Category Archives: Poetry

Glories Strung Like Beads

A nondescript work morning on a nondescript street in East Flatbush. 8:00 a.m. 39th Street off Snyder Avenue.

I haven’t seen one resident –are they all asleep?–but the backhoe is going gangbusters. The usual.

Except…Holy Cross Cemetery across Snyder is getting a haircut and I can smell the cut new grass as the mower motors toward me.

There are slightly soaked bears, signs of somebody’s Iove. You stumble across these pocket graveyards in New York sometimes.

I find velvet roses around the corner, climbing above the chain link.

Their perfume is as heady in gritty Brooklyn as it is anywhere else. I dip my nose in once. Twice.

Here there is the promise of the end of the world and the start of something new. Miracles await.

And I find Amur Maples, something I’d never come across, I’ve never seen.

Walt Whitman, writing about Brooklyn, extolled “the glories strung like beads on my smallest/sights and hearings, on the walk in the street. ”

I’ve never seen anything.

It’s all new.


Filed under Arborist, Culture, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, New York City, Poetry, Trees, Writers, Writing

When Gertude Stein Came to Brooklyn

The barricades attach themselves to barricades on West Street on the Brooklyn waterfront. The flagwoman holds her sign she loves the barricades she hates the trucks and she blows on her whistle her whistle her whistle. The laborers work with one another they flirt with one another they work and they flirt. Inspectors inspect one another.

The sky shines white the buildings shine silver the new sliver building shines silver as a dime and pierces the sky beyond Brooklyn.

Trees behind barricades mean nothing to anyone they mean something to the arborist and nothing to the laborers the laborers want to knock down the barricades all the barricades all the time.


The laborers flirt they hurt they have fights they fight and they flirt they don’t see the arborist the arborist is behind a barricade the barricade must be knocked down.

A pickaxe is a pickaxe a pickaxe is only a pickaxe    A shovel is useful for digging trenches a trench is useful for holding pipe. Water is useful for drinking. Water is turned off city water residents want water the laborers put in the water they shovel they pickaxe they lay pipe they offer water they don’t think of trees. Trees stand behind barricades they are visible they are visible to the arborist who stands without a pickaxe.


Filed under Arborist, Culture, Fiction, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, New York City, Poetry, Trees, Writers, Writing

The Pleasures of the Urban Arborist

I wish I could suck it all up, absorb it and remember every single thing. Driving in the black night over the highways of New York City to get to the site. The lichen on the burly oaks. Their majesty.



The flashy red leaf plum.

red leaf plum.JPG

The smell of sesame oil wafting through the Chinese neighborhood at Francis Lewis Boulevard. The 7:30 am parade of children to school, holding their parents’ hands. The identical row houses of Queens. The crone who was surprised when I approached her: “She’s a lady!” which is true, though I like feeling a little bit like a man on this job. The persistent smell of exhaust from the landscaping truck. Prickly sweetgum balls, red maple twigs, the puffs that hang swaying from the london plane.


l.p seedball.JPG

The way the root of the l.p. emphatically bulges over and raises up the sidewalk.


l.p. foot.JPG

The resident who was aghast that her neighbors had had their mammoth tree butchered: “I came back from Vegas and it was done!”


The haunted houses of Brooklyn.


spooky house.JPG

Learning to differentiate between a zelkova and a linden. Bad bodega coffee. The best lunch in the world.



The soapy grace of laundromats that let you pee there. Proud pit bulls. The soft detritus of leaves pushed up against the gutters. Laying my palm on a fat cherry trunk, feeling its lenticels under the pads of my fingers.

Days that are poems.



And always, the juxtaposition of the natural and the manmade.


I’ve been doing this for just under a year now.



Filed under Arborist, Culture, Dogs, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, New York City, Poetry, Trees, Writers, Writing

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

Yesterday, the first day of winter, I bought jonquils, the hoity toity term for daffodils. I had taken my fill of soup dumplings and braised seaweed in Flushing, NY’s Chinatown and was rolling out to the car. Could that really be daffodils they were advertising in the shop window — cut flowers, an unexpected bouquet?

daffodils window

Turns out they were not cut flowers but bulbs. I have another bulb working at home, an ethereal amaryllis, given to me by a botanically inclined friend, someone who knows how to grow everything. I had been lamenting the death of a fine cactus inadvertently left on a remote windowsill. Having something come to life in my house was very welcome.


