Posts Tagged STEELE INTERVIEWS
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.
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.
purchase at Amazon: Night Night, Sleep Tight: A Novel of Suspense
Tuesday, March 24 at 7pm
Wednesday, March 25 at pm
Milton Public Library
Thursday, March 26 at 7pm
Saturday, March 28 at 2pm
Newport Public Library
Tuesday, March 31 at 7:30 pm
Melrose Public Library
Thursday, April 2 at 7pm
Saturday, April 4 at 2pm
Brookline Public Library
Monday, April 6 at 7pm
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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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.
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
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
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
Amy Steele: Let’s talk about some songs on the new album, Slap Back. Tell me how you came up with
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.]
Sallie Ford: Is about games people play in new relationships.
“Workin’ the Job”
Sallie Ford: Is about being funemployed.
Sallie Ford: Is about the crush I have on the state I live in.
Sallie Ford: Is a song for my best friend.
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.
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
“Elodie couldn’t get what Lena told her out of her mind. Par ot her was impressed with Lena’s courage, while another part was concerned for her friend’s safety. It was no secret what the Fascist police would do to her should she get caught. Their beatings and torture were a well-known threat to everyone in the city. Many people had simply vanished after being arrested, while others were sent back to their homes severely beaten, their scars a visible reminder of who was in charge of Italy. It was reason enough to stay away. That, and the fact that Elodie could only imagine how devastated her parents would be if anything happened to her.”
Think you’ve heard all the stories about WWII. Think again. The Garden of Letters by Alyson Richman focuses on the Italian Resistance. Elodie, a young student and cello player, becomes involved in the Italian Resistance when artists and teachers at her school become targets for Mussolini’s Fascist regime. Her own father gets taken away and beaten while he’s questioned. Elodie starts attending clandestine meetings and carrying out missions through her music for the resistance. She plays codes through her music. She falls in love with bookseller Luca, a Resistance leader. When Luca is killed and she finds herself pregnant, Elodie escapes to the coastal town of Portofino. A widowed doctor (his wife and child died during childbirth) still in mourning and longing to care for someone takes her in and they slowly open up to each other.
“There was also something about the smell of bookshops that was strangely comforting to her. She wondered if it was the scent of ink and paper, or the perfume of binding, string, and glue. Maybe it was the scent of knowledge. Information. Thoughts and ideas. Poetry and love. All of it bound into one perfect, calm place.”
I savored this novel and learned much about the Italian resistance movement and its use of codes and the arts. The Garden of Letters truly delighted me. Choosing to have her main character, Elodie, be a music prodigy and able to contribute to the movement through something she’s passionate about propels the novel in magnificent ways. Richman writes superbly and with splendid detail. Elodie is a charming, smart, intense woman and from the start you root for her and want her to success and find her bliss.
“Elodie has something that is completely her own. Her music is the root of her sorcery. She fills the air with it. She uses every part of her body when she plays: her fingers, her arms, her neck, and her legs. He simply cannot take his eyes off her.”
The Garden of Letters
Berkley Trade [September]
Alyson graciously took the time to speak with me about the novel and her writing process.
Amy Steele: I can’t believe this is the first novel of yours I’ve read. I will remedy that soon. And finally I’m getting questions to you. Apologies again about the rescheduling. You went to Wellesley College. I went to Simmons College in Boston. I loved the experience at an all-women’s college. What did you take away from your years at Wellesley?
Alyson Richman: I loved my years at Wellesley. Because it was a woman’s college, my social and academic life was kept completely separate. This helped me to maintain a sense of focus that I might not have had if I went to a co-ed college. The intimate, yet challenging, atmosphere also enabled me to build a sense of self-confidence and to believe a career in the arts was even possible.
Amy Steele: How did you become a novelist?
Alyson Richman: Actually, I first started thinking about becoming a novelist during my senior year at Wellesley. One of my art-history professors told me that I had a particular gift for telling the story “behind the painting.” As graduation approached, I remember thinking to myself: “If I could do anything in the world, what would I do?” And I told myself that what I’d really love to do was write stories that centered around the lives of artists. I had spent a year in Kyoto as an apprentice to a Noh mask carver, where it took me over a year to carve a single mask. [AS: amazing.] I remember thinking to myself during that time, here I was a Western woman studying a traditional Japanese art form, when did the reverse occur? When did the first Japanese artists start studying Western-style art? When I asked my art-history professors upon my return, no one knew the answer. I immediately thought this would be wonderful backdrop for a novel. I then applied for a grant upon my graduation, which enabled me to research the first Japanese artists who left there at the turn-of-the-century to study painting under the French Impressionists. I began writing my first novel The Mask Carver’s Son about the son of a Japanese mask carver who forsakes his family’s artistic traditions to study in Paris under the Impressionists.
Amy Steele: You write historical fiction. What appeals to you about the genre?
Alyson Richman: I love learning about something new with each book I write. The research part is truly one of the best aspects of my career. I love traveling to the countries I’m writing about, learning about a foreign culture, the food and traditions, and observing the landscape. When writing historical fiction, I also use photo archives and, in the case of my novels that take place during WWII, I try to locate people who were alive during that time who might be able to share their stories. I learn so much from the research part, and I love weaving that into my novels so my readers learn alongside the narrative.
Amy Steele: The Garden of Letters focuses on the Italian Resistance during WWII. Where you got the initial idea for the story is interesting. How did you come up with it?
Alyson Richman: I was at a dinner party when someone shared with me a story about how her father escaped from Hungry through Italy during WWII with forged papers. When this friend’s father arrived in Portofino, German guards were scrutinizing everyone’s papers so carefully, he was sure he was going to be arrested. Suddenly, out from the crowd, a big barrel-chested Italian man cried: “Cousin, cousin, I’ve been waiting for you all week. Thank heaven’s you’ve come!” He seemed to know the German guards, and was able to whisk my friend’s father away and take him back to his home on the cliffs of Portofino. When my friend’s father asked this man why he saved him, as he clearly wasn’t his cousin, the man replied: “I try and come to the port every month. I try to save the person who looks the most afraid.” When I heard that story, I immediately thought it would make an amazing beginning to a novel. I imagined the two people who meet at this port. One fleeing and in need of shelter, the other person who senses his fear. Two lives intersecting without either of them uttering a single word between them.
