Thursday, September 29, 2005

My To Do List

What does it say about a person if they add something to their To Do List after they've already done it, just so they can cross it off?

On second thought, don't answer that.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

President Stupid

Just had to share this:
Presidential Speech

Should I thank this friend in my acknowledgments?

I need a little advice here.

When I wrote my first novel, I got a tremendous amount of help and feedback from a very dear friend whose name I will not reveal here. She was smart, gentle and insightful. Of course, it was always my intention to thank her in my acknowledgments.

Several months ago, however, for reasons that are still unclear to me, this friend dropped me like a hot ball of wax. She politely told me she was just too busy for the friendship. It was hurtful, but I’m a big girl and a busy mama, and got on with it. However, she followed this up with a few passive-aggressive attacks. This was excruciating, as I wouldn’t have hurt her for all the Hershey’s Kisses in the world, and have no idea why she would want to do that to me.

Again, I turned the other cheek and got on with it, as there was nothing else I could do. (That’s the infuriating thing about passive-aggressive attacks. You can’t stick up for yourself—you can’t even argue—because the attacker will always respond with a righteous, Moi? I meant no harm!)

Still, I intended to thank her in my acknowledgments, because no matter what else came after, her help with the book was undeniable.

Now, as you probably know, I’ve sold another book. And since this individual was such a huge part of the first book, I thought she’d like to know. Keep in mind that though we rarely correspond these days, we do maintain a cordial rapport. So, even though I knew she had already heard the news, I gave her the courtesy of dropping her a line to let her know. She never answered back, which I take as the final statement on this friendship. Am I hurt? You betcha. Because regardless of what transpired between us, there’s no force on heaven or earth that would have kept me from congratulating her if the shoe were on the other foot.

So now, dear reader, I need some opinions. Since the role she played in the book is not diminished, do I stick with my original plan and thank her in the acknowledgments, or just forget she ever existed?

To make this a little more complicated, including her in the acknowledgments is not necessarily taking the high road, as I’m pretty sure she would prefer not to be mentioned. So in a sense, if I wanted to sink to her level of passive-aggression, I would not only include her, but print her name in bold type.

What would you do in my shoes?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Thomas Edison's Heavenly Outbox

This is a silly story that appeared a few years ago in the now-defunct Haypenny.

Thomas Edison's Heavenly Outbox

By Ellen Meister

To: psychpop1@heaven.god
From: sparkyedison@heaven.god

Good to hear from you, and glad to know that things have finally calmed down for you now that Dostoevsky has transferred out of your sector. I know what you mean about the Russians. Once in a while you just want to say, lighten up.

But I have to disagree with you about Marilyn Monroe. I am not “obsessed” with her. If you want to know what obsessed looks like, go see your friend Ben Franklin. He was drooling all over her at a party last week at Oscar Wilde’s. Even James Dean was rolling his eyes. And then Franklin pretends like he’s my best friend, asking me to explain again about semi-conductors and have I seen what they’re doing down there these days with flat screens.

And speaking of James Dean, did your hear what he said? He said heaven’s like high school with wings. Everyone was rofl, especially Wilde, who must have giggled for twenty minutes. A little excessive, I think. But draw your own conclusions.

So what do you think about me and Marilyn? Should I call her or what?



To: bigben@heaven.god
From: sparkyedison@heaven.god

No, I had no idea G assigned you and Marilyn to watch over the filming of a Hollywood movie down there. When did this happen? Anyway, congrats. Sounds like a lot of fun.

I’d love to let you “pick my brain,” as you say, about light and sound. But I’m kind of busy myself these days as G has me watching over the sick and dying in a remote Amazon village. Not as glam as making sure Tobey Maguire gets his due, but somebody’s got to ease the pain, right? Anyway, I’m attaching some documents that should answer your questions.

Send my best to Marilyn.



