If you’re looking for graphic, gory movies like Saw, Scream, or something with Freddy Krueger, you’ll have to look elsewhere. I prefer spooky films, ghost stories, and movies that mix horror with humor. I assume everybody has seen Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, and the movie that inspired it, Bride of Frankenstein, so let’s pick up from there.

28 Days Later

28 Days Later (2002)

Danny Boyle’s movie about a fast-spreading virus is all too believable, which is why it’s so scary. It also predates the current zombie craze. Starring Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, and Brendan Gleeson.

The Babadook

The Babadook (2014)

A fragile, single mom can’t seem to stifle her young son’s wild imagination. He insists that there is a monster in their house, and it turns out he may be right. A genuinely frightening import from Australia written and directed by Jennifer Kent.

Innocent Blood

Innocent Blood (1992)

A sexy French vampire sinks her teeth into a mob boss and unleashes a brood of blood-sucking vampires!  A guilty-pleasure crossbreed of an urban action thriller and a vampire movie, directed by John Landis. With Anne Parillaud (star of La Femme Nikita), Anthony La Paglia, Robert Loggia, and Don Rickles—yes, that Don Rickles.

The Others

The Others (2001)

Nicole Kidman stars in this engrossing ghost story set on the Channel Islands in 1945. A troubled woman whose husband has never returned form the war tries to maintain her creepy old house while protecting—or is it overprotecting?—her young children. Written and directed by Alejandro Amenábar.


Cloverfield (2008)

A monster invades New York City and causes incredible havoc. An old B-movie premise is juiced up as a “found footage” movie shot by a video camera. It runs on pure adrenaline and never lets up. Lizzy Caplan and T.J. Miller head the cast; J.J. Abrams co-produced and Matt Reeves directed.

Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

This Oscar-winning film by Guillermo del Toro is a dark fairy tale set in Spain during World War II. A monstrous Fascist captain determines to flesh out soldiers of the resistance as his pregnant wife arrives at his countryside headquarters with her young daughter. She escapes the brutality of her new environment by drifting into a fantasy world. This unique fable, which blends fantasy and fearsome violence, invites repeated viewings.


Mirrormask (2005)

A teenage girl who feels alienated from her parents expresses her frustrations by drawing and goes into a dream state inspired by her artwork—and into an odyssey to save the world from dark forces. Neil Gaiman conceived this story with his longtime artistic collaborator, David McKean, who directed this unappreciated film.

Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

This ingenious British horror-comedy put its star, Simon Pegg, and writer-director Edgar Wright, on the map, and for good reason. It’s a very amusing riff on zombie movies, as our slacker-hero slowly catches on that London has been invaded by zombies.

An American Werewolf in London

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Not a spoof but a full-blooded horror film that happens to have a sense of humor. David Naughton and Griffin Dunne star in this tale of an American who’s bitten by a wolf on the British moors, with terrifying results. Written and directed by John Landis. Rick Baker’s amazing makeup effects won an Oscar.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

The bombastic comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello costar with classic movie monsters (Bela Lugosi as Dracula, Lon Chaney, Jr. as The Wolf Man, Glenn Strange as Frankenstein’s monster) in this merry mashup. The monsters all play it straight and the film has the look and feel of a vintage Universal horror movie, which is why it works so well.



Leonard is an authority on movies. His latest books Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide is the definitive guide to classic films from one of America’s most trusted film critics.

Thanks to Netflix and cable television, classic films are more accessible than ever. Now co-branded with Turner Classic Movies, Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide covers films from Hollywood and around the world, from the silent era through 1965, and from The Maltese Falcon to Singin’ in the Rain and Godzilla, King of the Monsters!


Thirty-two years ago, when baseball was still inarguably the national pastime, the New York Yankees hosted the Boston Red Sox at old Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. The temperature soared into the 90s. Neither team was headed to the playoffs. Yet 41,077 fans found their way there, by foot or subway or car or bus, into the park just over the Harlem River from Manhattan. It was the Fourth of July.

The Yankees pitcher that day was a 24-year-old left-hander named Dave Righetti, born in California, drafted by Texas, traded to New York. Righetti was coming off a shutout of the Baltimore Orioles in his previous start. His season was off to a fine start. What might happen that day?

The beauty of baseball – one of the beauties, anyway – is in the heat of July, with half the season gone and half the season ahead, no one game is more important than the next. Baseball is not an event as much as a lifestyle. Sure, there are marquee pitching matchups and series between first-place teams. Lose that one game? Get swept in that key series? There’s another one on the way, new hope each morning.

The Fourth of July kind of tips that balance. Baseball fits the Rockwellian version of Independence Day. Toss it in with all the clichés, with the backyard barbecues and the parades and the fireworks. No ballpark with any degree of pride will host a July 4 game and not dust off the red-white-and-blue bunting.

So people go. Want to feel American? Hop in your Chevy on the Fourth of July and drive to a baseball game. Last year, major league games averaged just more than 30,000 fans over the course of a season that runs from the beginning of spring to the edge of autumn. On the Fourth of July 2014, more than 540,000 people – an average of 38,602 – attended the 14 big league games in parks from Washington to Detroit to Minneapolis to Atlanta to St. Louis to Cincinnati to Denver to Anaheim, where crowds were all over 40,000. (The game in Boston was rained out.)

