Monday, December 28, 2009


I love the beach house, Las Piedras, in Vieques, Puerto Rico, so much that I had to write a book that was set there! I will be posting more and more of READING THE RINGS within the next few months.


On the plane from Miami to Puerto Rico, Julia takes a small package from her purse. It’s wrapped tightly in the front page of Tuesday’s New York Times Science Section, scotch-tape criss-crossing each of the corners. She scans the words--- something about how ducks imprint on their mothers--- and then peels back the newsprint to uncover a black, leather-bound journal. Jake’s head has just fallen toward her, his long brown-grey hair shading his face from view. She can hear his even, sleeping breath, and knows he won’t wake until the stewardess makes the landing announcement. She runs her fingers along the cover of the book, traces her initials, JAL, and the number, 21. Twenty-one years. She remembers the first journal Jake gave her, also on a plane, and the thrill that had gone though her. He remembered. She had opened it, handed him a pen and said, “Write down what you think it’ll be like there.” Jake groaned, No, No please, he had said, but she was smiling— she loved this exercise and made her students do it all the time, whenever they were embarking on any new experience. She’d ask them to imagine what the air would feel like, the people they would meet, the color of the sky. The students fought her, just like Jake, but she knew that when they were deeper into it, whatever it was, they loved coming back and realizing how different their presumptions were from the reality.

That first journal was black leather, too, but not as fine as this, with it’s beautiful red stitching. Jake had given her back the pen that time. “You first,” he’d said. “Okay.” She held the pen above the open page, and then wrote, in her tight little lefty’s script, Too many people close by. House small and dark. But outside, no place to get out of the sun. Nervous to be with Jake for all that time. Will he get tired of me and want to leave early? What if we don’t know how to work together, to make this vacation fun for both of us? What will it be like to have all that time on our hands, and no plans? She thought of tearing out the page and stuffing it in her purse, but decided to leave it be.

“No peeking,” she’d said, turning the page and handing Jake the pen. He didn’t write anything for a long time. Then he picked up her hand, kissed each of her fingers. Hot, sunny, perfect weather, he wrote. Gorgeous house. Plenty of privacy. Sex everywhere. Heaven.

She has them all, books 1 through 20, lined up on Woody’s curly maple sideboard in her dining room. Woody left her all the good furniture, the silver, the gold-plated dinnerware. Julia has carted her grandmother’s possessions around the country, first to Buffalo, then a mirror or a table to one boarding school or another, one teaching job or the next, until she finally settled at Simon’s Rock ten years ago. Each piece now has a home, and Julia never gets tired of any of them.

She moves the journals into the bedroom on the rare occasions when one of her colleagues or a student comes over for dinner or a conference. She realizes how nutty this is— why doesn’t she just leave them in the bedroom and be done with it? But she loves the way the leather and the wood look together, soft and hard, and when Jake comes to spend the night, she wants them visible, where he can pick one up at random. “Listen to this,” Jake will say. “'Rainy, humid, unfriendly locals. Bad food.' You wrote that. Guess where we were going.” Julia tries not to look at the number on the front of the book, because that would be a dead giveaway. Number 4— Hilton Head; Naples, Florida; Montreal. Number 19— Thailand; Paris; San Francisco. But she doesn’t need to see the number to remember writing that entry. It was Book 2, and they were headed to San Juan, Puerto Rico. That turned out to be a glorious trip, a lazy, funny, sunny vacation that made them fall in love with all of Puerto Rico. They have been back many times— to Vieques (Book 3), Culebra (Book 7), Rincon (Book 11), Vieques again (Book 15), Humacao (Book 17).

Now, twenty years after they first discovered Puerto Rico’s charms, they are heading to Vieques again, to a beach house they have never seen, Las Piedras, The House of Rocks. Julia takes out her pen and writes, Wonderful house. Great breezes. Big deck with lots of spaces to read or sleep. Morning shade. Evening star-watching. Long lazy strolls on a beach that’s all but deserted. Locals on horseback smiling at us. Best of all, Jake within reach every minute of the day and the night.