My novel prior to The Garden of Letters was called The Lost Wife. It took place in the Czech concentration camp, Terezin, so I knew I didn’t want to do another Holocaust novel. I began to research women in WWII Italy and learned about these female messengers who risked their lives working for the Resistance by transmitting important information during the war, many times the information was not written down, and if it was, it was done in code. I decided to make my main character a cellist, because I wanted the codes she transmits to be done through her music playing. In The Lost Wife I explored how art was used as a form of resistance during WWII. In The Garden of Letters, I focus on how music was used.
Amy Steele: Your descriptions are beautiful and you’ve done impeccable research. Can you explain your research process?
Alyson Richman: I made three trips to Italy. The first was purely a visual trip, where I visited the northern cities that the book takes place in: Verona, Mantua and Venice. I also tried to make new contacts that would be helpful for my research. I was able to connect with people who introduced me to their more elderly relatives who shared their memories of life during wartime. The second trip, I hired a translator who helped me with my interviews of messengers in the Italian Resistance, partisans who had fought in the mountains, and people who were connected somehow to the material. The third trip I went to Liguria to see the coastal villages of Portofino and San Fruttuoso, which also are settings in the book. You can actually see many of the photos from my research on my website: Alysonrichman.com
Amy Steele: You said that you’ve always added art and painting to your novels and this is the first time you’ve written about music. What drew you to make Elodie a musician?
Alyson Richman:Almost all my previous novels deal with painters. I’m the daughter of an abstract painter, who always taught me to see the world with an artistic lens. I even considered a career as an artist myself right around the time I began applying for college. But in The Garden of Letters I wanted to challenge myself with something new. I wanted to see if I could write through the eyes of a musician and explore how she might be able to use her talents to do something original and help those who are resisting German occupation.
Amy Steele: What do you like best about Elodie?
Alyson Richman: I love her memory. I love that her mind and her ability to remember everything with such razor precision is what sets her apart from her peers. When I visited Venice, I was told that Venetians have a particularly strong visual memory because they live within a labyrinth, where it’s difficult to remember all the street names but one can give directions that are grounded in a visual sight. I love connecting Elodie’s natural ability with her maternal bloodline.
Amy Steele: Were Elodie’s actions and interest in the resistance unusual for the time or were a lot of students getting involved? She risked a lot.
Alyson Richman: It’s hard to say exactly how many students were involved at the time because so much of the Resistance occurred underground and with great secrecy. There was, however, a lot of recruiting done from the university campuses amongst students who felt impassioned to fight against the looming threat of German occupation.
Amy Steele: You add in some real-life characters to the novel—Rita Rosani, Brigitte Lowenthal, Berto Zampieri and Darno Maffini. Why did you choose to do that and what were the challenges?
Alyson Richman: I decided to set the novel in Verona, Italy because years ago, on a family vacation, I saw a plaque on the outside wall of the synagogue there honoring the fallen partisan, Rita Rosani. I had never heard her name before and our guide told us that she was one of Verona’s most beloved partisans who died in battle on the Monte Comune in the nearby mountains. Little is known about this woman who was only 23 when she died, other than that she was a former school teacher who died bravely in battle and that she was Jewish. When I began researching other members in the Italian Resistance in Verona, I learned about Brigitte Lowenthal, Berto Zampieri and Darno Maffini. I love interweaving into my stories little-known historical figures. Many of these people have done incredible and heroic acts that required great risk and sacrifice and I love shedding light on them and sharing their accomplishments with my readers.
Amy Steele: What is your favorite thing about The Garden of Letters?
Alyson Richman: My favorite part of the novel is the scene in which Dalia constructs the room in Angelo’s house that contains the garden of letters. I think it’s one of the most poetic and visual chapters in the novel. I’m particularly biased about this scene because it was one of those unscripted, magical moments in writing when the characters start doing something you hadn’t planned. It sprang from an image I had of Dalia kneeling on the floor, cutting the paper, preparing the glue, and it just began to grew from there. The character literally took over and created something artistic within the pages of the novel, and I just love when that happens.
Amy Steele: Thank you SO much Alyson! I look forward to speaking again soon.
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Youth, beauty, it all seems so meaningless now.
–Lamia [Michelle Pfeiffer]
“Hi Guys! Are you freezing? It’s so cold in here,” Claire Danes exclaims as she wraps her vintage jacket about her lithe frame. The jacket is tan which complements her long, honey blonde hair and it has cool orange swirls on it that gives it flair. Not that Ms. Danes needs any. She wears jeans, a gray shift and great clunky stone rings on her fingers. Actually, I take note of three on one finger.
She wraps her legs under her and sits down, bending forward, with a smile, to speak
about her latest film, Stardust, at a local Boston hotel a few weeks ago. Known for her roles in Romeo and Juliet, the summer’s very moving Evening, Shopgirl, The Family Stone, Les Miserables and forever as Angela Chase from television’s My So-Called Life, Danes will makes her Broadway debut in Pygmalion this fall.
Stardust is a wonderful, if sometimes goof-ball, fantasy film. It’s often Shakespearean in tone: think Midsummer Night’s Dream meets Princess Bride. This delightful escape relishes in clever and witty dialogue, off-beat, quirky, layered characters, unexpected moments and thrilling, dream-like sequences. Danes finds herself in good company: Michelle Pfeiffer, as an unattractive, deliciously wicked witch with piercing eyes who seeks everlasting beauty and youth brings an exuberance and fervor to her character. Robert DeNiro, in really not that much of stretch considering the Meet the Parent films, plays a cross-dressing pirate. Adding to the fun: British actors Jason Flemyng, Sienna Miller [nearly unrecognizable] and Charlie Cox. Danes plays a star, Yvaine, who fell to the ground and wants to go home. Who wouldn’t love this film and this role? A star personified! And Evie is happy but also a bit pensive being a star. You’d think she would be conceited and powerful but she’s at times insecure and very sweet. An endearing, bright-eyed gentleman named Tristam [Cox] travels across the barrier to this “forbidden” but special and magical land and finds Evie. Together they go on an amazing journey which, naturally, becomes one of self-discovery. Stardust really charms, remaining unique while it addresses: age/youth, beauty, love, and destiny with all the magic, intrigue, adventure and humor of any smart film.
