Novelist, author, journalist, inadvertent humorist. NPR contributor.
Made, born, raised in New York City. Received an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan. Before that, attended Brown University and Stuyvesant High School, where my English teacher, Frank McCourt, became my mentor and is largely to blame for my being a writer. I currently divide my time between Geneva, Switzerland and NYC. Since I keep getting queries from schools using my work in speech contests: Yes, I was born after 1960. No, I don’t put my exact birthday on the Internet — for reasons of security, not vanity.
In addition to being the author of three nonfiction books, Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress, and Kiss My Tiara plus the novel, The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street, I have contributed to numerous anthologies, worked as journalist, and written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Ms., The Daily Beast, Real Simple, Washington City Paper, Us magazine among others. I won a New York Press Association Award for features written on assignment in Poland.
My short stories have appaeared in Story, Ploughshares, Beloit Fiction Journal, Virginia Quarterly Review, and the Greensboro Review, which awarded me its 1998 Literary Award for short fiction.
TELEVISION: Appearances twice on “The Today Show” for promotion of books, as well as on ABC World News; WGN-America; WCAU-TV “The 10!” in Philadelphia; “AM Northwest” on ABC in Portland, OR; NBC affiliates in New Haven & Seattle; “Connie Martinson Talks Books”;“The Iyanla Show”; “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.”
RADIO: Commentator for National Public Radio. Until 2010, co-hosted “Bookmark,” a monthly book show on World Radio Switzerland. Guest on dozens of radio shows across U.S. and Australia, including WNYC’s “Leonard Lopate Show,” WGN in Chicago, Pacifica Radio in Berkeley, ABC Radio Australia “Breakfast Club,” ABC Radio National “Life Matters,” ABC Canberra “Sunday Brunch.” I love to do radio, even though I cannot stand to hear my own voice on my answering machine.
FUN FACTS: To research current novel, I worked at a Carvel Ice Cream store in Massapequa, Long Island for two days. I am also founder of the Susan Jane Gilman Institute of Advanced Gelato Studies, whose research is extensive and ongoing.
SORDID PAST: Worked as Washington D.C. speech writer and as staff writer for Member of U.S. Congress.
NOT-SO-SORDID PAST: Taught writing and literature at University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University. Also: cocktail waitress, legal aide, food service worker, inept receptionist.
FIRST LITERARY INFLUENCES: The three Johns: Steinbeck, Updike, and Cheever. Also Dorothy Parker, F.Scott Fitzgerald, Truman Capote, J.D. Salinger, Toni Morrision, Katherine Mansfield — the usual 20th century local suspects.
FUNNY BUT… I never set out to write books that made people laugh. My main love has always been literary fiction. However, even with my darkest work, people would always tell me that parts of it were funny. This annoyed me because I aspired to be an American Dostoevsky with Breasts.
Yet in 1999, I took a writers’ workshop at the Bethesda Writers’ Center. The first story I submitted was a heartbreaking tale of a man’s addiction, which impressed the class. The second was an absurd story about mistaken identity full of Jews, Rastafarians, and dental hygienists. To my great irritation, the class liked this one infinitely more. After class, a man pulled me aside. “I have to tell you,” he said. “My wife has been battling breast cancer. I read her your story last night, and it was the first time in two years she really laughed. You’ve got a gift. Please don’t ignore it. Not everyone can make a sick woman laugh in her hospital bed.” That’s when I finally saw the merit in my own, lurking smart-ass and stopped fighting it.
ADVICE FOR ASPIRING WRITERS: Don’t do it. If you’re good at anything else besides writing — and you have a
modicum of passion for it — spare yourself. The majority of any writer’s life is spent in complete isolation, staring catatonically
at a blinking cursor, then rewriting each sentence fifteen thousand times in what is essentially a codified form of Obsessive
Compulsive Disorder. Perversely, if you do this often enough and are successful at it, people will tell you that your writing “is
so simple — it sounds just like you talking” and that they, too, now are thinking off “taking a few months off” to write a book.
Better to become a process-server, a bartender, or a taxidermist if you’re that masochistic.