Secrets of the M*A*S*H Mess: The Lost Recipes of Private Igor

MASH Mess082

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

In 1950, a country bumpkin named Igor Straminsky answered his country’s call to duty and, as an unwitting Army private, soon found himself in the most hostile environment the planet could ever serve up. No, we’re not talking about Korea. We’re talking about the men and women of the 4077th who queued up three times a day with plastic trays, growling stomachs, and growing suspicions they’d more likely meet their deaths at the inept hands of their new cook than they ever would in confrontations with the enemy they’d come to fight. “Dear Ma,” Igor wrote home, “Instead of letting me work at something I’m good at, they’re gonna make me do a job I don’t know anything about! Radar, the company clerk here, told me that he thinks the Army does that on purpose.”

Suffice it to say, Igor had plenty of time to hone his craft (such as it was). His stint in a mess tent chef’s hat, in fact, lasted eight years longer than the actual Korean War. When the hit television series M*A*S*H finally bowed out in 1983, almost 125 million viewers tuned in to say goodbye, the largest audience ever for a TV show. Fortunately, Igor’s efforts to please the palate weren’t left behind on a helicopter pad. His alter ego-Hollywood actor/writer/entrepreneur Jeff Maxwell-has compiled the best of Igor’s mess tent magic into a hilarious book entitled “Secrets of the M*A*S*H Mess: The Lost Recipes of Private Igor.”

Testimonial from Colonel Potter: “There seems to be a misconception here. Those recipes weren’t lost! We did our best to hide them.”

Within these wacky pages—which are replete with black and white production stills, “dog-tag” quotes, and letters home—the author not only gives us generous dollops of homegrown culinary advice but demonstrates a talent for memorializing his Army experiences and friendships with his own brand of signature recipes such as Hot Lips Tri-Tips, Radar’s Teddy Bear Turkey Loaf, and Hunnicut’s Homesick Cookies.

As clueless as Igor seemed to be whilst unveiling inventive concoctions such as “Cream of Weenie Soup” or “Hot Potato Pucks”, he shows remarkable clarity in laying out instructions that are fun and easy to follow. Whether you’re mustering your troops off to work or school with “Frontline Flapjacks with Chocolate Gravy”, settling in for an evening flick with “Movie Night Popcorn Shrimp” or dazzling your next book club group with “Forward Marsh Melts”, there’s no denying that Igor knows what it takes to please picky eaters.

Testimonial from Hawkeye Pierce: “Can’t wait to try the recipes. There are several people I’m trying to kill.”

In real life, Maxwell loves to chat about the convoluted journey that took him from the bowels of the Print Department at 20th Century Fox to stand-up comedy to the elation of playing a character with an actual name on a hit series instead of just a credit as “Soldier 1”. The proliferation of candid shots throughout the book suggest the slap-dash happiness of an overgrown kid who has not only found himself at the summer camp of a lifetime but in the thick of new friendships destined to last forever.

Q: Did you know anything about M*A*S*H before you joined the series?

A: Not really. I thought it was something you fed to chickens! Okay, okay, for a short time I worked as a casting director at Twentieth Century Fox and was responsible for casting some of the smaller parts in a film titled M*A*S*H. I saw the movie when it was released and loved it. I knew nothing about the television version or the actors in it until the first day I showed up on the set.

Q: What were your impressions of the film?

A: Robert Altman’s raw, improvisational and bloody approach made me feel very uncomfortable. It also made me laugh which, I believe, is the true genius of both the movie and the television show.

Q: Had you read the novel on which the film was based?

A: Shortly after joining the show, I did read the book and enjoyed it. But don’t you think it would have been a better novel if Igor had been in it?

Q: Did you think M*A*S*H was going to be a huge hit when you first read the script?

A: No. As a matter of fact, the show was getting less than super ratings in the early days. Shortly after I made my appearances, the ratings shot through the roof. Draw your own conclusions.

Q: So what were your impressions of Private Igor?

A: I really liked Igor and thought of him as a person struggling to get used to a job that wasn’t familiar or comfortable. Like everybody else in the compound, he was stuck there. I played him as a mechanic who was forced to trade motor oil for butter fat. The thing I liked most about him is that no matter how tough people treated him, he always tried to be a little funny.

Q: Tell us what inspired you to write a book.

A: Several year before the show ended production, I thought it would be funny if Igor were to write his own cookbook. I had planned to write it during the last season but got involved in another project. Better late than never.

Q: Did you come up with all the recipes yourself?

A: In the book you learn that Igor created them. He didn’t know it but he was really a gifted chef who was forced to cook-by-the-book. Okay, maybe he had a little help from a couple of friends and Mrs. Igor.

Q: And how about you? Are you a good cook?

A: You bet your creamed weenies I am!

Q: Have any of your fellow actors tried the recipes?

A: I don’t know. But I haven’t heard from any lawyers yet.

Q: Do you have a favorite go-to comfort food?

A: I’ve become a major student of the art of smoking food. I am an animal lover, and this will not sit well with many of my respected friends, but I admit to loving smoked ribs. Successfully blending seasonings with just the right amount of smoky flavor to build the perfect flavor profile on a rack of ribs is an art.

Q: Getting back to the show, do you recall a favorite episode?

A; Adam’s Ribs stands out in my mind as one of the all-time greats. The “river of liver, ocean of fish” scene between Hawkeye and Igor is a classic.

Q: Which character was your favorite (besides Igor)?

A: Tough question to answer. All the characters and their behaviors were so integral to the comedy and theme; it would be hard to suggest any one was a favorite. I enjoyed each of them for what they contributed to every episode.

Q: When was it determined the 11th season would be the last?

A: I think at the end of the 10th.Everybody knew that all of the stories had been told. To continue into a 12th season would have put the quality of the writing, acting and producing in great jeopardy. Although there was talk of moving the show to Alaska and re-naming it MUSH.

Q: What was it like on the set that final day?

A: It was warm and fuzzy—kind of like that nice fog you’re in after a big Thanksgiving meal. There was a lot of hugging and a few teary outbursts but, for the most part, surprisingly upbeat. All the agents, however, were sobbing daily.

Q: Was there any talk about you appearing on “AfterM*A*S*H?”

A: If there was, nobody told me. If they had only researched how Igor affected the ratings on M*A*S*H, AfterM*A*S*H might still be on today. But seriously, the stories and humor of M*A*S*H were driven by one of the most powerful, horrendous human endeavors one can imagine. Taking those characters out of the war and putting them in a benign setting for any kind of reunion show would be as wrong as moving Gilligan’s Island to Korea.

Q: Are you still acting?

A: Not really, although ask me and I might. I enjoy bringing projects to fruition and have become very involved with fund-raising, producing movies and selling television shows. Raising budgets for independent films is challenging and exciting. And it can make you nauseous and sweaty even in winter.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: Probably that I am an extremely serious person. The secret about comedians is that their desire to be funny is usually born out of difficult childhood experiences. I’m not talking about abuse, but something that makes them feel fragmented from their family and/or peers. Cool kids are not usually motivated to do stand-up comedy. They’re too busy fielding offers from the CIA or Apple. It’s the not-so-cool kids who make their classmates laugh to gain acceptance and to avoid getting beat up by the cool kids. Many funny folks are serious and shy. I guess I have that in my DNA, too.

