Archive | February 2015

Character Study: Judge Frank McCafferty

This is the sixth post in a series  exploring the important characters of “These Foolish Things,” who they are, some background, and how I came up with them.

Meet Judge Frank McCafferty.


My writing process is best described as watching a movie in my head and translating it into words. Movies need actors and I cast Charles Durning (in case you didn’t recognize him).

Frank is a Superior Court judge for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and sits on the bench In his native Boston. He’s known as a tough but fair jurist with little or no tolerance for nonsense in his courtroom. The judge is famous for handing out contempt of court citations by asking the offending attorneys if they’d brought a toothbrush.

Frank is taken with Liz Gardner’s legal writing skill and her ability to out argue one of the best litigators in the country, Ty Hadley. Because he thinks he sees so,etching between them, Frank uses a courtroom faux pas by Hadley to issue a contempt citation and gives him a choice: either jail time or take Liz out on a date. Ty chooses the date and things go from there. Like Beanie ( Character Study: Beanie) , McCafferty is one of the catalysts in the story and is never too far from the main narrative.

Like Ty, Fank is an alcoholic, but he’s been in recovery for years and volunteers with the substance abuse prevention section of the Bar Association (there is such a thing. And I am a member of the Mass Bar), mentoring attorneys recovering from substance abuse. Frank becomes a father figure to Ty. As for Liz, her persuades her to come work for him as a clerk.

There is a Mrs. McCafferty, but we never meet her as she is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s and confined to a treatment facility. Frank has been lonely because of it and welcomes his inclusion in the lives of Liz and Ty.


Brian Dennehy would make a good McCafferty.



Larry Miller. He is best known as a comic, but did you see his two “Law & Order” episodes? Stone cold.




Yes. That’s Harrison Ford. Why not? Might be an Oscar in it for him.

There are some notoriously eccentric  judges in the Bay State. And there are judges whose offbeat sentences (like wearing a sign  or T shirt with the crime printed on it, or sentencing teenagers to do community service at a retirement home.  My Civil Procedure professor frequently told us stories about Boston judges and “Did you pack a toothbrush?” ?I have seen a couple of them in action (observer for school, not as a party to an action).

McCafferty’s admonishment to Liz (“Only the ones wearing the robes get to swear in the courtroom”) came from a Boston courtroom.

I guess one of the underlying themes of these two books is people with fractured family histories coming together to build a new loving family of choice.




Character Study: Beanie

This is the fifth post in a series about the key characters in “These Foolish Things,” discussing their origins and inspirations. Beanie is Liz Gardner’s cat.

It may be a head scratcher to some people as to why I’d go in depth about the character of a cat. Especially one that doesn’t talk or do anything other than be a cat. Beanie is important to the story. Before Ty Hadley comes on the scene, he is her closest companion and his arc is a catalyst of the action.

Beanie is a cat who found Liz as she was in treatment for breast cancer. He was a stray on the grounds of the hospital whre she was being treated, jumped into her bag and hitched a ride home with her.

This is the inspiration for Beanie:


He knew he looked adorable.

His name was Toulouse (aka Loosey). A friend of mine was vacationing in Florida when a friendly stray cat approached her outside her hotel. She petted him on the head and went back to retrieving her bags from the rental car. When she got the bags into her hotel room, Toulouse popped out of one of them. She said he was skinny, filthy, covered in fleas and mites, but so charming she couldn’t resist. Given his markings and lively personality, he was at least part Turkish Van.

Loose eventually became one of my cats when he came for an extended visit and bonded so tightly with my cat, George that the two moped when they were separated.


George is the orange one.  Squirrel watching was one of their favorite pastimes when they weren’t wrestling. The term coined for the two of them was “Bouncy Cat Boys.”

Toulouse was one of the smartest cats I’ve ever met and I’ve never met a dumb cat. He figured out how to open cabinets and doors, knew how to charm the neighbors, and if I was eating something he thought was interesting, a white paw would reach over and gently guide my hand with the spoon to his mouth. Or try. I didn’t let him win very often. He really did learn “Get your furry ass out of there.” That all-black tail of his seemed to have its own little control because it was always in motion, especially when he was figuring out something naughty to do.

One January night in New Hampshire (and it was bitterly cold), Toulouse dove out the front door during a Chinese food delivery. I searched for him and couldn’t find him in the dark. The next morning, I was outside with a bag of cat cat food and the little bugger popped right up and came in as if nothing had happened. He spent the next two days sleeping.

