So your Baptist preaching Bible College professor father totally flips out over your purchase of the soundtrack to Pretty Woman.


Hartzler_Rapture_jkt_finalThere’s a serial killer in my Bible class.

On the video, Dr. Dobson is interviewing Ted Bundy, a serial killer who was executed several years ago after systematically kidnapping, raping and killing many women over twenty years. No one really knows for sure how many. He confessed to around thirty killings, but experts estimate the true number may have been as high as one hundred.

librarian-178x300Today the library was hot, humid, and smelly. It was like working inside a giant pair of glass underpants without any leg holes to escape through. The building moved. It breathed. It seethed with bodies and thoughts moving in and out of people’s heads. Mostly out.

978-0-307-27172-3 (1)I arrived in Paris with vague hopes of being thought of as a student rather than a scholar, a circus hopeful like the others in my program. If asked, I would of course tell the truth, but I honestly thought it wouldn’t come up. Although I wasn’t an acrobat, I was reasonably athletic—-I had excelled at sports as a kid and done some rock–climbing in college. And it was, after all, a “preparatory” program. It would take me less than a class to figure out how hopelessly naïve I was.

poseur-marc-spitz“No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful. Everybody dies frustrated and sad and that is beautiful.”

Upon hearing these lyrics, my father, Sidney Spitz, then forty-four, took his sneaker off the gas pedal and slowed the copper-colored Mustang abruptly.

One trailing motorist honked loudly from inside her black Datsun, then sped past us. Another did the same and also gave us the finger. My father, squinting in his rearview mirror, stuck his left hand out the window to wave those still behind us around. He hit the hazards and lit up a Kent King.

“Why are we slowing down?” I asked.

rosie-schaap-c-m.-sharkey_custom-d4661b63d7defda5edd6e3b8ee07d9a103e58137-s6-c10How are you feeling, Rosie? You don’t have to say “fine, thanks.” You can be honest with you.

Thanks for asking. I appreciate that, because, you know, I don’t like any of that old “fine, thanks,” b.s.  In truth, I’m feeling…many feelings. I’m a bit of a worrier by nature, so anxiety tends to follow me around most of the time. But it’s pretty manageable these days. I’m pretty excited that my memoir, Drinking With Men, is finally out there in the world, and that people are reading it. I’m feeling a little run down, what with all the excitement. I’m napping more than usual. I should probably eat more vegetables. But I have little to kvetch about. I’m happy-ish. Full-on happy is mysterious to me, and it’s not necessarily something to which I aspire. I’m too superstitious to be totally happy; it could attract the evil eye, as my grandma could have told you.


drinking-with-men-mdIn 1986, when I was fifteen, I discovered the bar car on the Metro-North New Haven Line—a dingy, crowded, badly ventilated chamber where commuters drank enough to get a decent buzz going, told dirty jokes, and chain-smoked. These were my kind of people. I liked my friends at school— mostly pothead misfits like me— but these were adults, and, right or wrong, I liked to think of myself as one of them. And even though in my memory the whole place is clouded by a sort of grimy yellow film, it was my kind of joint.

My mother had moved us— herself, my brother, me, a shih tzu, a Lhasa apso, a cat, and a parrot— from Greenwich Village to the suburbs a couple of years earlier for many rea­sons, but partly, I think, in a desperate bid to make a normal kid of me. It didn’t work. I became a druggie, a Deadhead, a reasonably resourceful truant, a small- time delinquent. But I was not without ambition. I wanted to be a mystic.

Insincerely Yours Book Jacket RGBDear French Laundry Restaurant,

I know from experience how difficult it can be to secure a table at your renowned restaurant.  My telephone has a calendar that allows me to book well into the future, so I was hoping you could make an exception for a young man who knows he would like to reserve a table for six for his sixtieth birthday meal on December 21, 2029.  We would each like the full tasting menu and wine pairing.  I don’t know the dietary restrictions of those that will be present, but I can provide as the date approaches.

Thank you,

Mark Black

You’ve got a new book out, Lincoln’s Battle, the Spielberg movie is hot at the box office — why are we still so fascinated by Lincoln?

