If it’s rolling around in my head, it’ll find its way here – from what I’m writing, reading and watching to what and who makes me laugh. Also look for news of upcoming projects, answers to readers' questions, even recipes from friends!
(Posted on Medium.com)
A Mother’s Day Card for Daughters Without Mothers
If, like me, you’re in your 60s (give or take a decade), it hasn’t escaped you that our mothers are dropping like flies — or are about to. We’re losing them at an alarming rate because they are on the front lines, the elders, the longest sufferers of dementia and heart disease and cancer, the ones whose bodies have given out, and it is their time to go.
As a result, we have become the motherless generation, and, although we appear normal to outsiders, showing up for work and tending to our families and friends and soldiering on with our lives, we are the walking wounded. We have been de-mothered, as in decapitated — a violent analogy, yes, but it’s as if we’ve had a piece of ourselves chopped off. Ask a woman whose mother has died; she’ll tell you how much she hurts.
If you fall into the de-mothered category, May 14th will be a complicated day for you. There will be no gifts for Mom this year, no flowers, no cards, no phone calls, no visits during which kisses, hugs and “I love you’s” figure prominently. We are all orphans now.
My mother died in November at 99. Our family was fully expecting her to make it to 100 in January. When you live that long, we reasoned, why not live forever? Besides, she was declining but stable, slowing down but hanging in. We were so confident that she’d be around for 100 that we were planning her annual birthday celebration at the Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle Hotel, where she needed little urging to get up and belt out “I Could Have Danced All Night” with the piano player. She no longer remembered how old she was or whether she’d been married or where she put her handbag, but she remembered every lyric to the song. Then, seemingly out of the blue, her health took a downward turn. She had always feared death, and she lingered for days in that nebulous zone, afraid to let go no matter how often we told her it was okay and at the same time calling out names of relatives who’d passed on, as if she could see them. She was our touchstone, the matriarch whose family meant everything to her, and she worried about us, worried we wouldn’t be able to manage without her. It was no surprise, according to the hospice nurse, that she finally slipped away in the wee hours of the morning when none of us was there to watch her go.
At first, I didn’t have time to grieve. I was arranging the funeral, planning the memorial luncheon, interviewing real estate agents to sell her house, hiring a stager to render the furnishings more contemporary and, after we found a buyer, to conduct a tag sale to liquidate the contents.
It was once every last trace of Mom was carted off that I allowed myself to feel the intense loss of her. I kept a few of her sweaters and didn’t dry clean them, so I could hang them in my closet and smell her scent. I kept one of her favorite coats, and whenever I wear it I imagine her cloaked in it alongside me. I have a shopping bag full of old pictures of her and I look at each photo and ask, “Who were you when that one was taken, Mom? What were you thinking? Were you happy?”
But it’s the scrapbook filled with clippings of the essays she wrote for The New York Times that make me feel her loss most keenly — essays about domestic life in the suburbs. One of her pieces was about a period in our relationship that pained her, a period during which I was less than a devoted daughter. I was busy with my career in book publishing, busy with a new marriage, busy with my friends. I either didn’t make time for her or was dismissive when I did, stingy with my affection, and she felt stung when I rebuffed each overture. Part of my big chill stemmed from my belief that we had little in common and that she couldn’t relate to my career, my interests or my romantic entanglements. The other part was pure rebellion; I had left the nest, and what I did and with whom was none of her business.
Her essays had happy endings, though, and this one was no exception. I had a crisis and she was there for me without hesitation, thrilled to be needed at last, thrilled that I had let her back into my life, thrilled that we were close again. I cry every time I read that essay. I wish she knew how sorry I am for having shut her out. I wish she knew that she shouldn’t have had to make do with my crumbs. I wish she could hear me say, “You were the best mother. I love you.”
As Mother’s Day approaches, I’m determined not to dread the occasion. I still have a mother to honor; she’s just not here physically. Where is she exactly? Beats me. I don’t pretend to know where people go when they die. Maybe she’s in that pretty cashmere outfit she wore to her funeral, floating among us kids, observing us, nudging us to be decent, caring human beings. Or maybe she’s in heaven cavorting with other dead people, leading a book group the way she used to on earth, playing a little bridge, a little golf, getting reacquainted with the two men she married and outlived. It heartens me to try to figure out what she’s up to or whether she’s simply enjoying a well-earned, eternal sleep.
