Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Many people have expressed sympathy for my seemingly endless medical woes. Sometimes I feel sorry for myself, which soon bores even me. (Reading an engrossing book is infinitely more therapeutic than whining.)

But, as I am relieved to tell everyone, "At least I don't have cancer!"

Author Patry Francis isn't so lucky.

For the past few months Patry has undergone surgery and other treatments for an aggressive cancer, which she has written about with characteristic grace and humility on her blog, Simply Wait.

Last year during BookExpo, I had a marvelous dinner out with Patry, writer Susan Henderson and novelist Tish Cohen. (See BEA Party Girl: GalleyCat; includes pic.)

Now Susan has spearheaded a blog day, in which 300+ bloggers are featuring Patry and today's paperback release of her thriller, THE LIAR'S DIARY. Please read Susan's post and watch THE LIAR'S DIARY trailer.

Update: See Promo by proxy in Canada's National Post.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Undue Non-Diligence 4

News flash: the New York Times is in desperate need of proofreaders! No one had to tell me; I figured it out all on my own. (Disclosure: I'm a recovering proofreader and copy editor.)

Exhibit 1
Pull-quote in opinion piece, Questions for The Clintons by Bob Herbert, in Saturday's national edition:
Is their a price to be paid for demolition-derby politics?

Exhibit 2
Jump hed from front-page story by Sarah Lyall, Britain Looks for Its Essence, And Finds Mostly Punch Lines, also in Saturday's national edition*:

Britain Seeks Its Essence, and Finds Most Punch Lines

Both pieces are excellent, which makes the errors even more egregious. The latter story is about how the UK government is seeking to formulate a “statement of values” (OY!) on what it means to be British. A great part of being a Briton is disdaining claptrap like "mission statements" and anyone who suggests them. The Times of London ran a decidedly tongue-in-cheek contest for a British motto:

The readers’ suggestions included “Dipso, Fatso, Bingo, Asbo, Tesco” (Asbo stands for “anti-social behavior order,” a law-enforcement tool, while Tesco is a ubiquitous supermarket chain); “Once Mighty Empire, Slightly Used”; “At Least We’re Not French”; and “We Apologize for the Inconvenience.” The winner, favored by 20.9 percent of the readers, was “No Motto Please, We’re British.”

The article ends with this marvelous passage (how I wish our politicians spoke this way!):

But the government has its work cut out for it, if the sort-of debate in the House of Lords is anything to go by.

After Lord Hunt’s assurances that the government had no plans for a motto and his colleagues’ insistence on discussing one anyway, Lord Conwy had a thought. Why, he asked, could they not just use the French “Dieu et mon droit,” which means “God and my right?”

Lord Hunt replied: “As the noble lord will know, that represents the divine right of kings. While it is of course a well-known phrase, one would need to reflect on whether that would be entirely relevant to a motto that we are not going to have.”
*Online title is "Britain Seeks Its Essence, and Finds Punch Lines"

Undue Non-Diligence 3

In its Daily Lunch, Publishers Marketplace is still all over The Australian's coverage of the mounting pile of errors and discrepancies in Ishmael Beah's bestselling memoir A LONG WAY GONE. On Friday the Ozzies reported, in Child soldier questions Beah's tale, that a map in the front of the book "is deeply flawed." Yele, a settlement where Beah allegedly fled on foot after an attack (whose date is now questioned) on his village is pictured as 450km (approx. 280 miles) to the southwest; in reality it is only 6km (3-3/4 mi.) away--an easy walk.

Per The Australian, the freelance cartographer:
had based the map on information he received from publishing house Farrar Straus & Giroux....

The publisher had reviewed his work and did not ask for any corrections to the depiction of the long trek to Yele.

