub in Canterbury is a signboard announcing "Lap Dance." And the area adjoining the old market in central Canterbury is as mallified as Freeport, Maine, with faux-old paving and a jumble of outlet stores. God forbid you should go anywhere and not be able to shop at Gap, Clinique or Laura Ashley. Or, worse yet, not find a Starbucks.

Even the houses are looking askance at the changes in Canterbury:

But I get ahead of myself. Before we visited central Canterbury, we had a typical Sunday dinner (roast lamb, roast beef & Yorkshire pudding) at The Phoenix, a typical Kentish pub that prides itself on serving real hand-pulled ales. Their charms were lost on me, as I loathe and despise beer, but I know that others feel differently; hence the photo below. (Note obligatory decoration of Kentish hops.)

Not a bad way to while away a Sunday afternoon...

Old school:

Canterbury College, a public (i.e., private) school for boys.

View from the front of the school:

That's the cathedral and old city wall, mostly built of that old Kentish standby, nasty sharp flints.

Detail of exterior wall, Canterbury College:

Trust me, you don't want to fall--or worse yet, be thrown--against this wall with bare arms. Or bare anything.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Frum Here to Eternity

"Are you frum?," British cousin X asked me the first time I phoned. "I'm...uh...very, very Reform," I responded carefully, having been warned that X might reject me out of hand because my mother is a shiksa, even though I'd officially converted years ago.

Literally, frum means "pious" in Yiddish, but colloquially it means strongly observant. I suppose it's a sign of how un-frum I am that I'd never heard the word in conversation until I got in touch with my UK cousins. (One of them joked that my response to X should have been, "Yeah, I'm frum America.") I consider the UK cousins who keep kosher and go to shul regularly as being frum. But to them, that's just run-of-the-mill Jewish practice. The "frummies"--always spoken with a bit of a sneer, even by their doting parents--are the ultra-Orthodox in the tieless black suits and big hats (men) or wigs/scarves, long sleeves & skirts and high necklines (women). They keep strictly kosher (even when going out for Chinese food!), strictly observe shabbat, strictly segregate the sexes and have very strict notions as to who is really Jewish (themselves) and who isn't (everyone who is less frum, including yours truly).

As I kept hearing till I thought my head would explode, the UK bet din (rabbinic court) takes a dim view of Reform conversions. But wait: I had a Conservative conversion. Oh, those too. In fact, it seems that any conversion outside of England doesn't pass the sniff test.

There's a big brouhaha going on over a woman whose Orthodox conversion in Israel was declared invalid. Her kid wasn't allowed to attend a London Jewish school--or maybe he was kicked out; my ears started to glaze over--because she was deemed not frum enough. Now she's threatening a lawsuit because one of the rabbis is on record as having been prejudiced against her from the get-go.

To which I responded, "Oh please." At least I did in my head. Out loud, I said to X and spouse, "I'm with Moshe Dayan, who said something like, 'A Jew is anyone crazy enough to consider himself to be one.'" That went over like a lead balloon with them, and also with another relation to whom I later recounted the conversation. Though they were too polite to say so, they'd accept me as kin, though not as being fully Jewish. (Thankfully, not all my UK cousins were similarly minded.) I wanted to yell, "I don't care what you think! I am so Jewish!"

Lest others think that this is strictly a Jewish concern, it applies to other groups as well. An opinion piece in Sunday's Washington Post, "What's Not on My Coffee Table," touches on "the question of black Americans' identity--most often framed in terms of whether one is 'black enough'..." An attendee at one of my workshops apologized because her first novel wasn't intellectual enough.

And so I'm wondering: How do we remain true to ourselves, and resist being pigeonholed as not [whatever] enough?


I just discovered that yesterday Booksquare, one of my favorite blogs, had a post entitled "The Secret Life of Apostrophes," with a handy-dandy link to "Bob's Quick Guide to the Apostrophe, You Idiots," available at the Official Bob the Angry Flower website. Maybe I'll carry extra copies in my purse to tape to offending signs. That will really help me to win new friends while traveling!

Monday, August 29, 2005

What Is Success?