To: normajeane@heaven.god
From: sparkyedison@heaven.god

Dear Marilyn,
I hear you and Ben Franklin are assigned to watch over the making of a Hollywood movie. So glad you’re back “in the game.” It must be very exciting for you!

Anyways, just wanted to tell you that I’d be happy to let you “pick my brain” if you have any questions about light and sound. As you may have heard, I know a thing or two about those areas, having invented the light bulb, the phonograph, moving pictures, etc.



To: psychpop1@heaven.god
From: sparkyedison@heaven.god

Sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you. A monsoon hit the village I’m watching and I’ve been crazy busy guiding souls to their final reward.

But anyway, guess who I saw mingling spirits the other day? Oscar Wilde and James Dean. I KNEW something was going on between those two!

Once again, I have to disagree with you about me and Marilyn. My attraction for her has nothing to do with my mother. (Have you SEEN my mother?) Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, Sigmund.



To: bigben@heaven.god
From: sparkyedison@heaven.god

Too bad you had trouble opening those attachments I sent. Have you tried downloading Acrobat Reader?



To: normajeane@heaven.god
From: sparkyedison@heaven.god

Dear Marilyn,
I guess you’re right. It’s probably not necessary to understand all that “science-y stuff” when you’re just trying to help people. But no, I don’t think it would help to go to Sigmund for psychological insights into the movie stars. He can get pretty technical and hard-to-follow sometimes. And anyway, he’s just going to tell you that they all feel guilty about wanting to sleep with their own mothers.

Been extra-busy lately easing the pain and suffering of the living, and guiding departed souls to heaven. But it’s rewarding work, and I’m flattered G chose me to do it.

Wanna go out for coffee sometime?


P.S. Did I ever tell you how great I thought you were in “Bus Stop”?


To: wilde1@heaven.god
From: sparkyedison@heaven.god

Yes, I may have mentioned to Sigmund that I saw you and James Dean mingling spirits. But I was not JUDGING you. I think it’s great. You guys look swell together.



To: wilde1@heaven.god
From: sparkyedison@heaven.god

I’m glad we cleared the air, too. And no, I didn’t know that Sigmund and Marilyn have been seen paling around together lately. Are you sure about this?



To: bigben@heaven.god
From: sparkyedison@heaven.god

Were you ever able to open those documents I sent? Hope so, because I’ve attached some others that may interest you.

By the way, I’ve been hearing rumors about Marilyn lately. Is it true she’s seeing Freud (and not as a patient)? Boy, talk about a mismatch!



To: psychpop1@heaven.god
From: sparkyedison@heaven.god

No, I don’t think it’s big of you to “confess” that you and Marilyn have been dating since she went to you for advice on Tobey Maguire. In fact, it sounds more to me like boasting.

And I can’t help but wonder … what was your relationship like with YOUR mother?



To: normajeane@heaven.god
From: sparkyedison@heaven.god

Once again, I think your boyfriend, “Siggy,” is reading too much into things. You and I don’t have anything to “work out.” It’s not like we ever dated or anything.

And thanks for letting me know that you two think Janis Joplin and I would make a “nice couple.” Frankly, it’s really none of your business who I go out with, even if she did tell you she thinks I’m “cute in a geeky sort of way.”

Have a nice afterlife.



To: rockchick@heaven.god
From: sparkyedison@heaven.god

Dear Janis,
I got your G-mail address from James Dean, who tells me you have an abiding interest in the rain forests of South America. Did you know that G has me watching over an Amazon village? If you don’t mind, I’d love an opportunity to “pick your brain.” Do you think we can meet sometime?

Rock on,
Thomas Alva Edison

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Literary handbags

Check it out. There's this company that actually makes handbags from books. Pretty cool eh? I'm thinking of getting one.

Note that they can make these to order, so I'm trying to think of what might be a fun title to make a purse from. Remember Abbie Hoffman's "Steal This Book"? Might confuse the hell out of purse snatchers. Other suggestions?

