What Is Your Book About?

I’ve read umpteen articles about “The Pitch,” but when it comes to answering that five-word query—What is your book about?—my expertise on pitching vanishes. I stutter and stammer and gaze at the ceiling, while trying to compress the story of a captivating woman into a few scintillating sentences.

For I am a writer, after all, and not a pitchman.

I started out in advertising, but that was long ago, in the Mad Men era, and I turned to editing because that better suited my personality—not exactly shy and retiring, but tending to prefer solitary quiet pondering and paring, while leaving team efforts to the unruly.

As a magazine editor in a huge publishing company, I was classified as a “creative,” meaning I was paid less than execs who sold advertising. But I hobnobbed with the latter long enough to learn by osmosis how to pitch.

So why is that knowledge failing me now? Why does it not enter stage front when I am faced with those five little words (not facing, exactly—more aptly, evading), at book sales, when guests take me aside and ask what Brenda Corrigan Went Downtown is about:

315 pages, I joke, then get serious,
a woman coping with a catastrophic event,
the men she’s loved,
her experiences in a career that took her around the world,
her loyal friends and children

Now I’m cooking. Brenda Corrigan Went Downtown is about faith and the lack thereof, what kills faith, what restores faith. It proposes a dilemma: What would you do, dear reader, in similar circumstances? It is about the joys of friendship and children and grandchildren, about love and failed love and failure to love, about loss and death.

“But is he really dead?” I am asked at book groups. “I wanted him to rescue her, marry her, carry her off on his muscular white steed to a land where they will live happily ever after.”

“That is a different book,” I suggest.

“A sequel!” someone shouts. A scattering of applause, big smiles.

“Perhaps,” I grant. “Perhaps I will call it, Brenda Corrigan Came Home.”

Perhaps that will be easier to pitch.


We, the “Elderly”

Sent by a friend, without attribution:

  • We grew up in the 40s-50s-60.
  • We studied in the 50s-60s-70s.
  • We dated in the 50s-60s-70s.
  • We got married and discovered the world in the 60s-70s-80s.
  • We ventured into the 70s-80s.
  • We stabilized in the 90s.
  • We got wiser in the 2000s.
  • And went firmly through the 2010s.

Turns out we’ve lived through NINE different decades…

TWO different centuries…

TWO different millennia…

  • We have gone from the telephone with an operator for long-distance calls to video calls to anywhere in the world, we have gone from slides to YouTube, from vinyl records to online music, from handwritten letters to email and WhatsApp…
  • From live matches on the radio, to black and white TV, and then to HDTV…
  • We went to Blockbuster and now we watch Netflix…
  • We got to know the first computers, punch cards, diskettes and now we have gigabytes and megabytes in hand on our cell phones or iPads…
  • We wore shorts throughout our childhood and then long pants, oxfords, Bermuda shorts, etc.
  • We dodged infantile paralysis, meningitis, H1N1 flu and now COVID-19…
  • We rode skates, tricycles, invented cars, bicycles, mopeds, gasoline or diesel cars and now we ride hybrids or 100% electric…

Yes, we’ve been through a lot but what a great life we’ve had!

They could describe us as “exennials” people who were born in that world of the fifties, who had an analog childhood and a digital adulthood.

We’re kind of Ya-seen-it-all.

Our generation has literally lived through and witnessed more than any other in every dimension of life.

It is our generation that has literally adapted to “CHANGE”.

A big round of applause to all the members of a very special generation, which are UNIQUE.  Here’s a precious and very true message that I received from a friend:


Life is a task that we do ourselves every day.

  • When you look… it’s already six in the afternoon; when you look… it’s already Friday; when one looks… the month is over; when one looks… the year is over; when one looks… 50, 60, 70 and 80 years have passed!
  • When you look… we no longer know where our friends are.
  • When you look… we lost the love of our life and now, it’s too late to go back.

Do not stop doing something you like due to lack of time.

Do not stop having someone by your side, because your children will soon not be yours, and you will have to do something with that remaining time, where the only thing that we are going to miss will be the space that can only be enjoyed with the usual friends.  This time that, unfortunately, never returns…

The day is today!


Pass it on to your best friends. Don’t leave it for later




thanksgiving cornucopiaI loved it even when I had to sit at the children’s table, kicking and stabbing my cousins with playful glee, as I took my knocks from them.

I loved the stuffing and dark meat, pies bursting with apples or pumpkin filling, cream pies oozing bananas.

I loved the warmth of hugs from my elders (but not the pinches), listening to their gossip and watching their complex interactions and my sensitive mother’s reactions.

