Monday, December 22, 2008

Happy Holidays!

As we wind down 2008 and pray and hope and strive for a brighter, rosier, and more prosperous 2009, allow me to wish all of you a happy and healthy holiday, full of warmth and merriment.

And may this season of wintry darkness be illuminated with the glow of inspiration, creativity, joy, and inner peace.



Monday, November 3, 2008

In Praise . . . Postscript R. I. P. Mrs. Dunham

Just hours before Election Day, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama announced that his 86-year-old grandmother died Monday after a battle with cancer. The news comes a week after he visited Madelyn Payne Dunham in Hawaii after she fell seriously ill following a hip fracture.

Madelyn Payne Dunham was 86. Obama announced the news from the campaign trail in Charlotte, N.C. The joint statement was made with his sister Maya Soetoro-Ng, who referred to Mrs. Dunham as "the cornerstone of our family, and a woman of extraordinary accomplishment, strength, and humility. She was the person who encouraged and allowed us to take chances."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

In Praise of Older Women...

I've never gotten political on this blog, although my family and friends have no doubt as to my personal beliefs. But I was tremendously moved this morning to read that Senator Barack Obama is taking time off from his presidential campaign at this momentous time, in the eleventh hour before the election (in fact in many states the polls are already open), to visit his gravely ill granny, Madelyn Payne Dunham.

Now, there's a real reason for a candidate to suspend his campaign for a while.

The senator has never shied away from highlighting the importance of his maternal grandmother in his life. In a campaign ad he described her as the daughter of a Midwest oil company clerk who "taught me values straight from the Kansas heartland" -- things like "accountability and self-reliance. Love of country. Working hard without making excuses. Treating your neighbor as you'd like to be treated.

"She's the one who put off buying a new car or a new dress for herself so that I could have a better life. She poured everything she had into me. "

Barack Obama with his grandparents in an undated photo taken --right in my neighborhood -- outside of Central Park, when Obama was a student at Columbia University.

Those words could just as well describe my own grandmothers. Not a day goes by that I do not miss them. I have never met Mrs. Dunham of course, but my eyes mist over when I read about the extraordinary bond she shared with her grandson and the values she passed on to him, because they are so eminently relatable.

My grandmothers encouraged and indulged me as they taught me the ideals of social responsibility, instilled and nurtured the virtues of endless curiosity and creativity, and inspired me to dream. No goal was too lofty or unattainable if I strived for it.

I am who I am -- as a woman, as an artist, and as a citizen -- because of two magnificent older women, each different in her own way from the other, but each of whom shared Mrs. Dunham's Golden Rule creed. All my life I have aspired to "treat [my] neighbor as I would like to be treated." I hope that most times I have succeeded.

And I'd also like to think that a U.S. President who pays such homage to the values instilled in him by his smart, pragmatic, and loving grandmother will be an asset to our country in a time where the culture of "me" -- not "we" -- has contributed to the sorry state of the economy.

Don't forget to give her a good long hug, Senator.

What about you?  Did one or both of your grandmothers play a special role in your life?  What do you remember most about your relationship with her?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Royal Affairs is now on sale!

Jane Austen, who never married, nor had kids, famously said "My books are my children." I just gave birth to my twelfth book yesterday, and feel an overwhelming sense of accomplishment mingled with extreme relief.

ROYAL AFFAIRS: A Lusty Romp Through the Extramarital Adventures That Rocked the British Monarchy is also my nonfiction debut. It was the most difficult project I'd ever tackled because of the sheer scope of it , because I had less than half a year to research and write about over 900 years of history, and because (coming to nonfiction from novel writing) it was the first time I couldn't make stuff up! So I'm mighty proud of this new baby, all rosy and red-cheeked and ripe for reading.

I do hope you'll do more than peek between the covers and cuddle up with ROYAL AFFAIRS this summer. Dive into it at the beach, hang with the royals in your hammock, or go trysting the night away.

