Friday, February 24, 2006

Anthony Rapp, Without You

Anthony Rapp

I was nine years old when my mother and I ventured into Manhattan from our tiny suburban town in northeast New Jersey. We were headed into the magical city to see a Broadway show. This would mark the beginning of both my my love Broadway and New York City. Each and every time I’ve been to see a play, a tingle of exhilaration goes down my spine when the orchestra begins, when the lights go down… its all breathtaking.

Fast forward many years later, the movie came out and I could hardly contain my excitement. The music was incredible, the story line was touching. I dare you to hear the music and not start humming along. I came home and checked out each performer on the IMDB and besides Rosario Dawson, my favorite was Anthony Rapp.

A few weeks later, I received an email from a publicist asking if I wanted to read an advance copy of Anthony’s memoir. Of course I did! As soon as the book arrived, I eagerly began reading. I wanted to learn all about Broadway and performing and how the play came together -
Anthony goes into detail about all of it.

Jonathon Larson, who wrote Rent, died way too young. I'm grateful to know more about Jonathon through the book and his work lives on. Without You is the story of Anthony and Rent, but also about him and his family, in particular his mother. Get out the tissues- the book has many moments of sadness.

I feel so fortunate to be able to interview the amazingly talented Anthony.

How scary is it to lay your emotions out there for everyone to read? Are you nervous about how the book will be received?

The emotional content wasn't so scary for me to put out there, maybe because I'm an actor, and have put myself out there in that fashion for years. I was a little scared that no one would care to read about the particulars of my family's life, or of my relationship with my mother. I had a feeling there would be a fairly large number of people who would be interested in the Rent stuff in the book, but I wasn't so sure about the rest of the book.

Because so much of it is about my relationship with my mother. I also was afraid that people in the press wouldn't be very generous towards the book, because I'm an actor first, and actors' books tend to be met with a certain amount of skepticism, if not derision. Happily, the response from critics and writers has been quite positive.

How would you sum up the last few years of your life in a single word?


What do you think when you hear yourself described as a 'Gay Icon'?

Am I really described that way? (click here: apparently, you're on your way!) It seems strange to me, really. I think of gay icons as people like Barbra Streisand or Judy Garland. Campy figures that drag queens love to imitate.

I'm flattered, though, truly. The biggest reason I'm out is to provide an example to young people that it's possible to be out and proud and successful and happy. If that makes me an icon, I'm proud to be called one.

Can you compare filming the movie Rent as opposed to acting on Broadway? Was one experience better than the other?

Filming the movie was like going away to camp -- we were all very tightly knit, going to work all day every day, enjoying every moment of it. Performing in the show was exceedingly exciting and wild, but also draining and exhausting at times. There was so much going on, so much hype and attention. I wouldn't trade either experience for the other.

Something Ive always wanted to ask a Broadway performer- doesn't the routine of night after night after night of doing the same show for weeks, months even years, get boring after a while? How do you maintain energy for delivering the same lines, singing the same songs?

If you're really plugged into the material, into the moment, there's no threat of boredome. Especially when the material is as rich and rewarding as Rent. I am also so personally committed to everything that Rent is about, everything it's putting out into the world, that I had a huge wellspring of energy on which to draw every night.

How has your family responded to the book?

Funny you should ask. I just got a series of very upset emails last night from my mom's sister. She's quite angry at me, and apparently has been for years, in ways I never knew. I've learned that one of the dangers of writing a memoir is the fact that by its very nature it's subjective; I don't account for other people's motivations in my book; I only account for my own, and share my perspective on events.

My aunt upset with my at things I left out, upset at my perception of some events, upset that I included a moment of teasing of one of my aunts, a moment that my mother found amusing, which that aunt took very hard when she read it. I never expected her to read the book, or to be so upset by it, but I am sorry that she was wounded by the words on the page.

I am sad that my book has caused pain to some of the people in my family, but I do stand by the truth of what I wrote, and I certainly didn't set out attempting to wound anyone with my book.On the other hand, my brother and father have read the book and were very moved by it, and even though I included in the book some complicated interactions and moments between us, they had no problem with the way I depicted them. I hope that all of this can be resolved with the other members of my family, but I don't know that it will be.

What is your favorite music ?

