Print Friendly and PDF

The New Yorker: The Talk of the Town – THE WRITING WIFE

Posted in: Blog, Press- Mar 30, 2012 No Comments


May 2, 2005

THE WRITING WIFE

By Lauren Collins
When Jackie Collins finally got around to updating her early- eighties classic, “Hollywood Wives,” in 2001, she took care to insure that “Hollywood Wives: The New Generation” would reflect certain significant shifts in the culture of Los Angeles. To that end, Karen, Elaine, and Sadie, with their modern-dance classes, marabou-trimmed pajamas, and lunches at Ma Maison, were replaced by Taylor, Lissa, and Nicci, who prefer Pilates, low-rider jeans, and the Ivy. But, for all these careful anthropological alterations, Collins overlooked the modern Hollywood wife’s latest occupation: novel-writing.

Among the newly minted authors who are married to celebrated filmmakers is Cheryl Howard, wife of Ron, who joins Gigi LevangieGrazer (wife of Brian) and Linda Bruckheimer (wife of Jerry) on the shelves with this month’s publication of “In the Face of Jinn,” a geopolitical thriller-cum-love story set in Central Asia. Howard-she writes under the pen name Cheryl Howard Crew, the “Crew” having been tacked on in homage to an adventuresome grandmother-met her husband in high school, in Burbank, California, when they were both assigned to Mrs. McBride’s English class. Ron invited Cheryl to see “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” and the romance blossomed; eventually, he signalled his intentions with the gift of a woolly monkey named Sugar. “I said, ‘I can’t accept her from you, but I’ll take care of her,’ ” Howard recalled the other day, in Greenwich, Connecticut, where she and Ron keep a Cape Cod cottage as a sort of mom-and-pop office building. (Home is a farm in Westchester.) “I felt funny that he’d spent five hundred dollars. That’s a very serious gift for someone who’s not engaged!”

If Grazer, who writes kicky social comedy (her book “The Starter Wife” comes out in June), is the Jane Austen of the group, and Bruckheimer, who favors steel-magnolia family sagas (“The Southern Belles of Honeysuckle Way”), is the Rebecca Wells, then Howard, who has red hair and a warm, can-do nature, could be called the movement’s Graham Greene. The daughter of a waitress and a Louisiana roustabout who eventually settled his family in the San Fernando Valley, she learned to shoot when she was five and flew a taildragger at sixteen. For the past twenty years, the Howards-Cheryl, Ron, their four children, five dogs, seventeen cats, and assorted donkeys and minihorses-have lived in East Coast exile. “I’m not someone who’s a big party-giver,” she said, fiddling with a lapis-lazuli earring. “Henry Winkler’s wife gives the most glorious parties; Rita Hanks gives great parties; Steve’s wife, Kate, gives them. So I have a lot of learning to do in that regard.”

She is similarly modest about her book, which took nine years to write. “I have great difficulty putting sentences together,” she said. “Slowly but surely, though, I have progressed as a writer. Ron, thank God, didn’t tell me how horrible I really was. He let me sort of evolve.”

Howard counts among her literary influences Stephen King, Robert Ludlum, James Clavell, and Nelson DeMille, along with Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. “I love a page-turner,” she said. On a good day, she writes for three or four hours, while her assistant holds calls. She uses outlines and index cards to contrive her plots in advance. She admires writers for whom words come naturally-like Gigi Grazer. “Gigi’s got a quick wit, and she’s very prolific,” Howard said. “We’ll talk and she always has some deal in the pipeline.” (It’s not clear whether Grazer, one of whose characters bemoans the glut of novels “about Southern belles and their cancer scares,” shares Howard’s good will toward the efforts of some of her Hollywood peers.)

Howard began “Jinn” after giving up on several screenplays and a murder mystery. She befriended her children’s karate teacher, a Pakistani, and became interested in his native culture. “I said, ‘Sensei, you’re a Rajput? Sensei, that’s so incredible,’ ” she explained. “The family in my book are Rajputs.”

In 1997, she travelled to India and Pakistan, where, with the help of a burka and a retired C.I.A. operative-Robert De Niro introduced her to him-she was able to steal over the border into Afghanistan. “If it hadn’t been for Bob, I don’t know what I would have done,” she said. “I wanted to write about an area that no one knew anything about, that was fresh. My husband said, ‘You can’t get more obscure than Pakistan.’ ” There she met women in purdah, arms dealers, opium smokers-into the book they went. Satisfied with the results of her immersion method, Howard is considering visiting the Eastern bloc for her next project. “I researched Bhutan at one point, but there’s just not much conflict there,” she said. “I’m thinking about Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary. I like picking two or three countries. And Transylvania, because I’ve got a feeling there’s a lot more there than just mythic vampires.”

The New YorkerThe Talk of the Town   May 2, 2005


No Responses to “The New Yorker: The Talk of the Town – THE WRITING WIFE”

Want a new Avatar on Gigi's site? Click Here > (We use Gravatar)

Leave a Reply