The book's publisher, Sarah Crichton, said yesterday she had not been involved in the creation of the map, which she said was put together by the cartographer and an assistant editor who had since left the company.
And now today the Ozzies bring us Deadly fight Beah describes 'didn't happen':
RELIEF workers from Sierra Leone and international agencies have cast further doubt on best-selling author Ishmael Beah's account of his time as a child soldier, saying they can find no evidence of a deadly fight that he claims took place in a rehabilitation camp in 1996.
The article quotes reporters, UN and Sierra Leonean officials, as saying that such a fight never took place. Additionally:
Kabba Williams, a prominent former child soldier and activist for child combatants in Freetown, said child soldiers had often been angry at the way they were treated in the camps, but added: "I don't believe anything like that happened."
Here's the money quote:
Beah's publisher, Sarah Crichton of Farrar Straus & Giroux in New York, has refused to discuss what fact-checking or independent verification of his story was carried out before the book was published.
I met Crichton 10(?) years ago at a reception after the NBCC awards. Even though I mistook her for Jane Smiley (they're both tall and blond), she was charming and chatty. To my amazement and gratitude, when bigshot editors Gary Fisketjon and Morgan Entrekin came over to talk with her a few minutes later, she graciously introduced me and included me in the conversation (not your typical NYC publishing party behavior). I haven't seen or communicated with her since, but she made a big impression on me.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Fun Fact for a Weekend in Bed

This shocker just in from author Tim Schaffert, guiding spirit of the (downtown) Omaha Lit Fest:

Books are better than sex.
According to a survey conducted by Entertainment Weekly, more people have been spending their spare time during the writers’ strike reading books than having sex.

Well, the exact figures are: 40% of those surveyed have chosen to read more books during the strike, while only 9% are “having more sex.” This is a far more encouraging survey than the endless parade of dismal stats (99.6% of Americans haven’t read a book since Judith Krantz’s Scruples!) meant to bully the general public into feeling obligated to read.
Another shocking fact: The Lit Fest will survive.
Though our website is hopelessly out of date, and our funding is minimal, we will be back in September 2008. Because, quite simply, we’ve heard that books are better than sex.
(Darling Husband would disagree with the latter statement, but then he doesn't live in Omaha.)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

One Step Forward...

On Monday I had an appointment with the surgeon who repaired my horse-broken nose and reamed out my sinuses 3-1/2 months ago. Until last Thursday, my nose had been hurting so much that I'd been wearing a self-fashioned pad under my eyeglasses. (Ironically, that wasn't necessary before he "fixed" it.) The right side of the bridge was still a little sore to the touch, but bearable. The pain in my horse-smashed upper front teeth, after 3 root canals and another surgery, had pretty much subsided too. I could bite into crunchy things and floss my teeth with barely a twinge.

Then this morning I walked into a glass wall at my osteopath's office. BOOM! I banged my nose, my upper front teeth, my forehead and my left knee. I yelled a Very Bad Word...or maybe two. I cried.

Nothing's broken--in me or the wall--but everything that was feeling OK is sore again, plus my knee. Fortunately I didn't hit my right arm or shoulder, which were already sore enough.

For some time, I've had the sneaking suspicion that I'm the butt of some huge cosmic joke. Now I'm sure of it.

The cosmic punchline, via David Bromberg:
You've got to suffer if you want to sing the blues.

Undue Non-Diligence 2

Along with the Ishmael Beah story on Tuesday, under the headline "More Breaking News," Publishers Lunch noted articles in the New York Times and San Francisco's BeyondChron about books with identical titles.

The NYT piece, Can’t Tell a Book by Its Cover, or Even Its Title, It Turns Out, focuses on a new book with an old name: THE SAUCIER'S APPRENTICE. Written by Bob Spitz and being published in May by W.W. Norton, its subtitle is "One Long Strange Trip Through the Great Cooking Schools of Europe.”

Problem is, there's another SAUCIER'S APPRENTICE--by Raymond Sokolov, restaurant columnist for The Wall St. Journal and food & wine columnist for Smart Money. First published in 1976 (!) by Knopf and now in its 16th (!) printing, its subtitle is "A Modern Guide to Classic French Sauces for the Home."
[Said Sokolov] “I looked into it, and I’m certain that this was not a blunder, that Norton knew about the existence of my book.”

