The Old Screen Door

         It happened the night that I attempted to pull the screen door open and unexpectedly found it locked. Locked? No one, not ever, locked the doors to the house. There was no need to. You could hear a car coming the moment it turned up the long quarter mile drive because of the crunching of tires on the gravel. I had been hearing that sound since I had moved there when I was seven or eight. I heard that crunching sound in my sleep, in fact. There was always someone home; my Mother, my father, Anna, the housekeeper who took the train from downtown Philadelphia, the other Anna, our Au Pair from Denmark, and Elwood, the farmer who lived in the apartment over the garage. By the time any car arrived at the top of the drive, day or night, there was somebody waiting at the door to see who had come.

Even though it is the back door, it is the first door you come to when you drive up the drive. Strange as it seems, everyone always entered the house “the back way in.” In through the shed, where the fridge, freezer, washer and dryer were; in through the kitchen, where the oven, stove, porcelain sink and the long gray Formica table, across the way and under the window, so you could look out on an ice cold morning, and watch a family of red cardinals dance in the pure white snow, while eating your oatmeal; then into the children’s living room, where the television was, into the dining room with its massive furniture and brightly polished candlesticks and urns and the dining room table I once stabbed three times with a carving knife in a temper; then into the tiny hall of windows where my mother grew pots and pots of violet violets. The big living room comes next, the long living room, the imposing, majestic, magnificent living room with Maasai spears, a Koboko cane whip, crossbows, a boar’s head, a rhino’s foot holding Briggs tobacco for my father’s pipe, an elephant’s foot containing spirits, a vast, red, oriental carpet, a wall, a very long wall, entirely covered floor to ceiling with books from four generations. There is an oversize stone fireplace at the far, far end of the room, the kind you can walk into and stand up in, if you are so inclined. Its mantelpiece is covered with ancient Hopi Kachina dolls, Maasai figures lovingly carved in Kenya, where my parents lived and worked for several years, and a framed painting of a majestic peregrine falcon hangs on the wall looking down over all that.

There are two overstuffed chairs on either side of the fireplace. My father’s shiny and dimpled brass lamp, that had been his father’s, sits on a table near his chair, and my mother’s standing lamp with its pockmarked shade, once her mother’s, looms over her chair. Each chair has a camel saddle from Cairo in front of it for outstretched feet. There is a massive, deep couch, my great Aunt Jule’s, with pillows, and a long table made from a trunk of an ancient tree. Lastly, but never finally in that room so full of things, at the far end is an entry hall full of other relics—the actual entry for the real front door, the front door that no one uses because it is in the back of the house. The wall here is coved with my grandfather’s naval medals and honors and three very large swords. Locked in the closet in the hallway, not to be seen, hidden behind coats and other hanging things, are the magic tricks my father inherited from many magicians passed on, which he had used in the circus when he was little more then a boy. That locked cabinet of magic tricks also contains all the swords he swallowed.

I stood dumbfounded staring at the old green chipped door that had been slamming behind me for decades. Then I reached for the rusty handle and pulled at it again. Still locked. It was night. The middle of the night when the sky is dark and every star in it is perfectly visible. My eyes cautiously searched around as I stood silently with my hand still frozen on the familiar handle. I heard the wind blowing through the giant maple that stood between the house and the barn behind me.

All of the lights in the old stone house were out, upstairs and down, to the left, to the right. That was not strange however. That was the way it was meant to be. I heard the familiar humming of the old fridge on the other side of the screen door and the wood door behind that. I heard the ticking of my parent’s clock coming from the open window of their bedroom across to the right where the house came around. I heard the pounding of my heart. Something wasn’t right. I knew this because of what I didn’t hear, which was anyone, not a single soul, on the other side of the old screen door.

         Everyone was gone. The door was locked because everyone was gone now. Over the years, each had died in their time. But then, I had lived in a house where death had been taught to me since childhood. Now I was here to gather and box the remnants of that childhood and take it away. Who had locked me out?

The Best Review We’ve Ever Received!

Good morning, Kathy,
As a junior reading block teacher, I constantly search for books to appeal to the demographics of my classes.  One boy, Tyron, has told me for two years that he doesn’t like to read. At first, he read the Bluford series for his daily independent reading, but as a junior I wanted him to broaden his horizons.
He saw one of my copies of your book, Secret Storms, and I gave him a brief synopsis of your fascinating story. In three days, he has read nearly half the book, and he reads during any spare moment he has in the class!
Thank you, for writing such an engaging, informative book. Thank you, for providing a wonderful catalyst to engage this student with a higher quality of reading material.