Recently I consulted with a new author whose first novel came out last year. She confessed that she felt as though she was a failure--this despite that the book :
(1) got good reviews in major media;
(2) sold around 15,000 copies in hardcover;
(3) had just been picked up by a major national retailer.

The author wasn't whining, either; she genuinely felt as though she was going nowhere. I told her that selling 15K of a first novel in hardcover is fantastic, and that many authors would kill to be in her shoes.

This led me to think, What is success? How do we know when we've achieved it? And where do we go from there?

It seems that no matter what we do, the bar for "success" keeps getting raised. We think, "Oh, if I could just finish writing this book, I'll really be happy." Then the book is finished, and we think, "Oh, if I could just get an agent, I'll be OK." Then, "If I can get a publishing contract, I'll really be happy." Then the book is published and we think, "If it gets good reviews, I'll really, REALLY be happy." Then the reviews come in and we worry about sales. Then we worry about maintaining sales, and then we worry about the paperback publication, and paperback sales. And then we start worrying about the next book: Will I finish it? Will it be any good? Will anyone publish it? Will anyone buy it? And there we go again...

How to stop the madness? I don't have any hard and fast answers, but here are two writers with the right attitude.

From "The Perils of Literary Success" by Curtis Sittenfeld (author of the bestseller Prep)in the summer fiction issue of The Atlantic:

...[the NY Times review] forced me to realize that I had to be the one who decided whether my novel was a success or a failure; if I believed that only a publication or another person could legitimize my work in a way that felt permanent and satisfying, I'd be waiting a long, long time.
From a current discussion on "Writerville: A Coffee Break" on

Basically, I realized just how incredibly fortunate I am to have had a book published, to be working on another one that (God willing) will be published too. And I thought it was small of me to be obsessed with how the book is selling, and what the next thing is. I need to give myself permission to feel good about what I've accomplished, to feel as though I've actually done something worthwhile.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Apostrophes: They're Ev'rywhere

Overlooking the sea in Westgate, Kent.

Having conquered the US, errant punctuation is on the march across the UK. The first sortie was on a blackboard in a florist's in Cockfosters (do you love that name?), North London. When I pointed it out to cousin Dan S., he quickly erased it. Turns out apostrophobia is another familial trait.

A butcher's stall in Carlisle, Cumbria (obviously not on the Yiddisher Britisher itinerary; also obviously near Scotland):

I was afraid to ask what "White Pud" is. (We bought lamb chops.) I can't see tripe (top of pic) without thinking of the arresting opening line of the short story "Blonde Mink" by Damon Runyon: "Now there are many ways of eating tripe." However, my enjoyment of that organ--or whatever it is--remains purely literary. And I'll leave haggis (oats 'n' offal!) to the Scots and their neighbors.

A flower shop in Haltwhistle, Northumberland (bonus points for misspelling):

The biggest example of all--POLICE CAR'S painted in letters 3' high--is across the street from the Bristol home of a cousin who's a retired college professor. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a shot because it was a Sunday and the police car' were parked on top.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

By the Sea

Care for a dip? (Me neither.)

After visiting my long-lost cousin Judi in Sandwich, I went to Cliftonville, Margate, just a few miles away in distance but light years esthetically & socio-economically. I got there on an overcast Saturday afternoon, when a seaside resort shows its true colors. And they weren't pretty: a cacophony of screeching pastels, peeling paint and crumbling brick splayed over a mishmash of once-proud Edwardian villas and cheap 1960s-era boxes. One sad old house was covered in lurid purple stucco. Tatty signs proclaimed the faded attractions of "Dreamland," an amusement park so old that cousin Howard's great-grandfather, who died in 1947, worked there.

Howard's recently widowed mother, Enid, lives in a building of little flats for Jewish retirees, the last testament to what had been a thriving Jewish resort. Enid proudly told me that in 1946, there were 42 Jewish hotels in Cliftonville; her parents ran the Balmoral Guest Home. She pulled out one of her many photo albums to show me dozens of neatly arranged snapshots of herself, family & friends: all nattily dressed, smiling, swinging tennis rackets, romping by the pool or on the beach. What a sad contrast to what lies outside her front door now. When I announced after dinner that I was going to take a walk down to the waterfront, a mere 200 yards away, Howard sternly told me that it wasn't safe for me to walk anywhere, and to stay inside till morning. Arguments about having lived in New York City proved futile. I pouted, but ended up staying put.

