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Entries in Books (14)

Monday
Mar272017

Call Answered: Laurence Maslon: Broadway & Musical Theatre Historian

Laurence MaslonWhile I'm thrilled to be done with my schooling, education has always been an important part of my life, which is why I continue to keep my brain active and learn as much as I can. 

For as much as I know, there is always someone who knows more than me, and that's why, these people are experts. When a request came in to interview Laurence Maslon, an expert on Broadway/Musical Theatre, I jumped at the opportunity to speak with him. We talked about teaching musical theatre history, famous students, favorite Broadway shows, PBS specials, and so much more!

Laurence is the host of the weekly NPR radio show Broadway to Main Street, which just featured special guest Steven Pasquale. Broadway to Main Street airs every Sunday at 3pm on NPR affiliate NY/Long Island station WPPB/88.3FM.

For recent episodes and more on Broadway to Main Street visit http://www.broadwaytomainstreet.com and follow the show on Facebook!

1. You are one of the leading experts on Broadway/musical theatre history and an Arts Professor at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. What made you fall in love with this genre? I was very lucky to: A., grow up 52 minutes from Manhattan on the Long Island Rail Road and B., have parents who were still very enamored of theater and movies from their youth. So, the first two albums I listened to as three-year-old (they were on these flat black circular things called "records") were Noel Coward in Las Vegas and Oh Captain!, a 1958 musical with Tony Randall. My parents didn’t go to Broadway much, if at all, so a friend’s mother took us to see 1776 in 1969, from the back row of the 46th Street Theater. I was totally hooked; I remember writing, directing, and starring in my own 12-minute version of the show in my 5th Grade Social Studies class. I thought all musicals were about guys in wigs yelling at each other; a few years later, when I saw shows with chorus girls and tap dancing, I had no idea what they were doing in a musical.

Laurence Maslon2. What do you get from teaching? What is something one of your students taught you? For me, it’s about sharing enthusiasm and passing along a history that you love. Context is so important, especially in our perspective-challenged times. I don’t (necessarily) expect a student to share my passion for Noel Coward or 1776, but if he/she can understand or appreciate the context for Madonna or Hamilton, respectively, her/his appreciation of what’s in front of them might be more meaningful. Facts are not, in and of themselves, important; seeing how things fit together in a cultural continuum is important.

When I started teaching my NYU Graduate Acting class called "The Now of Then" (back in 1995), I taught two plays written and set in the 1930s, Golden Boy and Stage Door. One of the students in the second class I taught was black and he said, essentially, "There’s nothing about me in these plays." So, I went out and looked at what black playwriting was like in the 1930s and discovered an unproduced play by Langston Hughes called Little Ham. It kicked off my love affair with the Harlem Renaissance and both the play and its cultural context have been an essential part of my curriculum ever since.

3. One of your former students, Mahershala Ali just won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Moonlight. As his teacher, what went through your head when you saw him win? Had you kept in touch with him over the years since you taught him? Hersh was always a kind, thoughtful gentleman and well-deserves his success.  Our jaws dropped when he thanked three of his NYU teachers—and I can only assume he ran out of time before he thanked me. (That’s a joke).

4. You are the host/producer of the weekly NPR radio show Broadway to Main Street where you interview Broadway performers. What is something you've learned about Broadway from your interviews that you did not know before? Who do you still hope to interview? My radio program is more about programming topics and themes around music that made its debut on the American musical stage: in addition to original cast recordings, I play renditions from films, cabaret, jazz, pop recordings. Interviews are just a part of that programming. I’m very lucky when I can get folks into the NYC studio (I usually record in Southampton) to talk about their work and, more interestingly, talk about what music inspires them and what music they put out into the world. I do an annual holiday show and my guests have included Jordan Gelber, Ann Harada, Malcolm Gets, Veanne Cox, and Lewis J. Stadlen for each holiday show over the last five years; I love what they bring in as the songs that influenced their holidays growing up (or what holiday material they have performed in their careers). It’s fascinating to me the range of music that influences a Broadway performer—not everyone grew up with The Music Man. (I always hated that show; give me Oh Captain!)

I haven’t learned that much about the "biz"—because it’s not really that kind of program. I have learned that performers often don’t love the recordings of their own work that I love. Both Marin Mazzie and Veanne weren’t totally in love with some stuff of theirs I picked for the show, but I think, in context with their other recording work on the program, they came around. Through a wonderful bit of serendipity, William Daniels—who I saw in my first Broadway show—has written a new memoir. I reached out to his publicist and—voila!—he’ll be my guest for an hour-long program in June. The idea that I could interview a lifelong hero on my own program, listening to his performances and talking about them is amazing to me.

5. If you had to choose eight Broadway shows (one for each day of the week + a matinee) to watch on a loop, which shows would they be?

Monday: Pal Joey (to get the rhythms flowing)

Tuesday: A Little Night Music (something a bit more reflective)

Wednesday: Do Re Mi or Top Banana (a little Phil Silvers to get through the hump)

Thursday: Golden Boy (a good night to be thoughtfully engaged)

Friday: On The Twentieth Century (because it’s the end of the week and let’s have fun!)

Saturday matinee: 1776 (so I could take my nine-year-old son)

Saturday night: It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s…Superman! (maybe my wife would let him stay out late…)

Sunday: Sunday in the Park with George (because, well….)

Sammy Davis Jr.6. Another project you have going on is a documentary for PBS about Sammy Davis Jr. You have worked on several programs for PBS. What do you love about creating projects for them? PBS is by far the most thoughtful and well-produced venue for historical context of any kind, particularly the arts. I’ve been most fortunate in collaborating with producer/director Michael Kantor on most of my writing projects; he makes it easy and fun and jam-packed with integrity. PBS also provides a context: I’ve done two American Masters shows, one on Richard Rodgers, one of Sammy Davis, Jr,, about two decades apart; but what makes them each masters of American culture? How do they fit together as part of a continuum?

