Thursday, July 26, 2012

Junk in the trunk?

I'm the featured blogger over at the Girlfriends Book Club Blog today, talking about my, uh, physical shortcomings ... and more. I hope you'll check it out"

No Junk in the Trunk

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Nod From The Paris Review

Yesterday my Dorothy Parker Facebook page FAQs got a shout-out from the Paris Review. They called it the ne plus ultra of dead author Facebook page FAQs.

If you didn't see it, here's what you missed:

Q: Are you really Dorothy Parker?
A: No. Dorothy Parker died in 1967.

Q: Don't you think it's kind of weird for a dead writer to have a Facebook page?
A: Not really. There are lots of dead authors haunting Zuckerberg Manor.

Q: Why do you repeat quotes so often? It pisses me off.
A: Yeah, I get a lot of that. But it's a little difficult to get new quotes from a writer who's been dead for decades. I'm careful, though, not to repeat anything more than once a month.

Q: On the other hand, I don't think I'm getting all your status updates in my news feed. Is that something you're doing on purpose?
A: No. It's some kind of fascist algorithm recently introduced by Facebook to try to squeeze ad dollars out of long-suffering page administrators.

Q: How do you know Dorothy Parker actually said the things you attribute to her?
A: I've been researching her extensively for years for a book I'm writing.

Q: What if I think you mistakenly attributed someone else's quote to Dorothy Parker?
A: You're probably wrong, so check your sources. But if you can prove I made a mistake, by all means call me out on it. I'll hold out my hand for a sharp slap.

Q: What if I can't prove it but really enjoying feeling like I'm smarter than you?
A: I hear that Oscar Wilde is looking for new followers.

Speaking of the Paris Review, here's a link to the interview they did with Dorothy Parker in 1956. Still one of the best writer interviews ever.


Farewell, Dorothy Parker is moving right along. I got the book jacket design the other day and it's a knockout. Can't wait to share it with you! Hope to have the official pub date very soon.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Is this filmic?

 The Wishing Cake is a romantic comedy about a divorcee who isn't expecting sweetness to walk into her life. But when an enchanting elderly couple enters the bakery where she works and gives her some blue powder they calling "wishing dust," everything changes. And I mean everything. Does that sound like a good premise for a movie? Here's an excerpt that explains more:

Rhea took a jagged breath and stared at the ceiling. If she were a man, none of this would have happened. She wouldn't have lost her job. She wouldn't have been attacked. She wouldn't be scared and alone in the dark.

She held up her hand to catch a ray of light beaming through her blinds from the street lamp. She realized, then, that she had fallen into bed without even washing up, as there was still a bit of the old couple's sweet blue dust on her finger.

Rhea rolled onto her side to try to fall asleep. As drowsiness descended, thick and inevitable, she couldn't rid herself of the single bitter reflection that did nothing to help her situation: I wish I were a man.

Then, as consciousness dissolved, her stomach rumbled in hunger and she instinctively sought the sugary residue that hadn't made its way to the cake.

At last Rhea drifted into deep sleep, her blue-tipped finger falling slowly from her lips as she repeated her wish.
To read the rest, click here and download The Wishing Cake. If you don't have a Kindle, you can click here to download a free app for any device.

Thanks! I hope you enjoy it, and would love to know what you think.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

"Not Enough Herring"

An American Story

In honor of America's birthday, I'd like to share this story my father wrote about our family's journey to the land of freedom ...

