So there I was in Los Angeles, on a balmy Tuesday night. It was about seven o’clock. We’d gone out for sushi, and were waiting, as you do in L.A., for the valet to bring our car, enjoying the balmy evening, bouncing the baby in my arms, when a man with a video camera wandered over.

“Hi, baby,” he said. “What’s her name?”

“It’s Phoebe,” I said, bouncing her in my arms. The man flicked on the miniature floodlight attached to the body of the camera and pointed the lense at Phoebe’s face.

“Hi, sweet thing,” he crooned. Phoebe gave him her biggest, gummiest grin as he asked questions: how old is she? Where’s she from? I answered, thinking, This is awfully strange. Probably he’s a tourist, but why would a tourist want video of a random baby?

Then my assistant spoke up. “Are you from TMZ?” she asked the man with the camera.

“This isn’t about you,” the man said with a friendly smile. “This is HER big moment.”

Phoebe was enjoying her moment, smiling and giggling, and I was thinking, Is this weird? And exploitative? Is my kid going to wind up in therapy because I let TMZ tape her?

Then a car pulled up, a door opened, a long, high-heel shod leg poked out, and the cameraman and about a half-dozen of his brethren took off at a sprint down the street, cameras poised and lights glaring, to catch a glimpse of…Tia Carrerre.

At which point my thoughts switched instantly from This may be exploitation to Hey, get back here you fickle bastards! Tia Carrerre! Come on! If you’re going to blow off my baby, at least do for Lindsay or Britney!

Hmph.

In spite of my paparazzi moment, I had a wonderful time on the West Coast. Hung out with the family. Took a few meetings. Had a wonderful reading in Santa Monica, attended by both of my brothers and fabulous Left Coast novelists Liza Palmer, Megan Crane, Julie Buxbaum and Bill Folman, whose first book is coming out soon (so of course I gave him the “Do not check your Amazon rankings every ten minutes, you will drive yourself mad!” speech).

Starting Monday I’m going to be answering questions about CERTAIN GIRLS and anything else on people’s minds over at Goodreads. I hope you’ll log in and join me there.

In unhappier news: a few months back I was asked, along with big-name, prize-winning, best-selling writers Susan Choi, Laura Hillenbrand, Sara Gruen, Jane Smiley, to judge an essay contest for Glamour Magazine.

All of the finalists were impressive: closely observed and wonderfully written. Some of them were heartbreaking. Our winner, Andrea Coller, turned in a sharp, irreverent, moving, mordantly funny piece about getting a cancer diagnosis in her twenties.

It could have been sappy, or saccharine, full of all of the typical life lessons you can find in cancer memoirs by the dozen…but it wasn’t. It was bitter and black and bracing as a double espresso, the no-holds-barred story of a woman who’d gotten hit with something she didn’t deserve and was furious, and furiously funny, in the face of it. Waking up with a hospital with a breathing tube down her throat, Coller was given a board with words so that she can communicate…and she looks at it, thinking, This will never work. Where’s vodka? Where’s Starbucks?

Andrea Coller died last week. She was twenty-nine. I was shocked and saddened, as I imagine the other judges were, to get the news. It’s always a tragedy when someone dies so young. In Coller’s case, you can’t help but wonder how she might have honed her voice and used her gifts, and what kind of stories she might have gone on to tell if she’d had more time.

You can read an interview with Andrea here...and the June issue of Glamour hits the stands this week. I hope you’ll pick it up and read her essay for yourself.

Jen