Since she’s not around, this year’s Mother’s Day card is going out to all the other daughters without mothers — to you who are feeling a sense of abandonment you can’t always express, you who wake up in the middle of the night disoriented because the natural order of things has been irrevocably altered, you who regret those moments when you took her for granted or overreacted to a perceived slight or resented her for mothering too much or too little, you who no longer have a buffer, you who could use a boost. I get it, get what you’re going through, get what we’re all going through, and I’m here for you. This year I’m bypassing the cards that say, “Dear Mom, I’m thinking of you on your special day.” Instead, I’m sending you a custom card that says, “Dear Friend, I’m thinking of you on this especially tough day. I’m cheering you on as you step up to the front lines. We’re in this together.”
I haven’t written a Mainly Jane post for months, and I can’t blame the snow. But Northwest Connecticut sure did get a lot of the white stuff and after living in California for many years I wasn’t thrilled about it. But spring is here (except it’s supposed to snow again today – ugh) and I decided to jump back on the blog.
The real reason I haven’t written a new post is because my mother died in November and I’ve not only been grieving the loss of her but handling her affairs – from the sale of her house to the giant tag sale there a couple of weeks ago. She and I were very close and I miss her everyday. Here we are at my wedding almost 25 years ago.
She was a writer herself, having had her essays about domestic life published in the Westchester section of The New York Times. An avid reader too, she ran her book group for many years. But it was her steadfast championing of my writing career that meant the most to me. Whenever I had a new book published, she was first in line at her local bookstore buying copies for herself and all her friends. She also had a great sense of humor. If I got a bad review, she’d curl her lip and say, “I’ll break their kneecaps.” The threat always made me laugh because she was tiny and gracious and decidedly not prone to violence. But she had my back – always.
It’s no wonder that my latest novel, the second draft of which I’ve just finished, focuses on a mother and daughter. It’s about grief too, but I hope I’ve handled the subject with humor and heart. I’m waiting for my editor to weigh in on this latest draft and then we’ll see where it goes.
In other news, one of my older novels, Name Dropping, about two women with the same name whose identities get mixed up, is being shopped in Hollywood again.
When it was first published, it was optioned for a feature film by Miramax and the screenwriters of “Legally Blonde” were hired to write the script. But as with so many book options, this one never went anywhere. Now, two new producers are hoping for a TV movie adaptation. Fingers crossed.
More to come now that I’ve emerged from hibernation!
There’s still time to take advantage of a great deal. All 11 of my Diversion backlist novels, plus my new book, Three Blonde Mice, are on sale in their ebook editions until tomorrow, 9/13. Marked down from their usual $4.99 price, the novels are $2.99 for just another 24 hours. Not that I’m impartial, but I’d jump on this, people, if you haven’t already.
James Arena, the talented pastry chef at Litchfield County’s Arethusa al tavolo, the scene of my book signing on Saturday, August 6th, not only created a Dark Chocolate Marquise dessert especially for Three Blonde Mice (yes, the recipe is in the book), but he assembled a beautiful display of the dessert for everyone to drool over. It’s a “farm to table” dessert in that its ingredients include both chocolate and beets, and there were also strawberries and pistachios on the plate on Saturday. It was truly to die for.
Here are some guests sampling their desserts. (Notice the pic of the cow on the wall – Arethusa’s dairy products come from their magnificent cows, after all.)
For another look at the dessert, along with the book and Arethusa Farm napkins, behold.
As for the signing itself, it was a thrill, even after 16 books, to see copies of Three Blonde Mice lined up on the signing table ready for me to personalize for guests. Thanks to Fran Keilty, owner of Hickory Stick Bookshop, for providing the books and being part of the fun.
And guests we had – lots of them – even though the iffy weather forecast had forced us to abandon the restaurant’s lovely outdoor patio for their private room upstairs. I was so excited to see friends I hadn’t seen in awhile, and to meet and chat with those who were there simply to buy a book. I hope everyone who came gets a kick out of the story – a little light reading for late summer/early fall. To those who couldn’t make it up to CT for the book launch, you were there in spirit!