Q: What’s the oldest, weirdest or most nostalgic item you currently have in your closet?

A: My brother.

Q: Rumor has it that you have a new book in the works. What is it about?

A:  My wife recently endured Breast Cancer and its treatment. I’m planning on writing about the experience and its impact on us as a couple, but mostly how it affected me. I’m going to take the reader on the difficult path of the event while highlighting some humorous moments nobody expects. It will definitely not be a medical textbook or a maudlin tome. Still thinking about putting some recipes in it.

My wife is now doing quite well, by the way.

Q: Anything else you’d like our readers to know?

A: Whether they remember it or not, I’d like them to know that M*A*S*H was a magical moment for everyone connected with the show. I was fortunate to have worked with incredibly talented, vibrant and intelligent people, cast and crew, for nine of the eleven-years the show was produced. I gained life-long friendships and learned a lot about acting, writing, and behavior in the very heady environment of a successful television show. The late Larry Gelbart developed the show for television and wrote most of the episodes in the first four years. Gene Reynolds was the executive producer of the show and directed most of the episodes in the first four years. Larry’s writing genius combined with Gene’s wisdom and incredible talent for the daily maneuvering of a gaggle of high-powered actors was the fuel that allowed the magic to happen on the stage and in our living rooms. And it helped me grow up. Although I’m definitely still a work in progress.

I’d also urge your readers to watch the reruns of M*A*S*H whenever possible. I like the residuals.

A Chat with Ann Royal (aka Anna) Nicholas

Ann Royal

In the world of show business, a person who can sing, dance and act is often referred to as a “triple threat”. But what do you get when you mix equal parts of writing, acting, horseback riding, mediating, book publishing, cocktail blogging and an unabashed stash of wicked wit, creativity and compassion? The delightful result is Ann Royal (aka Anna) Nicholas – a woman with so many talents to her credit that I don’t know if even a “centuple threat” label would quite cover everything. Nevertheless, it’s an honorary title we’re happy to bestow on this week’s spotlight guest.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: At what age did you first realize you were a wildly creative being?

A:  At about the age of ten. Something compelled me to create a pair of large crewelwork lips on the derriere of my jeans. I took some heat for it, but I wore those jeans until the lips fell off.

Q: Who (or what) encouraged you to explore every possible avenue of expression?

A: I did a lot wild things in my youth—jumping off the 2nd story of our house so I could ride my bike to the nearest bar that would accept fake I.D.s and that sort of thing. I wonder now how many of those early escapades, including the artistic pursuits—e.g., the “plays” I used to direct in which my younger brothers and sister would star—naked—were spawned by a need for approval and attention from my parents who divorced when I was young. None of us got a lot of attention but I did some rather antic things to try and earn it.

Q: Writing is one of many venues in which you excel. Do you believe that great writers are born or that they must be nurtured to become great?

A: I think anyone, ANYone, can become a better writer through practice, reading and self-discipline; tedious and unremarkable a claim as that is. There’s certainly no pill for it. I also think there are few writers whom all of us believe are truly great. That said, I think most of our “greatest” artists—whether they be singers, dancers, composers, actors, writers—seem to just have something extra.

Q: If you were hosting a posh dinner party to which some of the authors whose work you most admire were invited, who would be on that guest list and which two would you like on either side of you?

A: I’d want an animated conversation so even if I admired an author’s work, I would want to know they’d contribute to a lively evening. On that basis, and without benefit of knowing their verbal skills, I’d prepare a round table for five and invite Kurt Vonnegut because he was so funny and smart and political. I’d seat Jane Austen next to him, because they’d have fun comparing notes on social commentary in fiction. Joan Didion would need to be there because she writes to find out how she feels about things (a reason I write) and I could ask her what she’s discovered. I’d also want JK Rowling next to me because she has done the most amazing job of creating a literary empire and the rest of us could benefit from hearing how she did it. But I don’t know whom I’d choose to sit next to. In fact I think I’d need to switch seats with every course served.

Q: You’ve published the first two books in The Muffia series, a series which you describe as Sex and the City Meets Jane Austen. How did this premise come about and who is your intended audience for it?

A: I am a member of The Muffia—not the group calling itself The Muffia, which represents militant mothers in the UK, women who attack other mothers for poor parenting skills in grocery stores. Nor am I part of the group of lesbian sex workers who absconded with the name. My Muffia is a real-life, Los Angeles-based women’s book club that’s been in existence since 2001. We came together after 9/11, when a lot of us needed our friends. All of us work or have worked, some are mothers, and all of us love to read, have adventures and tell stories.  When one Muff had a torrid affair with a Mossad agent, I could no longer keep myself from writing us down in a book. My readers would feel perfectly at home in my book club, and their husbands, who are curious about what goes on at “book club,” might find The Muffia illuminating.

Q: Which is more challenging for you – to write a stand-alone title in which all (or most) questions are tidily wrapped up or to write a series with sustaining characters that are constantly posing new questions?

A: As a viewer/reader, I don’t like things tied up perfectly because life is never tied up perfectly; unless you’ve successfully gotten through all the steps necessary for a dental implant. But I think in a series, each book has to achieve some sort of finality, otherwise when does it end? I don’t know that either one is more difficult. The genre and story dictate.

Q; Plotter or pantser? And why does your choice best accommodate the way you approach a new project?

A: A little of each. I have a general idea for a story and I put together a rough outline. With each of the Muffia books, there’s a light mystery involved and mysteries need some plotting. If you have a dead body on the first page, and the body belongs to someone important to one of the characters in your book, your reader needs to find out who that person was, how he died and how your living characters deal with it. And you need to have clues appear at critical intervals to heighten or lessen tension because there are always those nagging questions. Literary fiction also needs a plot but it may not need to be quite so driving as in a mystery. Having an outline, with whatever I write—plays included– keeps me headed in a direction even if I take detours. On those days when inspiration isn’t getting me into a chair to write, having a map gets me going.

Q: Like many authors today you’ve sought to maintain more control over your intellectual property by launching Bournos, your own self-publishing imprint. What governed that decision and what has proven to be the biggest challenge in wearing multiple hats?

A: Wearing multiple hats was not my first choice. There was a time I imagined myself typing away in a bathtub (the image of Clifton Webb in Laura comes to mind). My publisher, who was waiting anxiously for my manuscript, would then turn it into a bestseller. Such are the dreams of the unpublished. Like a romance novel whose hero rescues the damsel, or the Calgon slogan “Take me away….” But no, that’s not the way it works these days. When the small publishing house that said it would publish my series not only selected a cover I didn’t like but did less to promote it than I was, I thought I could do a better job myself and wouldn’t owe them anything. It seemed like the best move, even if it took me away from writing. And therein is the biggest challenge, having my attention taken from what I want to do, in order to deal with the business part of selling books.

Q: Is Bournos strictly a platform for your own work or do you publish stories by others?

A; It’s set up to publish the work of others as well, should I ever read a manuscript I feel I can become a champion of. I’ve laid the groundwork in terms of staffing and outsourcing of some tasks, to accommodate other people’s books.

Q: What do you advise fellow authors thinking of going the self-publishing route?