And do stop by to let me know who your favorite couples are!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Crystal Vision: Billy Crystal a Baseball Minor Leaguer?

According to the Associated Press wire, Billy Crystal will get to fulfill a lifelong dream by playing for his beloved New York Yankees -- albeit their minor league franchise. The comedian has , with the permission of Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, signed a contract with the Yanks, which allows him to work out with the team today and suit up for tomorrow's exhibition game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. A nice 60th birthday present! (Crystal hits the big six-oh this Friday, and will sport the number 60 on his pinstriped jersey).

What would Venus deMarley, the heroine of my recent contemporary release, CHOOSING SOPHIE, have made of such a celeb in her clubhouse?

She might suppose that he couldn't possibly be worse than some of the players she'd inherited when she took over her late father's cellar-dwelling minor league team, the Bronx Cheers.

Actually, Crystal might be better. Evidently, he had a batting average of .348 (better than a pre-juiced Barry Bonds, in fact) and was captain during his senior year at Long Beach High School on Long Island.

PLAY BALL, BILLY! This Mets fan will be rooting for you anyway!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Here's to You, Mary Robinson!

Overnight she became a star. Over many nights she became a legend.The amorous adventures of a celebrated English courtesan come to life in a novel rich with the pageantry of history—and with the notorious desires of the men and women who helped to define it.

Today marks the release of my fourth historical fiction title, ALL FOR LOVE: The Scandalous Life and Times of Royal Mistress Mary Robinson.

Narrated in Mary’s voice, the novel charts the steep rise and descent of one of the great celebrities of the 18th century, and yet Mary Robinson is little known to Americans. Yet she hobnobbed with so many luminaries of the Georgian era, which are “household names” to us: Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, David Garrick, Thomas Gainsborough, Charles James Fox, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Mary Wollstonecraft, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and of course, her first lover, the teenage Prince of Wales, later George IV.

All of these august personages figure as characters in ALL FOR LOVE.Mary’s writings, so well known in her time, are scarcely taught in our high schools and universities, although I was delighted to meet a University of Pennsylvania English professor who not only teaches Mary’s work but has written about it himself from the academic’s perspective.

At only fifteen, Mary Robinson was married off to an unfaithful wastrel. During the next seven years, her spellbinding talent, beauty, and drive would lead her from the denigration of debtors’ prison to the London stages, where a star was born. With the heart of a poet and face of an angel she was sold as society’s darling. Though dubbed “the priestess of taste” for her dashing style, her unabashed exploits made her the queen of scandal, envied by women worldwide, and desired by every man within reach.

The future George IV

From Mary Robinson’s shocking affair with the Prince of Wales and the fortuitous liaisons that titillated the country, to heartbreaking betrayals and a restless pursuit of true romance, this breathtaking novel paints a vivid portrait of a woman who changed history by doing as she pleased—for money, for fame, for pleasure, and above all, for love.

John Dryden (1631-1700)

The title of my novel is taken from the 1677 drama about Antony and Cleopatra by John Dryden, the full title of which is ALL FOR LOVE—OR THE WORLD WELL LOST. Not only did Mary Robinson perform in that play during her career as the brightest light on the London stage in the 1770s, but the full title has such beautiful resonance to the story of her life. Although Mary played many of Shakespeare's heroines, numerous other classical roles and several leading parts written by contemporary playwrights, she was best known for the role in which she attracted the attention of the Prince of Wales--Perdita, the lost princess disguised as a shepherdess in The Winter's Tale, or more accurately, in Garrick's reworking of the play, retitled Florizel and Perdita. "Perdita" literally means lost girl, which also describes Mary in many ways. Signing himself "Florizel," the prince wrote copious love letters to his Perdita.