Tee up the memories, then. On Independence Day in 1939, an ailing Lou Gehrig stepped to the microphone at Yankee Stadium less than a month after his diagnosis with a disease that came to be named for him. He told the crowd that he considered himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.

On the July 4, 1980, the great Nolan Ryan recorded the 3,000th strikeout of his career. On July 4, four years later, knuckleballer Phil Niekro – the anti-Ryan in style, if not results – notched his 3,000th “K.” On the night of Independence Day in 1985, the Braves hosted the Mets in Atlanta, with fireworks scheduled for after the game. Problem: the game lasted 19 innings before the Mets won – at 4 a.m. It would have been somehow un-American to cancel the fireworks, so the Braves unleashed them anyway, though it was the morning of July 5.

This year, 15 games are again scheduled for the Fourth of July – starting with an 11:05 a.m. first pitch in Washington, a rare morning game scheduled so fans can take in the Nationals and San Francisco Giants, then make their way over to the National Mall, less than a mile-and-a-half north of Nationals Park, for the fireworks over the Washington Monument.

Yankee Stadium, albeit a newer, fancier version, will again host a baseball game this Independence Day. And no doubt some of those fans who make their way to the Bronx will think about that summer of 1983, when Dave Righetti slung baseballs at the Red Sox. With two outs in the ninth inning, Righetti still hadn’t given up a hit, and he faced Boston third baseman Wade Boggs, one of the best hitters of his generation, a Hall of Famer to be.

With the count at two balls and two strikes, Boggs fouled off a Righetti pitch and stepped back into the batter’s box. This time, Righetti got him to swing through a breaking ball. Strike three. Ballgame. A no-hitter in New York on the Fourth of July. Now what’s more American than that?


The Grind


What’s it like to live through sports’ longest season, the 162-game Major League Baseball schedule? The Grind captures the frustration, impermanence, and glory felt by the players, the staff, and their families from the start of spring training to the final game of the year; classy baseball writing in the Roger Angell or Tom Boswell tradition. 

Start Reading an Excerpt!

dave-barry 2


In celebration of Father’s Day we have a special gift for you, read an Excerpt from Dave Barry’s Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer is Much Faster): Life Lessons And Other Ravings From Dave Barry in which he writes a letter to his daughter Sophie on her 16th birthday in preparation of her starting to drive.

Dad’s everywhere are sure to get a kick out this!



Dear Sophie—

So you’re about to start driving! How exciting! I’m going to kill myself.

Sorry, I’m flashing back to when your big brother, Rob, started driving. You and I both love Rob very much, and he has matured into a thoughtful and responsible person. But when he turned sixteen and got his driver’s license, he had a marked tendency to—there is no diplomatic way to put this—drive into things.

This was never his fault. I know this because whenever he drove the car into something, which was every few days, he would call me, and the conversation would go like this:

ME: Hello?

ROB: Dad, it wasn’t my fault.

Usually what he had driven into through no fault of his own was the rear end of another car. Cars were always stopping unexpectedly in front of Rob for no reason whatsoever. Or possibly—we cannot rule it out—these cars were suddenly materializing from hyperspace directly in front of Rob, leaving him with no option but to run into them. Whatever the cause, it stopped happening when he got older and more experienced and started buying his own insurance.

My point, Sophie, is that just because the State of Florida thinks you can drive a car, that doesn’t mean you actually can drive a car. As far as I can tell, after three decades on the roads of Florida, there isn’t anybody that the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles doesn’t think can drive a car. I cannot imagine what you would have to do to fail the driving test here.

DMV OFFICER: OK, make a left turn here.


DMV OFFICER: (Writes something on clipboard.)

TEST TAKER: Does that mean I fail the test?

DMV OFFICER: Nah, she’s getting back up. You just clipped her.

You may think I’m exaggerating the badness of the drivers down here, Sophie, but that’s because you haven’t been at the wheel of a car on the Palmetto Expressway going
60 miles per hour, traveling forward—which, as you will learn, is considered to be the traditional direction for vehicular traffic on expressways—only to encounter a vehicle, undoubtedly operated by a licensed Florida driver, going backward. And not on the shoulder, either. In your lane. This has happened to me more than once; it’s how some Miami drivers handle the baffling problem of what to do when you miss an exit. When ESPN shows a NASCAR highlight in which drivers collide at 150 miles per hour and a dozen cars spin out in a whirling mass of flaming wreckage, my reaction is: “Big deal. They were all going the same direction. Let’s see them attempt to drive on the Palmetto Expressway.”

The State of Florida also does not seem to have a problem issuing licenses to drivers who are very elderly.

Q. How elderly are they?
A. Their first vehicle was a chariot.

I once had an eye exam during which the ophthalmologist was telling me about some of his older patients, who according to him were basically blind. He said: “I ask them, ‘How did you get here?’ And they tell me they drove. And I tell them, ‘You can’t drive. You can’t see.’ And they say, ‘How else am I supposed to get here?’ And I say, ‘I don’t know, but you can’t drive, because you can’t see.’ And then they drive home.”