Michele Parent

English/Reader Teacher
Brevard Public Schools

Slipping and Sliding

Sometimes, when my mind needs to be refreshed, I look at some of my favorite quotes. They stimulate my little grey cells, kick me in the butt, and butter me up so that I can slip and slide.

Let’s see… I may write something like this:

She swung around with a bucket of the blackberries she had been picking for the last hour. A noise in the bushes had made her turn. But when she looked, no one was there. Disappointed, she turned back…


At this point, I am going to go through some of the quotes that inspire me, and choose one to butter me up.

I only ask to be free. The butterflies are free.

– Charles Dickens

Beware that you do not lose the substance by grasping at the shadow.    


The more sand that has escaped from the hourglass of our life, the clearer we should see through it. 

-Jean Paul Sartre

Never forget me, because if I thought you would, I’d never leave.

 -A. A. Milne

I can’t go back to yesterday – because I was a different person then.

Lewis Carroll

Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none. 

-William Shakespeare

Everybody’s youth is a dream, a form of chemical madness.

-F. Scott Fitzgerald

It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure. 

-Joseph Campbell

If you love somebody, let them go, for if they return, they were always yours. And if they don’t, they never were.         

-Khalil Gibran

When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. 

-Maya Angelou

Half of the harm that is done in this world is due to people who  want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm. But the harm does not interest them.

-T. S. Eliot

There are two kinds of teachers: the kind that fill you with so much quail shot that you can’t move, and the kind that just gives you a little prod behind and you jump to the skies.

 -Robert Frost

If you always do what interests you, at least one person is pleased.

-Katharine Hepburn

A compliment is something like a kiss through a veil.

 -Victor Hugo

There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book. 

-Marcel Proust

If you are not too long, I will wait here for you all my life.

 -Oscar Wilde

Your time is limited; so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.

– Steve Jobs

It always seems impossible until it’s done.  

-Nelson Mandela

All right. Now that I’ve gone through my quotes, I think I’ll choose ….

If you are not too long, I will wait here for you all my life.


She swung around with a bucket of the blackberries she had been picking for the last hour. A noise in the bushes had made her turn. But when she looked, no one was there. Disappointed, she turned back.

Her old hand, stained with blackberry juice, wrinkled and scratched, reached out to finish off the bush she was working on, when handsuddenly she just let it drop limply by her side. She was tired. She was tired of picking the berries day after day, year after year. She was tired of listening to only one heartbeat at night. She was tired of waiting for someone that might never come.  

“I’ll meet you in the spring,” he had said so long ago. “In the forest where the berry bushes grow.”

“All right,” she had answered coyly, swinging her long glossy locks over her shoulder. “I’ll wait for you,” she smiled, looking up into his ardent blue eyes. “But don’t keep me waiting too long.”


 Now I’ll try another one of my quotes. This time I think I’ll choose…

There are two kinds of teachers: the kind that fill you with so much quail shot that you can’t move, and the kind that just gives you a little prod behind and you jump to the skies.


She swung around with a bucket of the blackberries she had been picking for the last hour. A noise in the bushes had made her turn. But when she looked, no one was there. Disappointed, she turned back…

pailHer bucket was only half full. Or was it only half empty? She looked down into it, but couldn’t tell. Night was beginning to fall. Another noise in the bushes made her turn around again.

“Who’s there?” she called out. Her heart began to tremble. Her lips went dry. Just this afternoon she had been warned that there was someone lurking around the farms. It was all over school. One of the teachers had warned that no one should go out alone, at least not until it was discovered who it was. Another teacher had suggested that they just remain vigilant, but to continue on with their regular lives.

 “Who’s there?” she called again.

 That’s when she saw a long shadow pass over her and she froze in place.

 “It’s me,” a voice whispered. “I’ve been looking and looking and finally I’ve found you.”

Carefully, she set her pail down. The voice was one that she knew. She didn’t turn and run. She didn’t scream out.  She didn’t do anything but smile.

“You’re back,” she laughed, throwing her arms around him. “Oh Tom, you’re back. You’re alive and well and I don’t have to worry about you anymore. ”

 Later that night she told her brother, who had finally come home from the war, that she had picked a half-full bucket of berries for him and that the next day, after school, she would make him a great, big, beautiful American blueberry pie.


            If you have a quote you’d like to share, please send it to me!



My Half-Hour Game of Trust

            wave 1) She took the ring off her finger and threw it into the sea. The diamond sparkled in the sun for a brief moment, and then disappeared into a heavy wave. Her heart felt as though it were free falling at first… and then, suddenly, she felt enormous relief.

            2) “The best is yet to come,” they told her. But she knew they were lying. They always lied on Fridays. Friday was empirelying day and everyone knew it.  It was a good way to end the week.

