SEXY SIXTY
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Just saw “The Equalizer”, a terrific action flick, starring the inimitable Denzel Washington.Forbes-on-line predicts it will top the box-office this week. As I was leaving, a lady (probably in her 80’s), caught my eye and nodded. “Great movie,” she said. “Denzel’s still got it,” I remarked, to which she said “He’s HOT!”

As a writer, I pondered this question: what qualities give a character appeal across-generations, genders, and races? It’s a critical issue as we craft our own literary heroes and strive to attract broader audiences.Here is my answer: the protagonist that is wildly handsome, brave, and INTELLIGENT, still rings the bells of female and male audiences. Please share your opinions on this topic. After all, we would all love to top the box office.

Book Blogging and Coaching
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Good to know that elegance and taste take a summer vacation on Cape Cod. Last week at an awards dinner, I sat near a presenter from California whose presumed areas of expertise are book blogging and coaching. Judging by her accent and attitude I’m quite certain that this person is actually a New York transplant who has yet to acquire the sangfroid of the ‘left Coast.’
My first clue was the semi-sneer blanketing her face when I mentioned “romantic suspense/mystery.” She leaned across the table and said to two other women, “My professor in college tried to write a romance novel but decided he couldn’t write badly enough to succeed.”
I pride myself on self-control. Rather than spewing vitriol, I tried sweet reason. “Romances are the best selling genre of novels”, I observed. “They bring pleasure to a lot of readers.”
My nemesis had an immediate retort.”Yes, but women are ashamed to admit they read them. They hide the covers on the subway. Thank heaven for e-books.”
“50 Shades of Grey sold 90 million copies,” said I. “It got front page coverage in the New York Times.”
She sniffed, dismissing that eye-popping statistic with a flick of her hand.
“And what do you write?” I asked.
“Memoir. I’ve had a really interesting life.”
Oh well. Boring people like myself will stick to fiction.

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RAMPANT SELF-FLACKERY AND ME

A snarky piece in today’s New York Times (8/24), affirmed once again why I love the Grey Lady. Besides proving that readers can digest words of more than one syllable, the Times (particularly the Sunday edition) hosts talented writers with tart observations on life that echo my own. Check out “Of Myself I Sing,” a not quite tongue in cheek riff about those who use “over-weening prose” and shameless self-promotion to “strut their entrepreneurial stuff” on social media. Too many writers have taken to heart the bromide that there is no bad publicity (wrong), and that endlessly trumpeting suspect 5 star reviews on Amazon will drive sales.(wrong again)

Although I discount psychobabble, I support the theory that mindless over-sharing has more to do with ego than marketing. Friends who chronicle their every triumph via Face Book are deluded. They vastly overestimate the capacity of their audience for cant. After all, how many e-book sales can one absorb without falling into a stupor?

Personally, I prefer begging. It’s a time-honored, unambiguous tradition that dates from Biblical times. If ‘the quality of mercy is not strained’, the author who throws herself at the feet of a largely indifferent public may be pitiful but never pompous.
(By the way, two of my recently released novels, SWANN DIVE and MANTRAP, have garnered numerous 5 star reviews on Amazon. Available now for your reading pleasure).

The GIMLET EYE
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THE GIMLET EYE
Everyone’s a critic, or so it seems. Reviews of every service purveyor flood the internet offering wildly different opinions on value and quality.Writers, actors, and movies are particular targets of alleged “experts” who often have a personal axe to grind.
Consider movie reviews. If I had not already decided to see JERSEY BOYS, the review in the Boston Globe (1 1/2 stars) might have deterred me. After viewing that thoroughly enjoyable film, I have to question whether the critic actually watched it or allowed his obvious dislike for director Clint Eastwood to influence his review. Phrases such as “his best work may be behind him” and “the last person suited to direct this film” were the tip-offs. They even verged on “Age-isim” one of the sins abhorred by politically correct media types.

The same is true of book reviews. Many novels that have been anointed by the cognoscenti seemed boring, poorly edited and over-written to me. (Wolf Hall, Gone Girl and Death Comes to Pemberley spring to mind.) Others genuinely enjoyed them and that is fine.
We’re all entitled to our opinion–I get it. Just ensure that it is YOUR opinion not regurgitated pablum from a scion of the nanny state. Consumers who keep their critical faculties on alert reap the best of both worlds–access to other points of view and the ability to decide for themselves.

By the way–go see JERSEY BOYS. It is a hoot.

Self-Esteem
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POINT OF ORDER: At what juncture does self-esteem morph into arrogance? When friends who experience a modicum of success suddenly assume they are superstars, it’s a game-changer. Humility is the correct estimate of one’s own self-worth. (That’s what the nuns beat into my head). It requires a REALISTIC assessment of both strengths and weaknesses. Give thanks for those natural gifts and try to improve the pesky shortcomings. N.B. No writer is a superstar until he/she climbs to the top of that NYTimes list.

Book Titles
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Book titles are key to attracting a target audience. Check today’s NYTIMES review of Benjamin Black aka John Banville’s Philip Marlowe reboot. Fans know that Raymond Chandler favored snappy titles, crisp dialogue and sassy dames. The title “The Black-eyed Blond” says it all. Readers know exactly what they will get. It’s truth in advertising writ large, something every author should consider.

