.An excerpt from my novel 'Cruise Quarters'

An excerpt from my novel 'Cruise Quarters'

When people sat down at Sarah Seldon’s blackjack game, they always wanted to talk about The Book. “Should I double down? Should I hit? Dealer, I know you’re a gambler; you could let me win if you wanted to. What does the book say?” She had never read this book, this mythical Bible for gamblers. The truth is there are 2256 books, each teaching its own foolproof winning system. But Sarah had been in the casino business long enough to think with a gambler’s mind. Gamblers knew they could follow all the rules of basic strategy, utilize money management and still lose if they weren’t dealt the right cards. The allure and curse of gambling was that there were no sure things. In the end it all came down to luck; gamblers prayed that Lady Luck would show up and that she would stick around for awhile.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


I have a confession to make. I love sit-coms. I'm a sucker for a sarcastic quip. I love anything that can make me laugh. I also live less than two hours from Hollywood, the epicenter of television and every once in a while I like to go all touristy and watch the making of a sitcom in person. So whenever I get the urge, I go to AudiencesUnlimited.com and book a taping. This is usually done late at night after a glass or two of wine, when wanderlust hits. So when I saw an opening for two of my favorite shows I grabbed them and it was Hooray for Hollywood!

My husband loves Puddy, everyone remembers the straight talking auto mechanic from Seinfeld and he is one of the animated voices from 'Family Guy,' the most beloved show of all post - adolescent males. On this show Patrick Warburton stars with Megyn Price an alumnus from one of the most underrated sitcoms of all times 'Grounded for Life.' Throw in David Spade from 'Just Shoot Me' and how can a show fail? Their show 'Rules of Engagement' films in Culver City and we were there at the appointed time, 4:45 p.m. our printed vouchers in hand waiting in line for the taping in a few hours. First you get checked out by the security guards; don't even think about bringing in a camera. In this line you meet interesting people from all over the globe, beside us were a couple that had flown over from London for a week just to attend tapings of their favorite American shows. The girl next to us was from Poland, and we took her under our wing.

The Cast of Rules of Engagement taking a break!
After a short wait you are walked through the studio and onto the sound stage where the sets you see every week on your television are right there in front of you. Oh, there is Jeff and Audrey's living room that looks so much larger on television, and to the left of it is the diner which is apparently the only restaurant in New York City. The stage is a jumble of cameras, and lights, which can partially obstruct your view while the filming is going on, but it's all part of the process.

Before the show a warm up guy greets the crowd and starts to perform a comedy act, sort of like an improv picking on foreign visitors and locals alike. The act is designed to rouse the crowd and work everyone into frenzy. Seated at the end of our row was guy wearing a Patrick Warburton celebrity golf tournament t-shirt. We later found out that this fellow was such a rabid fan that he had attended all the episodes for the last six years of the shows taping. We are given our instructions, no yelling or screaming allowed, just laughter. Followed by a short reel of the shows highlights played on televisions located directly over the stage. Then just before taping start the cast of the show appear to thunderous applause.

For the next few hours the cast and crew act out the shows script. It is like going to see a funny play. Writing comedy is hard, I know because my novel Cruise Quarters - A Novel About Casinos and Cruise Ships is funny. Making that sit-com appear funny so effortlessly on your home screen is a lot of work. Each line has to be delivered with the right inflection, the lines can't be flubbed and the jokes can't fall flat. So each scene is shot multiple times, while the director searches for the perfect take. But that is the fun of a live taping you are there to witness the bloopers, and believe me sitcom actors are always flubbing their lines and cracking each other up. When the directors yell cut, the writers confer with the cast and the same scene can be re-shot several times with new lines added or old lines deleted.

Laughing can work up an appetite, and since a taping can run for over three hours, to control the crowd the interns fed us sandwiches and cookies. It is a small gesture but it makes you feel like they really appreciate you showing up and doing your bit.

