Saturday, April 18, 2009

who moved my blog?

Same blog, new address.

I'm now blogging directly from my fancy new website. Please click here for the updated URL.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

live nude girls

"You're not supposed to wear shoes in here," the woman said.

We were the only two in the steam room. I was perched on a bench, wrapped in a towel from neck to knees, wearing pink rubber flip flops.

She, a woman old enough to be my mother, was lying flat on her back below me, stark naked.

As she proceeded to full-frontally scold me about the germs that lurk on the soles of shower shoes, I wasn't listening. I was too busy trying to focus my gaze elsewhere, somewhere, anywhere but on her. In the end, I gave up and closed my eyes. I find this is the best approach at my gym, a senior-friendly neighborhood Y whose grandmotherly female members have turned out to be flagrant locker-room exhibitionists.

I'm no stranger to gym nudity. I was a kid when racquetball was all the rage and spent innumerable weekends watching my parents play, and then waiting in the ladies' locker room while my mom hit the jacuzzi. A prude even then, I was astonished that these women would willingly appear in their birthday suits in front of strangers. "They're comfortable with their bodies," my mother explained. "It's healthy."

Perhaps too healthy. Years later, the same women who were young and nude at the racquetball club are now 60, 70 and beyond—and nuder than ever. At my gym, women friends will stand, mutually starkers, swapping photos of their grandchildren. They'll wear a towel around their hair and nowhere else. A few days before the steam room incident, a silver-haired woman stripped off her towel in the sauna to perform a series of in-the-buff yoga contortions worthy of a spread in Penthouse.

This must be a generational thing. I can't imagine women my age acting this way. Too many are hung up on their supposed flaws. To take off the towel would be, in their minds, to subject themselves to the negative scrutiny of others. That's too bad.

On the other hand, I'm not sure how I feel about the 1970s "let it all hang out" attitude. In theory, it's great that these women don't give a damn what anyone else thinks.

But in practice, I'll be keeping my towel on in the steam room. And my shoes, too.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

which barbie are you?

Barbie turns 50 this month.

Yes, I know. I'm a feminist. I'm supposed to shun Barbie. But I love that little blond minx, probably because my feminist mother didn't let me have one. She didn't want to bring sexist playthings into our groovy home. I've been obsessed with Barbie ever since. Not the Malibu Beach bunny of my childhood, either, but the original, 1959 collector's-item Barbie, with her retro sunglasses and her smart maillot. So what's with Mattel's new Fiftieth Anniversary Barbie? Have you seen her? Yikes. Let's compare and contrast.

1959 Barbie
Hometown: Manhattan
Tan: Real
Lashes: Fake
Lipstick: Red
Accessory: Gold hoops
Drink: Dom Perignon
Designers: Norell, Yves St. Laurent, Givenchy
Mood music: Sinatra
Vacation spot: Cap D'Antibes
Vice: Cigarettes (in holder)
Steady: Ken in a tuxedo
Discreet, one-time fling (too many martinis): G.I. Joe

2009 Barbie

Hometown: Orlando
Tan: Airbrushed
Breasts: Fake
Lipstick: Frosted
Accessory: Pink rhinestone cell phone
Drink: Jello shots
Designers: Forever 21, American Apparel (for shiny leggings!), Abercrombie
Mood music: Spears
Vacation spot: Sandals
Vice: Cocaine (off ladies' room floor)
Steady: Earring Magic Ken
Drunken one-night stand(s) (too much of everything): Elijah Burke, CM Punk and Tommy Dreamer

Really, which Barbie would you want to be?

If I had a little girl, I wouldn't let her have 2009 Barbie, either.

My mom would be proud.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

where have all the copy editors gone?

From Bernard Cooper's otherwise poignant Lives column in this weekend's New York Times Magazine:

"...the grizzly re-creation of an unsolved murder..."

I could make a sassy joke about the unfortunate substitution of "grizzly," as in "bear," for "grisly," as in "gruesome," and about how, back in the day, newspapers and magazines were able to afford staff who could catch this sort of thing.

But the fate of this business is too grisly.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

one vast, literary conspiracy

I solemnly swear that I did not steal my characters' names from Sophie Kinsella.