In the Beginning There Was a Shortage of Herring
by Gerard Meister

There were no vintage years for Jews in Russia, but for Papa 1907 loomed ominously. Born in 1889, he was entering his eighteenth year and soon the Czar's military police would be knocking on the front door of the Maistrowavoy home in Kiev with a draft notice for that life-numbing, ten year conscription term in the Imperial Army plus fifteen years in the reserves. His older brother, Mischa, had been dragged away by such conscription gang in 1905 for the Russo-Japanese War and, although reportedly released from a Japanese prisoner of war camp, was still missing.
      Papa did not know which way to turn or where to run until he got a letter from Tanta Rochel, his mother's sister in Philadelphia, promising him a steamship ticket to America if he ever made it out of Russia. The fearlessness of youth crystallized his thinking in a heartbeat. Though it was already late March, the tenacious Russian winter had not yet loosened its grip on the land. But Papa knew that if he were to have any chance of foiling the Czar's plans for him, he would have to escape before spring whispered its presence to the hibernating Cossacks, awakening the resumption of their scythe like patrols.
      His decision to leave was easy compared to what came next. Papa's farewell to his family was the stuff poets dream of capturing but seldom do. His mother, Rachel, wept as she wrung her hands all the while nodding her head in recognition of the certainty that she would never again see her youngest boy. His father, Shepsyl, and grandfather, Yankel (my namesake) stood by awkwardly, in stoic silence. Men, even Jewish men, had not yet learned how to cry.
      By early afternoon, the sky darkened. Night came early in the Ukraine and Papa edged toward the door. The kerosene lanterns were dimmed to mask his silhouette into the shadows, while five brothers and sisters checked and rechecked the muffled, knapsacked figure. He was ready to go. The finality of the moment fell across the room like a heavy blanket, choking the goodbyes to hoarse whispers. All eyes were on the floor when Papa released the door latch and, without looking back, slipped into the night. An odyssey of six thousand miles and destined to last a life spanning sixty-six more years, began with its first furtive step.
      Often under cover of darkness and traveling mostly by back roads, Papa was guided by the thread of kinship and tradition connecting the shtetls with one another and without which he would have been alone in the oblivion that was gentile Russia. With stealth and determination he managed to elude all the patrols until he was deep in the Pale of Settlement, where there were many more Jews and fewer police. Papa's best guess was that somewhere around Korosten he was able to chance a train now and then, along with hitching an occasional ride with a Jewish wagon master.
      Some forty years later, I asked him how he managed to survive. What did he eat? Where had he slept during those cold spring nights? Papa explained that the network of shtetls resembled the Underground Railroad of America's slave-holding days. Though Jews were not slaves in Russia, neither were they really free. He never recalled spending a kopek on food or lodging in a Jewish settlement. The thirty or so rubles sewn into his underwear went for cabbage soup and bread when he was in the big cities and for the train fare to reach them.
      By early August, some five months after he slipped into the night in Kiev, he stood in an immigrant shelter office in Hamburg, Germany. The next series of events came in a rush: his Tanta was notified, the money cabled, passage out of Hamburg was booked and before the month ran out Papa set sail for America.
      Papa, who had never heard a word of English and was familiar only with the Hebrew and Cyrillic alphabets, landed in Ellis Island. Then nine or ten days later Papa was in the City of Brotherly Love with fifty cents left in his pocket and a tag pinned to his jacket: "Spector Family, S. Sheridan St., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. A." Years later when I asked him what was his first impression of the New World, what stuck in his mind? He said: "Hats. Every man on the dock—a thousand, maybe more—wearing the same straw summer hat." How they all could have found the same hat maker, he had wondered.
      We never quite figured out where he was sent from Ellis Island, but guessed he might have been shipped by ferry to Weehawken, New Jersey and then by train to Broad Street in Philadelphia. What we do know is that he somehow found himself on a station platform in the City of Brotherly Love, where a kindly conductor, seeing his tag and apparent bewilderment, walked him off the train, out of the terminal and pointed the way. After a short walk of less than two hours, Papa started to hear Yiddish being spoken all around him. Before long he was being hugged and kissed by his Aunt Rochel and Uncle Chaim and their brood of children
Finally, nearly six months after he left his parents, he sat down to his first home cooked meal: black bread, herring and potatoes. Papa wolfed down his helping and asked for another piece of herring, to which his uncle shamefacedly replied, "We haven't any more. There's not enough to go around."    
      Papa was astonished, "Not enough herring? This is the Golden Land? Why in Russia even the lowliest peasants have enough herring!" Uncle said that Philadelphia was not really the Golden Land. He and his family were barely surviving. New York was the Golden Land. New York had everything. The next morning, Tanta and Uncle blessed him with fifty cents more and a loaf of black bread before saying goodbye. Papa was on the road again.
