Saturday, May 26, 2018

A Woman is Like a Tea Bag

Several years ago, while I was going through a stressful time watching my beautiful mother decline, my sister-in-law gave me a mug with a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt scrolled across the  porcelain. "A woman is like a tea bag - you never know how strong she is until you put her in hot water." How perfect! Read those words again. I'll bet you'll come up with a time when you were in the so-called hot water and garnered your own strength.  

Not only do I appreciate the former First Lady's wisdom, I feel as if she's been a part of my life. No, I never had the honor of meeting her, but my mother did. I remember how excited Mom was, practically dancing her way out to the car the morning she was to pick up Eleanor Roosevelt at La Guardia airport. Just so you know, my mother was not the world's best driver by any stretch of the imagination, but that didn't matter to the teachers and staff at Harriet Beecher Stowe Junior High School in Harlem.

Mrs. Roosevelt was coming to speak with the students, all girls back then in the late 1950s, and my generous mother, a permanent substitute at 136 (which she always called the school, probably because it was on 136th Street in Harlem) offered to be the former First Lady's chauffeur.  I heard about that story for years and wish I could ask my mother now more about the conversation they had as they sat in the Buick driving through traffic on the Cross Bronx Expressway. I'm sure it was fascinating.

My brother-in-law, Sidney, also met Mrs. R., around the same time as my mother. As a student at Seth Low Jr. High School in Brooklyn, he and his friend, Marvin, interviewed her for their school newspaper. Years later, for his 50th birthday, Marvin gave Sid a coffee mug (is there a theme here with mugs and Eleanor?) with a picture of the three of them printed on it. Marvin had saved the picture taken that day, most likely with a Brownie Hawk-eye, for thirty-five years! I don't know where that mug is now. I hope Marvin has it. The two boys were beaming in the photo, and at the birthday party, too, all those years later when they reminisced.
So why am I focused on this impressive woman who was not only First Lady but also served as U.S. Delegate to the United Nations General Assembly from 1945-52, chaired JFK's Presidential Commission on the Status of Women, and did so much for human rights? Because, again, she's been a part of my life. This time, I've spent days with her while I devoured B.A. Shapiro's historical fiction page-turner, The Muralist.

Shapiro's characters are so alive on the page that I feel I know them and wish I could call Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, and Mark Rothko, as well as Mrs. Roosevelt, to let them know what happened to their fictitious friend, Alizée Benoit. Even after finishing the book, I have to remind myself that Alizée wasn't real.

Alizée was definitely like a tea bag. She not only found herself in hot water, hers was boiling, steaming, hotter than molten lava and her strength soared. I highly recommend this book. Take the thrilling ride, back and forth, from New York City today to the NYC of the 1940s with its art world and the emergence of the Abstract Expressionists, across the ocean to German Occupied France where Alizée's family struggled to save themselves from the Nazis. And remember, this is a work of fiction, though you'll think it isn't. Find out what happened to Alizée when she went missing.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Typewriters and Sand Chairs - Where's the Connection?

 The Literary Leotard is back. I haven't stopped writing or teaching exercise classes, or exercising myself, but my blog has been on  hiatus for too long. It's time to connect with all of you again and give exercise tips and/or book suggestions - and intertwine the two when my creative juices swell. I love when that happens, like the time I wrote the post Trojan Wars, Achilles and Exercise back in 2013. You can still find it here. Just scroll through my posts. It'll show up. I'm so glad that Blogger keeps all the posts I've written though for how long I don't know. Perpetuity? Wouldn't that be something!  How fabulous would it be if my great grandchildren were able to read them someday? It would be in the far, distant future as my grandsons are only eight and three. Maybe there won't even be computers at that time; they'll have gone by the way of the printing press and other machine that are now obsolete. If I was a science fiction writer I might create that story, but that's not me. I prefer settings in the here and now, or in the past, or weaving the two together as I've done in the manuscript I've recently finished which I'm hoping to have published one day. That's a long, twisty, windy road, a topic for another time. For now, let's focus on this blog and how I'm going to connect exercise with my dislike of writing and reading dystopian novels.

I have trouble imagining what our future world might be like even sixty or seventy years from now when I might have great grandchildren. Will we have chips in our ears taking the place of cell phones? Will we scroll letters in the air in front of us rather than on paper or typing them on a keyboard, and will those words somehow travel across the atmosphere to the exact person we're writing to somewhere in Europe?