Indie pop or alt rock or emo or whatever it's being called these days, and '80's New Wave. I love a good hook, smart lyrics, energy, heart, a little bit of edge and sass. Among my favorite bands and artists are Superchunk, Talking Heads, XTC, The Beatles, Death Cab for Cutie, early R.E.M., Radiohead, Peter Gabriel. Stuff like that.

Have you ever worn your hair in a mullet?

Erm.... No.

Do you watch television? How do you spend your down time?

My partner Rodney and I have been watching Lost and Project Runway and loving them, but other than that the only tv we watch is via dvd collections. We're very behind, but getting caught up slowly with 24, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Oz, Sex and the City, The Simpsons. You know, the usual ones.

In the book you mention trying to adopt a baby. What's the status?

In the very early information-gathering stages. It's certainly in our future.

Would you like to write another book, do more movies, maybe another play?

Yes, yes, and yes. I'm teasing out the idea I have for a novel, which I think will be a bit lighter than my first book. I need to spend time in a lighter world after living through the writing of Without You. Writing is tough and lonely enough without making it tougher and lonelier by writing about sad things all day long.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Two Minute Review: Jackie Guerra, Under Construction

Jackie Guerra is an actress and show host, a jewelry maker and a public speaker. An accomplished woman, Jackie wrote Under Contruction to share with others her battle with her weight, eating disorders and financial issues. She shows us how she was able to regain control over her step at a time.

From reading this memoir, I can tell Jackie is the kind of person I would love have as a friend. She is funny, open, outspoken and the reader gets a feel for her warmth and loyalty. Jackie is upbeat and gracious, like a hostess inviting you into her home and making sure you are comfortable and happy.

Jackie also creates stunning pieces of jewelry that you must check out. Incidentally, her website is well worth checking out because its so well done and cute and inviting.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Bill Gordon, Mary After All

I absolutely loved Mary After All. It was one of those cases where I didn't want the book to end because I had some much invested in the character of Mary Nolan. She is a woman learning about life and love, living in Jersey City, New Jersey during the 60' and 70's.

From page one I was taken with Mary's no-nonsense demeanor and her way of telling a story. Bill Gordon writes impressively as a woman- the only other author I know who can pull off that feat is Wally Lamb.

I know some people enjoy light books, others read chick-lit and some of you look for a literary masterpiece to sink your teeth into. This book combines all those elements and the result is the the best of all worlds.

How did you manage to write so convincingly from a woman’s point of view?

I used to be a playwright so writing “in-voice,” whether for a man or awoman, was simply part of the job. I also did stand-up comedy for sometime, and again, when doing characters, being in-voice was pretty essential.Or maybe the inclination to write or speak in the voice of a character iswhat drew me to things like playwriting and stand-up in the first place.Either way, I do think those experiences helped me write this novel.

What words would you use to describe Mary? 'Honest' comes to mind.

Ah, so you’ve read closely: she calls herself “honest to a fault,” even as she’s about to book numbers and deceive (within reason) the people around her. But I agree: she is honest. Her intentions are pure, her stakes are high, and she does what she has to do. The word “dignity” also comes to mind, along with an old-fashioned word (one more from Mary’s generation than my own): “character.” Both have to do, I think, with taking a good, hardlook at yourself and your circumstances, owning responsibility where it’s appropriate, and then moving on.

Mary’s disappointments come early and they are profound but she doesn’t waste time feeling sorry for herself, which I think would be pretty easy in her situation. And she doesn’t choose some morally convenient path where she’s abusing the people who have let her down, simply because they have done awful things to her. By the end of the book, I would say she’s “successful,” and part of what defines that success, in my opinion, is the fact that she can look back on the path she took and still look at herself in the mirror. (Even with the full knowledge that she kicked the woman who slept with her husband down a flight of stairs!)

Do you know there aren't any real diners in southern California where I live? Not like diners out in New Jersey anyway.(Dennys is NOT a diner!) Why do you think diners are such an east coast phenomenon?

No diners? You’ll have to move back, Cindy! Next you’ll tell me you have no krullers. (Bill- not like the real ones deep- fried with a thick crust like out in the east- Mickey's Donuts to be exact. And it's taken me three years to find a decent bagel, still searching for good pizza!)