Mr. Spitz said that he came up with the title when he was working on the proposal for his “Saucier’s Apprentice.” He added that until recently, he had no knowledge of Mr. Sokolov’s title, which is listed on Amazon.com. “I interviewed a lot of people in the food industry for my book,” Mr. Spitz said, “and not one of them mentioned there was already something else with that title. I thought it was a stroke of genius, but as it turns out it was Ray Sokolov’s stroke of genius.”
Or humorist S.J. Perelman's. The NYT notes that his essay, “The Saucier’s Apprentice,” ran in The New Yorker “about two decades before Mr. Sokolov’s book.”

And then we have Paul Krugman Ripped Off Wellstone’s Book Title in BeyondChron, which begins:
Yesterday’s New York Times had a piece about authors ripping off book titles from other authors. Although it’s technically not illegal, reported the Times, the practice is certainly unethical. What they didn’t mention is that one of their own columnists, Paul Krugman, just did it himself. Krugman’s new book, “Conscience of a Liberal,” has the same title as a book that the late U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone wrote in 2001 – which is still in print. Now Krugman claims that he didn’t even know about the book title, a mistake that was at best careless.
So we're supposed to believe that a bestselling author (Spitz wrote THE BEATLES: A Biography) and a renowned NYT columnist/author/economist/Princeton professor, their agents, editors and publishers never even thought to go online to see if their titles were original?

As they say in New York: Yeah right.

And in London: Pull the other leg; it's got bells on it.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Undue Non-Diligence 1

GalleyCat and Publishers Lunch have been all over the story, broken in The Australian (first article here, follow-up here), about "major factual errors" in Ishmael Beah's memoir, A LONG WAY GONE (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Seems that reporters Peter Wilson and Shelley Gare did some math and fact-checking, and discovered numerous discrepancies in Beah's account of his young life in war-torn Sierra Leone. For example:
The date of the key event in the book's narrative is curiously out by two years, according to Inquirer's lengthy investigations, turning the child soldier-recruit into a soldier who would have been in his mid-teens.

If the dates are wrong, this would also mean that it would have been impossible for Beah to have been in the army for two or so years, as he has written. Instead, he may have been in the army for just two or three months....

Beah writes on the second page of his story: "The first time that I was touched by war I was 12. It was in January 1993.''

But the event he goes on to describe did not occur until January 1995.
The reporters also wrote:
The Australian believed that those inaccuracies were a result of Beah's memory being impaired by the trauma, drugs and extreme youth he describes in his book...Beah suffered a terrible ordeal during his country's civil war. However a book sold to hundreds of thousands of readers as non-fiction should accurately recount that ordeal.
Beah came back hard with his own statement, trashing the reportage. Per the second newspaper article:
Efforts by The Australian to have the timeline discrepancies explained by Beah, [his editor, Sarah] Crichton, who has her own imprint at publishing house Farrar, Straus and Giroux, or his New York agent Ira Silverberg have been met with evasiveness, unreturned calls and, at times, unrestrained hostility.

On Friday, Crichton said that Beah, now 27, "stands by his book", but she did not offer the same support on behalf of FSG.
I understand that memories, particularly of traumatic childhood events, may be inaccurate. But it's one thing to rattle off dates and events when recounting a story aloud; it's another thing entirely to write them down as hard truth without checking.

Here's a trivial case in point:
Yesterday I wrote an email to a friend, telling how scared I was as a child by "The Old Dark House," starring Tom Poston. I was dead positive that I'd seen it at age 5. But just to be sure, before I hit "Send," I looked up Poston's filmography on imdb.com. I scrolled down to find the year in which I turned 5. Nothing. I looked again. Ditto. What the hell? Then I searched by film title. Surprise! "The Old Dark House" came out on Halloween of 1963, a week before my 8th birthday.

So. Why didn't Beah's US or Australian publishers verify his dates and facts? Why isn't a memoir subjected to the same rigor as a biography or history? Do the words "a million little pieces" not ring any bells? Incidentally, Silverberg was also hoaxer JT LeRoy's agent.

New Rules for Authors

Due to the Writers Guild strike, Bill Maher can't spout any "New Rules." But I can! Mine are inspired by the many authors I still encounter who don't think about having a website, and/or don't update their site with information about their new book, until just before (or even after--sheesh!) publication date.

Rule #1:
Having a website is not an option; it's an absolute necessity.

