Saturday, January 31, 2009

My Note

I was telling my friend Lois --- whom I have known since high school --- that I feel crappy today and just want to spend the day on the couch reading and drinking hot tea but that I feel guilty when I do that. She said, "Do you want me to write you a permission note?" I said that would be nice. I just got this in my email:
Thank you, dear friend. I am now logging off and going to the couch. See you all Monday...

Thanks for reading --- and letting me read.

Here We Go: Memories of the Immaculate Reception

I realize that I had the advantage of being at Penn State when there was some awesome football going on --- Franco Harris, Lydell Mitchell, John Cappalletti. For part of that time I worked at the Kentucky Fried Chicken just down the street from Beaver Stadium and on game days we were run ragged supplying buckets---nay, barrels---of chicken for the throngs of fans. I never dated any of the players but I remember seeing Franco Harris around campus, he was hard to miss, and having a massive crush on him. Naturally, I've been thinking about all this in preparation for tomorrow night. Steelers-Super Bowl. Just seems to go together doesn't it?
Anyway, the memories brought back a frozen, snowy, terrible night and I for some reason was stuck on I-80 headed back home, probably for Christmas. I just remember that I had the radio on, listening to the Steelers-Raiders game when the most amazing play happened. The crazy thing was all these cars battling the snow on I-80 must have been tuned in too because all up and down the freeway horns started blowing. People were actually pulling over and getting out of their cars and hugging one another. Lights were flashing and it was total pandemonium. All because of this:

Unbelievable. Franco did it and all the freaking snow on earth didn't matter.

So tomorrow night I'll be thinking of that night and the past Super Bowl wins.

Way to go, guys!

P.S. May I add that I LOVE this YouTube tribute to Troy Polamalu. I'm looking forward to the Coke commercial.... though it'll be hard to come up to Mean Joe's performance.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Even when you think you are doing pretty well coping with the loss of someone dear you can get blind-sided by things that don't seem to make a lot of sense. This week has been difficult and I have been inordinately crabby for no --- seemingly --- apparent reason. The weather has been brutally cold and we've had alternating snow, sleet, and just enough warmth to melt the ice before freezing it again. All of which means it is treacherous out there. Business has been a mixed bag, some good things but too many things to worry about despite that. At least I can stand to listen when the President is scheduled to speak, something that is refreshing after 8 years. So why am I sad and plagued with this nagging sense that something is wrong?

And then I remember.... the birthday.

I've never been particularly interested in birthdays, my own or anyone else's. I forget to send cards. In fact I almost never remember birthdays of people I have been close to for years. Other than my immediate family I am lucky if I remember what month a birthday takes place in. But, nonetheless, this week has been difficult and, when I looked at the calendar yesterday, I remembered why.

A couple years ago we were in Halibut Point on his birthday. It was a bitterly cold night, much like the weather this year. I had made him a batch of cookies to honor the day and he was being rather adorably bashful about that. He kept telling me to forget about his birthday, that he wanted to forget it and I should help him out by forgetting it too. But then he would say things that sounded suspiciously like little reminders: “I'm an Aquarius,” he would say, “do you think that's why I became a fisherman?” I don't know, I'd tell him. Maybe you became a fisherman because you're too contrary to do anything else. He'd laugh.

So anyway, we were in Halibut Point and I bought him a drink to celebrate his birthday. “Don't do that,” he said. He didn't like it when I bought him drinks. He could be hopelessly old-fashioned about some things. But I bought him a drink and we talked about what a strange and unimaginable thing it was that we had managed to live past fifty. Neither of us could quite believe that fifty had come and gone and we were still here... Though one of us not for long.

It's just life, you know. Part of the deal when you are born is that one day you will die --- and so will everyone else. My birthday is the same day as my grandmother's and though she has been dead for over forty years I still think of her on my birthdays... I don't know what I am talking about. Birthday --- day of our birth, the day we come in to the world and accept the inevitability of our death. Funny how that works, isn't it? The cloud that surrounds the silver lining.

I've learned something in the last few months since he is gone. You always know that death is final, at least intellectually you know that, but it is only when someone who was an everyday part of your life is gone forever that you gradually realize how final final is. You keep looking for new pictures of him that you haven't seen before or forgot about. You look at the photos and study little details and wonder about the oddest things: why did he wear that shirt that day? Why did I never notice that scar on his hand before? You run in to someone who knew him and find yourself hoping they will talk about him, tell you something that you didn't know. Twice he was interviewed on a locally produced book discussion program on cable TV. I keep meaning to go up there and buy the DVDs of those two programs but then I put it off. If I have them in the house I won't be able to resist watching them and I don't know if I can stand that.

You hope that things will change with time. You hope that next year it won't feel this way... And yet, and yet you don't want to forget just how difficult missing him is.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Farewell to A Hero

It was a few years ago, I don't remember exactly when, and I was waiting to pay my bill in a nearby Chinese Restaurant I like. The restaurant's owner was having some issue with his register and was growing agitated as people began to grow impatient. I turned to the man standing behind me and said, “Poor guy, I think we're making him nervous.” The guy smiled. He was tall and handsome and looked sort of familiar. He said something like, “Maybe we should all go back to our tables” and suddenly I realized who he was. I'd seen that face many times on the back covers of some of my favorite books. My expression must have given me away because he nodded a little in that uncomfortable way we all have when we know something has transpired but have no idea what to say about it.

“I loved Just Looking,” I blurted.

He smiled a huge smile and said, “Thank you. I enjoyed writing it. Are you an artist?”

