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Q&A with romance writer Eileen Goudge: From mews to modern high rise, "I have a knack for sitcom settings"

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Family secrets, tangled relationships and the power of the past anchor the stories of best-selling novelist Eileen Goudge. Her saga of apartment life in New York has been a little less complicated and a lot less dark. Excerpts of our recent interview follow.

How did your New York adventures start?

I was 32 with two young children, living in California writing teen romances—the Sweet Valley High series, the equivalent of Gossip Girl today—and I decided to make the leap. I had an agent and really loved New York, so I went East in the early ‘80s to get deeper into my writing. My first apartment was in Midwood, Brooklyn. I couldn’t afford Manhattan, so I started looking in Brooklyn but had to keep going further into the borough to find something I could afford. Even though I’m Catholic, I picked up the Jewish Press on a tip and saw ads for rentals, all of which said “Shomer Shabbas,” which I assumed was the real-estate agency name. I showed up at one apartment to find the term meant it was only available to those who observe the Sabbath.

The woman renting out the unit looked at me like I was an alien, but was kind enough to offer me tea as it was freezing out. We ended up talking for hours. We had many things in common; our children were even of similar ages. She decided she would rent it to me with her husband’s approval. Luckily, he liked me and I got the three-bedroom unit for about $500.

Where did you move next?

Nine months later I married my agent. We bought a brownstone in Chelsea. During the long renovation we lived at the literary agency called Writer’s House on 26th and Broadway. It was once a counting house for the Astors and looked Edwardian. It was all offices with one bedroom in the back, which we took. My children had a room downstairs. We moved to a town home in Chelsea from there, which we lived in for 10 years until I left when we got divorced.

My son was out of the house and my daughter was in college. So I took a one-bedroom in the neighborhood, the third floor of a brownstone I loved because it was so sunny. I stayed three years and was living there when I met my current husband, Sandy Kenyon.

You have a romantic story about that. Care to share?

Sandy had just bought a small radio station in Prescott, Arizona, and was interviewing me. We hit it off and he asked to call me later. We began speaking every day. Finally, he sent me a montage of clips from his CNN days so I could see what he looked like and I went out to visit him.  He had a job offer in Los Angeles; it was a big deal that he chose moving to New York to be with me over a steady job. Now he’s the entertainment reporter on WABC TV-Channel 7.

What about living arrangements?

After we got married, we bought a carriage house in one of the few, gated mews in the city—Sniffen Court in Murray Hill. It has wrought-iron gates and a cobblestone courtyard. We found it through a real-estate agent, even though I had said I didn’t want another house; I was tired of stairs. But seeing the two-bedroom home, we decided it was so charming we’d buy it. The drawback was it needed constant maintenance.

Sounds like the start of a television series.

I have a knack for sitcom settings, because in that little area we had Lenny Kravitz at one end of courtyard and on other side was Claudia Schiffer. When we sold it 10 years later, we had several famous people looking at it, including Renee Zellweger. We now live in a 1.5 bedroom condo in a modern building. No leaks! We love the Clinton neighborhood, particularly because my husband is a film and theater critic; we can easily get to shows.

What is the best and worst about your current apartment?

The best is all the convenience: low maintenance, doorman, elevators, gym and walking distance from anything we are interested in. The worst is because everything is at our fingertips, sometimes I don’t leave the house for days.  

How has living here influenced your writing?

My first novel was set in Manhattan. It’s hard to write about things you haven’t experienced. I can invent small towns loosely based on the one I lived in, but New York is a unique and special place that is ever changing. You really have to be here to write about it realistically.

As a writer of romances, what have you found to be the most romantic place in this city?

There’s an outdoor space up by Harlem—the Conservatory Garden in Central Park—that is romantic, because it is quiet and peaceful with manicured garden and magnificent flowers. And although home is our most romantic spot, we like Teodora (141 East 57th Street, near Lexington Avenue, 212-826-7101). It has the best cappuccino in the city, and is cozy and intimate.

What would you change about Manhattan, if you could?

The weather—this winter particularly. When you’re from California, you never get used to it.

What’s your favorite neighborhood and why?

Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen is so central: close to Central Park, close to all subways. Every neighborhood is accessible to that one. Our food adventures range far afield. We go to Jackson Heights, Astoria, Queens. I like that I can get to those places easily.

You cook and bake. You wrote a cookbook and have a recipe tab on your website. So, what are your favorite food-related spots in New York?

I highly recommend N.Y. Cake & Baking Distributor (56 West 22d St./5th and 6th Ave., 212-675-2253). It has every baking- and food-decorating supply you could want. For spices, I love Kalustyan's (123 Lexington Ave./28th and 29th St.) The Essex Street Market is fabulous. My husband and I recently found a little taqueria/bodega in our neighborhood called Tulcingo del Valle (665 10th Ave./47th St., 212.262.5510) that sells all sorts of dried chilies in the front. Then you stumble back through what seems to be a portal to another world and come upon two ladies making tacos. I hesitate to mention this because it is already crowded, but Totto Ramen (366 West 52d St./8TH and 9TH Ave.) just opened and has amazing ramen. Just goes to show if you do one or two things right, they will come. 

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