Interview with Martina Devlin


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(UPDATE!!  Martina Devlin’s latest novel The House Where It Happened will be published in September 2014. Sounds very exciting – about REAL witchcraft – who doesn’t like that??

The House Where It Happened is inspired by a true but little-known story about the last conviction for witchcraft in Ireland. In 1711, in a remote corner of Antrim, eight women from the Ulster-Scots community were accused of being witches by a pretty young newcomer. A group trial followed, causing a sensation. What happened was Ireland’s version of the notorious Salem Witch Trials. Martina Devlin has fictionalised a compelling episode from history, transforming it into a spine-chilling tale. Her novel will be published by Ward River Press, a new Poolbeg imprint.)

HDYGT: (taps microphone) Testing, testing…is this on?

Martina Devlin: A loud speaker? Don’t you think we’ll disturb the other people in the park…

HDYGT: (puts hand over microphone) Shhhh – I’m starting your introduction.

Martina Devlin: (smiles apologetically at annoyed picnickers) You never told me this was going to be live–

HDYGT: (blaring announcer voice) Don’t let her elegant form and soft spoken manner fool you, folks! For courageous, tell-it-like-it-is writing, my next Guest Star is your woman.  She’s an award winning journalist, and weekly columnist for the Irish Independent and the Sunday World Magazine, who started writing fiction when she won the prestigous Hennessy Literary Award for her very first short story.

Martina Devlin: (hands over ears at microphone squeel) 

HDYGT: She has been shortlisted twice for the Irish Book Awards, her novel Venus Reborn was nominated for the Sunday Independent-Hughes & Hughes Irish Novel of the Year award, and her most recent book, Banksters—co-written with her partner, David Murphy, RTE’s business editor—was a 2009 No. 1 bestseller.

Martina Devlin: (quietly unplugs loudspeaker)

HDYGT: (thumps mic) Hey, what happened? This thing isn’t working.

Martina Devlin: Oh?

HDYGT: Darn, and this tape was going to launch my big career as a news announcer.

Martina Devlin: (Bites lip) Really?

HDYGT: Just pretend the mic’s on. (shoves dead mic in Martina’s face) Welcome to How did You Get There, Martina. Please describe in your own words what you do for a living.

Martina Devlin: Oh…er…I’m a storyteller. I write stories for a living. This involves different types of writing, ranging from books to newspaper columns, but fundamentally I string sentences together. Along with my weekly newspaper columns, I’ve written seven books, a combination of fiction and non-fiction.

HDYGT: Do you have a favourite?

Martina Devlin: My favourite is Ship of Dreams, about the Titanic. It was inspired by a family story: my grandmother’s uncle eloped on the Titanic and went down with the ship.

HDYGT: You hear that, folks? A real-life romantic tragedy; an insider’s story on what REALLY happened on the Titanic!

Martina Devlin: Actually – it’s fiction, based on a real person. I wanted to reclaim him for the family, so I put him in a novel.

HDYGT: The Titanic was fiction? Dagnabbit – Just like the moon landing!

Martina Devlin: No, the Titanic was real—just like the moon landing—and so was my Great-Great uncle. But writing fiction gives you great freedom to reshape material.

HDYGT: (suspiciously) Reshape material?

Martina Devlin: You mean you don’t know the difference between historical novels and non-fiction?

HDYGT: (assumes thinking position) Oooh! Haha! Now I get it, why didn’t you say so?

Martina Devlin: I DID say so!

HDYGT: (puts hand over dead mic) Please keep your voice down – people are starting to stare.

Martina Devlin: I don’t think they’re staring at me.

HDYGT: (fluffs hair) That’s very flattering, Martina, but you are the award winning writer here. So how long have you been writing?

Martina Devlin: I’ve been a published author for nine years and a journalist for more than 20. I’m currently working on another historical novel about witchcraft.

HDYGT: Witchcraft is REAL?

Martina Devlin: No… A novel by definition is Fiction.

HDYGT: Wait just a minute – that’s not what you said about the Titanic!

Martina Devlin: You seem to have a hard time distinguishing between reality and fiction.

HDYGT: (baffled by last statement, but moves on) What do you like most about your writing?

Martina Devlin: That I can work from home, that I can choose when to work, that I don’t have to interact with other people if I choose not to – I can sit at my laptop and tap away. These are also the characteristics I dislike most about my work.

HDYGT: What do you feel makes you particularly suited to being a writer?

Martina Devlin: I have lots of strong opinions so being a newspaper columnist is a gift for me. As regards to writing books, I love language, which is probably a bit of a disadvantage.

HDYGT: You heard it, folks! Loving language is a disadvantage for writers!

Martina Devlin: No, not really, I just meant—

HDYGT: And I’m the one who has a hard time distinguishing between real and not really??

Martina Devlin: (doesn’t even try to respond to this)

HDYGT: Is this love of language—real or fictitious—something you developed on the job or is it—really or fictitiously—innate?

Martina Devlin: Both. You can learn how to improve your writing skills but you can’t fake it if you have none at all.

HDYGT: (crest fallen) Really?

Martina Devlin: Afraid so…

HDYGT: Where did you work immediately before the Irish Independent?

Martina Devlin: Since college I’ve always earned a living from some kind of writing. I think through my fingertips. Weird but true.

HDYGT: Leading directly to being a columnist?

Martina Devlin: You don’t have to be a journalist to become a newspaper columnist but it helps.

HDYGT: Any other interesting jobs stand out in your past?

Martina Devlin: I sold ice cream as a schoolgirl – my all-time favourite job because people smiled at me all the time.  And I could eat as much ice cream as I liked when the supervisor was looking the other way.

HDYGT: Excellent!

Martina Devlin: When I was 18 I worked as an office junior in London for a music agency, the summer before college. The money was about £40 a week, a fortune then – at least to me. I spent it all on clothes every week and didn’t save a penny, I’m glad to say. Old heads on young shoulders are downright unnatural.

HDYGT: (still dreaming of ice cream) I prefer all natural, too.

Martina Devlin: Crusty rockers were always wandering in but I rarely recognised them because I was in my Bowie phase. I met Alice Cooper, who gave me a funny handshake where he tickled my palm. To my horror, the other office girls told me this was sexually provocative, so I hid in the Ladies room the next time he pitched up. He was always in full makeup. What girl could compete with that?

HDYGT: (wonders what kind of ice cream Alice Cooper in full make-up would eat)   Rocky Road, I’d say.

Martina Devlin: Maybe a bit rocky, but my brush with the music biz cured me of any thoughts of ever trying to become a rock chick. So I guess it taught me I had to find a job and pay my own way. I’d make that a mandatory life lesson for any woman – I despair of girls who regard men as meal tickets.

HDYGT: Moving to the very recent past, 2009 was an exciting year for you. You had a No. 1 Best Seller with Banksters, about the Irish banking collapse, which you co-wrote with your partner, David Murphy, who’s also an award winning journalist.

Martina Devlin: And we’re still on speaking terms. Imagine! Match that, Bernstein and Woodward.

HDYGT: Not only that, you were the 2009 writer in residence at the Princess Grace Irish Library in Monaco.

Martina Devlin: I spent all my free time there studying yachts. Some of them had 24-carat gold portholes, more staff than Buckingham Palace per square foot, and were equipped with palm trees, beaches and swimming pools on deck.

HDYGT: That’s so glamorous, it has to be fiction.

Martina Devlin: No, it’s all real. Yet their owners might only use them a few times a year. Naturally I was outraged  by such excess. But I was also vexed that nobody ever invited me on board – I would have liked to nurse my outrage from a waterside vantage point.

HDYGT: I’d like to thank you so much, Martina Devlin, for a REALLY interesting interview. And as always – Thank You For Playing!!!

(walking out of park)

HDYGT: So how’d I do? You think I’ll make it big as a news announcer?

Martina Devlin: No.

HDYGT: Ha! I know you’re kidding – really, tell me the truth.

Martina Devlin: I did.

HDYGT: Such a kidder! Come on, for real this time…

Copyright HDYGT 2010

(Originally posted Feb 14, 2010)

Interview with Nathan Bransford


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Nathan Bransford

(Nathan Bransford is the author ofHow to Write a Novel (October 2013), and of the Jacob Wonderbar  series This interview below took place during his previous life as a literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd.)

If you’re wondering why I’m in my 10” stiletto heels and cocktail dress, it’s because I’m at a big literary party this evening, and I’m psyched! A SUPER STAR literary agent is coming: Nathan Bransford, with Curtis Brown Ltd.
His informative blog has achieved cult status, as Huffington Post’s 50 Best Book People to Follow on Twitter, Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and the Best Publishing Industry Blog 2009.