A: First, make sure your book is ready. Beta test it with trusted friends and relations who will tell you the truth. Find editor(s) to polish it. You may need a content editor and/or a copy editor and there’s lots of help online to find these people. Go to writers’ conferences and sit in on the sessions related to self-publishing. You’ll meet other authors, editors and publishers who can give you recommendations. When your book is ready (or concurrently with the editing process), find out what is happening in self-publishing at that very moment. It’s a constantly changing landscape of cover design, formatting, Kindle unlimited vs. other outlets, book blogs, etc., and it can be overwhelming. If you can afford to hire an author’s assistant to help you through it, they are out there too. But get recommendations. As with most people one contracts with, the best people are often the busiest, so make sure you talk timelines.

Q: What are some of the things you’re currently doing to promote your work?

A:  The main thing is to keep writing. Without new content coming out regularly, a writer can die in this marketplace. You can’t really keep saying “Buy my book” when you haven’t written anything new since 1997. These days a writer can’t promote just a book, she needs to promote herself and build a following. It’s what they call branding and it takes time and energy to do. Like a lot of people—women particularly—I don’t enjoy promoting myself, even if I’m great at promoting others. But I’ve become comfortable with tweeting about writing, theatre, horses, cocktails, wine and other things that interest me and the characters in The Muffia.

Q: When you’re not writing or acting, you’re using your law degree as a mediator. Has wordsmithing enabled you to be a better mediator and/or has your legal background influenced your craft as an author?

A: I completely believe we are made up of our corporeal selves and the totality of our experiences, so they feed each other. The narrator of book one in the Muffia series is based on me insofar as she’s an ex-lawyer and underemployed mediator. The contradiction with mediating and writing is that mediation involves reducing conflict, whereas dramatic writing requires it. So when I write, I have to be vigilant not to step in and mediate my characters’ conflicts!

Q: As if your plate weren’t already overflowing, you also manage to squeeze in some horseback riding. Tell us about it.

A: There is no other thing I do that takes me out of my head like being with horses. They don’t let you multi-task, which is a joy, given that the rest of my life requires it. Horses are big, potentially dangerous, and you have to be ready for the unexpected─thinking about plot development when you’re riding isn’t wise. A snake might slither onto the trail causing your horse to rear and dump you before bolting back to the barn. I own a Thoroughbred rescue named Will—aka Wilbur, William, Guillermo and various other endearments. I have been working with him for three years, and yes, I have fallen off in the course of training him to be an Event horse. He and I have recently had a bit of success after overcoming many obstacles involving Will’s sensitive nature, early abuse and health issues. He’s my four-legged partner.

Q: You recently appeared onstage opposite David Selby. For those of us who swooned over his dreamy looks as Quentin, the conflicted werewolf, in Dark Shadows or his turn as Richard Channing, Jane Wyman’s dashing adversary in Falcon Crest, did you ever watch either show? (Just curious.)

A: I was not an aficionado of either show but David is still very handsome. He’s also very kind and a complete professional who is conscientious about his work. And one thing you may not know about David, he is also a published author.

Q: Speaking of things theatrical, you also pen plays. Which do you prefer – writing lines of dialogue that will be read silently or those that will be spoken by actors?

A: That’s a hard one. A writer of novels doesn’t often get to hear how a reader makes sense of the words on the pages she writes, while it’s the actor’s job to do so. I just want people receiving the words to understand and be moved by the character speaking them, even if it’s only in one’s head.

Q: Dream role you’d love to play?

A: It’s changed over time, of course. I did once want to play Juliet. Now I’d most like to originate a role in a fabulous new play, like Jayne Houdyshell in the Tony-nominated The Humans by Stephen Karam. Or Sigourney Weaver’s turn in Durang’s Vanya, Sonya, Masha and Spike.

Q: Many of the best writers I’ve ever known actually got their start treading the boards. What influence did your own acting experience have insofar as developing characters, planning structure and creating conversations amongst personalities in a book?

A: A trained actor needs to understand her character’s motivations. The question of “Why am I saying this now?” comes up a lot in rehearsals. This is a question that needs to be in the mind of the author of novels, too.

Q: Do you ever get writer’s block and, if so, how do you get over it?

A: I write notes to myself constantly and I also record voice memos telling myself what to do. Like having an outline, as mentioned above, giving my brain a job on a given project gives me that opening I need to sit down and begin writing. It’s like giving myself a writing prompt and usually when I do that, I’m off and running. I have, however, read notes I’ve awakened to write in the middle of the night only to find they make no sense for the project I’m working on, nor for anything else. The other day I found a note-to-self that said, “Make Tamra a bat” and I have no idea what that’s about.

Q: What would our readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I eat donuts, my skin is too big for my frame, I don’t write every day, I feel guilty about not showing up for more fundraisers, I take naps, I sometimes have to drag myself to public functions, I like sentimental films, I still have a Cinderella complex and dream of galloping off on a white horse even if I know that’s ridiculous.

Q: What is the oldest, weirdest or most nostalgic item in your closet?

A: I will not part with a Pucci dress that my mother wore in the late 1960s. It still fits me and I absolutely love it. I hope my son has a girlfriend one day whom I can give it to.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: Too much! I’m writing the third book in The Muffia series entitled Muff Stuff , writing a new play about nosy neighbors and editing a couple of other plays. Unrepresented playwrights usually must submit their own work to fellowships and workshops, so that requires writing too. This year it’s been worth it as two of my plays have been finalists at Sundance, Lila Acheson, Centenary Stages and Playwrights Center.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: My website, I guess, which is annanicholas.com and if you’re on Facebook I am facebook.com/theannanicholas and facebook.com/annroyalnicholas. I’m on Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram @aroyaln and I blog (where I regularly post cocktails) at themuffia.us.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Ten percent of Muffia profits are given to charitable organizations benefitting women and girls. We have contributed to Girls Inc., Step Up and we (the real life Muffia) are always looking to help more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Down the Aisle with Bridezilla

bridezilla

Dealing with four demanding clients, Megan Waters thought her job as a wedding planner would involve romance and eternal bliss. Instead her profession has been causing drama, outrageousness, and has made Megan reach for the aspirin bottle in her top drawer more than once. 

In Carli Palmer’s debut novel, the term Bridezilla lives up to its moniker. Follow the crazy journey in one determined woman’s life, where what should be a time to celebrate, ends up being her worst nightmare!

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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First things first, tell us about Down the Aisle with Bridezilla. Such an interesting title!

Thanks!  This book is about a wedding planner named Megan Waters who resides in Malibu.  Along with a friend from college she forms a wedding planning company catering to rich clients- aka the bridezilla.  The story is about how she keeps her head straight while pleasing to all their demands.  And their demands are outlandishly ridiculous!

Give us an insight into your main character.  What does she do that is so intriguing

I don’t consider Megan Waters special.  I wanted her to be relatable to readers. To me that meant making her as ordinary as possible.  With the same goals as other gals – love, some good luck, and a good life.

How did the idea come about for this storyline?

For this book I got the idea from a TV show called Bridezillas which doesn’t run anymore.  I remember thinking that I never read a novel from the wedding planner’s point of view.  It’s always about the bride.  By seeing the story unfold through Megan’s (the wedding planner) eyes we see how crazy these brides really get.

How much research did you do for this novel? Better put, is there anyone you based this novel on, names withheld, of course.