“Not really,” I said. “I studied art in college.” Then I told him that I had taken class with Lee Krasner and that his novel Seek My Face, though not explicitly about her, had seemed so alive and real to me because of the way he wrote the main character. That seemed to please him and we chatted briefly. I told him that I wrote and was working on a novel. I'm sure he'd been told that many times.

By this time the cash register was working and we paid our bills and moved on but before we separated he said, “Don't stop writing.” I haven't.

I won't say that I have read all of his books because I haven't. In fact I'm far more interested in his essays and criticism than I ever was in his fiction. As a long-time subscriber to The New Yorker I always looked to see if his name was listed in each issue's Table of Contents. I loved the articles he wrote for them.

In a lot of way the fact that I blog is attributable to John Updike. Some may regard that as damning with faint praise but one of the things I learned from him was that we all have something to say and, if we are going to say it, we should say it well and fearlessly and be generous and positive in doing it. In his writing there is a deep spirituality that I have always admired and, in many ways, it has given me the courage to write out of my own spiritual imagination. I am told by people who knew him that he was essentially a shy man and that his own fame baffled him a little bit. I believe that. One only has to read his literary critiques of his contemporaries to be awed by his utter generosity of spirit and unblushing admiration of other writers. His essay in Due Consideration on Orhan Pamuk, another of my literary heroes, is absolutely lovely.

John Updike died today. It is a terrible loss to contemporary culture but there is hardly a writer anywhere who has left behind such a distinguished legacy. I can hardly find words to say how much I as a writer and as a human being have been enriched by him. I wish him eternal peace and hope that he died knowing that the world was a better place for his having been in it. I'm going to post this and then get out my copy of Due Consideration and fall in love with him all over again.

Testing the Limits of What I Know and Feel by John Updike

Listen Now

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Learn To Knit Entrelac


What is entrelac? Entrelac is a knitting technique used to create a textured diamond pattern. While the end result resembles basket-woven strips of knitted fabric, the actual material comprises interconnected squares on two different orientations. In recent years entrelac has become popular in designs such as Kathleen Power Johnson's Lady Eleanor Stole and Faina Letoutchaia's Forest Path Stole. It is especially popular for showing off the beauty of hand-painted yarns. If you can knit and purl, you can learn to knit entrelac.


On Monday, February 9, 2009 Kathleen Valentine, author of The Mermaid Shawl & other Beauties: Shawls, Cocoons and Wraps, will teach a class in Beginning Entrelac at the Sawyer Free Library as part of Leslie Wind's Know Your Knitting (K)neighbor series. The class is free and open to the public but you should be able to knit and purl in order to participate in the class. Bring with you a skein of worsted weight yarn (preferably variegated or hand-painted), and a pair of size 7 or 8 needles. Handouts will be provided.

The totebag in the photo above was knit by Kathleen from Blue Heron's Silk Twist, available at Coveted Yarn on East Main Street in Gloucester.
The bag has an entrelac front, plain stockinette back, a Moss Stitch border and I-cord handle.
If anyone wants to learn I-cord please bring 2 doublepointed needles in size 4-6 as well.
The bag is lined with embossed velvet and finished with a Czech Glass button.

Anyone who does not want to learn entrelac but would like to come and knit is invited to bring their projects. Some refreshments will be available and you are invited to bring a treat to share. For more information contact the library or Leslie Wind at 978-546-6539 or Kathleen Valentine at 978-282-1518.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Thank You, Mary Seelye

It was sometime in the late 1950s and a bunch of little girls from the neighborhood gathered in Mary Seelye's living room for our first 4-H meeting. Mary and Sonny Seelye were sort of neighborhood treasures. They didn't have children of their own so they had time to give to the entire neighborhood. Sonny was famous for his amazing train set that he assembled every Christmas. Mary was our first 4-H leader.

Anyway on the sunny summer day a bunch of giggling, goofy girls met for our first sewing lesson. We all had little sewing kits that contained scraps of cotton fabric, needles, thread, scissors, pins, etc. and Mary taught us our first lesson in mending and hand stitching. By the end of the summer each of us had learned to make an apron. I was so damn proud of that apron.

The following summer I made a skirt. It was bright yellow and I got to take it to Round-Up which was held at the YMCA in a nearby town. Part of Round-Up was a fashion show of our hand-mades and I wore it and received a red ribbon for my efforts. I was so thrilled.

A few years ago when I was visiting my Dad in the nursing home, he mentioned that Sonny was in a nearby room. I pushed Dad in his wheelchair down to visit him and, happily, Mary was there. I hadn't seen her in over 20 years but I would have recognized her anywhere. She had the same sweet face and smile. I told her that day that she had given me the second greatest gift of my life --- learning to sew. (The first goes to my Mother who taught me to read.) Mary hugged me and said that made her unbelievably happy. It made me happy too.

What got me thinking about this is reading Sandra Detrixhe's Zen and the Art of Needlework: Exploring the Links Between Needlecraft, Spirituality and Creativity. It has been on the coffee-table under Sandra Betzina's No Time To Sew which I love.

My Grandmother Werner was an avid seamstress but she was always too busy to do much teaching. Later on I did learn a lot from her but it was Mary who introduced me to things like cutting out patterns (Gram rarely used patterns), basting (Gram never basted), and detail work that Gram never had time for. I still think of Mary whenever I make welted pockets.