I’m waiting out here by the elevator to catch him when he arrives. It’s the perfect place to practice my “elevator pitch”– to rattle off my story in one extremely long, run-on sentence–in case I happen to find myself in an elevator with, on a barstool beside or standing one urinal over from him.

(pulls out stopwatch, clears throat)

HDYGT: What’s that Mr. Bransford? What’s my book about? Why it’s a Heart-Wrenching-Tale-of-the-lives-and-loves-of-a-19th-century-family-of-brazen-maidens-who-encounter-alien-warlords-torn-between-the-honor-that-a-battle-well-fought-brings-to-their-alien-warlord-kind-and-the-love-of-the-brazen-maids-they’ve-fallen-madly-in-love-with-by-accident. Or-was-it-fate? (checks stopwatch) Only 17 seconds? Hmm, not enough adverbs.

(man enters hallway from main room, nods greeting)

HDYGT: (distracted smile)    Nice party.

Nathan Bransford: (checking his text messages)   Yes. It is.


(elevator doors open, HDYGT searches chatting people as they pass from the elevator to main room)

Nathan Bransford: Nathan Bransford, nice to meet you.

HDYGT: (eyes on elevator) Nice to meet you, too, Jason. Are you a writer?

(2nd elevator doors open, more noisy people pass between Nathan and HDYGT)

Nathan Bransford: I’m a literary agent, but yes, my own first book, JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW, will be published by Dial Books for Young Readers in 2011.

HDYGT: (catches last part) Your first book – congratulations! What’s it about?

Nathan Bransford: Thanks, I’m pretty excited. It’s a middle grade science fiction novel about three kids who trade a corndog for a spaceship, blast off into space, accidentally break the universe, and have to find their way back home.

HDYGT: Wow, great pitch. I’m dying to know how they break the universe…might come in handy someday.

Nathan Bransford: (starts to laugh, but sees HDYGTs not)

HDYGT: Have you been writing long?

Nathan Bransford: Not that long, I can really sympathize with what writers go through.

HDYGT: Since you’re just getting started, Jason, I’ll give you a little advice: Start a blog! You’ve got to promote yourself, build a following now ‘cause it can take years.

Nathan Bransford: (smiles) I already have one, but thanks. What about you?

HDYGT: I’m still hunting for an agent. There’s a Super Star coming tonight, and I’m determined to meet him. I’ve got my Can-Do Jimmy Choo Shoes on.

Nathan Bransford: (eyes shoes, prays they don’t double as weapons) Who is it? Maybe I know him.

HDYGT: Ha! I hardly think so! He’s BIG TIME. I have it on very good authority that he wears several large, gold medallions around his neck, enormous pinkie rings and a tight fitting shirt open to his naval.

Nathan Bransford: (confused) I don’t know any agents who dress like that, not literary anyway.

HDYGT: (shrugs) He’s from California. Where are you from, by the way?

Nathan Bransford: California, raised in Colusa.

HDYGT: I don’t know Colusa.

Nathan Bransford: It’s a small town, only 5,000 people, a one-screen movie theatre and two stoplights.

HDYGT: Bet you read a lot growing up.

Nathan Bransford: (chuckles) Yes, grabbed armfuls of books when the local book fair came to town. And I learned a thing or two about rice farming.

HDYGT: Rice farming?

Nathan Bransford: Actually that probably helped teach me to concentrate for long stretches, and to stay on top of things, which I really need in my line of work. Though that could have been innate. I know I impressed my parents with my endless ability to play video games as a kid.

HDYGT: Where did you say you worked?

Nathan Bransford: Curtis Brown

HDYGT: (ears perk up) Doing what?

Nathan Bransford: I started as an assistant in 2002 then––

HDYGT: (ears flatten) An assistant… Curtis Brown is an excellent agency. How did you get a job there?

Nathan Bransford: Well, I graduated from Stanford with an English degree, saw a job posting online, thought it sounded like my dream job, and luckily I landed the position.

HDYGT: What do you like about it?

Nathan Bransford: Working with authors is always fascinating, and enjoyable. On the best days I’m helping them achieve their dreams. It’s a great feeling.

HDYGT: You are one sweet guy, I’d hire you as my assistant in a Colusa instant! Where did you work before Curtis Brown?

Nathan Bransford: (laughs, shakes head) You mean other than the video stores I worked in during high school? I interned for a law firm in college, which in many respects is similar to being an AGENT (points to self) —figuring out strategy, working with contracts, negotiation, etc.

HDYGT: See there? You might become an AGENT (points to Nathan) some day!

Nathan Bransford: (pushes elevator button) Who knows! Working in publishing teaches me endless patience… That and all the non-fiction reading helps with my Trivial Pursuit game. But seriously, it’s a really fulfilling job that has impacted my life in so many ways, not only through the friendships I’ve made but also through the lessons I’ve learned.

HDYGT: Here comes your elevator. It’s been a pleasure meeting you, Jason.

Nathan Bransford: I’ve enjoyed meeting you too, in a creepy, uncomfortable sort of way. You’re the only one who hasn’t rattled off their pitch to me, including the street person in front of the ATM machine. Though his was actually interesting, something about alien warlords and 19th century brazen maidens…

(people pour out of elevator, Nathan steps in, waves goodbye)

Newly Arrived Writer: Oh My God–that’s Nathan Bransford!

HDYGT: (spins 360 degrees) WHERE!

Newly Arrived Writer: In the elevator, weren’t you just talking to him? What did he say? Did he like your pitch?
(elevator doors shut completely)

HDYGT: (falls to knees, a surprisingly long distance in 10” stiletto heels) NAAAAaaaaaaathaaaaaan!!!

Nathan Bransford: (calls through closed doors) Yes?

HDYGT: Thank you for Playing!!!

Janet Goldstein recorded this video of Nathan at the San Miguel Writer’s conference.

Nathan Bransford is the author ofHow to Write a Novel (October 2013), Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow (Dial, May 2011), Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe (Dial, April 2012) and Jacob Wonderbar and the Interstellar Time Warp(Dial, February 2013). He was formerly a literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd. and the social media manager at CNET and is now the Director of Community and Social Media at Freelancers Union. He lives in Brooklyn.

(originally posted April 2010)

Interview with Niamh “Bugsy” O’Connor


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Niamh O'Connor

WARNING: My next guest will take you to the seedier side of town–down a dank, murky alley–a place I didn’t know I had the guts to go.

It includes some tough talk about Blood… and Ties.

In fact, Blood Ties – a mesmerizing, can’t put it down book, just out. I’m not gonna lie to you— I almost didn’t make it out alive—but it was worth it. What a rush!! So here’s what happened…

I walked into a smoke filled pool hall. Strange, I’m thinking. She hates to swim. There she sat, in the back. Her face half shadowed under a single hanging lamp…

HDYGT:               You Niamh O’Connor?

Niamh O’Connor:         Who’s asking?

HDYGT:               How Did You Get There.

Niamh O’Connor:         I drove. Now answer my question.

HDYGT:               Hi,  I’m a big fan! I called about the interview?

Niamh O’Connor:  (sound of cards shuffling)

HDYGT:               OK. I’ll just get started.  Question #1: Please tell us what do you do for a living?

Niamh O’Connor:         I report on crime—Real crime—and write crime books. My latest book is Blood Ties. It’s work that requires me to ask a lot of questions. So here’s what I want to know – do you still sing like a canary?…In the shower?…Vacuuming?

HDYGT:   Only while skiing down jagged mountains in powder-puff snow.

Niamh O’Connor:         So you ski?

HDYGT:               No.

Niamh O’Connor:         But—

HDYGT:                           Wait a minute— I’m supposed to be asking the questions here! Let’s see… (flips open small note pad) How long have you been writing about crime?

Niamh O’Connor:         Reporting – twenty years. Writing true crime books – ten. Blood Ties is just out, before thatblood ties coverwas The Black Widow, and Cracking Crime. My first novel is coming out next year. But back to you. What’s this about the BBC?

HDYGT:               What!? Who told you about that?

Niamh O’Connor:         You did. On the phone. You wouldn’t stop yammering.

HDYGT:                           Oh. (eye-squint) So this is how’s it’s gonna be, eh? OK, I’ll tell ya. It’s the BBC My Story competition. I submitted. They posted it. It reached #1 in their Top Ten Most Liked.

Niamh O’Connor:         Oh yeah? (cool glare)

HDYGT:                           Yeah. Now your turn. (licks pencil, flips page) What do you like most about your work?

