Posts Tagged STEELE INTERVIEWS

STEELE INTERVIEWS: author Christopher Moore [Secondhand Souls]

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Secondhand Souls By Christopher Moore.
William Morrow| August 25, 2015|352 pages |$26.99| ISBN: 978-0-061779787

In Secondhand Souls, the sequel to New York Times bestselling author Christopher Moore’s A Dirty Job, the souls of the dead are mysteriously disappearing in San Francisco. People are dying without their souls being collected. No one knows who is stealing them and why and most importantly where the souls are going. Death Merchant Charlie Asher, trapped in the body of a fourteen-inch-tall “meet” waits while his Buddhist nun girlfriend Ashley [“She was a Buddhist nun who had been given the lost scrolls of the Tibetan Book of the Dead and she could do things that no one else on earth could do, but she couldn’t do what Charlie wanted her to.”] finds him a new body to serve as host.

A diverse crew bands together to solve the mystery of the missing souls: the seven-foot-tall death merchant Minty Fresh; retired policeman turned bookseller Alphonse Rivera [“He’d peacefully taken an early retirement from the force, opened the bookstore, and set about reading books, drinking coffee, and watching the Giants on the little television in the shop. Nothing had happened at all.”]; the Emperor of San Francisco and his dogs, Bummer and Lazarus; and Lily, the former Goth girl [“She sighed, a tragic sigh that she didn’t get to use much anymore since she’d been forced by a brutal society to behave like a grown-up, and since she’d lost weight, most of her mopey Goth clothes didn’t fit, so she was almost never dressed for tragic sighing.”].

It’s zany and sharp with outrageous characters and a clever storyline and dark humor. I didn’t read A Dirty Job and perhaps I should’ve done. I’ll absolutely read another Christopher Moore. I’ve heard great things about Sacre Bleu.

Recently Christopher Moore took the time to answer some questions.

author Christopher Moore

author Christopher Moore

Amy Steele: Why did you want to write a sequel to A Dirty Job?

Christopher Moore: My readers kept requesting it and I was at a place in my schedule where I wanted to write another book set in San Francisco, since I live there and wouldn’t have to travel for research.

Amy Steele: Do you like writing series or sequels? You have the “love series.”

Christopher Moore: I don’t mind writing them, but in a way they feel more difficult than writing a solo book because I’m so conscious of not wanting to write the same book twice.

Amy Steele: What’s the most challenging aspect of writing a sequel?

Christopher Moore: To have new things happen to the characters, give them new problems to solve and not just replicate those I created in the previous book.

Amy Steele: How did you come up with this idea about death and soul collection?

Christopher Moore: I had been caring for my dying mother, then a couple of years later, helped with the care of my wife’s mother, and I thought I had something to say about death and dying. The transfer of souls was just something I thought was goofy, although it’s based a bit in Buddhist theology.

Amy Steele: Who is your favorite character in Secondhand Souls and why?

Christopher Moore: The Yellow Fellow, a mysterious and magical gentleman who is all dressed in yellow and drives a ’49 Buick.

Amy Steele: Where did the idea come for the Squirrel People?

Christopher Moore: From the work of an artist named Monique Motil. She actually creates sculptures like the squirrel people, making them out of real animal parts and making elaborate costumes for them. I saw her creatures in a gallery when I was researching A Dirty Job and I asked her if she’d be okay with me putting them in a book, giving them personalities. She loved the idea, so I created them.

Amy Steele: How did you get into writing?

Christopher Moore: I read a lot as a kid and was pretty good at writing stories for school from the age of 12 or so, so I just pursued it, on and off, until I started making a living at it.

Amy Steele: What do you like best about being a novelist?

Christopher Moore: Being able to pick a subject or a place I’m interested in and make that my job for a couple of years. I’ve been able to do some terrific things because I chose to write books about a given place or subject.

Amy Steele: San Francisco is very much a character in your novel. How do you incorporate the city in such a seamless, intriguing manner?

Christopher Moore: It’s not hard. San Francisco, like most of the great cities of the world, has a real personality, with all the different facets of a human personality, so I just treat the city that way. I also have great affection for the city, so it’s easy to write about it.

Amy Steele: Do you come up with characters or plot first?

Christopher Moore: Sort of at the same time. A Dirty Job started with this line in a notebook about fifteen years ago. “A guy who’s a hypochondriac gets the job of being Death.” So you sort of have plot and character in that one line, or at least the start of it. Most of the books start with a similar notion. The minor characters are created because I need someone to do something or say something to make the story work.

Amy Steele: Do you write from an outline or free form it and allow characters and story development to be organic?

Christopher Moore: It depends on the story. Some of my books are based in history, and real historic events, so I have a timeline I have to work within. Sacré Bleu, my book about the French Impressionists, was that way. I had to figure where everyone was at any given time and thread the story through history, so those are pretty tightly outlined. Other books, like A Dirty Job, are way, more organic, and I’ll just have bits and pieces that will fit in somewhere. The structure will suggest itself as I go along, so I will end up with an outline for at least the last third. I don’t rewrite a lot, so I can’t afford to go down the wrong road for very long, so some planning has to be done as I work.

Amy Steele: An Instagram friend wants to know what Shakespearean play you will turn into a book next and will you write any more stories from the Bible?

