From A (Ackerman) to Z (Zoo)

Today marks the publication of my fifth article for San Diego Jewish World  in the last few months.  This one is about Diane Ackerman’s recent “One Book, One San Diego” visit in connection with her wonderful book The Zookeeper’s Wife.  Here’s a link to the article, or you can go to my San Diego Jewish World author page for links to all my articles.

With Diane Ackerman at a reception in her honor at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center
With Diane Ackerman at a reception in her honor at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center
Uncategorized, Until Our Last Breath

The Christopher Connection

At the Christopher Awards with my medal for writing Until Our Last Breath"
At the Christopher Awards with my medal for writing Until Our Last Breath

I’m sitting in the departure lounge at JFK thinking how glad I am I came to New York to receive in person my Christopher medallion for UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH (that’s the award, pictured to the right).

I spent part of the morning of the awards ceremony with Sarah Landis, my Hyperion/VOICE editor, admiring the amazing view of the Empire State Building from Hyperion Books’ new digs in Lower Manhattan. It’s nice to see the publisher’s enthusiasm for THE FOUR SEASONS remains high, and that sales are holding steady.

Later I went uptown to see my agent, Meg Ruley. The Jane Rotrosen Agency’s digs are the opposite of the sleek, ultramodern Hyperion offices. Jane remodeled a multi-story townhome she bought many years ago (smart lady!) into a home for the agency, and a home it truly is. They’ve kept the cozy look, with a comfortable parlor filled with clients’ books, a backyard garden, and a creaky staircase with flowered wallpaper. The only thing that says not to expect a corseted matron to sweep in from an Edith Wharton or Henry James novel and ring the maid for tea is the posters of agency best-sellers covering the walls and stairwell. In every little cranny and back room of the house-turned-business, some of the nicest people in New York (including Meg herself) are hard at work helping their clients succeed. I am truly fortunate to be among them.

Meg and I went from there to the Whitney Museum to see the current exhibition featuring works by Jenny Holzer. Holzer is best known for scrolling neon marquees featuring her own aphorisms and quotations from others. The focus of this show was the occupation of Iraq, using statements from civilian and military officials, US soldiers, and Iraqis to portray the toll of war on human life and character. Since one is forced to read at the relentless pace of the marquees – slower than normal reading speed but too fast to absorb nuanced meanings – the overall effect is of being caught up in a wash of language that is both confrontational and elusive. It left me speechless, an amusing irony not just since Holzer’s foundation is words, but because as a writer I am not usually at a loss for them.

I walked back to my hotel through Central Park in springtime. The petting zoo was full of kids in winter coats they have not yet shed, but which now flop open with no more than a t-shirt underneath. For New Yorkers I imagine that’s as much a sign of spring as flowering trees and daffodils.

The Christopher Awards ceremony that evening touched me deeply. In the beautiful McGraw-Hill auditorium, I watched clips of the winning films and television specials with my companion for the evening, author Susanne Dunlap (LISZT’S KISS, EMILIE’S VOICE, THE MUSICIAN’S DAUGHTER). Michael Bart and his wife, Bonnie, were there as well, since we jointly received the award for UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH–Michael for his years of research and me for my writing. Congratulations to you again, Michael, and to Bonnie as well.

Afterwards, Susanne and I partied with Oscar the Grouch, who said he didn’t see why he had to leave his comfortable garbage can just because the Sesame Street Group received the lifetime achievement award that night. Muppeteer Carroll Spinney, who had Oscar on his arm, confided to me when his little green friend wasn’t listening that he doesn’t think Oscar is really all that grouchy, since he knows how much Carroll loves him.

Susanne and I stayed until the clean-up crew ripped out the tablecloth under our empty wine glasses (well, not exactly, but they looked like they might). By then the pianist was accompanying Carroll, who was singing “It’s Not Easy Being Green” and “The Rainbow Connection” with Mousketeer-era people like me -all of us Sesame Streeters through our children and grandchildren.

With only about two dozen remaining guests, the room was quiet enough for a few last conversations, some of the best of the evening. I spent a little time with Father Dennis Cleary, the new director of The Christophers, which gave me the chance to tell him in person how thrilled I was that the themes I had tried to convey in UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH had been recognized by the awards committee. There’s a consistent message in all my novels as well as this book, that our decisions are what define us as people, and that principled choices enable us to become more than we might imagine possible.

I finished my stay in New York with a visit the following morning to the Frick Collection for what’s becoming a tradition for me and another author friend Stephanie Cowell (MARRYING MOZART and THE GREEN DRESS). We’ve been meeting at a different art museum each time I’m in New York, and we stroll around catching up with each other between stops to admire the paintings. Stephanie is a lifelong New Yorker, and she showed me a Rembrandt self-portrait, done in middle age, that has been a force in her life for many years – a heady blend of saint, sage, and bodhisattva, whose eyes hold her accountable for herself since her last visit.