What did you like about this project?
Claire Danes: “I loved the story. It’s charming and engaging. The dialogue is witty and wry and Evie has a trajectory. She changes which is appealing. She is knowing and wise because she’s ancient but unbelievably naïve.”
What do you like best about acting?
Claire Danes: Laughing: “The costumes are fun. I really like the challenge of imagining what it is to be another person and exercising empathy and stretching the imagination.”
What do you do for fun?
Claire Danes: “walk my dog, draw [takes life drawing classes in down time], dance.”
Do you think you will always live in New York?
Claire Danes: “NY is home to me. I travel constantly for work.”
What is the best part of working on this film?
Claire Danes: “The rewarding part of this movie is working with Charlie [Cox]. He’s a special guy—appealing, honest, expressive and great person.”
What attracts you to a role?
Claire Danes: “exploring new territory and new genres. Characters with dimension and complexity and who undergo change. And grow and transform. Usually women exist to facilitate change and growth in male characters.”
What are some of your favorite films?
Claire Danes: “Waiting for Guffman, Sophie’s Choice, and I know everyone says it but, Citizen Kane.”
What are some favorite films of your own?
Claire Danes: “Romeo and Juliet, Stealing Beauty, Shopgirl and Brokedown Palace.”
Originally published in The Harbus, the Harvard Business School student newspaper.
Recent Berklee College of Music graduate Lilla possesses a powerhouse, enthralling voice. She blends blues/soul with gorgeous, moving results. Lovely melodies and thoughtful lyrics. Her upbeat and rather mindful impassioned album, The Awakening, is out now. Lilla self-produced the album and she recorded at several studios including Bob Marley’s studio, Tuff Gong, in Kingston, Jamaica and in her hometown of Portland, Oregon. She’s a poised, sweet-tempered and fascinating woman. Fantastic spirit. Smart. Centered. In October she’s opening on some West Coast dates for Mos Def and reggae artist Hollie Cooke [daughter of the Sex Pistols’ drummer].
We sat down at Pavement Coffee recently to chat. We spoke for well over an hour and if I didn’t have to go somewhere, we could have talked for longer. Candid conversation about all sorts of subjects ranging from her Berklee education to women in music.
Amy Steele: What drew you to the soul/ R&B music?
Lilla: I can thank my mother for that. I grew up listening to all Motown. The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson. a lot of Jimi Hendrix too. People associate Jimmy with rock but before that he was raised on the blues circuit. He’s definitely got a lot of soul and blues in his music. My mother always had something playing. That’s what she grew up listening to and I can see why. I appreciate the Motown music more than a lot of what’s out there.
Amy Steele: Before you came to Berklee, you played piano at a young age. Did you teach yourself to play piano?
Lilla: I grew up with a piano in my house and I used to always go and mess around on it. I tried to take lessons at age 8 or so and the teacher told my mom, ‘she doesn’t need to take lessons. She can figure it out by ear.’ Which is good to an extent but I wonder how I would’ve turned out if I had had lessons since the age of 8 versus learning to read when I got to Berklee. I never knew how to read until then. It’s definitely good to have an ear for stuff to figure it out and play it but it’s also good to be a good reader and know your music theory. I feel confident now that I know it but I didn’t know it until I studied it in school.
Amy Steele: You also sang in a choir. Is that when you realized you could sing and liked to sing?
Lilla: I thought it wasn’t until high school that I got serious about singing and knew I wanted to be a singer. Before that I was really into dance—modern, tap, ballet. Little kids have dreams that are valid but they’re also all over the place. In high school I joined a gospel choir. And that just really got me. The power of the music and all the harmonies. Strong singers. I don’t practice a particular religion but the spirit of the music moved me so much, I became really passionate about it.
Amy Steele: What did you study at Berklee?
Lilla: I went to Cal State Long Beach for two years before attending Berklee because I got a pretty good scholarship there. I planned to get all my liberal arts [requirements] out of the way and then just go take the music classes somewhere else. Berklee only accepted part of those so I almost had to start over.
I studied professional music. That was my degree. So basically you get to tailor your own degree with professional music and you get to dip into the other degrees. If you know what you want to do, know what classes you want to take and what you want to learn to do then it’s good. I took some jazz composition because I have always been in love with jazz singing and writing and composing. I took some production and engineering so I could be more self-sufficient.
Before I came to Berklee I got very frustrated working in the industry with producers and having to depend on someone else without a huge budget to entice them. Your projects get put on the back burner. Ideas get forfeited. It was something I wanted to learn. If I have a project I want to do, if I have to, I want to do it all on my own and not depend on anyone else.
I took some piano classes, a lot of jazz techniques. I thought that would help the music I wanted to play. I took a couple of songwriting classes. I got some good things from them. I took a lyric writing class which helps when you’re writing and you get stuck so they showed me ideas to get out of that. But the songwriting department wasn’t really for me. I took a cool performance class with a professor named Lawrence Watson called “Foundations of Singing with Soul.” So we did all kinds of really awesome music.
Amy Steele: How do you think studying at Berklee has helped you now?
Lilla: I feel more confident when I’m having to see a project through or having to communicate with other musicians. The thing that made me want to go to Berklee was when I had an idea in my head and wasn’t able to bring it to life. Now I feel like I’m much more confident in bringing a song in my head to the world and making it real. It’s not as easy as I thought it would be. They say music is a language and the better you can communicate your ideas, the better your art will be. I really think it helped me to do that.
Amy Steele: How do you write your songs? What’s your process?
Lilla: Sometimes I’ll hear a melody or a melody with words in my head. Sometimes I hear them in dreams. Other times I’ll just be messing around on the piano and come up with a cool melody or progression and I keep playing through that and some lyrics will come. Sometimes someone will bring a composition to the table and I’ll be inspired by that. Or I’ll be on the guitar strumming some chords. It’s never one way. It’s usually the music inspires the lyrics and the melodies.
Amy Steele: What do you think makes a good song?