Christopher Moore: I don’t know about doing anymore Bible stories, but I wanted to do a new book with Pocket. I can’t say the play, but it’s one of the comedies this time.

Amy Steele: Another friend Ashley asks if you prefer to write historically-based/literary characters or developing your own? I want to know about the challenges in writing both.

Christopher Moore: I like putting my own characters among historical characters or characters drawn from the Bible or Shakespeare. Although writing dialogue for Toulouse-Lautrec was great fun in Sacre Bleu.

Amy Steele: What’s on your nightstand to read now?

Christopher Moore: Savages by Don Winslow, World War Moo by Michael Logan, and If He Hollars, by Chester Himes.

Christopher Moore will be reading for Brookline Booksmith at the Coolidge Corner Theatre at 6pm on September 2.

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STEELE INTERVIEWS: Beth Bombara

Credit: Nate Burrell

Credit: Nate Burrell

St. Louis, Missouri-based musician Beth Bombara creates Americana/folk songs with bluesy undertones and earthy vocals. Growing up in Grand Rapids, Mich., Bombara played in a punk band in high school The 32-year-old singer/songwriter moved from Michigan to St. Louis in 2007 to embark on a solo music career. Her musician/producer husband Kit Hamon collaborated on her moving and diverse self-titled fifth album. The recurring themes are existentialism and travel. Quite thoughtful and provocative. She’s currently on tour and plays Club Passim in Harvard Square tonight.

I spoke with Beth Bombara during one of her days off.

Amy Steele: How’s the tour going?

Beth Bombara: It’s been a lot of fun so far.

Amy Steele: How did you get into music and singing and playing instruments?

Beth Bombara: There were always instruments around my house. We had a piano and my mom had a guitar. I was just really into music and teaching myself how to play guitar. I met some kids that wanted to start bands and it was something I always remembered doing.

Amy Steele: What do you like about being a solo artist?

Beth Bombara: I like both but I like playing with a band, in terms of having more band members to play with. In some ways it’s more fun because I don’t have to carry as much weight. I can just focus on singing more and maybe move around stage a little more. I like both. They’re just different. The band aspect there’s more collaboration. Solo. I’m rarely just playing me alone. Usually I have at least my husband playing bass with me.

Amy Steele: You moved to St. Louis in 2007. How has the music scene had an influence on your music now?

Before I moved to St. Louis I was in rock bands and went to a lot of sweaty basement shows and it was fun. I guess that can tie back into why I got into playing music in the first place. It was so fun to go see live music as a teenager. There’s a raw energy and getting to be part of that was fun. I was enamored with instruments and melody. When I moved to St. Louis, I really started experiencing music in the Americana roots music genre and even some blues. It was this perfect evolution of these things coming together. Moving to this place that roots and blues and heritage. A lot of folk coming out of the Ozark mountains. Banjo players and things like that. It definitely had a big influence. Examples of bands that played a part in my evolution after moving to St. Louis: Wilco; Uncle Tupelo; and more underground bands like The Rum Drum Ramblers (who are now a part of Pokey LaFarge’s band); and the Hooten Hallers.

Amy Steele: What makes you work well with your husband, to produce and collaborate on the album?

We have different ideas about things. We come at things from different perspectives. We might not always agree but we realize each perspective is valid. Having a certain respect enables us to use that different perspectives to find the best thing for the song.

Amy Steele: What do you think makes a good song?

Beth Bombara: I feel like the best songs are deceivingly simple if that makes sense. It can’t seem too forced. Simplicity makes good songs. Lyrics that are simple and a melody that is simple but also says something in a brief way .

Amy Steele: Let’s talk about some songs. What they’re about or what the writing process was like.

Amy Steele: “Promised Land”

Beth Bombara: It describes a point in life where I thought that a lot of things are unknown. It’s kinda scary when you don’t know, to plan things, to get a vision for what you’re doing. That definitely came from a place of uncertainty. Feeling this is kind of scary but we have to go into this darkness, unknown and it’s good to do with someone who supports you.

Amy Steele: “Give Me Something”

Beth Bombara: The writing of that was interesting: I did that as a writing experiment where I gave myself only a couple of days to write and record it. It’s kind of an anomaly in my songwriting. I didn’t have a specific idea. It was more stream of consciousness. It speaks to that whole cycle of getting to know somebody and feeling like you’re close and then that’s gone and navigating that.

Amy Steele: “Great the Day”

Beth Bombara: It kind of embodies my mantra. My philosophy. My life philosophy. So many things happen in life that we can’t control. We’re going to experience happiness, we’re going to experience sadness and you have to take that all with a grain of salt and support each other.

Amy Steele: “It Slips Away”

Beth Bombara: I feel like I was in the same emotional state with that song as I was when I wrote “Promised Land.” You’re on a journey and things are a little bit uncertain. Questioning yourself. Did I do the right thing? Am I headed in the right direction?

Amy Steele: What are your greatest challenges?

Beth Bombara: It’s challenging to be a singer/songwriter but not to get stuck in that box. Especially as a female singer/songwriter people have expectations about that. I’m going to show up to a gig with an acoustic guitar or a piano. And those stereotypes are hard to shake off. It’s only hard for me in my mindset. I don’t think it effects how I write songs. It’s just something I run into sometimes.