The show was hilarious and for three hours we were in the Hollywood bubble making television. When the last scene wrapped, the cast graciously lined up to greet us as we left the sound stage. Then it happened, my husband Ray leaned over the railing that separated the cast from us, and Patrick Warburton shook his hand. I don't think he has washed that hand since.

So the next time you are planning a trip to Los Angeles make sure you catch a taping of you favorite show. Where else can you go see a play, dine and even catch a comedy show for free! And with plays coming in about $100 a seat, free is good.

Next time I'll tell you about Hot in Cleveland.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


Sometimes the best vacation is one where you don't go anywhere at all. For the last three years Ray and I have been spending a week in Palm Springs just like the other tourists going to the Palm Springs International Film Festival. Sonny Bono started the film festival 23 years ago and it keeps getting better every year.

The weather was warm and sunny, the relatives flew in from Florida to join us, and we got to do my two favorite things, go to the movies and eat out. As if that wasn't enough we got to see George Clooney. But this year he was just one of the stars who turned up. Brad and Angelina, Charilize Theron, Adrian Brody, Glen Close and Olivia Wilde to name a few all walked the red carpet. We even gawked as the limos pulled up depositing the stars at the convention center.

The picture my cousin Robert took of George Clooney

This is a great film festival because it features the best foreign films from across the globe and if you can't visit a country the best way to travel there is by watching a movie or reading a book. This blog is about great movies based on great novels.

All I had to do was go into the theatre, wait for the lights to dim and I was sitting in a cafe on a square in 1930' Belgrade. Montevideo, the Taste of a Dream is based on a novel by Vladimir Stankovic. This is a beautiful film, filmed with beautiful actors, which tells the story of a Belgrade soccer team trying to reach Montevideo to participate in the first World Soccer Cup. Some movies are so evocative of a time and a place. Slick and sexy the scene in a jazz club is one of the best I have ever seen.

We wrote our novel Cruise Quarters - A Novel About Casinos and Cruise Ships after working aboard a luxury cruise ship. I loved the cruise to Scandinavia and Russia, so when I saw how many movies from that area of the world were showing, I bought tickets to many of them.

A great movie out of Norway is Headhunters. This movie is a thriller in every sense of the word. It is slick and sleek just what you would expect from a Scandinavian movie and the best thing is that the thrills and chills are created without the special effects of most Hollywood blockbusters. Even if you can't see the movie you can read the book. The movie is based on Jo Neb's novel, Headhunters.

The next movie on my list is Generation P out of Russia. There is a chapter in our novel devoted to Moscow; Ray worked there after the fall of communism, when it was just becoming the wild and wicked city featured in the film. This movie is a mixed bag. The first hour is one of the best examples of Russia's transition to capitalism through the eyes of a writer who gets a job in advertising. The second hour however is a bit of a mess. But maybe you just have to be Russian to get all the inside jokes and references, because this movie was a game changer in Russia. This book is based on the novel Generation P written by Victor Pelevin.

I much preferred My Father Baryshnikov which was centered on the school where the Bolshoi dancers are trained. It is a charming tale of a young man who doesn't know who his father is and so he pretends he is Baryshnikov. It was written about a time when all Russians lived in the same type of apartments, ate the same food and wore the same clothes. This movie is an uplifting tale that will make you see 1980's Russia in a new light. A Russian friend of mine agreed that the movie got it just right. Although it was based on the writers life there is no book.

A movie, like a book has the power to change your heart. I defy anyone to go see A Separation, and not come out of the theater with a new understanding of Iranian society. This is just a simple tale of two people going through a divorce, both with faults and problems, but the insights it gives us into modern day Iranian society are priceless.

I love my city and I hope all of you will one day have a chance to travel here during the festival. Where else in one week can you get the chance to see over 200 films from over 70 countries, and only have to pack your bags once?

Click to find Cruise Quarters at Barnes and Noble