Daffodils in winter. The trees don’t show their green now, but the flowers will flaunt their yellow before long. In China they believe that forcing daffodils in the new year will bring good luck. I’ll put them in dishes on a nest of gravel from my driveway and hope they bloom, hope I have the luck to get good luck.


These are some of the strangest looking bulbs I’ve ever seen. They will be mega-daffodils I’m sure. It’s hard not to think of Wordsworth writing in 1804 on the flower:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
   In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
   Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

A touch of the arbor in my living room as 2016 comes on.


Filed under Arborist, Culture, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, New York City, Poetry, Trees, Writers, Writing

Feed the Tree

If you believe in the power of coincidence it won’t surprise you that the song I heard in my car on my way back from apple picking today, by Belly, the ’90s rock band, was Feed the Tree:

So take your hat off

When you’re talking to me

And be there when I feed the tree

I went apple picking in the most incongruous orchard I have ever seen — and I have seen orchards in my time. We lived for a while in a farmhouse in the middle of an old orchard upstate, where we were intoxicated every spring by the ineffable honey of apple blossoms (and the taste of blueberry dacquiries).

“You’ll like it – it’s a little different!” my brother Peter told me when we talked about going picking there. That was an understatement. Edward Gorey might have created Mr. Apples, which is run by a man named Philip Apple in High Falls, at the edge of the Catskills. There were ghost barns.

ghost barn

Mr. Apples had just two things available for purchase: pick your own apples and cider vinegar. His signage covered the place.

history of the farm

The trees themselves were overgrown, twisted and blackened, their leaves gone, and their apples had fallen to the ground in drifts of blemished fruit.

orchard drifts

I loved this place, if only because it was so different from the corn maze-smiling scarecrow-fake pumpkin patch orchards you usually find in the Hudson Valley. It was a little hard to get past the produce, though. “There are some black spots,” said Mr. Apples. “When you get home, brush them with a cloth and the spots will come off.”

spotted apples

I can tell you that no amount of rubbing would take the spots off. “Organic style apple” was how he billed his product, and he said the spots were caused by humidity. They looked like they came out of Snow White. I bought half a bushel and will find some use for the poor things, maybe apple sauce.

After Apple Picking is Robert Frost’s fabulous poem about, yes, harvesting apples, but also about human frailty, a woodchuck and death, among other things.

But I am done with apple-picking now.

Essence of winter sleep is on the night,

The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.

 It is so complex and wonderful that you must take yourself to the Poetry Foundation and read it.

Since I began working as an arborist, the image comes into my head quite often: the tantrumming trees in The Wizard of Oz hurling apples.


The fruit I saw today would be suitable for throwing. And that’s a good thing. Joni Mitchell: Hey farmer, farmer, put away your DDT. Give me spots on my apples but leave me with the birds and bees.


Filed under Arborist, Culture, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, Poetry, Trees, Writing

The Sidewalks of New York

What lies under the city sidewalk? Dirt. Sand. Rocks, bricks, miscellaneous debris. Skeletal remains of vermin. And thousands of miles of pipes.

And roots.

I found one today on the job, a gnarled and grizzled specimen, a time capsule from before the jungle of New York was so concrete. This London Plane root, a yard long and six inches at its fattest, had been severed by the backhoe as it excavated the old concrete sidewalk. It was still wet with life.

London Plane root

It made me think of those anguished lines by Neruda, in Walking Around:

I don’t want to go on being a root in the dark,

insecure, stretched out, shivering with sleep,

going on down, into the moist guts of the earth,

taking in and thinking, eating every day.

In a way, the metaphor is truer than the reality. We’re a lot more insecure than that root I found today, chopped through though it was by the backhoe.

I don’t know how they poured concrete a hundred years back, in the 1890’s, when the pop song “The Sidewalks of New York” was Taylor-Swift hot. Then the streets were mainly cobbles, Belgian paving blocks. Asphalt was relatively new. Some streets were still dirt, more country lane than city slicker. It must have been fantastic for a woman to sweep down a (relatively) clean sidewalk without befouling the hem of her skirts. Especially if she was responsible for cleaning those skirts.