Amy Steele: What do you like best about being a musician?

Beth Bombara: I like the spontaneity. There are a lot of different areas where being a musician is spontaneous whether on stage playing a song and something happens you didn’t expect to happen. Collaborating with other musicians. I always enjoy that. Getting to meet a lot of people.

I enjoy creating songs. I think that speaks to my personality. I think I’m a maker. I like to make things. I like to garden. I like to screen-print. All these things I like to do have to do with building things. Creating something from nothing.

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STEELE INTERVIEWS: Shireen Jilla

unpacking

I recently wrote a review of the wonderful novel The Art of Unpacking Your Life by Shireen Jilla. It centers on a group of college friends who take a trip together 20 years after college. Much happens while they’re on holiday–births, deaths, love, scandal and affairs. It’s a topsy-turvy read. Highly recommended. Ms. Jilla worked as a journalist before writing novels. This is her second novel. Her first is a psychodrama called Exiled.

Recently Shireen Jilla answered a few questions via email.

photo by Francesco Guidicini

photo by Francesco Guidicini

Amy Steele: How did you get the idea for this novel?

Shireen Jilla: I was like a schizophrenic for years, muttering to the main characters, who wouldn’t leave my mind.

I wanted to write about a generation that didn’t all end up married with 2.4 children. By 40, some are single, divorced, gay, with children, without. To me, it is no longer clear cut.

Amy Steele: It’s your second novel. What did you do differently in writing this one than the first?

Shireen Jilla: My last novel, Exiled, was a psychological thriller set in New York. Like Rosemary’s Baby. So the plot came first. It was the very immediate story of one woman, so I decided to write it in the first person.

With Unpacking, my starting point was altogether different. I had been thinking about the six main characters for a long time. I was equally interested in each of their stories. So I eventually decided to use a ‘roving’ third person perspective inspired by Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway.

Amy Steele: How does your work as a journalist affect your novel writing?

Shireen Jilla: It makes it easier and harder. I am used to settling down to write, but a 1,00-word newspaper feature with a clear beginning, middle and end, is ver different from facing the mountain of 100,000 words of fiction. Once I had worked out what I wanted to do with Unpacking, I wrote it very fast.

The first draft was completed in five months. I spent six weekends working from Friday through to Monday, practically without sleeping.
I am not precious about getting the scenes down and I don’t prevaricate. I think that’s because I am also a journalist.

Amy Steele: Why did you decide to set this in the Kalahari? How did you recreate the settings?

Shireen Jilla: I tried setting it in Sardinia, but it wasn’t a remote or extreme enough to allow the characters to unravel in such a short space of time. When my brother took me on this trip of a lifetime to the Kalahari, my first ever to Africa, I realised it was the perfect setting.

I kept a diary, took hundreds of photos, some of which are on my website, bought books, and talked extensively to the guides. All the detail is accurate.

Amy Steele: As they seem to be the main characters, what do you like best about Connie, about Luke and about Sara?

Shireen Jilla: I am incredibly fond of all the characters in the book. I admire Connie’s strength, love her doubt. I was drawn to Luke because of his unspoken vulnerability. And Sara is highly intelligent and funny, but ultimately a loyal friend.

Amy Steele: Why did you pick three guys, three women?

Shireen Jilla: I wanted Unpacking to be about a group of friends, close but disparate. And I wanted it to be written from a male and female point of view. Both reasons led me to have six main characters. In a literary sense, six main characters is considered a handful. And the editor at my literary agency encouraged me to reduce them.

Amy Steele: Are you still close friends with college friends? Would you take a safari trip together?

Shireen Jilla: Yes! I would love to do it.

Amy Steele: What do like best about writing novels?

Shireen Jilla: I love the actual process. It’s probably escapism. Still, I am never happier than when I am in the middle of writing a novel.

The Art of Unpacking Your Life [Bloomsbury Reader] by Shireen Jilla is available now.

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STEELE INTERVIEWS: Hallie Ephron

night night

When she discovers her screenwriter father dead in his swimming pool, Deirdre Unger finds herself at the center of the suspicious death. It’s 1985 and old Hollywood secrets resurface. Decades ago Deirdre’s best friend killed her mom’s boyfriend and a terrible accident left Unger walking with a limp and crutch. Deirdre now lives in San Diego and runs an art gallery. She and her brother drifted apart years ago. He dropped out of school, lives at the family estate and runs a motorcycle dealership. Their mother took off to join a cultish monastic life. When Deirdre begins sorting through her father’s papers the past swings back in full force. Hallie Ephron’s newest novel Night Night Sleep Tight weaves together present day-1985 with the 60s with fierce suspense and superb details. She delves into the anachronisms of Hollywood celebrity and the fame that many want and few realize. Ephron grew up in Beverly Hills with screenwriter parents so this covers familiar territory. A New York Times bestselling author, Ephron also wrote Never Tell a Lie, Find Me and There Was an Old Woman.

Night Night Sleep Tight By Hallie Ephron.
William Morrow| March 24, 2015.|287 pages |$26.99| ISBN: 978-0-0062117632.

Hallie Ephron took the time to answer a few questions.

author Hallie Ephron; photo by Lynn Wayne

author Hallie Ephron; photo by Lynn Wayne

Amy Steele: I really enjoyed the new novel Night Night, Sleep Tight. How did you come up with the characters?