Lilla: Something that people sing along to and I’m speaking as a singer. When I say sing along to, they can hum the melody. Something that sticks it in your head. Also something people can connect with.
Amy Steele: You have a lovely voice and you have so much range in all the songs how did you develop the range that you have?
Lilla: I think I always had the range and I account that to swimming. I used to be a competitive swimmer. One of the things I would work on that we worked on while I was swimming– we would try to breathe the littlest amount possible as you can. So I would swim the length of the pool and breathe once down and back. A lot of times the way I look at being able to sing dynamically and having a good range is using your body. It is not just your voice that does this thing. you’re using your diaphragm, your abdominal muscles, your lungs to project the notes.
Part-time I teach voice lessons and everybody wants to expand their range. it is a pretty common thing to develop further range. I really work on developing these muscles around here [indicates her abdominal region]. So they’re not really singing from here [gestures to throat] they’re using their whole body. But I did study in college. Berklee makes you take voice lessons and I had some great teachers.
Amy Steele: How do you maintain your voice?
Lilla: I try to keep my cardio in good shape. It is really amazing I could show you what I show my students. When you realize how much of your body you can use, your lungs go all the way back here. When you think about singing from there it gives you so much power. I try to either swim or jog or do something to keep my cardio strong to keep that power.
Amy Steele: You hear a lot about singers losing their voice or having to drink a lot of tea. But you are using your whole abdominal and lung area.
Lilla: It takes a lot of strain off the voice– not that I’ve never gotten hoarse. but for me it is very important to not stress your voice out. There are times you are singing every day for weeks and you can’t afford to lose your voice. The things I always tell my students are: 1) warm your voice up before you sing. Your voice is a tender thing it’s like any type of muscle; 2) to maintain a healthy lifestyle not drinking or smoking a lot; and 3) rest.
Amy Steele: It seems like a lot of singers smoke.
Lilla: Even if I’m in a room with smokers, before they outlawed smoking indoors, my voice would be gone if I were playing around smokers or people were smoking. Some people sing through the smoking. Adele smokes but then she had nodes on her vocal cords and had to come off tour. Also another thing is not screaming over the band, making sure you can hear yourself over the band. A lot of time on stage it is really hard to hear. Our ears the louder things get the harder it is to hear. After a while your ears get used to it.
Amy Steele: What is different when someone sees you live?
Lilla: I would hope that live it is more dynamic. they can feel more emotion, more connection. but also I love it when you go to a live show and wow it’s just like the record or when you go and it’s wow look what they did with that. That’s so cool and it takes another dimension. I love being able to connect with people and being able to meet and talk with people after the show.
Amy Steele: Someone suggested that I do a podcast. I’d love to do something just focused on women in music.
Lilla: That’d be cool. I’ll help support that any way I can. I know tons of amazing women in music.
Amy Steele: I don’t always cover women of course but I’ve been a feminist since fifth grade and always have that feminist viewpoint. Of course there are men that are feminists. That would exclude a lot of bands if I just covered women.
Lilla: Women need the support. Even at Berklee it was 80/20: the percentage of men versus women. The amount of women in the industry it’s hard. I would love to have some women in my band. It’s the ratio of women in the industry vs. men in the industry. If you look at statistics, I’m more likely to end up with men in my band.
One of my goals is to set a good example for women and try to let them know that you can do your thing and not have to depend on other people and you also don’t have to sell your body, your soul and yourself. If that’s what you believe then it can be done. When I first started I was a little naïve. I was 19 or 20 in L.A. thinking I’m going to meet some producer and after so many people saying they’d do things and it would fall through, I realized I have to do this. No one is going to do this for me. If I want my career to happen I’m the one who has to push it.
Women go through a bit of a power struggle. I’ve even dealt with musicians who because I was younger than them and a girl would try to push me. Now I get more respect.
Amy Steele: Do you think those are the biggest challenges being a woman in the industry?
Lilla: The biggest is I think people not taking me very seriously. Or also people having ulterior motives but I’ve learned to spot those upfront. You get one chance with me. If you don’t come through and you’re not professional, I’m moving on.
Amy Steele: As a music journalist I deal with some of the same issues. It’s definitely 80/20 men to women. I get tired of hearing the opinions of 30- or 40-something white guys.
Lilla: I know. Even with managers and producers. I would love a woman manager. They’re rare. I would love someone on my management team to be a woman. They understand more.
Amy Steele: Why did you call the album The Awakening?
Lilla: One of the first songs and the one I get a reaction to most is “Wake Up.” It’s kind of the title track and the other title track is called “Sunrise.” The point of my life when I was releasing it and I was finishing school and there were a lot of changes. I was realizing a lot of things about music and the industry and the work we’re creating and putting out into the world. Music will last forever. How I want to contribute. I was doing a lot of touring and doing a lot of new age, conscious festivals. Getting into yoga and meditation. If I have a choice on how I can affect the listeners I want to have a choice. It’s the transition between the last few years and now. Growing up, maturing and seeing things through new eyes.
Amy Steele: Let’s talk about how you developed some of the songs.
That song literally wrote itself. I hit record and pretty much sang the whole song. I changed some lyrics later to make it clear about what I wanted to say. I was going through a phase where there was a lot happening. There were a lot of bombings in the Middle East and we were supposed to be out of Iraq but we weren’t. I was angry about that. It’s is this a dream or was that a dream. All these things happening. Good and bad. Positive and negative.
I wrote after I went to New Orleans which was after Katrina and I was dealing with how to find a way to musically help me. I didn’t know anything about how to get your music out there and how to get a following. So I went to New Orleans and I was shocked about what the musicians were doing despite that. Through all the darkness there was this light. This Amazing music, history, culture, vibrance. Sunrise is after the dark night there’s always going to be a sun.
When I was living in L.A. I started recording with friends who did hip hop. It was conscious hip hop talking about real things. Society and culture and things that need to be addressed. (She’s done a track with Talib Kweli!) when I was in L.A. I did a track with Daz who was one of the members of the Dog Pound, one of Snoop’s group. We did this song together. A couple years later in Portland I saw him backstage. So I was backstage with Snoop Dogg and all them and people probably thought “she’s hanging out with all these guys backstage.” Some guy started telling people rumours about me. He said I went back to their hotel. I never went to their hotel. So you can tell how this got started. He said/she said. Who cares anyway. You’re not my man. You’re a friend. If we’re leaving somewhere together we’re not going home together. It was kind of a tongue in cheek way of responding.