7. Why did you want to do a documentary about Sammy Davis Jr.? What is something about Sammy Davis Jr. that you can share with us, that the average fan would not know about him? For one thing, the current generation knows practically nothing about him, but in many ways, he defines popular culture of the 21st Century; he set the terms. Sammy has always been a source of pure joy for me. I tend to favor "cool" performers--Noel Coward or Chris Connor or Mabel Mercer or Bill Evans—but Sammy always gave 110%; he’d "pulverize you" with his talent as one of our interviewees, George Schlatter, said. There’s something terribly attractive about that. He was also incredibly complex, as a black man living through the most racially charged times of the 20th Century: when he was trying to make it in the first part of his career, he had to fight white audiences; when he became a success, he then had to fight black audiences. The struggle never ended for him, so he kept re-adapting his identity: "I’ve Gotta Be Me" is our subtitle. But which "me"?—that’s the question, and it’s something we can all relate to. There are a million things in his life that people don’t know—he was a fantastic photographer, he marched at Selma, he was the first black actor to have a dramatic show on television, on and on—but, a lot of people remember nothing about Golden Boy.  Here was Sammy—a major recording star, think of John Legend meets Chris Rock—giving up hundreds of thousands of dollars in club dates, etc., to star in a demanding role on Broadway in 1963, in a show created just for him, about civil rights in America. He had eight songs, plus two fight sequences, and he did eight shows a week for eighteen months, then did it on tour in Chicago and London. So he spent three years at his prime on the stage, in one of the most challenging roles in Broadway musical history: where’s the credit for that? Who would even think of attempting that today?

8. Another series you worked on for PBS is the Emmy-nominated Make 'Em Laugh. What makes you laugh in these post-election times? What has been the funniest thing to happen to you during one of your interviews? Nowadays, the only thing I find vaguely amusing are the three political musicals of the 1930s by George S. Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind and the Gershwins: Strike Up the Band, Of Thee I Sing, and Let ‘Em Eat Cake. They are all timely and timeless and prefigured the American infatuation with being bamboozled nearly a century ago. They are always worth returning to. 

We interviewed Jerry Lewis, actually for the Sammy Davis documentary, and he talked about being funny: "I was funny when I was four, I was funny when I was fourteen…I was funny when I was 74, I was funny when I was 84…" And I said, "So, Jerry, that means you were funny only once every ten years?" And he laughed: really, really hard.

George Carlin (who was interviewed for MEL) signed my album cover of Class Clown: "To Larry—Fuck You, George Carlin."

9. One of your books that really peaked my interest was Superheroes! Capes, Cowls and the Creation of Comic Book Culture. If there was a film or comic book created around Trump winning the election and the dark times we are living in, what superhero or team of superheroes do you think could help save us? Maybe "The Flash" could get on the Cosmic Treadmill and run really fast and take us back in time to the summer of 2016 when we could think more seriously about what we were in for. ("Kang the Conqueror" could do that, too, but he’s a bad guy.) Maybe "The Joker" could just show up somewhere to remind us how dangerous a clown can be.

10. Since you are an interviewer yourself, what is one question I did not ask you that you wish I did? (Please provide the answer to that question as well). How did you get to be here, Mr. Shepard?

It’s just amazing to me that all the things I loved growing up—Broadway shows, music, comic books, comedy, old-time radio, the world of the 1930s, Kaufman and Hart, Hollywood movies—I not only still get to "play" with, I get paid to do it. I just had fun with all of this, and got more and more curious about it and read more and more about it, and—lo and behold!—I became an "expert" in it (although there’s always someone who knows more than you do about anything). The responsibility is to share that knowledge and enthusiasm with the next generation.

Laurence MaslonMore on Laurence:

Laurence Maslon is the Associate Chair/Arts Professor at the Graduate Acting Program at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, with an affiliation in the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program.

His most recent publication is American Musicals (1927-1969), a two-volume set of sixteen musicals which he edited for Library of America. He is the host and producer of the weekly radio series, Broadway to Main Street, broadcast on the NPR-affiliate station WPPB-FM. Among his books are Superheroes! Capes, Cowls and the Creation of Comic Book Culture (Random House); Some Like It Hot: The Official 50th Anniversary CompanionThe South Pacific CompanionThe Sound of Music Companion (2007; revised with foreword by Julie Andrews, 2015). With Michael Kantor, he co-wrote two episodes of the Emmy-winning Broadway: The American Musical as well as the companion volume (updated edition published by Applause in paperback) and the liner notes for the five-disc box set for the series, released by Sony/Decca.

He also cowrote the six-part PBS series Make ‘Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America with Kantor, as well as the companion volume; they were nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Writing of a Non-Fiction Series for this show. Laurence wrote the acclaimed American Masters/Thirteen documentary Richard Rodgers: The Sweetest Sounds and is the editor of Kaufman & Co., the Library of America edition of George S. Kaufman’s plays, as well as the official website, www.georgeskaufman.com.

He has written for The New YorkerThe Huffington PostThe Daily Beast and Slate; created concerts and programs for Lincoln Center Theater, Jazz at Lincoln Center, and Carnegie Hall; and served on the nominating committee for the Tony Awards from 2007 to 2010. He is currently working on an American Masters documentary on the life of Sammy Davis, Jr. for PBS.

Wednesday
Dec072016

Call Answered: Samuel Shem: At The Heart of the Universe

Samuel ShemFamily means the world to me. I am very close with mine and would move mountains for them if I had to. When I heard Samuel Shem, best-selling author of The House of God, was releasing a new book I knew I had to give him a call. Luckily, Samuel answered.