I got choked up taking this photo of Enid with her parents' wedding photo, ca 1925. (Just learned they were cousins too. Oy.) She's holding her mother's headdress and veil.

My first honeymoon was in a little village on the Cornish coast. All my memories were visual (the scenery! the rainbows! the fluffy sheep! the snuffly cows peering in our car windows!). But the next morning at 4:30 I quickly I remembered how incessantly loud English seagulls are, and how infernally early they wake up. They're a lot bigger than American gulls too. (London pigeons are also much bigger than NYC ones.) I got to see any number of them up close and personal when Howard & Deborah fetched me a little after 8:00 for a brisk and extremely breezy walk along the coast.

Not surprising for a chilly & stormy Sunday morning, the only other people out were dog walkers. I remarked upon the profusion of what appeared to be little garden sheds along the waterfront. Howard told me they go for some $20,000--twice that in more popular and upscale resorts like Brighton--and people actually spend a lot of time in them. Go figure.

A cozy beachfront, Westgate:

Friday, August 26, 2005

The Sign I Should Have Minded

Why are these historic home dwellers smiling?

Because they can stand up straight everywhere inside--unlike yours truly. (Top: Cousin Howard & partner Deborah, 17c cottage, Monckton, Kent. Above: Cousin Judi, Old Guild Hall, Sandwich.)

Way down below I commented on the sign "Mind Your Head" in the breakfast room at my first London hotel, and noted that it was good advice for life in general. Well, it turned out to be excellent advice in particular for tall people like me (6' in flat shoes) who are swanning about Olde Englande. News flash: People in olden tymes were shorte. And they built correspondingly low doorways and ceilings, with nasty thick beams. I should have worn my riding helmet indoors, not just when on a horse.

Along with having endless tolerance for leaks, creaks & eccentric wiring, the key to living happily in a centuries-old house is to be no taller than 5'6". The women above are maybe 5'3"; Howard is 5'8", and even he has hit his head on the doorway behind him. (The arch is the original 17c doorway; the current door is the shorter, diamond-paned one inside it.) Of course, he didn't tell me that till after I'd cracked my head so hard that I started crying. Once inside, I had to stay hunched over like John Cusack in Being John Malkovich to avoid the ceiling beams.

My head was sore for a week. Just when it had finally stopped aching I banged it on a beam in the sloping ceiling of another cousin's 18th century farmhouse--while I was putting away my riding helmet.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Signs of the Times (Sandwich)

The docents and other civic-minded citizens here in central Virginia take great pride in the antiquity (more than 200 years old!) and preservation of Thomas Jefferson's homestead, Monticello. Darling Child's new U.S. History teacher extolled it as a universally recognizable icon of America, on a par with the Great Wall of China and the Egyptian Pyramids. I'm wondering if I should tell her that most--if not all--of the Europeans I spoke to on my trip responded to my mention of Monticello with a puzzled look, and only when I added, "Home of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, 3rd president of the United States" did they say (none too quickly), "Oh...yes..." One even said, "Who?"

All this is put in perspective by what I saw in Sandwich, a perfectly preserved medieval town in East Kent, whose heyday was some 500 years ago. It was a thriving seaport for centuries, but when the harbor silted up during Elizabethan times so did the local economy. There was hardly any new construction beyond that engendered by an influx of Protestant refugees from Holland and France in the mid-1600s. (They were made to live outside of town till they were found to be commercially beneficial. Some things never change.) Above is Fishergate, erected 1384, a remnant of the wall facing the River Stour.

Sign on Fishergate. (Note first restoration date!)

The wall is built of napped flints, which in their unpolished state are flaky and murderously sharp, and were used in making arrowheads.

One of my long-lost cousins and her husband live in the remaining half of the old Guild Hall, which was begun in the 14th century. The "new" Guild Hall (below) was built in the 16th century, and is still in good working order, with offices and a bus station.

