With Panchita the rescue spider monkey baby, Merida, Yucatan, Mexico, 1974
All of my writing seems to come from a question or an image that keeps nagging me, or a title that pops into my mind and won't go away. Questions like: Who was this person who created such powerful and beautiful music and yet is not widely known? That book is Morning Glory, the biography of Mary Lou Williams. Or, what happens in that moment between being a drinker and realizing that you must stop? That sparked my novel Cleans Up Nicely. Or images like these: Wandering down a village street in Mexico and hearing a crazily untuned piano being played in a crumbling hut. That story is "Crazy Carlota and the Piano," in Come Back, Carmen Miranda. Another image: Seeing a young girl in a red sari lying motionless on the pavement in Delhi as the tour bus whizzed by along with the requisite throngs of humans and animals. A story not yet written, but itching. And there are the titles. Some of them come before the book, like the foreign stamps I collected as a child: Grieving for Dummies, Tiny Vices, Nothing Ever Happens in Omaha.
From such come the characters and the situations that fuel my books. In my fiction are usually edgy, little-known folks with hidden stories and talents. Sometimes I write about the famous or the almost-famous, in biographies about pianists and singers. Places too, make wonderful characters, and music.
As a girl, I dreamed of traveling around the world. As soon as I could, I took to the road, living in steamy Guayaquil, Ecuador at 17 with a family, an experience recalled (and reshaped) in a novella, Coming of Age in Ecuador, in a compilation of stories about Latin America, Come Back, Carmen Miranda. Continuing my love affair with the region, I found a series of jobs - as a grunt on a Mayan archeology site in Chiapas, Mexico, as a volunteer with the American Friends Service Committee in an impoverished mining village in Sonora, as a teacher of English as a second language and, finally, as a freelance journalist in Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil and Mexico.
One of my most memorable stays was in the Yucatan, where I moved after college, bringing the portable Olivetti that went everywhere with me in those pre-computer years and a precious, cumbersome tape recorder for my Billie Holiday tapes. I was in a state of painful urgency. I wanted and needed to write but I was not getting very far. It was the early 70's, need I say more? Much of that time is recast in Gringa in a Strange Land.
After I left Mexico, I made the pilgrimage to another strange land called New York City, with a suitcase, the typewriter, seven hundred dollars and the names of two contacts. I found the requisite cheap, shabby apartment, which you could still do in those days and started writing in earnest in between trying to pay the rent with a series of ridiculous jobs: writing reviews of movies that were so bad that neither I nor anybody else apparently ever actually saw them; driving an ice-cream truck through Central Park until I smashed into a rock and was fired. And my own personal favorite: writing a history of cheeses of the world with a two-week deadline for a manic food editor out of a Woody Allen movie.
I've had published several novels (more in the drawer), articles and biographies about jazz personalities. For a while I concentrated on quirky travel writing, topics like the Carmen Miranda Museum in Rio; a candomble a.k.a.voodoo priestess in a slum of Rio who dispensed psychic advice while drinking rum and smoking a stogie, and an interview with a Mayan healer who introduced me to some of his "children," seedlings in a tiny plot of corn and beans.
Now to my latest book, Loving Our Addicted Daughters Back to Life: a guidebook for parents, Central Recovery Press, June 2015. The question here is: How can we best help women struggling with addiction? Everybody's being touched by this epidemic, or knows someone who is. My book shares for the first time the new and exciting research and therapies that hone in on women's hormonal, neurochemical and psychological needs to recover from addiction. This book is the sweet-and-sour fruit of my own experience, that of my daughter, and years of research and interviews with scientists, therapists, young women and their parents.
Next up is the third novel in what turns out to be the Erica Mason trilogy, though each book does stand alone. The Bad Dream Notebook takes the mature visual artist Erica into the complexities of marriage, motherhood, death and renewal, with a few laughs thrown in. Comic relief is always in order, I think.
And then...but I'll wait on the one after that. It's but a gleam in my eye.