At The Heart of the Universe, is a fictitious story, based upon Samuel's own experiences about the ups and downs of adoption, during the time of Mao's population control policies in China, and the drama that comes when two opposite ends of the world become inextricably intertwined. Click here to purchase the book!

For more on Samuel be sure to visit http://www.samuelshem.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter!

1. You just released your latest book, At The Heart of the Universe, inspired by your own adoption experience, chronicles the ups and downs of adoption, during the time of Mao's population control policies in China, and the drama that comes when two opposite ends of the world become inextricably intertwined. How did writing this book help you reconcile your feelings about what you went through personally? I wrote the novel because I had to. When my wife Janet Surrey and I and our ten year old daughter Katie were standing in the courtyard of the police in Changsha China where she had been abandoned as a one-month old, something happened! A woman walked across the courtyard into the police station and—of all the thousands of Chinese we’d seen so far—she had the same oval face as Katie, the same eyes the same glint of russet in her black hair—she looked just like Katie, and was the right age to be her birth mother. Janet and I, independently, noticed this. We got distracted, and later, when we went looking for her— she had vanished! We were so enraptured by the similarity, we told our van driver to try to find her. We drove around through alleyways and on big streets for a while. No luck. That was the seed of the novel. As Dylan says in his song "Up to Me," "Someone had to tell that tale, I guess it was up to me." Someone had to write this, and—having published novels and plays—that someone had to be me.

2. What do you hope people come away with after reading this book? As the author, I dare not say. Bu here’s what a few others who have reviewed it have said: Bill McKibben: "A gorgeous novel of particulars set against the fascinating backdrop of the Chinese mountains, and a hauntingly universal account of loss, gain, and new beginnings." And the Chinese/American writer Ha Jin: "A moving story that if full of understanding and psychological intensity. This large-hearted novel reaffirms the necessity of empathy, self-discovery, and love." And, finally, Abraham Verghese: "A poignant and tender novel about love, about parenting and the nature of home. This is a lovely, transformative story."

Janet, Katie, and Samuel Shem3. At The Heart of the Universe is described as "A journey of how we humans can walk with each other through suffering to heal." With what just happened with the election, the timing of this book seems all too perfect, in that, primarily we as a nation are walking around suffering while looking for ways to heal. Aside from that statement, how would you correlate what happens in this story with the results of this year's election? Ahhh! This election! Hey readers—this novel may help: it affirms, deeply, the joy that can come from walking through sharp differences, together, to understanding and, in this case, love. This is the story of how differences can either divide or connect. We in the USA are living in a nation that is fractured among many differences. By adopting a four-month old Chinese girl, very quickly we were opened up to difference—and as we went on we saw how difference, through love, can be turned into greater, stronger connection—of the shared human spirit. For instance, after our first month of looking into our baby’s Chinese eyes, when we went out and saw white babies, we thought: "How strange their eyes look." We had crossed a divide of perception—what was normal for us, then, was different from us, and it was who we were now. We were in a new normal. And we saw through her eyes the way sometimes people treated her: (to Janet) "You can’t be her mother!" And at a 5th grade visit to school we were startled to see, in her "Draw Your Family," two stick figures with white faces, and one dark brown. How surprised we were! The world of division opened up, and we embraced it. The terrible stresses in this country, mostly huge economic inequalities, don’t allow us to see differences as adding, rather than diminishing. The oppressing group can’t readily see the daily feeling-experience of the oppressed; the oppressed can often see clearly that of the oppressors—their lives literally depend on this clarity. Working in face-to-face live (not screen) dialogue through these differences is required—and actually, from all our work on the difference of gender, healing.

Samuel Shem4. In the book, Xiao Lu, gives birth to a baby girl, but with the laws the way they are in China at that time, can't keep her, so she abandons her in a pile of celery in a rural market, hoping someone who could care for her would find her. What do you think was going through her mind as she was making this decision? Here is what I wrote is going on in her head at the end of the first chapter:

"She takes the carefully calligraphed note and ties it firmly into the swaddling clothes and smells her one last time, that smell like no other, baby-soft and fragrant, like spring’s own hair, and puts her lips to the soft skin of her face her little nose her rosebud lips, and then she seems to float over the sidewalk over the dirt of the alley of the market crowded at noon and hiding the baby in a fold of her dress she goes straight to the vegetable stand trying to blend in and yes the celery is piled high and the stalks healthy and easily parted and, yes, safe, and she places the tiny bundle in the little nest she makes for her and without looking back rushes off, away, resolving not to watch what happens but then at a safe distance from behind the pile of iron and tires and pumps of the bicycle-repair stall, she watches. It takes no time at all. Vegetable sellers know their vegetables. She watches a short, stout woman wearing a blue bandanna go to rearrange the celery and suddenly look down, recoil, look again, and realize, and pick up the baby and shout:

"Whose baby? Whose baby?" People turn to look. "Whose baby?"

Mine! To keep this from escaping she puts a fist to her mouth, jams it hard, smashing her lips against her teeth.

"Whose baby?" the woman shouts. People stare, look around for the mother.

Mine! Fist to her mouth, she turns away.

"Whose baby whose baby?" echoes and echoes.

Turns back, blood on her hand now, on her fist.

"Whose baby whose baby whose babywhosebabywhosebaby . . ."

Turns away, huddles up inside, crouches over as if the fist is coming down on her head, her back, her belly, runs away.