Born between 1756 and 1758 (I settled on 1757) Mary’s early childhood was spent in an affluent merchant’s home in Bristol. But her father, Nicholas Darby, an adventurer as well as a dreadful businessman, turned out to be an adulterer as well, and abandoned his wife and their three children (one of Mary’s brothers died of smallpox a few years later) He returned from a failed venture in the North American fur trade, and took up residence in London with his mistress, expecting his wife Hester to fend for herself and her children. But when Hester, needing an income, opened a school, her estranged husband was scandalized. How dare she bring shame upon his name by working?!

Mary was one of the rare girls to have some formal schooling during the era. She attended the academy run by the More sisters in Bristol, and Hannah More, in her pre-evangelical years was one of Mary’s tutors. Mary displayed an early aptitude for acting and eventually won an audition for David Garrick, artistic director of the Drury Lane theatre.

David Garrick (1717-79)

But her theatrical debut was postponed by two events: a bout of smallpox, and her mother’s insistence that she marry well instead of pinning her hopes on a stage career. What happened next set the wheels in motion for the rest of her life, and I won’t give away all the dips and turns on its wild ride. Suffice it to say that every time Mary hit rock bottom, she courageously managed to reinvent herself and in each profession she tried, from acting to courtesanry, to writing (poetry, bestselling novels, plays, operas, and essays) to radical feminism. Off the bat, I can’t think of any women of our era who have managed to attain a zenith in so many careers, all while raising her only child, Maria Elizabeth, as a devoted single mother.Mary died of illness in 1800 at the age of forty-three, having accomplished an extraordinary number of things, including a vast body of writing, during her short life. Sure, she had flaws—she was, after all, a real person. But she also impresses the heck out of me, I must admit. And I can’t help thinking what else she might have been able to achieve, had she spent more time on earth.

Had you ever heard of Mary Robinson before?

Monday, February 4, 2008

CHOOSING SOPHIE contest winners

There were two winners, so rather than toss a coin, each lady has won an autographed copy of CHOOSING SOPHIE. Congratulations to Kim and Dixie, and thanks to all who entered the contest!

Friday, February 1, 2008

From Bath to Baden!

HAPPY FEBRUARY, everyone! Here we go again. The annual carousel has spun back around to the month of groundhogs and overpriced roses, chocolates, and mushy greeting cards.
But I'm no cynic--not really. I firmly believe in True Love in all its glory. In fact, few things give me greater pleasure than to write about it.

I've even written about it auf Deutsch!

My 2006 time-travel romantic comedy, BY A LADY: Being the Adventures of an Enlightened American in Jane Austen's England has just been released as EINE LADY IN BATH, a German translation (by Christine Heinzius). Notice their more economical title. And they didn't waste time with the cover image, either (it's actually Madame Recamier, in a rather famous portrait currently at the Musée de Carnavalet in Paris). The art department zoomed right in on the cleavage.

I do love the German cover, actually, although I think the publisher might have found a better place to stick their imprint. Our heroine looks like she has a mouche made of electrical tape.

The way I wrote it, it's a romp -- a funny, sexy novel of romance, mystery, and time travel…and the perfect treat for all Jane Austen fans.

BY A LADY is still in print, in case German isn't your first language. Here's the premise : C.J. Welles, a New York actress, is on the verge of landing her dream role: portraying Jane Austen in a Broadway play. But during her final audition—garbed in full nineteenth-century dress—she exits stage left and emerges onto the stage of quite another theatre in an altogether different time, having been mysteriously transported to the English city of Bath in the year 1801.

I would really love to see how the steamy sex scenes were translated. My husband speaks German, so when I get a copy, I'll have to ask him to read them aloud to me. Will it send me into paroxysms of ecstasy, like Jamie Lee Curtis in "A Fish Called Wanda" every time she heard sweet (or not) nothings murmured in a foreign tongue?

Have you ever read an American novel in a foreign translation? How did it compare to the source material in terms of tone? Did you take the translation as a novel on its own terms and merits or did you find yourself comparing it to the English-language original?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


And welcome to the inaugural guest blog on this site! I'm so happy to welcome Georgie Lee, whose historical romance, LADY'S WAGER, was just released this month.