See more samples at Rebound Designs

Friday, September 23, 2005

George Clooney is coming to New York

Actually, he's probably already here, touting the premiere of his new film, "Good Night, and Good Luck," at the New York Film Festival.

If you have happen to run into him, can you tell him it's probably not too late to give his permission to use his name in the title of my book? He can reach me through this blog. Or at ellenmeister (at) Or he can just pop in at my house, unannounced. But he should do it soon, before my husband gets home. (Hey, I'm just being a considerate wife. You know how boring it gets for the spouse when people talk shop, right?)

Thursday, September 22, 2005

And speaking of Dorothy Parker ...

My latest online story, Sub-Zero, published in the fabulous Opium Magazine (bookmark it!), owes much to the voice Dorothy Parker captured in the short story this blog is named for, "From the Diary of a New York Lady."

*bows to Miss Parker and backs out of the room*

Monday, September 19, 2005

A second book deal!

I’m happy to announce that I’ve accepted an offer on my second novel, THE SMART ONE. Yippee!

More about the deal in a minute, but first a bit of backstory on the book. Several years ago, there was a news story on Long Island that captured my attention. A homeowner was getting ready to move out of his Jericho house when the buyer insisted he get rid of the 55-gallon industrial drum in the crawl space out back. The sanitation department wouldn’t take it without knowing its contents, so the seller had to open it, as the drum was there when he moved in and he had no idea what it contained.

Together with his realtor, the seller pried the lid off and made a gruesome discovery: the barrel contained the mummified body of a young pregnant woman.

An extensive police investigation identified the woman as an employee of the home’s original owner, who had since moved to Florida. After questioning the elderly man and telling him they’d be back for a sample of his DNA, he shot himself in the head. Of course, his DNA later proved that he was the father of the dead woman’s fetus.

This all happened so close to home that I couldn’t get it out of my mind and knew I had to wrap it into a novel. At the same time, I’d been thinking quite a bit about writing a sister story, exploring the family dynamic and understanding what kind of role that plays in self-image. The two ideas linked and I wound up with a proposal for a book I call THE SMART ONE. And while I borrow many facts from the real life story, it’s essentially a fictional tale, and more about the relationship between these sisters than the murder. So don’t feel like I’ve already given away the ending. This book is not a mystery.

Here’s a quick synopsis, which I’ll continue to refine:

Former artist Bev Bloomrosen is about to start her new career as a schoolteacher when she and her two sisters find a body in an industrial drum beneath their neighbor's house. On their Oz-like journey to discovering the identity of the murdered woman, they meet two dwarves, one carpenter and a comedy writer who loses his heart to Bev. With the help of her sisters, she is finally able to return his love, and learns that there is indeed no place like home… even if you live next door to a murderer.

THE SMART ONE will be published in hardcover by Morrow/Avon, the same company publishing SECRET CONFESSIONS OF THE APPLEWOOD PTA this summer. With any luck, this new book will be on the schedule for a summer '07 release.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Katrina Photo Journal: new link

Sorry that previous link to the photo journal of Hurricane Katrina went down so soon after I posted it. Here's a new link that works (for now, anyway):

Thanks again to Fred Schoeneman.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Today's mail

You'll probably think I'm exaggerating, but I swear it's true. In today's mail, there was not one single credit card solicitation from Capital One. I'm worried about them. Think I should call over there, make sure they're okay?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

George Clooney is coming to suburbia?

"So is your book really about George Clooney?"

I get asked that a lot. Good question, since the original title was "George Clooney is Coming to Applewood." (For more information on why that was nixed, click here.)

I'll take this opportunity to answer it by posting what was nearly the publisher's catalog copy for the book. (The final version was scaled back for one reason or another. When I rule the world, such things won't happen. Until then, I blog.)

So here's the skinny:

Three PTA housewives rock suburbia in this frank, funny and laser-sharp debut novel

Behind the vinyl-sided veneer of Applewood, Long Island, live three women with more humor, heartache and sexuality than one PTA can hold.