            3) She watched as the ten-foot boulder fell from the top of the building. Four men were sitting on it having their lunch. She screamed, but her cries were unheard as the bolder crashed onto the sidewalk, making a sound one hundred thousand times louder than hers. 

Above are three sentences that just came to mind. Didn’t try to think of them, just let them pour out and appear on the computer screen in front of me. This is a game I play with myself. It helps me trust that even though I might not have something to write, in fact, I always do.

Now, I consider which one I’ll continue with: the first, the second or the third? Which one appeals to me the most? Makes my juices flow. I think it’s the third.

           3) She watched as the ten-foot boulder fell from the top of the building. Four men were sitting on it having their lunch. She screamed, but her cries were unheard as the bolder crashed onto the sidewalk making a sound one hundred thousand times louder than hers. She had just turned eighteen, and this was her first trip to New York City. She had one suitcase, a purse, and wore a bright red beret.  She had no one to turn to because she had come alone.

All right, now that I have that much, I can really go on forever. I can give her a name, a background, a reason for being there. Or I can just skip to the next moment and see what she does. Or…I could do both.

            3) She watched as the ten-foot boulder fell from the top of the building. Four men were sitting on it having their lunch. She screamed, but her cries were unheard as the bolder crashed onto the sidewalk making a sound one hundred thousand times louder than hers. She had just turned eighteen, and this was her first trip to New York City. She had one suitcase, a purse, and wore a bright red beret.  She had no one to turn to because she had come alone.

            Crowds pushed in around her. They came out of buildings, from up and down the streets, around the corners. Possibly because she had been the first on the scene, no one shoved her aside or struggled to get in front of her. So she was left where she had been standing when the boulder fell, which was on the pavement across the street from Grand Central Station.  She had never seen so many people in one place. Where she came from, just the dozen people on her left would have filled her small parish.  

            Looking down, she noticed a half-eaten ham and cheese sandwich on the sidewalk next to her feet. Her instinct was to pick it up and save it for the wife who had girlheadstudiesmade it for her husband that morning, before he had gone off to work. When she leaned down to gather it up, she noticed yellow mustard had splattered onto the leg of her pants. Without any warning, she threw up.

So that’s my half-hour game of trust, which I attempt to play every day. I just keep writing, without stopping to think. The minutes tick away and at the end I have an entirely new acquaintance that I didn’t have thirty minutes before.  I save the ones I like, add to them, revise them, play around with them a little later, and then, sometimes, I introduce one to another. Right now, I have a novella that I have put together over the last year. Maybe I will do something with it, maybe I won’t. It doesn’t matter. That’s not the point. The point for me is purely one thing: courageously jumping in, and trusting myself to write, without hemming and hawing or censuring myself.  It’s kind of like swimming naked in a cold mountain stream after being in the confines of a swimming pool, wearing a suit.