I believe him. I once had a short but terrifying ride on the streets of South Florida in the backseat of a car driven by an elderly man. He was a perfectly nice person, but he had basically the same level of visual acuity as a corn dog. So he outsourced the actual seeing part of driving to his wife, who sat in the passenger seat and did her best to keep him posted on what was going on out there in the mysterious region beyond the windshield.

“You have a green arrow,” she’d say. “Go. Go. I said GO! No! Wait! Stop! STOP!!”

I believe this Seeing Eye wife arrangement is not uncommon among elderly couples on the roads of South Florida. And if you’re wondering why, if the wife can see, she doesn’t just drive, the answer is: The man drives.

So to summarize, Sophie: Many people who lack the judgment and/or physical skills needed to safely microwave a burrito are deemed qualified by the State of Florida to operate a motor vehicle. When you get out on the road, you will be surrounded by terrible drivers. And guess what? You will be one of them. Yes, Sophie: You will be a bad driver, and not because you’re careless or irresponsible, but because you’re teenager, and it is a physiological fact that at your stage of brain development, you are—to use the term preferred by researchers in the field of neurological science—“stupid.”

There is no shame in this. All humans start out stupid, then gradually become more intelligent as they get older (with a few setbacks along the way) until they reach a certain age, after which they start becoming stupider again.
Here’s a scientific chart illustrating this phenomenon:

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 11.41.33 AM

What does this chart tell us, Sophie? It tells us that according to science, even dead people are smarter than teenagers. Teenagers are barely capable of forming sentences. Allowing them to drive—especially if they are males—is insane.

But Dad, you’re thinking, didn’t you drive when you were a teenage male?

Yes I did. I got my New York State driver’s license in 1963, at age sixteen, and I spent many hours cruising on the highways and byways and occasionally the lawns in and around Armonk, N.Y. But that was different, Sophie, because I drove safely. I don’t mean “safely” in the sense of “carefully.” I was definitely your standard male teenage idiot. But I was a safe idiot, because I was driving the safest vehicle ever built: my mom’s 1961 Plymouth Valiant station wagon. It did not have modern safety features such as seat belts, air bags, antilock brakes or a computerized collision-avoidance system. What the Valiant had, which was better than any modern technology, was: Inertia. I would stomp violently down on the accelerator and basically nothing would happen for several lunar cycles, because the Valiant was no more capable of acceleration than a fire hydrant. This was the only car ever manufactured that traveled faster on the assembly line than under its own power.

You could not hit anything in a Valiant. Fully mature trees moved quickly enough to get out of its way. So it couldn’t do any damage even with me at the wheel. If I were in charge, today’s teenagers would be permitted to drive only if they drove Plymouth Valiant station wagons. Also I would require these teenagers to tune the Valiant’s AM radio to New York station WINS and listen to the late Murray the K play hit 1963 tunes such as “Da Doo Ron Ron” because THAT WAS MUSIC, DAMMIT.

Unfortunately, Sophie, I am not in charge, which means you’re going to be driving on roads teeming with modern high-speed automobiles operated by incompetent idiots such as (no offense) yourself. To prove that you’re qualified to do this, the State of Florida will make you take a test based on the information found in the official Florida Driver’s Handbook. For example, the test may ask you to identify the Florida “standard” speed in business or residential areas. According to the Handbook, the “correct” answer, the one you should mark on your test, is 30 miles per hour.

But listen very carefully, Sophie: If you’re driving in Miami and do not wish to be the target of small-arms fire, IN THE NAME OF GOD DO NOT GO AT A “STANDARD” SPEED OF 30 MILES PER HOUR. Miami drivers go faster than that in a car wash. Likewise the Driver’s Handbook will tell you that if you’re approaching a traffic light as it turns yellow, you should attempt to stop. But in Miami, doing that would cause your car to be instantly converted into a large sheet-metal origami sculpture by the seventeen cars immediately behind you.

My point, Sophie, is that there’s a big difference between how the Florida Driver’s Handbook says you should drive and how actual humans drive in Florida, especially South Florida. So to help you understand the mindset you will encounter on the roads here, I’ve prepared this:


Q. If I arrive at an intersection at the same time as another motorist, who goes first?
A. You do.

Q. But what if . . .
A. There IS no “what if.” YOU GO FIRST.

Q. Florida law strictly prohibits texting while driving. Does this law apply to me?
A. Ha-ha! Of course not.

Q. If I stop at a red light, how will I know when it turns green?
A. You will hear honking behind you. This is your cue to start wrapping up your current text, unless of course it is important.

Q. I have noticed that some roads have more than one lane. What is the purpose of the extra lanes?
A. To provide a place for you to swerve into while texting.

Q. When I come to a stop sign, do I need to stop?
A. You personally?

Q. Yes.
A. No.

Q. How is the turn signal used in Florida?
A. It is used to indicate to other motorists that you do not realize your turn signal is blinking.