Loose went from being a Florida cat to Virginia to New Hampshire and finally out to California. I lost him on May 28, 2003 to kidney cancer.

As I was writing “These Foolish Things,” I had “help” from Toulouse (and George and Cookie and Sam) and it seemed natural to include a cat in the story. Writing Beanie was easy because I was just relating Toulouse’s antics.

As I said, Beanie acted as a catalyst in the story and as comic relief. The name came from the old Beanie & Cecil cartoon.


The name seemed like a good one; it just popped into my head. As Liz was an attorney (or an aspiring one), it seemed natural to come up with a link to law for him and I worked backwards to make it short for “Breaking & Entering.” Beanie’s inspiration, Toulouse, was a master of cat burglary.

I will not put spoilers here, but Beanie’s story isn’t completely happy. I miss his inspiration, Toulouse, every day.

If I could inspire readers to any kind of action, I would tell them to go adopt a cat from the local animal shelter or volunteer. Toulouse was proof that there are wonderful, loving, entertaining animals out there just waiting for a home. Go find a Beani of your own.

Character Study: Millie Wentworth

This is the fourth post in a series that examines the stories behind the characters in “These Foolish Things’, such as their back story and the inspiration for them.

This will be, by far, the hardest post to write. Second hardest comes next.

Millicent Wentworth (Millie) is Liz Gardner’s best friend. They’ve known each other since college, played their school’s softball team, have had each other’s backs for years. Basically, Millie is the sister Liz never had. While Liz went into an office job straight out of college, Millie continued her education, graduating from law school and working on patents. Liz was studying humanities while Millie studied mathematics and computer science. Millie has no problem telling Liz when she’s acting like an ass, but she’d take a baseball bat to anyone else who went after her friend because she knows that Liz will do the same without question. Loyalty, determination, and a warm heart are what characterize Millie. One of her favorite expressions is “Good friends help you move. Best friends help you move bodies.” Angie DinNardo accepts Millie as one of “her kids” and by extension, Milkie’s boyfriend, John Reynolds, an assistant prosecutor. This means they both get hugs and head snacks from the DiNardo matriarch.

If “These Foolish Things” had been made into a movie in the 1940s, this would be Millie:


In the 1990s:




(I love Rosie?. Her “Heartfelt Special” that just started airing on HBO is vintage Rosie O’Donnell standup. She lost her mom to breast cancer and her involvement in fund-raising is part of the reason I got involved. If you don’t like her, oh well)

Currently, who would I cast? No freaking clue.

Millie is based on Nancy Kurrelmeyer. She was my soul sister (she had a sister of her own, I have two sisters). This is the two of us at UVM’s Oktoberfest in 1979:


(The only time in my life I’ve ever been described as whooping it up with a cow. The caption is backwards; Kurly had the full-on clown costume. I talked her into doing this)

Kurly studied mathematics at UVM and earned a Masters from Ohio State. She was smarter than I am, knowing enough to get into computer science after graduating. She came from a family of scientific minds; her grandparents were physicists and her dad was a highly successful attorney (and called me his “Deputy Daughter.” She was an honorary member of my family, too. She was tech support for my mom and felt at home quarreling with my sisters. She was an invited guest for the landmark birthday and anniversary parties)

Millie’s love of hiking in the White Mountains is pure Kurly. They were her playground. By the way, she approved of Millie (but I made a mistake in naming Millie’s man John. She didn’t care for the name, but she liked the character). We did drive over the border into Canada a couple of times to get Brador beer at the duty free shop. Back in the day at UVM, when the legal drinking age in Vermont was 18 (which was a draw for the out of state party hearty students), Brador runs were a regular occurrence. We were continuing the tradition.

Kurly was also a writer. She wrote some truly haunting poetry and a series of spy novels (which is where I got the idea she liked the name John). As I wrote “These Foolish Things,” she held my feet to the fire to finish the story, reading sections as I finished them and essentially editing on the fly for me. I did the same for her and her books.

Where Millie was a champion softball pitcher, Kurly was a golfer. She used me as a hundred yard marker more than once. And she did offer to take a 9 iron to various people on my behalf. That’s what friends are for. At the same time, our conversations with each other had a pretty high “Fuck you” content (said affectionately). On the other hand, each other’s triumphs were celebrated with “AWRIGHT!!!”