With some people already receiving their pre-ordered copies of my new novel, Three Blonde Mice, I’m counting down to the book’s actual publication day, August 2nd, and getting excited! And on August 6th at 2:30 ET, my book launch party will be underway at Arethusa al tavolo, one of the best farm-to-table restaurants not only in Litchfield County, Connecticut but in the entire state. I hope anyone in the CT area will stop by for an afternoon of book chat and samples of the dessert that was created by Arethusa pastry chef James Arena exclusively for the novel and figures into the story. The recipe is in the Author’s Note at the end of the book, but it’ll be pretty cool to be one of the first to taste it. Here’s the official invite:
SAVE THE DATE!
Join New York Times bestselling author Jane Heller on Saturday, August 6th at 2:30 p.m. to celebrate the publication of her new novel, Three Blonde Mice, and sample a very special dessert!
Set at a fictional farm resort in Litchfield, Connecticut, Three Blonde Mice is a comedy featuring three best friends who take a “haycation” together, learning how to milk a cow, make cheese, forage for wild edibles and take cooking classes with a famous farm-to-table chef….only to discover that one of their classmates is out to murder the chef.
A big part of Jane’s research was spending time at Litchfield County’s own Arethusa, both the dairy farm and the restaurant. Figuring into the plot is a chocolate-and-beets dessert created especially for the book by Arethusa al tavolo’s pastry chef, James Arena (recipe included!).
Dan Magill, Arethusa al tavolo’s executive chef and James Beard semi-finalist, and pastry chef James Arena will be on hand to offer samples of the dessert and answer any questions, and the Hickory Stick Bookshop will provide copies of the book for purchase and for Jane to sign.
When: Saturday, August 6th, 2:30 p.m.
Where: Arethusa al tavolo, 828 Bantam Road, Bantam, CT 06750 www.arethusaaltavolo.com
What: Book signing for Jane Heller, author of Three Blonde Mice (Diversion Books/August/$13.99) www.janeheller.com
How: Hickory Stick Bookshop www.hickorystickbookshop.com
Media Contact: Deborah Broide, Deborah Broide Publicity, DeborahPub@aol.com
And now there’s more from Arethusa al tavolo. The restaurant has agreed to make Chef Arena’s “Three Blonde Mice” dessert an off-the-menu “special” during the month of August. In other words, you can order it and indulge in its deliciousness any night of the week during August! I’ve heard of entrees being named after celebrities (I think Nora Ephron had a meat loaf named after her and I know there are tons of famous names attached to various deli sandwiches), but I believe this the first time a dessert will be named after a book. So come and enjoy!
We finally finished the video book trailer for Three Blonde Mice, and it’s a lot of fun. (Be sure to stick around for the credits! They’re the best part of the video!)
Matt Senecal, the farm guru at Arethusa Farm Dairy in Litchfield, CT, was a great sport. He not only let me milk a cow named Viona but he played straight man and answered all my crazy questions. The idea was to take readers back to the research I did for the book last summer about “haycations” and what goes on at farms, so I hope everyone will take their own haycation this summer or fall. You can spend a week on a farm, as my characters did, or you can go for the day or stay overnight. You’ll learn about the food you eat – I mean really learn about what people mean when they say “locally sourced” – and you’ll get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. What could be better?
If you do plan to spend any time on a farm, please take a pic and upload it to my Facebook or Twitter page using the hashtags #ThreeBlondeMice and #DairyPrincess.
I got a nice blurb for Three Blonde Mice over the weekend from one of my favorite authors, Eileen Goudge. Years ago – and it probably feels like another lifetime ago to her – she was world famous for writing the phenomenally successful Sweet Valley High series for teenagers. Then she moved into adult fiction with another phenomenon: Garden of Lies, which I read and adored. It was the story of two babies switched at birth, and it remained on the New York Times bestseller list for weeks. Now Eileen writes the Cypress Bay mystery series, and her latest in the series is Swimsuit Body.
Eileen read Three Blonde Mice and sent me the following words of praise:
“A real treat, deliciously spiced both in the culinary and cozy mystery sense. Loved the setting with its farm-to-table ambience and the sharp, at times biting humor laced throughout. I gobbled up THREE BLONDE MICE. Highly recommended.”
Color me flattered.
Speaking of Three Blonde Mice, just a reminder that anyone who posts a pic on my Facebook or Twitter page of their pre-order confirmation for the book gets a free apron.
Don’t miss out, people! These aprons are adorable!