Niamh O’Connor: Who wants to know? (stands, sound of wooden chair knocked over)

HDYGT:                           I wanna know! (sound of chair set upright, seat wiped, pillow fluffed, offered to Niamh O’Connor)

Niamh O’Connor:         Thanks. I love the craft involved in stripping a sentence back to the absolute basics, to get the maximum hit. I love the language of crime. Passive it ain’t.

HDYGT:   (sharpens pencil with pocket knife, flips page)

Niamh O’Connor:         And subject wise, I love the jaw-dropping point when you’ve learned just how much the kind of person you’d least expect has gone to, to bump someone else off. That’s the conflict that gives the best crime stories the x-factor.

HDYGT: I love that show!

Niamh O’Connor:  (slaps HDYGT upside the head) Pay attention. I’m only gonna say this once.

HDYGT:                           Why I oughta…

Niamh O’Connor:         Take the Scissor Sisters, Linda and Charlotte Mulhall who murdered their mother’s toy boy lover in front of her; or Joe O’Reilly – the ad exec who murdered his wife Rachel because he considered it easier than a protracted custody battle following a separation; or Sharon Collins who Googled a hit man to kill her millionaire partner and his two sons – all featured in my new book, Blood Ties. I’ll give you another example of that conflict. You meet you- HDYGT- in real life, you think, wow that’s a nice, civilised lady. You read your interviews, you think, wow!

HDYGT: Yeah…            Hey! What’s that supposed to mean?

Niamh O’Connor:         Sit down.

HDYGT:               Alright, but no funny stuff—see? My next question is: What has drawn you to a LIFE OF CRIME writing??

Niamh O’Connor:         What’s with the spotlight? You’re blinding me.

HDYGT:                           Dramatic punch too hard?

Niamh O’Connor:         Over kill.

(screechy music, HDYGT bites knuckle)

Niamh O’Connor:  Here’s how it goes down. I need to know every last detail to understand what happened. When you read a newspaper report, you’re getting the bones of the story. But the true crime books give me a chance to flesh out the stories. I’m interested in what makes people tick; what drives them over the edge. Greed is just so despicable. It presses all the moral outrage buttons.

HDYGT:               Is this digging deeper innate or something you have developed on the job?

Niamh O’Connor: I’m naturally nosy. My writing epiphany was when somebody told me to stop adding ‘ly’ to describe, it was a cop out. But in terms of yours, I’d like to know what really happened on that double-decker bus?

HDYGT: Wha— whaddya mean?! (wipes sweat from brow)

Niamh O’Connor: I wanna know the truth!

HDYGT:                           YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!

Niamh O’Connor: You do realize writing is more than just quoting famous movies?

HDYGT:               Oh? Great tip. (flips page) So where did you work immediately before this?

Niamh O’Connor:         I was the crime correspondent in Ireland on Sunday. Now you– How does a person become an opera singer? I’m thinking one of those mom’s who entered you in singing competitions when you were little, right? I’m thinking Southfork. I’m thinking oil. I’m thinking JR would pay a lot of money to keep his princess out of trouble.

HDYGT:               What’re you, a wise guy? (sound of HDYGT’s forehead hitting table) Alright, I’ll tell you! A certain person—who shall remain nameless— studied singing because she was too lazy to continue dancing after high school. Then said singer fell in love with opera, especially Italian.

Niamh O’Connor: (eyes narrow)   If you’d ain’t on the up and up…

HDYGT:   (eyes narrow-er) Your turn. Did being a crime correspondent lead directly to your current position?

Niamh O’Connor:         Sure did. The Sunday World editor rang to ask would I meet for a talk. We met, he offered me the job. No looking back ever since. The author of Lockdown, Sean Black, describes us as the ‘last real reporters’. I love that. I’ve worked in enough other newspapers to know it to be true. Look at Paul Williams. It’s a vocation, not a job.

HDYGT:  Try any other jobs before writing for BLOOD money?

Niamh O’Connor:  Errr, babysitting. I only ever got paid a fiver no matter how many hours; and a pub, where a customer complained about the lounge girl who kept storming off in a huff every time he tried to order a Southern Comfort. I thought he was being rude!

HDYGT:  And lastly, any life experiences you’d like to share?

Niamh O’Connor:  I learned I didn’t have to smile back when I was working at my computer. Did I mention BLOOD TIES? It’s really good! Think you can work out some subliminal way of working the words ‘Buy It’ into this interview?

HDYGT:  Oh! BUY the way, does BLOOD wash out of TIES? That guy’s TIE’s BLOODy, he’d better BUY a new one!

Niamh O’Connor:  (knocks chair over, slaps HDYGT upside the head, storms out)

HDYGT:  Thanks for a gripping interview!! (door slams, big bruiser guys stand over HDYGT with arms crossed) And as always, Niamh O’Connor, thank you for playing…Guys, put me down…please?

© HDYGT 2010

(Originally Posted October 18, 2009)

Interview with MET Stage Director Knighten Smit


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Mee-may-my– Oh! Hello you darling people! I’m doing vocalises because today’s Guest Star is an Opera Stage Director at none other than New York City’s Metropolitan Opera!! You heard that right, The MET!! He’s assisted and directed over 25 productions in 14 years!  Yeeeeeee-Haaaaaawww (That’s a vocalise I learned in the deep south, clears sinuses and ear canals)

He’s also worked at Juilliard, the Salzburg Festival, Bregenz Festival, Berlin Staatsoper, Covent Garden, MET tour of Japan, Santa Fe Opera, Banff Festival, the LA Opera, the San Diego Opera, Israeli Opera, and soon to be in Montreal working on the MET’s highly anticipated new Ring Cycle, said to be a “wizardly high-tech version” celebrating Wagner’s 200th anniversary.

This is it – my BIG BREAK!! OK, I haven’t sung professionally – or unprofessionally–since I had my daughter twelve years ago, but I’m sure it’s like riding a bike. Only with your mouth. (nervous high pitched laugh)

I shall remain composed, up-right, and speak only with pure, open vowels. (adjusts ball gown) Here he comes!

HDYGT: (deep curtsy to floor) Welcome, Maestro, to my humble blog.

Knighten Smit: (picks gigantic camellia off floor) I believe this fell from your …em… big hair?

HDYGT: (elegant arm gesture) How kind.

Knighten Smit: Your hand’s cold… I hope you’re not nervous?

HDYGT: I’m a real ‘Che gelida manina’, Maestro! My sweaty palms keep my hands nice and cold.

Knighten Smit: (wipes his hand on jeans) “Maestro” is for orchestra conductors and chorus masters. I’m a stage director. So you can call me “Your Highness”.

HDYGT: Of course, what was I thinking, Your High–

Knighten Smit: I’m kidding.

HDYGT: I knew that. (shrill laughter, then sings) Won’t you sit doooooown?

Knighten Smit: (blank expression) Oh. I get it. You’re making fun of opera singers by singing terribly. How clever and unique…

HDYGT: (stops singing) Making fun? No, not at all, I used to sing oper–

Knighten Smit: (smiles towards grand piano)Your pianist isn’t bad, though.

Pianist: (beams thanks, continues playing arpeggios up and down keyboard)

HDYGT: (Diva stance, arm in air) How loooooong have you direeeeeeeeeeeeeec-ted?

Knighten Smit: Good Lord, enough, didn’t that gag go out with the Marx Brothers?

Pianist: (agreeing eye roll, plays “Miserere” from Il Trovatore)

HDYGT: (stage whisper) Just answer the question.

Knighten Smit: I’ve been an opera director for 18 years, working at the MET for 14.

HDYGT: (sweeps to yon balcony, deep diaphragmatic breath) Wh–

Knighten Smit: STOP– I can’t take it!

HDYGT: Me either! (shouts) Where the hell’s my follow spot?

Knighten Smit:  (throws hands up, heads towards exit)

HDYGT: No, no–please don’t go!

Pianist: (snickers, plays “Addio del passato” from La Traviata)

HDYGT: (crosses to pianist, slams down lid) Laugh, clown, laugh!

Pianist: (exits stage left with director’s phone number, peels of laughter from wings)

HDYGT: And I was about to have my big moment.

Knighten Smit: Look, it used to be about the music, but now it’s rare that an “opera moment” makes me pause.

HDYGT: You mean I made you pause?

Knighten Smit: Like a heart attack.

HDYGT: (glowing) So tell me what drew you to directing?

Knighten Smit: (sits back down) I like the collaborative essence of the art form. That’s what took me away from the solidarity of practicing scales at the piano – the combination of Music/Theater/Art/Drama/Voice. I like that the work is sporadic: busy rehearsals, more relaxed during performances, weeks off between productions.

HDYGT: Is it exciting to travel all over the world?