Tons.  This book was my first true attempt at a full-fledged novel so I figured it would be more believable if I had an idea of what the wedding business was about.  My research was solely the Internet and personal experience.  I scoured tons of sites to find out what the going trend was, then I blew it out of proportion to fit the book.  My brides are anything but plain and ordinary.  But it’s not based on anyone I know, that’s where my imagination came in.

What does your writing process involve; any steps you like to take specifically?

It’s really all over the place.  Sometimes I’ll do my research first, other times I might just dive into the writing.  It varies on what my mood is.  If I have a scene in my head that I don’t want to lose track of I’ll write it out right there and then and then go back to fill in the facts and details.  I still do write the first draft with pen and paper.  Then I type it out.  It’s what I grew up with and helps me think out the story more.  Plus there is something soothing to me to actually writing it down first.

Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just to see where an idea takes you?

I am definitely a planner.  I start with the initial idea.  Then I work on the characters, locations, and then a book outline and last but not least I outline each chapter.  I love working with pictures.  So tons of magazine photos end up in my files after the book is done.  If I’m describing a dress or a bouquet, chances are I have a picture somewhere that sparked the initial concept.

If/when you get hit with that inevitable writer’s block, how do you overcome it? 

Ugh!!  I consider it losing my mojo.  It’s like an ocean wave for me.  When the wave comes in, I write like crazy because I am in the zone.  When the wave is out, my thoughts don’t connect and I hate everything I’m writing. To get out of it I’ll usually jump to another project I’m working on.  Right now I’m working on my second book due out next year hopefully and an idea I have for two book series and also a screenplay.  So there’s a lot to keep me busy.

Putting together that first book is a long process for most that involves so much. How long did it take you to write Bridezilla?

It was on and off for seven years.  In that time I was finishing up college and working full time so all my writing was done in my free time.  If I had nothing to do besides writing, then I’m thinking I could have had it done within a year.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?

The ending.  At first I didn’t know how to end it.  I wanted Megan’s story to go on and on.  I get that way about TV shows too – thinking why did the network have to end that series?  Life goes on I guess.

Was there any particular areas of your manuscript you found the most difficult to write?

 Grammar always is an issue for me.  I was never an English major, just a sociology major so that’s why I have an editor. LOL.

You chose to go the indie route. What would you say are the main advantages and
disadvantages of self-publishing?

 Self-publishing allows the no-name writer like me to tell a story.  I’ve read books from authors who wouldn’t have gotten the time of day from a publishing house.  And they were fantastic books. A big disadvantage of self-publishing that I’m just finding out is the marketing.  You have to do it all yourself and it’s a learning road with a lot of roots sticking out of the ground.

Choosing names for our characters can be easy or tough, based on the personalities we create. How relevant are the names of the characters in your books? 

I definitely think about the name for a while.  I really do think it makes a difference. Think about it – would we think of Scarlett O’Hara in the same way if she was called Jane?  Megan was a down to earth name pertaining to the fact that I wanted her to be ordinary so I couldn’t name her something like Jasmine or Cleo – or anything with finesse to it.  I actually have a few lists of names that are about 30 pages long – for male, female, and last names.  I go through them when I’m creating a new character and whatever hits me, I pick.

Is there a famous person, living or dead, who inspires you?

Too many to count.  If I had to pick right this moment I would say it’s a three way tie right now between Kate White (author), Cleo Coyle (author), and Stephen J. Cannell (writer/producer).  Kate White writes a mystery series that I have read over and over about twelve times.  Cleo Coyle also writes a mystery series that takes place in a coffeehouse.  Both are still alive. Stephen J. Cannell created over 40 TV shows including 21 Jump Street, The A-Team, and Baretta.  He passed away in 2010.  If you ever watched his shows, he was the guy in the end sitting at a typewriter and throwing a sheet of paper into the air.

If you were given the opportunity to spend some time with him or her, just what kind of day would you plan?

I would sit with them at an all day writing session.  Coffee, food, talking, and coming up with a great crime drama/suspense mystery.  Kate would supply the suspense, Cleo would supply the details, Stephen would supply the drama, and I would supply the characters.  All this taking place on a balcony overlooking Los Angeles somewhere where we could listen to the sounds of the streets.

It’s always fun to visualize our books on the big screen. If you could cast your characters in the Hollywood adaption of your book, who would play your characters?

 I could see Megan Waters as an unknown actress and the brides all being established actresses.  For some reason I can see Cameron Diaz playing a bride.  She can do a nasty side pretty well.

Time to humbly advertise. Are there any social network or websites where readers can learn more?

Right now you can find me on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23510939-down-the-aisle-with-bridezilla

LibraryThing: http://www.librarything.com/author/palmercarli

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Down-Aisle-Bridezilla-Carli-Palmer/dp/150259711X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1417735501&sr=1-1&keywords=carli+palmer

And readers can always e-mail me at: cpalm8486@yahoo.com

 

A Conversation with Gyles Brandreth

Gyles CollageWhat can possibly be worse than a fictional character of your own creation getting far more fan mail than you do? In the case of Arthur Conan Doyle, it’s receiving three envelopes respectively containing a severed finger, a severed hand, and a lock of hair while you’re just trying to get away from it all for some R&R at a spa in Germany. To make matters worse, the celebrated author has been joined by the effusively chatty playwright, Oscar Wilde, who insists that they hop the very next train to Italy to answer an obvious cry for help.

Oscar Wilde and the Vatican Murders was my first introduction to the work of Gyles Brandreth but I knew by the time I turned the last page that I simply had to discover more about this wickedly witty and whimsical author.

And oh what a jolly discovery that quest turned out to be! From 6,000 miles away, this amazing gentleman graciously accepted my invitation to give readers a glimpse into his world and the passions that fuel his imagination.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: The remarkable volume and diversity of your published works suggests that you came into the world with your fingers aggressively fixed to a keyboard. What’s the real story behind your journey as such a savvy and prolific wordsmith and who were the mentors that helped shape your career choices?

A: You are about right. I certainly knew that I wanted to be a writer from about the age of eight. The poet TS Eliot went to the church where I was a boy server and he encouraged me! How’s that for a distinguished mentor? As a boy I lived in Baker Street (opposite 221B – truly) and I loved the Sherlock Holmes stories. I wrote my first play when I was 12. It was called “A Study in Sherlock”. My wife will tell you there’s not been much professional development with me over the past 50 years. What gripped me then grips me now. (My wife would also tell you that with me there’s not been much development of ANY kind over the past 50 years…)

Q: What authors were you reading at age 10? 20? 30? In retrospect, which ones would you say had the most influence on your own style of creative expression?

A: At 10, Arthur Conan Coyle and Agatha Christie. At 20, Oscar Wilde and Dorothy L. Sayers. At 30, Anthony Trollope and W.M. Thackeray. In any of my Oscar Wilde Murder Mysteries, you will see how all of the above have influenced me.

Q: You’ve also worn the hats of an MP, a Whip and Lord Commissioner of Prime Minister John Major’s Treasury, a popular broadcaster, and a theatrical producer. Aside from the obvious question of, “When did you ever find the time to sleep?” which of your many venues exemplifies the tenets of your best-selling book, The 7 Secrets of Happiness?