On Wednesday I spent the afternoon at Arethusa Farm in Litchfield, CT. It was a glorious sunny day and as Michael (husband) snapped pics like the one above of me “chatting” with a dairy cow named Velour about Three Blonde Mice, Garrett, our videographer from Digital Video Productions in Brookfield, shot lots of video that will somehow be edited down to a three-minute trailer for the book. Such fun!
Matt Senecal, Arethusa’s farm director, was a delight to work with. He answered all my crazy questions about cows, instructed me in the finer points of milking a cow, showed me how to brush a cow’s tail (and tease it up so it looks fluffy and camera ready) and let us have the run of the place, including their prized John Deere.
The cow that I milked, Viona, was a white Holstein – a blonde just like my three heroines in the book – and other than a few kicks, she was very cooperative during the milking. She even read the book.
Actually, she licked the book. We had to move it away from her because we were afraid she’d try to eat it.
The purpose of all this was to recreate some of the research I did last summer for Three Blonde Mice, in which three best friends, Elaine, Jackie and Pat, take a “haycation” together – i.e. they spend a week on a farm. They learn to milk a cow, make cheese from the milk, forage for wild edibles and take cooking classes with a famous farm-to-table chef ….only to find that one of their classmates intends to kill the chef before the week is out.
Complicating matters is that Elaine’s boyfriend Simon shows up – just as she’s getting cozy with a hot guest named Jonathan.
I wanted to share my haycation experience in the video, and I’d love it if you’d share yours. If you plan to milk a cow this summer, pick your own fruits and veggies, make cheese, forage for wild edibles, collect eggs from chickens, please upload your photos to my Facebook and Twitter pages using the hashtags #ThreeBlondeMice and #DairyPrincess. Why #DairyPrincess? Because that’s what Michael calls me these days. He used to call me a princess, but now I’m the Dairy Princess. What can I tell you? If the crown fits…..
Diversion Books, which is publishing my new novel, Three Blonde Mice, in August and reissued five of my previous novels last month with covers that are colorful and fun and have a freshness to them, reissued six more of my books yesterday. I really like that there’s an overall “look” to the novels now. Take a peek!
Thanks to Diversion’s art department for tackling such a big job. Coming up with all these covers must have required a lot of time and creativity. Big hat tip to them.
As the August 2nd pub date approaches for my new novel, it’s very exciting to have early praise from my fellow authors. I don’t consider myself a mystery writer in the true sense of the term, but I do have a whodunit in Three Blonde Mice as well as in some of my other novels. For that reason, it’s a huge honor to hear from bona fide mystery writers like Elaine Viets (see the previous post) and now Melodie Johnson Howe. Melodie’s books are set in Hollywood, a territory she knows well, having been an actress like her feisty heroine, Diana Poole. I especially enjoyed her last mystery, City of Mirrors, in which Diana discovers the dead body of a certain leading lady and finds herself thrust into the murder investigation. Here’s what Melodie had to say about Three Blonde Mice:
I love Jane Heller’s quirky off-kilter novels! In Three Blonde Mice, Heller and her keen-eyed wit cook up a wonderful satire on chic cooking classes, farm-to-table food groupies and chefs with the egos of rock stars. She dissects love – and conjures up a murder plot – with the sharpness of a paring knife. I enjoyed every delicious moment.
Call me thrilled!
As the August pub date approaches for my new novel, we’re beginning to get words of praise from other authors – to me, the ultimate compliment. Not that I don’t love a good review, but hearing from one’s peers, writers who’ve been through the wars with their blank pages and know how tough a job this whole fiction writing business is, is very special.
The first blurb was from Jenna McCarthy, one of the wittiest writers around. She’s the author of two hilarious nonfiction books, two children’s series and two adult novels, the most recent of which is Everything’s Relative. Here’s what she said about Three Blonde Mice:
Jane Heller is the literary master. She has an inimitable knack for crafting perfectly imperfect characters and dropping them into outrageous yet utterly believable situations where hilarity inevitably ensues. Heller’s timing is flawless, her turns-of-phrase are peerless, and her endings never fail to satisfy. Three Blonde Mice is like the Dark Chocolate Marquise featured in the book (recipe included!): decadent, sexy, and over far too soon.