 It was a little over sixty years ago that I actually learned to write script, which kids aren't even learning now, and over fifty when I learned to type - and that was on a Smith Corona, a blue one that I loved. Several years after that, I bought an electric typewriter which was so much easier. Lucky for me, I had the feel of those keys, not having to press so damn hard, that when my first job after college at Ziff Davis Publishing required my typing abilities, my fingers flew across the keyboard.  Not that I loved typing, especially not tables of numbers for the marketing department. If ZD had been a literary publisher, maybe my dream of writing a novel would have ignited sooner.

 Later, when word processors came out, the pre-cursor to the PC, I had no need of them. At that time, I was raising kids and teaching exercise classes - and writing letters by hand. Yes, letters. Oh how nice it was finding an envelope in the mailbox addressed to me that wasn't asking for a donation or pushing hearing aids or funeral plots. Ah, but I digress. So, what will our future be like? How will we be writing? What will become of my blog?  I have no idea. What I do know, though, is that in the future I want to be independent and believe you do, too. That's where the Leotard side of this post 
comes in.

 In order to maintain our independence, get off a chair without any assistance, or even a toilet, we must keep our core strong. So, keep reading, but stand up! Now, move a little bit forward, away from your chair. Ok, now lower yourself, as if you're going to sit back down, BUT DON'T. Let your buttocks and the backs of your thighs ALMOST touch the chair, then stand up again. Do this several times. You'll feel the work in your thighs and buttocks. Remember to keep your abdominals in. Keep those muscles strong. They'll get you out of a sand chair this summer and out of chairs, in general, for years to come no matter how or on what we write.  

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Soap, Moisturizer or a Luminous Novel?

When you see the words Wash and Wrinkle, don't think of hygiene or the creams we use to ward off the ravages of Father Time. Think books. Margaret Wrinkle's debut novel Wash.

  This past Friday night, Oct 27th, the New York City chapter of The Women's National Book Association celebrated the tenth anniversary of National Reading Group Month with an event at Penguin Random House honoring debut authors. After a lively panel discussion, I had the immense pleasure of meeting and chatting with Margaret Wrinkle, one of the four panelists, all whose novels have been Great Group Read's selections.  

 Wash, Wrinkle's lush debut, with some of the most beautiful metaphors I've ever read, moved me from the first page to the last when I closed the book with a deep sigh.  The story takes the reader on a journey from the burgeoning South, with slave breeding, to West Africa and back again where we meet Wash and his mother, Mena, who envelopes the reader in the beauty of her African spirituality while she infuses her son with his history and people. Pallas and Richardson, along with all of Wrinkle's other characters, are so vividly portrayed that three weeks after finishing the book I cannot shake them from my mind. Just as Wash's ancestors breathe beside him, Wrinkle's characters continue to walk beside me. 

Wrinkle captures the voice of the African slave, as if she had lived among them, as well the distinct voice of the white male slave owner. As a writer, I'm envious of that ability plus of her gorgeous phrases, similes and metaphors. I found myself dog-earring pages so I could go back and re-read the beautiful prose. Plus, I'm intrigued by her use of the craft in giving each character his or her own voice. When I asked why she wrote each one separately in first person, Margaret explained that she had to, that each one spoke to her. And, to make me even more envious of her talent, she steps back from each character and uses an omniscient narrator to bring the reader into the scene, to let us know what else is going on at the same time. When I commented on that technique wondering why she used it, Margaret smiled and said, "I had to know what they were all feeling."

Whether black or white, Wrinkle throws her characters into relationships, some brutal and some loving harboring feelings forbidden by the institution of slavery. Through each of their stories, the novel is a gift both haunting and tender.  

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Women's Fiction? What is it?

What is Women's Fiction? Is it Chick-Lit? Is it Romance? As a writer of this particular genre, I've been asked that question many times and answer with a resounding NO!! 

Women's Fiction can be Romance. It can be Historical or Contemporary. It might even be Dystopian. The one specific aspect that places a novel in the Women's Fiction category is the focus on the main character's emotional journey. It is a layered story, which makes it great for book club discussion, where, as stated on the Women's Fiction Writers Association website: "the plot is driven by the main character's emotional journey."