Without even realizing it, Jake's optimism has worn off on her.

And then she turns to the last page and starts making little hash marks. She marks off four of them, frowns, and then adds two more. Six, she thinks, and smiles. Six. And the vacation hasn’t really even started.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Woodstock Writers Festival

Lots of amazing and fabulous things have happened in my life, but putting together the Woodstock Writers Festival has been one of the highlights. Along with my partners--- Abigail Thomas (A Three Dog Life), Susan Richards (Chosen by a Horse), and Barry Samuels (co-owner of Woodstock's indie bookshop, The Golden Notebook --- we have put together a lineup of writers that literally reads like a who's who of memoir (this year the festival is Celebrating the Memoir). Everyone we called signed on, including Susan Orlean (The Orchid Thief), Julie Powell (Julie and Julia), Ruth Reichl (Tender to the Bone), Dani Shapiro (Slow Motion), Marion Winik (First Comes Love), , Shalom Auslander (Foreskin's Lament)... the list goes on and on! Check out the website and pass it on to all writers and readers in your life.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Okay, this is so embarrassing, but I've been using a twelve-year-old photo for publicity these past few years. It wasn't that I wanted people to think I was younger than I am (ok, I didn't care if they thought I was thinner!), but I hate being in front of the camera. I always feel so self-conscious and nervous and every picture makes me feel worse and worse. But in gearing up for this winter's Woodstock Writers Festival (lots more info will be coming soon), the great writer Susan Richards (Chosen by a Horse, Chosen Forever) offered up her husband, the amazing photographer, Dennis Stock, to take my portrait. Okay, Dennis is best known for having taken those iconic shots of James Dean and dozens of other Hollywood luminaries and I was plenty nervous. But Dennis took exactly ten minutes, snapped off a dozen shots, and produced something I not only can live with, but one I actually like.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Woodstock Now and Then

This Sunday night at 7 (Oct 18th), Michael Lang, Barbara Kopple and I will be presenting Barbara's film, Woodstock Now and Then, at the Linda in Albany as a benefit for WAMC. We will be doing a Q&A afterwards. Truthfully, I was entralled by both Michael and Barbara long before I ever met them, and becoming friends with them has been one of the thrills of my life. The film is one of the best rock n roll movies ever. There are still some tix left. Call the Linda box office (518-465-5233 ext 4) or get them online at Tickets are only $20. Hope to see you there.

Monday, October 12, 2009


I love this time of year, when the nights and mornings are cool, when Mums and peaches and apples are begging to be picked and planted, when the playoffs are happening and the Yankees are heading to a pennant series.

I hate this time of year, when leaves are falling and frost is on the car in the morning, when baseball only happens every other day and you know that it will be over in two weeks, or three, but no more 100 games to go.

All this to say, I am so thrilled to be a lifelong Yankee fan.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


I don't think anyone would argue with me when I say that my hardcover for Hats & Eyeglasses was a serious miss. Dark and intimidating, it looked like the Titanic, and turned readers off. On the up side, my paperback cover is delicious and everyone loves it. But I worried when we were deciding on a cover for my new book, BRAZILIAN SEXY (SECRETS TO LIVING A GORGEOUS AND CONFIDENT LIFE), which I wrote with Janea Padilha, waxer to the stars. As soon as I saw it, though, I knew we had the exact right image--- sexy, funny, something that both men and women would want to pick up. Here's your first look. (And not sure why it looks blue-ish in this blog. It's really all skin tones and beige, very classy)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

On Turning In My New Book

I just got the letter that all writers dream about--- my editor at Perigee/Penguin loves my new book and is putting it into production. Cue up the Hallelujah chorus. Light candles. Bow down and kiss the ground. That's how happy I am right now.

I will tell you more about the book as it gets closer to publication, but for now, let me say that the best part of having sold two books is realizing that I have another ten in me! When Hats & Eyeglasses got bought by Tarcher/Penguin, I felt this kind of deep-soul sadness.... what was I going to do now? I felt that I had no more stories in me.

I spent five weeks in utter despair.