With her husband’s affection waning, Maddie Schein is hungry for recognition and wishes she could impress the PTA elite. But you can’t drive a law degree, or slip your IQ over your shoulders and tie it into a jaunty knot. Brash, lusty and rich, Ruth Moss has it all except for one thing: her husband was left brain-damaged, impotent and sexually-uninhibited from a stroke. Talented but timid, Lisa Slotnick wants nothing more than to fade into the scenery, but is thrust before the spotlight by her out-of-control, alcoholic mother.

Together, these women form the publicity committee of the North Applewood Elementary PTA. When they learn that they’re responsible for the most exciting project their town has ever seen--bringing George Clooney and a movie crew to their own backyard--each thinks it will fill a void in her life and make her an Applewood hero.

What they discover in the end is that it’s their friendship--together with a little luck, a lot of honesty, and some newfound trust--that just might help them pull off a Hollywood ending of their own.

Monday, September 12, 2005

On writing and chocolate

"In the beginning, the Lord created chocolate, and he saw that it was good. Then he separated the light from the dark, and it was better."

I go into a zone when I’m writing. It’s a very intense kind of focus and, as I’m in it, I’m madly in love with my words. It’s when I go back later and reread that I decide it’s utter crap. Or not. Either way, I find that treating myself to a few bites of dark chocolate—either as reward or solace—is a valuable part of the process.

Show me a writer who’s 100% confident in his or her work, and I’ll show you a dreadful writer. I think it’s the nature of what we do that makes us second guess our own judgment. If we’re not constantly tormenting ourselves over whether or not we’re good enough, then we just don’t get anywhere.

A long time ago I posted a very short story on Zoetrope, my online writers’ workshop. The style was a departure for me, so I was insecure about it to begin with. Then it got terrible reviews from my fellow workshoppers—some of the worst I’d ever received. I was about to yank the story from the site and throw it away when another writer I greatly respect put the brakes on. She said the story was wonderful and that if readers weren’t getting it, eff ‘em.

I’m glad I listened to her, because it got published and remains one of my favorite stories. The lesson here? I’d like to say it’s to believe in yourself, but this is writing, not a Disney movie. The lesson, I think, is that we have to accept the fact that we can’t be all things to all people. Even our best work is going to be hated by some. There's no accounting for taste, as they say.

I've even heard there are some folks who prefer milk chocolate to dark, though I suspect that's some kind of crazy urban myth.

If you're curious to read the story in question, check it out here:
"Back to Sleep" in Pindeldyboz

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Photo journal of Katrina

Thanks to Fred Schoeneman for pointing me in the direction of this astounding PHOTO JOURNAL OF KATRINA, by Alvaro. I didn't breathe once throughout the entire presentation.

ETA: Sorry to report that this photo journal was deleted, so the link no longer works.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Mrs. Esserman's Eggs

Hard to believe it was only three years ago that my first story was accepted for publication by an ezine called Amarillo Bay. A lot has happened since then, including selling my first novel. And while that's an accomplishment I wouldn't trade for all the SUV's on Long Island, I'm not sure anything tops the high of getting that first acceptance.

Know what else? I'm still pretty proud of that first story. You can read it if you want. Mrs. Esserman's Eggs

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Tighter borders for Texas?

I guess Barbara Bush wants to keep those pesky foreigners out of Texas. You know, refugees from places like (shudder) Mississippi and Louisiana. Thanks to Moorishgirl for pointing me in the direction of this quote from the First Mum:

"Almost everyone I’ve talked to says we're going to move to Houston." Then she added: "What I’m hearing which is sort of scary is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this (she chuckles slightly) is working very well for them."

And if they don't have bread, let them eat cake, oui?

Read more about it here.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Did you say chick lit?