My novel, The Disharmony of Silence, for which I'm actively seeking representation (and dream of seeing on bookshelves in stores and libraries, and in your homes one day- in the not too distant future, please!) fits that definition, as does my WIP (work in progress) Flourish. Many of The Literary Leotard's readers have seen bits about Flourish on my website and have assumed it's a published novel. Sorry. And I can't say I wish it was, because it was in need of a complete re-write, which I'm now tackling. Kind of like when The Sands Casino, back in 1996, was demolished in Las Vegas and a new, bigger, better building was constructed on its footprint.  All writers go through this. Your favorite novel, even Pulitzer Prize winners, have been through many rewrites and some, like the Sands, don't look anything like the original when it comes to you whether in a hardbound book with a gorgeous cover or digitally on your Kindle or iPad (or whatever…)

I'd love to know how the novel I just gobbled up, Almost Missed You, actually began - if Violet and Finn, Caitlin and George and their children look anything like they did when Jessica Strawser, its debut author, first put pen to paper. Almost Missed You, published by St. Martin's Press, will be in book stores on March 28th. Look for it! Ms. Strawser takes you on an emotional ride starting on page one when you'll think Violet and Finn were "meant to be" as everyone said. You won't want to put it down. The compelling story filled with elements of danger and mystery explores "the price we pay for our secrets and just how easy it is to make the wrong choices". 

I love stories that revolve around secrets, the fall-out from them, and the emotional journey the characters travel deciding whether or not to reveal what they've uncovered, or what they're hiding themselves.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Walking with Charley and My Ears

 Did you ever take a walk focusing on only one of your five senses? Sure, you look where you're going even if you turn off the sense of sight, but you don't notice the colors of the trees or the shirts worn by passersby. And, if you turn off smell you won't be aware of the aromatic scent of the woods or of freshly cut grass. A few days ago I went on such a walk. Planning on three miles for my own workout and Charley's, my grand-dog who I was taking care of, we set off for the park where we'd walk along a macadam path cut through the woods. I gave sight, smell, touch and taste a vacation and kicked up hearing.

Charley and I crossed the wooden bridge over the Saddle River to a loud chorus of cicadas. Their pulsing sound permeated the air, sizzling like potatoes thrown into a pot of hot oil.  He stopped to do his business - always does the moment we enter the park - and I heard the hum of bicycle tires against the black tarred pavement. Thankfully, he was off-road, squatting on the dirt so only I had to move aside. We continued meandering along the path stopping every few feet for Charley to sniff EVERYTHING. If only dogs could write, he'd have his own blog post on using the sense of smell.

A little further on, happy giggles and squeals of children in the playground erased the cicadas' song. We took the curve to the left heading towards the pond. Charley wandered onto the grass alongside the path. Dried out leaves fallen too early, during summer rather than autumn, crunched under his paws. The serenity of the woods evaporated with the banging and clanging of heavy machinery on
some construction site hidden by the dense tree line and, to top it off, the grating sound of roller blades pierced the air as a kid flew by on those skates. We stopped at the waterfall listening to the rush of the river as it tumbled down over the rocks and I held tight to Charley's leash.

Approaching the pond, it sounded as if a huge summer rainstorm had hit. But it was only the fountain spilling into the water. Circling the area I heard the shriek of metal chains attached to swings as little kids pumped higher and higher and then Thwack! A branch must have fallen from a tree. The clomp of Nikes hitting the pavement as young men and women jogged by met the squishing sound of my tennis-socked feet in my cross trainers as I stepped quickly halfway through the three miles.


Charley was panting heavily, his tongue hanging out, his way of sweating and I wiped my brow. But he was a trooper. At eleven years old, he still loved walking in the park and everyone commented, "What a cute puppy."  He still looked like a little boy so cute with his big brown eyes. Oh, but that's the sense of sight. Sorry.

We headed back to the parking lot to the music of the river gurgling downstream. All was peaceful. Then, Smack! The loud, growling motor of a lawnmower.

Not even that reverberating noise could ruin our walk. We got back home, a little tired, a little sweaty, but feeling strong. I had a tall glass of water and Charley licked the liquid from his bowl. The crinkling sound of me opening the package of chewy meaty treats was music to his ears.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Finding Love in Unimaginable Places

"Today I'm participating in a group blogging! WOW! Women On Writing has gathered a group of blogging buddies to write about finding love in unimaginable places. Why this topic? We're celebrating the release of Michael French's twenty-fourth novel. Once Upon a Lie(Terra Nova Books) is an exploration of the secrets families keep, and the ways those secrets can tear a family apart. Visit The Muffin ( to read what Michael has to say on finding love in unexpected places and view the list of all my blogging buddies. Visit Michael's website ( to find out more about the author."

Finding love in unimaginable places - an interesting topic. When I was single and living in New York City, I used to imagine finding the love of my life in the Laundromat on Lexington Avenue. I'd put the quarters in the slot, pour in the Tide, and picture him throwing his dirty socks into the machine next to mine. He wasn't tall, dark and handsome. In fact, I never really had an image of him - just the idea. It was romantic. The hum of washing machines and dryers, our song. We'd start a conversation and, well…you can make up your own stories. Lucky for me though, that never happened because if it had I'd never have met the true love of my life. Without embarrassing him completely, below are a few lines from a short story I wrote about that auspicious meeting.

