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 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…

Kristi:               You Niamh O’Connor?

Niamh O’Connor:         Who’s asking?

Kristi:               How Did You Get There.

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

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

Niamh O’Connor:  (sound of cards shuffling)

Kristi:               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?

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

Niamh O’Connor:         So you ski?

Kristi:               No.

Niamh O’Connor:         But—

Kristi:                           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?

Kristi:               What!? Who told you about that?

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

Kristi:                           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)

Kristi:                           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)

Kristi:                           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.

Kristi:   (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.

Kristi: I love that show!

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

Kristi:                           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- Kristi- in real life, you think, wow that’s a nice, civilised lady. You read your interviews, you think, wow!

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

Niamh O’Connor:         Sit down.

Kristi:               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.

Kristi:                           Dramatic punch too hard?

Niamh O’Connor:         Over kill.

(screechy music, Kristi 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.

Kristi:               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?

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

Niamh O’Connor: I wanna know the truth!

Kristi:                           YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!

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

Kristi:               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.

Kristi:               What’re you, a wise guy? (sound of Kristi’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…

Kristi:   (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.

Kristi:  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!

Kristi:  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?

Kristi:  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 Kristi upside the head, storms out)

Kristi:  Thanks for a gripping interview!! (door slams, big bruiser guys stand over Kristi 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 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 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 my final question in this interview, “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!!

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).

Interview with Robin Cavanaugh


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HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Robin!!!!robin

Here’s a woman whose career has enabled her to meet everyone from Beyonce to Sheryl Crow, Sammy Davis Jr. and even Frank Sinatra.

You’re a Sports Fan?

She’s thrown the first pitch at a Houston Astros game, and showed Greg Louganis and the US Olympic diving team around for a week. Oo-la-la!

OK, you’re right, I’m name dropping. I sense your interests run to the eclectic.

So tell me, have you ever been to Transylvania for Halloween, or stayed up all night monitoring the birth of a baby elephant? No? A baby giraffe? I didn’t think so.

What the heck does someone have to do to get all that on their resume? I’m glad you asked!

HDYGT: Welcome to How Did You Get There, Robin. Please tell our readers what in blue blazes you do for a living.

Robin: (smiles) Thanks, HDYGT. I am a Marketing / PR / Special Events consultant.

HDYGT:              How long have you been doing this?

Robin: Essentially since high school, but professionally for 28 years. I worked as a sales rep throughout college, for a Lone Star Beer and Canada Dry distributor in Texas. Later, I joined Canada Dry USA but I was very unhappy. It wasn’t my joy. When Canada Dry sponsored the US Olympic divers at a prelim meet in Austin, I volunteered to go. That week showed me that the entertainment and promotional aspect of marketing was my real talent.5101074P OLYMPIC GAMES

HDYGT: (totally impressed) Amazing what glistening bodies will do for a girl.

Robin: (chokes on her water) Sorry!?

HDYGT: (totally serious) What do you like most about your work? The half nekkid men?

Robin:  (can’t believe HDYGT’s serious) Um, well, I enjoy being part of something special that touches many lives. But I’m an anonymous producer of sorts.  I am a sampler-plate girl. I’d rather be good at several things, than be the best at just one.

HDYGT:      (makes air quotes)  Did you get to “sample” any of those Olympic divers?

Robin:             What?

HDYGT:             (continues air quotes) They sure are “something special”! Were they some of the “lives you touched”?

Robin:             No!!  I mean–sort of– but not in that way!

HDYGT:   (totally bummed)   Guess the job doesn’t have as many “perks” as I thought.

Robin:    (has never seen a “real person” make this many air quotes)    Look, if your questions aren’t more professional I’m going to have to—

HDYGT:   (insulted Robin referred to HDYGT’s “real personhood” in air quotes her last thought bubble)  What quality, skill, or both do you feel makes you particularly suited to Marketing / PR / Special Events?

Robin:             I learned that I do not think in a linear fashion, so producing complicated projects with many moving parts is one of my specialties.  It’s like cooking a fabulous meal for friends.   You have a lot of pots on the stove at once, but everything is completed and served hot at the right time.  Major projects take a big picture approach, and just like a meal plan, they have different ingredients for each recipe.