Samuel Shem and his wife Janet5. Later in the book, it's revealed that when the adoptive parents return to China with their daughter, 10 years after they adopted her, they find the birth mother living alone in a forest. How do you think the decision of Xiao abandoning her daughter like that, sort of caused her life to lead her to a place of loneliness and despair? The birth mother is so overwhelmed by the horror of abandoning her beloved that for years she refuses to get pregnant again—to try for a boy, who would be valued by the husband’s farming family, because boys stay and work the farm, while girls leave to get married—and she is ostracized. Finally, after years of suffering in the family, she flees to the wilderness of a sacred mountain, thinks of suicide, but survives, and works a caretaking job at a Buddhist Temple. She lives alone on the mountain in a tiny, old stone hermitage, and she makes friends with the deer, and the birds, and, as her loneliness turns to solitude, returns to her girlhood talent, for calligraphy—trying to heal from this profound wound.

6. Going back to your own story, what was it like when you were visiting China with your daughter and you found out the birth mother wanted her to stay and she kind of wanted to as well? How did you get through that? This is a novel. We did not meet the birth mother. Of the hundreds of thousands of internationally adopted Chinese, almost zero meet the birth mother. That’s another reason I was called to write this novel—to fill the big blank space. As our daughter put it, at age eight, "It’s like my life is a movie, but I don’t know the first part of it."

Samuel Shem7. What did you learn about yourself from writing this book that you didn't know beforehand? In a way, everything! I’ve been a writer for five decades, and I’ve learned that the only way that I really, deeply learn from writing (and from good mutual relationships) is how to live and write on my edge. (What could be more audacious, trying to write with Shakespeare on the shelf, taunting you with astonishing lines like "parting is such sweet sorrow.") This story demanded I write it, and writing it demanded I live on the edge of all of it, in my experience in China and in the USA, over a decade of our daughter’s life, writing a draft and reaching my edge and putting it away for a year or more, picking it up wiser, an edge further, and so forth. Seven drafts worth. I read everything I could about all these Chinese things—and we took in Chinese graduate students to live with us and after a while the magic worked. I also learned that I could write in the present tense in the heads of four main characters—the edge of my technical ability—which, I am grateful to say, I learned from the modern master, my dear late best friend John Updike. I jumped in whole-heartedly, and came out with an even more full heart. A novel may or may not be true, but it is—and this one is—real.  Oh, and the grad students? We asked them to teach Katie Chinese. She refused--"All my friends are taking Spanish"—but she taught the grad students English!

Samuel Shem at SoHo Playhouse8. Everyone says that becoming a parent changes you. How did becoming a parent change you? I got a little wiser and kinder, and accepting. Not totally, of course—I had to stay deeply flawed enough to write novels. I found out that the two reasons that I write are:

1) to resist injustice, do good in the world

2) to show the danger of isolation and the healing power of good connection.

All of my eight novels and plays and non-fiction and speeches are about just that. Last year’s novel/commentary I wrote with my wife Janet Surrey—THE BUDDHA’S WIFE: A PATH OF AWAKENING TOGETHER—and my novel THE SPIRIT OF THE PLACE—are more explicitly about that theme. And my first novel, THE HOUSE OF GOD—about medical internship, as well. (It  was just named by Publishers Weekly in its list of "The 10 Best Satires of All Time" Number 2)

9. What advice would you have for parents going through the adoption process that you wish you had? It’s not easy, and you have to persist—Janet and I at one point labeled the process: "The Adoption Olympics." But follow your heart, and you will find the baby meant for you. There is how a remarkable story about how "our baby" was "meant" for us, at the center of the novel.

10. What is something your daughter has taught you? Along with my decades-long year relationship with Janet, Katie has taught me just about everything human of value at my core. And, because of her love of animals, she taught me how incredibly much I could love a dog. I’m talkin’ really love a dog. And he’s getting old!

Samuel ShemMore on Samuel:

Best-selling and literary-award-winning novelist Samuel Shem is known as the author of the three million copy–selling modern classic, The House of God, recently named second on Publishers Weekly’s list of "The 10 Best Satires of All Time." A visiting Artist/Scholar at the American Academy in Rome, a Rhodes Scholar and Harvard Medical School faculty member for over three decades, Samuel is currently a Professor of Medical Humanities and Literature at NYU Medical School. He has given over sixty medical school commencement addresses on "Staying Human in Medicine,” and has been described in the press as "Easily the finest and most important writer ever to focus on the lives of doctors and the world of medicine." His other books include The Spirit of the Place, named 2009 USA Book News Best Novel of the Year as well as Independent Publishers Best Novel of the Year. His award-winning play Bill W. and Dr. Bob, co-written with his wife Janet Surrey about the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, ran for ten months Off-Broadway in 2013. Surrey and Shem are co--authors of the 2015 book The Buddha's Wife: The Path of Awakening Together. He lives in Boston, New York, and Costa Rica, together with Janet and their daughter Katie. Follow Shem on Facebook, and read about his upcoming events at www.samuelshem.wordpress.com.

Monday
Oct172016

Call Answered: Conference Call: Jennifer Pallanich and Baltimore Russell: Awakening (Children of the Solstice Book 1) 

Baltimore Russell and Jennifer PallanichI first came to know Baltimore Russell when he and his husband, John Dylan DeLaTorre, created the web media series People You Know. Since that show ended, I have kept up with Baltimore and when I found out he and his sister, Jennifer Pallanich, were writing their debut fiction book together, I knew I just had to get the inside scoop!

Luckily, Jennifer and Baltimore answered my call and I got all the details on their premiere novel, Awakening (Children of the Solstice Book 1), a fictional story where disasters ring the planet as the earth cries out for heroes to save it. At the same time, an ancient order conspires to fulfill a centuries-old prophecy. Their plan: unleash a deadly tsunami that would destroy North American and European coastlines. Then, at the height of summer, a blinding white light races across the globe, granting a select few incredible gifts. An enigmatic ex-Green Beret trains these powerful misfits in a desperate bid to stop the man-made and natural catastrophes. But can these Children of the Solstice work well enough together and master their new powers in time to halt the prophecy and save humanity from cataclysmic devastation?