He sat across the room. Jeans, faded just enough to give them that soft well worn look as comfortable as an old friend, clung to his firm thighs. A tan corduroy sport jacket showed off his strong wide shoulders. She liked the pipe clutched between his teeth and the way his eyes crinkled when he smiled. The thick, dark brown mustache lining his upper lip completed the package – masculine, sexual. There were five other people in the room, but he was all she saw.

Perhaps the Laundromat is more unimaginable than a studio apartment in New York City. I'll leave you to create that story. While you're thinking about it, here are a few more lines from my very short piece. I'll set the scene: It's a hot summer day; my guy and I have taken a long walk on the beach. Thirsty, not having a bottle of water since it's 1971 and Poland Spring hasn't been invented yet, we stop at a friend's house. She offers us a drink and a frozen chunky bar.

A chunky bar, a two inch cube of milk chocolate studded with raisins and chopped nuts. Initially, it was hard to get her teeth through the dense candy, but once bitten it melted in her mouth. The chocolate coated her tongue and cheeks. He tasted the sweetness on her lips.
Now, many years later, she recalls the taste of the chocolate confection and remembers the corduroy jacket that no longer fits.  And she loves the way his thick, gray mustache tickles when they kiss.

Now, back to this group blog and Michael French's novel. I’m putting it on my "to read" list.

About Once Upon A Lie: Twelve-year-old Jaleel Robeson is on the run after the police in his tiny Texas town try to frame him for the death of his father. A world away, Alexandra “Alex” Baten is growing up amid all the material comforts a wealthy Los Angeles lawyer can provide. One day, a simple cup of lemonade unites their lives, leading to a maze of adultery and murder that shatters Alex’s youthful innocence and Jaleel’s struggle to reshape his life.

While the forces of the law try to unravel the mysterious death―or at least find a scapegoat―the two youths see the trajectories of their lives entwine, unravel, and come together again. Justice, Alex learns, can be a strange and nebulous thing, easily enmeshed in webs of loyalty and betrayal. Justice, Jaleel finds, can be a powerful―but dangerous―rock on which to build a life of honor and courage. As their stories play out over the years in cities far apart, best-selling author Michael French fills the world of Alex and Jaleel with a cast of vivid characters both supporting and threatening their efforts to build a life that “works” amid the expectancies of others and their own conflicting drives.

About the Author:
A graduate of Stanford University with a degree in English and of Northwestern University with a master’s in journalism, Michael French is the author of twenty-four books: adult and young adult fiction, art criticism, biographies, adaptations, and gender studies. A native of Los Angeles, he also is a successful businessman, an avid high-altitude mountain trekker, a world traveler to developing countries, an activist, and, with his wife, Patricia, a philanthropist raising money for programs aiding teachers in Santa Fe, N.M., public schools, which are some of the most challenged in the country.

Author Links:

Purchase Link:

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A Bit of Flash in Greenwich Village

 It was a clear, warm spring evening. A gentle breeze blew through the open doors of the Cornelia Street Café in Greenwich Village where members of The Women's National Book Association congregated. It was Open Mic Night for the New York City chapter. Fourteen of its members read aloud from their novels, memoirs, essays, poems and short stories. The words and wine flowed through the Café's intimate dining room, a scene from the 1950s sans cigarette smoke.

I had the pleasure of reading my flash fiction, Dry Bandages, published in the April 2016 edition of Foliate Oak Literary Magazine. What is Flash Fiction you ask? A complete story generally under 1,000 words. Dry Bandages comes in at 552 words. Click on the video on the right and you can pretend you're in the cafe with us. Pour yourself a glass of wine, it'll seem more real, then sit back and listen. 

The picture on the left, the cover of the program for this Open Mic Night, is from the WNBA (books not basketball) Dinner Dance at the Hotel Pennsylvania on March 18,1938. Yes, the organization has been around for a long time - almost 100 years. It was established in 1917 in America before women even had the right to vote.

The Women's National Book Association is a vibrant organization with some 800 members from nine cities across the country, a broad-based non-profit organization granting three distinguished national awards annually and a history of lively events. For more information on the organization, upcoming events and membership go to And for the coveted list of  novels and memoirs perfect for book clubs, visit their Great Group Reads site at I'll be back with more info on Great Group Reads in the fall. October is National Reading Group Month.