My first adventures in fabric buying were in the basement of Kanter's Department Store in downtown St. Marys. I'll never forget those big wooden counters that were heaped with stacks of fabric that my friends Marcia and Sue and I would dig through looking for the perfect item for our next project. Sue was an excellent seamstress. She learned that from her mother Helen who was our Girl Scout leader for awhile. I don't know if Marcia ever really got into sewing or not but I sure did. I'd save babysitting money and walk down to Kanter's to buy the latest treasure that I had my eye on. In high school I got a job there and worked for two years amid all that fabric. I was also taking Home Ec in school by then and that was not exactly a big success. I had been making most of my own clothes for years and poor Sister Claudia had a hard time convincing me that her way of doing things was better than mine. She wanted everything done in a particular way that would “save time” later. I thought she wasted so much time fussing that it wasn't really very time-saving. But Sister Claudia did give me one special gift. One day when she was sitting with me trying to make me sew a hem the way she wanted it, not the way Mary taught me, she said, “Just remember, every stitch is a prayer.” I think of that often, too.

Well, Mary took Sonny home from the nursing home and he still sets up his trains. My siblings take their children to their house to see them. I don't know if Mary still sews but she is in my mind often when I do. It is a great gift to give a girl the love of fabric and the needle. Right now as I sit typing this I am hoping to get through my days of work a little early so I can go to my sewing room. It is heaped with fabric --- probably more than Kanter's had at their peak. I have a bunch of knit bags I want to line and a fur coat I want to alter and there is a gorgeous piece of raspberry-colored knit fabric that would make a great sweater and...

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

My Wish for Sandalwood Girls

Several years ago my sister Chris and her two daughters, Tasha and Alicia, spent some time with me here in Gloucester. Chris married an African-American man and her two girls are biracial. One day Alicia, who was 6 at the time, and I walked to the library so she could attend Story Hour. I left her at the Children's Library and went upstairs to read and wait. When I went down to get her I noticed a bunch of children playing together but Alicia was sitting alone in a corner reading a book. I didn't ask but I knew what happened.

We checked out the books she wanted and started the walk home. As we were walking Alicia said something that broke my heart. She said, “Auntie, if you don't like the color of your skin is there anything you can do about it?” It was all I could do not to cry. I told her I thought she was a beautiful color and I wouldn't want her to look any other way but, of course, I knew those words weren't much comfort to her.

Later we were in Yankee Candle and I saw her holding a candle near her arm. I asked her what she was doing and she said, “This candle is the same color as me.” It was Sandalwood and after that I called her My Little Sandalwood Girl.

Today as I watched the Inauguration in Washington I kept thinking about Alicia. Our new President is about the same shade as Alicia was then --- Sandalwood. And I kept looking at those two beautiful little girls of his and thinking how much I hoped that they and all the other children who share their skin color would never have to ask if there was anything they could do about that.

Every time I listen to Barack Obama I start crying --- not because he is such a fine speaker (though he is) but because he represents something that I never thought I'd see in my lifetime. I hope he will be a good president --- I know he will try. He has an uphill climb all the way and I don't envy him the task but he is President and that alone speaks to something very significant: our country has matured. He didn't talk very much about race in his speech but he didn't have to. He was standing there as the 44th President of the United States and that's all that mattered.

In his book, The Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama writes a very powerful chapter on Race. He begins with attending the funeral of Rosa Parks and he says, “to think clearly about race requires us to see the world on a split screen --- to maintain in our sights the kind of America that we want while looking squarely at the America that is”. And he goes on to say that “...the feeling that as a group we have no store of goodwill in America's accounts, that as individuals we must prove ourselves anew each day, that we will rarely get the benefit of the doubt and will have little margin for error. Making a way through such a world requires the black child to fight off the hesitation that she may feel when she stands at the threshold of a mostly white classroom on the first day of school....most of all, it requires fighting off the temptation to stop making the effort.”

He goes on to talk about the challenges and ends by saying that he believes America is big enough to accommodate the dreams of all people.

The truth is our country has changed dramatically in the past eight years and that is sad. In some ways I suppose it is the mess of the last eight years that made it possible for us to elect the new President that we did. In some ways it seems bitterly ironic that it took such disasters as we are in now to get us scared enough to overcome our prejudices and fears and elect a man who is inheriting a God-awful mess. But here we are.

I think all of us---black, white, red, yellow... sandalwood--- are going to have to fight off the temptation to stop making the effort to make life better. We have to do it for ourselves and for each other. Our country can no longer support divisiveness --- we don't have that luxury. We either work together or we fail. Those people who seem to thrive on stirring up enmity had better wise up. Those who indulge in prejudice, bigotry, and Rovian smear-tactics are the enemy now.

Alicia lives in Ireland now. I don't know if that has been better for her or not but one thing I do know is that she can look at the girls who now live in the White House and feel some comfort. But most of all I hope that it won't be long until it would never even occur to little sandalwood girls that they were anything other than beautiful.

Postscript: My sister Chris emailed to tell me that Tasha, her older daughter, was present at the Inauguration yesterday. She said she was absolutely thrilled beyond words.

Thanks for reading.

The Last Fish Tale by Mark Kurlansky

Since I chose to read Mark Kurlansky's The Last Fish Tale: The Fate of the Atlantic and Survival in Gloucester, America's Oldest Fishing Port and Most Original Town while Fiesta was raging in the streets of Gloucester, his Prologue was particularly enjoyable. While I was reading the book and later when I sat down to write the review, I could hear the screams and shouts and boat horns at Pavillion Beach as the pole walkers did pretty much what Kurlansky described in the book. But the Greasy Pole Walk takes place three days out of every year --- there's a lot more to Gloucester than those three days.