Rule #2:
You must have a website domain (preferably yourname.com) registered by the time your book's catalog and jacket copy are being written.

Rule #3:
Your book's catalog and jacket copy should include something like, "Learn more about Jane Author at her website, janeauthor.com." (Some publishers have a policy against this. I hope they wise up soon.)

Rule #4:
Your website must be live and UP-TO-DATE by the time your publisher's catalog is printed. Why? So that journalists, book review editors, writers' conference and book festival organizers, etc., can learn more about you and your book, and find out how to contact you directly.

Rule #5:
Update your website at least once a month. Make sure the events calendar is current: As soon as an item in the "Upcoming" section is past, move it into the "Past Events" section. Add new blurbs; quotes from reviews, interviews and news stories, with links to the full pieces. You don't have to be a techno-nerd to learn how to do this yourself; your site designer can show you how.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

My Other Patrimony

Left, from Latvia Holocaust Jewish Names Project.

Right, Kaiserwald concentration camp, Riga; from The Vilnius Ghetto.

In the previous post, I wrote about my father's father and his extended family, who left Riga, Latvia, for the U.S. and England in the late 19th century. In the past several years, I've done extensive research on the Stander (aka Stender) family, first on JewishGen.org and EllisIsland.org, then on Ancestry.com and at the genealogical archives in London.

When I started my research, the only Stander relatives I knew of were my five half-sisters, two first cousins and a handful of second or third cousins, all in the U.S. But since then, I've found a vast and ever-growing web of family, from Opelousas, Louisiana; to Capetown, to Liverpool, to Denmark, to Israel. I've gotten in touch with and met many of them, and they've helped me to greatly expand the two Stander family trees I've drawn up: one for my father's line from Riga; one for a line from Tukums, some of whom also ended up in England (none were listed in the 1924 Tukums telephone directory). I plan to combine those two trees, once I find their missing links. It may take a long time, though, as many records of Latvian Jews are missing or were destroyed. To make matters more complicated, they're variously in German, Russian and Latvian.

There are quite a few names on my family trees that have birth but not death dates, and I found no records of those people having emigrated. What could have happened to them, I've often wondered?

Yesterday, one of my British cousins sent me a link to this website: the Latvia Holocaust Jewish Names Project. I searched the Surnames database and discovered the fates of some of those missing family members in 1941-45:
  • Marianna Stender (b. 1864) - Ghetto, killed
  • Frume ("Pious") Stender (b. 1879) - Ghetto, killed 1941
  • Asna Lea Stender Schandler (b. 1888) - Fled
  • Esther Stender (b. 1908, same as my father) - Ghetto (i.e., died or killed)
  • Gita Stender (b. 1916) - Red Army, survived
  • Johanna Stender (b. 1919, Gita's sister) - Fled?
  • Haim Owsey/Osvald Stender (Gita's father, b. 1879) - Fled?
  • Jocha Switgall Stender (Gita's mother, b. 1880) - Fled?
  • Leon Stender (b. 1899) - Killed 1941, Riga
  • Nachman Stender (b. 1872) - Killed Sept. 1, 1941, Riga
  • Hinke Stender (b. 1892) - Killed July 1941, Tukums (Per this site: "After German occupation [in June], most of those [Jews] remaining were either shot outside of the town, burned inside a local synagogue, or sent to forced labor camps.")
  • Jacob Stender (Hinke's brother, b. 1899) - Killed July 1941, Tukums
  • Masche Stender (Jacob's wife, b. 1910) - Killed July 1941, Tukums
  • Sore Stender (Jacob & Hinke's brother, b. 1902) - Killed July 1941, Tukums
  • The list goes on and on...
And then there were the Stenders in the Baltic coastal town of Liepaja (aka Libau), where on December 15-17, 1941, more than 2700 Jews were shot on the dunes at Skede, as horrifyingly photographed by a German officer. The young women were forced to strip first in the freezing cold.