HDYGT:           Wow. I burn everything.

Robin:             I can tell.

HDYGT:              Is this Producing Major Events like a 5 Star Chef philosophy something you have developed on the job or is it innate?

Robin:             The initial instinct is innate, but each experience has prepped me for the next one. For example, one job taught me how to write copy for radio spots; another how to produce TV commercials and even a TV show.   Having learned multiple skills over the years, as well as developing a huge network of friends and resources, has enabled me to raise the money for, produce, market and publicize a new Earth Day Festival in Houston w/in 3 ½ months.  I could not have done this successfully without my prior experiences and the resources gained from those experiences.  Each leads to the next.  I never stop learning.

HDYGT:              Where have you worked?

Robin:             I spent 10 years in the beer and soft drink business, plus stints running the marketing for the Houston Zoo, the Houston Public Library’s communication division, and Academy Sports + Outdoors, a major regional sporting goods retailer.  In between these positions I consult—which is what gets me in trouble. I enjoy being self-employed but my clients always try to hire me full time.

HDYGT: Which of your previous positions particularly stands out?

Robin:             I loved my job heading up advertising and PR for Houston’s Budweiser distributor during my 20s. I made a huge impact on, and even initiated many of Houston’s entertainment events, some of which are traditions still going today.   I’m very proud of that contribution, and gained confidence from the experience, not to mention I was a great date with access tickets to anything and everything! It was fun to be plugged in to “what’s happening” in Houston.

HDYGT:              For example?

Robin:             I still have my original demo cassette tape of a then unknown Country and Western performer. It was part of my job to make sure this new guy, whom we at Budweiser had hired for our big July 4th Concert, got some air play during the 2-3 months before the concert. So I dropped off his tape at one of our biggest C&W radio stations, KIKK. He ended up being so popular nationally that in six months’ time he won Country Music’s Horizon Award, for the year’s best newcomer. His star continued to shine and our Budweiser distributor could no longer touch him locally.  He’s Clint Black.

HDYGT:              Clint Black?! Now that’s what I call “something special”! Did you get to “touch—“

Robin:             NO!!

HDYGT:              Just asking…Elephant son and elephant mom

Robin: Another really keen role was working for the Houston Zoo in my 40s. I loved being close to animals, feeding and touching these exotic beauties. I was truly happy. Even though work was a labour of love, I was around nature every day. People enjoyed the zoo.  It was a happy product to promote.

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

Robin:             Use your common sense.  Marketing is not brain surgery.  Most parts of it should come naturally.  Like my PR mentor once explained to me, “PR is just stamps and envelopes.  It is a formula like any other, when you have the right instinct.  How you do anything is how you do everything.  Just do the work.”

HDYGT:              Great advice, Robin, and as always, thank you for playing!

© HDYGT 2009

(originally posted September 2009)

Part 1: Interview with the legendary Robert McKee


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(My 4-part McKee interview series was originally published on . Warning: this is actually a serious interview, unlike my usual comedic fare. The MAN deserves nothing less!)

Everything I know about Story Structure, I learned it from Robert McKee. End of Story”  Two time Oscar winning Writer/ Director Paul Haggis  (Crash, Million Dollar Baby… )
  “McKee’s teachings are the law of the land at Pixar”  The Pixar Touch

We have all had profound experiences – some hilarious, some *awesome*, some take your breath away, and others so profound it’s hard to express in words. My opportunity to sit one-on-one with the legendary Robert McKee was all. Strike that. It was more.

My brain had to create new pathways in order to absorb even one fully loaded sentence during our two-hour interview. Like tasting a rich spoonful of a 5 Michelin star chef’s finest French bullion, perfected after days of reducing, and decades of learning, hearing McKee speak about the craft of writing shocks the palette with his flavour and subtlety. His broth has been reducing over a lifetime of research and thought. It will explode your senses.

I have broken up the interview into four parts, to be published separately: ‘Subtext vs. Description’, ‘Characters’, ‘Unfolding the Story’ and a surprising angle on ‘The Man behind the Legend’.