Q. Could it also be used to signal your intention to turn or change lanes?
A. Interesting! Nobody has ever tried that.

Q. What is the best kind of food to eat while driving?
A. Any food—such as a sandwich, turkey leg, oyster or Ding Dong—that can be eaten one-handed, so you still have a hand free for texting.

Q. What if an emergency situation arises that might require me to operate the steering wheel?
A. Use your forehead to honk the horn until the emergency has passed.

Q. My car’s engine seems to have stopped and I hear a “burbling” noise. What could be causing this?
A. Are you a senior citizen?

Q. Yes.
A. You have driven into a swimming pool.

Q. I am a young male idiot who prefers to drive at a high rate of speed in densely populated areas while texting. How loud should my sound system be?
A. It should emit individual bass notes capable of killing a dog at 50 yards.

Q. I’m a middle-aged male, and I like to put on skintight, junk-displaying Lycra® cycling shorts and a skintight Lycra® cycling jersey covered with logos for corporations that don’t actually pay me anything, then ride around with a large clot of other middle-aged pretend racers screwing up traffic. I don’t have a question about driving, but I HAVE JUST AS MUCH RIGHT TO BE IN THIS Q & A AS ANYONE ELSE.
A. Everyone hates you.

Q. I’ve had a few drinks. How can I tell if I should drive?
A. Take this simple test: Are you wearing your underpants on your head?

Q. Not MY underpants, no.
A. Then you are good to go.

Q. What is all that shouting?
A. Are you a senior citizen?

Q. Yes.
A. You have struck a pedestrian.

Sophie, I know you think your old man is just kidding. I am not. Ask anybody who drives here: This Q & A reflects the actual situation on the roads of Florida far more accurately than the so-called Florida Driver’s Handbook. But I didn’t write this letter to make you nervous about driving here. I wrote it to make you terrified about driving here. Because I love you a lot, and I don’t want anything bad to happen to you. I will do everything I can to make sure you’re really ready to drive. I’m going to keep coaching you until the day you finally get your license and are allowed to drive alone. Even then, as you leave our driveway, I’ll be standing next to the car, giving you last-minute instructions. When you finally drive away, solo at last, you’re going to feel as if I’m still right there next to you, guiding you.

In fact I will be right there next to you, walking at a leisurely pace alongside your car.

Your 1961 Valiant.




The perfect book for Dad’s looking for a good laugh! During the course of living (mumble, mumble) years, Dave Barry has learned much of wisdom,* (*actual wisdom not guaranteed) and he is eager to pass it on—to the next generation, the generation after that, and to those idiots who make driving to the grocery store in Florida a death-defying experience. By the end, if you do not feel wiser, richer in knowledge, more attuned to the universe . . . we wouldn’t be at all surprised. But you’ll have had a lot to laugh about!

Susan Loomis_credit Francis Hammond

All of the sudden, it’s summer. That’s northern France for you.  Wind whistles, grass is covered with frost, flowers have that slightly frozen etch around their petals until very late in the spring then BAM! The sun is out, the air is a warm caress, and rose is in the fridge, chilling for supper.

Tomorrow is the farmers’ market in my town of Louviers, and I’m so eager to see what’s there that I can hardly wait.  You wouldn’t think much would change from one week to the next, but it does. We’ve been through asparagus season, the very early harbinger of spring, but it’s taken an age for anything else to come along.  Now, though, with this burst of warmth which has summer woven all through it, there is likely to be shiny zucchini ready to steam and cover with minced garlic and parsley, and melons will finally send their alluring aroma through the air, begging for a squeeze of lime juice and a sprinkling of peppers and diced shallot, for a pre-meal salad. There may be a few early tomatoes, and strawberries will at long last lend their warm, almost syrupy flavor to a tart, a fruit salad, or a glass of red wine.

As for seafood, well, the sardines are jumping into the fishers’ nets, and I will dredge some in flour, cover them with minced sage and garlic, and bathe them in olive oil and vinegar for a summery escabeche.  I’m doing a big dinner and skate wing, straight from the English Channel, is on the menu.  I will serve it with a capery sauce atop crushed new potatoes that I’ve sprinkled with tiny strips of fresh basil and dabbed with fresh farm butter.  For a real nod to summer, I’ll add a mound of freshly boiled peas that are so sweet they belie their vegetable status and almost taste like dessert.

market picnic

Tomorrow I just know I will also find bunches of new onions, tiny beets, blushing young shallots, juicy cloves of new garlic, and carrots as thin as a pinky.  Anticipating this, I’ve made aioli to serve alongside this summer wealth, for a market picnic. I’ll follow with the sardines and a crisp baguette (for sopping up the sauce). Dessert?  A bowl of cherries in ice water.

For dinner, we’ll have the skate wing with potatoes and peas, a big crisp salad in a delicate vinaigrette, and a chocolate tart covered with sliced strawberries and dusted with confectioner’s sugar.

Oh summer, how happy we are that you are here!

in-a-french-kitchen-by-susan-herrmann-loomis 2


Explore Susan Herrmann Loomis’ new book In a French Kitchen: Tales and Traditions of Everyday Home Cooking in France for everyday tips, secrets, and eighty-five recipes that allow you to turn every meal into a sumptuous occasion.