Knighten Smit: The travel is nice, though I’ve made something of a lifestyle choice not to bop around too much. New York is my home, and in my profession working in your hometown is an intoxicating luxury. A nice trip or two a year is enough.

HDYGT: Do you have any favourite performances, other than mine just now?

Knighten Smit: You mean “those opera moments” that are fantastic and cannot be compared to anything except…well, you know?

HDYGT: Except what?

Knighten Smit: I’d say it but I don’t want you to get any of those “for a hot time…” bots trolling your site.

HDYGT: (lifts eyebrow) Are you implying people don’t have a hot time on HowDidYouGetThere?

Knighten Smit: OK, it starts with an “s” and ends with an “x”.


Knighten Smit: (winks) Right. Let’s see… great opera moments in my career? Well, in no particular order:

1) Hei-Kyung Hong‘s Liu from TURANDOT — beauty of voice, dignity of character, understanding of leveled emotion — Wow.
2) Karita Mattila final scene from JENUFA. An opera about compromised, adult love — with a bitter-sweet ending.
3) Watching Jimmy Levine and Placido Domingo work through the Flower Song from CARMEN in a rehearsal room (five feet away from me) when only, say, four years earlier I was standing in line at the Vienna Staatsopera for hours to hear Domingo in standing room. Of course, fast forward less than a year later and I’m eating a cheese burger in the booth while Domingo’s singing away. Since then I’ve worked with all of the “Three Tenors” but that’s a story, or series of stories for another time.
4) Sharon Sweet singing Turandot in a room. She never made it to the stage, herniated disc. She wanted to sing sitting on a stool. Volpe said no. But in the room, absolutely glorious — full, round, rich sound, never screaming as can happen in that role.

Knighten Smit (con’t): SAX is SAX, opera is opera and never the twain should meet. I have had more great SAX than great opera moments — Thank Bacchas!
When the reverse is true you get opera queens. I’ve broken up with exes whom I’ve realized didn’t understand the difference.

HDYGT: An opera director who plays saxophone– How cool are you?!

Knighten Smit: (confused) I play piano.

HDYGT: Right, sax AND piano.

Knighten Smit: (Stunned that HDYGT can’t remember her own code words) No. I’ve never played the sax. I got my Bachelors’ degree in Piano Performance, followed by a Master’s in Musicology.

HDYGT: So your training in musicology, piano performance and great sax paved the way musically. How did your innate qualities add to your success?

Knighten Smit: Well, I have never had qualms speaking/directing in front of crowds, probably due to speech and forensics in high school. I’m pretty personable… humour helps.

HDYGT:  Did you hear the one about the–

Knighten Smit: –and I’m quite organized on the job. I’ve the skill set of a type A personality, but am a definite type B.

HDYGT: Gets along well with Divas – check! Any interesting jobs prior to stage directing?

Knighten Smit: I waited on tables for a good decade, through college, grad school, and bartended while figuring out how to get on the career ladder.

HDYGT: You’re a shrink, too? Bet that comes in handy with the Tenors.

Knighten Smit: Moved to New York and worked, non-paid, at the amazing Amato Opera while I…. waited tables. Got a gig at Juilliard, as an Assistant Administrator at Vocal Arts—glorified secretary—so I could Assistant Direct with Frank Corsaro and others. I left Juilliard to work at Santa Fe for the summer, but returned to no job, so I … waited tables again.

HDYGT: I guess cash flow and experience don’t always go hand in hand.

Knighten Smit: No, but it was a good year, met folk that are still the closest to me. Got the MET contract–too soon–but I proved myself.

HDYGT: Too soon? I thought Younger was always Better in the arts!

Knighten Smit: Only in the minds of TV producers and internet hackers. The rest of the world demands experience.

HDYGT: I see.

Knighten Smit: So I had a short-ish MET contract the 1st time, the most humbling thing having to return to waiting tables after my first year. It took all my self-restraint—which I famously lack—not to throw hot pea soup on laps or stretched faces of upper East side women. It’s now been a healthy 13 years since waiting tables, so far so good, but NEVER to be taken for granted.

HDYGT: How did you get your first shot?

Knighten Smit: Luck. I worked with a director at Santa Fe Opera Festival and at the end of the summer I had a please-give-me-advice-lunch with him. He, at the time, worked often at the MET and advised me to apply, said he’d give a good word.

HDYGT: You must’ve been over the moon!

Knighten Smit: Actually I was thinking, “What? Too soon, I was looking for this in five years!” but my colleague suggested “Just meet with the Executive Stage Director. What harm would it do?” so I thought “I’ll scrap together a resume and FABRICATE!!”

HDYGT: Lying is highly under rated.

Knighten Smit: (winces) I don’t recommend it. Several years later I needed a C.V., found my file, saw my first resume for the MET and literally said: “Wow, I would never have hired me!” My boss heard me and said, “I hired you in a safety position. If you failed, no harm done, I had enough back up. If you passed muster I’d consider hiring you again.”  In short, no ego = no ego.

HDYGT:Any otherprevious employment you’d like to share?

Knighten Smit: I taught business English after studying at the Vienna Hochschule — where I learned German, got the opera bug (DAMMIT!!) and drank. Favourite teaching day: my students brought food and booze, and I brought a video of MOONSTRUCK. Picture a Dutch Calvinist–my father was a missionary–with a bunch of Austrian Business Folk explaining Brooklyn Italian Catholics.

HDYGT: (head still spinning) And lastly, any life lessons you’d like to leave us with, preferably ones that don’t involve dying romantically of tuberculosis?

Knighten Smit: If I wanted to get all Oprah on you, I’d talk about the definition of luck. Opportunity + preparation = Luck. Right? Well, I wasn’t so prepared. I’m just damn good on my feet — an innate talent I use to this day, not to mention still good at SAX.

HDYGT: But I thought you said–

Knighten Smit: Gotta go!

HDYGT: (Hops to feet, Diva stance) Thank You, Knighten for Plaaaaaaaaaaaying!! (falls dramatically to floor after high note, dead)

© HDYGT 2010

And now, for your listening and viewing pleasure…a few opera moments!

Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon (Oo-la-la) “Sempre libera” La Traviata by Verdi, Salzburg 2005

The GOD-like Placido Domingo and Monserrat Caballe  “O soave fanciulla” La Bohème by Puccini

Maria Callas, “Una voce poco fa” Il Barbiere di Siviglia by Rossini, 1958 Paris

For you Wagner fans: Hildegard Behrens as Brünnhilde and Jessye Norman as Sieglinde in Walküre by Wagner

And HDYGT’s favourite transcendant moment…pull out the kleenexs for Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier performed at the James Levine Anniversary Celebration  by Renee Fleming, Anne Sophie von Otter and Heidi Grant Murphy  

To end on a comic note — here’s a how a baritone enters the room…at least in Rossini’s Cenerentola!

Interview with Steve Kaplan, SK Comedy Intensive


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Today’s Guest Star has been the industry’s most respected and sought-after expert on comedy for over 15 years. He teaches comedy workshops, has created the HBO Workspace, the HBO New Writers Program and was co-founder and Artistic Director of Manhattan Punch Line Theatre, developing writers like Peter Tolan (Analyze This, Finding Amanda), writer/ producer David Crane (Friends, Joey, The Class), writer/producer Tracy Poust (Ugly Betty, Will & Grace), Michael Patrick King (The Comeback, Sex and The City, Will & Grace), Will Scheffer (Big Love), Steve Skrovan (Everybody Loves Raymond) etcetera, etcetera.

Exactly!! I know what you’re thinking and I’m WAY ahead of you. If this guy thinks he can monkey around in this interview he has another thing coming. I’m a serious interviewer, so he’d better Bee-have.

Especially since we’re meeting at the legendary Jerry’s Deli on Ventura Blvd., that’s LA, CA, aka Hollywood, Baby – I have to look cool!

HDYGT: (applies 10th coat of tangerine lip gloss, adjusts enormous rhinestone sunglasses, flings open door of crowded deli)

Steve Kaplan: (waves from red booth) Hello, over here!

HDYGT: (slides into booth) Mr. Kaplan, I presume?

Steve Kaplan: (smiling) Really nice to meet you. I hope you didn’t run into bad traffic?

HDYGT: So this is how we’re going to play it, huh? Question Avoidance! You’re avoiding my questions by asking your own.

Steve Kaplan: (baffled) What? What do you mean?

HDYGT: I know the game and it’s not gonna work. (slams table, sloshing water glasses) Are you or are you not Steve Kaplan?

Steve Kaplan: (steadies water glasses) No, no, not at all!

HDYGT: (jumps up bumping table, water drenches Steve) You’re not Steve Kaplan? Then who the hell are you?!