Lady's Wager
A Traditional Regency Romanceby Georgie Lee. Now Available from Cerridwen Press

Charlotte Stuart is a head-strong heiress dedicated to charitable causes who publicly disdains marriage while secretly pining for love. Edward Woodcliff is a stubborn Viscount who feigns poverty in an effort to find a woman who loves him and not his inheritance.Sparks fly when these two intractable people meet but can they let down their guards long enough to admit their love for one another? All seems hopeless until Edward challenges Charlotte to a wager. If he wins, he wins her hand in marriage. If he loses, then Charlotte is free of him. Charlotte accepts the wager only to lose her hand and her heart to Edward. Now she must put aside her doubts about his intentions long enough to let Edward in to her life and admit that he is the man of her dreams.

LADY'S WAGER is set in 1803 Regency London. How did you become interested in this time period? What you love about it?

I’ve always been a British history buff and I enjoy the books of Jane Austen and the various film adaptations. So it seemed natural to write something set in historic London. The Regency is one of my favorite time periods because of the elegance and manners, not to mention the titles and wealth. I know those manners covered up what could be a very harsh society but the delight of romantic fiction is the ability to enjoy a time period without the ugly reality.

What sparked this book? Was it a character? An historical event? A scene you just couldn’t get out of your head?

The opening scene where Charlotte rejects her Aunt’s suggestion to marry was the first scene to come to me and it set the tone for the rest of the story. I pictured the heroine, Charlotte Stuart, as an exuberant woman who doesn’t let life get her down and who doesn’t conform to all of society’s expectations. However, not conforming also causes her problems, especially when she meets Edward, the hero. By learning to make the compromises necessary to maintain a successful relationship, Charlotte grows and changes but she never loses her independent spirit.

Please share a bit about your writing process. Are you a pantser or a plotter? Do you write multiple drafts or clean up as you go?

I wish I could do more plotting but I’m afraid I’m a pantser. I quickly write the first draft and then go over it numerous times adding detail, plot elements, and characterization. I enjoy the editing process because that’s when I really get to know my characters and sometimes they take me in new directions. However, not knowing the full story before I start can be frustrating, especially when my characters stop talking to me. In those situations, I’ve learned to keep writing and to keep researching. One or the other will eventually spark a new idea and allow me to continue.

What do you like least about this period? Anything that constrained you or that you had to plot carefully around?

The two biggest constraints I ran into were chaperones and proper etiquette between the different classes and genders. I wanted Charlotte to maintain her spunk and chafe against convention but she still had to follow the Regency rules of etiquette. As a result, I had to add chaperones and change some scenes to bring the story more closely in line with Regency rules. The scene where Charlotte and her friend meet Beau Brummell and the Prince Regent in Bond Street best illustrates this. It was a challenge to write the scene in an era-appropriate way but in the end, I think I did a good job of combining Charlotte’s outward adherence to convention while portraying her interior irritation.

Did you have to do any major research for this book? Did you stumble across anything really interesting that you didn’t already know?

I wanted Charlotte to have an interest in something young Regency ladies normally eschewed. I’ve always enjoyed reading about medical history so I decided to give her an interest in medicine and hospitals. I had to do a great deal of research regarding 1803 medicine and the research helped me craft a number of scenes in the story.

One surprising fact I ran across in my research was the prevalence of maternity hospitals. They existed much earlier than most people realize. The General Lying-in Hospital in London was founded in 1739 and was later renamed Queen Charlotte’s Hospital in 1809 in honor of her generous patronage. I was also surprised to discover that nitrous oxide had been around since the 1770s and was originally used as a kind of snake oil cure-all or as a recreational drug. Although some physicians recognized its anesthetic properties, it wasn’t used as an anesthesia until the 1840s.

Please tell us a bit about your background, and what led you to become a novelist.