Now a root in the city seems fantastic. On my first job going among the trees, in June, there was a foreman with a sticker on his hard hat that read Irish. His name was Sean, and he had a salt-and-pepper mustache and a twinkle in his eye. I had been tracing the progress of an excavation to install a new gas line, watching the roots as they materialized in the “moist guts of the earth.” Making sure they weren’t broken by the backhoe. I had to leave, and I asked Sean to keep an eye on a certain root I was concerned about. He smiled, with only a hint of irony.

“Ah,” said Sean, “the lovely root.”

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Filed under Arborist, Culture, History, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, New York City, Poetry, Trees

April Daffs

Is April really the cruellest month? Just because T.S. Eliot phrased it so beautifully in The Wasteland doesn’t necessarily make it so.

April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

I saw my first daffodils of the season today.


I’m in a mood. I can’t quite put my finger on why April is hateful, yet I know it to be true.

The birdsong I usually love strikes me as obnoxious.

The bright spring sun, scalding to the eyes. The alternative, sunglasses, too dark.

At the coffee place, I watch the barrista draw a cute foam face on the latte of the guy in front of me. Do you make funny faces for all the lattes? I ask. Just the special ones, he says.

I wait for my latte. Plain old plain old.

plain latte

It’s that kind of day.

Alice James, that overlooked yet so wise diarist of the nineteenth century, said: “The ancient superstition as to spring and youth being the most joyous periods is pretty well exploded, don’t you think? The one is the most depressing moment of the year, so is the other the most difficult of life.”

Even the luscious yellow of the daffodils. Save it for later, will you? Tomorrow, April might be a peach of a month.

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Filed under Culture, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, Poetry, Writers

Stop by My Author Page and Say Hi

My Facebook author page has a brand new cover – it quotes Library Journal saying that Savage Girl is “A fanciful and occasionally surreal take on Gilded Age New York.”

And hey, I just reached 100 likes, a figure I’m a little proud of. But I’d like more likes, more! And more visitors. Come see reviews and interviews as they come in, as well as offers for galley giveaways. Savage Girl doesn’t hit stores until March 6 but there’s a lot going on before then.

I’m always trying to put up something fresh, not only about my books (Savage Girl, The Orphanmaster, Love Fiercely and others) but about writing, reading, and living in such a way as to make those things possible. How do you water an idea to make a book come up? Always trying to figure that out.


Something else: please post on my page! I would love to hear what you’re thinking about.


Filed under Culture, Fiction, Jean Zimmerman, Love, Fiercely, Poetry, Publishing, Savage Girl, The Orphanmaster, Writers, Writing

A Room of One’s Own-Thank You Virginia

A belated happy birthday to Virginia Woolf (born January 25th), a writer whose fiction I idolized when I was around sixteen. I had the firm conviction that her novels To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway, innovative, modernist, poetic, were about as good as literature got.

Virginia Woolf cu

When I discovered Woolf’s book-length essay A Room of One’s Own, in college, I was thunderstruck. And I’ve never lost that feeling. I re-read Woolf’s arch 1929 critique of a sexist world, a discriminatory educational system, the need to nurture female talent, and I’m still pumping my fist in the air.

“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” A Room of One’s Own

Adeline Virginia Stephen was born on January 25, 1882, to Julia Stephen, a model for Pre-Raphaelite painters, and Leslie Stephen, a well-known biographer. She had seven siblings and half-siblings, and was brought up in an upper-middle-class Kensington household. That she suffered some sort of mental disorder (she was probably bipolar) was clear from her first breakdown at the time of her mother’s death in 1895. She collapsed again when her father died in 1904. In 1912 she married Leonard Woolf and in 1915 she published her first novel. Despite her recurring “madness,” she was able to publish and run Hogarth Press with Leonard and be active in the Bloomsbury literary group for the rest of her life.

Virginia and her sister Vanessa playing cricket

That’s Virginia and her sister Vanessa playing cricket, proving that she had a lighter side.

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” A Room of One’s Own

On March 28, 1941, Woolf filled the pockets of her overcoat with stones and walked into the River Ouse, near her house, to drown. An object that moved me beyond words was the simple wooden walking stick she took with her into the river, found floating near where she went in, preserved in the collection of The New York Public Library and shown in an exhibit of the library’s treasures a few years back.

woolf's walking stick

“When, however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen, some Emily Bronte who dashed her brains out on the moor or mopped and mowed about the highways crazed with the torture that her gift had put her to. Indeed, I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.A Room of One’s Own

There is one surviving recording of Virginia Woolf’s voice. She delivered a talk called “Craftsmanship,” part of a 1937 BBC radio broadcast.