Hallie Ephron: The book is a hybrid, one part based on my own experiences growing up in Beverly Hills, and another part riffing on the Lana Turner/Johnny Stompanato murder scandal. So, for instance, Deirdre Unger’s screenwriter father (Arthur) who gets murdered in the opening chapter is inspired by my dad; Deirdre’s old friend Joelen Nichol who turns up is based on my best friend in junior high, but her situation (her mother, mother’s Latin gangster boyfriend) is, as they say, ripped form some very old headlines.

Amy Steele: Why did you want to focus on a brother-sister relationship?

Hallie Ephron: Good question. I don’t have a brother, so I guess giving Deirdre a brother freed me to make stuff up. And I’m interested in how two people who grow up in the same family end up feeling as if they grew up in alternate universes.

Amy Steele: Do you generally start with characters or a story idea?

Hallie Ephron: It’s really both. Which is why my process is so messy. As I write the story the characters shift under me.

Amy Steele: You said that you used Lana Turner’s boyfriend’s murder by her daughter as a jump-off point. What appeals to you about that case?

Hallie Ephron: It happened when I was 10 years old (Cheryl Crane was 14) and the house was around the corner from where I lived. I pored over the pictures in the paper. I identified with Cheryl, sympathized with her enormously.

Amy Steele: What do you like best about your central character Deirdre?

Hallie Ephron: She’s a survivor. She had a terrible accident that left her crippled but she hasn’t an ounce (well, maybe an ounce) of self pity. And more than anything she wants to know the truth.

Amy Steele: Why did you decide to set this novel in 1985 and the 60s? Was it challenging to go back and forth time-wise?

Hallie Ephron: I was interested in writing about what was happening in Hollywood in the ‘60s – the studio my screenwriter parents worked at nearly went bankrupt and writers who had been on contract for decades were suddenly out on the street. I wanted the characters to be teenagers in the ‘60s, as I was, and then revisit the place twenty years later to see how it had changed. To keep myself sane, I had kept separate timelines for past and present for each of the characters. The writing itself was the easy part.

Amy Steele: What do you think is the best part of the earlier days of the entertainment industry versus today? Why do believe people like to read about it?

Hallie Ephron: So much glamour! It was before Facebook. The tabloids had barely gotten started. So it was a kinder, gentler time and the stars were protected by the studio system. So as far as the world at large was concerned, they lived a sort of fantasy existence.

Amy Steele: How did growing up in Beverly Hills with screenwriter parents influence your writing career?

Hallie Ephron: I’m a child of the movies, and though I don’t write screenplays my novels are very cinematic. When I write a scene, I imagine I’m writing from the viewpoint of a camera anchored in one of the character’s heads, but with access to that character’s thoughts and feelings and senses.

Amy Steele: How did you start writing?

Hallie Ephron: My first attempts were memoir. In fact, chunks of an early unfinished manuscript (full of lovely little episodes but no overarching story arc) found their way into Night Night, Sleep Tight. I always tell writers: Never throw anything away!

Amy Steele: Why do you like the mystery/thriller/suspense genre?

Hallie Ephron: I love reading the genre and it plays to my strengths as a writer. I’m good at creating a sense of place, building tension, and suggesting what’s going on with subtext. I love the intricacies of plotting out a mystery.

Amy Steele: What kind of research did you have to do?

Hallie Ephron: Hollywood and Beverly Hills in the 60s and 80s are so well documented – so many old pictures are found on the Internet and there are the movies that defined the styles of the times (Sandra Dee Gidget hair in the ‘60s; Jennifer Beals Flashdance hair in the ‘80s.) Between that and newspaper archives and my own memory, it was one of the easiest novels I’ve ever researched.

Amy Steele: Do you have any particular writing habits—time you write, place, outlines etc.—that you could share?

Hallie Ephron: I write every day, in my home office, on the computer, and I do create an outline though I never follow it. The outline is like training wheels that give me permission to write. As I write I revise the outline and make a feeble attempt to get ahead of myself, planning-wise. But it usually turns out to be hopeless and I constantly find myself second guessing myself and circling back. Along the way it’s a mess, but I’ve surrendered to the chaos. I’ve learned that if I keep at it long enough, eventually it comes together.

Amy Steele: Thank you so much Hallie! Tell Delia and Amy I send my regards.

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purchase at Amazon: Night Night, Sleep Tight: A Novel of Suspense

BOOK EVENTS

Tuesday, March 24 at 7pm
Brookline Booksmith
Launch event

Wednesday, March 25 at pm
Milton Public Library

Thursday, March 26 at 7pm
Wellesley Books

Saturday, March 28 at 2pm
Newport Public Library
Newport, RI

Tuesday, March 31 at 7:30 pm
Melrose Public Library
Melrose, Mass.

Thursday, April 2 at 7pm
BOOKENDS
Winchester, Mass.

Saturday, April 4 at 2pm
Brookline Public Library
Brookline, Mass.

Monday, April 6 at 7pm
Tufts Library
Weymouth, Mass.