Flemish-style wall; not every sign survives:

Facing signs in an archway:

Note how the above ties into the Yiddisher Britisher Tour; also that the word "Jewish" is conspicuously absent.

Extra credit for Darling Child's U.S. History class:


If I lived & worked in such a tiny cottage, I'd write incendiary pamphlets too. I sure hope Paine wasn't tall like his pal TJ; those low doorways are killers. One crack on the head & I'd be storming the barricades. But don't get me started! More on those *#%!!! doors in a separate post...

When Worlds Collide

Kielbasa tacos? Pierogis with mole sauce? The mind boggles.
Actually, this place in Shepherd Market is owned by a Canadian(!)
and is called L'Autre (French for "the other"; how appropriate).
Better yet, it's "Mayfair's Oldest Wine Lodge"! I will forever
regret not taking a close-up of the menu. However, much to my
disappointment, the specials on the board alternate between
Polish and Mexican, rather than combine them; e.g. "Polish Style
Roast Lamb," "Mexican Style Paella," "Venison Goulash"
and that old standby, stuffed cabbage--no doubt without even
a hint of jalapeno. (SIGH...)

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Signs of the Times (London)

In the Underground:

A relation reported seeing this on her way home after work. (Image forwarded by Darling Spouse, who anxiously kept up on British news while I was away.)

Makes you think...

In front of a church on King's Cross Road:

Blurb above title: "The nastiest, most savage and
brutal movie you could ever want to see."
(My blurb: "Or not!")

No false hopes here!

(On Kings Cross Road, just down the street from the church.)

My all-time favorite:

(In Edmonton Cemetery)

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

No Child Left Awake*

Darling Child went back to school yesterday and came home with a sheaf of papers for me to sign. The below letter was on one of them. I read it to Darling Spouse in my perkiest early-childhood-educator voice; he threatened to fwow up.

Dear Parent or Guardian:
This year we will be getting to know your son or daughter as a learner and as an individual with special interests and learning needs. This school year you will see or hear about the teaching ideas we are using to better the needs of all of our students. Students will be learning in a variety of ways. Sometimes we'll all be working together; at other times, students will be working in small groups, with a partner, or on their own. For group work, they will sometimes choose who to work with and what project they want to tackle. Other times, we will form groups and assign projects based on what students know, what they need to learn, or how they prefer to learn. All students will be offered challenging learning experiences and all will be actively involved in their learning.

Our goal is to provide opportunities for all students to be successful and to enjoy learning. Students of all levels love both variety in learning and taking on new challenges. They learn at different paces. And they all have preferences about how they like to learn and how they like to show what they have learned. We will be doing our professional best this year to attend to differences among students, trying to ensure that each student is a successful, confident learner.

Now guess what class this is for...


Advanced high school Chemistry lab, with something like 25 students age 16 and up.

Gosh, I can't WAIT to go to "Back to School Night"!

*phrase coined by marvelous YA author Chris Crutcher

Monday, August 22, 2005

Helpful sign in the floor of a medieval church in Sandwich, Kent.

Back Home (Alas)

A 4-day sojourn in the South of France baked out the rest of my notions of keeping up with the cyberworld while abroad. I realized that I had to choose between living my life or blogging about it, as I need too much sleep to do both. So over the next few days I'll do a more-or-less leisurely recap of my trip, with the aid of the more-or-less copious notes I took in a battered Spell-Write Steno Book.

Going back to my lunch with Howard Jacobson on my first day in London...he shared some sage advice he'd gotten from Paul Theroux years ago. Namely, when traveling to write one hour at the end of every day; e.g., "I went here, I went there, I saw this person, heard that, etc." Jacobson said, "You'll think it's inconsequential and banal, but when you go back to it later, that's the real stuff. Six months, a year later, you won't remember a turn of phrase or a little something you saw, but it will be in your notes." He said that he used that method to good effect for his 1988 Australian travelogue, In the Land of Oz.