I'll get this out of the way first --- there are mistakes in the book. A few names are misspelled (Sicilian names, the families themselves have numerous variations on the spellings --- and I'm betting a guy named “Kurlansky” has grown used to names being spelled wrong). A few dates and facts are incorrect. But no one outside of Gloucester will notice these things. And then, of course, there is the opinion expressed by a few of the locals that, since Kurlansky is not a Gloucester fisherman what the hell right does he have to comment on the issues faced by Gloucester fishermen?

Okay, now that all of that is out of the way let's move on.

He begins with a brief history of Gloucester, its founders, early industry, and the naming of the town

which was pretty interesting. There are lots of books on the early history of Gloucester but since Kurlansky managed to cover it in three chapters I paid attention and learned a few things I didn't know. He talks about the development of the art colony here which I probably know more about than I do about the fishing business but he made a point I thought needed to be made --- that the art colony and the fishing business are symbiotic relationships. Without the fishermen the artists would be less inclined to come here to paint, and, as the fishing industry declines, more and more artists are saying they can't paint here anymore and go looking for new subjects. And, for many years, the artists helped support the fishing industry in a variety of ways not the least of which was bringing attention to the changing fate of the fishermen.

Kurlansky also includes a chapter on the writers who have come here. A subject close to my heart. It sometimes seems to me that every other person on Cape Ann is a writer of some sort and I swear there are as many unwritten books walking around here as there are people. In fact, the day after I finished the book, I ran into artist Marilyn Swift (whom Kurlansky thanks in his acknowledgments) in the market and we talked about the book. She said Kurlansky is coming back this summer to work on his next book --- it's Gloucester, I tell you. People come here and just have to write.

But my favorite part of the book was the last couple of chapters in which the author profiles a few other fishing towns --- in England and France --- facing the same problems Gloucester is. How do you keep the town alive and prosperous without ruining it as the fishing industry declines? There are, of course, no easy answers but the alternatives are frightening. To those of us who love Gloucester and have found here a place where we can live, work, and find inspiration the thought of the town turning into another precious bedroom community is too horrible to contemplate. And worse than that is the nightmare of a veritable “authentic fishing town” theme park where bus-loads of tourists arrive to watch “real” fishermen land a catch.

I've long complained about the growth of the obnoxious “reality entertainment” (an oxymoron if ever there was one) business in this country. People have become ever more alienated from one another and so distanced from authentic experience that they hunger for what is real or what is marketed to them as being real. Gloucester is real --- how do we keep it real without turning it into an object of entertainment? These are questions that Kurlansky asks, too.

Last night I was driving down Main Street headed for the fish pier when someone shouted my name. A friend was standing outside The Crow's Nest having a smoke so I pulled over and we gabbed for a few minutes. The Last Fish Tale was on my dashboard and she picked it up and looked at it. “Is this any good?” she asked. Yeah, I said, want to borrow it? “Naw,” she said. “I see him around town. Next time he's here I'll talk to him about it.”

That's Gloucester.

SEACHANGE: Review by Linda Greenlaw

Thanks for reading.

Note: This post originally ran on July 7, 2008. It is a frequently visited posts on this blog and is being repeated for those who have subscribed to our new feed service.

Monday, January 19, 2009

My Neighbors Are Quiet In The Snow...

It snowed last night and the neighborhood is all quiet this morning...

Thanks for visiting...

Friday, January 16, 2009

Winter Knitting

Now that my hand is 85% healed I am finishing up knitting projects that have been languishing since before Christmas. One of the things I really enjoy is taking breaks from big projects, like shawls, sweaters, and intricate lace, to make much simpler, faster projects. Before Christmas I purchased 3 hanks of yarn at Coveted Yarn from their Clearance bins. As I've mentioned before, I love Blue Heron Yarn and I got three hanks of their Silk Twist which is 80%silk/20%rayon and is a heavy worsted weight. I decided to make Tote bags and got two of them with yarn left over for a few little cozies to tuck inside them. (The pattern for this totebag is now available through Ravelry. )

I had a good-sized length of embossed velvet in an olive green in my stash so I lined both of them with that and used two pretty Czech Glass buttons I had been saving (click on any of the images to enlarge them).

The first one is knit in entrelac on the front and a plain stockinette on the back. The button is a flower that I think looks great on the bag. I'm pretty sure this one belongs to me! (By the way, for knitters here in Cape Ann, I will be teaching a class in entrelac at the Sawyer Free Library in February.
It is free so bring a ball of worsted weight, variegated yarn, a pair of size 8 needles and an open mind and we'll have a great time. Call the library for details or check back here.)

The second is knit in a combination of modular knit patterns and the button is an adorable little fairy I had been saving for something special. This one is going to someone special as a late Christmas gift.

I don't think that my photographs do the colors justice -- they are so rich and vibrant! I made plain I-cord for the shoulder strap out of the same yarn. Since it is a silk-rayon blend it is pretty sturdy and will not stretch like some other fibers do.

The other project I finished is a pair of lace gloves I have been working on forever. Actually, they are pretty complicated for something so small but, now that they are done I love them and want to make another pair. These are knit in KnitPick's Gloss --- a lovely merino-silk blend that is warm and lustrous. In fact, I liked them so well that I used some of the leftover yarn to knit ear-warmers to go with them. I am not a hat person --- I wish i was because there are so many great hat patterns around but, though I have made many hats, I just don't wear them. Ear warmers are another matter and in this kind of weather they are wonderful so now I have knit gloves with a matching ear warmer.

The color is called Woodland Sage and it will go with just about everything. I'm looking forward to wearing these.

Then, because I had so much fun making those ear warmers I decided to make another one. Recently, while rummaging through my stash, I came upon two balls of ultra-thick and lush "fun fur" --- one in a pretty cream color and the other a delicious ice cream pink. I decided to make the pink one into ear warmers and, yes, it is funky but it is also very cute. I may do the same thing with the cream.