I think Lincoln is beloved because he dealt with such massive issues. What other president faced the complete dissolution of the Union? The enslavement of millions? Ordering men into battle on that scale? More men died in the Civil War than all the other American wars combined. And, in one sense, it’s Lincoln’s doing. At least partially. When a president contends with war and other huge issues, he’s usually considered a great president. Truman left office with the lowest ratings ever, but now he’s considered a hero because history is kind to those who had to battle titanic issues. But I think there are two other issues that make him beloved. First of all, he’s got what I call the “Kennedy factor.” Most people tend to impose their own values on Kennedy. So if they are pro-defense or social justice-oriented or if they just like a stylish, imperial presidency, they look to Kennedy. Lincoln’s that way. You want the humorous Lincoln? You got him. You want the liberal, big government Lincoln? You got him. The Constitutional, conservative Lincoln?  Poetic Lincoln? You got him. Second,Lincoln is so incredibly fascinating, so incredibly flawed, so incredibly tragic — that he is endearing to us.

Among the memories of those who lived through that dreadful April day so many years ago was the way the afternoon sunshine quickly descended into evening gloom. With darkness had come fog and a gentle mist that dampened the nation’s capital. A chill followed, an unwelcome surprise after the warmth of day. Then there was the moon. It appeared late on that Friday night, leaving the hours just after sunset dark and unusually dreary. It announced itself first in the silvered edges of clouds and then, unhurriedly, came fully, brightly into view. In the years after, more than one man swore that before the night was done, the moon had turned blood red. If true, it was a fitting banner over the events unfolding below.

You’ve got a brand-new book out called True Strength, talking about the series of strokes you experienced while shooting the Hercules series.  Give us an update on your condition. 

Doing fine.  Staying busy.  Just finished a movie in Baton Rouge.  Got to go to the LSU game.


I went to my first game in Death Valley when I was about three.

Oh man, there’s nothing like that stadium there.  One for the bucket list.


You continued to shoot Hercules after the strokes and were even able to keep your illness a secret.  How did you pull that off?

Last I spoke with Ms. Annie we talked about loving Jesus, Keith Richards and Winnie the Pooh.  And she told me that yes, sigh, she’d wash Dick Cheney’s feet in Heaven.  (Cheney has been unavailable for comment thus far.)  Anne was kind enough to speak with me again about her new book, a slim wonder titled Help, Thanks, Wow, that features this line, the finest Christian writing I’ve read in a very long time:

“This is the message of the Book of Job: Any snappy explanation of suffering you come up with will be horseshit.”

Right now, today — what’s your Help, Thanks, Wow?

My alarm failed at 5:45 am and at 6:30 the driver was ringing my doorbell and I was in my Ethel Mertz jammies, and – made a cup of coffee, fed the animals, dressed, found Help, Thanks, Wow, got to car, started off.  Then driver didn’t have address of radio station an hour away and my internet is out but went home, back inside, found address, and now safely in car, with coffee, talking to you, and NO traffic.  So all three prayers swirling together– Help!  Thanks!  Wow.

I do not know much about God and prayer, but I have come to believe, over the past twenty-five years, that there’s something to be said about keeping prayer simple.

Help. Thanks. Wow.

You may in fact be wondering what I even mean when I use the word “prayer.” It’s certainly not what TV Christians mean. It’s not for display purposes, like plastic sushi or neon. Prayer is private, even when we pray with others. It is communication from the heart to that which surpasses understanding. Let’s say it is communication from one’s heart to God. Or if that is too triggering or ludicrous a concept for you, to the Good, the force that is beyond our comprehension but that in our pain or supplication or relief we don’t need to define or have proof of or any established contact with. Let’s say it is what the Greeks called the Really Real, what lies within us, beyond the scrim of our values, positions, convictions, and wounds. Or let’s say it is a cry from deep within to Life or Love, with capital L’s.

I ’M A HUGE BELIEVER in being truthful except in the instances of hurting someone’s feelings or saving your own ass. (The saving- your- own- ass reason doesn’t really apply to this chapter or this book; in fact, pretend I didn’t say it.)

I’ve often felt that the sharing of information between parents is one of the most vital and useful tools of parenting. It’s also the quickest way to find out that not only are all of your fears utterly justified, there’s also more scary junk that you weren’t smart enough to know about and your lack of awareness may have just destroyed your child’s chances of getting into any institution that doesn’t have bars on the windows.

The summer before Violet started first grade, we were in the playground with her friend Sylvia and Sylvia’s mom, Jenny, who was one of my few mom- friends at the time. Jenny and I were talking about the following year and which teachers were supposed to be good.

“I don’t really know much about the teachers,” Jenny said, “but if Syl gets Jane Doe, I’m going to kill myself.”

“Uh-oh, what’s her story?” I asked.

I. Posting a Flyer

If anyone wants to talk about anything, call me (347) 469-3173.

—Jeff, one lonely guy


So how did everyone get your number in the first place?



Wow, I just saw your sign on a pole a couple days ago.



Flyer guy?



Jeff, can I call you?