Here is Woolf’s take on Judith, Shakespeare’s erstwhile sister, also from A Room of One’s Own. Tell me if after reading this you are not also pumping your fist in the air.

“I told you in the course of this paper that Shakespeare had a sister; but do not look for her in Sir Sidney Lee’s life of the poet. She died young—alas, she never wrote a word. She lies buried where the omnibuses now stop, opposite the Elephant and Castle. Now my belief is that this poet who never wrote a word and was buried at the cross–roads still lives. She lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not here to–night, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed. But she lives; for great poets do not die; they are continuing presences; they need only the opportunity to walk among us in the flesh. This opportunity, as I think, it is now coming within your power to give her. For my belief is that if we live another century or so—I am talking of the common life which is the real life and not of the little separate lives which we live as individuals—and have five hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own; if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think; if we escape a little from the common sitting–room and see human beings not always in their relation to each other but in relation to reality; and the sky. too, and the trees or whatever it may be in themselves; if we look past Milton’s bogey, for no human being should shut out the view; if we face the fact, for it is a fact, that there is no arm to cling to, but that we go alone and that our relation is to the world of reality and not only to the world of men and women, then the opportunity will come and the dead poet who was Shakespeare’s sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down. Drawing her life from the lives of the unknown who were her forerunners, as her brother did before her, she will be born. As for her coming without that preparation, without that effort on our part, without that determination that when she is born again she shall find it possible to live and write her poetry, that we cannot expect, for that would he impossible. But I maintain that she would come if we worked for her, and that so to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worth while.”


Filed under Cooking, Culture, Fiction, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Photography, Poetry, Publishing, Writers, Writing

The Power of Words

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is an occasion that celebrates among other things the power of words.


The man was a Shakespeare for our day.

And so I really like this post by someone who talks about how some good novels lead us, as Wordsworth once put it, “toward obliterating the vulgarity of exclusiveness.” I urge you to check it out. There is a list of 19 books that speak truth to prejudice. The recommendations are far ranging. They include Julie, or the New Heloise by Jean Jacques Rousseau.


Dickens’ Oliver Twist.


Uncle Tom’s Cabin.


Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.


And, interestingly, Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson.

jesus son

You may have read one or two of these selections before. Let’s read them again, for their politics as well as their poetry.

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Filed under Culture, History, Jean Zimmerman, Poetry, Publishing, Writers, Writing

Edward Lear in Flight

The nonsense poet and artist Edward Lear has always been one of my favorites. I remember when I was growing up being fascinated and mystified by The Pobble Who Has No Toes:

The Pobble who has no toes

    Had once as many as we;

When they said, ‘Some day you may lose them all;’—

    He replied, — ‘Fish fiddle de-dee!’

And his Aunt Jobiska made him drink,

Lavender water tinged with pink,

For she said, ‘The World in general knows

There’s nothing so good for a Pobble’s toes!’

And its zesty illustration:


Now I come across 10 rare sketches from 1860 in which Lear portrays himself getting blown about on a gusty day, from the Frederick R. Koch Collection at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library in Yale University. The drawings are so charming. Here are 5 of the 10; click the link to see the whole portfolio.

Lear 1

December 26, 1860.

Lear 2

B.H.H. remonstrates with E.L.on his determination to get out of doors on a windy day.

Lear 3

L. goes out, but finds the wind inconveniently high.

Lear 4

L. is carried off his legs into the hair [sic] all among the birds.

Lear 5

L. continues to fly straight forward.


Filed under Art, Culture, Jean Zimmerman, Poetry

Bit by Bit

Stitch after stitch. The easiest in knitting is the knit stitch, worked over and over, row after row, dignified by its pattern name the garter stitch. Time honored and simple, it’s the foundation of sweaters and scarves all around the world. I man the couch (woman the couch?), man up (woman up?) to knit stitch after stitch, a surprise length of comfort for someone who deserves every form of it.