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STEELE INTERVIEWS: Claudia Myers

Michelle Steely Eyed

Fort Bliss, written and directed by Claudia Myers, came out in December. It’s the second feature film for Myers. She also wrote and directed Kettle of Fish starring Gina Gershon and Matthew Modine. She’s made lots short films and documentaries for the military such as ones about combat stress and PTSD and severely injured soldiers returning from Iraq and the impact to their personal lives.

Fort Bliss movingly and effectively shows the difficulties that a single mom in the military faces in balancing her career as a medic and her home life. Michelle Monaghan turns in a strong, edgy and multifaceted performance as Maggie. It’s currently streaming on Netflix and iTunes and absolutely a must-see.

After some back and forth on twitter, Claudia Myers and I spoke on the phone a few weeks ago.

Amy Steele: You live in DC– outside the Hollywood scene but close enough to New York. How is that for you as a filmmaker?
[Claudia is a professor at American University so has that stability and commitment.]

Claudia Myers: Positive is that I wouldn’t have written Fort Bliss. That first assignment to work with the military with a local company. I wouldn’t have had that opportunity in another city. It sparked my interest in the military stories. I like the Wash DC film community. It’s much smaller but it’s very supportive and I receive a lot of support from American Univ.

DC is a diverse city in terms of its interest. It’s not dominated by film and it can be a positive.

writer/director Claudia Myers

writer/director Claudia Myers

Amy Steele: Do you think you can live anywhere and be an independent filmmaker?

Claudia Myers: Depends on what you want to do. If you want to work in TV or film it helps to work in NY or LA but there’s also more competition but to write and direct your own project it helps to be in places where there’s smaller film industry.

Amy Steele: You’re a professor of film at American University. What do you like about teaching? What influence does it have on your film-making?

Claudia Myers: I’ve been teaching for seven years. Being a teacher and being a filmmaker simultaneously forces me to keep thinking critically about what I do. So I feel like with every new class I learn something from my students. They challenge me to look at things differently or explain things better. It keeps me engaged and sharp and more current.

FortBliss-158-2

Amy Steele: Where did you get the idea to write Fort Bliss?

Claudia Myers: Working on a training film for the army at the actual Fort Bliss. Was doing a focus group with infantry soldiers and one was a single dad who had deployed twice to Iraq and I remember being surprised by that. I never thought about a soldier facing multiple deployments as a single parent. As a mother it piqued my interest. Was something I’d never thought about.

Roughly 40% of women in the military are moms. As I developed the story, I felt like telling the ultimate working mother story. As any parent trying to balance with a career they think is meaningful and important with raising a child.

There was a story to be told that hadn’t been told from a female perspective. I found it wasn’t such an unusual circumstance. I would hear “my sister is in that situation” or “I know someone just like that.” It is gratifying that it is a projection of this and interesting to get people thinking about how women are perceived.

People would connect in a way that they hadn’t thought about.

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Amy Steele: Why did you make Maggie a single mom?

Claudia Myers: That was a side of the story I hadn’t seen told and a side of the story I could relate to as a mother and get a strong sense of connection. A real empathy and curiosity for women in the military balancing career and being a parent. To make an independent film there has to be a reason to do it and I hadn’t seen that story told.

Amy Steele: I didn’t think it all that unusual for a woman to serve in the military with a young child at home but I browsed a message board and people thought it strange. This was Maggie’s job. I don’t think she was trying to get away from her son at all but she liked what she did and was trying to secure a better future wasn’t she?

Claudia Myers: I’ve had some conversations with people who don’t understand that she re-enlisted and then got caught in a set of circumstance. As in life there are no right solutions and people do the best they can under the circumstances. Everyone just does the best they can. I wasn’t trying to demonize anyone or make anyone a villain.

As a filmmaker and viewer I have empathy for Maggie but she makes some questionable choices and that’s fine. We sometimes recognize ourselves in a character’s flaws. I wasn’t interested in making her perfect.
Why is it cool for a guy to go off and fight and leave his family but for a woman she’s abandoning her family, she’s a terrible mother.

Claudia Myers: Such an emotional response to the story is a good thing. It gets people to think about their feelings about these things. Things have been changing for a while. Can it ever be completely equal. I don’t know that I have an answer. That’s why I wrote the movie. I was happy when I was writing the script and I wasn’t sure how I could resolve this in a way that was honest.

Amy Steele: How long did it take from script to screen?

Claudia Myers: I got the idea about five years ago. I was intrigued by this character who was a soldier and a mother and was balancing these two sides of her life in an extreme situation. Worked on [the script] on and off for years. It took time to get funding. We had a leisurely editing process. It was good in that it was always on my mind but I wasn’t working on it constantly. The shoot itself was quick. We shot it in 21 days.

Amy Steele: By choice or necessity?

Claudia Myers: It’s never a choice. We always want more time. It was a very intense shooting schedule. It gave the whole process an energy. Everybody wanted to be there. Everyone on our team was really dedicated. That included a number of veterans on the film itself and active duty soldiers. That grounded the production. It helped creating a greater sense of authenticity. The army supported the film so we had subject matter experts. Michelle [Monaghan] was trained by a medic. The army was tremendous in their support.

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Amy Steele: Did you screen it at Fort Bliss?

Claudia Myers: It opened at Fort Bliss and in NY and LA in December.

Amy Steele: And what was the reaction?

