Thursday, July 14, 2011


I’m not a prolific writer. In fact, I’m rather slow. It’s a bit difficult to dash off five or seven thousand words a day when you write historical fiction. Worse, sometimes I encounter writers block – but I know how to conquer that.

“People don’t want to write, they only want to have written,” Dorothy Parker famously remarked. Most of us writers, at one time or another, have subscribed to that sentiment, particularly in those dry periods when we find it almost impossible to come up with anything solid to write about.

What goes on in these fallow periods? Why doesn’t the creativity we know is there flow like the headwaters of the Amazon?

Over the years writers have asked me this question in my psychotherapy practice, and I’ve certainly thought about it in my own fiction writing.

Somerset Maugham had a unique approach to writers block that I’ve incorporated in my own work, and my work with clients. Writing at the turn of the 20th century, Maugham faced a blank page on his typewriter and pecked away his name: ‘I am Somerset Maugham, I am Somerset Maugham, I am Somerset Maugham . . .’ – until something came to him. His extraordinary Freudian-laced short story ‘Rain’ came to him in just such a way.

Okay, okay, I’m getting to it. What was Maugham really doing? Well, the trick was just sitting down at the typewriter. So when clients ask me how they can overcome their own writers block, I say 'sit down at the computer and write just two sentences. Just two.' It turns out it’s like that potato chip advert, ‘bet you can’t eat just one.’ In this case two.

Really it’s a matter of overcoming inertia. If you do sit down at the computer, once you start writing, it’s a bit difficult to actually stop at just two sentences. The trick to fooling the unconscious is to sit at the computer and begin, any beginning really.

It’s a rather simple ploy, but it works! I wrote a complete first draft of The Plot Against Marlene Dietrich by using this method. Two sentences became twenty, and then two hundred and then – hey, almost a complete draft.You might want to give it a try.

Take heart, it could be worse. James Baldwin called the place he wrote in Paris (in Paris, yet!) the torture chamber – but that’s another story.


Just click on the title above to go to the Amazon page for The Plot Against Marlene Dietrich (now 99¢ through July). Hope you enjoy it. Also, check out The Principal of Rivington Street also on Amazon and other e-readers.


Friday, July 01, 2011


In the time of good and evil, Marlene Dietrich was a heroine. When she finally left Germany for Hollywood in 1931, she not only turned her back on the Nazis, but actively began to fight them.

The glamorous, androgynous Dietrich of The Blue Angel took Hollywood by storm and became the seductress of tinsel town, even besting the great Garbo. Her scandalous nightclub scene in Morroco – where she kissed a woman patron on the mouth – left co-star Gary Cooper clapping, and Hollywood aghast. It made her a celebrity and superstar; in today’s terms Lada Gaga and Madonna all rolled into one.

Behind the veneer of glitz and glamour, Dietrich was fiercely political, and a patriot – an American patriot. From the mid 1930s, Dietrich worked tirelessly to save German actors and artists, particularly Jewish artists, from the Nazi death camps that awaited them.

Dietrich had strong political convictions and she spoke her mind; she flaunted those convictions. On more than one occasion, Dietrich was approached by Nazi representatives in an effort to get her to return to Germany; she turned them down flat, and even tweaked their nose by becoming an American citizen in 1939.

From research for my fictional story, The Plot Against Marlene Dietrich, I was struck by how dedicated she was in saving as many as she could. At first she was able to send money to German banks to help refugees get to Switzerland and then on to the Untied States. Later when this was no longer possible, Dietrich took risks beyond the call of duty. There were to be many émigrés who landed in Hollywood because of her efforts, and her work was ongoing, dangerous and expensive. Some of the refugees, like director Billy Wilder, even took up temporary residence in the Dietrich home in California.

Why is Dietrich’s wartime activity so important? Well, because those of the greatest generation included women and men on the home front, too. And Marlene Dietrich risked it all to help America win the war. Her mother and some family members were still in Germany, and she was put on Hitler’s list of enemies. The Nazis constantly bombarded the airwaves with attacks on her. All though the extent is still unclear, she most likely worked with the OSS (the precursor to the CIA) during the war and entertained our troops close to the battle lines, knowing if she were caught execution was likely.

One memory that stays with me was a time in 1964, stationed in Germany, when the film Judgment at Nurenberg was released. Her role as Mrs. Berholt, a Nazi sympathizer, was difficult for her, and director Stanley Kramer had to convince her to play the part. I was amazed at the time that many of her fellow Germans viewed her as a traitor – as though the horrors of Hitler and his henchmen had easily been forgotten.

Years later, German attitudes toward Marlene changed. In 1997, the central Marlene-Dietrich-Platz was unveiled in Berlin to honor her. The commemoration reads “Marlene Dietrich world star of film and song. Dedication to freedom and democracy, to Berlin and Germany.”

She ought to be remembered by us all, with gratitude.


The Plot Against Marlene Dietrich -- now on Kindle for just 99¢

Just click on the title above to go to the Amazon page for The Plot Against Marlene Dietrich. Hope you enjoy it

. Also, check out The Principal of Rivington Street also on Amazon.