A: One of the 7 secrets is to be “a leaf on a tree”. Every leaf is unique and a leaf that’s not attached to a tree feels free and floats about a bit, which is fun, but soon it falls to the ground and dies. Each of us needs to be a leaf on a tree – unique, yes – but also attached to an organism that is larger than we are and alive and growing. Sometimes a writer’s life can be lonely. I felt most like a leaf on a tree when I was a member of Parliament – attached both to the House of Commons (an amazing place) and to my constituency (the beautiful and historic city of Chester).

Q: What did you most want to be when you were a lad growing up?

A: So many things! That was the problem. I wanted to be an actor, a writer, a politician, a TV anchor, a woman. And, because I have been very lucky, I have had a go at all of them.

Q: If your philosophy of life were printed on a tee-shirt, what would it say?

A: “Be happy.” (See No. 7 of The 7 Secrets of Happiness for more details.)

Q: The two of us share a mutual love for the stage as fellow actors, directors and producers. (And kudos to you for wowing audiences with your musical theater portrayal of Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest.) What would you say are some of the best lessons that treading the boards have taught you about pennng snappy dialogue and compelling characters for your works of fiction?

A: Character is what counts. If the people in your play are real, your audience can believe in them. Character comes first. Then comes story. Then the lines will follow. If your characters are real, what they say will be in character and if the situations are dramatic, they will respond. The great Ibsen would spend a year thinking about his plays before he began to pen them. He would think through the characters first, then place them in their situation, then make them speak. With my Oscar Wilde Murder Mysteries, I have had the advantage that so many of my “characters” are already there. The challenge is to portray them truthfully.

Q: So what was the inspiration for making the gifted playwright the cornerstone sleuth of your new mystery series?

A: Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde were childhood heroes of mine. When I came across the fact that they had met – in 1889 – and had become friends (Conan Doyle describes the meeting in his autobiography), it occurred to me at once that here was an opportunity to create a series of Victorian mysteries with Wilde and Conan Doyle as my Holmes and Watson. I have always enjoyed a traditional murder mystery. As Oscar said, “There is nothing quite like an unexpected death for lifting the spirits.” (Or did I think of that line and give it to Oscar? That’s one of the problems with writing these books. I lose track of where fact ends and fiction begins.)

Q: I simply have to ask this. There’s a point in the book where Conan Doyle is contemplating giving hs fictional detective an older brother named Mycroft who would be patterned after his witty, intrepid and sartorially colorful colleague, Oscar. Is it more than coincidence that actor Stephen Fry not only portrayed Wilde in film but subsequently played Mycroft in the second Sherlock Holmes movie starring Robert Downey, Jr.?

A: I think it’s distinctly possible that Conan Doyle had Wilde in mind when he created Mycroft, Sherlock’s even more brilliant brother. (Stephen Fry, incidentally, was the first to bid for the TV rights to my Oscar Wilde Murder Mysteries, not with a view to appearing in them but hoping to produce them.)

Q: Two of your acclaimed biographies are about members of the Royal Family (Philip and Elizabeth:  Portrait of a Marriage and Charles and Camilla: Portrait of a Love Affair). Given your enviable reputation as a skilled interviewer, who in history would you most like to have an extended chat with if time travel were possible?

A: William Shakespeare. It is strange that we know so little about him when he knows so much about us.  Apart from the hygiene issues, I think I’d have felt very much at home in Elizabethan England.  And I’d love to meet Shakespeare and to hear some of his theatre stories. And where was he during those “lost years”?  In France and Italy, I reckon.  And which of his plays is his favourite?  And does he have another for us hidden in his bottom drawer?

Q: Rumor has it that you’ll need a bigger fireplace mantle and more wall space for all of the awards you’ve won. Which of these many honors gives you the highest sense of personal or professional accomplishment?

A: As European Monopoly Champion I came third in the World Monopoly Championships – and that pleased my parents who met over a Monopoly game in 1937 and eloped a few weeks later.

Q: Which do you feel is more challenging – to write a story for children or a plot geared to adults?

A: it is all story-telling. With kids’ stuff it tends to be shorter, but the need to capture, hold, intrigue and surprise the reader is the same. I have written six murder mysteries featuring Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle as my detectives and the extra challenge there is to bring the period and the people to life as accurately as I can – while still (I hope!) spinning a compelling yarn.

Q: What would people be the most surprised to learn about you (besides behind a descendant of the last man beheaded in England for treason)?

A: That I was taught to play Scrabble by a friend of Oscar Wilde. He was 100 at the time and I was 15. He won all our games. I told him he cheated because he used obsolete words. He told me they’d been current when he first learnt them.

Q: Along with your daughter and grandson, you’ve authored a collection of family games called The Lost Art of Having Fun. Why is it, do you suppose, that we’ve misplaced the unapologetic joy of play and being silly? Is technology to blame or is it something more than that? Inquiring minds want to know.

A: Yes, our book is aimed at providing analog fun for the digital age.  Research suggests that kids in the UK are now spending up to 7 hours a day in front of a screen. This is terrifying. It’s got to stop. We’ve got to start looking at one another again: we’ve got to start talking to one another again. Playing games is a good way to get cross-generational communication going. The idea of playing a game alarms a lot of people – until they give it a go.  Fun is fun.

Q: Speaking of fun, you’ve got a delightful connection to teddy bears. Tell us about it.

A: My wife and I founded a Teddy Bear Museum about thirty years ago. Jim Henson gave us the original Fozzie Bear and he stills live at our museum. I was a friend of A A Milne’s son, Christopher Robin Milne, so I have shaken the hand that held the paw of Winnie the Pooh!

Q: What’s your best advice to today’s aspiring writers?

A: Mark Twain said the secret of writing a book is application – “applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair”. I can’t do better than that.  My other rule is: don’t talk about it, do it. Just get to that desk and stay there until today’s quota (1,000 words) is done.

Q: What style works best for you when developing a new book – to do all of the requisite research before you ever start writing or do you prefer to look things up as you go along?

A: With non-fiction you need to do your research before you start. With a novel – like my Victorian Oscar Wilde murder mysteries – you need the essence of the plot, but as you proceed you will find that events overtake you and the characters can take you to places you didn’t expect to go …  With my Oscar Wilde series I have been meticulous with research, so that all that you learn about Wilde and Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker, for example, will be true. With a history-mystery the reader needs to feel that the history is correct. For me, it’s been a joy to spend the first ten years of the twenty-first century living in the last ten years of the nineteenth.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I am touring a show called “Looking for happiness”. It’s a two-hour stand-up comedy show that began life at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Now there’s a book to go with it, The 7 Secrets of Happiness that’s being published in the US, Russia, China and elsewhere. I am going to assorted launches: Moscow in August, for example. Because it is raining non-stop in England right now, next January and February I want to be performing my “Looking for happiness” show in Florida in January and New Zealand in February. Can you fix that for me? (Gyles: You should add Pasadena, California to your tour list. Not only is it a beautiful city with much to commend it but I’ll throw in the added bonus of taking you to lunch as well.)

 Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: if you have time dip into my website, www.gylesbrandreth.net, and find out a bit more about me – and what else I do. The pictures of me as Lady Bracknell with Oscar Wilde’s grandson are fun. And if you want to see a video of me talking about happiness try the Open Road Media website.  And if you fancy a short tour of Oscar Wilde’s London, take a look at www.oscarwildemurdermysteries.com

Bumpy Roads – A Collection of Short Stories

bumpyroadsimage

Fasten your seat belts and prepare to travel down the bumpy roads of life. In his second collection of short stories, New Zealand author Brian WIlson entertains adults and adolescents with 35 humorous and thought-provoking vignettes based on his extensive globetrekking and observations of human behavior.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us about your personal journey as a writer. Was it bumpy or smooth?

A: Bumpy Roads – A Collection of Short Stories, is my second book, the first being Moments in Time -A Collection of Short Stories. As a second book I would consider that this has been a smooth ride. Writing is creative, albeit an art. I write when I am in the mood and when the ideas are flowing. It is quite different from when I wrote a thesis for a Master’s Degree with time restraints. Writing, though, is only a small part of the journey. For those of us who don’t have the luxury of being mothered by a traditional publisher, there is a lot of time spent after the stories have been written in cover design, organising the internal layout, formatting and organising the editing. All of these are required before the book goes to print. Then about 66% of one’s time is spent on marketing. The books you mostly hear about or see in a bookshop have been published through traditional publishers, because they have the financial resources and connections for marketing. Yet many of the best written books especially today are self-published. Even in earlier times exceptional writers found getting traditional publishers difficult. There are good examples of famous self-published authors such as Charles Dickens and Beatrix Potter.

Q: Did you have mentors along the way to guide you?

A: No. I see writing as a natural process. We all have different ways of writing; this is our signature and we shouldn’t change these simply because another person doesn’t like our style. Though, I guess in going through the school and university process there is some degree of mentoring. In Bumpy Roads my daughter Rachel wrote five stories and, as the reader will see, her style is very different to mine and some may consider it better. Rachel has an award in English from high school, and Bachelor of Art and Education degrees. She has also been one of the people editing my stories and I knew that she had the ability to write good stories.

Apart from helping her with surprise twists and suggesting rearrangement of several sentences, I restrained myself from trying to change her way of writing.

Q: Who are some of the authors you read for leisure and how have they influenced your own approach to storytelling and creative expression?

A: Recently I have been reading a number of short stories by famous writers. I left this reading until after I wrote my first two books as I didn’t want to be influenced by other writers’ styles and ideas. The stories read were by C.S. Forester, Liam O’Flaherty, E.C. Bentley, Katherine Mansfield, Norah Burke, H.E Bates, Somerset Mangham, I.A. Williams, John Buchan, H.H. Munro, John Golsworthy, O.Henry and H.G. Wells.

Q: How did your academic background and professional experience prepare you for the challenges of putting pen to paper (or, rather, fingers to keyboard!) and sticking to a writing schedule?

A: My approach to short stories is that I don’t write for the sake of writing; there has to be a good story or theme for the reader. Therefore, there is no writing schedule as such. My writing is as the mood takes me. Writing a thesis is different requiring a writing schedule, as one does not have the luxury of time or as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot says, “for the little grey cells to start working”. I was disappointed in reading ‘The Conga Eel’, by Liam O’Flaherty, as the whole story was simply that the eel gets netted and escapes. Simple plots are not unusual for short stories, but there has got to be something more there for the reader.  It seemed to me this story was written for the sake of writing. In my book Bumpy Roads, the story “The Journey,” can also be summed up in 7 words, but the story extends well beyond the simple story line and in fact encompasses the theme for the whole book.

Q: What’s your primary wellspring of ideas for your stories and poems?

A: I base the majority of stories on experiences. I build on these stories to create a fiction work. Stories will vary from being close to 100% true to maybe only 5%. By using experiences, I know my facts and descriptions are true and accurate. In Bumpy Roads I have stories in eight countries. They are all countries I have at some time visited and can provide accurate descriptions of.

Poetry is very much creative and lines may come in the course of having a shower or in the middle of the night. I sometimes get ideas for stories the same way.

Q: How do you go about deciding the particular style a story will embrace?

A: I don’t restrict myself to a style. It may be first or third person or narrative or dialogue. Some stories pose a greater challenge to me in the way they are written. In Bumpy Roads, the story “Three Granddads” is actually two stories being told at the same time which merge into the last sentence. This sentence also sums up the theme. Some of my stories include characters from the first book and the stories are more meaningful if you read this book first.

Q: Are your characters based on real people – including yourself – or do they materialize for you from thin air?

A: I try to create round characters and in doing so I have taken and used different parts of myself in various characters as well as parts of other people I know. It is a tricky area and I guess this is a reason why some writers use pen names.

Q: Tell us about Moments in Time. What’s that one about?

A: On the 22nd February 2011, Christchurch City, New Zealand was struck by a killer earthquake. Across the road from where I was working, a six-storey building collapsed entombing the 113 occupants. On that day 186 lives were lost, businesses collapsed, homes were destroyed and our lives were changed forever. This event marked a moment in our lives and the beginning of my short story writing. Some of my stories in Moments in Time recorded the events on that day. Others reflect overseas experiences. The stories are about times in life and are inspirational, many with humour and surprise twists.

Q: Which do you personally feel is a bigger challenge – to compose a short story or to write a full-length novel?

A: I have asked myself the same question. Novels and short stories I believe require different skill-sets. The novel requires perseverance, maintaining the reader’s attention, consistency in characters and a lot more editing. Short stories in comparison, because they are short, require more creativity and attention to detail, and give the writer little room to develop characters. I think that the writer of short stories is put more under the reader’s microscope.

Q: Should authors don the hat of “Editor” for their own work or should they hire someone to do this for them?

A: Definitely not. In my second book I have used five editors because we all miss mistakes. We see with our brains and not our eyes, and our brain fills in the gap. Two of these people are exceptionally good at editing. A quality product is paramount.

Q: Tell us about your cover art and the input you had on its design.

A: I initiated the title Bumpy Roads as this is how you could describe post-earthquake Christchurch as well as the difficult times in our lives.

I would not in any way consider myself artistic in drawing, but I designed the cover and drew the cartoon. Trafford Publishing was happy with both my cover and title. They only modified my drawing to include the rectangular sign with the author names. Previously I had our names at the bottom of the cover.

Q: How much research went into your decision to find a publisher?

A: Probably not a great deal. I checked out various sites and was also very interested in an Australian self-publishing firm, but in the end it came down to costs and services provided.

Q: With so many publishing venues available today for indie authors, what influenced your decision to go with one that charges high-end prices?

A: I have found Trafford produces a quality product but I am open to better deals for future books. For both books published by Trafford, the publishing package I secured was discounted heavily to about half the advertised rate.

Q: Tell us about your marketing platform for your books and what you’re doing to build a readership.

A: When I published my first book I had no involvement in social media. Following my first book I got involved in Linkedin and later Pinterest. These are now well established. Over the last two months I have now set up Facebook and Twitter sites as well as Goodreads, Amazon, WordPress, Google and Blogger.dot com  I have been featured on many Guest Author spots and currently I am looking at putting out several trailers and doing a guest podcast. My first book had a very good review by a top USA reviewer: http://www.theusreview.com/reviews/Moments-Wilson.html

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I worked as an investigator for about 28 years

Q: So what’s next on your plate?

A: I am currently writing my third book of short stories. Completion is about a year away.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Thanks for the interview

Q: Where can readers learn more about you and your work?