Awakening (Children of the Solstice Book 1) will be released on October 18. You can order it via Amazon.com! 

For more on Awakening (Children of the Solstice Book 1 follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

Designed by Alex Sanchez1. Your debut novel, Awakening (Children of the Solstice Book 1) will be released on October 18. Awakening (Children of the Solstice Book 1) is a fictional story. The plot seems like it's ripped from the uncertain times we live in now combined with a Star Wars like divide between the ancient order and Children. How did you come up with this story?

Jennifer Pallanich: In 2006, we had an idea. We were in a busted seat in the back row of a rickety old bus riding from Arusha, Tanzania, back to Nairobi, Kenya. Two days before, we’d summited Mount Kilimanjaro, where the air was quite thin at the top, 5895 meters (19,341 feet). Clearly, all the oxygen available once we got back to Arusha, which has an elevation of 1400 meters (4600 feet), went to our heads because we decided we needed a new, big, hairy challenge. We decided to co-author a book. No, let’s make it a trilogy. A superhero trilogy. During that whole ride, we did the initial brainstorm, coming up with plot lines and characters. That day on the bus, as we jounced over pothole after pothole after pothole, we could already picture the cover of book one. Well, we didn’t know the title, for sure, but we could see this part clearly: by Baltimore Russell and Jennifer Pallanich.

Baltimore Russell: We both loved the idea of writing a Good versus Evil story, and we wanted to put our spin on it. We have witnessed so many extreme weather events, and we used that as a springboard into our plot. We quickly came up with the bones of the book, the how, the why, the who. The brainstorming allowed us to really go big with whatever ideas came to us, but of course we had to scale back some as we worked through them.

The snarky French-Canadian "Etienne" whose powers include the ability to turn himself invisible and become intangible in "Awakening (Children of the Solstice Book 1)", sketch designed by Alex Sanchez2. Not only are you brother and sister, you are now co-authors. What made you want to write a novel together? What is it like to work together as co-authors?

Baltimore Russell: I actually love collaborating with others. I grew up in an ensemble-style theatre program and enjoy working with others to create something more than what just one single mind can do. I did this on the new media series, People you Know, with my husband and the result was far greater than had I tried to do it on my own. Now, writing this book with my sister has really been a positive and rewarding experience. We have such different strengths and can complement where the other may not be as skilled. We also made a deal that any criticism we gave would be directed to the work and not each other, and that it should always be given in a spirit that would make the book stronger and better.

Jennifer Pallanich: We did something smart from the get-go and drew up an agreement that outlined who was responsible for what, who had final say on which topics, and so forth. For instance, I’m a journalist and so dealing with the words and editors fell to me. I got final say on that front. I’m also a not-so-closet hippy, which means that I want everyone to just get along, which is great in real life, but means a basically conflict-free book. Which would be boring. So my actor brother, who has an innate flair for the dramatic, gets final say on the story line. Part of the agreement was that we could argue our side once, but then a decision would be made and we’d move on. Because we’re good friends, we always treated the other with respect, but that’s not to say there weren’t some frustrations. Those, however, usually came down to technology issues and snafus.

Jennifer Pallanich, Alex Sanchez, and Baltimore Russell3. Was the writing of the story pretty much evenly divided between the both of you or were one of you more the idea person and the other put the ideas into the story? What about the illustrations? Did you both have visions for them or did you just put your trust in artist Alex Sanchez after telling him your thoughts?

Jennifer Pallanich: The nice thing about collaborating is that we can draw on the other’s strengths, and we did that all the way through the process, from brainstorming to the writing and editing to the marketing. That said, we both put in the time behind the keyboard, writing away.

Baltimore Russell: When we first started brainstorming the book I was adamant about having some sort of illustrations and character sketches to enhance the chapters and also provide us with cover art and a pin up of the characters. So I spent an entire Saturday of New York City ComicCon 2015 searching for an artist to work with us who could fit the bill. We narrowed down our choices and when I spoke with Alex at his booth, I just felt a connection to him and his art style. We came to quick agreement, gave him the vital information and he got to work on all sketches. Most of the artwork came back without us having to make any changes, but for the ones we did need changes made to, it was an easy process. Alex is super talented and he really made the artwork shine. We look forward to working with him again on the next book!

"Maggie Adams" is a reporter who was in the right place at the wrong time. Now she will do whatever it takes to get the story in "Awakening (Children of the Solstice Book 1)", sketch designed by Alex Sanchez4. How long did it take you to write Awakening (Children of the Solstice Book 1)? What was the best part about the writing process and what were the most challenging parts?

Jennifer Pallanich: We had multiple false starts dating back to the months right after we climbed Kili, but in late 2014 we got serious about bringing our story to life. We signed up for a crazy little thing called NaNoWriMo. That’s National Novel Writing Month to you non-writers out there. In short, it’s a month-long commitment that requires you to write 50,000 words over the course of 30 days, or an average 1,666 words of your book per day in an effort to get your first draft out of your head. Together, we got the first draft of all three novels written between November 2014 and mid-January 2015. We typed our little hearts out, each of us averaging closer to 2,100 words per day during the 70 or so days we spent writing.

Baltimore Russell: I think the best part of the process was when it was really flowing. I would be able to spend a few hours writing and feel very good about what was coming out. And allowing all sorts of happy accidents to happen. Without sounding dorky, letting the characters tell the story and come alive. The hard parts were cutting characters and making substantial plot and character changes. But it was all for the betterment of the story, even if some beloved characters didn't make it past draft four.