Arguments about chick lit never seem to end.  It’s like some crazy boxing match with writers of literary fiction on one side, throwing epithets of “hack” and “whore,” while writers of popular fiction on the other side defend their right to entertain.  Emotions are high, and everything thinks the stakes are so very serious.

I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for these fights.  I sit in the front row with a big bowl of popcorn and watch the folks go at it.  I like being close enough to see the blood and sweat, to feel the heat.

I wonder, though, if the folks in the ring have any idea how silly the spectacle really is.  Go into any bookstore and ask the average reader their thoughts on chick lit and they’ll look at you like you’re speaking Martian.  

Most readers have never even heard this term.  They just read books they like.

My advice to writers is to stop being judgmental and/or defensive, and just keep putting the words on paper that make your own little heart dance.  Or not.  I’ve got a ringside seat and am enjoying the show.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Maureen Dowd on the United States of Shame

Stuff happens.

And when you combine limited government with incompetent government, lethal stuff happens.

America is once more plunged into a snake pit of anarchy, death, looting, raping, marauding thugs, suffering innocents, a shattered infrastructure, a gutted police force, insufficient troop levels and criminally negligent government planning. But this time it's happening in America.

To read more, click here. (If you're not registered with The New York Times, you'll have to do so to read the column, but it's free, and worth the few minutes.)

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Finding Cooper

Here's a short story I wrote that appeared in Nassau Review last year. Since it's not available anywhere online--and it's one of my faves--I figured I'd post it here.

Finding Cooper
By Ellen Meister

Cooper was three when I lost him. And I don’t mean lost him in the euphemistic, I-just-don’t-want-to-say-dead sense. I mean lost him, as in, God oh God, where’s my kid? Has anybody seen my kid?

The day started out typically enough. I went to pick Cooper up at the special preschool he attended for autistic kids, and saw him sitting at a table with the aptly named Merry, a new classroom aide who wore an idiotic smile almost continuously.

“Look who’s here!” Merry said to him when she saw me standing at the door of the room. She pointed with her finger, but Cooper just looked at her hand. He didn’t get the whole concept of pointing. Somehow, normal kids understand automatically that it’s a directional cue. But to Cooper it was meaningless.

“Look who’s here,” she repeated, turning his face with her hands.

I stood and waited for recognition, knowing that if she just said the word “Mommy” he would think to look toward the door for me. Merry still had a few things to learn.

His teacher, Miss Nicki, looked up from the colored paper heart she was cutting. “Mommy’s here, Cooper,” she said.

That did it. My sweet-faced boy glanced quickly out the corner of his eye and came running to me. I kneeled to greet him.

“How was your day, Cooper?” I asked after hugging him. “Did you have fun in school?”

“Bub-bub,” he said.

“Bubbles? You played with bubbles?” I looked at the aide who nodded in confirmation. “Yes, Mommy,” I modeled, “I played with bubbles today.” I stood and addressed Merry. “How was he?”

“Wonderful!” she gushed. “He wrote the whole alphabet.”

I nearly rolled my eyes at this. Cooper had been writing the alphabet since he was eighteen months old.

“He said ‘Zach’ today,” Miss Nicki added, walking toward us.

This was big news. Cooper’s vocabulary consisted almost entirely of the names of inanimate objects. The fact that he’d said another child’s name nearly constituted a breakthrough.

I bent over to face Cooper. “Did you say ‘Zach’ today? I’m so proud of you! Should I arrange a play date with Zach? Look at me, Coop. Do you want to play with Zach?”

He didn’t respond, but I didn’t expect him to. I rose and said good-bye to his teachers.

Merry laid a hand on my shoulder. “You’re doing God’s work,” she whispered.

Tell God to do his own damn work, I wanted to say. I’m just trying to have a life here. Then I understood the beatific smile. She thought this was all part of God’s design. I squeezed Cooper’s hand and fought back my fury. How dare she. How dare she think the misconnected synapses that ruined this child’s life are part of God’s grand design!