And then I had an idea for another memoir, and I started jotting some notes. Then my agent had an idea, and that's the one we sold. Then something happened to a kid in my town, and I started writing about that. Then I started writing an erotic tale of a middle-aged couple. Then a mystery. I'm telling you, I am up to here with book ideas.

So now I am going to take a few weeks and bask in the being done feeling, because these last few months have felt like a sprint that would never end. But now they have and I'm so grateful. I want to bask in that glory. And the minute that feeling has passed, I'm going right back to work.

Monday, March 9, 2009


When Hats & Eyeglasses first came out, I dreaded doing readings. I was nervous and stiff, and felt that I had to start at the beginning, so I would read the first 8 or 11 pages. When people would laugh, I would pause, purse my lips, and look up like a demented school-marm. That did the trick--- they would stop laughing at once. I can't really explain it-- it was like I felt embarrassed to be laughing at my own jokes, like that made me seem conceited or stuck up.

Then I had the amazing good fortune to read with Laura Shaine Cunningham (Sleeping Arrangements, A Place in the Country). Laura has been reading from those books for over twenty years, and yet she reads as if she has never seen the material before and it is THE funniest thing she ever read. She throws her head back and guffaws, and the audience roars its approval. I marveled at her, and she explained that she is genuinely proud of her work and loves to share it.

So I practiced. I read different parts of Hats & Eyeglasses, and people didn't seem to mind that I wasn't starting on page 1. I tried reading the funny parts, and the parts that made people squirm. And now I LOVE doing readings. It's my favorite part of being an author. I like the questions at the end, and I love connecting with the audience.

Friday, February 20, 2009



And some of you are directly responsible for it. Steve entered his fabulous "Marquis de Soto" in the contest, never expecting to make it to the finals. The car is a collage of pieces that he's been saving for years from twelve different 1950's cars

(including a 1957 de Soto, a 57 Buick, and a 55 Caddy), all grafted onto a 1998 Grand Marquis.

He was selected as one of the 30 finalists on December 1, The rules encouraged us to get as many friends as possible to vote every day for a month. So we went to our email lists and to facebook, and asked all our friends to lend a hand. AND WE DID IT! There were 6400 votes cast in the entire contest--- Steve got over a 1000 of them! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU.

Sorry to those who have been asking us what happened--- the Times was clear that we had to keep it hush-hush and we didn't want to blow it.

Here's the link to the NY Times story and an amazing slide show of Steve and his able assistant, Mike Karpf, and their work.

Friend Steve on facebook if you haven't already--- he wants to thank you himself.

AND THE GORGEOUS PAPERBACK OF HATS & EYEGLASSES JUST HIT THE STORES (With a reading guide and a Q&A with the author).

Hats & Eyeglasses has been called “Intimate, exuberant.”---O, The Oprah Magazine; Fast-paced and amazingly funny.”---the New Orleans Times-Picayune; "You will feel not only as if you have known Martha all your life, but as if you still have one of her sweaters."---the New York Times; “Fearless… powerful, even uplifting and funny.”--- the New York Post; "A heady joyride. Fast, funny and frank."--- USA Today; "Funny and disturbing"--- The Washington Post; and "Frank and unaffected"--- Publisher's weekly

The paperback is cheaper than a latte and a scone! Please buy copies for your friends and family, your reading group, your gambling cousins, your aging aunts. I bet they all find something to like about it... Wait, did I just say "I bet"? There really is no stopping me!

Click here to order

Monday, January 19, 2009


What can I say about my cousin Keith? My earliest friend, my protector, the person who would kick the shit out of anybody who bothered me. Learned to swim with him, learned to kiss with him, learned to do drugs with him. He grew up to be a wild-haired pirate, a joker, a smuggler, the man who taught me to play poker. I spoke with him every single day of my life, and if he wasn't talking food, he was talking cards. He would call on his way home from the poker room to tell me how he'd done--- if he lost he would tell the truth, which is very rare among gamblers. He would share recipes with a glee that would make Julia Childs jealous. One of the funniest bits in Hats & Eyeglasses is when he calls to tell me about balsamic vinegar. I learned how to make lasagna from him, although mine was never as good.