In a French Kitchen by Susan Herrmann Loomis is a delightful celebration of French life and the cooks who turn even the simplest meals into an occasion.

Start Reading an Excerpt!



Penguin Online photo Yafa

Anyone who’s seen Jennifer Lawrence or Charlize Theron on screen knows that both of the Oscar winners for Best Actress are the real thing. It’s not surprising, at least to me, that they have no patience for phony celebs or “pretend” foods. Theron won’t go near anything gluten-free: “It tastes like cardboard!” she exclaimed in a talk-show appearance. Lawrence told Vanity Fair that gluten-free diets are “the new, cool eating disorder.”

Real foods, to both women, do not perform bait-and-switch tricks like substituting tapioca for whole wheat flour in baked goods. Real foods contain whole grains that may or may not be fashionable at the moment, but still deliver proven value.  I’m reminded that our palate and digestive system subscribe to no dietary trends, and never have.  Our bodies dwell in a microbial universe where nutritive usefulness trumps the latest fad; muscles and ligaments along with the liver and every other internal organ thrive on minerals and vitamins, healthful bacteria, fiber and phytochemicals. They’re sublimely oblivious to pop culture’s demands for the newest, coolest, latest diet.

As the author of Grain of Truth—The Real Case For and Against Wheat and Gluten I set out to discover for myself, as an investigative journalist, just how seriously I should take the campaign against gluten. Was this protein complex found in wheat, barley and rye, as William Davis claims in Wheat Belly, so injurious to our well-being that it has killed more people than all wars combined? Or were we yet again being subjected to unsubstantiated hyperbole—this time delivered by medical professionals, among others?

The gluten-free craze arrived in a thundercloud of hyperbole, like Moses delivering the Ten Commandments and warning if you fail to honor them, well, we’ll see you in hell. That’s the emotional foundation of screeds like Wheat Belly and Grain Brain. Like scripture, they are unconditional—they don’t deal with shades of gray, so we don’t have to, either. It’s all fire and brimstone. Eat wheat and grow fat, while you rot your brain. Other diet fads—Zone, South Beach, Atkins, generally call for more protein and fewer carbs, and more thought.  Gluten-free is a one-stop one-shop silver bullet.

Reliable clinical studies indicate that only .63 to 6 percent of us suffer from definable symptoms of non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and 1 in 133 from celiac disease. The vast majority of men and women who think they’re reacting to gluten— about 30 percent of the general population—fall into neither category.

A recent study at the University of Florida set out to probe people’s misconceptions about gluten. It followed 97 participants who tasted two food choices, one labeled “gluten-free” and one labeled “gluten.” The majority decided the non-gluten food was healthier, even though neither food actually contained gluten. As many as 32 percent of the study subjects thought eating gluten-free would bring about weight loss. Not true. It’s the elimination of junk food, the researchers point out, that makes all the difference.

grain-of-truth-by-stephen-yafa 2I discovered too that long fermentation, as in sourdough, is nature’s way of reducing the toxicity of gluten molecules while increasing its nutritive value and edible enjoyment. A surprise to me, and proof again that the best part of authoring a book is to learn what you didn’t know when you began.


Read more about Grain of Truth—The Real Case For and Against Wheat and Gluten by Stepehn Yafa!

patricia-morrisroeHow do you choose what to write about?

I’ve written a biography of the controversial biography Robert Mapplethorpe, a book on sleep, and now a memoir about shoes.  On the surface, they would seem to have nothing in common, but each subject was very topical.  Mapplethorpe would soon become notorious as the man whose work resulted in the famous censorship trial in Cincinnati – the first time a gallery in the United States faced prosecution for the art it displayed.  From that standpoint alone, it was an important story, but Mapplethorpe’s life, from his early beginnings as a Catholic schoolboy in Floral Park, Queens, to reaching the top of the art world as he was dying of AIDS, was a powerful narrative.

I decided to write about sleep because I’ve long suffered from insomnia, and after spending a crazy night in a sleep clinic, I thought, “This is too good to waste.” At the time, there was a lot about sleep in the news, focusing on the bizarre side-effects of sleeping pills, such as “sleep eating, sleep driving,” etc.  So again, it was a topical subject that in this case touched me personally.

9 ½ Narrow: My Life In Shoes came out of a conversation I had with an editor who wanted to see if I was interested in doing a book on Alexander McQueen.  When you write about someone’s life, you really have to be willing to walk in his or her shoes, and among the last shoes McQueen designed were his 12-inch crustacean-clawed Armadillo booties.  They were terrifying, but it started me thinking about women and shoes, and how they provided a marker for the important events in our lives.


What does a typical writing day look for you?

 I’m a very regimented person, so after drinking a cup of tea, eating Greek yogurt with fruit, and reading the New York Times on my iPad, I usually start to work around 9:30 am.  I take a break around 1pm to pick up something for dinner and my all-important latte, and then I’m back writing around 2:15 or so.  I usually work until about 5:30.  I’m someone who can’t write after dinner because if I did my head would be spinning all night long, which it often does anyway, but then I’d never fall asleep, and since I’ve already written that book, it wouldn’t be productive.