So that is what I have been knitting lately! It is so good to have my hand back and I have plenty of new projects started and hope to get the knitting book wrapped up this weekend so it can go off to press.

Tomorrow is our monthly knitters group meeting and, as always, I look forward to that. Leslie Wind and I are also talking about a "knit-in" to raise money for a project in Rockport that is in danger of closing for lack of funds.

One of the wonderful things about knitting is that it can be a win-win on every level --- you make cool things that can be given to people you love or sold or used to raise money for causes, the yarns can be purchased from collectives that provide an income for all sorts of individuals and groups that benefit from our obsession, and, of course, we get to knit. YEA!!!

By the way, I photographed these out on my back deck. You can see the snow in the old cemetery out back. What you can't see is the temperature --- which was 10 degrees. Brrrrr...........

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Jane Daniel Fights Back

As most readers know I have been chronicling the Misha Defonseca/Vera Lee hoax on this blog for over a year now. Jane Daniel, the publisher lambasted with a $33 million judgment and unbelievable enmity by Lee's lawyer, is a friend and for a long time I have been asking her to write openly about the issue of the money --- or lack there of --- that influenced the case. In recent press interviews, Lee's lawyer has been quoted spreading misinformation and several of Jane's friends have encouraged her to correct those inaccuracies. The following was posted this morning on her blog at She plans to post more:


When you have the facts, you talk the facts, when you have the law, you talk the law; when you have neither, you sling slime.

In a March 1999 article in The Boston Globe, “Holocaust victim” Misha Defonseca was quoted as saying that because of me (her publisher) she was so destitute she was reduced to eating dog food. Subpoenaed bank records later revealed that, just days before, she had withdrawn $10,000 in cash. That’s a lot of Alpo.

But the damage was done. That article, and similar others, will live in perpetuity on the Internet and to an unknown extent in people’s dim memories. “Oh, isn’t she the publisher that cheated those authors?” people say when they hear my name.

I have been living under a barrage of slime for more than a decade, and it’s extremely painful. The Defonseca/Lee slime machine lately has stepped up broadcasting their deliberate misinformation in an attempt to shore up the crumbling justification for their grotesquely huge verdict.

Just how grotesquely huge? Let’s look at the damages in my case compared with some other lawsuits.

My tiny publishing company and I were sued by two unknown authors for various breaches of contract. The two were awarded over $33 million in damages, plus all rights to a book that went on to become an international bestseller.

A couple of comparisons:

Thirty-three million dollars is the same amount as that awarded to the families of the deceased in the wrongful death suit against OJ Simpson for the brutal killings of his wife and her friend.

In a typical personal injury suit, a 39-year-old New Jersey psychiatrist and father of two died as a result of infection following a botched gall bladder operation. That suit settled for $4.6 million.

The huge damages in my case are a sure indication of what really influenced the proceedings: A tremendous outpouring of sympathy for two plaintiffs who played their parts very well. Misha Defonseca was an emotionally and physically crippled Holocaust victim. She appeared in court with an ankle-to-hip leg brace and a cane. Her fellow plaintiff was ghostwriter Vera Lee, a sweet little old lady. Both claimed they were cheated and exploited by their unscrupulous publisher. Together they presented a very touching, and very false, picture.

Their book, “Misha A Memoire of the Holocaust Years” was admitted into evidence and the judge and jury had an opportunity read it. Many people, including Elie Wiesel, described the story as “very moving” and certainly it had its effect on the outcome of the trial. The tone of righteous outrage that bristles from the 25 pages of the trial court’s Findings of Fact is worthy of the Nuremberg Trials.

And outrage about what, exactly? Money? Let’s look at the money.

Vera Lee’s lawyer admitted in his opening statement that I never took a salary; my compensation was to be the sweat equity I built up in the company. I worked on the Misha project from 1995 to 2001, five years with no pay.

In summer 1998, Vera Lee’s lawyer obtained a court ruling to have Mt Ivy’s earnings escrowed by the court. (At the end of the trial the court paid Mt Ivy’s escrowed earnings to Defonseca and Lee.) Just a year after publication of the book, with its income frozen, Mt Ivy was sinking under the weight of legal bills.

The court consistently twisted the financial evidence against Mt Ivy and me. For instance, the court acknowledged in its Findings that I had loaned the company money. I testified that I had loaned $17,000 more than I was reimbursed. Defonseca and Lee offered no rebuttal. Yet the court found that my loans to cover legal fees (incurred because of Defonseca’s and Lee’s lawsuits) were an indication that Mt Ivy was an under-funded, “sham” company.

All earnings, including foreign earnings held in a foreign account, were duly reported in the royalty statements that were admitted as trial exhibits. Back-up records of all earnings, including the foreign income, were attached to the royalty statements. Yet the righteously indignant trial court dismissed it all, saying Mt Ivy “refused to provide accountings.”

The royalty statements speak for themselves. You’ll notice, if you check his public statements, Lee’s attorney never says he discovered unreported earnings, although that is what he clearly implies. “She diverted revenues to an offshore bank account which we did locate,” Mr. Frisoli says in an interview for WCVB’s Chronicle.

The truth is, what he located was the foreign bank where the foreign earnings (which he knew about from the royalty statements) were deposited. Having all but killed Mt Ivy, Mr. Frisoli was frustrated that he couldn’t finish the job by attaching those remaining funds, thereby destroying our ability to mount a legal defense.