His real name wasn't Keith, but I changed it in the book because he had been in jail and I didn't want to embarrass him. So what did he do? He had a shirt made that said, I'M KEITH.

I should have known that absolutely nothing could embarrass him.

He was crazy cuckoo wild for his wife, Barbie, and loved that she wore thick makeup and high heels every single day of her life. They were content with each other in a way that's very rare these days, almost a 1950's love story.

Everyone who ever met him remembers his easy laugh. On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, he was walking down the street with a friend when he fell over, dead. A massive coronary.

I have been in shock since then, unable to think about it, as if it would go away if I didn't speak it aloud.

Then I dreamed about him all last night. In my dreams he was his hysterical self. I woke today with a feeling of such joy, such love for him, that I felt I could finally say it--- rest in peace my sweet man. The world is a far bleaker place without you.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Writer Marion Winik is one of my idols. Winik, who is often heard on NPR's All Things Considered, wrote an amazing memoir, First Comes Love. It tells of her marriage to Tony, a fellow junkie, who is also a gay figure skater. Marion and Tony kicked their habits, slipped back, had two sons, fought, reconciled, split up, and then got back together when Tony got sick with AIDS. He came home to commit suicide. The amazing part of First Comes Love is that it's hysterically funny, which is no easy feat. The last book my mother read before she went blind was First Comes Love, and for years afterward she would say things like, "I wonder how Hayes and Vince are doing." When I would ask her who they were, she would sigh and say, "You know, Tony and Marion's boys." It was like they were our favorite cousins, and somehow we had lost touch.

Okay, so I'm on Facebook one day and I see Marion Winik's name. I friend her (why not?), and miraculously, she friends me back. I write and tell her the story about my mother, and Marion sends me back a really gracious note to say that she wishes we were real cousins.

I almost die, because when you email one of your idols, you really don't expect to get back a funny and open note. I tell Marion that I'd like to send her a copy of Hats & Eyeglasses, and she says she would love to see it. A week later, she writes this:

Martha--- I want to talk more about the book but here are just a few random things. The portrait of your mother is absolutely priceless, all your family members, really. Many times the humor reminded me of Anne Lamott. You must know her work. That sweet self-deprecating wisecracking with a touch of hyperbole. It was soothing to my soul. Thanks so much for getting in touch with me and making sure I read the book. If there is something you need -- though you seem to have all the reviews and blurbs a person could possibly want -- let me know. You made me (and everyone else I'm sure) slather to read your next book. Wish i was in woodstock today for a chat xox Mar

I almost fainted. She compared me to Anne Lamott, who is my other favorite writer. Then it gets better- Winik, who I now think of as Mar, writes and says that she is going to teach Hats & Eyeglasses as part of her MFA class in Obsession and Addiction in Literature at the University of Baltimore this semester, and that she wants me to come down there, speak to the MFA class, do a public reading that night, speak to her memoir class the next day, and stay over and play Scrabble.

I'm too embarrassed to tell Mar that I suck at Scrabble, so I'm sitting here with the dictionary, just looking up random words. I'm telling you now, Mar is going to have to evict me, because i will not leave voluntarily!

And for all you haters who say Facebook is a waste of time, well, you never know.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Although it wasn't the best sports story of the year, it was the best headline:
METS GET PUTZ. I don't care how he pronounces it, New Yorkers are gonna be all over set-up man JJ Putz (who says his last name rhymes with "foots"). He'd probably be better off if his name was Robert Bigballs. And then the putz admitted to the New York Times that all through high school he didn't even know that his name was a derogatory term! Where had he been living--- Schmuckville? Personally, I can't wait to read the New York Post after his first bad outing. PUTZ BLOWS... well, you get the idea.

CC Sabathia is going to be a great addition to the New York Yankees. But I doubt AJ Burnett will, be unless he finds a Stay Healthy pill that's not illegal. And while I'm not convinced yet that Joba is a starting pitcher, I'm not as pessimistic as the naysayers who think he's risking his life and career by throwing a ball in the first five innings.