I’ve been a professional writer for over ten years and started out writing marketing videos, public service announcements and promotional spots for a cable TV station in San Diego. I hold an MA in Screenwriting and I’m also a published poet. I’d read a lot of romance novels in college but I’d gotten away from them after graduation. When I started reading them again, I quickly remembered how much I enjoyed the mix of history and fiction. Without knowing very much about novel writing, I launched into my first book, a story set in ancient Egypt and quickly ran into a number of problems. Novel writing turned out to be very new territory for me and coming from a screenwriting background, I wasn’t used to writing description and interior monologue. I ended up abandoning the Egypt story and that’s when the idea for Lady’s Wager came to me. I learned a great deal writing the numerous drafts of Lady’s Wager and now the writing process goes much more smoothly.

What/Who do you like to read? And are you one of those authors who tends to avoid reading the same genre you’re currently writing in during the in-progress stages of your own novel?

I enjoy reading historical non-fiction and fiction, especially books about England and the ancient world. I tend to lean towards strange topics and often find myself reading about the plague or royal mistresses. It’s fun to experience all aspects of history, not just the more scholarly ones.

I will read other authors in my genre while I’m writing. Amanda Quick is one of my favorite Regency writers and it’s helpful for me to see how she and other writers handle certain situations. Also, reading good books inspires me to keep writing and helps me stay in the spirit of the era.

What are you planning to work on next?

I’m working on two projects at the moment. One is a historical set in 1721 Colonial Williamsburg and the other is a contemporary set in Los Angeles. The contemporary is fun because I can write without having to stop and research. The Colonial Williamsburg novel is presenting me with a whole new research challenge.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Play Ball! CHOOSING SOPHIE Now On Sale

We have liftoff! The countdown to the release of CHOOSING SOPHIE, my fifth women's fiction novel for Avon Trade and my seventh work of contemporary fiction since my 2002 debut with MISS MATCH -- is over!

Apparently, people across the nation, readers like you, have enjoyed this novel about family and baseball and embraced it in a big way. I'll let some of those lucky people who got an advance reading copy of the novel, tell you about it in their own words. Even guys like it! By the way, there are several male characters of all shapes and sizes in this novel, .

ISBN: 9780060871376; ISBN10: 0060871377; Imprint: Avon A ; On Sale: 1/22/2008; Pages: 272; $13.95; Ages: 18 and Up.

Reader Reviews from FirstLook

This really tugs at the heartstrings! The characters were endearing in their own way and they reached out to me with hope, missteps and cute situations that had to be overcome. Thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining!
— Joel (Albuquerque, NM)

Leslie Carroll did her research regarding birth mothers and adoptive children, and the birth mother/adoptee part of the book wove well into the baseball story. I can totally relate to the story as it conains many similarities with what happened in my own family with my adopted sister. I enjoyed it!
— Joleen (Council Bluffs, IA)

Choosing Sophie is a great novel which gives hope to all those who have suffered any type of family breakup. I thoroughly enjoyed Carroll's novel and would recommend it to anyone wanting to while away a cold winter afternoon lost in a fantasy they can only dream or read about!
— Vicki (Moore, ID)

This was a page turner! The personal relationships of all the characters were woven into an intricate story revolving around the bonds of a mother and her daughter whom she had given up for adoption. Also gives great insight into the minor baseball world as the story involves Bronx Cheers team. The ending provides hope for the happiness of all. Well-written story that I thoroughly enjoyed.
— Barbara (Mount Wolf, PA)

This is a very refreshing book with an instantly likable main character. The fact that the author brings adoption and sports into one novel is also impressive!
— Shawn (York, PA)

Target Stores has chosen CHOOSING SOPHIE as one of its "Breakout Books" of 2008. Visit a "La Tarjée" location near you to find copies of the novel at point-of-purchase, or order your copy from any major online retailer of books, or, even better, stop by your own local bookstore.

