Of all the mistakes a woman makes when facing a divorce, Janet Greek says one of the most common is not acting quickly enough.

Of all the mistakes a woman makes when facing a divorce, Janet Greek says one of the most common is not acting quickly enough.

"She goes into denial and is sure there must be some way to save the marriage," Greek says. "Meanwhile, he's cleaning out the bank."

The twice-divorced, former Hollywood director, who now lives in Ashland, is the author of "The Divorce Planner: Self-Defense for Women When They Need It Most" (Turtle Press, $49.95 at Amazon.com and Bloomsbury Books). She says as a result of being asked for advice by women over the years, she developed the guidelines that became the book.

She says she aimed the book primarily at women because they are not as good at compartmentalizing as men, and they tend to go into shock when the D-word comes up.

"Everything seems hyper-real," she says. "You're not thinking clearly."

But she says men are buying the book, too.

"I could have called it 'Self-Defense for the Underdog,' " she says. "I had so much history with divorce, it seemed really critical to do this book."

Although she's written all her life, including seven movies, three movies for television and one TV series as a staff writer, it's her first book.

One section deals with domestic abuse. Greek once worked in Los Angeles on a commission on assaults against women.

Another section is about how to hire a lawyer. Greek sought the advice of lawyers around the country for this part. She advises to ask a lawyer how many cases he litigates per year. More than 10? Maybe he doesn't negotiate. Few or none? The opposite problem.

"That's true," says Claudette Yost, a Medford lawyer who has handled many divorces. "There are some attorneys who don't negotiate well. But you may have to go to court because the other side doesn't negotiate, too. And if an attorney draws it out, it ends up costing the client more money."

Three years out of college, Greek lost everything in a divorce that took her by surprise. She says her home, her business, even her dog, went to her first ex-husband. She fled to San Francisco, found her bank accounts cleaned out and briefly turned to panhandling before going back to school to earn a master's degree.

In the late 1980s, as a hot television director ("Babylon 5," "Melrose Place," "Xena: Warrior Princess," "L.A. Law," "St. Elsewhere") in Los Angeles, she faced another divorce at age 39. She was determined not to make the same mistakes. Yet she hired a lawyer who had drawn up a friend's prenuptial agreement, partly on the recommendation that he was "really nice." She not only lost her half of her property but watched her film and television career go up in smoke as her influential ex bad-mouthed her around the industry.

She figures she might have done better if she hadn't been so stressed out. As the process unfolded, she found it hard to focus on gathering and organizing information. She couldn't recall the details, threats and promises, from conversations she'd had with her husband. She either couldn't remember what she needed to tell her lawyer, or she'd have the maddening feeling of knowing there was something she couldn't remember. She failed to take money questions to her accountant, or emotional issues to her therapist.

Studies have suggested that many men do well financially after a divorce, while women often sink below the poverty line.

"Women could avoid a lot of pitfalls if they realized marriage was a legal contract," Greek says.

She says she tried for two years to sell the book to a commercial publisher with no luck. One day a woman editor at a New York publishing house told Greek the book was fabulous, but added, "No man is ever going to publish it."

"Oh," Greek said. "I see."

So she formed Turtle Creek.

She says the book contains advice lawyers won't tell you, but savvy women tell other women. For example, she suggests taking a year to prepare, gathering tax returns, collecting information and squirreling away money in an account your husband doesn't know about.

But she says it's not about being cutthroat.

"If you want a book on how to take somebody to the cleaners," she says, "this book is not for you. It's about fairness. If he says, 'Let's just split everything 50-50,' maybe you don't need the book."

Nor is it just for affluent women, she says.

"It shows women where to look for help, safe houses and so on. Divorce is not just about money. If you don't have a lot of money and aren't trained, you might ask to have your husband pay for your re-training, or at least the legal fees."

Greek says when she originally considered writing the book, women friends wanted her to write a Hollywood tell-all filled with shocking stories, or write a novel. The idea of a divorce planner was originally a joke, a takeoff on wedding planners. She imagined an acerbic coffee table book recommending black flowers.

"The more I worked the more I realized it was serious," she says. "Divorce is the death of a whole way of life."

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail bvarble@mailtribune.com.