tongue pot lake district sized



Don’t Let Your Feet Touch the Floor

I have a ritual when I write. I think most writers do. Mine is something I have perfected over the years. It begins when I am still in a dream state, just before I rise in the dreamingmorning, so that when I awake I just fall right out of bed and begin it. I couldn’t always do it, not when my children were growing up, certainly. And I can’t do it if something is expected of me before noon. Also, it’s impossible for me to continue to do it if I’ve done it for more than five weeks in a row, because if the ritual becomes too predictable, then it becomes an absolute bore. I can’t bore myself when I write. When and if I do, God have mercy on those around.
What is important to me is that I sleep until I wake. Years of unnaturally being awakened in the morning by nuns in long flowing habits, all but throwing cups of ice water on my face, in the six or seven boarding schools I attended while growing up, has taught me that my mind, when compelled to do things it abhors, strikes back. It refuses to preform cheerfully, gladly or willingly in any way. When it is forced against its will, it mopes. My blood flows like a river heading upstream, my reasoning stops being reasonable, and it crushes my little gray cells. And my feet refuse to arrange themselves flat on the floor.
However, if I wake when I please, life is so different. If I am allowed to come out of my slumber at will— that is, easily, gradually, progressively— my body gently begins throbbing with desire to begin the day. I lie there letting anticipation, excitement, enthusiasm fill me to the brim. It’s only then that I rise. And I rise with such desire that sometimes I don’t even feel my feet touch the floor, as I glide to my office not too far away, sit in my chair, and begin to write.
Still in my nightdress, which I will stay in all day, I write and drink bottles of water I have stored nearby. I’ll take a moment here and another one there, to brush my teeth, wash my face, and run a comb through my hair. I will also go down into the kitchen, make a bowl of cereal with berries on top, and walk around mindlessly as I eat, before oneuponheading back up to my writing again. Undisturbed, I can write for hours, ignoring the phone and the messages and emails that flash across my screen. I even have the capacity to disregard the occasional knocking at the front door.
Since it is something I wear all day, my nightgown/nightdress/ pajamas have to be elegant and somewhat stylish. Not only do I have to look at myself on occasion, but I have a husband, too. It is for this reason that the search for the exact right attire is essential. In the last seven years I have narrowed it down to wrinkle-free cotton French designs that look like smart striped men’s shirts. It seems I can only find these on the Left Bank in Paris across from Les Deux Magots; at Beauchamp friends-writingPlace in London; and on Madison Avenue somewhere near 76th Street, in New York City. Needless to say, I covet these pieces of my daily wardrobe. When I find one I like and it fits, I have been known to acquire four or five at a time. When I complain about the prices my husband tells me, “This is your writing uniform. It doesn’t matter.” If I am lucky, he will give me a box of them, each wrapped in soft tissue, for Christmas or my birthday.
4:30, 5:00, sometimes 6:00, if I am writing hard, is my stop time. It’s then that I head for the shower. As the water pours down over me, I mull over what I have written that day and make little mind-notes of things I want to revise. Then I blow dry my hair, put a little make-up on, dress in street clothes—maybe slacks and a crisply starched shirt—a necklace, a bracelet, my complicated thirty-year-old watch with a dark turquoise strap, which even I sometimes can’t decipher, and a squirt of Bal a Versailles. Thentheend I head downstairs and carefully merge into the world.
As I said, this ritual didn’t just materialize for me. It devised itself, little by little, day by day. And it can’t go on for more than a month at a time. There has to be a break in it, as there must be in everything, if you are to stay in your right mind.

What writing (or non-writing) rituals do you have? I would love to know!


Discussing True Stories

“Truth is stranger than fiction,
but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.”
-Mark Twain

Last Sunday evening, I had the pleasure of joining eight warm and intelligent women in a candid discussion of Secret Storms.


I was bowled over by both the explicit and implicit analysis that took place over the course of three hours.  Although most of the women could not personally relate to the circumstances presented in the memoir,

“I had to continually remind myself that I was reading a true story!”

-each was able to use the basic constructs of the story to share valuable insight into the complexities of her own life experience.

My sincere thank you to the discerning women who were part of an evening which I shall never forget.









Tin Foil-Wrapped Manuscripts in Freezers and Other Tales

A few days ago,  I went to my dear friend Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey’s birthday party.

Funny thing was, I thought I was her only friend.

No, not really. I knew she had other chums, but I thought maybe they were just acquaintances.

No, not really. I knew she had other relationships, but I thought ours was the best of them.

Well, it turned out I was not the only person at the party.

It turned out that I had to share this wonderful woman with at least fifty other people, under the stars, on a very warm evening, at her daughter and son-in-law’s adobe/modern home, the dark gray pool of which was surrounded by brightly painted, Mexican-red, wooden chairs, and tables clad in bright yellow cloths, each topped with some very exciting orange flowers.

Here is how Betsy and I met. It was in 1976. We had both moved here to Los Angeles from New York City and our husbands were meeting for a business dinner and had brought their wives (us) along. While the men talked business (Oliver Hailey was a renowned playwright) Betsy and I began to chat. We discovered we both had two children, we both missed New York City desperately and we both loved books and were voracious readers.

“I am writing a book,” Betsy leaned in and whispered in my ear. “I keep it wrapped up in tin foil and hide it in the freezer.”

“Why do you hide it?” I asked, bending towards her so our husbands couldn’t hear.

“I don’t want Oliver to read it. Not until it’s all finished.”

Two years later, Betsy’s book was published. By then she and I were good friends. A month after her book arrived in bookstores all 9780140274363_p0_v1_s260x420over the United States, it hit the New York Times Bestseller list. Betsy was flabbergasted. I was flabbergasted. I suppose all of those other friends of hers were likewise dumbfounded. As was Oliver, her husband, when she took it out of the freezer finally and let him read it.

The book was called A Woman of Independent Means, and was published in 1978, the year Betsy turned forty. It was inspired by the life of her grandmother. She adapted it for the stage as a one-person play starring Barbara Rush. In 1995, A Woman of Independent Means became a six-hour NBC miniseries starring Sally Field. Betsy has since published three more best selling novels: Life Sentences (1982), Joanna’s Husband and David’s Wife (1986), (which she also adapted for the stage as a two-person play), and Home Free in 1991.