SCHADENFREUDE and Me
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I abhor psychological claptrap and the jargon that accompanies it. Most often it excuses personal weakness and clouds the issue. But every once in a while those fuzzy headed practitioners of the mind really nail it.

Have you ever secretly cheered when a backbiting co-worker gets his comeuppance, or googled the tabloids for the photo of a ‘supermodel’ (is there any other kind?) caught with a patch of cellulite and no makeup? How about the implosion of the celebrity marriage that everyone proclaimed was “perfect”?

Most of us occasionally take a perverse pleasure in the misfortunes of those whose looks, social status or finances exceed our own. It’s a comparison thing which according to author Richard Smith (The Joy of Pain), is hardwired into most animals especially humans. Cutting the mighty down to size as the old saying goes isn’t charitable but it feels sooo good! This, my friends is Schadenfreude, and like many of you I have taken a few trips to the dark side of this social emotion.

Dr. Smith says it’s normal, healthy even. After all, Schadenfreude is a passive pleasure that arrives by happenstance and leaves us feeling better about ourselves. Best of all, it’s as guilt-free as a diet soda without the bitter aftertaste. Someone else’s seismic loss is our gain.

The late, great Gore Vidal declared, “Every time my friends succeed, I die a little.” He tapped into the vein of Schadenfreude within us all by acknowledging this brutal fact: the success of a peer may bring our own failings under merciless scrutiny.

Writers are especially susceptible to this malady. We read the work of our colleagues and quietly judge their output against our own. Commercial success may be equated with “selling out” as if healthy bank balances or critical acclaim are the work of Satan.

The multi-talented Clive James devoted an entire poem to the concept that underlies Schadenfreude. Read I beg you the entire work. You will chuckle, wince and read it once more. The opening line says it all:

“The book of my enemy has been remaindered and I am pleased.”

 

 

Hallelujah
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Silly me. I have always loved Leonard Cohen’s beautiful song “Hallelujah” and figured it was sort of a homage to Handel. WRONG Yesterday I actually listened to the music with lyrics on YouTUBE and realized that the song was a sensual tribute to many things some of which were definitely not envisioned by Handel. I immediately downloaded my favorite version by the late Jeff Buckley and have been playing it while I compose some of the spicier scenes in my latest novel. Such inspiration! Now the song is even more meaningful.

Grandma Glam
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Grandma Glam

Long ago, the grandmother image was safe and unassailable. Kindly ladies with open arms, permed hair and sensible shoes eased the transition from childhood to adolescence for many of us. They offered love and maternal solace focused on the next generation, sublimating their own unfulfilled dreams or personal achievements.

Not anymore. Enter the Baby Boom generation, a legion of female achievers whose horizons expanded far beyond the traditional hearth and home. Many grandmas today eschew support hose for designer duds and would never consider a tight perm. While their laps are taut and toned, they are no less welcoming. Their horizons include the boardroom, courthouse and eventually the presidency. Angela Merkel is a prime example of that as is Ruth Bader Ginsberg and many others. In addition to unqualified acceptance, they offer their grandchildren inspiration and belief in the possibilities.

My own beloved Grandmother did that too. Admittedly she loved her perms, hairnets and sensible flats, but she offered me wisdom and sage counsel too. This mother of five, who operated the family business when her husband fell ill, taught me this: Find a profession, support yourself and always keep your own money. You can achieve anything.

Grandma Glam is more norm than anomaly today and that’s a good thing. Little girls (and their brothers) learn that while aging is part of life’s continuum, dreams and goals don’t end at the kitchen sink.

So give her a hug and head down to Sephora with Grandma. Their makeup is truly awesome.

THE TALENT SCOUT ACROSS THE STREET
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Most mothers wheedle, coax or coerce their offspring into doing what’s right. If that doesn’t work, some resort to creative, even bizarre self-improvement strategies. My sister and I had less than perfect posture, a defect that drove my poor mother to distraction. After the usual inducements failed, she devised a solution that was pure genius.

An old Swedish lady lived across the street from my grandmother’s house. We never exchanged more than a hand wave, and it’s very likely that her command of English was limited. Still she appeared outside her home each day walking her white Spitz Queenie, and tirelessly sweeping her porch and steps. Winter or summer her garb never changed— always a dark babushka covering thick tufts of white hair and a short, thick woollen coat from which an apron protruded. And sunglasses—all year round she wore sunglasses.

We played on the patio, high above the street, under the watchful eye of my mother who always feared that a kidnapper would abscond with her precious girls. One day when I asked why our neighbor wore sunglasses, my mother swore us to secrecy and spilled the beans.

“Mrs. S. is working undercover,” said Mom. “She is a Hollywood talent scout for Photoplay magazine. That’s why you always have to stand straight and tall. Remember, she’s watching.”

At six years of age, the secret identity made sense to me. I never questioned why Hollywood would station an agent in Irvington, New Jersey instead of Schwabs Pharmacy on Sunset Boulevard. It had to be true. After all, she wore sunglasses and my mother told me so.

For the next year, my sister and I promenaded past the house across the street—walking soldier straight—as often as we could. Mrs. S. never signed us to a contract or even said a single word. Just that brief wave every time she walked with Queenie. We moved away and Mrs. S. went to her final reward. It may not have been Hollywood but I know it was heavenly. My mother told me so.