Song after song. Pandora seems to have decided that Ella, Aretha and Etta, with a sprinkling of Emmy Lou Harris, are the mainstays of my acoustic pantheon. Which is fine, as long as Etta James sings Just a Little Bit.

I don’t want much,

I just want a little bit

I don’t want it all babe

I just want a little bit

Just a teeny weeny bit, just a itty bitty bit of your love

Flake by flake. The snowstorm hits. The snow doesn’t give a soft white damn whom it touches, wrote E.E. Cummings. That’s the twisted magic of a white winter, after all, the stuff is so impersonal, impervious, and yet we extrapolate all soft and fuzzy feelings from it. Since I was a child I’ve made snow cream: put out a pot and collect the clean flakes, then mix the white stuff with milk, sugar and vanilla for a wintry treat that’s better than ice cream, especially if you’re a red-cheeked little kid.

Tweet by tweet. You stretch your brain a little and it keeps you young. That’s how it is with me and Twitter, which I’ve been dipping a toe into and coming up sometimes with a sparkly pedicure and sometimes a crab bite. Stephen King just opened a Twitter account, got twenty thousand followers instantly. “On Twitter at last,” he offered, not fully utilizing his 140 characters, “and can’t think of a thing to say. Some writer I turned out to be.” But it all comes down less to what you have to say than to the links, one by one, you make with other people. So follow me. Or at least tweet at me, @jeanczimmerman. And while you’re at it, tweet at Stephen.

Note by note. So much of publishing books is about the relationships with people you have along the way – writers and editors, writers and bookstore people. As an author you’re a cog in a bigger, complicated machine, one whose purpose is to put great books in the hands of eager readers. So I’m writing little remember-me’s to all the friendly, supportive booksellers I met while touring with The Orphanmaster. Letting people know about Savage Girl, that it’s coming out in March, and to look for it. Feral children have always fascinated me, I’m telling booksellers.

feral child

– but in NYC, in a world of Gilded Age opulence? An irresistable mashup.


I hope you fall for my Savage Girl, I’m telling my bookseller friends.

And little by little. The bones in my left foot are healing but won’t withstand an ounce of pressure or weight. It’s a good place to be, my couch, with my foot on a pillow, Etta on the box, a rollerball pen in my hand, knitting bag by my side, a fire in the hearth and a curtain of snow out the window. Bit by bit we move along, and today that’s just about right.


Filed under Art, Cooking, Culture, Fashion, Fiction, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Knitting, Music, Nature, Poetry, Publishing, Savage Girl, Writers, Writing

Gil’s Prize-Winning Apple Crumb Pie

Apple pie is the chicken soup of desserts. It fixes what ails you. Even if you didn’t know something was ailing you. And that is true of some apple pies more than others — Gil’s recipe for a towering crumb-top makes you lick the plate. Then you feel good, apple-pie good. His pie won first prize in a very competitive contest — I still remember Gil pumping the air with his fist when the victory was announced in the library parking lot. It wasn’t typical apple-pie behavior but it was all Gil. And his is the kind of pie that will make you want to stand up and salute. Torching the top to caramelize it just a little is optional.

BonTon Roulet Apple Pie

But before I share Gil’s recipe, a dip into history. Apple pie, you know, was not always the totem it is today. When apple pies first were baked, the outsides, called coffins, weren’t meant to be ingested. Sugar wasn’t numbered among the ingredients, it was too pricey. Still, in 1390 A.D. a recipe was devised by the master cooks of King Richard II for Tartys in Applis:

Tak gode Applys and gode Spryeis and Figys and reyfons and Perys and wan they are wel ybrayed colourd wyth Safron wel and do yt in a cofyn and do yt forth to bake well.


Pies were spectacles, and apples weren’t especially spectacular. The four and twenty living blackbirds zooming out the broken top crust were not just a nursery rhyme, they were real, at least for those wealthy enough to afford a feast.


By Tudor times more sugar was available and we find another recipe for “pye,” this time with green apples.

Pies in colonial america were first called puddings. By 1759, when Swedish parson Dr. Israel Acrelius made notes on a visit to the Delaware, pie was a staple: “It is the evening meal of children.” Until European stock got established, though, American apples were crabapples.

child holding hornbook

Amelia Simmons rendered her classic apple pie recipe in the 1796 cooking bible American Cookery. With its cinnamon and sugar it sounds contemporary, but the inclusion of rose-water was a throwback to the middle ages.