As we left the museum, I was holding a rolled up poster of the Rembrandt, since I don’t think I’ll be at the Frick often enough for him to work that spiritual magic on me in person. After a quick stop at a deli, we took our lunch to Central Park and sat in the spring light talking about our books, both published and in progress, and about using our blessings well. The evening before, Father Cleary had ended by thanking the honorees for our creative expression, and offering a prayer that we all might continue to use our talents and skills to make future Christopher-worthy contributions as writers and filmmakers. I intend to do my best to live up to that challenge.

Time to board the plane for home. A very nice thought indeed.

Until Our Last Breath

Judging a Book by Its Cover

Title page of 2007 manuscript sold to St. Martin's Press
Title page of 2007 manuscript sold to St. Martin's Press

Recently I was sorting through some old files and came across several items that might be of interest to those aware of Michael Bart’s claim that he is the author of UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH. Shown here is the title page of the manuscript as sold to St. Martin’s Press in 2007 and the title page for the original 2004 book proposal. Both of these provide concrete evidence of my role as the book’s author.  The meaning of “by” and “with” is clarified inside the proposal:
About the Author

Laurel Corona is a tenured professor of English and Humanities at San Diego City College. She has also taught at the University of California at Davis, San Diego State University, and the University of California at San Diego.

Additionally, Dr. Corona is the author of approximately twenty books for middle and high school students, published by Lucent Books, a division of Greenhaven Press. A partial list includes the following titles:
World Religions: Judaism
American Immigrants: The Jewish Americans
The Cold War: The War Within a War: Vietnam and the Cold War
The Way People Live: Life in Moscow
Building History: The World Trade Center
Modern Nations Series: Israel, Poland, Norway, South Africa, The Russian Federation, Ukraine, France, Kenya, Brazil, Ethiopia, Peru, Afghanistan

Dr. Corona was a Charter Fellow in the San Diego Area Writing Project in 1977, and has won awards for her writing, including winning the on-site writing contest at the Santa Barbara Writing Conference in 1996. She has been active as an editor and contributor to the San Diego City College literary journal, City Works, which attracts submissions nationwide.

Title page of original 2004 book proposal
Title page of original 2004 book proposal (with contact information removed)


Dr. Corona has also been a guest lecturer on subjects relating to Judaism at local synagogues and community groups as a result of her authorship of books on Israel, Judaism, and Jewish immigrants. She has traveled extensively to Eastern Europe, Israel and elsewhere in the course of her research on Judaism and the Jews. A formal resume is attached as an appendix to this proposal.

About the Contributor

Michael Bart is the son of Eliezer (Leizer) and Zenia Lewinson Bart. He has taken information and original documentation shared with him by
his parents and spent eight years researching and interviewing Holocaust survivors throughout the world, and collecting additional documentation and photographs to help tell the story of Until Our Last Breath.

He was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, where his parents had found sponsorship with American relatives. He has been a resident of San Diego for 37 years. He has a BS in Business Management and an MBA in Finance from San Diego State University. He has worked as a real estate investor and developer for 26 years. He is a current board member of the Second Generation of Holocaust Survivors Group in San Diego. He and his wife Bonnie live in Rancho Santa Fe, north of San Diego.

This is a truthful representation of the authorship of UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH. Mr. Bart’s approval of both the proposal and manuscript title pages, as well as the author and contributor descriptions, is direct acknowledgment that throughout the process the word “author” (as that word is commonly used and understood in connection with books) applied to me alone, and that the book was “by Laurel Corona.”

The only “official” source of information is the book itself. A footnote in the preface states that I “did all the writing for the text.” The back flap states that I am “the writer of this book.” Instead of using his website and appearances to promote himself–and himself alone–as “the author” of a book that he did not write, Mr. Bart should be saying how fortunate (and grateful) he is to have found someone with my background and skill who was willing to take on this difficult, multi-year project with no assurance of publication, or indeed any form of reward except what comes from a job well done.

It would be painful for any author to see the arduous process of writing so disrespected, and to stand by watching years of one’s work appropriated by someone else. Given the many books and shorter pieces I have published as an individual author, and in light of what I presume is the obvious value of experience and expertise in producing work of award-winning quality, it is astonishing to be treated so dismissively. I  am not only professionally harmed but also deeply offended by Michael Bart’s abuse of the honorary title of “author”; by his refusal to acknowledge me as the writer of UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH; by his comments about my motives; and by his  insinuations that I lacked the competence and/or the willingness to write, revise, and edit this book in an acceptable manner, and that my work required major intervention by him to bring it to a publishable level. He is aware of my concerns but has not acted in any positive way to address them.

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