I gritted my teeth. “C’mon Cooper,” I said, as I pulled him down the hallway. I took a deep breath and tried to center myself. “We’re going to the library.”

It was Friday, the day we always went to the public library after school. Our routine was to go the Children’s Room first, where I would read to Cooper. If I let him pick out the book, he would choose Trollo Takes a Train. Every time. The story was starting to get on my nerves, and I even considered asking Mrs. Stiles, the persnickety children’s librarian, if she would hide it on Friday afternoons. But I was pretty sure she’d have about ten strokes and drop dead at my feet if I asked her to do anything that wasn’t etched in some ancient book of rules they kept hidden behind a ceiling tile somewhere.

When we got there, Cooper headed straight for the shelf where Trollo lived, while I tried to find something else he would like. I spotted an oversized alphabet book with big, lush illustrations, and thought it might do the trick.

How about this one, Cooper? Wanna read this one instead of Trollo today? Look. Look at the pictures.”

Cooper shoved the Trollo book at me insistently.

“Okay,” I relented. “We’ll read Trollo first, and then we’ll read the alphabet book. Does that sound like a plan?”

Cooper hit the front of his book with his palm, a signal to get started. He was getting anxious, so I opened it and read, silently editing as I went along.

“Trollo took a train. A train, a train, a train.”

Mommy took some poison. Poison, poison, poison.

After we finished, I read him the alphabet book, not even realizing there was a picture of a train on the “T” page. Cooper went nuts.

“EEE-eee-ee!” he squealed, flapping his arms, which is what Cooper does when he’s excited.

I grabbed his hand and gently stroked it. “Okay, Coop,” I said. “Quiet down now.”

I was, of course, a beat too late. The ever-vigilant Mrs. Stiles rushed over.

“Is there a problem?”

Yes, I wanted to say. My son is autistic. Apparently, according to some people, God thought it was a great idea to short circuit his brain so that this beautiful, creamy-skinned boy would find it excruciatingly difficult to learn simple things, like what it means when someone points a finger. And nearly impossible to make the natural human connections that you and I do a hundred times a day and take completely for granted. Things like looking another person in the eye or understanding that your mother isn’t just an object that offers comfort and food and brings you to school, but a living, breathing feeling person who loves you so fiercely she would do anything for you. Anything. So yes, Mrs. Stiles, I guess you could say there is a problem.

“He’s excited,” I simply said. “He loves trains.”

Mrs. Stiles brought her lips together, as if to say she’s seen this type of indulgent parenting before and simply won’t tolerate it. She turned her attention to Cooper.

“I bet you’d like to take this book home, wouldn’t you?”

Her way of saying, don’t let the door slam you in the ass on the way out.

“He likes to read them here,” I explained.

“That’s fine,” she said, laying her hand on Cooper’s arm, which he pulled away. “But you have to be quiet in a library.”

Cooper patted the book again, indicating that he’s done with her. He wants me to read. Mrs. Stiles straightened up and walked off.

After the Children’s Room, we headed upstairs to where they kept the videotapes. Miles, my husband, and I liked to watch a movie on Friday nights after Cooper went to bed. It was our version of a date, since Cooper didn’t do too well with babysitters, making it hard for us to get out.

This is where it happened. I held Cooper’s hand as I scanned the cardboard videotape boxes for an interesting title. But he tugged in the opposite direction. Something had caught his eye and he wanted a closer look.

“Just a minute, Coop,” I said. “Let me find a tape.”

He was insistent, pulling and whining, and I feared he’d throw a fit.

“Okay, okay,” I said. “Show me, Cooper. Show me what you saw.”

I let him drag me toward the front of the aisle where he grabbed a box off the shelf and patted the title, indicating that he wanted me to read it out loud.

“Strangers on a Train,” I said. “That’s very good. You read the word ‘train,’ didn’t you?”