Memoirs I wrote with my friend Lisa who is a good friend of mine. You know when you find those people who can finish your sentences for you. The minute we started working together we wrote songs and songs and songs. Someone gave us an instrumental and one night we came up with this song. Kinda the idea of having a crush on somebody and not being able to tell him how you feel. Whether you’re afraid of rejection or you like having a crush on him because it’s simpler. Being afraid to put your feelings on the table, that’s what that’s about. And I recorded that with a sweet sweet Jamaican rhythm section.
“I Changed My Mind”
Getting to that place where you’ve given to someone and they’re not giving anything in return. And putting energy into a black hole and saying I’m going to give that energy back to myself. A lot of times when you meet someone you don’t really know how things are going to go and after awhile it becomes not a two-way street. It’s a lot about yourself. You have to be sure number one is okay or you have nothing to give. You have to be sure your dreams are met or you’ll have nothing to give away.
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purchase at Amazon: The Awakening
“A real road comic works in cities that even mapquest doesn’t know.” —Oni Perez
“I should call myself four market Norton. I’m great in Boston and Cleveland. I do good in Phillie, New Jersey.” –Jim Norton
“I’ve been living out of a suitcase for over a decade.” –Nikki Glaser
“There’s something about drunk women. They love me.” –Alonzo Bodden
Several years ago, filmmaker Jordan Brady put out the documentary I Am Comic which illuminated the realities of being a stand-up comic.After being offered an out-of-state stand-up gig, he decided to make I Am Road Comic in order to document the costs of doing a road gig. He teamed up with his friend Wayne Federman and they traveled to the site. Interspersed throughout Federman and Brady’s experience on this stand-up gig are interviews with a variety of comics about life on the road. The success of I Am Comic allowed Brady a larger pool of comedians from which to cull interviews this time around. Since making I Am Comic, Brady’s met a lot more comics and could bring different voices and representation from the comedy world to the screen in I Am Road Comic.
I spoke with Jordan Brady by phone last week. We’ve been twitter friends for a while since I watched/discovered I Am Comic. We started the conversation by talking about interviews by phone vs. Skype. I said I was hesitant to interview a band on Skype because I didn’t want anyone to see me and the delight that Jordan is, he replied: “I’ve seen your avatar, you’re a pretty woman. Why don’t you show it off.” Very sweet.
Amy Steele: After doing I Am Comic what made you decide to do I Am Road Comic?
Jordan Brady: The success of I Am Comic led comedians that book shows—there’s this new trend that comedians often book their own nights at bars especially—they brand their own show. They mistakenly thought I was an active stand-up comedian because of I Am Comic. When I was asked to do a show. At first I said “no, no, no I’m a filmmaker now.” They said, “just come and do a set.” Finally I said yes. They booked me and I said I don’t have 45 minutes. I figured it would be a great documentary.
Amy Steele: So you were a stand-up a long time ago.
Jordan Brady: 20-something years ago I stopped but I’d started as a stand-up comic when I was 18 and did the road for 14 years. Colleges. Even though I knew this would be a good story of being on the road and I would take my good friend Wayne Federman with me, I knew it wouldn’t be the crux of the documentary. The meat of it would be the newer guys like TJ Miller, Marc Maron. The people that have rose to prominence in the last five years. People like Doug Benson and Marc Maron I’ve know for 30 years but TJ Miller, Maria Bamford, Jen Kirkman I met by going to clubs and they said they loved the movie. I Am Comic paved the way for these interviews in I Am Road Comic.
Amy Steele: What was your goal in making this? What’s the difference between I Am Road Comic and I Am Comic?
Jordan Brady: Economics was the difference. I was squeezing 80 comedians into 80 minutes. This time I wanted to approach it gorilla-style, as just me and a camera. Me on the road. I had to film it and also remember my comedy material.
With I Am Road Comic I wanted to specifically point out low-level road comedians and how you have to be so cost-effective. The only thing I knew was I was going to keep a tally of the expenses. For a gig you get a couple hundred bucks per show which is decent money for a bar gig. As soon as I had to buy a plane ticket I would only break even.
Amy Steele: How did you decide who to interview and how did you get people involved?
Jordan Brady: Less people because I realized if I had less people they’d get more screen time. I wanted to get more in-depth. There were a lot of old white guys in I Am Comic and I think the world has seen its share of old white comedians. I tried to get more females and I tried to get more minorities. A comic is a comic whether they’re a man, a woman, straight, gay, black, white, Puerto Rican. I don’t delve into that.
But I wanted younger hipper guys who are more relevant. Doug Benson and Marc Maron put out a couple of podcasts every week. I wanted to talk to comedians who were more personal in their material rather than jokey jokers. I wanted comedians that were honest in their material and their comedy was based on life experiences and based in reality. Some guys are road warriors like Alonzo Bodden. I think he works 45 weeks a year. Nikki Glaser is kind of a throw-back to the old-school road comics. There are only two guys who are famous for being comedians—Louis C.K.—but it took a television show to make him famous. Jerry Seinfeld played himself on Seinfeld. But until they had a scripted vehicle on television it’s hard to make it as a comedian.
It takes a series– and of late podcasts– to put people on the map. And radio is still big in the Midwest. If I had a thesis it was how relevant was the road to being a comedian today. The fact that Seth Milstein took a bus for 16 hours to perform his first road gig—and he wanted to be in a documentary—the answer was yes.
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Jennie Fields is the author of The Age of Desire, a novel that imagines the details of the affair between Pulitzer-prize winning author Edith Wharton and journalist Morton Fullerton when Edith was 45 years old. The affair took place mostly in Paris. It ultimately affected Edith’s relationship with her husband Teddy Wharton and her best friend and literary secretary Anna Bahlmann. The Age of Desire is told through Edith’s and Anna’s eyes.