Steve Kaplan: (fumbling for napkins) No, no – I mean, I’m not avoiding your question. I was just starting to get worried. I’ve been here for over an hour and thought something might have happened to you.

HDYGT: (sits back down) Oh. I get it.

Steve Kaplan: (smiles, wipes up spilled water) Glad we got that settled.

HDYGT: Deflection. Classic counter move.

Steve Kaplan: Huh?

HDYGT: Trying to pin it all on me.  (scribbles in notebook) Hostile Guest Star.

Steve Kaplan: (reads upside down) Wait – did you just write Hostile?

HDYGT: (slams fuzzy pink pencil down on notepad) How can I conduct an interview if you won’t stop fooling around and answer the question!

Steve Kaplan: (starts to sweat) Wha- what question?  You haven’t asked me one.

HDYGT: (rolls eyes) Yea, right. I’ll just call you Mr. X.

Steve Kaplan: (confused) Look, I’m really not trying to be difficult, but you were the one who contacted ME, so I assumed–

HDYGT: (to gawking Elderly Couple at next table) I’m deeply sorry, is my companion bothering you? Imagine how I feel! (to Steve Kaplan) Since you refuse to tell me your name, how about telling me what you do for a living?

Elderly Husband: Yea, just do what she says. The date goes a lot better that way.

Elderly Wife: (bats husband’s arm) Harold!

Steve Kaplan: (laughs awkwardly at mounting on-lookers) No, no, ha! This is an INTERVIEW – definitely NOT a date – I’m married! She invited me here to INTERVIEW me.

Elderly Husband: We’ll be the judge of that. Tell the lady what you do.

Steve Kaplan: (raises voice for all to hear) I’d like the readers of HowDidYouGetThere to know that I teach comedy writing and performance, as well as conduct workshops, seminars and consult on scripts.

HDYGT: (points pencil at Steve) Ah-HA! Just like Steve Kaplan does.

Steve Kaplan: Um…yes.

HDYGT: How long have you worked in comedy, Mr. X?

Steve Kaplan: If you don’t mind, just call me–

HDYGT: Again with the question avoidance? You’re an artful dodger, Mr. X, but you underestimate my amazing counter moves, developed from years of tether ball. (HDYGT demonstrates ducking and air-hitting manoeuvres)

Elderly Husband: (winks at HDYGT) Nice moves. If it doesn’t work out with this guy–

Elderly Wife: Shut up and order, Harold!

Elderly Husband: (to waitress) I’ll have what she’s having.

Steve Kaplan: (wishes they’d met at McDonald’s like HDYGT suggested)

HDYGT: (sits, winded) So you see, you’ve met your match. I repeat: How long have you worked in comedy?

Steve Kaplan: OK, ok! I started a theatre company in New York completely devoted to comedy in 1979. Would your readers believe that I started the theatre at the age of 10?

HDYGT: (beams with pride) My readers will believe anything.

Steve Kaplan: I can imagine.

HDYGT: What do you like most about working in comedy?

Steve Kaplan: I get to hang around a lot of people who are laughing.

HDYGT: I can imagine. People in here are sure laughing at you.

Steve Kaplan: (blank stare)

HDYGT: What do you think makes you suited to teaching comedy?

Steve Kaplan: Let me quote from Dorothy Parker’s prescription for writing comedy: “Have a sharp eye, and a wild mind.” I guess I have both.

HDYGT: Have you always been sharp and wild or did you start off dull and docile, and grow into it?

Steve Kaplan: I guess it all started when I was a kid. I was the kind of kid who would get picked on and beat up after school. I’m really not sure why.

HDYGT: (scribbles in notebook) Dull and docile child

Steve Kaplan: (reads upside down) Hey – I wasn’t dull or docile! As a matter of fact, because of the threat of being pummeled, I learned to do two things really well—

HDYGT: (continues writing) …could only do two things well

Steve Kaplan: I learned to run fast and make people laugh. Most kids couldn’t catch me; those who could, I disarmed with trenchant wit, with more than a soupcon of self-deprecating humor thrown in.

HDYGT: (still writing) …kids laughed at the way he ran. But he made excellent soup.

Steve Kaplan: OK, I still got beat up, but I also grew to love comedy.

HDYGT: Fascinating how soup-making leads to comedy. Who were your favorite comedians?

Steve Kaplan: While my peers were settling for the slapstick fun of Soupy Sales, my tastes were developing a more discerning palette.

HDYGT: Good choice. I was getting tired of soup.

Steve Kaplan: My heroes were the anarchic Marx Bros. and the 40s era hipster-quipster Bob Hope. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why Bing seemed to get all the girls in the Road movies just by singing. I remember, to my eternal humiliation, going up to a band at a dance (I was 12) and asking them to play a request: Bob Hope’s theme song, Thanks for the Memories.

HDYGT: Oh – I love the Marx Brothers and have a special spot in my heart for the Road movies of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Who else?

Steve Kaplan: I loved Laurel and Hardy and W.C. Fields and Danny Kaye (“The pellet with the poison’s in the vessel with the pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true!”) and the Dick Van Dyke Show, and through the subversive humor of Get Smart I became a fan of Mel Brooks, who I later discovered was also the 2,000-Year Old Man.

HDYGT: You should watch that science program, Get Smart, a little more closely if you think Mel Brooks is 2,000 years old. I happen to know that the oldest person is only 1,029, because he was abducted by aliens. True story.

Steve Kaplan: Right.

HDYGT: So you had a love of the classics even in your early years?

Steve Kaplan: I have to admit I wasn’t yet a fan of the great silent classics, but I’m proud to point out that, even at 13, my love of The Three Stooges extended only to Shemp, who I thought alone exhibited the heart, compassion and bewildered sweetness that was the hallmark of great comedy and was lacking in Moe, Larry and Curley.

HDYGT: Where have you worked prior to now?

Steve Kaplan: Well, immediately prior to immediately prior, I was doing some talent development gigs for Chris Albrecht at HBO. I was then given an opportunity that, in retrospect, I should have turned down. I went into talent management representation. So I zigged when I shoulda zagged.

HDYGT: I used to have that problem in tether ball. Want me to show you?

Steve Kaplan: No, no, that’s OK. I worked it out.

HDYGT: (starts to stand) Sure?

Steve Kaplan: Uh…positive. To give you a sense of how it turned out, I once approached my partners about taking on a new act, and one of them said, “That Jack Black and Tenacious D are never going to amount to anything.”

HDYGT: And how did you begin teaching Comedy Intensive Workshops internationally?

Steve Kaplan: Well, that’s a position I really had to invent myself. I do give a lot of credit to a guy who worked for Robert McKee who took me to lunch and said, “You could be the Robert McKee of comedy.” I don’t think I’m at McKee’s legendary status yet, but it’s been an amazing ride so far, and it’s taken me to New York, Vancouver, London, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore!

HDYGT: Wow. Any other jobs stand out in your past?

Steve Kaplan: The theatre I started in New York was called Manhattan Punch Line, and it was an amazingly vital and creative time of my life and an amazing launching pad for new talent—Steve Skrovan (Executive Producer of Everybody Loves Raymond), Michael Patrick King (Sex and the City), David Fury (Lost, 24), Peter Tolan (Rescue Me), John Leguizamo, Oliver Platt—the list goes on.

HDYGT: How cool is that?! Any valuable life experiences do you wish to share?

Steve Kaplan: Hey, waking up is an amazing life experience!

HDYGT: And for my final question– Are you or are you not Steve Kaplan?

(Elderly Couple lean in closer.)

Steve Kaplan: You’re actually going to post this?

HDYGT: Of course, I’m a professional! I’m not doing this for laughs, you know.

Steve Kaplan: Uh… right… In that case I have to be honest. My real name is…um…Robert McKee.

HDYGT: I knew it! I’ve got a nose for this –  nothing gets by me! (Hi-fives impressed Elderly Husband)

Steve Kaplan: (relieved) Yep. You saw straight through me.

HDYGT: Thank you for coming clean, Mr. McKee. And to Steve Kaplan, where ever you are, I’d like to send out a very big Thank You for Playing!!

© HDYGT 2010

Steve Kaplan’s bio:

For almost 15 years, Steve Kaplan has been the industry’s most respected and sought-after expert on comedy.  The artists he’s taught, directed or produced have gone on to be nominated for 43 Emmy Awards, 1 Academy Award, 3 Golden Globe Awards, 1 American Comedy Award, 6 Writers’ Guild of America Awards and several others. (They’ve WON 10 Emmys, 1 Oscar, 2 WGA Awards and the American Comedy Award.) In addition to having taught at UCLA, NYU, Yale and other top universities, Steve Kaplan created the HBO Workspace, the HBO New Writers Program and was co-founder and Artistic Director of Manhattan Punch Line Theatre. He has served as a consultant to such companies as DreamWorks, Disney, Aardman Animation, HBO and others.