I am sure there is an actual history of the emergence of diners in our culture, and in particular the East Coast. But in my amateur, Jersey-City-to-Manhattan opinion, it may have to do with the sheer densityof the population here – the need for a bunch of people in a fast-paced town to eat at the time… often, a place they can walk to… or pull right off the side of the road to… and eat cheaply. No pretense. No time to wait.

As an aside: I have often found that diner waitresses are among the nicest people in the world: real modern day saints... working all hours, accepting all kinds.

How long did it take you to find an agent for the book? How do you deal with rejection? As a writer its so difficult to face rejection, at least for me. What about you?

From the time I wrote the first chapter of MARY long hand in my journal until the time it hit the book stands was eight years. I was not looking for agent when I found one, which is probably why that part of the process happened somewhat easily: a friend who I’d helped in the past made a good suggestion, and it happened pretty fast, as did the sale, thankfully. The writing and editing took much longer. As for rejection, I don’t deal with it well, and it never gets any easier; I just try to keep it in perspectiveand not let it throw me too far, or set me back wildly.

Are you currently writing your next novel?

Absolutely. I am deeply immersed. It is just forming.

Do you watch television, go the movies? What do you do when you aren't writing?

I love movies. They transport me more completely than books typically can,and what’s more, the trip is more delimited, in most cases to no more than two hours. But books linger longer in my mind, for the most part – and I doubt I am unique in that. They offer the greater pay off (I think) when the match between you and the book is right. On television, I tend to watch the various HBO series and the news. I also ride my bike a lot. And I eat at a lot of restaurants; that’s mostly how I socialize. I’m not a “club”person.

Are you surprised at the fantastic reviews the book is getting? To be an US Weekly Hot Book Pick isn't too shabby!

Thank you. Getting good reviews is gratifying – absolutely. It’s my first novel, so there is still a sense of awe about the process. The funny part is that some critics seem to review the book as though Mary wrote it herself. US listed it as “feisty female fiction,” for instance – which I suppose isa compliment to me... but sometimes I’m like, Hey, Wait a minute...

Who would play Mary in the movie version, and has movie talk been simmering?

There has been some interest and some talking – yes. But no deal just yet. Who could play Mary? I get asked this sometimes at readings, and I turn the question back to the audience -- whom people might suggest; the answers tell me a bit about what part of Mary’s life jumped out or lingered most for the person answering.

For instance, last week someone said, Lorraine Bracco. I think that person came away with a strong sense of Mary in her later years, toward the end of the book. A lot of people say Marisa Tomei – and I sense they identify more with Mary at about 30 (in Hollywood years). I have no idea. Who do you think????? (My vote goes to Brittany Murphy or Drew Barrymore!)

What’s next for you?

I want to get a first draft of my second novel done!!!!!

Monday, February 06, 2006

Two Minute Book review

This is a book for those of you who long for a deep literary novel. It's not a light, fluffy beach read that can be polished off in a few hours. Oh no. It's going to take time and concentration. The book is officially on stands on February 7th.

And She Was (fabulous title) is a book about a wayward cocktail waitress who follows her boyfriend to the Aleutian Islands where she learns about herself and the Aleutian people. If you know nothing about the history of the Aleutians, you have much to learn. Cindy Dyson weaves a modern day story with shades of the past to create a compelling read.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Lani Diane Rich, Ex And The Single Girl

Ex And The Single Girl is about Portia Fallon, a girl who is "four cats and a Reader's Digest subscription away from being totally irredeemable." Portia is called back home to Truly, Georgia, one of those places where everyone knows everyone else.

Portia's family is made up of the Miz Fallons- her mother, aunt and grandma- all who share what Portia calls "Penis Teflon Effect"...okay you're going to have to read the book to figure that one out but I assure you it doesn't have anything to do with cooking. Ex And The Single Girl is about relationships and truth and coming to terms with what you think you know to be true. In short, its a humorous novel and one I would recommend to those of you who are in the mood for something light and quick.

What made you choose Georgia for the setting of the book?