A: Websites:

http://brian-d-wilson.com/

http://www.amazon.com/Brian-Wilson/e/B001K833VO

Blog spots:

http://www.pinterest.com/briandwilson78/pins/

http://wilsonbd.wordpress.com/author/wilsonbd/

http://brian-d-wilson.blogspot.co.nz/

http://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/3664510-moments-in-time-a-collection-of-short-stories

 

 

The Single Person’s Cookbook-Lessons in Life, Love and Food

Tonys cookbook cover

“Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.” This vintage quote by the late columnist/film critic Harriet Van Horne is the perfect introduction to this week’s interview with Tony Wilkins, author of The Single Person’s Cookbook – Lessons in Life, Love and Food. When he’s not stirring up fun, dolloping heaps of wisdom, and serving timely tips to fans of his weekly San Francisco talk show, this multi-talented entrepreneur can likely be found conjuring culinary magic – and courting romance! – in his home kitchen. Whether you’re young and just starting out, older and unexpectedly starting over, or simply savoring the simplicity of singlehood, Tony’s book is a tasty blend of approachable menus and saucy anecdotes.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Are you a self-taught cook or did you spend a lot of time in your mom’s kitchen growing up?

A: I’m self-taught. However, I grew up watching Julia Child a lot as a kid.

Q: What was your favorite comfort food as a child? Is it something that still fills you with bliss as an adult?

A: My favorite meal as a kid was fried chicken with buttered corn and mashed potatoes. And to this day if I have a rough day it’s my “go-to meal”. With a glass of wine, of course.

Q: Are there any foods you run away from?

A: Yes. Cooked rutabagas. I can’t stand the smell.

Q: What’s your favorite spice or herb?

A: Herbs de Provence. It classes up everything from veggies to meat.

Q: So tell us what inspired you to write a cookbook.

A: I was inspired to write the book because writing my (first) book on telemarketing was more labor intensive. The cookbook was my way of telling my story thru my love of food. The rationale was that because it wasn’t about marketing or business, it would be a fun project. It turns out that it was a lot more difficult to write than the first book because I don’t measure anything unless I’m baking.

Q: Most cookbook recipes are written to accommodate 4-6 hungry people. What were the challenges in creating tasty meals for a person who lives – and goes grocery shopping – alone?

A: That’s the strange part because I grew up watching my mom cook for the entire family (4 people) so I had to teach myself how to cook for 1-2 ;which took years to get right. Grocery shopping was easier because I tend to buy in bulk anyway although it can be difficult to see a sale on a 20 pound bag of chicken wings and not throw it in my cart. I think the real lesson to remember when cooking for two is this: buy in bulk but break things down into smaller packages whenever possible for faster, easier cooking. So, for example, meat can be purchased in bulk but cut into smaller pieces for easy freezing and cooking. The same with veggies, stocks (for soups) and sauces.

Q: Speaking of grocery shopping, are you someone who makes it a snappy and efficient expedition or a leisurely one?

A: Leisurely. I rather like the experience of finding new items to buy.

Q: What’s your favorite aisle?

A: I love the meat section. I don’t know why. I just do.

Q: It has long been said that the quickest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Tell us about how this applies to your three-date rule.

A: LOL. My friends would tease me all the time about cooking for my dates because they felt that it was a sure fire way to run off a man. It’s funny women love having others cook for them but many men feel trapped in a relationship if someone (male or female) cooks (for them) by the third date. Other than that, at my age I don’t really believe in the 3 date rule. Whatever makes you feel comfortable is what you should do. And no, I don’t listen to my friends’ advice anymore about cooking for someone I like.

Q: Do you have a signature “date night” dish when you want to impress someone new?

A: Yes. Chicken Linquica is a favorite or a roasted chicken always goes over well. Both are very simple one pot/pan dishes I can make without much thought or prep.

Q: Do you ever invite your guest(s) to help or do you prefer to run the whole show yourself?

A: I hate others in the kitchen with me. I often tell my guests to choose a movie while I’m in the kitchen but truthfully by the time they arrive dinner is usually already done.

Q: Have you ever had a kitchen disaster?

A: God yes. I think every cook has had a disaster at one point or another. It’s how we learn. It was when I was very young and really wanted to impress someone by cooking a dish in a pressure cooker for the first time. Needless to say I haven’t used one since.

Q: Do you set a formal table when it’s just you or do you carry your plate to another room?

A: I eat in the living room because I want to watch TV or work while eating. I know it’s bad but one should be comfortable when eating. There’s something a bit pathetic about (me) sitting alone at my large wooden kitchen table and eating a meal. For some reason it feels as if the neighbors are watching me with pity in their eyes.

Q: The book is filled with anecdotes about your love life. For you, which food is the most potent aphrodisiac?

A: Again, a really wonderfully roasted chicken is comforting and comfortable and puts everyone in a relaxed amiable mood for whatever comes next.

Q: With the holidays just around the corner, what do you do to keep yourself from stressing out as a party host?

A: Besides going to someone else’s house? I keep it simple and have cooking time down to 2 hours. I taught this trick to my girls, Leslie and Robyn, and now every year they call me with a report on how their cooking experiences. Here’s the secret. First handle as much of the prep work a few weeks in advance because it’s not the cooking that takes so much time; it’s the prep work. So any chopping of veggies can done weeks ahead of time and stored in the freezer until you need them. Next, if you’re cooking for 1-2 people buy turkey parts – legs, thighs, etc. separately instead of a whole turkey. This way you’ll cut down on prep as well as cooking time. Also I try to have all of my spices (for the day) seasonings, etc. all in one place or grouped together so I’m not spending 10 minutes searching for nutmeg. Lastly, keep things simple and on your terms because it’s supposed to be a time to relax and enjoy family and friends. So make sure that whatever you decide to do this holiday season, you do it on your terms.

Q: What are the 10 most important staples in your pantry?

A: I’ll give you a few extras. Salt, pepper, butter, olive oil, chicken, pasta, sausage, bacon, Herbs de Provence, tomatoes, corn, onions and shrimp. If I have these in my kitchen, then I can cook just about anything.

Q: What’s your most treasured kitchen appliance or accessory and how long have you had it?

A: I’d say my 3 cast iron skillets, all of which I’ve had for over 20 years.

Q: You live in San Francisco, one of the most foodie-centric cities in the country. On the nights when you’re not cooking, what are some of your favorite haunts?

A: Hmm. That’s a tough once since I tend to eat in a lot but when I do dine out I love The Sausage Factory for Italian food (in the Castro). I also love dives and since I live in the Tenderloin part of the city there are several to choose from. Here’s an interesting fun-fact. Although the “TL” as it’s called is considered a low income neighborhood, we have some of the best restaurants in the city. Most tourists, college kids and anyone wanting a good meal for not a lot of money will come to the TL instead of going to one the more expensive haunts

Q: Who do you think make better chefs – men or women?

A: Now that’s a great question. I think men and women approach food differently. Men tend to have a technical approach to cooking which in theory would make them better chefs (I suppose). But women tend to be more creative and approach food from an emotional standpoint which would make them better cooks (again in theory).

Having said that, both are equally important to the food industry. Nigella Lawson, for example refers to herself as a “cook” but she’s got more passion for food than just about anyone on TV today. On the other hand, Julia (Child) was a chef and was equally passionate about cooking but she focused more on the technique of cooking. Keep in mind that Julia also trained at Le Cordon Bleu and was the only female in her class.