Fields received an MFA in creative writing from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is the author of three other novels, Lily Beach, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry and The Middle Ages. An Illinois native, she spent many years as an advertising creative director in New York and currently lives with her husband in Nashville, Tennessee. Jennie spoke with me by phone last week. Read more information on her website.
Amy Steele: When did you first become interested in Edith Wharton?
Jennie Fields: I was probably in my early 20s when I first discovered her and the minute I did, I felt this tremendous kinship with her. Her books thrilled me and I never tire of reading them and rereading them. I discover something new. There’s always something new. Now you can get e-books that haven’t been in print for years through the Guttenberg Project. I never ever run out of new things to learn from her work.
Amy Steele: Your agent gave you this idea for this novel when you were in Paris.
Jennie Fields: It’s all true. It’s one of those aha moments.
Amy Steele:She suggested you write about your favorite author Edith Wharton but how did you decide what to write about?
Jennie Fields: I knew only vaguely about her life at that point. I knew she’d had an affair. I immediately got every book I could find about her—there were a number of biographies. I just started reading everything. I narrowed down a part of her life. I clearly wanted to write about her relationship with Fullerton because not only were the letters available but her love diary was available. There was one part of her life where she wrote a diary on a daily basis where you could really get a sense of what she was going through.
Then I had a sense that you needed to see her from the outside as well. I decided I wanted a secondary character. I identified Anna Bahlmann and no one had really written anything about her. She clearly was important to Edith. She was with her for years on and off. It was serendipity that her letter came up for auction. I went to my computer and put in Anna Bahlmann and that week at Christie’s, letters that had been in an attic for over 100 years, that nobody had read from Edith to Anna, were going to auction. What a thrill. I ran over to Christie’s. They let me look at the letters. Everything I’d surmised about the relationship was true. It gave me insight into how Anna fit into Edith’s life. I loved that there was a counter-relationship not just with Morton (Fullerton) but with someone who loved Edith more than Morton ever did.
Edith couldn’t have been an easy person to live with. By many accounts Edith was very imperious and difficult. She was up against a world where women didn’t succeed and she was determined to succeed. Anna was a good way to look at that.
Amy Steele: I was confused with the finances in the novel. Edith married Teddy for money at the beginning but then he stole from her trust fund later on.
Jennie Fields: The majority of the money that built the Mount and that Teddy stole from was money from her books. She was tremendously successful with her books. People don’t really recognize how successful she was. Really stunningly successful. She had way more money than him. [Teddy] was never a wealthy man; he was just an appropriate man.
Amy Steele: That’s too bad because she should have married Walter Berry.
Jennie Fields: She really should have married Walter. And when you read the House of Mirth you know that Selden is based on Walter. He’s just a penniless lawyer. He clearly loved her but didn’t declare himself and he wasn’t wealthy enough. And when he was, she was married to Teddy Wharton.
Amy Steele: She did divorce Teddy.
Jennie Fields: She finally divorced Teddy, in 1911 or 1912, at Walter’s behest because he was so dangerous.
Amy Steele: Sounded like a manic-depressive with no treatment.
Jennie Fields: They said he had gout in the head. And hot springs was all they could recommend.
Amy Steele:Amy: So I’ve read A Backward Glance but no biographies on Edith Wharton.
Jennie Fields: What’s interesting about A Backward Glance is it’s how Edith wants others to view her. She cut out Anna. She said she taught herself everything and no one encouraged her to read. Now we know from these letters that Anna saved that Anna encouraged her to read all the time. Even her parents were much more encouraging of her as a writer than she ever let on. She wanted people to believe she was born from her own power and that nobody encouraged her. It really wasn’t true.
Amy Steele: What do you really like about Edith Wharton?
Jennie Fields: The thing that draws me to her is that she always writes about people who are caught in the net of society’s expectations. They fight against that and often they don’t win.
A good example of that is Lily Barth [The House of Mirth]. One of the reasons why that book is so beautiful is that the tragedy of it is it’s her better nature that kills her. If she was a better person she would have gone ahead and married someone wealthier. She was too bright and too good to marry these wretched people.
And Newland Archer in Age of Innocence. He is told he is supposed to marry May and stay with May and he falls in love with Countess Ellen Olenska. It’s not what he’s slated to do. But he can’t fight society. He’s exhausted and can’t fight society.
But Edith herself was told she couldn’t do what she wanted to do and she did it anyway. The only thing she never succeeded at was love until she was 45 years old. Of course how well did she succeed but at least she found passion.
Amy Steele: Do you think Edith was that insecure in her relationship with Morton Fullerton? It was so uncomfortable reading some of it.
Jennie Fields: Those were her real letters and if you read the diary and the letters just on their own you will find how she was tremendously insecure and she really abased herself in front of this man who was not worthy of her. It’s painful to read but it’s the truth. There were moments when it was hard to write that book because I had to make Edith less heroic. She also didn’t sleep with him for a very long time. Probably longer than I’d like to go with fictionally but I had to go with the truth.
A: She wrote such strong female characters. Vulnerable but strong.
Jennie Fields: It’s true. Her mother never made her feel she was attractive in any way which I think made her prey to his interest in her. She was extremely girlish in her figure. Had gorgeous hair and had tremendous bearing. She held her back straight, her neck long. And she was tall for that era.
Amy Steele: what do you think attracted her to Morton?
Jennie Fields: He was extremely charming, very intelligent and very attractive. He had lovers of both sexes who could hardly say goodbye to him and he kept the letters to prove it. He must have been incredibly charming. She’d never had anybody pursue her like that before. She was pretty intimidating as a woman. A lot of men were not attracted to a very intelligent woman. He was attracted to her, he wanted her. He paid attention to her. And that was pretty heady stuff to her.
Amy Steele: What do you think Morton saw in her?
Jennie Fields: She was older, successful. He was drawn to success, fortune, fame. He saw her as a mark.
Amy Steele: Why hasn’t much been written about Anna (Bahlmann) up until now?
Jennie Fields: Anna said in a letter to her friends and to her family that all she wanted in her life was to make Edith’s life easier. I started to wonder why Edith would say in one summer ‘I can’t function without Anna. Where is Anna?’ and then the following summer she sent her away and then she sent her away again. I had to make my own conjectures.
Amy Steele: How fun is it to do that?