Claudia Myers:The reaction has been very positive. Also we had a Los Angeles screening by Veterans in Film and TV [VFT]. 400 veterans at LA premiere. The film got a standing ovation. it was a special night.

Amy Steele: What kind of director are you?

Claudia Myers: I love the whole process. I love working with actors. I just have a lot of respect and admiration for the actors’ craft. I see my job as being as clear as possible about what I’m trying to achieve. What the story’s about, what I’m fundamentally getting to and I work with the various departments to help me bring the story to life. I welcome their input so it’s a real collaboration.

Amy Steele: What were the greatest challenges for this film?

Claudia Myers: So many intense or logistically different scenes on a short time frame and budget. I think that was the overall production challenge. Michelle was so committed and so passionate about the script. As preparation she did an abbreviated medic course. She was a great collaborator. I felt that she understood all the sides of this character which I wanted to bring out. She didn’t hold back and she gave an incredible performance.
The weather was another challenge. It was very hot. We shot in the desert in 100 degree weather. We felt the importance in sharing this story.

Amy Steele: I’m going to remind readers of some statistics of women filmmakers from Indie Wire, 2014:

• 29.8% of filmmakers (directors, writers, producers, cinematographers and editors) were female.
• Women were 16% of the directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films.
• Women directed 6% of the films.
• Women wrote 10% of the movies.

Amy Steele: What are the barriers facing female filmmakers today? What do you think needs to change? Is it getting better?

Claudia Myers: It is getting better. Maybe a little bit outside the studio. I think there are a lot of independent women directors/writers working. It isn’t a level playing field. There’s a lot of progress needing to be made. People can support films written and directed by women. They can seek them out and watch more of them. I think the more attention we pay it is a positive thing. I hope the trend keeps developing. It’s slower than it should be for sure.

Distributors are still trying to figure out revenues with all these distribution strategies. It’s not what it used to be. We aren’t quite at the place optimally.

In terms of female films being less lucrative, it’s demand driven. If people make a point of watching those films and more films about female protagonists. More films about women. The vast majority of mainstream films feature male protagonists. Some stories need to be told the way they need to be told. You need multi-layered complex women in film. Actresses are eager for more meaty roles.

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STEELE INTERVIEWS: fashion designer Samantha Black [Project Runway All-Stars]

Samantha Black on Project Runway: All-Stars S4

Samantha Black on Project Runway: All-Stars S4

Samantha Black is cool. She stood out for me from the first episode of Project Runway S11 and I was rooting for her. I like her personal style and the clothes she designs. She’s laid back yet edgy. Plus she’s smart and genuine. The 28-year-old Brooklyn resident and Pratt Institute graduate runs two clothing companies Sammy B Designs and Samantha Black. In 2011, Black presented her first show at New York Fashion Week [NYFW]. Solange did the music for the show, attended and sat in the front row. “I’m really excited when people want to wear my clothes and people see it,” Black told me. She’s shown at NYFW nearly every season since. Named “designer to watch” by both Essence and Ebony magazine, Black created garments for celebrities such as Kerri Hilson, Brandi, LaLa Anthony and Angela Simmons. She’s back on Project Runway: All Stars which airs Thursdays at 9 pm on Lifetime.

I spoke to Sam by phone last week.

Amy Steele: I was a really big fan of yours during your season (11) so I’m so happy to speak with you. And I just really like your style and everything.

Samantha Black: Thank you!

fashion designer Samantha Black

fashion designer Samantha Black

Amy Steele: When did you get interested in fashion design?

Samantha Black: I always liked clothes and when I was 16 someone said I should take classes in fashion design. ‘You know you like to doodle.’ So I took a pre-college fashion design course and I loved it. And ever since I thought ‘I want to be a fashion designer.’

Amy Steele: Did you go to fashion school?

Samantha Black: I went to Pratt. I got a bachelors in fine arts but my major was fashion design.

Amy Steele: What did you take away from going to a design school?

Samantha Black: It’s actually really intense. At least Pratt’s program is really intense because you still have your liberal arts program and you have your major classes. [AS note: this sounds like Berklee College of Music] So fashion classes are six hours long. Serious projects. It’s a serious, intense program. You lose half the class. Pratt puts out more entrepreneurs. That’s the path I want to take eventually.

Amy Steele: What inspires your designs?

Samantha Black: I get inspired by art, architecture. I live in New York so you see such crazy style every day. Even my personal style. I dress funky one day and preppy another day. I wanted to create a line that embodies all those things because you can dress that one girl who likes a lot of things.

Amy Steele: I was going to say who are you designing for? So she sounds eclectic.

Samantha Black: She’s definitely an eclectic woman. She’s into all different kinds of music and culture and things like that. Some people say the IT Girl’s closet has to have something from each genre and that’s kind of my line all-in-one.

Amy Steele: So Sammy B is your line?

Samantha Black: I started off with Sammy B and I also have Samantha Black. Sammy B is a little more funky and easy to wear pieces. I’ve really been pushing my Samantha Black line for the last couple of years. In 2011 I started working on the Samantha Black line.

Amy Steele: And this is all on your own.

Samantha Black: I originally started in the industry working [corporate] and I did that for about four years. When they closed my division I started working on my own line. I started working freelance too. I don’t have any investors. All the money I make I literally put into my line. It’s a hard struggle to balance the two. Sometimes I freelance and have to go to an office depending on who the client is.