He pulled from the shelf the plastic case that was behind the box, the one they keep the actual tape inside. The title was printed on it, and I think Cooper recognized that it said the same thing as the cardboard box. He held the two side-by-side, looking from one to the other. He sat down on the floor and laid them in front of him, transfixed.

“I’m just going to the end of the aisle, Cooper. Can you sit here quietly for a minute?”

He didn’t respond, of course. So I just left him there while I walked about twenty feet away. I went back to scanning the titles, glancing back over at Cooper every few seconds. A certain tape caught my eye, and I picked it up to read the copy on the box. I guess I got engrossed for a moment longer than I should have, because when I looked up, Cooper was gone.

“Coop?” I ran to the end of the aisle and looked in both directions. “Cooper?” My heart started pounding, but I was sure I’d find him any second just around a corner. “Cooper!” I was getting louder, and people were starting to look at me. All at once I didn’t give a shit. “COOPER!” I yelled. Nothing.

“My kid’s missing!” I shouted to the air. “Did anybody see a little boy?”

“What does he look like?” someone asked.

Like a lost kid!, I wanted to scream. Somebody find him!

People started rising from chairs and looking around. I ran down the center of the room looking frantically into each aisle.

“Cooper!” I shouted. “Where are you?”

“Cooper!” I heard from people who had joined in the search. I did a quick lap around the perimeter of the room before dashing down the stairs. “Keep looking!” I shouted over my shoulder.

I almost ran smack into Mrs. Stiles. “Cooper’s missing,” I said.


“My son, he’s missing.” I swallowed hard. “He’s autistic.”

Mrs. Stiles’ face went white. “Lock the back door!” she shouted to a small woman behind the desk. “I’ll get the front.”

Now it felt real. I imagined headlines. Posters. Did I have a current picture of Cooper. Oh God, what am I thinking?

I ran to the Children’s Room, where Trollo Takes a Train was still on the table where we left it. But the alphabet book was gone. Did that mean anything?

I imagined, for a second, my life without Cooper. But the picture was blank, like a sheet of photographic paper with no image developing. I’d wake up, have coffee, do stuff. Then I’d go to sleep and do the same thing all over again. What was the point? Without Cooper, my life had no shape, no color. Without Cooper, my life was a meaningless blank. I knew, then, that I needed him as much as he needed me.

I sat down on the floor and started to cry. The dam burst, and I covered my face as heaving sobs took over. And then.

Then I felt a tiny hand on my knee. I opened my eyes and saw Cooper sitting under the table with the alphabet book on his lap. Thank you, I thought. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

“Mommy sad,” Cooper said.

Maybe it wasn’t the hand of God that dropped a gift into my lap at that moment. But it was gift just the same. I laughed and crawled under the table to hug him. It was his first sentence. But it was so much more. Cooper had recognized emotion. He had acknowledged me as a person. And, perhaps most important of all, he had felt the very human need to say it out loud. To me. To make a connection.

“Yes, Cooper,” I said. “But I’m happy now.”

Just then, Mrs. Stiles rushed into the room and saw us. “We found him!” she shouted to the crowd by the door. She kneeled down.

“What are you two doing under there?” she asked.

“God’s work,” I said. “We’re doing God’s work.”

Friday, September 02, 2005

Help young victims of Katrina

For everyone who clicks on the link below and fills out a simple form, the Oxygen Network will donate $1 to children who were evacuated from The New Orleans Children's Hospital. Will you help? It only takes a minute. (Unless the server is very busy, in which case you might have to try a few times.) Thanks!

What's in a name?

Folks have been asking what the heck is going with the title of my book, but before I launch into my explanation, a few links for the uninitiated …

For a brief summary and info on the deal itself, click on my Publishers Marketplace page. For backstory on the book and other behind-the-scenes lit facts, click on this interview in Susan DiPlacido’s blog or this interview with Steve Hansen for Ink Pot.