(originally published August 2010)

Interview with Livia Blackburne, MIT neuroscientist


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(Re-posted cause it’s just that good!!)

Last week we had HDYGT Gets Fit (What? Dodging melon balls and pineapple wedges counts!) so now it’s time for another issue of HDYGT Gets Smart, inaugurated by none other than Scientific American’s Steve Mirsky!

Who better to carry the torch than Livia King Blackburne: the 24th Most Influential writer on Twitter according to We Follow, and voted Top 50 Female Science Bloggers by Online Universities.

Livia King Blackburne: (whispers) Tell them I can also hold a straw between my nose and upper lip.

HDYGT: (hisses back) Stop bragging.

Livia King Blackburne: Jealous.

HDYGT: (clears throat) Welcome, Livia King Blackburne! Please tell our readers what you do?

Livia King Blackburne: (smiles) I’m in my 5th year of graduate studies at MIT in cognitive neuroscience.

HDYGT: (has the blank stare of someone who hears only elevator music)

Livia King Blackburne: Which means I scan peoples’ brains for my experiments.

HDYGT: How lovely – you experiment on people’s… brains? (wishes she’d worn that daffodil hat with the aluminum lining afterall)

Livia King Blackburne: (dissecting HDYGT’s scalp with her eyes) Specifically, I’m interested in how the brain develops when you learn to read.

HDYGT: Your lab rats must be able read? (smiles, relieved) Guess that leaves me out – I’ve been told I’m an illiterate idiot!!

Livia King Blackburne: Oh? Well, I study them as they’re learning to read…

HDYGT: (starts to sweat, looks for nearest exit)

Livia King Blackburne: So I’m scanning kids at different ages to see how the brain changes as they get older.

HDYGT: You experiment on children?!

Livia King Blackburne: Yes.

HDYGT: Oh, thank God! (the colour returns to HDYGT’s white knuckles) Say, I know some little brats, I mean adorable kids, if you need any lab brats? Er… rats?

Livia King Blackburne: No, thanks. We have plenty.

HDYGT: I understand you’re a writer, too?

Livia King Blackburne: Yes, my other “gig” is as a writer and blogger.  I write fantasy stories for young adults.

HDYGT: Why Young adults? What do you have against OLD adults?

Livia King Blackburne: Nothing, YA is a writing genre.

HDYGT: Uh-huh, right. First you refuse to experiment on adults, now you refuse to write for anyone but the young…  Are you some kind of mad scientist inventing a World of the Young?

Livia King Blackburne: (shifty eyed) What?! No, the Harry Potter books are Young Adult Fantasy, too, but people of all ages read them.

HDYGT: Awwww, Darnit! I was hoping to get in on this whole Young World thing.

Livia King Blackburne: Sorry.

HDYGT: Your blog is extremely popular: A Brain Scientist Takes Writing.  Is the in-ability to write common among MIT brain scientists?

Livia King Blackburne: No – it’s called A Brain Scientist’s Take On Writing. It’s an analysis of writing from a brain scientist’s perspective.

HDYGT: That’s what I said. Hey – are you trying to mess with my brain?!

Livia King Blackburne: No, of course not.

HDYGT: (whines) I’ll never get in the Young World project…

Livia King Blackburne: There is no Young World project.

HDYGT: (narrows eyes) Says you. So what do you like most about your work, other than messing with peoples’ brains?

Livia King Blackburne: Well, I think neuroscience is one of the big scientific frontiers right now. There is a lot of excitement and energy going into this research. It’s really fun to be in the middle of it all.

HDYGT: The wild frontier, Yeee-Haaaaw!

Livia King Blackburne: And everybody’s interested in neuroscience.

HDYGT: (not afraid to ask the tough questions…) Oh?

Livia King Blackburne: Everybody has a brain, so what I study is relevant to everyone.

HDYGT: (…even in the presence of superior intelligence) I assume you have proof to back- up this “everybody has a brain” theory?

Livia King Blackburne: (eyes HDYGT) I suppose there could be exceptions to the rule…

HDYGT: What do you think is the key to scientific success?

Livia King Blackburne: I used to think being a good scientist was all about programming computers and having good technical skills, but really, a good scientist just needs to pay attention and ask the right questions.

HDYGT: (beams) Like I do!

Livia King Blackburne: Um…sort of…would you mind turning that off?

HDYGT: (turns off portable tractor beam) What else?

Livia King Blackburne: You need to keep plugging away when the first 10 tries don’t work.

HDYGT: Yep, I know that all too well.

Livia King Blackburne: As a writer yourself, I imagine you do. Science is very similar to getting published on that last aspect.  Many writers have trouble with the idea of spending years on something with no guarantee of success, but that’s just business as usual in the lab.

HDYGT: And in stalking.

Livia King Blackburne: (desperate to stay on topic) In science and writing, there’s lots of creativity involved.

HDYGT: Stalking, too! So how do you come up with your ideas?

Livia King Blackburne: Um… I tend to be a pretty spacey person – one of my friends called me Oblivia because I’m always in my own little world.  But it’s when I’m off daydreaming that I come up with new ideas.

HDYGT: There’s where we’re different. If I space out and start day-dreaming behind the bushes, under a window or hiding in someone’s dirty clothes hamper, I’ll totally miss my opportunity.

Livia King Blackburne: (wide eyed) I can imagine.

HDYGT: You’re obviously a highly skilled scientist. Does this come naturally?

Livia King Blackburne: For the necessary skills – observing, understanding, and asking good questions- definitely not.  These are aspects that I’ve grown into over the past few years.

HDYGT: Have you done anything other than neuroscience?

Livia King Blackburne: Yes, my undergraduate degree from Harvard was in biochemical sciences. After graduation I worked for a year with a Harvard psychology professor, who was instrumental in helping me apply to graduate school.  I was also an intern at Sandia National Laboratories for four summers, in the computational physics and biology departments.

HDYGT: You mean the national laboratory that has developed science-based technologies that support national security so that 300+ million Americans can have peace and freedom?

Livia King Blackburne: (bowled over) Yes! It was fun because I got to run simulations on one of the world’s fastest supercomputers.  I also got to wear a security clearance badge and say things like “The government has forbidden me to speak about my current project.”

HDYGT: Wow! Can I borrow the badge?

Livia King Blackburne: No.

HDYGT: And lastly, any life experiences you’d like to share?

Livia King Blackburne: I’d say the critical thinking skills that I’ve picked up in my training. They are really useful for all aspects of my life.  I’ve learned to think for myself and investigate things before I believe them.

HDYGT: Like I do?

Livia King Blackburne: (politely notices spot on ceiling) And as for the blogging and writing, that’s just fun!  After five years at MIT, it’s nice to interact with people in the real world. It keeps me sane, and reminds me that not everyone thinks jokes with mathematical punch lines are funny.

HDYGT: Why was 6 afraid of 7? (loud snickers) Because 7 – 8 – 9! (cackle) Get it?? 7 ate 9? (snort)

Livia King Blackburne: (blank stare of someone who hears nothing but animal noises)

HDYGT: Thank you Livia, for sharing your fascinating life on the neuroscience frontier, and as always –Thank You for Playing!!

(Originally Posted June 14, 2010)

Interview with Richard Jay Parker


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To prove last week’s fiasco at the New York MET Opera can’t STOP ME, I’m thrilled to have a seasoned TV writer/producer with the BBC and ITV, turned novelist, as today’s Guest Star– a COMEDY writer, no less!! He’s written for shows such as the highly popular political satire Spitting Image, Smith and JonesHale and Pace, Jo Brand, et al.  He’s also won a Best Author Microblog award, 2nd only to Neil Gaiman himself!

This must be his house. I brought my best jokes – they’re gonna kill him!

HDYGT:  (rings bell, giggling already) Richard Jay Parker? Nice to meet you, I’m HDYGT.

Richard Jay Parker: (shakes HDYGT’s hand) OUCH! What the–!?

HDYGT: (bent over laughing) The old palmed buzzer trick! Works every time – a comedy classic, right? Am I right?

Richard Jay Parker: (considers slamming door, but HDYGT’s just walking in… now seriously considers slamming door)

HDYGT: Just wanted to get off on the LEFT foot! (snort) Great stuff, I’m slaying you – right?

Richard Jay Parker: (blank stare) Only if you let me return the favour.

HDYGT: Good times, tossing jokes around like this. But seriously, I don’t want to steal your thunder. Please tell the readers how you became a writer?

