Writing for over 50 years – An interview with Howard Eisenberg, The Toddler Poet Laureate

Howard_EisenbergHere is an interview with Howard Eisenberg, The Toddler Poet Laureate. Writing for over 50 years, turning 90 this year, author Howard Eisenberg has written hundreds of articles, countless books –often with his late wife, Arlene (What to Expect When You’re Expecting)– for national publications. Howard’s writing has been published in the New York Times Magazine, Saturday Evening Post, Reader’s Digest, Cosmopolitan, Parade, The Wall Street Journal, Parenting Magazine, Baby Talk, Reader’s Digest and dozens of others.

Additionally he’s written six adult books, four co-authored with Arlene, three Guess Who (Guess Who Zoo, Guess Who Farm, Guess Who Neighborhood) books for children, and scripts for radio and TV. Howard’s latest book Adorable Scoundrels is a wry read of super poems about tenacious tots. A great grandfather even greater writer, Howard’s website is www.howardeisenbergauthor.com.

About his last book entitled “Adorable Scoundrels, a treasury of toddler poetry”:  You’ll recognize your own toddlers (past or present) in the charming illustrations of Susan Robinson who has two 3-year-olds of her own and in the truth-telling verses of author, poet, and playwright Howard Eisenberg who met them first as toddlers of his own and of his much beloved late wife Arlene, who co-wrote the parenting bible, What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Arlene and the hundreds of toddlers he met with her became Howard’s inspiration for a treasury of charming Adorable Scoundrel poems that “make you smile when you feel like crying.” After hearing them at Arlene’s lectures parents would ask, Where can I get the book? There was no book then, but there is now.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START WRITING, AND WHEN?

“Private Eisenberg, write us a newspaper!”  The place was a former SS barracks in Flossenburg, Germany a week after the end of WWII.  The voice was that of Captain Ingraham, who wanted a morale booster for a very bored infantry unit: Co. K, 357th Infantry.

Fleeing Nazis had abandoned a mimeograph machine and my company commander, checking military files, had discovered my two years of college, and assumed I could spell. I set to work profiling the guys and published the first and only issue of “The Company K Rifleman.” Somehow a copy reached Corps Headquarters and I was drafted to write for the 90th Division’s weekly “American Traveler.”  When it featured my first article on the front page, I thought, “Hmm, it might be nice to spend the rest of my life as a writer.”  And so, for roughly the last 70 years, I have.

HOW MANY BOOKS HAVE YOU WRITTEN?

I’m  up to No. 11  — plus hundreds of national magazine articles, a musical, a film play, and one-man show. A lot of that was written with my wonderful late wife for life, Arlene, who was later hijacked by our daughters to write the original books in the “What to Expect” series.  Pretty good move. The series has sold more than 35 million copies and moms (dads, too) can read it in 30 languages.

WAS THERE AN AUTHOR THAT INSPIRED YOUR WRITING?

Adorable Scoundrels, a treasury of toddler poetryCharles Dickens and Mark Twain, for both their drama and their humor, light my lit. And Ogden Nash and Dorothy Parker’s satirical light-as-a-feather verse continues to inspire mine. Readers with time and children on their hands might like to check out my first three Guess Who Books — Zoo, Farm, and Neighborhood — at howardeisenbergauthor.com. What makes them worth checking out (and, if I may say so, unique) is that they both rhyme and riddle. They are “fun that educates” —  with clues in every line and the last word left blank for readers to guess. If you can spare the time, check out this sample:

My face is quite adorable,
But you may think it horrible.
I wear a mask upon my eyes.
Why not? I came to rob you guys.

When sun has set and darkness falls,
I want spaghetti and meatballs.
Since I do not know how to cook,
Your garbage can is where I look.

My nose can sniff from half a mile.
When it smells leftovers, I smile.
The stuff you left upon your platter,
I’ll dine upon with midnight clatter.

I lick my lips and thank your  Mommy
For chicken nuggets and salami.
Oh how I feast beneath the moon!
I’m sure you know my name:
__________.

DO YOU PLOT OR WRITE BY THE SEAT OF YOUR PANTS?

Sometimes I write by the seat of my pajamas.  Early one morning, I suddenly sat bolt upright with the opening and theme of a musical in my head. I headed for my computer, went into a zone (the best place for a writer to be) and had written the first four scenes of what became “The Million Dollar Bet” before breakfast.