I had a good friend who was working in the Catoosa County, Georgia Chamber of Commerce at the time I was writing EX. She talked about the area a lot, and it really seemed like a fascinating place. I also just loved the sound of it - Catoosa County. And when the Miz Fallons popped into my head, they were Southern, so it seemed like a good fit. Truly is not a real town, though; it’s based a lot on my hometown of Red Hook, New York. The Red Hook upstate in the Hudson Valley, not the one in Brooklyn where, apparently, people get shot at a lot.

I’m sorry. Is that going to get you a lot of angry Red Hook e-mails? I hope not. I’m sure the Red Hook in Brooklyn is a lovely place. (Does that help? Or am I making it worse?)

Who do you most identify with out of the three Miz Fallons?

Oh, Portia. Definitely. When I was writing EX, I was going through my own reconciling of my mother as being a real, fallible human being as opposed to the super hero I’d grown up believing her to be, and I think a lot of people go through this in their early thirties, so it was fun to be able to work some of that out through the Mizzes. (For the record, and so my mother doesn’t call me about this interview, Mags is NOTHING like my mother. My mother is perfect and sublime. Oh, and absolutely a super hero. Just for the record.)

That said, I think all of the Miz Fallons have elements of me, all of which are at war with each other. I’m quirky, like Mags, and I tend to follow my whims which often looks crazy but usually turns out well for me. Like Vera, I see things through a mystical filter, and I can sometimes get overly philosophical about simple things. You know, sometimes a cigar really is just a cigar. Like Bev, I can be really cranky and set in my ways. Makes me sound like a fun person to be around, huh? But I am. Really. A damn hoot.

Those Fallon women are all stubborn, aren't they? Is that a trait you possess?

Yes, they are! To answer your second question, I will just tell you what my husband said as he read this over my shoulder: “The answer to question number three is a resounding YES.” So... we’ll just leave it at that.

(Although I don’t think I’m *that* stubborn. Apparently, though, I do have a problem with having to get in the last word.)

I wanted to know why Portia didn't leave when her mother wouldn't tell her the reason she wanted her back home? Portia seemed okay with staying even though her mom brought her down under false pretenses. I was actually angry with Mags for being so manipulative.

She didn’t leave because she’d just driven fourteen hours and they had gin. Also, she’d already sublet her apartment in Syracuse, and was for all intents and purposes homeless. She’s also pretty used to Mags’s manipulations – you might have noticed how shocked Portia wasn’t when Mags came bounding down the steps despite the alleged acute agony in her back. But the most powerful reason was that deep down, Portia’s a Miz Fallon, and she’d been called home. She wanted to find out why.

And she loved and missed her family, whether she’d ever admit it or not. So it’s a complex weave of reasons, not all of which Portia was even consciously aware.

It seems to me that someone (not mentioning any names) might have a little crush on a certain British actor with the initials CF…? And does Colin Firth show up in any of your other novels?

Wow, Cindy, you really like to pick up on the subtle subtext, don’t you? Heh heh. I actually recently contributed a humor essay to the BenBella Books anthology, Flirting With Pride and Prejudice, in which I delve deeply into my Firth fangirl geekhood. I think between that and EX, I’ve worked out my Colin Firth thing. I feel bad, because while I do adore Colin Firth and am a huge fan, I’ve really made quite the shtick out of this crush, and if he ever reads any of it, he might feel the need for a restraining order. Which is really unnecessary.

Well, mostly unnecessary. He might not want to move to Syracuse any time soon.

Do you imagine actors/actresses in the roles as you are writing about the characters? Who would play Portia? Peter?

Oh, yeah, I always use actors and actresses in my head, at least to start. By the end of the novel, the characters become real people in my head (Should I be scared by that? I should, shouldn’t I?) and they only mildly resemble the actors that inspired them. For Portia, I had Renee Zellweger in mind – probably because of the Colin Firth/Pride and Prejudice/Bridget Jones’s Diary dynamic, but I always thought if EX was made into a movie, they’d be great in those parts. As for Peter, I kind of see him as a Bradley Cooper type. I love Bradley Cooper, too. He’s inspiring the love interest in the novel I’m working on right now, which is about a woman who receives a quilt from a psychic quiltmaker that changes her life.

Yeah, you heard me right. Psychic quiltmaker. Look for it next spring from NAL! (Sorry. Knee jerk self-promotion. The publicists actually put a chip in your head when you sign the first contract, and after that, you simply can’t stop yourself from shameless shilling. Well, that, and I have kids I’m gonna need to put through college someday. My apologies.)