Papa drew the luck of fine weather for the long walk from Philadelphia to New York. Sunny days perfect for hiking, balmy nights bedded down in sweet smelling hay fields. Papa always joked that he gained weight by the time he got to New York, well, West New York, New Jersey; where, after ninety miles and a week on foot, Papa still had to cross the Hudson River. Because there were no bridges or tunnels in 1907, he had to break into the second and last of his fifty-cent pieces to book ferry passage at two cents a ticket, which got him a second look at the Statue of Liberty and a second chance to grab that magic ring called New York.
       "That you made it back to New York safely with no problems," I said to him forty years later, "boggles the mind. No English, no money, not even a canteen of water." Papa explained that it wasn't hard at all. He practiced how to say NEW YORK before he left Philadelphia, and knew what the word looked like from his two days in Ellis Island. "And never forget," he said, "that I was not in hiding. Everyone in America seemed to be waving and smiling all the time. In Russia the peasants had nothing to smile about and the Jews were afraid to look up. Here I was not afraid to wave and smile back. it made a world of difference." Apparently so.
      Landing on the West Side of Manhattan (probably Christopher Street), he started walking away from the docks, heading east, hoping to hear some Yiddish. He hadn't walked for more than ten minutes when he turned the corner of West Broadway and his heart skipped a beat. Half seated on a Johnny pump was a gentle giant of a man he recognized from Kiev named Lazar Sodolsky. Lazar jumped up to greet Papa, nearly suffocating him with a bear hug. Papa no longer felt alone, which did a lot to lighten his heavy heart. Lazar told Papa that having been in New York for over a week, he was not a complete greenhorn anymore. He was still looking for work, which was why he was hanging around West Broadway, a street with many small Jewish factories (called "shops") where everyone spoke Yiddish.                                                                                     
      Suddenly, not six feet away from them in a hallway leading to one of those shops, two men started arguing loudly and in Yiddish about a problem with a delivery that had to be made. One man said it was too hot, the horse would never make it all the way to Brooklyn. The ramp on that new bridge (the Williamsburg) was too steep; a team of horses might make it, one horse, never.
The other man, clearly the boss, was red in the face. "I'm not shipping golden tombstones" (a Yiddish idiom), he said, "I'm shipping paper boxes, du yold du (you fool you)." Then, quietly but firmly, with an extra beat in between each word, he said, "Listen, I'm not going to lose this account because of you. Understand?"
The measured cadence of the boss's ultimatum had a telling effect on the teamster. His case was lost and he knew it. He broke off eye contact, turned both palms upwards and tried, "Well, maybe, we could tie the load on our big pushcart, and you, me and a helper would be able to push it to Brooklyn." Thus said, time seemed to stop, neither man knew what to do next.
      Papa did. He jumped into the doorway and in his most formal, educated Yiddish declared, "Worthy gentlemen, it is not fitting for people of your stature to carry on so, particularly when my friend and I are experienced teamsters from the Motherland." (In Russia, Papa had been a full time student.)
This quick-witted outburst bought Papa a split second of stunned attention from the adversaries, who stared quizzically at his 110-pound frame. Then Papa dramatically moved aside so the boss and his teamster would get the full impact of the enormous Lazar standing in the doorway blotting out the sun. (I finally met Lazar in 1944. As prepared as I was, I was awestruck by his massive frame. He reminded me of a circus Clydesdale up on its hind legs.)
My dad & his parents
      In two minutes Papa closed the deal: six bucks if they got the load safely to Brooklyn and the pushcart back to the shop. The cart was duly trotted out, the boxes loaded and tied down. Papa and Lazar, who were so excited they could hardly bear to stand still, spit on their hands and were off. Papa remembers the delivery being almost too easy—Lazar didn't even break a sweat.
      So when they returned earlier than expected, the boss said, "You boys are just who I need in my shop. I'd like you to come to work for three dollars a week plus extra pay for any deliveries." Now Papa understood why the streets of New York were paved with gold. (Had he been able to remain in Russia by bribing his way out of the draft, he would have been apprenticed to a tailor, which meant working two or three years without any salary, only room and board. And no apprentice in Russia was ever accused of gaining weight.) Naturally, they both came to work the next morning. Papa stayed a few nights with Lazar sleeping on the floor until he got a room of his own.
As fate would have it Mama, who preceded Papa to America by a few weeks, had also begun to work in that same paper box shop a couple of days earlier. Keeping their date with destiny, they met, fell in love, and were soon married, beginning their wedded voyage of fifty-three years. And sometimes they didn't have enough herring to go around either.