Oh, there was a long way to go and plenty of rewriting ahead, but my inspiration was five years as super-star singer Eddie Fisher’s press agent. When he was onstage, I often wondered if it might have been me if only I’d taken the singing lessons a Bronx “talent scout” had tried to sell my parents, who couldn’t afford them. That inspired the idea for a million dollars (his) bet against a year’s Social Security checks (mine) that I could win if I became a singing star in one year.

Having others read my early draft paid off.  One pro suggested a surprise ending that was just what the play doctor ordered.  Two readings so far and lots of hope to go.  I live on 80th St. in NYC and I know that for a musical to travel from there to a Broadway theatre in the 50’s can take ten years.

DO YOU HAVE PLANS FOR A NEW BOOK?

For half a dozen new books. One will be a memoir of my wonderful years collaborating with Arlene entitled, A Typewriter Built for Two: My 50 Years with the Woman who Co-Wrote ‘The Bible.’ A few chapters are written, but other projects keep getting in the way. First it was the Guess Who series.  Now it’s the newly published Adorable Scoundrels (available, of course, on Amazon) 43 poems about the wonderful world of toddlers. Can you tolerate another sample? (If not, skip on.)

GALE WARNINGS
Hurricane? Tornado? Violent spouse?
Who wrought this havoc in our house?
You want to know what is it?
Our grandchildren came to visit.

Since nobody’s ever written that many poems about toddlers or claimed the title, I’ve officially appointed myself The Toddler Poet Laureate.

DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR WRITERS STARTING OUT?

Yes, two pieces.  First, if you have something started or a finished first-draft  (a short story, a novel, a memoir, a play, whatever) an inexpensive way to get top-notch feedback is to sign up for a course at a local community college or, even better, (in NYC or online) Gotham Writers Workshop. It welcomes beginners, but it’s for pros as well. I’ve taken both the Children’s lit course and the film writing class and feedback from fellow writers and instructors turned good into better.

Second, attend the annual Writers’ Conference of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA). It’s usually in NYC, which makes it possible to write off a great visit to the Big Juicy Apple. Its workshops with prominent authors, agents, and book and magazine editors often lead to assignments  or book contracts. I’ve been a member forever — since it started as the Society of Magazine Writers (SMW) — and all (or much) I am or ever hope to be I owe to my darling mother and the ASJA —  whose members are free with coaching and counsel for both beginners and those qualified via previous publications to become members.

Just google the ASJA and get on your way.

Book links:  www.amazon.com/author/eisenberg.

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An interview with Carol Tetlow, author of the books “Out of Practice” & “Faith Hope and Clarity”

CarolMargaretTetlow_1000x1000Carol Margaret Tetlow is a fairly recently retired family doctor who now has the time to live life to the full, write, play tennis, walk dogs and train donkeys and ponies. Coming from a medical background, it is no surprise that her novels are based in family medicine. But people love medical matters. So, set against a backdrop of everyday life in a medical centre, add in some good characters, personal dilemmas and a soupcon of romance and hopefully…. what’s not to like?

Out of Practice tells the story of one of the doctors and how she has to cope when her professional and personal lives fall apart simultaneously.

Faith Hope and Clarity tells the story of another of the doctors, an insecure woman who copes with life’s ups and downs by comfort eating and how she finds out who her real friends are.

What is your preferred genre?

My writing is commercial women’s fiction though I’ve had some very good reviews from male readers. From a reading point of view, I enjoy the same genre but also thrillers and detective novels. There is also something special about a book that makes me laugh out loud.

How many books have you written? If more than one, are any a series… or trilogy?

I’ve written a series of five books, Out of Practice and Faith Hope and Clarity are the first two in the series, all based at the same medical centre, with the same characters. I have also written two stand alone novels and am putting the finishing touches to my current novel which is not medical.

Do you have plans for a new book?

My latest novel, which is almost completed is a move away from the medical backdrop. Instead, I’ve set it in a tennis club. Since I retired, I’ve taken up tennis again (after many years) and have stumbled across a wealth of characters who are begging to be written about. This novel started out as a story for my sister, who was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. I sent her an instalment every week, to keep her entertained.

Do you plot or write by the seat of your pants?

Usually I start off with a plot but then the characters take over as they develop. In my current novel, I had no idea whatsoever when I started where it was going to go and it turned into a huge adventure for me.

Did you have an editor edit your books?

I have a wonderful friend, Helen who deserves a very special mention. She proof reads and copy edits part time on a freelance basis and she has been a continual support and help to me since I started writing seriously in about 2007. If you’re reading this Helen, thank you, as always.

Who designed the cover of your book?

Editions Dedicaces – and I was thrilled. I couldn’t have hoped for better.