You’ve also written for New York magazine and Vogue.  How does writing a book differ from journalism?

The obvious answer is that writing a book takes much longer and represents a huge emotional investment.  There isn’t the immediate gratification of seeing your name in print and getting quick feedback from editors and readers.  With a book, you have to be sure that you’re fascinated enough in the subject that it will keep you going for at least several years.  With magazines, even if you’re not completely in love with the topic, you know it’s not forever, and with some books, it can seem like forever.  But of course in the end, you have a book.  They may not be forever, but they’re usually around longer than a magazine piece.


What surprised you most about writing 9 ½ Narrow?

My mother died two months before I signed the book contract, and my father died two months before my publication date.  They acted as bookends, as it were.  I’d started out writing a humorous memoir about shoes.  I knew it wouldn’t be without its poignant parts.  Friends died along the way, but I wasn’t fully prepared for the death of a parent.  Throughout the book, my mother acts as my sparring partner and foil.  She’s both hilarious and frustrating, but her voice helped move the book along.  Shoes, as everyone who’s ever read a fairy tale knows, provide the perfect metaphor for life’s journey.  I didn’t know where 9 ½ Narrow would take me, or how I’d end it, but my mother got me there, and in doing so, provided the book with an added depth, for which I am grateful.


What do you hope readers will gain from the book?

I hope they will laugh and cry and recognize a little bit of themselves in my story.  For me, writing this book was enormously fun and at times very sad.  Some weeks I’d find myself smiling, other weeks, I’d be writing with tears rolling down my cheeks.  In a way, this book saved me during a difficult time in my life.  So I’d love for readers to enjoy the full scope of my story, and then, with my blessing, go out and celebrate their own lives with a new pair of shoes.


What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Don’t do it unless you really love it, because it’s a difficult profession, and getting more difficult.  I could say don’t get discouraged by rejections, but everyone gets discouraged.  Moving on after the rejections is the important thing.  Set up a schedule and stick to it.  I once interviewed Raymond Carver and I remember him telling me that he used to get up early in the morning to write in his car.  Don’t try to mimic another writer’s voice.  Find your own.  It will take time, but once you do, you’ll realize it was there all along.   Pay attention to the way you talk and bring that distinct rhythm into your writing.  And, as clichéd as it sounds, it’s really all about the pleasure of the process.



A funny, poignant coming-of-age memoir told through the shoes that she wore.

Morrisroe’s “coming-of-age” is, at its heart, the story of a generation of women who’ve enjoyed a world of freedom and opportunity that was unthinkable to their mothers. Spanning five decades and countless footwear trends, 9 ½ Narrow is, like Love, Loss and What I Wore, about how we remember important events through a coat, or a dress, or in this case, a Beatle boot or Confirmation “wedgie.” 


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Simon MajumdarI was genuinely delighted when Penguin Random House agreed to publish my latest food and travel adventure, Fed, White, and Blue.  Not just because they are, of course, one of the finest publishers in the world, but also because it felt very much like I was coming home.

A little under thirty years ago, after the good Lord and I both decided that a life in the Episcopalian clergy was not for me, my first “proper” place of employment was as a sales associate in a small, short lived chain of bookshops owned by Penguin Books.  It began a happy ten year association with the publisher that saw me move up through the ranks until I had gained the heady title of “Special Sales Manager,” a position which earned me my own little office, with its own coveted little window, in their London headquarters.

The majority of my time during that decade, however, was spent out on the road, as a sales representative for the Penguin Paperback list. It was a period which, even given some of the extraordinary adventures I have experienced in the last few years of travel around the world, still remains one of the most enjoyable of my career, and I still retain the fondest memories of my years servicing a select group of large bookstores in central London.

It was a job which not only tested my ability to consume gallons of tea (or “English Penicillin” as we call it back in Blighty) every day as I met with the managers of the book stores, but also gave me a true insight into the sharp end of the book business, which I think has served me well in my second life as an author.

As a sales person for Penguin, the notion of “author care” was drummed into me from the very beginning. My list of new books to sell each month was sizeable, but I was always well aware that every title I offered up to my customers represented the heart and soul of the author, and often years of hard work to bring the book to fruition. It was a mindset that I never forgot, whether I was selling a new title from a blockbuster author or a niche work from a specialist that would find its home in our midlist. I can promise that I always gave every effort to sell every book, and it is a mindset that I am delighted to say seems to be very much at the heart of the Penguin Random House philosophy today.

I can also say that my time on the road has definitely helped me become a more involved author.  Each new book I write is like my new baby, and I, of course, want everybody to admire it and for it to reach the widest audience possible. However, having spent so much time on the front line of book sales, I am also aware what a tough battleground it can be and that there are thousands of new books each month are fighting for the attention of customers.

fed-white-and-blue-by-simon-majumdar 2I also know, after spending nearly twenty years of my life in the business, just how much the publishing landscape has changed. Now, more than ever, making a book a success depends on a joint effort between the authors, editorial, marketing, publicity and the sales teams. It takes, as they say “a village” to produce a good book, and I am thrilled that, with the publication of Fed, White, and Blue I am allowed to be a resident of one of the best villages in the business.

