Thursday, July 11, 2013

Making Hay While the Sun Shines

Apologies for silence and lack of updates. Writing, writing. Writing. Must make the best use of the summer to work on The Monkey Helper after a marvelous first spring term teaching at Kenyon College during which I simply didn't get very much work done on the novel.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

HERE TODAY is almost here!

I am delighted to announce that playwright David Caudle [] has written a new musical play HERE TODAY, inspired by my memoir, The Memory Of All That: George Gershwin, Kay Swift, and My Family's Legacy of Infidelities. The show, which is based on the love triangle of Kay Swift, her husband and collaborator Jimmy Warburg (in other words, my grandparents), and George Gershwin, will feature the score to Fine and Dandy, along with other Kay Swift songs. The first showcase will take place at the Ziegfeld Society meeting in New York City on Saturday, April 27th at 3:30 in the Lang Recital Hall at Hunter College.
 I will participate in an after-show discussion along with David Caudle and Music Director Aaron Gandy. Tickets are on sale now! More information is here (scroll down to April 27th):


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Back to My Monkey Business

Working on The Monkey Helper. Want something? Take a number!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Nazi Chocolate Plot

Much as I have moved on from all things chocolate since the publication of my last novel True Confections two years ago, today's news reveals a story I would surely have included in my novel about chocolate, racism, and the Third Reich's Madagascar Plan for the Jews of Europe.  Wire stories report:

London, July 18 (ANI): Secret wartime papers exchanged between MI5 officials have revealed that the Nazis' plans to conquer Britain included a deadly assault on Sir Winston Churchill with exploding chocolate. Adolf Hitler's bomb-makers coated explosive devices with a thin layer of rich dark chocolate and then packaged it in expensive-looking black and gold paper.

The Germans planned to use secret agents working in Britain to discreetly place the bars of chocolate - branded as Peter's Chocolate - among other luxury items taken on trays into the dining room used by the War Cabinet during the Second World War. The lethal slabs of confection were packed with enough explosives to kill anyone within several metres.

But Hitler's plot was foiled by British spies who discovered that they were being made and tipped off one of MI5's most senior intelligence chiefs, Lord Victor Rothschild. Lord Rothschild, a scientist in peace time as well as a key member of the Rothschild banking family, immediately typed a letter to a talented illustrator seconded to his unit asking him to draw poster-size images of the chocolate to warn the public to be on the look-out for the bars. His letter to the artist, Laurence Fish, is dated May 4, 1943 and was written from his secret bunker in Parliament Street, central London.

The letter, marked 'Secret', reads "Dear Fish, I wonder if you could do a drawing for me of an explosive slab of chocolate...We have received information that the enemy are using pound slabs of chocolate which are made of steel with a very thin covering of real chocolate," the Daily Mail quoted the letter as reading. "Inside there is high explosive and some form of delay mechanism... When you break off a piece of chocolate at one end in the normal way, instead of it falling away, a piece of canvas is revealed stuck into the middle of the piece which has been broken off and a ticking into the middle of the remainder of the slab. When the piece of chocolate is pulled sharply, the canvas is also pulled and this initiates the mechanism. I enclose a very poor sketch done by somebody who has seen one of these. It is wrapped in the usual sort of black paper with gold lettering, the variety being PETERS. Would it be possible for you to do a drawing of this, one possibly with the paper half taken off revealing one end and another with the piece broken off showing the canvas. The text should indicate that this piece together with the attached canvas is pulled out sharply and that after a delay of seven seconds the bomb goes off."

The letter was found by Fish's wife, journalist Jean Bray, as she sorted through his possessions following the artist's death, aged 89, in 2009.  Incredible!  Not only would Alice Ziplinsky have had a lot to say about this, but I would dearly love to have been able to weave it into the Ziplinsky family history and the story of Zip's Candies.  This is exactly the sort of headsmacking item that compelled me to name this blog Staircase Writing.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Working on The Monkey Helper

Not much to say right now because I am working on my novel, The Monkey Helper.

Monday, June 11, 2012

(Re)Publication Day

The Broadway Books paperback edition of The Memory Of All That: George Gershwin, Kay Swift, and My Family's Legacy of Infidelities is on bookstore shelves now, with the official pub date being tomorrow, June 12th.  The new cover puts emphasis on the New York-ness of the story, complete with a not-quite finished Chrysler Building in the background. It also features a really terrific, slightly come-hither photograph of my grandmother circa 1928 in her leopard coat and a fetching cloche hat. Here's hoping new readers are attracted by the new cover!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Must Have Names and Facts

My memoir, THE MEMORY OF ALL THAT: George Gershwin, Kay Swift, and My Families Legacy of Infidelities will be out in a pretty new paperback edition from Broadway Books in a couple of weeks.

A question I have been asked a few times since the book's publication last July is about my motivation and indiscretion in writing about family history. Why did I delve into such personal stories about my grandmother Kay Swift, in particular?  My answer each time has been the observation that unlike most family stories, numerous versions of the central events in my family's  history have been in the public view all along. The events and personalities have been scrutinized and gossiped about and picked over for decades, in newspaper stories, magazine articles, gossip columns,  cultural histories, and biographies. Countless people think they know all about my family members. And so what I have written is in many ways a counter-story, a push back against the distorted narrative that has been in public view for a very long time. I know that what I have written is an act of loyalty, love, and devotion. I also know that certain people are both judgmental and truly uncomfortable about my choices.

Last week I came across a particular letter, dated Saturday November 9th, 1940, one of hundreds of letters from my grandmother to her lifelong friend Mary Lasker, to whom she wrote nearly daily from the ranch in Oregon where she had lived for a year by then with her second husband, a cowboy. At the time of the letter, Kay was 43, thirteen years younger than I am now.

I read through all the letters a few years ago, but I didn't recall this particular passage, which seems especially pertinent at this moment, and I am very glad I found it.  She ended the eight-page rambling and reflective letter to her closest confidante with this passing thought: "When I'm 75 my autobiography would be good reading -- but that is fairly far off; and no discreet autobiog. is any good at all. Must have names & facts."