When I was in New Hampshire for law school, I gave her a key to my house and I could come home from school to see her car in the parking lot, her shoes by the front door, her stocking feet on my coffee table and “The Peacemaker” on my VCR.

We walked together in the annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer  5 mile walk in Boston. The first year, she pushed me in a wheelchair because I had managed to sprain my foot pretty badly the week before. The last time we did the walk together, she pledged $100 per mile if I didn’t say a word the entire time.

And now we come to why this particular post is so difficult.

In early 2002, shortly before I moved from New Hampshire to California, Kurly was diagnosed with breast cancer. The surgery to remove lymph nodes was successful and she underwent treatment. Usually, if I called her, I got voicemail. On. January 31, 2003, she picked up the phone. We talked for a couple of hours about all the stuff we loved and everyone else considered weird or odd (“Fuck them”).

February 1, 2003. I can still hear her sister’s voice on the phone saying, “Sue, um, Nancy died this morning.”

A day hasn’t gone by that I haven’t missed her. As is only right and proper, “These Foolish Things” was dedicated to her memory. And she will live on in Millie Wentworth.








Character Study: Angie DiNardo

This is the third in a series of posts exploring the roots of the characters in my books These Foolish Things” and “At Last.” Today, we examine the adoptive mother of Liz Gardner, Angela DiNardo.

I conceived of Angie as the heart of the family next door to Liz. Angie has no daughters of her own and she was warm and welcoming to Liz whose own mother was a disappointed and difficult woman.

My writing method , if it is such a thing, is to watch a movie in my head and then write it out. You need actors in a movie and my starting point for Angie was Anne Bancroft.


Anne was stunning as a young woman and all age did to her was add a few lines and changed her hair color. Onscreen, she displayed charm, intelligence, could show compassion or ruthlessness, and humor. It was indeed a great loss when she passed.

Angie’s son, Joey DiNardo, is a lifelong friend of Liz’s. I never really decided on an origin story for Angie beyond a vague idea of her coming from East Boston. I worked for Fidelity Investments for years and encountered a number of Italian ladies from East Boston. Some were co-workers, some were bosses. My supervisors could act motherly when needed and while actually hitting us wasn’t permitted, we’d hear things (said affectionately) ” I swear to God, if you do this again, I’m gonna knock you out.” I got called a. dumb shit” a few times (not professional, but I didn’t care). I learned how to make calzones (not the enclosed pizza, but a version of various deli meats and cheeses rolled in a pizza dough and baked. I was assured it was a genuine calzone. I don’t think Palmi Ciulla would have lied to me), how to summon St. Anthony, and that they had our backs in Customer Service. I am forever grateful to these women.

As Liz grew up, she’d frequently be at the DiNardo house. No one in the house criticized her for being overweight, awkward around boys, or any of the other constant nitpicking that Liz’s mother would subject her to. Angie just accepted and loved Liz.

Angie will kiss, scold, or smack her “kids” (which also includes Liz’s best friend, Millie Wentworth and her boyfriend, John Reynolds) upside the head. She does not like profane or vulgar language and seems to have superhuman hearing. She can hear a “Bullshit” or “damn” in the next room, even if quietly spoken.

Angie and her husband, Vinnie, run a small ristorante in Hyannis. Vinnie and their younger son, Tony, work out front and Angie mans the kitchen. Liz spent a lot of summers in that kitchen learning cooking from Angie. As an adult, Liz will go down to the Cape for a weekend and help out again. Vincenzo’s is a well-regarded local establishment. Just don’t ask for ketchup for your risotto,

Since the DiNardos regard Liz as their own daughter, they are wary of Ty Hadley and his intentions towards “their girl.” Knowing the heartaches Liz has experienced, Angie is especially protective. She makes it clear to Ty that if he hurts Liz, she will come after him without a second thought. She has access to big knives.

Angie herself has experienced turmoil and heartache in her own life. She is a recovering alcoholic, as is her son Joe. I would reveal more, but that’s material for more stories.

Every author plays the “Cast the movie” game. With the passing of Ms. Bancroft, and the passage of time since I originally wrote the book (in 2013, I split the original manuscript into 2 separate stories), I’ve played this game myself and come up with possibilities to play Angie:

Why not? I can see Cher doing this.

Or Rita Moreno


Or the Divine One


In the end, what I tried to create in Angie DiNardo was a woman who I would want to have in my family, a source of compassion, love, and strength.