Do you find yourself intrigued by the cover of a book enough to buy it?

Frequently, with mixed results. I’m sure we’ve all bought books on the strength of the cover and been disappointed sometimes.

Do you ever write in your PJ’s?

It has been known! Occasionally I do have to get up in the middle of the night to write, when I’m at a crucial point in the plot. I’ve also been found writing in my tennis gear but usually it’s jeans and a jumper. It’s also been known for me to have a hot water bottle on my knees in the winter, when I can’t persuade the cat to sit on me and keep me warm…

Cats or dogs?

Both please and also some donkeys and ponies. If push came to shove, then I’d have to say dogs and that’s not because there are four of them gazing at me as I’m writing as it’s nearly their supper time.

How many hours per day do you try to devote to research and writing?

When I’m writing a novel, I like to try to be strict and write every day. At least a thousand words, though of course there are some days when it takes hours to string two sentences together and other days when I can write three thousand words without realising that I’ve done it. Occasionally there are days when it’s impossible to write anything and then it’s best to get up and walk away from it and try again later.

Sleep in or get up early?

I am a lark. This dates back to my doctoring days, I’m sure as I’d have left the house by 0630 every day. Now I still like to get up early. There’s something special about that time of day, especially when it’s light. It’s so peaceful and quiet and there’s nothing like that first cup of tea of the day.

Laptop or desktop for writing?

Laptop every time. It can move to where I want to be. I’ve worn one out and have just bought a fabulous new one.

Where and when do you prefer to do your writing?

My favourite place is at the kitchen table (easy access to the kettle) and I like to write best late mornings and afternoons, once all the routine jobs (housework, shopping, dog walking) are done so I can concentrate

One of your favorite quotes –

Nil illegitimi carborundum – (don’t let the bastards grind you down). My senior partner at work used to say this to me repeatedly when I was having a bad time and getting stressed out. It is, of course, easier said than done.

Where can your readers stalk you?

Book links:

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview and allowing us a glimpse into your writing world.  We hope you share this interview with your friends so we can all get to know you a little better.

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Coming soon at Editions Dedicaces: “Evangeline. Eagle Rising”, by Robert B. Vink

Evangeline-Eagle-Rising_FrontISBN : 978-1-00000-000-0
Format : — pages, 5.5 x 8.5 inches
Interior Ink : Black & white
Binding : Perfect-bound Paperback

In the idyllic pioneer paradise of Acadia, Evangeline pursues her medical studies and the affections of Gabriel, a soft-spoken, curly-haired youth who makes violins by hand. In the blush of first love, she wonders at what their bright future will be like together.

But then the Empire comes and everything changes forever. The Redcoats quickly eat-up the lands, stealing and breaking treaties until all the French settlements are encircled by their battle forts.  Evangeline and her people stand in their way and are given an ultimatum – swear allegiance to Protestant England or face the wrath of the British war machine.

To the dismay of the village priest, a fiery Evangeline stirs up the settlers to fight. She then disobeys her parents and secretly sneaks away with Gabriel to join up with the French rebels.

In an often gritty, personally jarring journey, Evangeline sets out to fulfill what she has convinced herself is her holy calling. However, in the violent crucible of war, her youthful ideals are ground away. She becomes a participant in death and destruction as the lines between right and wrong… and good and evil blur.  Gabriel is captured, condemned to be executed and Evangeline is shot and almost dies.

Feeling empty and lost, Evangeline returns to church. Then during her anguished confession that what she did was not in God’s name, but in her own, she discovers her true calling. However, Evangeline’s euphoria is quickly replaced with dread at the hard road she must still travel to save her people and redeem herself.

In development to be a Major Motion Picture 2016.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

RobertVinkAfter graduating with Honors in Journalism from Canada, Vink spent 15+ years writing business, politics, and feature articles for print, radio, and TV. Then wanting to broaden his international experience, he moved to Europe and for more than a decade, Vink has lived in The Netherlands. Working in the Publishing industry, he traveled extensively around the world involved in the creation, buying and selling of digital content.

Two short years ago, Vink transitioned to the film industry, having studied and graduated from the industry renown ScreenwritingU and placed in various screen writing contests before he started his own company and turned full-time to film and book writing.

_____________________

Cannes Film Festival Award winning and Oscar nominated Canadian, Deepa Mehta has confirmed to direct the film version of Evangeline: Eagle Rising. This is only the 2nd time in 25+ years of film-making that she is interested to direct a script written by someone else. Deepa has been previously voted Best Canadian Director and has been awarded Canada’s highest honor, The Order of Canada.

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