Apple pie became a compliment in 1590, when poet Robert Green praised a lady in a piece called Arcadia. They breath is like the steame of apple-pyes. That might make a good pick up line even today.

cooking kitchen

A century or so latter Apple Pye itself is praised by poet William King:

Of all the delicates which Britons try

To please the palate of delight the eye,

Of all the sev’ral kings of sumptuous far,

There is none that can with applepie compare.


Special ingredients: Northern Spy apples, Tipo “00” flour, Ceylon cinnamon, Stone Hill Farms leaf lard

Oven at 350

2 1/2 cup flour (mix of Tipo 00 and regular)
2 tspns cinnamon
1/2 tspn salt
2 sticks butter (the high-fat European-style stuff)
1/4 cup lard (I got my hands on some leaf lard, but the faint of heart can use shortening)
1 tspn vanilla
5 tbs ice water

3 lbs-plus apples (tart ones, I used Northern Spy, Cortland are good too, in a pinch Granny Smith)
Juice of one lemon
2 tspns cinnamon
½ tspn nutmeg
½ cup sugar
3 tbs arrowroot or cornstarch

1/2 cup walnuts crushed
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup flour
Half stick melted butter

Crust: Mix dry ingredients, cut in butter and lard, add vanilla and sprinkle in ice water until you can gather the dough into a ball. Chill, flatten ball slightly and roll out flat with rolling pin. Use a greased nine-inch pie pan — you’ll have extra, but make a generous edge. Bake for 30 minutes (pie weights or beans on wax paper or greased aluminum foil will keep bottom crust flat).

Filling: Toss peeled, thinly sliced apples with lemon juice. Combine with dry ingredients and mix well. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring every ten or so.

Assembly: Pour partially cooked apples into partially cooked crust. Mound apples up in the center of the pie. Mix topping ingredients together and mound on top of pie, spreading it around to edges.

Bake assembled pie for another 30 minutes and remove to a rack.

Suggested soundtrack: Sixties top-forty pop (Kinks, Animals, Tommy James, ? and the Mysterians, Hollies, Strawberry Alarm Clock)


Filed under Cooking, Culture, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Poetry

Making Book

Frank Stella’s splashy, enormous constructions line the walls of the lobby where my book publisher has its offices. Three collages, to be precise, of mixed media on a base of etched magnesium. Standing in front of one, you have to crane your neck to see the top of the piece. Standing there, I try to imagine creating something so large as the exploding Stella’s, so imposing. My mind wanders – outside is a dumpling truck with the snazzy legend: “Who’s Your Edamame?” It’s a New York morning, and art and food and commerce jostle for attention.


Books, books, time to think about books. Or one book: my book. Stella’s work depicts the inside of my head as I take the elevator to the fourth floor. We’re going to talk about how to introduce Savage Girl to the world. How can I describe the feeling? Heart-pounding excitement. Trepidation. All shades in between.

Savage Girl comes out March 6th. And all the people at our meeting, editor, publicist, social media pro, literary agent – all of them are invested in making sure that my novel reaches a wide reading public.

So we talk about strategies. Bound gallleys, called ARCs in the business (for Advance Reading Copies) – who has received them so far, who gets them next? Print is no long king when it comes to reviewers – we want people to blab online about the book, on Goodreads, “where bookworms congregate,” as someone at the meeting says, on blogs, everywhere. We want the twitter-sphere to sing its praises. We want the people who read this blog – yes, you! – to get ahold of a copy and make their friend read it too. We want it to be consumed and consumed some more. Come up for air! Someone will say. It’s time to do the dishes. To go to the dentist!  But I can’t possibly, you say, I am too immersed in the adventures of Hugo and Bronwyn.

Savage Girl cover-final

Booksellers who received their early copy are liking Savage Girl, it seems. (Some Hollywood producers are too – shush, don’t jinx it by talking about it.) Authors have weighed in with comments that will appear on the back of the dust jacket. I like this one from Da Chen, the lyrical novelist:

The best historical fiction brings the reader back to a bygone era and  the depth of humanity then.  Jean Zimmerman does all that and more in her elegantly written new novel.  I simply could not put down this this tale of sweet and painful love, of a savage girl and her encounter with modernity.