A helpful note to my readers: Avon Trade novels have a "value added" section titled "Author Insights ... and more" at the back of the bound book. The novel's narrative ends in this additional section, which I have titled "Extra Innings."

I look forward to your comments after you have read the book!

P.S. She doesn't know me from Eve, and I'd never heard of her when I was writing Choosing Sophie, but huge congratulations to Diablo Cody, the former stripper who just became an Oscar nominee for Best Original Screenplay for Juno!

Saturday, January 19, 2008


Let's raise a glass to the glamorous and controversial Georgia Frontiere, the former nightclub singer and chorus-line dancer who in April 1979 became the owner of the L.A. Rams football franchise after the death (by accidental drowning) of her sixth husband, Carroll Rosenbloom. A native of St. Louis, in 1995 Frontiere moved the team, which by then was playing south of Los Angeles in Anaheim (just a mouse-ear away from Disneyland) to her home town.

Georgia's life was claimed by breast cancer. She was 80 years old.

The colorful Frontiere had been Rosenbloom's mistress and bore him two children before he divorced his wife Velma to marry her in 1966. Rosenbloom and Frontiere had met in 1957 at a party hosted by Joseph P Kennedy in Palm Beach. With the Rams, Georgia demonstrated her own management style, standing on the sidelines and often smooching the guys who had just made a great play.

Georgia is on my mind now because Olivia "Venus" deMarley, the protagonist of CHOOSING SOPHIE (which hits the bookstores this coming Tuesday, January 22), was also a former showgirl who inherited a ball club. In the fictional case, the team was a basement-dwelling minor league baseball club, the Bronx Cheers, not a legendary football franchise.

According to today's New York Times obituary, Rosenbloom had groomed his son from a previous marriage, Steve, as his successor, but he left 70 percent of the Rams’ ownership to his wife, evidently to minimize estate taxes. She quickly asserted control, firing Steve Rosenbloom and replacing him as the team’s top executive with Don Klosterman, the general manager.

She bristled at what she apparently perceived to be snickering from the news media and the football world at a woman running an N.F.L. team.

“There are some who feel there are two different kinds of people — human beings and women,” she said at her first news conference.

This woman-in-a-man's world element is most certainly a key one in CHOOSING SOPHIE as well. But Georgia was not on my mind when I wrote the novel, nor did I research her life or her press clippings. The fish-out-of-water premise of a woman who'd spent a life in show business suddenly landing in the middle of a highly unfamiliar sphere, one ruled by men and fueled by testosterone, appealed to me. So I put that ball in play and then added a few twists: the double loss of a romantic relationship and a familial one; the sudden, surprise appearance of another familial one, and the testing the waters of a new romance. Cycles of birth (of a sort) and death mirror the cycle of a sports season: up one day and down the next, ending with the usual "Wait'll next year!" war whoop.

We respectively bid ciao to Georgia and welcome Olivia, who, in my imagination, always looked a bit like Marcia Cross.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Eulogy for the Euphronios krater

We'd grown accustomed to its vase.

This afternoon I said good-bye to a friend of over 30 years' acquaintance. He was 2500 years old--but still. After residing since 1972 as the crown jewel in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Greek and Roman Art galleries, the calyx-krater (a vessel used for mixing water with wine) known as the "Euphronios krater" after the name of its painter, will be repatriated to Italy as part of a deal made in 2006 between the museum's director, Philippe de Montebello, and the Italian government.

Terracotta calyx-krater (bowl for mixing wine and water), Calyx-krater, ca. 515 B.C.; ArchaicSigned by Euxitheos, as potter; Signed by Euphronios, as painter Greek, Attic Terracotta; H. 18 in. (45.7 cm), Diam. 21 11/16 in. (55.1 cm)Lent by the Republic of Italy (L.2006.10)

According to The New York Times, the Italians have long contended that the artifact was illegally excavated from a tomb in Cerveteri, near Rome. The Met bought the krater in 1972 for $1 million from Robert Hecht, an antiquities dealer who is now on trial in Rome on charges of conspiring to traffic in looted artifacts. (Mr. Hecht denies the charges.)