Last year, when my memoir Hats & Eyeglasses came out, there was a big hoo-haa on some of the blogs because I had the audacity to question whether some online poker sites were on the up-and-up. Last month 60 Minutes and the Washington Post came out with a big investigative piece about how Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet had cheated some of their players out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. It seems a former employee had cracked the software code and knew everyone else's cards at the table, which certainly gives you, oh, like a hundred percent edge. Sheesh, you just never know.

This Week in Sports:
Although the University of Oklahoma Sooner's quarterback Sam Bradford won the Heisman trophy this year, his team was beaten in the NCAA BCS Championship by the Florida Gator's, whose quarterback Tim Tebow who won the Heisman last year…

Pitcher John Smoltz (41), who has played twenty-one years for the Atlanta Braves, was signed by the Boston Red Sox…

Four NFL head-coaches were fired after their teams failed to make the playoffs. They include Detroit Lions coach Rod Marinelli (his team went 0-16 this year, a league first), Cleveland Browns coach Romeo Crennel, New York Jets coach Eric Mangini and Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan. The only one to find a new home is Mangini, who is going to the Cleveland Browns…

The Boston Celtics, the best team in basketball, is on its first losing streak in a long, long while.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


Am I the only one who thinks these holdiays have gone on for what seems like forever? I just took down the Christmas stuff, which I love, although I do have to ask myself again and again what a nice Jewish girl like me is doing with a perfectly trimmed tree that I set up on Thanksgiving Day. Okay, the tree is only three feet high and it's not real, but still... I agonize over which ornaments should go where, I turn the tree on the minute I walk into the house (white lights or colored? I can never decicde, so I switch from year to year) and I move the glass snowman from the left side to the rihgt, this Yankee's snow globe from right to left, from the minute I put it up til I take it down on New Year's Day.

But this year it seemed like the holidays just dragged. Maybe it's because the paperback of Hats & Eyeglasses is coming out in 5 weeks and I feel like there's so much to do.

But then I thought this.... why do Christmas and New Year's have to piggy-back on each other? Why can't we move New Year's to the spring solstice? Wouldn't that give us something to really celebrate? Wouldn't we be in better moods if the New Year really was about a new beginning? If you live in the Northeast like I do, this is the bleakest time possible. But spring... well, New Year's with crocuses popping though the snow would make us all feel so much better.

I'm gonna start a facebook group about this and see if I can get a movement going. Happy New Year to all.

Saturday, January 3, 2009


I can't stop wondering if people judge books by their covers.

I know you're not supposed to, and some might be embarrased to say they do, but I'll admit that I am drawn to certain books because they look like fun or because they look sexy.

When I first saw the hardcover jacket for Hats & Eyeglasses. I began fretting that it was too foreboding, too dark, too... well, hats and eyeglassy. I worried that women, who are my target audience, would be put off by it. I started emailing and calling my editor every five minutes to suggest changes. Can't we make the water bluer? Can the hat (which was originally a fedora) be a woman's sunhat instead? Can the glasses be more retro or feminine or 1950's or something? Can we turn the hat around? To say she had it up to here with me is akin to saying the Beatles played a little rock music.

When she called to tell me the paperback was going to have a completely different look, I was ecstatic. But then I started fretting anew. I held off until I could no longer.

I called her a few months ago. "Isn't it getting to be that time when we need to see the new cover?" I asked sweetly.
"Yes," she groaned.
"Do you have it already?" Now I was excited.
"Yes," she admitted.
She was loath to send it to me because we had had such to-do's about the last one.
"Does it have a person on it?" I asked.
"Does it look like fun?"
"Is part of it green?"
Now she hesitated. "Yes," she finally said, "but what would make you ask that?"
"I don't know, but I always thought a little of the cover should be green."
So she sent it. And when I opened the file, I started crying. It was everything I thought it should be and more. And I knew that if I saw it at the bookstore, I would buy it. Because the cover spoke to me. I am so over the moon.