Here are a few questions combined into one...What kinds of books do you enjoy reading? What is the last novel you read and what do you like to do in your downtime?

I’ve discovered that there are good books in every genre, so does it sound really obnoxious to say that I enjoy reading good books? But that’s the case. I will happily read any genre, but women’s fiction is by far my favorite. And by women’s fiction, I’m not talking necessarily just the literary genre description (which would be your Barbara Kingsolver-, Elinor Lippman-style offerings) but all fiction written for women – chick lit, romance, all of it.

I do tend to value tight storytelling over delicately fashioned prose stylings; I’m a story geek, first and foremost. The last novel I read was FASHIONABLY LATE by Beth Kendrick, and I loved it. (Disclaimer: Beth is a friend, and a fellow Literary Chick , but I swear this is unbiased. I would have loved this book if it had been written by anyone.)

The thing I really love about FASHIONABLY LATE is that it’s representative of the kinds of chick lit novels that don’t get quite as much attention – the ones that are smart, funny and which just spin a good yarn. For some reason, when talking about chick lit, many people tend to focus on the sillier books as examples of why the genre is pure fluff, and I don’t think that’s representative of all chick lit books. Or even the majority. (okay Lani, I want to read Fashionably Late now!)

I’m being solicited for quotes on a lot of really good stuff coming up, and I think it’s a new surge of really different, very smart and funny books. I’m also very excited about Brenda Scott Royce’s MONKEY LOVE, which comes out this month. I think it’s another one of this type of book which can really help mold the genre as it evolves.

(Oh, and about the quote-unquote fluff – that has its value as well, and shouldn’t be summarily dismissed, either. I have a kid with asthma and during two hospital stays last year, it was those books that got me through, and I love them. But I’m just saying that to define an entire genre based on a few books is an act that can really make a person miss out on some good stuff. Snobbery harms only the snob. I know this, because for a long time I wouldn’t watch BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and now I’m the biggest Whedon fangeek in the world. So... just speaking from experience. No judgment.)

(Sorry. Should have warned you in the beginning. I do tend to go on. My apologies. Almost done.)

As for what I like to do in my downtime... what is this downtime of which you speak? I have two small children and I teach part-time at Syracuse University in addtion to writing an average of two books a year. But, I have to say, I am a big TV geek, and tend to watch as much as I can fit in. I’m addicted to LOST, GILMORE GIRLS, GREY’S ANATOMY... all very good stuff. And I just got into WONDERFALLS on DVD which is fabulous and only had thirteen episodes and is going to break my heart the way FIREFLY did, I just know it. Since I teach beginning television production, though, I can kinda justify my addiction.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

James Frey, A Million Little Pieces

Poor James Frey. One day he is on top of the world, hanging out with Oprah on her buttery leather couches, enjoying success from his powerful memoir of drug addiction and a stint in rehab. The next thing you know, James has the rug pulled out from under him and he's going on television to defend himself and publicly apologize to the big O.

A memoir would be your own recollection of how things happened to you, how you remembered conversations and people and events. The Smoking Gun pulled up a few factoids that clearly didnt jive with what James penned as factual in A Million Little Pieces. Soon after, Oprah is demanding an apology. You just don't mess with Ms. Winfrey. Although I hold Oprah in high esteem, I wish she didn't make such an enormous deal out of this. Oprah, we're all human and we make mistakes and our memories get foggy and no one is perfect. He didn't set out to hoodwink you or I or any of the millions of people who connected with this amazing book. I wish James admitted off the bat that he took creative license in certain aspects of writing this brilliant novel. James! Why didn't you just say it was based on true events? I wish you had.

I'm wondering if every memoir published from this point forward will feature a disclaimer, protecting both the author and the publishing house. Is this debacle going to change the future of the memoir?

James is being sued in a class action lawsuit, his agent has dropped him after four years of representation and there is no doubt in my mind that this would bring down even the strongest and most confident person.

Who's to blame if there is blame to be cast.. does Jame deserve this house of cards tumbling down around him? Is there anyone on his side here? I am. What are your thoughts?