Amy Steele: What is your greatest challenge as a designer?

Samantha Black: It’s the business side. I definitely don’t think from that side of my brain. I’m an artist. Over the past few years I’ve taken business classes [Macy’s Business Program] so I can really up that side of my business for it to really be something. I’m getting into programs and learning how to be a fully functioning business. To really prosper I have to do it the right way. Budgets. From the ground up. It’s more important than designing because even if you have a good design, if you can’t get it sold . . .

Amy Steele: What is a little bit of your process? Are you setting aside specific time to design? Do you carry around a sketchbook?

Samantha Black: I have three sketchbooks in my purse right now. While I’m riding the subway I use it as my sketch time to try to get some ideas. I might have swatches in my bag. I like to get a few ideas and then I like to search the market. I get inspired by my fabrics. Then I start working on patterns and things like that.

Amy Steele: Who are some designers you admire?

Samantha Black: McQueen, LAMB, Alexander Wang. I think they’re young and hip and edgy at the same time.

design by Samantha for first challenge

design by Samantha for first challenge

Amy Steele: How would you describe yourself as a designer?

Samantha Black: I think I design feminine with an eclectic edge. I try to make the designs flatter a woman’s body and be sexy and be comfortable at the same time. Easy to wear. Details. I like prints. I like patterns. My clothes are a direct representation of my personality. The way I dress, the way I design. My personality comes out in my clothes. I’m usually the loud fun one.  I have a big personality. Sometimes I wonder if people can really see it on the show.

Amy Steele: It’s the editing but you can see it in your clothes. You said you’re loud but you seem very laid back. How are you under pressure?

Samantha Black: I’m very chill. I grew up with a lot of boys. I kinda grew up as a tomboy as well. I’m not really into drama at all. I could care less about it. I tell people how I feel right away so I never really talk behind someone’s back. People always know how I feel.

Amy Steele: What was your takeaway from season 11? [Season 11 was the Project Runway: Teams season]

Samantha Black: That season was a little different. A little interesting. Because things are happening so fast and you’re always so stressed out it’s hard to stay true to yourself as a designer all the time. It’s important to make something but always stay true to your vision at all times.

Amy Steele: What interested you in coming back for Project Runway All-Stars?

Samantha Black: Season 11 got a bad rap for being teams and the way it was set up. I wanted the experience of working by myself. I wanted the experience that every other season had. I didn’t make it where I wanted to in my season so it was another opportunity. This is people from seasons 10, 11 and 12 and Chris and Jay from the Bravo seasons. I kind of knew everyone’s skills and visions. It’s good knowing that.

design by Samantha for second challenge (unconventional)

design by Samantha for second challenge (unconventional)

Amy Steele: What is the best part of being on Project Runway?

Samantha Black: I love seeing people actually work. It’s a special thing to see other creatives in the same field and see how they work. In corporate fashion you’re on a computer. I’m the only one of my friends who has my own line so I don’t get to see others work. There aren’t that many of us that have our own lines. I don’t get the same out of it as everyone else does.

Past seasons were surprised by how close season 11 was. It ended up being the closest season. I think because of working in teams we had to get along. Other seasons you start off everyone to themselves. We’re a lot closer than other seasons. This season of all-stars we’re close. We are younger and newer seasons so we have a bond.

Amy Steele: Good luck with everything. It was really nice talking to you and I’ll talk to you on Twitter.

Samantha Black: Thank you. Have a great weekend.

You can follow Samantha on Twitter

If you like my interviews and Lifetime coverage consider making a donation so I can keep going. Make a Donation button at right on my site.

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STEELE INTERVIEWS: Sallie Ford

Several years ago I saw Sallie Ford and The Sound Machine (her then-band) at the Newport Folk Festival. Energetic, fun and eclectic. She’s got a cool way to combine retro with present mingling in jazz, folk, rockabilly and rock. On this new album, Slap Black, Ford’s steering away from the retro and charging forward with the altrock vibe. She also split with The Sound Machine and has a new all-girl backing band. Sallie Ford grew up in Asheville, NC always playing music. In 2006, she relocated to Portland, Ore. where she met her band The Sound Outside. Together they released three albums and an EP then parted ways in 2013.

I recently interviewed Sallie Ford via email, the worst possible way to conduct an interview because there’s an inability to connect, to ask follow-up questions or clarify one’s questions. But that’s the only choice I had. The result: some rather prickly answers.

SallieFord IMG_8328_JQuigley copy

Amy Steele: Absolutely fantastic that you have an all-girl band.
Rare these days. I did see the Retro Futura Tour
recently and Tom Bailey [Thompson Twins] had an all-girl band. I was
impressed. What effect has an all-girl band had on your music, on
touring?

Sallie Ford: I love my new band. The new effect they have on my music and touring
has nothing to do with how they are women, it’s ’cause they are awesome people and hard working!