This is "Anabel Wong," a member of the Ascendancy. She is brutally savvy and extremely dangerous. How far will she go to bring about the prophesy? in "Awakening (Children of the Solstice Book 1)", sketch designed by Alex Sanchez5. How do you feel the moment you finish your first draft? Then you send it off for editing/proofing. What is like when you get that feedback? How do you react to it? How do you adjust your expectations to see what the editor is talking about? How do you decide what edits you agree with and which ones you're like, "No thank you, we are keeping it as we wrote it."?

Baltimore Russell: We had a few great moments where we had finished a draft and felt really good about the work, even though we knew that we had some problem areas. Coming from an acting background I understood where our critique editor (also an actor/director) was coming from. Yes, it was sometimes blunt, but I would rather have had a slightly harsher critique when we can still do something about it than once the book is published. So, for me, I really valued the feedback. If we couldn’t justify our reasoning to the editor or to each other, then I'd happily take any suggestions that strengthen the book.

Jennifer Pallanich: The critique was pretty rough for me. I was a bit unprepared for the bluntness about the problems in our draft. There were some big issues we expected would raise flags, but he found quite a few others that we didn’t anticipate. Which is good - it’s what we paid him for - but that doesn’t make it any easier to hear. In the end, we took most of his recommendations and the book is worlds better for it.

"Maks Wong" is "Anabel's" twin and a member of the Ascendancy. His playboy status belies his cruelty and savage demeanor in "Awakening (Children of the Solstice Book 1)", sketch designed by Alex Sanchez6. What are you most proud of in writing this book and what did you learn throughout the process that you will bring into your next book?

Baltimore Russell: I'm proud that we actually finished it, and for all the dedication we poured into it. I value the time we got to "work" with each other. As for what I think we learned to incorporate into the next book, I would say a more thoughtful approach to the character arcs and outline from the outset. Nailing those down early on really helps you just write.

Jennifer Pallanich: I’m so proud of how much we’ve learned and grown as writers. Draft six is far and away better than draft one, let me tell you. I don’t see any way that book two will require fewer drafts, but I believe each of those drafts will start off stronger than their book one counterparts.

You're eyes aren't deceiving you, this is "CoCo." She has the ability to create realistic illusions and misdirections in "Awakening (Children of the Solstice Book 1)", sketch designed by Alex Sanchez7. What were the top three moments where you both just looked at each other and either you instantly clicked on an idea or just turned and started laughing at each other over an idea? What were the top three moments where you wanted to scratch each others eyes out over a difference of opinions?

Baltimore Russell: I think the whole genesis of the idea is a top moment. Things just started clicking. We started talking over characters and plot points and reasons why these disasters would happen. It was really an exciting and fun moment. On a bus. In Africa.

Jennifer Pallanich: I never wanted to scratch his eyes out over a difference of opinions, but I will confess to being a bit aggravated every time he said, "I think we need to add another chapter." A book that at the end of draft one was 58 chapters long grew into 75 chapters by the time draft six went to the formatter. It became something of a joke. We did have some differences over one of the original subplots, but based on our critique we wound up scrapping it. We also had a discussion or three about the background of one of our characters. It confused our critique editor and a few of the beta readers, so we ultimately dropped that thread as well.

We'd like to introduce "Henry Hastings," leader of the Ascendancy and founder of The Hastings Foundation. He will stop at nothing to bring the centuries old prophesy to fruition in "Awakening (Children of the Solstice Book 1)", sketch design by Alex Sanchez8. In Awakening (Children of the Solstice Book 1), the ancient order aims to unleash a deadly tsunami hoping to destroy North American and European coastlines. If you knew a tsunami was coming and only had moments left to live, how would you spend those final moments? What would you be most grateful for? What would you wish you had done differently?

Baltimore Russell: I would hope that my final moments would be shared with loved ones in either case. I would be grateful for the experiences and traveling I've been fortunate to have and for the family that has accepted me and supported me and my husband. Don't think I'd have any regrets.

Jennifer Pallanich: Moments only? I’d be thinking of my loved ones, no doubt. I’d be grateful that I’ve lived my life as fully as I can, and I’d wish I’d chosen a different coastline.

9. Then a blinding white light races across the globe, granting a select few incredible gifts. What are some incredible gifts you both have received over the years?

Baltimore Russell: Love. Family. Friends. YouTube videos of people being scared.

Jennifer Pallanich: The gifts of family, friends, scuba and travel.

"Captain Pierce" trains the newly empowered, but does his gruff and surly nature hide a more sinister motivation? in "Awakening (Children of the Solstice Book 1)", sketch designed by Alex Sanchez10. Awakening (Children of the Solstice Book 1) is dedicated to "The woman who taught us to read, the man who gave us roots and wings, and the authors who transported us into other worlds." What was the first book this woman taught each of you to read? How did the man provide you with roots and wings? Who are some of your favorite authors that inspired you to want to be an author?

Baltimore Russell: I feel like the first book Mother taught me to read would probably be either The Little Engine That Could or Pokey Puppy. Dad has always said it was his job to make sure that we knew we always had a place with him but that he wanted us to achieve our dreams. He spent a lot of time with me running lines, watching me in plays and always telling me that I can do better and to keep going. As for authors, there are a lot of them, but I would mention David Hare, Chris Claremont, Mike Carey, Peter David, Majorie Liu, J.K. Rowling, Brandon Sanderson, and Stephen King.

Jennifer Pallanich: D always gave us a solid home and foundation while encouraging us to forge our own paths and live our own lives. I can’t remember the first book M taught me to read, but I was especially pleased with a set of children’s abridged versions of books I received in first or second grade for Christmas. My favorites were 20,000 Leagues beneath the Sea and Robinson Crusoe, and I still love both stories. But it was – and I can’t decide if I’m embarrassed to admit this or not – when I was reading my way through the Bobbsey Twins series that I first got out a pencil and paper and tried to write a book of my own. So, what, second grade? Third, maybe? But now, there are so many authors whose work I admire, whether for storytelling or world-building or beautiful prose, that it is hard to name just a few. Here are some faves, in no particular order: John Irving, Margaret Atwood, Kurt Vonnegut, Mark Twain, Jules Verne, J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Buckley, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and Brandon Sanderson. I love that the magic they weave into their stories not only enthralls and entertains me but also inspires me.

