Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Boy Named Shel, Lisa Rogak

Lisa Rogak, Tara Reid and I all have one thing in common- we grew up within miles of each other in a small cluster of towns in Northen New Jersey. That tidbit aside, Lisa contacted me a while ago asking if I would like to read her biography of Shel Silverstein. My answer was: of course! And when I learned she grew up near me in New Jersey, I feel that we really bonded and that just made me all the more enthusiastic to read her book.

I read and reread Shel's books as a child and then read them to my own children, most recently The Giving Tree. I still have my copy of A Light in the Attic from many, many years ago. I didn't know much about Shel and was surprised to learn details from his somewhat nomadic life. I enjoyed this book and recommend it to those of you who know Shel or even if you don't. You can learn more about Lisa, who is a very very interesting person, on her website. A convention of the National Funeral Directors Association, really Lisa?

Tell me about the process of researching the life of Shel Silverstein. This book must have been something you were very passionate about.

Before I began the book, I only knew Shel from the songs he wrote for Dr. Hook. He was one of several I was considering for my next biography, and once I started the research, I thought he would be fascinating. It was a lot more work than I thought, because he lived so many different lives, it was like writing 5 books instead of one.

What was the most interesting detail or fact you learned about him?

That he gave no excuses: his art came first. His was an example of how to live a totally creative life.

Do you think Shel was someone that you would have been friends with?

I would like to think so, but he's me times 50 in terms of curiosity and energy, so I think he would have driven me crazy.

Did you read his childrens books when you were growing up?

No, they came out and became popular after I became a teenager, I'm talking about Where the Sidewalk Ends, etc. I do remember The Giving Tree from Sunday School, but that was it.

Lisa, I cant believe you and I grew up in the same area. Do you ever miss those small towns in New Jersey? Do you ever crave diner food? We probably went to the same places- Friendly's in Midland Park, The Goffle Grill, Paramus Park, Garden State Plaza, Bennigans- I could go on and on.

Eek! I remember all of them. I don't miss the area though, it's changed so much, gotten more sterile and commercial. Up here, if I crave diner food I go to a truck stop, just as good. I remember a great hot dog place, in Paterson? Fat Mikes? Pizzatown on 17 had great zeppole. There was a restaurant/diner across the street from Burger King in Midland Park, that was my favorite when I was a kid.

Did you have big Jersey girl hair?

No, long straight hippie hair in the disco years.

Okay back to Shel, in three words, how would you describe him?

Gifted beyond belief, uncompromising, generous (to those who could put up with him)

What I was surprised to learn was that he was a cartoonist for Playboy and was long time friends with Hugh Hefner! Did you get to interview Hef?

No, Hef turned me down.

Do you think Shel was sad or lonely? He never married and seemed like a gypsy- never staying in one place too long.

His art and creativity came first. There were lonely times, but artists are always set a bit apart from others, by design. It's necessary to observe the foibles of others.

Will you tackle another biography again? I know you wrote about Dan Brown too- this seems like a huge amount of work, research and details!

I'm working on Stephen King now, to be published next fall. There are some commonalities with Shel, ie the intense focus and dedication to their work, but there are more differences that similarities. King has been married for almost 37 years and has lived in the same place since 1980. Plus, whereas with Shel I felt in many cases there was not enough material available, with King it's almost the opposite. It'll be a significantly longer book.

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