My relatives in Liepaja seemed to have escaped that fate, though Mowscha Stender (b. 1881), a shoemaker, was killed some time in 1941. His son Wolf and daughter Rachel-Leie, both in their twenties, were sent to Kaiserwald, where they died in about 1944. A widow Sara Stender (b. 1919) was sent to Auschwitz with her little children Theodor (b. 1939) and Manja (b. 1940), where all three died on November 3, 1943, presumably gassed. In that same year but a world away, my father acted in three Hollywood movies and a radio series.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Happy 100th, Dad!

My father & grandfather, ca 1912; Dad in "Hart to Hart" TV series, early 1980s.

One hundred years ago today in the Bronx, Louis E. Stander and his wife Bella (née Belle Kanter) welcomed their first child into the world. They named their son Lionel Jay, who shared his initials (sometimes reversed) with numerous Stander cousins around the U.S. and England. All were named after Louis' father, Leiser Josef, a rabbi in Riga, Latvia. According to family legend, he died after being kicked by a steer while filling in for the shochet (kosher slaughterer), who was drunk.

Also according to family legend, baby Lionel was enormous (allegedly 12 lbs, 14 oz.) and with such a big head that he nearly didn't make it into this world alive. But he did, after the doctor--or more likely midwife--gave him just one more chance. ("The pattern of his life," my mother, the 4th of his 6 wives, acidly remarked.)

Dad and his accountant father apparently were at loggerheads, for the latter had him arrested as an "ungovernable child" at age 16. (I have J. Edgar Hoover to thank for that tidbit of information, which I gleaned from the unredacted portions of the 300+ page file on my father that the FBI amassed over the course of some 30 years.) After that he was sent off to a military school in Penna., where he seems to have gotten the boot after a year, then he was graduated from a private school in NYC. Somewhere in there he enlisted in the Army, but was kicked out when it was determined that he was underage. Then he went to college at UNC Chapel Hill, where he acted in one student production as a left-wing Russian Jew in Greenwich Village (what a stretch!). But UNC wasn't for him either and he left after a year, possibly at the University's request due to his riotous behavior.

Then Dad knocked around in various jobs, including a newspaper reporter, till he made his way onstage in the Provincetown Players production of "him" by e.e. cummings. And the rest, to coin a phrase, is history. Contrast this 1936 Time interview with this one from 1970, Lion of the Via Veneto (imagine reading that at age 14!).

One memory of my father keeps popping up today, from when I was about 5. He took me to Riverside Park, where I borrowed some boy's scooter. I wanted to see if I could ride it all the way up to Columbia University, some 10 blocks away, and took off. My father yelled at me to come back, but I just pushed on faster. When I looked back, he was jumping over the black iron fence railings like a championship hurdler--at 52 years old. I kept going as fast as I could, but he soon caught me. And did I ever get a potch on the tuchas.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Best Headline of the Day

From the AP:
FBI wiretaps dropped due to unpaid bills

WASHINGTON - Telephone companies have cut off FBI wiretaps used to eavesdrop on suspected criminals because of the bureau's repeated failures to pay phone bills on time.

Full story.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Schmaltz in My Shoulder

When I had my tonsils removed twenty-something years ago, the first thing the surgeon said to me when I awoke was, "It's a good thing they came out. They were filled with pus."

I croaked back, "Can I see them?" I wanted to get a good look at the nasty things that had caused me so much pain and suffering--6 bouts of tonsillitis and 2 of strep just in the preceeding year.

"No," he replied. "They've already been sent to pathology." Damn!

So with that incident in mind, as I was getting prepped for surgery yesterday, I asked if I could see the tumor that was going to be removed. No, but the O.R. nurse said she'd take a picture of it with her cellphone and send it to Darling Husband's phone, who would then email it to me. Ah, the wonders of modern technology!

The surgeon told me that a lipoma typically looks like a lump of chicken fat. After surgery, she told me that's what mine looked like, and made a circle with her fingers to indicate how large it was. I'd been describing it as egg-sized, but DH said it looked more like a ball: a Spaldeen (NYC pronunciation of "Spalding"). They're both right:

My lipoma, like it or lump it.

Incidentally, for once surgery went better than I expected. Already I can use both hands, though I can't raise my right arm very high, or pull or carry much with it. Whenever I was examined before the surgery, I said that I couldn't feel the lipoma, big as it was. But now that it's out, though the incision is sore as hell, my shoulder feels much lighter and looser, like something's gone that was in the way. Hooray!