Six years ago, when my first-born daughter, Kathy, found me, the very first gift I sent her was A Woman of Independent Means, signed to her by Betsy. Now it is one of Kathy’s favorite books. In fact, Kathy, the daughter whom I might never have known, is an English teacher, the head of the English department at her high school, and has been teaching Betsy’s book to some of her classes. In fact, she ordered A Woman of Independent Means for her classroom from Portrait of a Bookstore, our family’s store (1986-2012), where Betsy was one of our best customers. And if that isn’t enough, Kathy and I penned a memoir together called Secret Storms (2013) and Betsy was the very first person to read our manuscript and give us her blessing. Betsy also came to the Jeff Probst Show and sat in the audience the day Jeff interviewed Kathy and me for 45 minutes.

england 03 011

You just never know what is going to happen, do you? And then one day it does and your heart sings. Betsy writes four best-selling books, I open a bookstore and sell stacks of her books. Then after many prayers on my part, my daughter, against all odds, finds me 2,500 miles away, and we write a book together.

Doubt can wipe away the energy of life. Doubt causes things not to happen. Doubt, I remind myself daily, ties your hands, quiets your voice and slows down the heartbeat. Bold is the word of the day, every day. Bold should be spelled out on each of our foreheads so that it can seep daily into our brains, providing us with a constant reminder that all things are possible.

Anyway, my dear friend Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey’s birthday party was a great success.  Margaritas, (served up by a terribly elegant gentleman in his mid-eighties called Scottie, who has published a memoir about his years as a pimp for gay Hollywood stars in the 40s and 50s) were flowing, along with mind-blowing Mexican food, followed by a huge chocolate birthday cake.

Fortunately, after several of Scottie’s margaritas, I calmed down about the fact that I wasn’t Betsy’s only friend, because all of us together had a rip-roaring time. And a funny thing happened when we all began talking–not only did we seem to know all about each other, but it turned out that each of us had felt as though we were Betsy’s one special friend.

How do you figure that?



I can hear Hudson’s little toenails tic-tic-ticking as she races up the stairs with great momentum, afraid she might fall back down if she stops. She has a thick white body, perky pointed ears and a smashed-in face, and she has come to join me as I write. You could say she is my writing companion. She likes the silence and coolness of my office and I think she knows that without her I get very lonely. When she is in the safety of our home Hudson is very out-going. Sometimes she does little leaps, flinging herself into the air and twisting around like a pretty ballerina. Other times, she rolls onto her back, sticks her small legs into the air and groans so happily and so loudly you can hear her all over the house. But the second she steps over the threshold to go outside for her daily walk she becomes painfully bashful, pulling away when we meet someone on the street and hiding her head between her front legs. I love her for that. I love her for this eccentricity of hers. One day, a lady with purple bangs and a silver post embedded into the tip of her tongue, walking something that looked like a hairless rat, said to me, “Oh my, she’s a handful, isn’t she?” I was so angry I wanted to accidentally step on her rat. But instead, I just moved on.


Writing can be lonely. There are so many better things I could be doing with my time. When I’m in New York City, where we have an apartment, I walk in Central Park for hours, even in the rain, especially in the snow, and do things like watch the old man who feeds the squirrels and shares his bag of nuts with passing children, or tourists, or me. I always walk towards the music in Central Park. There’s always someone playing something, day or night. Once, I came across a bunch of people waltzing wildly under the stars to music from an accordion. I spend a lot of time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, too, going on the hour-long tour, where I learn something new each time. I also get a kick out of shopping till I drop and buying nothing. Most of the independent bookstores are closed uptown now, so I take the R downtown to some of the great bookstores there. When you buy too many books at one time, however, which I have a tendency to do, you have to have a husband to help carry them all home.
My husband is a New Yorker. I am from Pennsylvania. He didn’t used to like NY, but we moved away to LA in the 70s, and now he does. When he’s not working, he likes to take the subway to Coney Island and walk on the beach.  He went to the High School of Performing Arts when it was located near Broadway. Sometimes he would skip classes and go to see Vaudeville shows. They all closed down just after his freshman year though, so he made it just in time. It cost him a dollar. That’s all.
Hudson is looking up at me now. Her dark shiny eyes are telling me that it’s time for her dinner. She eats at five. Right on the dot. Outside in the back garden.  It’s a hot day. The sun is still blazing strong. I’d better put on my baseball cap. I have to stand there while she and Gracie eat, so maybe I’ll take a nice cold gin and tonic with me. And my cell phone. My extremely handsome husband from the Bronx is off on one of his road trips. I think he’s in Cheyenne by now. It’s two hours later there. Maybe I can catch him before he goes to dinner. I’d better hurry.