Jennifer Pallanich and Baltimore RussellMore on Baltimore:

Baltimore Russell is an actor, producer, and writer. He and his husband created the People You Know new media series, which aired on HereTV. Almost from the time he learned to work a pencil, he could often be found creating his own stories. He lives in New York City with his husband, John Dylan DeLaTorre.

More on Jennifer:

Native Texan Jennifer Pallanich is a trade journalist who has bylined over half a million words about the oil and gas industry. She has published the nonfiction book Flacks & Hacks: Trade Secrets Journalists Want PR Pros to Know and loves to read good versus evil stories. An avid scuba diver, traveler, reader, and writer, she lives with a lab mix named Houdini and a cat named Possum.

Monday
Jun082015

Call Answered: Facetime Interview with author Michael Colby, "The Algonquin Kid"

Live from The Algonquin Hotel in New York City, "Call Me Adam" chats with The Algonquin Kid himself, author Michael Colby, whose newly released autobiography, The Algonquin Kid, chronicles Michael's time growing up in The Algonquin Hotel, surrounded by some of Hollywood's, Music's, and Theatre's biggest names! From Marilyn Monroe to Agnes Moorehead to Lerner and Lowe who wrote "I Could Have Danced All Night" from My Fair Lady at the Algonquin, Michael tells it all, in this rich behind-the-scenes look at a life lived in one of New York City's most famous hotels! Click here to purchase The Algonquin Kid!

Come join Michael at the Historic National Arts Club in Gramercy Park (15 Gramercy Park South) on June 18 at 8pm as Michael reads passages from The Algonquin Kid and Broadway's Christine Pedi, Eric Michael Gillett, Jeff Keller, and Bethe Austin perform some songs made famous by Algonquin denizens! Proper attire is required (For men that means a suit and tie; for women that means evening wear). For reservations, call 212-475-3424!

For more on Michael be sure to visit http://www.michaelcolby.com and follow him on Facebook!

For more on The Algonquin Hotel visit http://www.algonquinhotel.com and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

"Call Me Adam's" interview with "The Algonquin Kid" himself, Michael Colby, live from The Algonquin Hotel:

Michael ColbyMore on Michael:

Michael Colby is the librettist/lyricist of such musicals as CHARLOTTE SWEET (Drama Desk Award nomination), TALES OF TINSELTOWN, NORTH ATLANTIC (Show Business Award), SLAY IT WITH MUSIC (off-Broadway & London), MRS. McTHING, THEY CHOSE ME!, and LUDLOW LADD. He was chief writer for the Drama Desk Award-winning New Amsterdam Theatre Company, and has been a writer for The NY Festival of Song as well as the Theatre By the Blind.

He wrote continuity for two benefits at the 92nd Street Y: STANDING OVATIONS (starring Carol Channing, Nell Carter, Elaine Stritch, Leslie Uggams, and other great ladies of the theatre) and THE LONGEST RUNNING SHOW ON BROADWAY (a tribute to Maurice Levine, hosted by Angela Lansbury). He also wrote STEPHEN SCHWARTZ: A MUSICAL CELEBRATION, a benefit for the Directors Company, starring Betty Buckley, Paul Shaffer, Kathy Najimi, et al.

He created special material for ANIMAL CRACKERS (PaperMill Playhouse/Goodspeed), lyrics for MEESTER AMERIKA (The Garage Theatre, NJ) and THE HUMAN HEART (at Marymount Manhattan College), and the narration for THE MAYOR MUSICALS, a benefit for Musicals In Concert hosted by Sheldon Harnick. Among the personalities for whom Mr. Colby has written material are: Linda Lavin, Tony Randall, Tovah Feldshuh, Heather MacRae, Robert Cuccioli, Savion Glover, Dina Merrill, Susan Stroman, Michael Feinstein, Jack Gilford, Andrea Marcovicci, Kristin Chenoweth, Bruce Adler, Cliff Robertson, Lainie Kazan, Jane Powell, Eric Stoltz, Julie Wilson, Alison Fraser, Mary Cleere Haran, Donna McKechnie, & Cicely Tyson.

Movie credits include writing the title song for the film HEART OF THE BEHOLDER.

A member of BMI and the Dramatists Guild, he lives in Metuchen, NJ with his wife Andrea and son Steven.

Thursday
Oct302014

Call Redialed: Seth Rudetsky: Seth's Broadway Diary

"Call Me Adam" caught up with Broadway's Seth Rudetsky to talk about his new book Seth's Broadway Diary, published by Dress Circle Publishing. A one of a kind Broadway journal, Seth's Broadway Diary chronicles Seth's unique life on and around the Great White Way. Click here to purchase your copy!

For more on Seth be sure to visit http://www.sethtv.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter!

1. On October 22, you launched your 4th book, Seth's Broadway Diary, a one of a kind Broadway journal chronicling your unique life on and around the Great White Way. What made now the right time to release this book? My A.D.D. plus harrasment. For years I've been talking about getting my Playbill columns published. Basically since I started writing them in 2007. My A.D.D. prevented me from actually doing anything about it. Finally, my husband harrassed me and commandeered my old assistant Joey Monda to send out samples. Joey sent one to Dress Circle Publishing and I got a book deal!