Surreal moment: While on a morphine drip in the hospital this morning, telling my mother in Maine (who had her left knee replaced last month & is having the right one done on the 9th) that my stepfather (who had a heart attack after Thanksgiving and was back in the E.R. on Christmas with atrial fibrillation, and also has angina) may not so much as look at a snow shovel. They've had 18" of snow in the past few days, and he was "just" going to shovel off some of their gazillion steps--in 10F weather. She "promised" that she'd call someone for help. Then I immediately called their neighbor with a 4x4 SUV for backup. OY. (Parents...can't live with 'em, can't shoot em.)

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Patient's Bill of Wrongs: Repetition, repetition, repetition...

Warning: Rant follows. The payoff is a good cocktail recipe.

My first major surgery of 2006 (not counting the 3 root canals) was in August, at Rose Medical Center. I had to fill out a detailed questionnaire for the orthopedic surgeon, even though I'd given all that information when I'd first gone to see him: name, address, phone #, SS#, medical insurance info, medical history with my height & weight, drug & food allergies, past illnesses & surgeries, list of meds & supplements I'm taking, family medical history, etc. It was all the more fun because I had to do it left-handed. Then the hospital admissions office called and asked me for the same information. The night before surgery, the anesthesiologist called and asked me many of the same questions yet again.

The next major surgery was in November, at Lowry Surgical Center with a different orthopedic surgeon. I had to fill out another questionnaire with name, address, etc., medical history, height & weight, allergies, etc., etc. Again more fun because I was still writing left-handed. Again the same drill with admissions and anesthesiologist.

In October 2007, after another root canal, I had a nose & sinus job by a doctor whose offices are in the Rose Medical Center. The procedure was to be done in the Rose Surgery Center, located across the street in the Rose Founders Building, where surgeon #1 hangs his shingle. This time I was asked to fill out the personal info & medical history, etc., online. Progress! But why couldn't they get the information from Rose Medical Center? "Oh, that's a different corporation." Never mind that it shares the same name and facilities. The afternoon before surgery, the anesthesiologist phoned and asked me for the same information. Why couldn't s/he (I forget which) get it online? "Oh, we don't have access to that till the day of surgery." Why don't you ask to get it the day before so you could save yourself and your patients some time? "That's a complicated process." ARGH.

This past Friday morning, I went to my MD for a pre-op physical. I filled out a questionnaire (right-handed, happily) with--you guessed it!--name, address, phone #, medical insurance info, medical history, blah, blah, blah. The MD faxed everything to the surgeon's office. A few hours later, a nurse at the Presbyterian-St. Luke's admissions office called and I spent 45 MINUTES giving her the exact same information that I'd written down that morning. Why couldn't the hospital get the forms faxed from the surgeon's office? "Oh, they don't share that information with us." Why not? "They just don't."

Then an hour or so ago, when I was enjoying a last two-armed cuddle with Darling Husband, the anesthesiologist called. Could I give him some medical information?

"Look," I said, "I don't mean to be difficult, but I did this with the hospital admissions office and surgeon on Friday. I'm getting tired of repeating the same things over and over. Why don't you get my information from them? They have everything you need to know."

"They don't share that information," he responded mechanically. (Maybe he'd said this before?) "Well, they should," I replied heatedly.

Then I drew a deep breath and told him my height, weight, drug allergies, surgical history, what meds I'm taking, blah, blah, blah. He told me that between midnight and 5:00 a.m. I could have a few sips of clear liquid, such as water, apple juice or black coffee. "Blech," I said to the last. Who'd want to have black coffee in the middle of the night on a nervous, empty stomach? I told him that I planned on being asleep between midnight and 5:00 a.m. The good news is that I may take a Valium to ensure that sleep.

But first...TEQUILA!

Here's a cocktail I invented last night, in the absence of margarita mix. Over ice, pour:
    1 shot tequila
    1/2 shot Cointreau
    1 can Limonata San Pellegrino
    Squeeze in 1/4 lime
Sip & pucker up--after reciting any detailed information. Then settle down in the living room to watch Fred & Ginger dance all your cares away.