The second blurb came from the equally multi-talented Ciji Ware. The New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of both fiction and nonfiction, not to mention an Emmy award-winning TV journalist before she became a writer, Ciji’s latest novel is That Winter in Venice, which follows her successful travel novels such as That Autumn in Edinburgh and That Summer in Cornwall. Here were Ciji’s words of praise for Three Blonde Mice:
A hilarious culinary comedy dripping with both romance and suspense that deliciously sends up the farm-to-table foodie phenom. Prepare to laugh out loud –sustainably.
The third blurb just landed in my inbox and I was thrilled. It was from Elaine Viets, one of my favorite authors. Her Dead-End Job mystery series set in South Florida (the latest in the series is The Art of Murder), as well as her Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper series set in St. Louis are so much fun. I’m honored that she took the time to read my book and weigh in:
I loved Three Blonde Mice, a hilarious send-up of foodies and the farm-to-table movement. Three Blonde Mice is a delicious read — and there are no calories.
More to come!
Yup, we have a cover for my new novel, which Diversion Books will publish in August. Why the heart of carrots? Because my “three blonde mice” heroines, Elaine, Jackie and Pat, have taken a farm-to-table vacation together in this sequel to Princess Charming, the book that sent them on a seven-day Caribbean cruise. This time they’re at a farm resort in Litchfield, CT – agritourists on a “haycation.” They not only milk a cow and make cheese from the milk, but they spend the week taking cooking classes with a famous farm-to-table chef. Here’s Diversion’s descriptive copy:
Elaine Zimmerman and her best friends Jackie Gault and Pat Kovecky venture to a farm in Litchfield, Connecticut. It’s been over a year since their last trip together, a Caribbean cruise aboard the Princess Charming, and after dealing with a murderous ex and his hit man, they’re yearning for a no-drama vacation this time. During their Cultivate Our Bounty Week, they and eight other guests will learn how to cook farm-to-table meals with Whitley’s artisan-inresidence, a renowned TV/restaurant chef named Jason Hill. Elaine, the jaded, neurotic narrator, is less than thrilled—especially because the program wasn’t supposed to include a surprise appearance by her former boyfriend Simon, who’s still the love of her life but can’t commit to her. What’s more, after milking a cow and making cheese, she stumbles on evidence that one of her fellow agritourists is out to murder Chef Hill at the resort’s Bounty Fest finale. Is the killer among the freakishly fit Manhattan couple who takes their devotion to organic, hormone-free, non-GMO food to the point of obsession? The grandmother from Wisconsin who’s a groupie of the celebrity chef and follows him to every event? The mother and son from Palm Beach who bicker over whether he should give up his law practice to open his own restaurant? Three Blonde Mice serves up a crackling romance between Elaine and Simon, a twisty whodunit involving a screwball cast of suspects and a satire of current food fads and the farm-to-table chefs who perpetuate them.
Needless to say, I’m very excited that the book is in the promotional pipeline. Now that I’m back in CT, I’ll be doing local publicity as well as national. I’ll post much more in the coming months, but I’m happy to say that Three Blonde Mice is now available for pre-order on Amazon!
Meanwhile, Diversion has just reissued five of my backlist novels, including Princess Charming, with pretty new covers that tie in nicely with the Three Blonde Mice cover. Check them out!
That’s Brie Larson during her moving acceptance speech for Best Actress for “Room” at yesterday’s Film Independent Spirit Awards. I was sitting close enough to snap the pic. After years of couch-potato-watching the show, which takes place the day before the Oscars in a huge tent on the beach in Santa Monica, I was invited by my super cool pals at Bank of America, one of the event’s biggest sponsors, to attend, and our table was front and center.
Michael and I arrived at the pier where hundreds of film industry folks were gathered, and we were mobbed by people wanting our autograph (just kidding). A guy did ask me if I was a singer; he said I looked like a rock star. I’m guessing he was drunk.
Nobody on the red carpet shouted, “Jane, who are you wearing?” But if they had, I would have said, “My friend Laurie Burrows Grad let me borrow stuff from her closet.” She lent me the sequined black jacket, white buttoned down shirt and black tie. The black jeans were mine, courtesy of The Gap.
Shortly after arriving, I made my way into the Effen Vodka tent (another sponsor) and emerged with one of these pink drinks.
It had pink grapefruit juice and ginger in it and I forget what else. Suffice it to say, it was tasty. Michael, my designated driver, abstained.