Monday, July 02, 2012

The Wishing Cake

Chapter One

Hello friends. Thanks for clicking in. I'm posting the opening to my new novelette, The Wishing Cake, as I hope it will entice to you to download the rest of it. I'm really proud of this story, and am thrilled that it's getting such a great response from readers. (All 5-star reviews so far!) Here's chapter one ...

The Wishing Cake

© Ellen Meister 2012

The first thing Rhea noticed about the old couple was their posture. They stood erect, straight-backed, as if they had gone to sleep as young people and woken up old. The years simply hadn't worn down their bones.
          But the truly strange thing, Rhea realized, was that they had managed to enter the bakery silently. She glanced at the door, which was rigged with a bell to let staff know every time it was opened. Either it was broken or arranging butter cookies was taking up way too much of her cerebral cortex.

She wiped her hands on her apron. “Can I help you?”
It was almost closing time at Bremmer's Bakery, and the only other employee in the store was Kyle, who was in the back cleaning up. Or at least that's what he said. Rhea suspected he was looking through her idea book for cake designs he could steal and take credit for. 
“We'd like a custom anniversary cake,” said the old man, taking his wife's hand. He had an accent. German, maybe, but the kind that was soft around the edges. “We'd like to pick it up tomorrow.”
Tomorrow, Rhea thought. Of course. One day someone would place an order with more than 24-hours’ notice and her heart would explode in her chest.
She forced a smile, as her boss had been on her case about being friendlier to the customers. But then, he was on her case about everything. Kyle, on the other hand, could do no wrong.
“Happy anniversary,” she said, taking out the order pad. “How many years is it?”
“Seventy-five,” said the woman.
“Seventy-five?” Rhea stared at their faces. Now that she looked closely, she could see the years. They had that papery European skin, so pretty in youth but too delicate for time, which etched its passing in crosshatches. Still, they didn't move like people who were close to 100 years old. There was a complicated grace about them that waltzed circles around their aged faces.
“And still in love,” said the man.
Rhea didn't believe love could possibly last that long. Hell, she didn't believe it lasted longer than a few months, when the newness of lust settled into a comfortable routine. At that exact moment, love became mulch, and in its place grew the desperate fear of being alone.
But this couple seemed different. Was she losing her mind, or was there something authentic about their connection? She rubbed a spot on her neck with her thumb—a nervous habit she had developed in childhood, when there was a small red growth there. It had gone away before she reached puberty, but she still felt for it when it seemed like something was going to be taken away. Rhea was not about to release her cynicism without a fight.
“Did you have anything in particular in mind?” she asked.
“We'd like you to surprise us,” said the woman.
Rhea pulled out a thick binder that held photographs of custom cakes inside clear plastic pages. “Why don't you take a look and see if there's anything here you like?”
“No thank you,” said the man.
“No thank you?”
“Like my wife said, we want to be surprised.”
Rhea scratched her head with the back of her pencil. “You don't want to have any input at all?”
“We know you'll do something delightful,” said the woman.
Ridiculous, Rhea thought. You don't know anything about me.
“I just have a few questions, if that's okay.”
The couple locked eyes, something Rhea couldn't read passing between them. She continued, “What flavor do you like?”
The woman smiled. “Oh, we like everything.”
“What about interests, hobbies? Last week I made a birthday cake that looked like a chess board—”
“We like magic,” the man said.
“We were an act,” said the woman. “The Incredible Lehrer and Geist.”
“I'm Lehrer,” said the man, as he waved one hand over the other. In an instant, he produced a beautiful white rose. How on earth had he done that? Rhea was impressed.
He bowed and handed it to her. “For you.”
“Thanks,” she said, rubbing one of the petals between her fingers. It was baby-soft, flesh-like. She sniffed it.
“One more thing before we go,” said the woman, looking through her purse. She pulled out a small brass box and placed it on the counter. It looked like an antique pill case.
“Go ahead,” she said to Rhea. “Open it.”
Rhea lifted the lid to see dark blue powder that sparkled beneath the dull overhead bulbs. It reminded her of midnight. “What is this?” she asked, tempted to touch it. “Pixie dust?”
Wishing dust,” the woman said. “We'd like you to sprinkle it on the cake.”
“Is it edible?”
The old gentleman nodded. “Taste it,” he said.
Rhea touched the powder and brought her finger to her tongue, closing her eyes to concentrate on the flavor. Just ordinary confectioner's sugar with food coloring, she thought, and at once had a vision of the cake she would create. No magic hats or wands or any such tired imagery. The cake would be a tiered tower of three hearts, representing love, marriage and eternity. And yes, it would have to be hearts. They would be rounded and sensual, and she would cover the whole thing in pale indigo. Growing from the bottom up, spanning the voluptuously shaped layers, would be a delicate tree in a thin ribbon of dark chocolate. At the end of each slender branch there would be a tiny white dove, created with frosting, and sprinkled with the blue powder. It would be ... well, magical.
There was only one problem. Her boss, Paul Bremmer, had made it clear that there were to be no heart-shaped cakes in his bakery. Ever. He wasn't just opinionated about it, he was adamant. Heart cakes were verboten.
But this cake was going to be heart-shaped. It had to be.
Rhea opened her eyes and the couple was gone. Written on her order pad were the words:
We'll be here tomorrow, same time. Can hardly wait!
-Lerher & Geist
P.S. Please keep the box and the wishing dust with our thanks.