Like I said, it feels like coming home.

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Christine DonougherLes Misérables is a novel whose themes have a universal and very topical resonance, but they are themes that emerge from a narrative that is very specifically related to a particular time and place –post Revolutionary France. My translation attempts to preserve that specificity of time and place, so I was anxious not to contaminate the text, as it were, with a vocabulary or with expressions freighted with connotations from a later era or a radically different environment that would sound inappropriate or jarring.

I was also anxious not to adopt a style that was unduly mannered or artificial, not to create any sense of the ‘costume drama’. I wanted the text to read as if it was written in a living language, but not in an aggressively twenty-first-century idiom.

My approach was to view Les Misérables not from the perspective of the present, as a nineteenth-century classic, but rather to see it as the modern phenomenon that it once was, reflecting, as it did when it was published in 1862, a modern view of recent history, written by an author who was regarded–in literary terms, in his political views, in his own private life–as something of an iconoclast, a radical, a rule-breaker, a trail-blazer, but who also respected more conservative views and values, and who had contrived by the end of his life to become an establishment figure par excellence.

Hugo had a seemingly effortless mastery of French versification and had published a huge body of poetic work by the time that he was revising and completing Les Misérables in the early 1860s. He was steeped in the classics, and he knew his La Fontaine inside out. He lived in a world of political upheaval, of scientific inquiry and technological innovation, and his writing reflects all these elements.

To bring out these aspects of his writing I relied not only on translation but also on footnotes to illuminate textual features of a linguistic nature–puns, quotations in foreign languages, literary allusions etc–and endnotes to explain factual and historical references, and my hope is that this editorial apparatus is not intrusive but supportive. (While I was working on the translation I became aware of the internet community of fans of Les Misérables whose detailed knowledge of Hugo’s text and their readiness to exchange information about it are remarkable.)

I was intrigued, for instance, by Marius’s tribute to Monsieur Maboeuf, to whom he is indebted for telling him about his father: “He removed my cataracts.” The more clichéd expression would be, “He opened my eyes,” but in 1752 the French surgeon Jacques Deviel published an account of his revolutionary procedure of cataract removal, which laid the foundations for the method used right up until modern times.

I was also struck by how Les Misérables seems to have anticipated so many of the now familiar elements of later novels, thrillers and films, from the literary–there are strong echoes of Jean Valjean’s dream in the South American writer Juan Rulfo’s ghost town in his short novel Pedro Paramo, which Garcia Marquez and Borges revered as a masterpiece–to the mass market bestseller–the long, so-called digressions being not very far removed from the detailed background research incorporated into the modern techno-thriller. The chase through the sewers is memorably reprised in Carol Reed’s film noir The Third Man, based on Graham Greene’s screenplay, and the Champmathieu Affair is a forerunner of many later court room dramas.

les-miserables-by-victor-hugoSo, bearing all these considerations in mind, this translation aims to convey as directly and as unobtrusively as possibly the enduring and timeless appeal of Hugo’s great novel.

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credit Fiona Saunders

Seventeen years ago, right out of college and the Radcliffe Publishing Course, I moved to New York and went to work for the charismatic group of editors who founded Riverhead Books. Over the next four years, as an editorial assistant, I would answer phones, make photocopies, mail books and schedule lunch dates in exchange for a master class in the art of being an editor.

I had always wanted to be an editor. I imagined being left alone in a spacious office with a lot of books and papers. It didn’t take a week to realize that the reality of being an editor was very different—and much more exciting—than my fantasy. What I could not have anticipated before witnessing the chaos, the constant interruptions, the endless phone calls and multi-hour meetings around which those editors’ work days revolved, was how captivating the authors would be. I was star-struck by some of them, a little bit in love with others, and scared to death of one or two. But they were never, ever boring, and no two hours, let alone days, with them were alike. I was forced to overcome my natural introversion again and again to find ways to help, to please, to cajole and to befriend these enigmatic creatures.

When I became an editor myself, I realized just how intense and emotional these relationships could be. The authors I chose to work with changed my life. I helped them to make the most of their work, promoted their books both inside and outside the company, and faded into the background when it was their time to shine. I learned a lot by watching them, but I never wished to be one of them. They spent years writing books in private that would become suddenly public, up for judgment. It was exhilarating but terrifying. They nurtured their hopes, but they couldn’t know what publication day would bring.

While I delivered more than my share of good news over the years—got to tell some authors that their books had made the New York Times bestseller list, to enthuse over publicity coups and take them out for celebratory dinners after their Manhattan readings—I felt their disappointment acutely when things didn’t go so well: a bad review, a too-quiet launch, missed flights and poorly attended readings on tour. I loved being their behind-the-scenes support from the relative safety of my office at 375 Hudson Street, where my good friends and I gossiped and celebrated one another’s birthdays with conference room cupcakes.

A writing life would have seemed too messy and risky to the person I was then. I used to tell friends and family who aspired to write books that it was a terrible way to make a living, that if they could imagine doing anything else—ANYTHING—they should go and do that instead. I stand by that advice, and yet my book, That’s Not English: Britishisms, Americanisms, and What Our English Says About Us, is about to be published by Gotham.