Now, my working title for the book was GEORGE CLOONEY IS COMING TO APPLEWOOD.  Some folks raised an eyebrow, asking if it was really okay to use his name.  But when I pointed out that Al Franken wrote a book called RUSH LIMBAUGH IS A BIG, FAT IDIOT, most agreed that it wouldn’t be a problem.  My editor and agents were unconcerned.

However, we discussed using another version of the title that would be more descriptive of the plot, and wound up with GEORGE CLOONEY AND OTHER SECRET LONGINGS OF THE APPLEWOOD PTA.  But the green light turned red on that one when others in the publishing company said they preferred the shorter original title.

For me, no worries.  I liked both, and was still as happy as could be.  But then the dreaded thing happened.  The legal department got involved, and they said no how, no way.  Not without George Clooney’s consent.  Of course, this was at the eleventh hour, as the catalog copy was going to press.  I had about 48 hours to get approval from Hollywood’s most sought-after super hunk.  Easy, right?

So okay.  Fortunately, I’m married to a researcher, and he was able to get me the phone number for Clooney’s agent in minutes.  So I called the office and this was the conversation I had with his agent’s assistant:

Hello, my name is Ellen Meister and I’m a first time author with a book coming out next summer.  The book is called “George Clooney is Coming to Applewood” and I need to find out who I need to speak—

What is this about?  I have ten phones ringing.

Well, I … er… I need to t-talk to someone about getting permission—

Can you talk faster?


Call his publicist.

Then he barked out the number and hung up.  So I called his publicist and had this conversation the woman who answered:

Hello, my name is Ellen Meister and I got your number from George Clooney’s agent.  They said you were the people to call to—

Talk faster.  I have people holding.


Gimme your phone number and he’ll call you back.

I blurted out my phone number and tried to explain the nature of my call, but she hung up before I could get it out.  This was bad, because it was likely she got the impression that I was looking  for a publicist.  So I called again.


Write us a letter.

WAIT! I DON’T HAVE TIME! I’m in a terrible time crunch and—

Here’s our email address. Good-bye.

So I wrote his  publicist an email and got a quick reply saying it was a long and complicated issue and George Clooney didn’t have time for it.  I couldn’t let it go at that without a bit of groveling, so I wrote back explaining that the book had been my life’s work for so many years and that I heard that George Clooney was so accessible with a great sense of humor about himself and would he PLEASE pass it by him?  The reply was quick.  He DID pass it by George Clooney and the answer is no.

So that was it.  And it was back to the drawing board on titles.

This was a long, frustrating process, as I was sending my agent forty different title ideas a day, and each one got nixed in favor of a title I was miserable with.  I was looking for something where the irony was obvious, and the one they wanted to use just sounded too corny to me.

And then, at last, pay dirt.  I presented a title I really dig that everyone seems happy with.  If you read my little blog profile you know that the final approved title is SECRET CONFESSIONS OF THE APPLEWOOD PTA.  Now I’m all excited to see what kind of campy cover art the designer comes up with.  

And meanwhile … I’m working on my next book.  More on that soon.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

And the golden paperclip goes to …

One of the reasons I wanted to start my own blog was that it would give me the chance to air my grievances in public.  Snubbed by the local PYMPELS?  Ha! I’ll write about it in my blog!  Furious about the systemic deception of cellphone companies?  Easy.  One day I’ll go off like a firecracker on those effers.  Ticked off by rude or inept salespeople?  I have a forum, baby, and I plan to dish.

And why not?  It’s my blog and I’ll whine if I want to.

But I can also give props when props are due, and today I want to give the Most Improved Customer Service Award to Staples, which was once high on my list of horrid places to shop.  But these folks have turned things around so dramatically that even shopping for school supplies has been pretty headache-free this year.  

So kudos, Staples folks.  When your service sucked, people noticed, and you guys did something about it.  And we notice that, too.

(Party City, are you listening?)

Blood and Money

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