[AS: I find this answer interesting and evasive. It’s clear women are still having issues as women in the music business. It’s rare to have an all-girl band. And I’d read that Ford intentionally formed an all-girl band. in fact here’s a quote from her publicist: “The beginning of this year Sallie fulfilled her dream of starting an all-girl rock n’ roll band and in February of 2014, the band went into the studio with producer Chris Funk to begin recording Slap Back.” ]

It worked out well that they are into being healthy on tour which I think is extremely important. We eat very well (lots of veggies and no junk food), and today we are gonna stop in
Theodore Roosevelt National park and do some hiking. Staying healthy on tour is so important, ’cause touring is an extremely difficult job. It’s very annoying to hear how most people romanticize touring. I know I’m lucky to do it and I love playing music, but I just don’t think
people have any idea how hard it is. As far as the music, it’s great to play with new musicians and learn from them.

Amy Steele: You say that this album is an “ode to all the babe
rockers.” Who do you admire and who has influenced your music over the
years?

Sallie Ford: I have been influenced by sooo many different things over the years.
When I first started writing music, I loved Tom Waits, Regina Spektor,
Fiona Apple and more. Then, I remember I played with this band called Basemint from Tacoma,
like four years ago. They were a high energy garage rock band and I was
smitten. My guitar player at the time said “Well if you like that, you
should listen to The Sonics”. I did and discovered a bunch of other
music from the ’60s that I hadn’t heard before. So the second record I
made was more influenced by surf and garage rock. Same as the “Summer” EP I made with The Sound Outside.

The new record has lots of influences, like Skeeter Davis, The Monks,
Link Wray, T Rex, PJ Harvey, X, Heart, The breeders, The Pixies, Joan
Jett and I’m sure I’m forgetting some others.
It’s just _______ rock. Fill in the blank. It all has cross-over.

Amy Steele: Do you feel like a solo artist now with a new backing band
or as someone in a new band? What is your writing process and how does
the new band participate in songwriting?

Sallie Ford: Definitely feels like I’m in a band. [AS: yet going by your name like a solo artist would and not calling the band a band.] That’s why I’ve always gravitated
towards playing music as an art form, because it’s collaborative. This album was different ’cause we brought in Chris Funk to produce. I wrote all the lyrics, guitar chords and melodies, and the band
figured out their parts and Chris helped with the arrangements and
style of the record.

Amy Steele: Your sound was definitely retro and you can hear it on
some songs on your new album but you’ve brought in many other
elements. What made you decide to mix it up?

Sallie Ford: I will forever want to mix things up. That’s the point of creating
music. Challenging yourself to do something different and learn. I didn’t really like being stuck in the retro box either. Most bands are retro anyway, ’cause I bet a lot of their influences are from the past. I make my music, and that can be whatever I want it to be.

Amy Steele: How is your live show different from your album?

Sallie Ford: We play some of my old songs and the energy is different I guess. We
blend the old sound and the new I guess you could say.

Amy Steele: What makes a good song?

Sallie Ford: Honest lyrics and a catchy melody

SallieFordSlapBack Cover (2)

Amy Steele: Let’s talk about some songs on the new album, Slap Back. Tell me how you came up with
the following:

Sallie Ford: I’m guessing you mean lyrically? [AS: not necessarily. it’s whatever you want to tell me about the songs but it was email and I couldn’t explain that.]

“Coulda Been”

Sallie Ford: Is about games people play in new relationships.

“Workin’ the Job”

Sallie Ford: Is about being funemployed.

“Oregon”

Sallie Ford: Is about the crush I have on the state I live in.

“Hey Girl”

Sallie Ford: Is a song for my best friend.

“Let Go”

Sallie Ford: Is about lettin’ loose and partying.

purchase at Amazon: Slap Back

Sallie Ford kicks off a North American tour tomorrow, November 5, in St. Louis and will be in Boston on November 12 at Great Scott.

TOUR DATES:

11.05.14 – St. Paul, MN – Turf Club*
11.06.14 – Chicago, IL – Empty Bottle*
11.07.14 – Grand Rapids, MI – Pyramid Scheme*
11.08.14 – Toronto, ON – The Great Hall*
11.09.14 – Montreal, QC – La Sala Rossa**
11.11.14 – Northampton, MA – The Parlor Room*
11.12.14 – Allston, MA – Great Scott**
11.14.14 – Brooklyn, NY – Rough Trade**
11.15.14 – Philadelphia, PA – Milkboy**
11.16.14 – Washington, DC – Rock and Roll Hotel**
11.18.14 – Asheville, NC – Grey Eagle**
11.19.14 – Nashville, TN – Exit/In**
11.20.14 – St. Louis, MO – Off Broadway**
11.21.14 – Kansas City, MO – Record Bar**
11.23.14 – Denver, CO – Larimer Lounge*
11.24.14 – Salt Lake City, UT – Urban Lounge
11.25.14 – Boise, ID – Neurolux
12.02.14 – Arcata, CA – Humboldt Brews
12.03.14 – Felton, CA – Don Quixote’s International Music Hall
12.04.14 – San Francisco, CA – Bottom of the Hill
12.05.14 – Los Angeles, CA – Satellite Club
12.06.14 – Santa Barbara, CA – Velvet Jones
12.09.14 – Eugene, OR – Cosmic Pizza
12.10.14 – Seattle, WA – Tractor Tavern
12.11.14 – Bellingham, WA – The Wild Buffalo
12.12.14 – Vancouver, BC – Media Club
12.13.14 – Portland, OR – Wonder Ballroom
* with Crooked Fingers
** with Crooked Fingers & And The Kids

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