I was all set to do just as I was told, but with all the running around I was doing, I fell into bed every night too exhausted to compose my thoughts & pick up a pen. However, I made sure to take notes as I walked and rode around, and wrote at greater length while on planes & trains. (I was on a lot of trains.) In re-reading my notes the other day, I saw that I'd already forgotten some of the telling details I'd jotted down, so I'm glad I heeded the masters.

Naturally our lunchtime conversation turned to publishing & the business in UK vs US. Jacobson said that in the UK, your publisher takes you on for life. "They publish your next book even if they don't like it." (Is that charming, or what?) That's changing, however, and the Brit publishers are becoming more like the Americans. Well into lunch, he confessed that after writing for two years, he'd printed out his just-completed new novel for the first time the other day. His new wife (#3 for those keeping track) will be the first person to see it. He said it's his angriest novel yet, and very Jewish. Jacobson is a Big Deal in Britain--an awed-looking young man expressed admiration of his writing as we were on our way to lunch--but isn't well-known in the US. One reason for that, he observed, is that American publishers want an "English" novel, not a Jewish one, from an English writer; American writers already "did" the Jews. We'll see what happens with this one...

Friday, August 05, 2005

En vacance

We interrupt the Yiddisher Britisher Tour for this special announcement:
Ms Stander is in the South of France and has 'gone native', i.e., she is dispensing with mundane matters such as time of day; having the marvelous local white wine, Picpoul de Pinet, with lunch (dinner too, if truth be told); going on horseback rides through the nearby vineyards and hills; and above all, finding blogs--and business communication in general--a pointless bother. Furthermore, she is challenged by the keyboard on her Swedish hosts' laptop, which has ä where ' should be and ¤ where $ should be, " instead of @ and God only knows where the question mark is.

Priez d'accepter mes meilleurs salutations...

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Tour Continues

I thought I'd be happily sending posts every day from my shiny red laptop. Silly me! Only my first hotel, the lovely if cramped Best Western Phoenix on Kensington Square Gardens, had wireless internet. The more commodious though Spartan (no clocks, tissues, etc.) Travelodge Islington only has dial-up service through their phones, which are on a separate system with usurious rates. Consequently, I've also been exploring the wilderness of London internet cafes, call boxes (phone booths) and phone cards.

Getting around London these days. Some tube lines are closed (2 just reopened today--hooray!), yesterday the King's Cross rail station was shut down minutes after I'd taken a subway out. Police are EVERYWHERE: Bobbies two by two, by two, by two... in bulletproof vests, not on bicycles as in the old song. Nearly had an impromptu radical mastectomy yesterday when I leaped onto a subway car as the doors were closing. In NY and DC they pop right open if something comes between them. Not in London, as I discovered to my great pain & embarrassment. After I was released and got a seat (plush!) I saw a notice pasted on the inside of the doors: 'Obstructing the doors can be dangerous.' I'll say!

Seems like every rock I turn over, I find more of the mishpocha. (Stander descendents: They're everywhere you want to be.) More about that later. Off to the cemetery!

Friday, July 29, 2005

The Fabulous Yiddisher Britisher Tour Begins

Perhaps I've watched too many episodes of the BBC "What Not to Wear" (actually, I think I haven't seen nearly enough), but I saw plenty of fashion disasters while cooling my heels in Dulles airport waiting for my flight to London yesterday. First, there should be a total ban on baby-pink cowboy hats. They are an abomination, even (or especially) when perched on the head of perky blonde cheerleader types. Second, more women should wear a salwar kameez (long, slit tunic over loose trousers worn by Punjabis & Pakistanis), which can be tailored to enhance the figure or left loose to hide flaws. Third, fewer (i.e., none) should wear micro short-shorts (we used to call them hot pants) & tight tank tops, especially females with, in the words of Vladimir Nabokov, low-slung pelvises and heavy calves. Those females would look ever so much better in, oh, a salwar kameez. And don't get me started on all the flabby bellies I saw hanging out over low-slung jeans.

Handy tips:
1) To lessen jet lag, fly to Europe in the morning & arrive at night. Flight is less crowded too (or maybe that was just because fewer people want to go to London these days, for some reason).

