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I originally intended to be a playwright. Fresh out of college with a headful of dreams, I immersed myself in the world of the Broadway theatre, attending plays and workshops several nights a week around my day job editing psychiatric journals. I eventually became a member of the New Dramatists Committee, where one of my fellow playwrights, a man named Sol Stein, was starting his own publishing company and on the lookout for book ideas. I suggested a cookbook for people like a recently divorced friend of mine, who was having to learn to cook for himself for the first time. Sol liked the idea, offered me a contract, and thus was born The I Never Cooked Before Cookbook.
The book did so well that Sol wanted another. With an idea about my background in psychology, he suggested a self-help book for highly intelligent people. When I protested that I didn’t have the credentials to validate myself as the author of such a book… he suggested that I entitle it Advice From a Failure. The book proved to be an immediate best seller and has remained in print to this day. This was followed by yet another two books: The Alcoholic in Your Life and GoWell: The Story of a House.
My love of playwriting never faded, and I then followed the books with four plays, all of them produced Off-Broadway. It was about this time that two large white ducks decided to take up residence at my weekend house and were so amusing that I wrote a piece about them for Reader’s Digest. The Digest asked for more such stories and soon I was writing steadily for them and for Woman’s Day – which I eventually became a Contributing Editor for.
One of the pieces for the Digest was about a remarkable black family of five daughters whose father set out to make doctors of them. For several years after the story appeared, one of the daughters, Yvonne Thornton, M.D., whose physician husband was a fan of Advice from a Failure, urged me to write a book about the family, and this appeared as The Ditchdigger’s Daughters. The Digest ran the story for a second time, this time as a condensed book, McCall’s printed an excerpt, and the Family Channel adapted it as a movie. This book, too, has never gone out of print.
Dr. Thornton and I wrote another book together Woman to Woman, about Dr. Thornton’s specialty of obstetrics and gynaecology, and I went on to write a book about a remarkable therapy dog, The Good Shepherd. When Warner Books inquired if I would be interested in writing about cats, I obliged by writing and illustrating Seven Cats and the Art of Living, a book combining my affection for cats and my lasting interest in human behaviour. A curious footnote to the Chinese edition was that the illustrations were redrawn to make the cats look ‘more Chinese.’
Now, once again I have turned back to the theatre – not plays this time but novels. Daisy, Daisy! is the backstage story of the production of a Broadway musical, and was published in 2009, followed up in 2010 by The Dog Who Healed a Family, a collection of true stories about animals. In the works are another non-fiction book another novel.