Question Bank Overdrawn. Won't You Help?

This just in from Dr. Sue, who answers writers' questions every Friday on MJ Rose's blog, Buzz, Balls & Hype.


Dear Friends,

2007 was an outstanding year for our question bank at Buzz, Balls & Hype. You all gave wisely and generously, and we here at Dr. Sue Inc. pride ourselves on having shepherded our resources well.

Questions are a volatile commodity, however. Once opened and examined, they lose their potency. As committed as we are to recycling, we have not yet found a viable way to reuse already-addressed questions. Thus, as our store diminishes, we have been reduced to alternating serious, important questions with boring theoretical treatises and embarrassing self-referential blather.

These episodes are curable, but only with your help. Please donate your new or gently used questions TODAY--and save our needy and deserving readers from this blight.

All questions are 100% tax-deductible through the end of January.

My First--and I Hope Last--Surgery of the Year

Tomorrow morning at 6:00 a.m. I report to Presbyterian-St. Luke's Hospital, to have "a large intramuscular lipoma (7 x 6 x 6 cm)" removed from my right shoulder. My latest orthopedist (#3) described it as a "big-ass tumor," though apparently benign. I was all for leaving it there a while longer, but he told me the awful things that could happen (muscular atrophy, nerve damage, etc.) and said it had to come out ASAP.

My osteopath concurred with the orthopod: "When you can see a tumor from across the street, it has to come out." Actually, you can only see mine from across the room--and only if I'm wearing a clingy T-shirt. But still. Then my shrink told me about a friend of hers who had a large lipoma in his calf for years, and it turned cancerous. OK, sold.

I thought the bulge on the back of my shoulder was because it had rotated forward from my arm being in a sling for so many months last year, and I'd get pissed off (again!) at orthopods #1 & 2 for not having treated my broken arm correctly. Every time I saw my rounded shoulder in the mirror, I stood straighter and tried to roll it back, to no avail. Now I know why.

People groan when I tell them that I'm having yet more surgery--this is #3 since August, #7 since my equestrian fiasco in May 2006 (including the stitches in the ER). I've been doing my fair share of groaning too...and crying...and obsessing...and overeating...and undereating.

"But," I tell people (and myself), "at least I don't have cancer!"

One of my Literary Ladies Luncheon buddies in Virginia is undergoing another round of chemo, after discovering that she has Stage 4 of a very rare and pernicious cancer. And today I learned that author Patry Francis, with whom I had dinner during BEA last year, has been in the hospital with liver cancer since early December, and has had two surgeries for it.

So, I have to keep telling myself, I'm lucky. Very, very lucky...so far.

I just hope that by tomorrow at this time, the morphine drip will dull the pain without making me itch too much. As for now, I'm savoring the use of both arms.

Fear Itself

Novelist Walter Mosley was one of the speakers on a panel at the National Book Critic Circle's annual members' meeting in New York last March. He had a new book hot off the press, so new that he opened the first carton at the meeting and gave out copies to anyone who wanted one. The title: This Year You Write Your Novel.

Great! I thought. I have a novel I want to write. Actually, I had three, one of which I've been mulling for some 20 (!) years. Now there's a fourth, of which I wrote two chapters in November and then stopped.

I started reading Mosley's book as soon as I got back home. It's terrific. He spells out exactly what one has to do, and how to go about doing it. This looks easy, I thought. I could do this.

But I didn't. I put Mosley's book down, unfinished.


Because I was afraid.

I can only admit that to myself now that I've read this:
The Nasty Four-Letter Word That Keeps You From Writing, which Darling Husband just sent me a link to.

Someone asked me what my New Year's resolutions are. I responded:
    1. Stay healthy.
    2. Stay sane.
Now I'm adding:
    3. Overcome my fear.
    4. Write that novel.
These are in addition to my perennial resolutions, courtesy of British critic James Agate (1877-1947):
  1. To refrain from saying witty, unkind things, unless they are really witty and irreparably damaging.

  2. To tolerate fools more gladly, provided this does not encourage them to take up more of my time.