2) The foreign exchange booth at Dulles doesn't open till 2:30pm--useless for said a.m. flight. However, there's a 24-hour booth at Heathrow just outside the baggage claim area.

3) When traveling, wear a shirt you wouldn't mind sleeping in--and wearing next day till your lost bag finally shows up. United Airlines provides a lovely overnight kit w/ toiletries and an oversized white T-shirt, but the latter is so scratchy with sizing as to be unwearable.

Favorite signs in London:
1) "Humped zebra crossing" - No, it's not for a dromedary equine, it's a raised pedestrian crosswalk.

2) "Mind your head" - This was over the low doorway going into the breakfast buffet at my hotel, but I think it's invaluable advice for all of life.

Favorite new Britishisms, learned from a London cabbie today:
1) "Sleeping policemen" = speed bumps, of which there are a nauseating number in Islington. Perfect for practicing hunt seat, as if going over a jump on a horse.

2) "Rat run" = cut-through side streets, many of which now contain sleeping policemen.

I met British writer Howard Jacobson (THE MAKING OF HENRY; ROOTS, SCHMOOTS: Journeys Among Jews, etc.) for brunch today. Ironically, given the subject of his books and my visit, almost every eatery on the block was Arab; we ate at a fantastic little Lebanese place where I also had dinner last night. I am now officially addicted to grilled halloumi (Cypriot cheese). Though Jacobson's people come from Manchester and Lithuania before then, and I keep discovering more cousins in & around Manchester, previously from Latvia & Lithuania, we established that we are not related by blood or marriage. So far, anyway; there are still more cousins to unearth.

And speaking of unearthing, I and 2 cousins were denied entrance to Edmonton Cemetery this afternoon (picture follows, once I figure out how to upload pix from my shiny new camera). Yes, the place closes at 4pm, but no one bothered to tell me that the gates lock up tight at 3pm. In another delicious irony, the cemetery immediately next to it--though separated by an immense block wall surmounted with barbed wire--is for Muslim Turks.

Grim view from the Greenway alongside Edmonton Cemetery.
(Yes, I know what it looks like...)

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Loops in the Family Tree

Here in Virginia, one of the local pastimes is telling West Virginian jokes. (You have to look down on someone, right?) On I-81 in Virginia, the speed limit is 65, but in West Virginia it's 70. The reason for that, I cracked wise one day, is because they're hurrying home to their cousins.

Since then, I've learned that in West Virginia it's illegal to marry your first cousin. But it isn't in New York. (Take that, Murray Hillbillies!)

For the past three years I've been researching my family tree, aided enormously by the databases and Family Finder feature at, the website for Jewish genealogy. And here is what I found:

I come from people who marry their cousins.

I'd known for years that my father's aunt Dinah had married a Stander cousin from England, Sam. Supposedly he was a second cousin, but there were no hard facts, and I've yet to find any evidence either way. I always figured this was an anomaly; a one-off kind of thing. And then in the course of more research, I found a second pair of cousins who married, and a third, and a fourth. Dinah and Sam weren't aberrations, they were the norm!

The practice seems to have stopped after World War II, and fortunately wasn't so pervasive that we're all mad (at least not very), or have hemophilia. However, it has ensured a marked resemblance through all the branches of the family, especially the men. My father, the late actor Lionel Stander, exemplifies the Stander Y-chromosome look: barrel chest, skinny shanks; broad, round-cheeked face; reddish hair, freckles. A cousin I recently met has the same round cheeks and stiff-legged gait as my father. Through JewishGen, I heard from a man who claimed kinship. I was ho-hum about it (my dad is a popular guy to be related to) until I got his photo in an email. And then I nearly plotzed. I forwarded it to my mom, and her reaction was the same as mine: "Oh my God!"

The gravelly voice was my dad's alone, but I hear eerie resonances in other Stander men. Three of my far-flung cousins, who have never met each other or even spoken, sound almost identical. Another says, "Hello, Bella!" in the exact same intonation as my dad, albeit with an English accent. I like to call him just so I can hear his voice; it's like getting a piece of my father back.