Richard Jay Parker: OK… (looks askance at HDYGT)  I started in TV by submitting comedy sketches on spec to BBC and anyone who would read them.  I’d soon built up an impressively chubby folder of rejections.

HDYGT: Ooooh – that had to hurt!

Richard Jay Parker: (eyes narrow) Finally I had something used by BBC when I was eighteen.

HDYGT: You were paid for your work by the age of 18? Wow.

Richard Jay Parker: This led to small commissions, larger ones and inevitable gate crashing of studio recordings. I was offered a job as a script associate at LWT, writing for shows as well as picking out promising ideas from the massive non-commissioned pile.  This led to becoming script editor on a number of series for ITV, BBC etc.

HDYGT: How exciting! What did you like most about it?

Richard Jay Parker:  (shrugs) The legendary lunches.  Sometimes I never knew what filling I’d have in my sandwich.  For instance, one week it was pastrami slices coated with cheese.  Have you ever heard of that before?

HDYGT: Never! So what do you think made you particularly suited to writing for television?

Richard Jay Parker: My adventurous approach to cured meat and cheese combinations. I’ve always enjoyed both, although mature cheddar is too glassy for me.

HDYGT: (note to self) Locate deli counter…no glassy cheddar…

Richard Jay Parker: I enjoyed script editing but didn’t enjoy being a TV producer. The actual writing process was always my favourite part of the deal.

HDYGT: Really?

Richard Jay Parker: When I was asked to become a producer there was less time to spend scribbling and going down the pub to blow hospitality budgets with the other writers.  Wiping the noses of ‘personalities’ didn’t really pop my corn either.

HDYGT: (scribbles) …buy Kleenex…popcorn…

Richard Jay Parker: I didn’t learn, though, and did it a number of times – reminding myself why I was loathe to do it as I reached the end of each run.

HDYGT: And your first novel—what’s it called?

Richard Jay Parker: STOP ME STOP ME cover

HDYGT: Well you are going on and on, but…

Richard Jay Parker: No… (breath intake) That’s the title. STOP ME.

HDYGT: Oh – ha! I get it – that sounds hilarious! What’s it about?

Richard Jay Parker: A global murderer called The Vacation Killer. He sends a spam email to a multitude of recipients describing a girl, tells them to forward it to 10 friends. If the e-mail ends up back in his inbox he won’t slit her throat.

HDYGT: (drops smile) So… it’s not a comedy.

Richard Jay Parker: (dead stare) Not in any sense of the word.

HDYGT: Right. Soooo, how does a comedy writer turn thriller?

Richard Jay Parker: A writer has all kinds of characters running loose in their head – good and bad. For instance, my readers have said they like my main character, Leo, whose wife has gone missing, and they’re repulsed by Bookwalter, the pseudo serial killer. Leo reacts to events in the way that I would and Bookwalter…well, he only comes out to play when I’m sitting at a keyboard.

HDYGT: I see. Where are you going?

Richard Jay Parker: (creepy smile) To my keyboard…to sit at it. You mind if I turn it on during your last questions?

HDYGT: (feels internet connectivity is a reason for living) Not at all – be my guest!

Richard Jay Parker: (boots up computer)

HDYGT: Did your TV career help with writing thrillers?

Richard Jay Parker: Nothing you write is a waste of time so I guess I wouldn’t have written STOP ME if I hadn’t written everything before.

HDYGT: (refers to stock questions) If so, how? If not, how did you end up where you are?

Richard Jay Parker: (pulls up e-mail) Honestly, it’s like you’re reading these questions off a list and not listening to my replies.

HDYGT: Well duh, I am. You can’t expect me to think of entirely new questions for like everyone? Geez!

Richard Jay Parker: (eyes glinting) Now what was your husband’s e-mail address?

HDYGT: (writes it on paper) Here you go. Why?

To: Richard Jay Parker


Dear Richard,

Did you ever hear back from my husband? It’s been days, and this gag is giving me awful cotton mouth. Not that I’m complaining…it’s a fun game…really…

Thank you for playing!!


Richard Jay Parker is currently working on thriller # 3, and reports that the few people who have read thriller #2 so far think it’s even better than STOP ME, which already has TV interest!

© HDYGT 2010

Interview with Marvin Kanarek, RIP January 18 1947- December 19 2012


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(Sept. 2010 Interview reposted in honor of a lovely man with a terrific sense of humor. Marvin left this world far too soon – as is evidenced by his poetic and profound response to the question, “Any life lessons you’d like to share?” MARVIN: “Don’t know yet. I feel like I’m still in the middle of the storm. According to legend, we will know during those final moments that we draw our last breath. I’ll either have a smile on my face, or someone at bedside will be slapping it. I’ll know then.”    Our thoughts are with his family.)

Original interview:

This amazingly multi-talented Guest Star has lived the COOLEST lives – that’s right – plural! No, he’s not reincarnated…that I know of…

Born in Havana, Cuba, raised in Toronto, Marvin Kanarek has lived everywhere from Paris to LA.  He has worked as a studio drummer and toured extensively (HOW COOL IS THAT?!?) with: Rough Trade, The Bonedaddys, Burton Cummings (The Guess Who), Randy Bachman (BachmanTurner Overdrive), Janis Ian, Bo Diddley, The Beach Boys, and that’s only the beginning!!

My head was spinning from all he’s done, but I think I covered it pretty well…

HDYGT: Welcome, Marvin Kanarek, I’m thrilled to have you on HowDidYouGetThere. Please tell our readers what you do for a living?

Marvin Kanarek: I am a multi-disciplined artist. I am a drummer–“don’t be afraid!”– singer-songwriter, painter, writer, architectural designer and according to my brother, a pretty good photographer. I am also working on my black belt in Bordeaux tasting.

HDYGT: That’s a lot of discipline! Let’s start with drummer/singer/songwriter–Yes, I’m terrified, but in a cool way, like when I used to sneak home after curfew.

Marvin Kanarek: (nods, smiling) Stay up to watch the sunrise?

HDYGT: No…I had to be home before sunset.  But once I missed my curfew!

Marvin Kanarek: No!

HDYGT: Yea! It was totally dark when I got home!! I was such a rebel…that one time… WILD times.

Marvin Kanarek: (wonders if he’s ever even gone out before dark) Wow.

HDYGT: So how long have you been a musician?

Marvin Kanarek: Too long to remember.

HDYGT: This memory problem – was it brought on by too much music? I’ve read that can happen.

Marvin: No it can’t.

HDYGT: What can’t?

Marvin Kanarek: Music can’t give you a bad memory.

HDYGT: You have a bad memory?

Marvin Kanarek: No, I have a great memory… Music is actually good for the brain. Ever heard of the Mozart Effect?

HDYGT: Mozart? (checks notes) I thought your name was Marvin.

Mavin Kanarek: (wonders if it’s too early for a glass of Bordeaux) Of course I’m Marvin.

Man in the Middle, by Marvin Kanarek

HDYGT: (smiles, extends hand) Nice to meet you, I’m HDYGT. Thank you for meeting me. So what do you do?

Marvin Kanarek: F*ck it. (signals waitress for a bottle) I believe we were discussing my being a drummer/singer/songwriter?

HDYGT: (plays really bad air drums) A drummer!! How Cool is that?! What do you like most about it?

Marvin Kanarek: (smiles, because the wine has arrived) The spontaneity and freedom. I am a practitioner of the ”Do what you love and never work again” philosophy.

HDYGT: You’re a Philosopher?! I’ve never interviewed a Philosopher before!

Marvin Kanarek: Uh, no… I’m NOT a philosopher. I adopted this philosophy after not being able tofunction in the regimented 9-5 world. I had no choice.

HDYGT: I see… so…what’s it like being a Philosopher who has no choice?

Marvin Kanarek: (hopes HDYGT’s terrible childhood is the reason she’s like this) I couldn’t say, really…

HDYGT: Couldn’t say? –Or choose not to? No, wait. If you have no choice then you can’t choose not to say. That doesn’t make any sense. And I love making scents –I learned how in arts and crafts.

Marvin Kanarek: Right…(Suspects HDYGT was born like this, her poor parents were probably trying to protect her through isolation) Anyway, as a musician I’ve had a wealth of choices.

HDYGT: Oh my God! You’re a Musician, too?! This is WAY Cool!! (high-fives Marvin) Who have you worked with?

Marvin Kanarek: (laughs because it hurts too much to cry) Well, let’s see, I’ve worked as both a touring and studio drummer for many Canadian and American artists: Rough Trade, The Bonedaddys, Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman of The Guess Who and Bachman Turner Overdrive, and DJ Massive, DCB, Janis Ian, Bo Diddley, Junior Walker, The Beach Boys, and more. And I’ve had my own bands as well.