2. What excites you most about this release? I love seeing all these really hilarious stories and interviews in one book instead of tracking them down online. I love the kind of book that you can open and read something fun. Even though this book is in chronological order, you can open it up to any page and get a great story about Sutton Foster, me missing a flight to rehearse with Betty Buckley or some amazing inside scoop about Donna McKechnie and the original cast of A CHORUS LINE.

Seth Rudetsky and Matthew Broderick at "Seth's Broadway Diary" Book Launch Party3. What was it like to go back through your life on and around Broadway to write this book? How did you narrow down what you wanted to include in the book? This is literally the columns I published. I only added sassy 2014 side comments (in a different font) when I went through it to edit. For instance, I wrote about seeing the show 13 and I added that the cast featured a then-unknown Ariana Grande!

4. While you were writing this book, did you come across any events that you wish you had done differently? I wish I didn't call James my boyfriend in every column. I mean, he was my boyfriend at the time, but every time I mentioned him I reiterated it in case I had new readers. A few months after I began writing the columns, I interviewed Nathan Lane and he told me he had HAD IT with me writing "my boyfriend James" every month. "WE GET IT ALREADY! IS JAMES YOUR FIRST BOYFRIEND!?!?!"

Kelli O'Hara and Seth Rudetsky at "Seth's Broadway Diary" Book Launch Party5. What advice would you give your younger self that you didn't know then, but do now? Stop eating cereal late at night. Cardio stops working after age 39.

6. What did you learn about yourself from writing this book? I've done a lot of things I've forgotten about!!! I was reading about an interview I did with Barbara Cook to promote her upcoming concert with Audra McDonald that benefitted the Obama reelection campaign. I wished I had seen the concert. Then I read the following column where I wrote about how great the concert was!

7. What do you hope readers come away with after reading this book? So many fun stories about Broadway they can tell their friends! "Did you know Chita Rivera kicked herself in the head every night at the end of "America" because she's so flexible?" "Did you know Betty Buckley's agent prevented her from getting the role of "Catherine" in PIPPIN because he wanted his other client (Jill Clayburgh) to get the gig?" "Did you know Andrea McArdle hid 64 easter eggs on the set of LES MIZ and they only found 58? And it wound up breaking the barricade?"

Jackie Hoffman, Seth Rudetsky, and Alysha Umphress at "Seth's Broadway Diary" Book Launch Party8. What was the most emotional event you came across while writing this book? What was the happiest event? The most emotional was reading about Loretta Sable Ayres audition for SOUTH PACIFIC and how she almost didn't go because she thought they'd be mean to her like the judges on AMERICAN IDOL. Her husband talked her into going...she got the part...and a Tony nomination!

The happiest is reading about all these amazing Broadway people I've worshipped that I got to hang out with. My inner 14-year-old's childhood dream!

9. Of the celebrities you write about in your book, did any of them have an issue with you telling any of these behind-the-scenes antics or was everyone okay with it? Bebe Neuwirth once said "Seth has an ability to make you reveal things you never thought you'd say in public." So...no!

Seth Rudetsky and Jennifer Ashley Tepper at "Seth's Broadway Diary" Book Launch Party10. What do you like about being an author that you don't get from doing your live interviews on Sirius XM or at Seth's Broadway Chatterbox? Sometimes people don't know how to build a story when they tell me and when I write it, I can give the details for maximum emphasis. Example...Rebecca Luker told me they didn't want to see her for MUSIC MAN. She asked her agent to get her an audition as a courtesy. The powers-that-be finally agreed but let it be known that she was not what they were looking for. Rebecca went to the audition knowing they didn't want to see her or cast her (so nervewracking!), but she got a callback, the role and a Tony nomination! When I asked Rebecca in person "How did you get MUSIC MAN?" she said "I auditioned." Wowza. I had to get her to tell the story in increments for the full effect!

BONUS QUESTIONS:

11. If you could be any original flavor Life Saver, which one would you be? The flavor Red whatever that is.

12. How do you want to be remembered? For loving art/music/comedy and spreading that love around!

Seth Rudetsky at "Seth's Broadway Diary" Book Launch PartyMore on Seth:

Seth is the afternoon host on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio’s ON BROADWAY as well as the host of SETH SPEAKS on Sirius/XM Stars. As a pianist, Seth has played for more than a dozen Broadway shows including RAGTIME, LES MIZ and PHANTOM. He was the Artistic Producer/Music Director for the first five annual Actors Fund Fall Concerts including DREAMGIRLS with Audra MacDonald (recorded on Nonesuch Records) and HAIR with Jennifer Hudson (recorded on Ghostlight Records, Grammy Nomination). In 2007 he made his Broadway acting debut playing Sheldon (singing “Magic to Do” in a devastating unitard) in THE RITZ directed by Joe Mantello for The Roundabout Theater. Off-Broadway he wrote and starred in the critically acclaimed RHAPSODY IN SETH (directed by Peter Flynn) at the Actors Playhouse and has also appeared on TV on LAW AND ORDER C.I. and had a recurring role on ALL MY CHILDREN. As an author, he penned the non-fiction Q GUIDE TO BROADWAY, the novel BROADWAY NIGHTS and the recently published MY AWESOME/AWFUL POPULARITY PLAN (Random House). BROADWAY NIGHTS is available on Audible.com starring Kristin Chenoweth, Andrea Martin and Jonathan Groff and MY AWESOME/AWFUL POPULARITY PLAN stars Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Ana Gasteyer and Megan Hiltly. Seth played himself on Kathy Griffin; My Life on the D-List, was the vocal coach on MTV’s LEGALLYLONDE reality show and starred opposite Sutton Foster in THEY’RE PLAYING OUR SONG for the Actors Fund. Recently, he co-wrote and starred in DISASTER! (which the NY TIMES called a "triumph"), and he currently writes a weekly column on Playbill.com and tours the country doing master classes and performing his one-man show "DECONSTRUCTING BROADWAY."