Jennie Fields: Well it makes a whole cloth for those who want to read it. So I really enjoy that but I want to tread lightly and carefully because I don’t want to misinterpret things. I wish the whole story were there and I could tell it exactly as it was but I can’t. I have to create scenes that make you understand why something may have happened.
Amy Steele: What was your greatest challenge in writing this novel?
Jennie Fields: Trying to tell a story that was as close to history as possible but trying to make you feel it. Sometimes I had to create my own answers and had to make sure it was credible. It’s so telling that she could be so powerful in the world but in the face of love she was really cut down.
Amy Steele: From the novel it sounds like she left The Mount and became an ex-pat and wanted to live in Paris.
Jennie Fields: That’s what happened. They built The Mount and they ended up moving to the suburbs of Paris and she won the French Legion of Honor for what she did during WWI and was buried in Versailles. She spent the rest of her life in Paris. I think she believed that American life was stifling and so prescribed that there was no room for her especially after she divorced Teddy. She was afraid to go back to America. By the 20s things have changes tremendously and she went to Yale University to get an award and it was her last trip to America. She just thought it was provincial.
Amy Steele: How was she able to write about New York society so well?
Jennie Fields: In The Age of Innocence she writes about society in the 1870s so it’s the past. She asked her friends what was going on. But a lot of her later stuff she’s conjecturing and that might be why it’s not as popular because it’s probably not as accurate.
Jaden Terrell wrote A Cup Full of Midnight, a mystery/thriller set in Nashville, Tenn and the second mystery focused on PI Jared McKean. When McKean starts working a case involving vampires and the occult it strikes close to home. His teenage nephew had been involved with the older victim. My review here.
In addition, Terrell contributes to Now Write! Mysteries, a collection of exercises published by Tarcher/Penguin for writers of crime fiction. Terrell is the executive director of the Killer Nashville Thriller, Mystery, and Crime Literature Conference and a recipient of the 2009 Magnolia Award for service to the Southeastern Chapter of Mystery Writers of America.
Jaden answered some questions via email.
Amy Steele: What appeals to you most about writing mysteries?
Jaden Terrell: I think we often write about things that frighten us or things we don’t understand. In real life, justice isn’t always served. Criminals are released on technicalities. Crimes can go unsolved, and even when they are solved, we’re left wondering why they happened. Mysteries explore both the motivations behind criminal acts and the effects of crimes on the victims and their loved ones. In the conflict between good and evil, good ultimately wins, though often at great cost. It’s reassuring to think there are strong, brave people standing between evil and the rest of us. Writing about Jared, the hero of my private detective series, reminds me that those people exist.
Amy Steele: How difficult is it to come up with a new storyline?
Jaden Terrell: It’s very easy to come up with new ideas. They’re everywhere. But developing those ideas into full-blown story-lines is harder. Plotting doesn’t come naturally to me, so going from the seed of the idea to the fully realized story takes a lot of work.
Amy Steele: Do you base your stories on anything you’ve seen or heard in the news?
Jaden Terrell: It would be more accurate to say they’re “inspired by” rather than “based on” actual events. My books incorporate elements of news stories, but the real-life incident is more of a jumping-off point or something that provides texture. In A Cup Full of Midnight, the second book in the series, I drew from several incidents in which young adults using vampire personae committed murder, but beyond the initial idea, there’s little correlation between the events in the book and the details of the original cases. The third book, which is in progress, explores human trafficking, and the fourth involves the practice of soring in the Tennessee Walking Horse Industry (soring is the use of pain to give a horse an exaggerated gait). Both issues have been in the news, but the plot is independent of any one case.
Amy Steele: Have you developed a working relationship with the Nashville police or with any private investigators so that you can bounce ideas off them?
Jaden Terrell: I attended Citizen Academies for the FBI, TBI, and Metro Nashville Police, which gave me some great contacts in all those agencies. I’m also friends with a former private detective, and I took a firearms course from a firearms instructor for Metro’s police department. Both have been extremely generous with their time and knowledge. When I was researching A Cup Full of Midnight, I took a medical examiner to lunch and interviewed him about what an autopsy would reveal about a murder described early in the book, and later, I met with a homicide detective to see what the on-site investigation would have been like.
Amy Steele: How do you describe the death scenes so vividly? Have you been to some crime scenes?
Jaden Terrell: Thank you for saying they’re vivid. I haven’t been to a crime scene, but I’ve seen a number of mock crime scenes staged by the TBI (Tennessee Bureau of Investigation), and I’ve read a lot about crime scenes and crime scene investigation. When possible, I’ve looked up photographs or interviewed professionals. I think one thing that makes a scene like this seem authentic is the reactions of other characters. For those, I relied on interviews with investigators and observations of how we behave when people we care about are sick, injured, or have passed away.
Amy Steele: How important is a title to a mystery?
Jaden Terrell: I think the title is very important. If a reader already knows and loves your work, they may pick it up regardless, but for a lesser-known writer, it’s often the title that first catches a reader’s attention. Since most print books are shelved with the spine out, the title is often the only thing a reader sees. If it’s catchy or thought-provoking, there’s a better chance a browser will pause to take a look. With e-books, it’s a little different, in that you see the whole cover and not just the spine, but since they’re usually just thumbnails, the effect is similar. Of course, you can’t always control your title. Publishers often change writers’ titles, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse.
Amy Steele: Have you always been a fan of mysteries?
Jaden Terrell: I’ve always been an eclectic reader. Mystery, fantasy, thriller, western, horror, literary…I’ve never been much for romance, but everything else has always been fair game.
Amy Steele: Who are some mystery authors past and/or current who you admire?
Jaden Terrell: Timothy Hallinan, Dennis Lehane, Robert Crais, Michael Connelly, John Connolly, John Sandford, Lawrence Block, S.J. Rozan, Jonathan Kellerman.
Amy Steele: You belong to several mystery and writing organizations, how do these help you in your writing?
Jaden Terrell: I’ve met so many exceptional writers through these organizations (and through my work with the Killer Nashville conference). We give each other support and encouragement, and I learn more about the writing craft by reading their books. I try to open doors for those whose work I admire, and those who have read and like my work do the same for me, so we end up reaching more readers than any one of us alone could do. So I would say both my writing and my writing career benefit from being a part of writing and mystery organizations like Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.