Eventually, we made our way into the main tent and found our table. We were seated with our BOA/Merrill Lynch buddies, Kim Merritt and Brandon Burriss, along with some of their other clients, an actor, a producer, etc. All very congenial and fun to be with. Lunch wasn’t the event’s strong suit – chicken that had been sitting there in the heat for who knows how long is just not appealing – but the entertainment and awards made up for it. The show’s hosts were “SNL’s” Kate McKinnon and Kumail Nanjiani from HBO’s “Silicon Valley.” Their parodies of nominated films, like this one of “Carol,” set the tone.
But it was the presentation of the awards that were my favorite part. I loved that both Idris Elba and “the kid” (I never get his name right) from “Beasts of No Nation” were winners.
“Spotlight” swept the big categories (picture, director, original script, ensemble cast) and I was thrilled about that. I also loved that the producers brought the Boston Globe journalists on whom the characters were based, along with the child abuse victim who blew the whistle on the priests. As for “Room,” not only did Brie Larson snag her award, but Irish writer Emma Donaghue won a Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay and it was so well deserved. I’m amazed how she was able to adapt her bestselling book as a “newbie” (her term).
By the way, “Carol’s” two leading ladies may have gone home without a statuette, but I adored Cate Blanchett’s dress, which was sort of a flowing body tattoo. Rooney Mara’s “style” confounds me.
When all the awards had been given out, it was time to get up and drive back to Santa Barbara. After sitting for hours, Michael and I were not looking forward to sitting for even more hours in traffic, but we pretended to be happy about it.
Tonight’s the Oscars, and I’ll be back to watching in my baggy yoga pants and a T-shirt, eating takeout pizza with friends and making snide remarks at the TV. I hope I stay awake.
As my two-month stay in Santa Barbara winds down, I’m making the most of my time here, juggling work with play and some politics too. Yesterday morning, I was emailing the art director at Diversion Books about the exciting cover concept they sent me for my August novel, Three Blonde Mice, and by late afternoon I was down in LA for a fundraiser event in support of Hillary Clinton.
The event was at a private house in the canyon with a great view of the city.
About 350 of us gathered on the lawn and waited – seemingly forever – for HRC to arrive. I occupied myself by people watching (yes, there were a few celebrities among the movers and shakers) and checking out the secret service guys who were hiding in the bushes by the tennis court. Finally, Hillary made her way outside and spoke from a small platform.
Despite a lingering cold and occasional cough, she spoke passionately about the challenges facing our country.
No matter which candidate you support, it’s great to be a part of a campaign to elect a president. It just is.
After the event, Michael and I joined our friends for a swell dinner at our favorite burger joint, Umami Burger, where I had my beloved BLTA (bacon, lettuce, turkey and avocado) burger. Yum. Wish we had a Umami in Connecticut.
Back to the business of writing, now that my revisions are done on Three Blonde Mice and the cover design is in progress, Diversion is readying my backlist novels for reissue with new covers. Some will come out next month, with the rest releasing in April. Exciting! Meanwhile, I’ve started to work on a new novel and am trying to come up with the perfect Chapter 1. The beginnings of novels are the hardest for me (well, the middle parts aren’t easy either), as I want to get just the right voice for the main character before moving forward.
More to come!
I know. I haven’t written a blog post here in months. Over the holidays I was busy doing revisions on the Three Blonde Mice manuscript and am now waiting for my editor at Diversion to weigh in. The novel is still scheduled for publication in August and I’m so stoked! Lots more to come about that, but in the meantime Diversion is re-releasing eleven of my older novels in both ebook and print editions in March and April. The books will have new covers, a marketing plan and, with any luck, new readers. Exciting!
In mid-January, Michael and I flew back to what feels like our second home in Santa Barbara for a two-month winter break. So far, it’s been a blast. We’ve been seeing old friends, frequenting old haunts and enjoying quiet time at the condo we rented at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club. Sounds very swanky, doesn’t it? Actually, it’s quite laid back since it’s not polo season. We look out onto the green fields with a peak of the ocean and are enjoying the (mostly) warm weather and sunshine.