Today, the Defonseca/Lee camps continue to beat the drum of moral outrage by citing other incongruous findings from the trial court. Vera Lee’s lawyer has told the media that Misha and his client were never paid. “She [Jane] didn’t pay royalties,” he says, over and over.

What he doesn’t say is that before the trial, a different judge three times upheld Mt Ivy’s contractual right to withhold royalties pending determination of whether the co-authors failed to meet their obligations. (The trial court, in its ire, simply disregarded the previous court’s repeated rulings and found that Mt Ivy had “no legal or legitimate basis for withholding royalty payments.”)

Mr. Frisoli also has publicly stated that Mt Ivy’s foreign bank account held funds from the sale of movie rights. This is pure fabrication, and he knows it. “Daniel placed ‘hundreds of thousands of dollars’ from book and movie sales in a [foreign company,]” he told a reporter for the Milford Daily News.

As a matter of fact, the only reference to hundreds of thousands of dollars in the Findings of Fact is the money discovered in Defonseca’s bank accounts. (See below.) Apparently, Mr. Frisoli is not satisfied with the trial court’s damning (though unsupported) findings against Mt Ivy; he is now manufacturing his set own set of findings and attributing them to the court.

Another example: Contrary to Mr. Frisoli’s statements that the court found I had “stolen” money, nowhere in the Findings of Fact does the word “steal, stole or stolen” appear. (Note to the next reporter to cover this story: Please ask Mr. Frisloli to show you where in the Findings of Fact the court says what he says it says.)

Mr. Frisoli’s casual attitude toward the truth is not limited to financial matters. During last summer’s hearing, when my lawyer explained to the court that Defonseca had publicly confessed that her story was false, Mr. Frisoli sprang to his feet to defend her. “She didn’t say she lied,” he protested. He then explained that she suffered from recovered memory syndrome, like a child who was sexually abused.

There’s no question that the language of the trial court’s findings was scathing. But if you look for the substance behind the rhetoric, it’s not there. For instance, the trial court found that Mt Ivy and I “used breaches of contract as a lever to misappropriate funds” and “fraudulently pilfered monies” [owed to Defonseca and Lee.]

The vagueness of this language evades the fact that a prior court three times held that NO royalties were due to Defonseca and Lee pending resolution of the lawsuit. We acted in accordance with multiple rulings of a prior court, and were slammed by the trial court for doing so. As for “fraudulently pilfered”, “pilfer” is not a term of law. (The dictionary says it means to “filch a small amount.”)

Here’s my point: The trial court offered no details to support a finding of fraudulent pilfering or misappropriating. This is what the trial court did:


One would think a judgment of that impressive size would require a proportionally thorough explanation of the evidence and the facts that supported it. It didn’t happen. This is what the trial court didn’t do:


The reason for these critical omissions in the trial court’s findings is this:


All earnings were accounted for. No money went to me except for repayments of loans.

(Note to the next reporter to cover this story: Please do your fact checking. Ask Mr. Frisloli to supply documentation for all his statements. As for me, I would be more than happy to provide back-up for everything I’ve written here.)

Misha Defonseca testified at trial that she was impoverished because of her publisher, causing her to lose her home. The trial court found that Defonseca’s home was foreclosed.

Public records, however, prove the Defonsecas sold their home for a profit shortly before the trial. And although Defonseca bypassed the usual reporting mechanisms by having royalties from the French translation direct-wired into her bank accounts, subpoenaed bank records told even more of the story. From the Findings of Fact:

“The Defonseca’s three bank accounts reveal deposits between December 1996 and February of 2000 of over $243,700. The evidence never made clear how, notwithstanding that amount of deposits, the Defonsecas were claiming financial hardship, such that their home was foreclosed upon in 2001.”

The evidence WAS clear: Misha was NOT impoverished. Maurice Defonseca himself testified that Misha earned over $150,000 directly from publication of the American book. The finders of fact, however, were so intent upon reaching their pre-determined destination that they galloped over a mountain of irrefutable evidence that was right in front of them.

In his opening statement of the trial, Mr. Frisoli told the jury, “Follow the money.” He dropped that line from his closing, but let’s take his advice anyway:

The trial court found that “Mt Ivy declined to promote the Work on the Oprah Winfrey Show…in a wrongful attempt to gain all rights to Defonseca’s story.” Further it found that, had Mt Ivy properly promoted the book, Defonseca would have earned $1 million, and Lee half a million dollars, in royalties.

Thus, according to the royalty schedule in the Publishing Agreement, Mt Ivy’s share of the total earnings would have been over $8 million. In other words, the trial court found that Mt Ivy intentionally walked away from $8 million for — WHAT REASON!?! The court never explains how an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show could have had any effect on the rights to Misha’s story.

Today, we know for sure why the Oprah show never happened, and it had to do with Misha’s hidden agenda, not Mt Ivy’s. The real reason Misha didn’t go on Oprah was tied to her need to kill the American book. (More on that coming soon.)

There’s one more money issue I want to address: People often ask, What happened to the $33 million?

The answer is: There WAS NO $33 million.

That amount is what was determined to be the VALUE of the DAMAGES (monetary and otherwise) incurred by Defonseca and Lee because of their publishers’ “extremely egregious” conduct. The jury imposed $11 million and the court trebled it to over $33 million — a number that, we now know, was awarded for a pack of lies.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Winter is for Writing

I have been involved in an email correspondence with a friend who is a wonderful writer and who has also suffered a hard loss in the past year. She is getting back to writing and we have been talking about writing and the role it plays in our lives. Sometimes it is the best thing in our worlds and sometimes the worst.