Nobody will believe me when my second novel, Mating Rituals of the North American WASP, comes out. I am hardly a household name. But every romantic-comedy reader, all bazillion and six of them, has read Confessions of a Shopaholic or one of its many sequels.

Everyone except me.

You must trust me on this.

I don't read women's romantic comedy. This is not out of snobbery; I write women's romantic comedy. But I work in a light, frothy profession, where I spend my days pondering such questions as, "Is shimmer lipstick appropriate after 35?"

When my pink, frilly, girly workday is done, I want complicated and dark. (I read The Plague over Christmas vacation. Universal anguish? Near-anarchy? Dead rats? This, to me, is escapism.)

More importantly, I don't want to muddle up my head with other books like mine. It's too easy to read something, forget you read it, and then weeks later come up with an idea—I'll make the hero a modern-day Mr. Darcy!—so brilliant that Helen Fielding came up with it in 1996.

But here's the thing. I seem to be in some sort of Vulcan mind meld with these authors anyway.

My first book, It's About Your Husband, is about a woman who starts a new career as an amateur private eye. She gets the idea during a conversation in which an unhappily married acquaintance (who, incidentally, is a twin) complains, "Men are such dogs." The original title of the novel was supposed to be The Dog Catcher, until I heard about a forthcoming novel called The Dog Walker, featuring twins and a lot of snooping around. Okay, I couldn't do anything about the twin characters, but I could change the title.

Later I found out my writing teacher's new book had a heroine named Iris, just like mine. She assured me she didn't mind the coincidence.

Unsettling though isolated incidents, right? No. I was halfway through writing Mating Rituals of the North American WASP, which is set in a fictional Connecticut town, when someone told me my main male characters, Luke and Dean, had the same names as two main male characters in Gilmore Girls, also set in a fictional Connecticut town. Then I picked up Jennifer Weiner's The Guy Not Taken, only to find that she, like I, had a flaky female character named Nicki.

Okay, I thought. I'll change Dean's name. But Nicki and Luke stay. How many more times can this happen?

So last night, I was watching Confessions of a Shopaholic, the movie, in which the love interest is named Luke. But it doesn't stop there. Shopaholic's heroine, Rebecca, has parents who drive around in an RV. My heroine, Peggy, has parents who drive around in an RV.

And the best one is this: Rebecca's best friend calls her "Bex" for short.

Peggy's best friend is named Bex.

I spent the rest of the movie wondering if I could stop the presses and rewite Mating Rituals one last time. Seriously, who names a character Bex?

Apparently, Sophie Kinsella and I do.

No, really. You have to believe me.

Monday, February 16, 2009

the pits

UPDATE: The cover of this weekend's T,
The New York Times Style

The Gratuitous Celebrity Underarm Pose is one of those meaningless trends I wish I could capitalize on journalistically. But in the new publishing economy, which, trust me, is worse than the new rest-of-the-economy, no New York Times or Wall Street Journal wants this story. There's simply too little editorial real estate available to devote any to famous people apparently responding en masse to the American public's command, "Show us your pits!"

Besides, I can just hear my former WSJ boss —who, when he wasn't scolding me for overwriting or demanding I go back and interview 20 more people just to make sure I could truthfully say a growing number of Americans now believe the sky is blue, taught me nearly everything I know about crafting a great trend story—shooting holes in this idea. In my head, he's barking, "Where's the conflict? Where's the forward spin?"

A great trend story, you see, doesn't just identify a trend. Any two-bit reporter can do that. A good reporter identifies the trend and spins it forward: How is the trend already evolving? When will the inevitable backlash occur, and what form will it take? What will be the next trend after this?

I can't answer those questions about the Gratuitous Celebrity Underarm Pose. Or, shall I say, unless someone wants to pay me to ponder those questions, I can't be bothered. What I will do here for free is point out when I began to notice it.

It started with this shot on the cover of the October 2008 issue of Portfolio:

The disturbing focus on the American Apparel Chief Executive Skeeze's underarm left me pondering the magazine's choice of cover image for many minutes longer than I generally ponder this sort of thing. Was it deliberate? I concluded that it was a brilliant bit of art direction; the pose certainly suited Dov Charney's image.

That should have been the end of it. But then, in January 2009, along comes this widely printed pit shot of Kate Winslet at the Golden Globes...