In addition to writing the next novel in the “Three Blonde Mice” series and tinkering with another novel with entirely different characters, as well as pursuing television and movie projects in LA, I’ve been doing a ton of reading. Novels on my Kindle recently are The Past by Tessa Hadley, Everybody Rise by Stephanie Clifford, My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout, Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff, The Clasp by Sloane Crosley, After You by Jojo Moyes and The Stager by Susan Coll. I just started Maureen Sherry’s zeitgeist-y novel Opening Belle, which is being billed as Bridget Jones goes to Goldman Sachs but isn’t nearly as funny. I’ll stick with it and see if it gets any more interesting.
By far, the best thing I’ve done since I came back to Santa Barbara was pick up a tennis racket after nearly 20 years. I adored tennis. As a kid we lived next door to public courts and I used to spend hours there banging the ball against the backboard. I played on my college varsity team, belonged to tennis clubs and basically was obsessed with the sport. Then I tore both rotator cuffs, endured torturous months of rehab and figured I’d never play again. But there I was taking a walk my second week here and found myself hanging around the tennis club. I was so envious of the people playing that I walked inside and said, “I haven’t played in years and I don’t know if my arms will fall off if I even try, but is there a pro who would give me a lesson?” The next day I was on the court with Lance Kronberg, who has coached at the college level and is one of the nicest, most patient people around. He forced me to start slowly, talked me out of thinking I should be able to get out there and hit the ball perfectly every time, reminded me that not only had my body changed but I was bound to be rusty.
Rusty? It was like starting from scratch! I whiffed my first few balls – couldn’t even make contact – and I felt like such a spazz. But I kept at it, silenced my inner critic and just reveled in the sheer joy of reconnecting with the game I’d loved for so long.
I’m no Chris Evert, but you have to start somewhere, right? I had another lesson yesterday and I was much better. I actually moved my feet and ran back and forth. Was I winded? You bet, but my arms didn’t fall off and that’s a blessing.
I’ve also been watching the award shows (boring) leading up to the Oscars at the end of February. And I was invited to attend the Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica the day before the Oscars. Looking forward to that.
And what great TV there’s been! Between all the political debates, which I can’t seem to get enough of, there was a terrific American Masters documentary about director Mike Nichols on PBS. There’s the new Showtime series “Billions,” which is soapy fun. And the OJ miniseries on FX started last night and I couldn’t resist. Of course, I’m counting down to my big TV love, “House of Cards,” in March.
That’s it for now. More news about Three Blonde Mice as soon as I have some.
Leo gets mauled by a bear. That’s the part I dreaded before going to see “The Revenant” tonight. Surprise! The bear incident turned out to be the least of my problems with the movie. Worse was that it was boring, long, emotionally vacant and in love with its own artistry.
Speaking of which, I loved director Alejandro Inarritu’s previous films (“Babel,” “Biutiful,” “Birdman,” for ex), and I loved his films precisely because they were bold and art-house and unique. But “The Revenant” reminded me of last year’s Robert Redford’s “All Is Lost” about trying to survive on a sailboat all alone in the middle of the ocean. As I watched that one, I kept muttering, “Die already.” Same with Leo in “The Revenant.”
Backing up, the movie takes us to the American frontier in the 1800s. The French are fighting the Indians who are fighting the Americans – all of whom are hunting for pelts, as in fur from dead animals. Think: Davy Crockett only X-rated for blood and guts. Leo, whose Indian wife has gone to the big frontier in the sky, brings his half-Indian son along on this particular hunt. Unfortunately for both, Leo gets mauled by the aforementioned bear, the son is killed and Leo is left for dead by an unscrupulous fellow hunter played by Tom Hardy. The rest of the two-and-a-half-hour movie is how Leo drags his totally messed up body around in the snow and rain, down rapids, in and out of trees as he tries to survive in order to exact vengeance on Tom Hardy. He eats raw meat, climbs into the carcass of a dead horse to keep warm (an especially vomit-inducing scene) and generally grunts and breathes loudly throughout – only to have the requisite battle scene with his nemesis in the end….and die.
The cinematography is spectacular; there were scenes of the vast landscape that made me gasp they were so beautiful. But what attracted Inarritu to this story, which was inspired by a true one, beats me. Why put your actors and your audience through such gruesomeness? At least when you go to see a Quentin Tarrantino movie, the gory parts are supposed to be funny. Which is another way of saying I wish I’d gone to see “The Hateful Eight” instead.