I recently began re-reading John Gardner's On Becoming A Novelist and, as happened when I read it before, it explains a lot about myself to me. Thank heavens somebody can. One thing I often wonder about is why I have so little patience with people who are always making puns and jokes based on words. You would think that someone who deals in words on a daily basis would enjoy word play but I don't and, in fact, usually find it annoying. Gardner made a similar observation about himself and noted that, while word play may be clever, witty, and amusing, it is also superficial and novelists --- more than other writers --- have difficulty dealing with the superficial. We are accustomed to delving deep and when a conversation (or whatever) is interrupted by superficial witticisms, it aggravates us. Well. I certainly can relate to that. It is not my favorite aspect of myself but I appreciate knowing the reason for it.

Yesterday I went out for coffee with a good friend who spent her career as a psychotherapist working with abused women. Since I am beginning work on a third novel and since one of the main characters in that novel is traumatized by childhood abuse I wanted to get her perspective on the progression of my character's character. It turned out to be an exceptionally interesting conversation and gave me a few ideas and perspectives I lacked before. For me that is one of the best parts of being a novelist --- it gives me permission to delve deeply into somewhat unusual fascinations. I've long said that every time I start to work on a book it requires a hundred books to write it. With The Old Mermaid's Tale I read books on shipwrecks and folklore and Brittany and oral tradition and Great Lakes weather patterns and music theory. It was fascinating. Then for Each Angel Burns it was sculpture and theology and mysticism and angels and serial killers and wildflowers and Amish culture. Now I seem to be collecting books about art and voodoo and parapsychology and abuse.... well, who knows where this will go?

I ordered a bunch of books from Amazon today. I am convinced that authors are also the primary purchasers of books but I have no problem with that. I believe in supporting other authors where I can. I am looking forward to long, dark evenings under my down comforter with hot tea and books and ideas that will, I hope, distill into something. A novel.

Even though I have been a fan of novels all my life it has only been in the last few years that I have truly come to appreciate what a novel is. As a fellow writer always says, “A novel tells the truth unencumbered by the facts.” I think that is brilliant and so true. Non-fiction works only deal with the specific situation or subject the book is about but novels are deeper and more far-reaching and truer in a universal sense than a non-fiction book can ever be.

Gardner says that novelists are strange and mysterious creatures. They are often humorless, wounded and odd. If they were not, they would probably not be inclined toward the long, painstaking, deep process of writing a novel. Maybe that is also why so many novelists look forward to the deep, dark, cold winter months when there is nothing to distract them from the page and all the ideas that fuel it. Right now I have friends who are writing memoire's, plays, poetry, short stories, and non-fiction. All ofthem will complain about winter if you give them half a chance. But the novelists, the novelists are different. We are peculiar people and we know it and this time of year suits us.

So I have a lot of work ahead of me. I want to wrap up the knitting book and get it off to press, get the e-press up and running so I can forget about it and finish the final edits on Each Angel Burns. Another set of characters are beginning to find their way through the mist and I want to spend time with them in the dark silence of winter. That's when I hear their voices most clearly.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Okay, I'm Embarrassed....

One of the things I harp about, both on my Marketing Musings blog and to clients, is the importance of "branding" your endeavors. Branding is important --- it helps create an identity for you and/or your business, services, products, etc. This is particularly important for small, independent and micro-publishers who are trying to establish themselves in a gigantic marketplace. One of the best examples of branding I have seen by a small publisher is Level Best Books' covers for their annual crime anthologies.
Like a lot of small publishers I started out with a web site for my small press, Then, on the advice of several authorities on marketing, I purchased the URL for my name, too, and set up a page for that. After that I acquired the URLs for the books I was either publishing or promoting through Parlez-Moi Press. Every time I did that I set up a web page to go with it. All well and good except..... As I talked more and more to clients about establishing their "look" I became increasingly aware that I was not practicing what I was preaching. It got to the point where it was embarrassing. So right after Christmas I set myself the task of re-designing my own conglomeration of web sites.

Since the site I liked the best was, I decided to use that as the model for the rest.

First I re-did www.ParlezMoiPress. I still have content to add but at least I'm not embarrassed by the look of it any more.

Then I went on to add the pages for my four current books --- two of which are published and two of which will be within the year. The first of these is my collection of romantic short stories, My Last Romance and other passions at

Then came the page for The Old Mermaid's Tale. I had a rather extensive site for that and I realized that most of the stuff I had on it was just fluff. I trimmed it down to one page and it is now at The Old Mermaid's Tale:

Since I am frantically trying to get The Mermaid Shawl ready for press (it is with an editor at the moment), I wanted to get that updated because it is getting a lot of visitors. It can be seen at

And, finally, my soon-to-be-published novel, Each Angel Burns, which is going through the final set of editorial changes, need to be added. It is now at

So, that's my current effort to do for myself what I do for others. I discovered I am an unruly and impatient client! But I think this is a big improvement. Now to get the books out!

Thanks for reading.

Monday, January 05, 2009

City Hall's Renovated Tower & the Falcon

The tower on City Hall was covered with scaffolding and net throughout the summer. Those of us who live here have often complained about the wreck the tower was becoming. It was feeling and crumbling and in danger of tipping over. No more. The tower was unveiled a few weeks ago and it is gorgeous. Since I see it nearly every time I leave my house --- it is at the end of the street here --- I am reminded every day of what an asset it is to our community. Maggie Rosa and the folks at remind us that there is a lot more to do.