Amy Steele: Where did the idea for A Cup Full of Midnight come from?
Jaden Terrell: In the first book, Jared’s nephew, Josh, runs away from home and becomes involved with a dangerous fringe of the Goth subculture. Much of what happens to him occurs offstage, but there’s an indication that he’s become involved with an older man, Razor, who calls himself the Vampire Prince of Nashville. He was a Machiavellian character, and I wanted to explore both his ability to manipulate others and the consequences of his behavior. I also wanted to look at the difference between role players (since I’ve been one for years) and people who are not playing but rather living their personas. One day, I read a quote by Wayne Dyer describing God as a vast ocean of love and goodness; no matter how much you scooped out, the ocean itself was never diminished. I had the thought that evil was no different, and got an image of Razor standing beside a sea of darkness and dipping in a chalice to scoop out a cup full of that blackness. I knew then that Razor’s dance with the devil would end in his death and that Jared’s attempts to solve Razor’s murder would unveil layer after layer of machinations and lead him and Josh into danger.
Amy: What type of research went into this book?
Jaden Terrell: I did quite a bit of reading, both online and in books, about the “real” vampire culture, including blogs by people who believe themselves to be vampires. I knew a lot already about roleplaying and role players, so I didn’t have to do much in that area. In terms of Jared’s investigation, much of what I learned from my general research came into play (though I made a rookie mistake with one of the firearms—I changed Jared’s handgun from a Glock to a Taurus and back again, and when I changed back to the Glock, I forgot to remove the safety). One of the challenges in writing a PI novel is keeping the police on the sidelines without making them seem incompetent. I spoke to several police officers about ways to achieve that.
Amy: Why did you want to write about vampires and the occult?
Jaden Terrell: I didn’t think of it that way. I started with the idea that Josh was into the Goth subculture but involved with someone much darker. The vampire subculture is the darker end of that spectrum, so it seemed like a natural fit. Because I had played the vampire role-playing game, I was both interested and appalled by the real-life murder cases in which vampire wannabes committed murder. How do you cross that line from pretending to be a supernatural monster to becoming a real one? In the book, the Storyteller in the game, Chuck, describes players whose characters are “sharks in people suits.” My friends and I always played “superheroes with fangs,” the whole point of which was creating characters who resisted the monster inside. Why would someone deliberately embrace it? And what would make a group of seemingly normal teenagers allow themselves to be drawn into such a dark and elaborate web?
Amy Steele: Let’s talk about your main character, the P.I. Jared McKean. Why did you decide to write a man and from a man’s perspective instead of a woman? How did you come up with this character? He’s strong but very sensitive as he has a special needs child and his best friend has AIDS. What made you add those additional characteristics?
Jaden Terrell: I was trying to write about a woman, and it wasn’t working. She was a stereotypical feisty female PI, and no matter what I did, I kept coming up with bad Kinsey Milhone knock-offs. I always ended up making her so different from me that I couldn’t identify with her or so similar to me that she refused to take any risks (“No, seriously, I’ll stay here and lock the doors and call 911. YOU sneak into the basement and take on the bad guys.”). I kept getting the image of this tall, handsome man in jeans and a leather bomber jacket leaning on a whitewashed wooden fence in front of a horse pasture. “I’m your guy,” he’d say, and I’d say, “No you’re not. I’m writing about this feisty female detective.” Eventually, I sat back and said, “Okay, let’s see what you’ve got.” I wanted him to be very strong, but also to have a depth of compassion. Because I had taught special education for twelve years, I gave him a son, Paul, with Down syndrome, and because I had lost a close friend to AIDS, I thought it would be interesting to explore a lifelong friendship between a straight, tough-guy, former cop and a gay man with AIDS. Both these relationships soften Jared and—I hope—give him depth and dimension.
Amy Steele: What do you like best about Jared?
Jaden Terrell: That’s a hard question! I love his loyalty, the way he never gives up on anyone he loves. His horse is almost as old as he is. His dog is ancient and arthritic. He’s still in love with his ex-wife. His best friend is gay and may be dying. He finds a way to make relationships work, even when it’s hard, even when making them work means redefining them. He’s flawed, but he tries to do the right thing.
Amy Steele: What is your favorite aspect of A Cup Full of Midnight?
Jaden Terrell: Some of the characters have very complex motivations. They have conflicting emotions, conflicting desires. Depicting that complexity was both challenging and rewarding.
Amy Steele: Why do you write?
Jaden Terrell: The usual answer to that question is, “Because I can’t NOT write,” but that’s not the whole story. If I stopped writing, I would still enjoy watching the movies in my mind. I would still be writing in my head. Sometimes it’s hard to make yourself move past that stage and actually write the story. But the movie in your mind is never really complete and therefore, enjoyable as it is, is never totally satisfying. It’s not until it’s written down that you see its real potential. Then, as you edit and revise, the layers and subtexts reveal themselves and the story becomes so much more than it was when you were only imagining it. There’s nothing like reading a scene and realizing that, while it seems familiar, there’s also something alien about it. It’s almost like it was written by someone else, and by Jove, it works.
Amy Steele: I’m fascinated that you’re a writer and a certified horse massage therapist. When and why did you become one?
Jaden Terrell: I’ve always loved horses and, at the same time, been a little afraid of them. I’m uncomfortable with riding, partly because of the danger and partly because I’m overweight and it seems unfair to the horse. But I love to brush and pet them. I love their company. I love the way they smell. When I first read about equine sports massage and realized I could take a course in it, it seemed like the perfect way to enjoy the company of horses without having to get off the ground. I’ve never done it professionally, but my palomino quarter horse, like Jared’s, is in his 30s, and massage is a gift I can give him in return for all the years he gave me and his previous owners.
Amy Steele: What’s the best advice someone’s giving you about writing?
Jaden Terrell: This came from my friend and fellow writer, Philip Cioffari, who wrote Catholic Boys and Jesusville. He said, “Be ruthless with your writing time. Protect it with your life.” I have trouble saying no to other obligations, so I have this posted in my calendar, on the notepad on my phone, and everywhere I write.