Q: If you could invite your favorite celebrity to dinner, who would it be, what would you serve, and how would the table be set?

A: Oh that’s easy although I would invite several people including singer Julia Fordham, her sister Claire, and Nigella Lawson. Ironically, a singer, a writer and a cook who all happen to be British. The dinner would be a simple roasted chicken with veggies or my new favorite comfort dish – fried catfish over Campbell’s Chunky chicken gumbo. The dish sounds (It’s a Creole dish I came up with one night) very odd but trust me, not only is it delicious but it’s done in about 15 min. The table would be simple, elegant but welcoming with a bit of candlelight and Julia Fordham playing in the background.

Q: What are you having for dinner tonight?

A: I’m making a deep dish sausage pizza

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know?

A: I guess the only thing I want your readers to know is that they should always be curious and creative when it comes to cooking. Try new things including herbs and veggies that you wouldn’t ordinarily try.  I’m not much of a baker but every now and then I really love the process of learning to bake something from scratch. My book is available at http://www.amazon.com/Single-Persons-Cookbook-Lessons-Life-Love/dp/1463721064

Onward & Upward: Reflections of a Joyful Life

Onward and Upward

Okay, by a show of hands, who thinks they have the craziest answer to the question, “Where did you spend your 21st birthday and why?”

A guy toward the back who looks like a tall, introspective Dustin Hoffman responds to the challenge.

“And your name, sir?”

“Michael. Michael Wiese. I just wrote a book called Onward & Upward that I’d like to talk about.”

“Do you have any special credentials for being here?”

“I make meaningful films, I publish the works of talented writers, and I live on the Cornwall Coast.”

“Anything else?”

(beat) “Well, I know The Great Ken Lee. I mention that on page 164.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously. I don’t make this stuff up.”

“Now about that 21st birthday story…”

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: At age 12, you had every expectation of the secret of life being revealed to you on Confirmation Day. If as the adult Michael you could travel back in time and whisper in the ear of your younger self, what would you say?

A: There is no death.  The Earth is your paradise.  Look within.

Q: One of your childhood aspirations was to grow up and be an ice cream man. Would you have sold cones straight off a truck and had little kids cheer your arrival on their street or had your own soda parlor and invited ice cream lovers of all ages to sit and linger? (and what do you think your choice reveals about your personality?)

A: Selling ice cream from a bicycle.  I like the element of surprise – showing up unexpectedly with a treat.

Q: You spent your 21st birthday in an unexpected venue and for a reason that could cause many people to raise an eyebrow. What was it, did you ever do it again, and what did the experience teach you?

A: I was in court standing before a judge with my film crew after being arrested shooting a nude scene of a dancing couple in a field.  Did I ever do it again?  Yes.  What did I learn?  To be more careful and never shoot in fields that Girl Scout troops walk through again. (laughs)

Q: Music is a recurring theme throughout the chapters of Onward and Upward. If you were involved in the music scene today, what would you be performing/producing?

A:  Indian tabla, of course.

Q: What was your inspiration to become a publisher and launch Michael Wiese Productions?

A:  Necessity!  Twelve publishers rejected my first book, I had to do it myself.  It sold 50,000 copies and I started publishing other writers as well as my own books.

Q: With so many screenwriting and filmmaking books out there on today’s market, what do you feel keeps MWP sustainable? In other words, do you ever worry about running out of topics to cover?

A:  We provide information that has – until now – been closely held film industry secrets.  We kicked open the doors with our books.  Like Mother Nature, we will never run out of ways to express ourselves creatively.  There are many facets on a diamond.

Q: You recently launched a new imprint, Divine Arts. Tell us about it and the correlation to your own spiritual journey.

A:  We are in service to provide a conduit for sacred knowledge, both ancient and emerging.  Divine Arts books demonstrate how one can bring mindfulness to daily life and reconnect with the sacred nature within.

Q: Having spent so much time behind a camera, which is the greater challenge for you – to direct the energies and skill sets of other people to deliver your vision for a documentary or to exercise the solo discipline of putting your thoughts on paper every day and writing a book as deeply introspective – and humorous – as Onward and Upward?

A:  Having Parkinson’s has made me refocus and reduce my energies toward a one-man band kind of filmmaking.  I no longer have the stamina for crews and 14 hour days.  I may hire assistants to carry the gear or an editor to help put the film together, but my challenge nowadays is to make small, personal, sacred journey films on a micro-budget.  Books or films all require a disciplined and committed approach.

Q: Documentaries that seek to introduce the world to little-known cultures often do so at the price of foisting “civilization” on tribes that were perfectly happy being ignorant of modern trappings and technology. What is your advice to aspiring documentary filmmakers insofar as doing no harm in their quest to bring home a compelling story?

A:  Walk softly.  Don’t leave a footprint.  Be very respectful.  Bring as little equipment as possible.  Leave the ‘video circus’ at home.

Q: How does the Balinese connection to the divine that you observed and experienced in your 20s help you to stay focused and positive in dealing with your recent diagnosis of Parkinson’s?

A:  I focus on the daily miracles of what I can do:  Seeing and smelling the flowers in my garden.  Hearing the ocean and birds singing. Feeling the breeze and warmth of the sun.  Like the Balinese with their constant offerings, I give gratitude daily.

Q: For you, what are the distinctions between being religious and being spiritual?

A:  Religions ask you to believe.  Believing what someone tells you to believe is not very useful.  Having an experience of the divine makes the spiritual real for you.

Q: The chapters of Onward and Upward are replete with anecdotes of famous people with whom you have crossed paths and drawn inspiration. Is there anyone you wish you could have met and if so, what question would you most like to have asked him or her?

A:  I’d like to ask Robert Johnson if he really sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads?  Of Einstein I’d ask how many dimensions are there and who lives there?  And I’d ask Carl Jung why he didn’t publish The Red Book when he was alive?

Q: When you learned that you were going to be a father at age 45, what was your first thought?

A:  Forty-five is the new thirty-five!

Q: Had you met your beloved soul-mate Geraldine 20 years earlier, what would your approach to parenting have been?

A: No difference.  Babies didn’t come with an Operating Manual then either.

Q: Parents often tell their children, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Has Julia shown signs of emulating the wild and crazy days of your own youth? If so, what’s your response going to be?

A:  You bet she has!  It’s natural and healthy to experiment and test the world.

Q: What’s the most recent movie you saw and what did you most love/hate about it?

A: “The Cave of the Yellow Dog”.  A wonderful Mongolian film about a nomadic family.

Q: What inspires you the most about living on the Cornwall coast?

A:  It’s elemental magnificence.  It’s like Big Sur on steroids.

Q: What would most people be surprised to learn about you?

A: Just about everything I write about in Onward and Upward.  I’ve been many people and had many lives.  Most people who know me see only one face.  The book reveals all!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A:  An esoteric quest in Sicily. An interactive e-book.  The first screening in London of my latest film, “Living with Spirits: 10 Days in the Jungle with Ayahuasca”.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I thank you for your challenging and insightful questions.  Sorry to ramble on so. 😉

Onward and Upward is available now through www.mwp.com or Amazon.