All I have to do between now and March is a hundred things. Suffice it to say I’ll be writing more here and elsewhere about the Gilded Age, sharing what I learned in the process of researching Savage Girl. Debutante rituals, fashion, feasting, feral children, nineteenth century medical practices, mansions that are architectural marvels… I hope that people who don’t know much about the period will find out something new, and that I’ll satisfy Gilded Age aficionados’  yearning for more on the subject.


Say you enter your favorite independent bookstore, where the management has carefully curated its collection. You inspect the table when you come in the door and find scads of titles that tantalize you, that beg to be picked up and perused. It may seem that they found their way there by some kind of magic. Not so. Behind every glossy jacket is a team of geniuses who have pondered and sleuthed and brainstormed a way to bring that wonderful volume to you. Like an explosion, like the mixed-media Stella on the wall, the planning all comes together to unveil a bound book.

Riding the subway uptown, I notice a man standing next to me with headphones. Dancing, and not so demurely, either. He is rocking and rolling. He is happy. So am I. I remember a couplet by one of my favorite poets, another Frank, Frank O’Hara, who made New York City the star of many of his poems in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

How funny you are today New York

like Ginger Rogers in Swingtime

Sometimes, when you’re in Manhattan, everything can seem so right. I get off the train at my stop and look from one side to the other, not sure which direction to head on the platform. A woman in black-framed glasses and long black hair touches me on the arm. I don’t even have to ask. She points with her finger and softly, kindly says, This way. This way.


Filed under Culture, Dance, Fashion, Fiction, Film, History, Jean Zimmerman, Poetry, Publishing, Savage Girl, Writers, Writing

Thank You for Reading

I am thankful.

This is a post about this blog.

At Thanksgiving, in a lot of families, a blessing is performed before the turkey comes on in its golden, crispy glory. The blessing consists of going around the table with every guest sharing some thing they are especially grateful for. On the occasions I’ve taken part in this ritual, I’ve sometimes had to squelch the urge to say something slightly comical or snarky. I don’t know why, perhaps because the whole thing seemed so self serious. Real thanks seem quieter, more internal, perhaps.

Now, with a few days before us until we’ll be stuffed with stuffing, with a clear head, I want to be serious.

I am grateful, deeply grateful, to those of you who read this blog.

When people ask what my site is all about, I say different things. It’s called Blog Cabin, and it’s about living in a circa 1800 home in a thoroughly modern world, and the time travel that allows for. Sometimes I call it a personal magazine. A diary. A cultural commentary. It’s about the past as a living, breathing entity. All about history and art and nature and literature… An author blog, as I have one novel about to come out and one just in the rearview.

What it really is, is playtime. Writing books, of course, is hard work. (If you’re doing it right.) Writing this blog has given me a chance to dabble in the things that absorb me in my book writing life, but on a more finite scale, with pleasure at the foremost – yes, history and art and nature and literature and… a pogo stick championship?


It was hot July and the contestants soared. You could taste the adrenaline.

Writing for you has given me a reason to go on adventures that you might not take, even if you had the chance. Or perhaps you would, like my search for an infant saguaro cactus at a botanical garden in Scottsdale, Arizona, with a beaming guide, but you couldn’t get there that day.


I’ve taken myself to a Victorian waltz class and tea.


To a Broadway disco-play, and to a euphoria-inducing Brahms recital. And to a dramatic dance performance en plein air, at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center.


I’ve plumbed the depths of the 20-something psyche, because I have a young adult close to my heart. Instagramming is their life.


They’re fascinating animals, as are husbands, and mine hitchhikes along with me from time to time.

As are dogs. Mine is inscrutable, but adds flavor to the mix.


And writers.  I’ve loved writing about Gertrude Stein.


I’ve shared many favorite recipes, like the one for Marcella Hazan’s braised pork in milk.

Observed motorcycle pirates on the loose in NYC. With some history about pirates intertwined, of course.


A rowdy pig festival in upstate New York.


Explored a local farm on an enchanted evening, just as dusk fell.


Learned about the power of graffiti at the late, great 5Pointz. Got my leg cast tagged there, too.


And witnessed the unlikely beauties of slime mold in a pristine nature preserve.


It’s been my pleasure to gather these treasures and offer them to you, and your great generosity has been receiving them from me. So thank you. I’m looking forward to many more adventures.


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