...which reminded me of the Charney photo and had me pondering possible captions ("Winslet Flashes Awards, Axillae"?).

But okay. We're done with this now. Right?

Not so fast...

Et tu, Sasha Fierce?

Last, but, I'm glumly beginning to suspect, not least, is this shot of Jesus Pinto da Luz, Madonna's purported boy du jour.

What would Jesus do?

I'd like to think he'd put on a shirt.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

bad journalism

I dodged a journalistic bullet.

A fellow reporter last night sent me a link to Gawker, along with a note: "You were smart to stay away from that story."

I'll say.

The Gawker item details the fallout over an article titled New York's Diaper Rush that ran last weekend in Page Six magazine, a fashion-and-style magazine from the New York Post. The Page Six story was one of those acid, catty, blatantly misogynistic pieces about mothers that so many magazines love to print. "Everybody knows twins and triplets (or more) are a risk with in vitro fertilization," it said. "But now multitasking NYC power mommies are actually trying for multiples to avoid extra pregnancies—and gain a trendy status symbol."

If the entire premise sounds like a trumped-up load of hooey to you, you're not alone. According to Gawker, not everyone was happy with the article—including the writer, Wendy Straker Hauser, who, in an unprecedented move, sent a note of apology to her sources: "The story I wrote and handed in was nothing like this. The tone was different as was the overall focus. In addition certain quotes were edited to seem more harsh and others were taken out of context."

I can't say I'm surprised. I was the writer originally assigned to the piece.

I've never worked for Page Six magazine (and suspect, after this, never will). So last summer, I was pleased when an editor there, whom I'd never met, e-mailed me out of the blue with an assignment.

"The idea is that having multiples is getting competitive," she wrote. "Everyone from Angelina Jolie to Lisa Marie Presley is having twins, and they're becoming a sort of status symbol. [i.e.], you can afford to have them (because expensive IVF is responsible for the skyrocketing multiple rates). Then, we'll look at how competitive NYC moms of multiples are with each other." She even had a working title for it: Momzilla Multiples.

I needed the money—it was a slow summer—and thought it would be fun to write for Page Six, so I took the assignment. I'd never heard of such a thing happening, so to kick off my research, I asked the editor who had provided the tip. I figured I'd begin my reporting by interviewing the original source.

Oh, the editor said. There was no tip. The editors had come up with the idea on their own.

Oh, no.

The made-up premise is the bane of the feature-writer's existence, or at least of mine. There's nothing I hate more than being told to twist research to fit some editor's preconceived "trend." Some reporters are proud of their ability to do this; there is even a term for it, the "conceptual scoop," which I believe is journalismese for "a trumped-up load of hooey." Now that I'm a freelancer I am lucky enough to be able to choose which stories I write, and I refuse to contort stories to fit made-up premises. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe in reporting first, thesis second.

But I had already accepted the assignment and was now obligated to at least try to get the story. I sent a morose e-mail to my husband—Subject line: Freelance Writer Sells Soul to Satan—and set out to find one mother who'd had twins because she wanted to be like Lisa Marie Presley.

Several weeks and a bunch of interviews with non-competitive non-Momzillas later, I called the editor back and said the story just wasn't panning out. I suggested other options—less sexy, sure, but factually accurate. Nothing appealed. I told her if I wrote the story as she'd assigned it I'd essentially be writing fiction. We agreed, amicably, to go our separate ways.

I didn't give her my notes, and she didn't offer to pay me for my several weeks' worth of interviews (generally, an editor will at least toss you a few hundred dollars if you've done the work in good faith). She told me, incidentally, that the magazine usually assigned more stories than it ran, and had I written the story and they'd decided not to run it, for whatever reason, I wouldn't have gotten paid at all.

At the time, my only outrage was that I had just spent three weeks acting as a de facto New York Post staff writer—for free. But at least I wouldn't be responsible for yet another story that put women, especially mothers, in a bad light.

I had no idea they'd get another reporter and do the article anyway. But, like I said, I'm not surprised. The idea of a subculture of crazy, trend-obsessed statusmongers undergoing in-vitro fertilization treatments to have triplet fashion accessories is a story too good to pass up.

Even if it's a trumped-up load of hooey.