I loved it all, and eagerly took on the role of hostess when I married and moved to a new city, far from my clan. Under a sparkling chandelier, my dining room table was set for 12 with China we’d hand-carried from England and gleaming silverware. Serving platters were carefully arranged on crisp celadon linen, around a straw cornucopia of autumn fruits and flowers.

Along with appetizers, there’d be a perfunctory tip of the hat to gratitude, then my husband would bring the carved bird from the kitchen, shouting, “Dig in!” and friends, neighbors and visiting relatives would fill their plates, partaking of all that our bountiful lives afforded us.

Over the years, the cast of characters changed. Babies evolved into teens, new faces replaced those lost to divorce, illness and death. Eventually, I sold my house and moved to a large apartment, where my Thanksgiving tradition continued. I invited foreign families of my son’s Washington International School classmates, who contributed new dishes to our sacred ritual.

A few years later, when that son, Michael, moved to San Francisco, married and announced a baby on the way, I packed the China and linen, the silverware and cornucopia, and headed for Walnut Creek, California. My sisters had moved to the Bay area in the 70s, as hippies, my older son lived a stone’s throw away in Los Angeles, and suddenly I was awash in family again.

So, on my first California Thanksgiving, though it was a tight fit in my new condo, my table was extended with four leaves and once again graced with my beautiful things, sans chandelier. It was fun to be together after so many years, on my favorite holiday.

But the time came when one guest requested a vegan meal, another gluten-free, and yet another, pescatarian. My limited kitchen skills were tested as I prepared salmon, as well as turkey, and re-heated a multitude of vegetable casseroles. I was frazzled. The thrill of the holiday was gone.

That was the year I bequeathed our Thanksgiving tradition to Michael and my daughter-in-law, Georgianna. They had just restored an old house in Oakland and could easily accommodate family and friends in their massive dining room.

I transitioned well, never looked back with longing to my hostess days. We dined on turkey and Dungeness crab and kvelled over my grandson Philo. Eventually, he tried his hand as chef and regaled us with home-made focaccia and other delectables as he grew.

In my 70s, I found a lovely little home in Rossmoor and downsized for the umpteenth time, planning to bring only necessities, my art and photos, and small keepsakes. But as the movers placed my beloved dining room set and boxes of China near the elevator, to be picked up by a charity, they found me sitting on one of the chairs, crying. I felt so foolish. Crying over mere things, at my age. After a lifetime of real losses. But the guys were kind, accustomed to these events, and brought me a serving bowl and platter that had not yet been packed. “You can keep these, Mrs. Kaulkin. To remember. We’ll find a place for them in your new home.”

And then I really cried.

And life goes on. Covid hit and Thanksgiving went on hiatus. One of my sisters moved to Portland, and Philo went off to college. This year we were merely five, plus a friend, enjoying Thanksgiving at the Lafayette Park Hotel.  Where they featured shrimp, salmon, abundant vegetables, along with Sir Tom.  And a good time was had by all.

“Thanksgiving” appeared in the Winter 2023 issue of Vistas & Byways.


On the death of Desmond Tutu – 12/26/21

Archbishop-Tutu-mediumI had the pleasure of meeting Bishop Tutu on the morning after his Nobel Peace Prize was announced, in 1984.

He was going to the Washington Post for an interview and I was going to my office next door.

As I am star-struck and given to chatting with strangers, I stopped to congratulate him as we strode past each other.

He clapped his hands and giggled, practically jumped up and down with joy, absolutely adorable.  “How do you know already?” he asked.

“It’s on all the news,” I said, laughing with this hero who helped end apartheid in South Africa. A perfect moment in my cache of memories.

When Nelson Mandela was released from prison a few years later, he too was interviewed by the Post and I was one of many who gathered nearby to watch as he entered the building, surrounded by bodyguards.

Working next door to the Washington Post was very exciting.



You Go Girl ca. 1963

I don’t want to hear stupid
Girl you were never stupid, only foolish
Saw the stories in your books
but not the stories all around you
But now it’s done and what I say is
A woman’s place is with her husband
Your husband says go, you go
Don’t say you’ll miss me
Don’t say you’ll miss your mama
You had us all nineteen years of your little life
Now you have a husband
That’s all you have
That’s all you’ll ever have
‘Cept children
You’ll have those too
for a while
I had eight
All gone now, the girls like your mama following their husbands
because I said so
Don’t matter if they slap you around
Make you feel panic like dirt flying off a swept floor
I got thirteen grandchildren
And I’m telling you grandchild
Your place is with your husband
He says go, you go

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