In the back, Kyle was already dressed to leave in a stylishly shabby peacoat with a wool ski cap pulled down over his bleached blond hair. He was 27, single, mean. He had a girlfriend named Tatum.
“Don't touch that,” he said, pointing to a white sheet cake on a cooling rack. No doubt it was something he was working on for a custom order.
“Why would I touch it?” Rhea asked.
“I'm just saying.”
She made a sarcastic gesture toward the cake, like she was about to grab it.
“Very funny,” he said. “I mean it.”
“Go home, Kyle.”
“We're out of almonds,” he said, as he let the metal back door slam behind him. In other words, make sure you buy some.
Fuck you, Kyle.
Alone in the bakery, Rhea liked music to keep her company, so she inserted her iPod into the speaker housing and set it to shuffle. The first song that came on was Adele’s Hiding My Heart.
She placed the antique pill case on the shelf above her workspace and took out her sketchpad to begin roughing out some ideas for the heart-shaped cake. Fortunately, tomorrow was Paul's day off, so she didn't have to worry about getting in trouble. She would write up the order as magician's cake, and simply “forget” to take a picture of it for the binder. Paul would never find out.
Adele’s clear, sad tones filled the space as Rhea focused on her sketch. She didn't hear anyone enter the room, so when a warm hand landed on her shoulder, she jumped.
“Didn't mean to scare you,” said her boss.
“Paul!” Rhea said, and quickly flipped the page on her sketchpad, hoping he hadn't seen what she was drawing. “You scared the shit out of me. What are you doing here? I thought you left.”
The scent of his aftershave lingered in the air between them. It was tangy, complicated. Her sense of smell was acute, and she figured that if he had stood behind her for even a few seconds she would have known. Did that mean he hadn't seen her design?
“Bookkeeping,” he said, buttoning his coat. His shiny black hair fell over his face, obscuring the handsome features that some said made him look like Robert Downey, Jr. Rhea insisted that his blue eyes and dark hair made him look more like a clean-shaven Adolph Hitler.
Like her, he was divorced, although the particulars of his past were a mystery. The gossip among employees was that there were no children, but that his ex had burned him in some spectacular way, leaving him so damaged he had become misogynistic. Rhea didn't buy it. Lots of people had ugly divorces and didn't become hard and bitter. Look at her.
Well, okay. Maybe she wasn't the best example. At 36, Rhea felt old and done. She was a petite brunette, which made her a hot commodity when she was in her twenties and men thought she was cute—a spitfire. But she was well past being able to pull that off. Her friend Molly insisted she still had sex appeal, but Rhea knew better. Men liked girls, not women. Anyone over 25 was a threat. The only guys interested in her now were the desperate types looking for someone who might put out. She saw it in their faces when they sized her up: I could get her.
“What are you working on?” Paul asked.
Rhea sighed, relieved that her secret was safe. For his benefit, she used her dark blue colored pencil to outline a cake in the shape of a magic hat.
“Something for a 75th anniversary,” she said. “Retired magicians. They want me to surprise them.”
He watched her draw and said, “Hrm,” his sound of disapproval. Rhea never heard him use it with Kyle. Not once.
“What's the problem?” she said.
He folded his arms. “I think you can do better.”
“I just started, for God's sake.
“You’re not going to have a rabbit coming out, are you?”
A rabbit? He'd been watching her design for years, and she never relied on a trite idea unless it was something a client insisted on. Even then, she found a way to make it fresh.
“Are you going to stand there all night watching over me?” she asked.
“If you're going to create a lazy design I am.”
“Paul,” she whined.
“Rhea.” He imitated her tone, folded his arms.
She sighed. “I was thinking a dove, maybe.”
He pulled on his gloves and headed for the door. “Two doves,” he said.
Rhea rubbed a spot on her neck as she watched him leave. “Right,” she said. “Love birds.”

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