The tower is more than just a landmark. Inside the tower, in the stairwell, is where the names of Gloucester fishermen lost at sea have been stenciled for over a century. Walking into City Hall and looking up the stairwell at those hundreds of names never fails to bring a tightness to my throat. Many local artists paint City Hall. Robert Gruppé has a knack for using the tower as a centerpiece of many of his paintings.

And, in recent years, the tower has acquired two distinguished residents, a pair of peregrine falcons. Our good friend Jim Barber recently photographed them and has this to say: I have uploaded 20 images from this morning. Here are a few. The remainder may be viewed at PhotoPot. Just remember to click the thumbnail and then click the midsize image to view the full size image. Note, some midsize images are full size and will not open larger. You'll figure it out. image image image image image image image

Not bad for hand holding a 400mm.....

So please go to Jim's site and take a look at his bird pictures and thanks for reading!

Saturday, January 03, 2009

A Sad Day in Gloucester

Last night Gloucester lost two more of the Finest Kind. Gloucester fishermen Matteo Russo and his father-in-law John Orlando died at sea when a fire broke out on Matt's trawler Patriot. The Coast Guard was called out but surviving a night like last night at sea is not likely. Their bodies were recovered today and the Coast Guard helicopter returned them to Gloucester. Jay Albert has photos of the sad return trip on his blog.

I didn't know Matteo but I knew who he was. I had seen his boat many times in the harbor. It was a well-loved and well-cared-for boat. Joe Ciaramitaro has a slideshow of images that he took of that boat on his blog. There is such sadness and poignancy in looking at them. The pride that he took in his boat is so painful and so beautiful and so sad.

There is nothing one can say in times like these except that "they who go down to the sea in ships, who do business in great waters" are both the bravest and the most vulnerable. It is hard for me to understand the love of the sea and the passion for their chosen way of life that these men have and yet I know that they do --- I know it moreso now than I did a few years ago. It's hard to understand sometimes and yet... and yet not.

I have come to the conclusion that some people are born with a wildness in their spirit that is often difficult to comprehend and yet which can make those who have it so fascinating, so interesting, and, when the wildness overcomes them and they are swept away, so tragic. I am told Matteo leaves behind a pregnant wife and a small son. May God grant peace and comfort to them though I know that will not happen for a very long time. I cannot imagine her pain.

His truck was sitting on the dock this morning, waiting. It is a beautiful day here in Gloucester. The sky is brilliant and the sun was glittering off the newly renovated tower at City Hall --- the tower whose walls bear the names of those lives lost at sea. Two more names will be added to the wall and today all of Gloucester weeps. Even if we did not know them, they were ours. They were what makes us love Gloucester so fiercely. They were, as it is said here, The Finest Kind.

Thanks for reading and God bless...

Friday, January 02, 2009

Mia's "Self-Portrait"

My little niece Mia Celeste got a digital camera for Christmas and decided to take a self-portrait to send to me. Some things are just too perfect to need many words. Don't you LOVE her bangs? Mia is my sister Beth's daughter (Beth of "Beth's Shawl").

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy 2009 --- Did everyone have their sauerkraut?

Good riddance 2008!

I don't think that there has been a New Year's Day of my entire life that I didn't eat sauerkraut. It is a family tradition and this morning I called my godmother, my dear Aunt Rosie in Erie, PA, and said, "Is your sauerkraut on?" She laughed and said, "We already ate it and now I'm making cinnamon buns. I was thinking about your mother while I was making them." It was sweet.

We had quite a snowstorm last night and when I was getting ready to go out to shovel I was searching in my closet for some decent winter boots. I came across a pair of Sorel Caribous that got left here a couple winters ago and that I had forgotten about. I decided to wear them and, with a couple extra pairs of socks, they fit fine. While I was shoveling I couldn't help but take comfort in the thought that even though he is gone, he can still keep my feet warm. Nice thought. When I got the car cleared out I decided to drive down to the Liquor Locker for a bottle of wine. Seeing as how the dinner plans I had made with friends had been canceled due to weather, I figured I at least deserved a bottle of wine. As I walked into the Liquor Locker it occurred to me that my boots had probably been in there a lot more than I ever have. Those thoughts were nice ones.

So I got some wine and knocked on Clare's door. She was working on a manuscript --- writers! And I asked if she wanted to share a bottle of wine. So that was my New Year's Eve. Actually, it was fine.

Today I cooked my sauerkraut with pork according to Gram Werner's recipe and I also made my Fruits of Winter Conserve. So far it has been a good 2009. I spent most of the day cooking, talking on the phone, catching up on back issues of the New York Times Book Review and working on a manuscript of my own (the --- hopefully final --- revision of Each Angel Burns). Tomorow it is back to work.

I am wishing you all a peaceful and prosperous 2009. And, to add some spice to your New Year, here is the recipe for my Fruits of Winter Conserve. You are supposed to serve it with poultry or pork roast but I love it on hot buttered toast. Peace.

Fruits of Winter Conserve
In a large, heavy kettle combine:
2 lbs. fresh cranberries
2 Granny Smith apples, chopped
juice of one tangerine
peelings from the tangerine, cut into fine slivers
a small amount of water

Simmer until the berries begin to pop. Add:
8 oz. dried figs, cut into quarters
16 oz. dates, sliced
8 oz. dried cherries
16 oz. sultana raisins
1 cup red wine
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp nutmeg
4 tablespoons of fresh, sweet butter (binds the spices)

Stir well. Allow this to simmer adding red wine, rum, or water as needed as the fruit plumps up. You want the mixture to be thick and sticky but not watery. Some people add sugar but I don't. Use your own judgment. Makes 3 quarts.

Happy, peaceful, blessed New Year to all.

Thanks for reading.