Under the terms of the pact, the Met is returning 21 objects that Italy said were looted, and the Italian government is lending the Met a series of rare ceramic antiquities. The first arrived in late 2006, and three more are to be installed by Wednesday in the Met’s Greek and Roman galleries.

The dodgy provenance (history) of the Euphronios krater and several other works of art made the news a couple of years ago when it was revealed that a number of American museums, including the Met, and the Getty, in Los Angeles, might have acquired a handful of treasures in their permanent collections via something of a gray market. Not quite a farmer with a pickup truck nudge-nudging the elegant and erudite curators with the suggestive "Hey, I've got an Etruscan vase for sale," but not that far off the mark, either.

Good thing I picked up Friday's Times, which alerted readers to the Euphronios krater's last weekend in NYC. So I had to make a special trip to say farewell to a vase that played a seminal role in my life.

Soon after the vase came to the Met, my high school freshman Ancient History class, (itself ancient history, by now) took a class trip down to the museum to study it. A couple of years later, my Art History class made a repeat pilgrimage.

Although the Met has a few vessels of similar size dating from the same era, the Euphronios calyx-krater has several unique credentials that place it above the others in the museum's comprehensive collection of red- and black- figured Attic vases. For one thing, it's, to use a lay term -- better. Why? Because of the details, and the skill employed in the actual rendering of the figures. The subject matter, too, makes it unique. It is a Greek vase by Greek artists, that honors a fallen hero who had fought on the Trojan side of the conflict. The vase tells a story--two stories, in fact, because there's a narrative on each side of the vase, separate, yet connected to the other one.

The scene that Euphronios painted depicts an episode from the Trojan War. The Lycian king, Sarpedon, son of the chief god Zeus and the mortal Laodamia, and a leader of the Trojans' allies, has just been slain in battle. Blood still flows from his wounds. The messenger-god Hermes stands at the center with his hand raised. He is giving directions to two winged figures, the twin brothers Sleep (Hypnos) and Death (Thanatos), who will carry the fallen hero back to his homeland in Lycia for burial. Lycia was at the time a region in Asia Minor, which is also where the ancient city of Troy was geographically located.
In the story of the Trojan War, even though Zeus was aware that it had been pre-ordained that Sarpedon would die by the hand of Patroclus (the Greek comrade-in-arms, and probable lover of the great Achilles), he hoped to prevent the inevitable.

However, his wife Hera (who wasn't crazy about all the bastard kids Zeus had begotten on mortal women) reminded him that other gods' sons were fighting and dying and other gods' sons were fated to die as well, if Zeus should spare his son of his fate another god may do the same. Reluctantly accepting this rationale, the heartbroken Zeus permitted Sarpedon to die while fighting Patroclus, but not before killing the only mortal horse of Achilles. During their fight Zeus sent a shower of bloody raindrops over the Trojans' heads expressing the grief for the impending death of his son.

This is the narrative depicted on the obverse side of the vase. On the reverse side (the object is round, so I left it to the curators to tell viewers which side is considered which), are a group of Athenian youths arming for battle, dressed as they might have appeared in the late 6th century when the vase was created . Two of the men carry round shields, also called "targets." On one shield is the image of a scorpion; on the other, a crab. I'm still waiting for someone to discourse on whether there is any particular astrological resonance there.

My late grandmother, Norma Carroll shared with me from my earliest childhood (I kid you not!) her passion for ancient Greek art and antiquities. This was the woman who brought me to see the nude statue of Zeus (or do they think it's Poseidon these days?) in the lobby of the United Nations. I was all of three years old and he was the first naked man I'd ever seen. For an oversize statue, he's not exactly anatomically proportionate--which might have really screwed me up later in life--but I digress.