After I‘d been working for Penguin for ten years, my husband and I had the opportunity to reinvent our lives in London—an offer too exciting to pass up. We started a family. I did some freelance editing and ghost-wrote a couple of books. Then I started looking around for a new challenge… and let’s face it, there’s nothing like a couple of little kids to help you get used to mess and risk. When one of my former authors (none other than the brilliant Lynne Truss, author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves) gave me the idea to write a book about the differences between English and American culture through the lens of language, I really wanted to try it.

I spent months doing research and digging up intriguing little stories and bizarre bits of history. It was enormous fun finding my own voice after channeling other voices for so long, but the best part was imagining readers having the same thrill of discovery that I’d felt while working on the book. There are a lot of people out there who love to travel, explore other cultures, and talk about language—this book is for them. It is also for American and English expatriates going through the tortuous process of partial assimilation that I went through (and am still going through). Writing That’s Not English helped me find the humor in this experience.

I could never have imagined how satisfying work could be on the other side of the desk. There are things I miss about being an editor, though—like my colleagues. I want to say that I missed those smart and funny Penguins so much, I just had to work with them again. But the truth is, they rarely call me. Most days I am left alone in the library with a lot of books and papers, nurturing my hopes and wondering what publication day will bring.




American by birth, Erin Moore is a former book editor who specialized in spotting British books—including Eats, Shoots & Leaves—for the US market. She’s spent the last seven years living in England with her Anglo American husband and a small daughter with an English accent.

That’s Not English is the perfect companion for modern Anglophiles and the ten million British and American travelers who visit one another’s countries each year.

Malice 2014 me and teapot 2“Where do you get your ideas?” a reader asks, at nearly every book event. “From my characters,” I say, aware that this makes me sound like a crazy woman. But before you call the men in the white coats, let me explain.

The heart of every story is the characters. Even in a mystery or a thriller, where plot is critical to a story’s success, the characters are the key. When someone raves to you about a book, they don’t say “it’s about a bomb ….” They say “it’s about a woman who ….” When readers fall for a series, they remember the characters as much as the individual plots—sometimes even more.

Character is both a person and a person’s essential nature, revealed by decisions and choices, especially those made under stress. It is those choices and decisions that create the plot.

And so, for me, it’s crucial to get to know my characters before I start writing their story. Because I write series, I know my recurring characters, but they are always surprising me. I knew that Pepper Reece, the main character in my new Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries, got her nickname not from the shop but from her baseball-crazy grandfather, who dubbed the fiery three-year-old “Pepper” after the legendary Pepper Martin of the St. Louis Cardinals. But not until her mother Lena returns from Costa Rica for a visit in the third book, which I’ve just begun, did I know for sure what her real name is. (And no, I’m not going to tell you until then!) I knew she was raised in a communal household along with Kristen, her BFF and part-time employee. But I had no idea that in their early forties, these closer-than-sisters friends would discover that each had kept a secret or two.

Turns out that secrets are a theme to this series, as are questions about identity and the fine line between protecting someone and interfering. In Assault and Pepper, the first installment, Pepper finds a homeless man named Doc dead on the Spice Shop’s doorstep. The discovery rocks Pepper right down to her bay leaves. Nothing in her first year selling spice or her fifteen years managing staff HR at a giant law firm prepared her for the shock—or the consequences.

(Although being a cop’s wife for thirteen years did expose her to the seamier side of life. Especially when she discovered her husband and a meter maid—she still can’t say “parking enforcement officer”—in a back booth in a posh new restaurant practically plugging each other’s meters when he was supposed to be working a shift for a friend. Of course, it doesn’t help that he’s the bike cop on the Market beat.)

What’s even worse is when the homicide detectives—Spencer and Tracy, and yes, they’ve heard the jokes, and no, they’re not amused—focus on one of her trusted employees. She considers herself a good judge of people; after all, in both HR and retail, her livelihood depends on it. How could she have been so wrong? The only other suspects seem just as unlikely. Pepper investigates in part because she can’t believe her employee is guilty—or that the young woman would withhold the truth from her. The investigation forces her to confront the limits of her own judgment and her ability to work with other people. In the process, she learns new skills and draws on internal resources she didn’t know she had.

Plot unfolds when one character acts and another responds. And so as a writer, I ask my story people to tell me what they most want out of life. To show me their struggles, internal and external. To reveal how they respond when someone stands in their way. In the planning phase, I sometimes struggle until I identify the core conflicts between the victim and the killer—but also between the victim and other characters who fall under suspicion, and between the sleuth and those who would stop her. Ultimately, the characters’ actions and responses come together like the channels of a braided river.

Assault-and-Pepper-Leslie-Ann-BudewitzGetting there can be messy. It’s a kinetic process, always changing until I reach “the end” for the last time. It’s a lot of fun. I hope that it flows on the printed page, that it keeps you reading and asking questions. I hope my stories introduce you to a cast of folks you want to know, who show you a little something about life—and character.

Discover more about Assault & Pepper by Leslie Ann Budewitz!