Tomorrow I'm off to England, in search of the Stander mishpocha*. No doubt I'll find many more familial resemblances--and differences--while I'm there. Stay tuned for the Fabulous Yiddisher Britisher Tour.

*(Yiddish) entire family network

Monday, July 25, 2005

Whose Story Is It?

While traveling a couple of weeks ago, I reunited with a friend I hadn't seen in more than 20 years, whom I shall call "Jane." Over dinner with her and another long-lost mutual friend, I shared news of my life and that of our friend "Kevin." We all had a great time, and when we parted I was full of warm, fuzzy feelings over old ties renewed.

Last week, Jane sent out an e-newsletter chronicling recent events in her life, with a good one-third devoted to our meeting, including liberal quotes of what I'd said over dinner about Kevin's personal life. Many of the salient details were dead wrong, and I sounded like a gossipy bitch. I only found out about this when Jane proudly forwarded me a response to her newsletter from an old acquaintance of mine (whom I didn't know she knew), who'd gone to college with Kevin.

I felt betrayed that Jane would broadcast my private remarks, and mortified at the thought that word would get back to Kevin. And as a journalist, I was furious that Jane hadn't bothered to tell me beforehand that I would be "on the record," or to verify my quotes afterwards.

When we finally spoke, Jane couldn't understand why I was so upset. She explained that she'd been sending weekly newsletters for some time, and supposedly they were being archived at some institution along with papers from her earlier life as an activist. Jane said that she sees herself as a cross between Anais Nin and Michael Musto (I made a mental note to laugh about that later), and that her life is in the public domain. "Well, mine isn't!" I snapped.

Following the first rule of politics ("Kill the story before it kills you"), I called Kevin and told him the gist of what happened. However, I didn't think it necessary--or kind--to let him know exactly what Jane had written. So there's been no bad fallout.

However, this affair caused me to think about some larger issues. Namely: Whose story is it? When you write about your own experiences, where do you draw the line between your life and others'? Whose memory is right? (think of "Rashomon") And what do you owe the people you write about? Do you describe them and your feelings about them exactly, even though it might hurt them? Do you ask permission to write about them? Do you even tell them at all--and if you don't, are you opening yourself up to legal action?

Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Past Not Quite Recaptured

I started reading a review copy of a historical novel that's coming out this fall, which was ballyhooed as a sexy page-turner, rife with period details. Hah! The action takes place in late 17c northern Europe, yet one character wears "bloomers" (invented ca 1850); another speaks of his master's "gift for sadism" (de Sade was in late 18c & the word "sadism" wasn't in use till at least 1885); the heroine is imprisoned in a shabby room, where there's an old cotton coverlet on her bed (not then, there wasn't!). I threw in the towel at page 170, as I no longer believed in the world the author created; nor, for that matter, the plot and characters.

In other novels I've reviewed, one author placed kerosene lanterns in 17c Salem, Mass. (kerosene was invented in 1852); another had characters in 1850s London using such words as "claustrophobic" (introduced 1875), "slow motion" (1925-30) and "loner" (1945-50), plus had roses blooming outside at Christmas; yet another had her heroine in the mountains of North Carolina in the late 18c making raisins from wild grapes (no way: pits are too big, skins too tough, berries too small & climate too damp) and giving sugar cookies to one and all at Christmas (as if! sugar would have been way too expensive & hard to come by to dispense so freely).

Why don't writers do their homework? Why don't editors and copy editors (assuming there are any of the latter left) catch these errors--and many, many more--before they make their way into print? Am I the only one who notices or cares?

P.S. Alas, even my childhood love, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, suffers from inaccuracy. Heroine Kit swims, something no proper English girl would have known how to do in 17c Barbados. I did research on Barbados for my as-yet unwritten Great American Novel, and in those days only the native Caribs and Africans swam. In fact, the latter are credited with inventing the freestyle stroke.

P.P.S. There are some authors who get the details right. (By odd coincidence, they also write compellingly. Hmm...) Specifically: Michel Faber (The Crimson Petal & the White), Sarah Dunant (The Birth of Venus), Tracy Chevalier (Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Virgin Blue, etc.), Louis Bayard (Mr. Timothy), Edmund White (Fanny).