So much did "Mama" adore the culture of ancient Greece that she named my mother Leda. So, it stands to reason that I might feel a deeper-than-average affinity with the character of Helen of Troy, Leda's demimortal daughter, sired by Zeus himself who was disguised a a swan at the time.

I bifurcated my writing career in 2005, adding historical fiction to my resume with the publication of THE MEMOIRS OF HELEN OF TROY, told from the first person point of view in Helen's voice. The novel is dedicated "to my mother, Leda," an inside joke that happens to be the truth.

So, because my emotional connection to the history and culture of ancient Greece runs rather deep, I had to pay my last respects to the Euphronios krater.
Today, on its last day in New York before it heads to Italy, it was easy to find the Euphronios krater in the galleries of Greek vases. There was no special signage directing traffic -- no "Step right up ladeeees and gentleman! Last chance to see the famous vase before the krater gets crated!" but it was the one surrounded by a mob of people grabbing one final peek at this treasure, savoring the memories with their cellphones and digital cameras.
Tacky, maybe, but I later discovered that the Met doesn't sell a postcard of it. One man joked that the Italians had pre-empted him from turning it into an umbrella stand. One woman, bundled up in a pale pink shearling coat, matching scarf, and fetching fur hat, was silently sobbing. (Okay, that was me).

I'm a sentimental softie anyway, so it takes very little before I tear up. But the Euphronios krater took me back to my teen-hood, to high school history courses and flirting with the cutest guy in the class by sneaking him candy-corn while we were ogling the Met's latest star acquisition and committing to memory why it was so special. This will be on the final, kids. And it took me back even further than that--to my maternal grandmother and her passion for all things Attic, even though (as far as I know) we have no Greek blood flowing through the branches of our family tree. And then I closed the circle by writing my Helen of Troy novel.

Regardless of the politics, of the "rights" and "wrongs" of repatriation of some of the world's greatest works of art, acknowledging how much I'll miss this vase is just another reminder of how much I miss my grandmother.
How about you? Are there any works of art that you "grew up with" that have special resonance for you?

Monday, January 7, 2008

Of Books and Baseball...

First let me state, for the record, that although I am a daughter of the Bronx, I am a lifelong NY Mets fan.
So, naturally, I'm disinclined to believe a word of Roger Clemens' disingenuous denials of steroid use. This is the brute who beaned Mets' catcher Mike Piazza a few years ago and then claimed the ball got away from him. Yeah--right. And I've got a bridge in Brooklyn with "For Sale" signs threaded through its cables. Umm...don't you get to be a multiple Cy Young winner by being a whiz at locating the strike zone?

Mike Piazza

So, in this pre-season climate of Bad News bears, allow me to offer you an anecdotal antidote to the palaver propagated by a handful of overgrown, overpaid, and overmedicated grownups who have polluted America's Pastime with their butt-loaded syringes.

We've got just two weeks before CHOOSING SOPHIE arrives in bookstores; it's a heartwarming novel about love and baseball (and love of baseball).

CHOOSING SOPHIE is my seventh women’s fiction title since 2002. Olivia (“Venus”) deMarley, a former burlesque dancer, stands to inherit her late father’s scrappy (and colorful) minor league baseball team, the Bronx Cheers, if she and Sophie, the twenty-year-old daughter she gave up for adoption right after her birth, can reunite.

Stephanie Rollins at calls CHOOSING SOPHIE “a breath of fresh air,” and “a Lifetime Movie waiting to happen. If you liked Nora Roberts’ “Montana Sky”, you will like Choosing Sophie” Go ahead and indulge yourself, and experience the importance of family.”

And Target Stores has selected CHOOSING SOPHIE as a breakout book of the new year, and I hope your book club will do so, too!

I can state unequivocally, on the record, on pain of polygraph that this book is entirely steroid free. Not only that there are no calories in it. So you've got nothing to lose but the wait till Spring Training begins!