HDYGT: Wow—Impressive!! What kind of music do your own bands perform?

Marvin Kanarek: One of my groups included a Chilean DJ, a country-rock guitarist and a reggae singer. We had a House music hit which stayed on the U.K. club charts for 13 weeks.  And as a solo artist, “2forty6″ was my first album, titled after the place that will always be home in Toronto, and “Looking Back Ahead” is the latest one.

HDYGT: And the other disciplines you mentioned?

Marvin Kanarek: As an architect, I’ve worked on many residential projects and as an artist I’ve had many one man and collaborative art shows. I am now concentrating on following my muse just to see what “comes out”. Mainly in my music and art. Occasional architecture, if it interests me.

HDYGT: Oh! – I know of a muse if you need one, but I think she may be busy working for your brother…

Marvin Kanarek: Really? I’m in the market for a muse…

Benjamin Kanarek: (storms up to outdoor café) Hey, forget it! Frédérique’s my muse and you can’t have her.

Marvin Kanarek: Oh yea?!

(horrible fight ensues: screaming, kicking, chairs fly, tables topple.

The Brothers Kanarek finally get HDYGT to calm down and stop flinging furniture. They leave the waitress a very large tip, apologizing profusely as they carry HDYGT out, one on each arm.)

HDYGT: That was a riot! Rock and Roll!! Any life lessons you’d like to leave our readers with?

Marvin Kanarek: Don’t know yet. I feel like I’m still in the middle of the storm. According to legend, we will know during those final moments that we draw our last breath. I’ll either have a smile on my face, or someone at bedside will be slapping it. I’ll know then.

HDYGT: If you need anyone there to slap you, here’s my number. But until then – Thank You so much for Playing!!

HDYGT Meets the Rich and Famous


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(Reposted In honor of William and Kate’s new status)

I CAN’T WAIT to tell you about the FAB-U-LOUS party I talked my way into in London. I know my blog normally features Ordinary people in out of the ordinary lives, but when you see with whom I’ve been rubbing shoulders you’ll understand why I couldn’t resist…



That’s what I’m talking about! Woo-Hoo!!

Me and Will Smith!?! Just hanging out.

Do I look happy or what? I think he must’ve just turned away from the camera here, but we were chatting.

Well, I think I did most of the talking but he is every bit as funny in person as he is on camera.

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Who out there can tell me who this hunk is? Like EVERYONE can, right?


Georgio Clunacius—I call him by his Roman name. (sound of HDYGT’s annoyingly high pitched giggle)

HDYGT’s Husband (poking his head over her shoulder as she types): It looks like he wants you to let go of his arm.

HDYGT: He does not! He was just stunned because I planted a big kiss on his cheek. He was speechless. You can see he’s breaking into a smile.

Husband (who will not leave her alone to finish this blog): Where did you say you were again? I just can’t believe you met all these people.

HDYGT: I most certainly did. Pictures don’t lie.

Husband:    Maybe the pictures don’t but…

HDYGT: (sizzling sound, as HDYGT’s glare scorches husband’s brow)

Husband:   They let you hang all over them like that?

HDYGT: I see what this is about. You’re jealous!

Husband:    No I’m not. I’m thrilled for you, but…something just doesn’t seem right.

HDYGT:             We live in London now – stuff like this happens here!!

Husband: Where exactly were you?

HDYGT: Near Oxford Street. I saw this huge red dome on top of a building, with a long line out the door. It was hard to get in, but I did! Had to grease their palms, too. But it was worth it!!

Husband:    So, you were in a club?

HDYGT:             I’m not sure, couldn’t get a drink anywhere! But it was very posh.

Husband:    Wasn’t this the middle of the day?

HDYGT: Yes. Wish I’d known the dress code, I’d have worn my tiara. Everyone was incredibly gracious. No one said a word about it, or even looked sideways.

Husband:    Who else did you see?

HDYGT:             Who DIDN’T I see? Look—who do you think this is?10302009501

Husband:    No way! Is that–? And he’s letting you in front of the microphone?

HDYGT: Yea, I did that joke about the big mouth frog, remember that one?

Husband:    No.

HDYGT: Neither did I.

Husband:   (on the verge of belief) Must’ve been some open charity event. Wonder why I didn’t read about it…

HDYGT: (way too thrilled with herself) I love this one—Me and Captain Picard!


Husband:    Looks like he’s nervous, his face is all sweaty.

HDYGT: (snappy) What do you mean?

Husband: (mandatory smile for Snappy-wife mode) Nothing at all, dearest.

HDYGT: Well, this man was extremely happy to have me there, helping him. I never realized how frail Ben Kingsley is.


Husband:    Wait a minute! That’s not Ben Kingsley. That’s Mahatma Ghandi.

HDYGT: Ghandi? Are you sure?

Husband: Of course I’m sure. Ben Kingsley was the actor who played Ghandi.

HDYGT: (even more impressed with herself) I met Ghandi? WOW!!! This is better than I thought!

Husband:    Wha—?! How could you meet Ghandi? He’s been dead for decades.

HDYGT: (snappy repeat) I knew it! You’re jealous!

Husband: (trumps HDYGT’s Snappy play with his I Am The Champion smirk)   Right. So who else did you meet— the Queen?

HDYGT: (hates husband’s I Am The Champion smirk) I’m not sure I want to tell you.

Husband: Good.

HDYGT: But if you must know I did take an appropriately sombre photo with the Queen which I’m thinking of having framed for our living room.Kristi and Queen pic

Husband: May I inquire as to the name of this establishment where all the high and mighty stand around to have their pictures taken with those such as yourself?

HDYGT: I, uh, I can’t recall. Madame something or other, but it was VERY posh.

Husband:  (smile widens)  Madame Tussauds? The Wax Museum?

HDYGT: Dammit!

Husband: (peering over HDYGT’s shoulder as she types furiously) I’m sorry, what was that you said?

HDYGT: (slams keys on computer, types: “I’M NOT TALKING TO YOU”)

Part 2: Interview with Robert McKee


Robert McKee WRITERS:  

1. Read the post below.

2. Now read it again.

3. Make some warm cocoa, cause you’re gonna be up all night thinking about it…

(Part 2 in my 2-Part series of interviews with Robert McKee, originally posted on )

Robert McKee on CHARACTER

HDYGT: Is it necessary to know your character so well that you know where they were last Tuesday at 12:23 am?

Robert McKee, the man, the legend: You do all that research as just imagining, to pour it out. Then you research from the real world of the subject. You do all this to give yourself choices.

You don’t pour it all into the book, especially if it has nothing to do with the plot. Don’t be so obsessed and proud of your research that you don’t make choices, not everything is relevant to the story line.

I like work that is in depth. I don’t think humans are shallow. I think they have a public persona, in fact all varieties of public personas. We create various styles of behaviour when we interact. We have a whole set of social masks, then we go home and have a whole set of social relationships.

We have our private self, who is conscious of everything we do, then we realize our body is not us, we are not our moods, nor our feelings. I am not even my own mind.

I can watch my mind think. As I’m going through the day my mind and I become merged. I know there is an unconscious mind that gives me things I don’t want. It gives me fears.

All these things are not me. We live inside a complex of various selves. Most of them are tools that we use to get through the day. The society we live in is a whole pyramid of power, multilayered. Nature is multilayered.  The evolution of living things is a pyramid, with humans at top, and bacteria at bottom.

My life is layered, so I want a writer who can shed light on this huge, layered complex that is the life of a character, and shed light on the things needed for his story.

When someone wants to write in a way that is knowingly flat, in order to express just some of those levels of complexity, that is fine.

But if the novelist just starts writing without knowing his characters, who they are, what they want, where they are, you may get something good, or you may not.

© HDYGT, December 2011

robert mckee 2Robert McKee, a Fulbright Scholar, is the author of the international bestseller STORYSTORY won the International Moving Image Book Award and has been translated into 20 languages. STORY is a required reading in the creative writing courses at Harvard, Yale and major universities around the world. McKee’s UK Television programs have been twice nominated for the BAFTA, winning it for J’accuse Citizen Kane.  McKee lectures world-wide on the art of writing for page, stage and screen and is the most sought after story consultant in Hollywood, NY and all other film making centres of the world. McKee was portrayed by Emmy Award winning actor Brian Cox in the Colombia Pictures, 4 time Oscar nominated film ADAPTATION.  McKee alumni have won 35 Academy Awards, 164 Nominations, Emmys, Pulitzer & Whitebread Awards. In 2011 alone, McKee Alumni won 7 Oscar Nominations & 2 Oscar wins (Toy Story 3 & Inside Job).


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