Author writes ending for 80-year old story Newspaper item becomes first novel

November 09, 1993|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff Writer

Barbara Lefcowitz was looking for "something to provide entertainment" for her parents' 80th birthdays. While paging through an issue of the New York Times published on Aug. 3, 1910, her father's birthday, her imagination was piqued by an item.

"There was this little story, Dr. Lefcowitz said. "A woman wearing a tea gown chased a parrot down Fifth Avenue, yelling 'Catch my pet. Catch my pet.' And that was all. End of story. Just a few lines," she said.

But the Anne Arundel Community College English professor began wondering what the woman was like, and how the chase ended.

Three years later, her version of the rest of the story is told in her first novel, "Red Lies & White Lies," published by East Coast Books.

The chase ends somewhat cruelly. Unknown to owner Lucy Whittaker, the society debutant heroine, her pet, Priscilla the parrot, is beheaded by a German baker. Ms. Whittaker continues the fruitless search, meeting immigrants, Nazi spies, and Communists along the way.

But there's more to the book than the story of this s improbable search for a pet.

"The book is about what one appears to be, and what one is. All of us have a double-ness to a certain degree," says Dr. Lefcowitz. "It's a book about deceit and betrayal."

In the book, Lucy Whittaker has named all the parrots she's ever owned in her life "Priscilla." She eventually becomes a strong, independent woman so comfortable with herself that as an old woman she dresses only in frilly nightgowns and robes.

"I wrote the book as a gift for my parents who lived through that time," says Dr. Lefcowitz, a Bethesda resident who grew up in New York. "I tried to catch the essence of the innocent half of the century, particularly the '20s and '30s with the rumblings of the most important event of the century -- World War II."

Although "Red Lies & White Lies" is her first novel, Dr. Lefcowitz, who gives her age as "fifty-something," has published four poetry collections, including poems about such mundane household items as fans, clothes dryers and microwave ovens.

"In many ways my heart beats to a different drummer when it comes to perception," says Dr. Lefcowitz.

She claims her own life isn't nearly as adventurous as that of the main character in her novel, but she's raised two children, earned a degree from Smith College and a doctorate from the University of Maryland, and traveled the world: Bali, India, Europe. And she's planning to go to Japan next summer.

During the fall and spring semesters at Anne Arundel Community College, she encourages young writers.

"I'm trying to buck the tide and get students interested in literature at a time when it's being overtaken by other forms of entertainment," she says.

Students in her creative writing and modern poetry classes learn "to let the story come out and take over."

"I don't mean to sound mystical, but the poem, the story, the novel, exist inside us and we have to give them a chance to reveal themselves," Dr. Lefcowitz says. "You also have to stick with it, and believe in yourself and in what you're writing."

Such faith in yourself is important, she says, because only 2 percent of the population buys a serious literary work in any given year.

"You have to be highly self-motivated to get published, but don't rush," she warns. "No publication is too small. My first serious publication was in 1970 when some of my work appeared in a small journal called 'The Windless Orchard.' You have to accept that you'll be rejected more than you're accepted. It's just part of the game."

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