I sat on an elegant cream sofa in McKee’s London flat, across a low coffee table from The Man, listening. To interrupt with my paltry questions felt akin to questioning Homer mid-Odyssey.

I’m confident it’s wisdom ye seek, dear reader, thus will pardon my lack of personal descriptions such as, He grabbed a handful of salted nuts from a small ceramic bowl and munched while he talked; that he wore tan slacks; or that his elegant wife Mia sat at their glass dining table at her laptop, preparing the business end of an unending series of lectures 32-hour one-man-shows McKee conducts worldwide, to filled lecture halls everywhere from LA to London to Bejing to Moscow. ( Story Seminar, London: Nov 3-6, Genre Seminar Nov. 19-21)


PART 1: Robert McKee on Subtext vs. Description

What would you say to a novelist who is certain the gods have dictated to them their story, they’ve written it, edited out 10%, but cannot get it published?

McKee: “Never accept the 1st idea off the top of your head. Improvise. Create ten or twenty times more material. Every book, film, and TV show are sitting on the top of your head waiting for you to write every cliché you’ve seen.

Novelists work in a medium where they are allowed to describe too much. Playwrights can’t do this. They know that dialogue is the distillation of conflicts essential between people. There is almost no description in a play. It is all dialogue. No audience is going to sit and watch actors talk about nothing.

Novelists believe their words, all these descriptions, are literary. If the novelist had to write the entire novel in dialogue they’d be scared to death.

If a novelist could lift the images to a poetic level, fine, as long as the writer knows what’s going on underneath this flow of descriptive work. When novelists get in trouble is when that flow of imagery is literal, there’s no subtext, no secrets, no depth. It’s shallow. Nothing going on underneath.

For example: The English Patient has a 3-page description of shadows on walls. It won a Booker Prize. What does this make young writers think? There’s no need to create in depth if describing the surface wins prizes.

On the other side of the coin is Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. As Mrs. Dalloway is preparing for a dinner party, her whole life is going through her mind. Underneath this ordinary preparation is the depth of this woman’s life, it’s meaningful without Woolf ever telling you. What’s ultimately important is what Woolf does NOT say. The reader arrives at this through the workings of the woman’s mind.

In comedy the essence of the comic character is their blind obsession. There’s something they want obsessively. This is immediate subtext. You know Archie Bunker is a bigot, but he doesn’t. You know Inspector Clouseau is a clutz, but he doesn’t.

Always have the subtext–that deeper force or context–that the reader discovers, even if the novelist doesn’t say it.

Over reliance on descriptive talent, on language itself with nothing left unexpressed, unsaid, believing that the language itself is sufficient to draw the reader, is a fault that young writers have. As a result they write a glitter text devoid of subtext and I’m asleep.

It annoys me when a novelist thinks complicated language is complex. A story isn’t complex just because the language is complicated.

No subtext, and your prose will be flat, boring.”

For more McKee wisdom check out the next part of this interview ‘Character’ appearing on very soon.

© HDYGT 2011

Robert McKee, a Fulbright Scholar, is the author of the international bestseller STORY. STORY 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 centers 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)

For over 25 years, Robert McKee’s Story Seminar has been the world’s ultimate writing class for over 50,000 screenwriters, filmmakers, TV writers, novelists, industry executives, actors, producers, directors and playwrights.

Interview with John Locke


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Original interview below posted June 2010. By June 2011 John Locke has become the 1st self-published author to sell a million eBooks on Amazon Kindle, and a Best Selling author on the Official Website of New York Times. 

Can I pick ’em or what??

“If Dean Koontz collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock at the circus, [Saving Rachel] would be their brain child.” —Dusty Mills, Vintage DM Book Reviews

(originally published June 2010)

Today’s Guest Star, author of the fast paced Donovan Creed crime novels, owns up to leading a double life!  Yes, I was shocked, but I refused to accept less than the raw truth…

HDYGT: Welcome John Locke, please tell us what you do for a living?

John Locke: When I’m not writing the Donovan Creed novels I’m a private investor.

HDYGT: A private investigator who writes crime novels! Shocking!!

(screechy music)

John Locke: Not investigator—investor. I build or buy shopping centers and manage them for my own portfolio.

HDYGT: (jaw drops) You buy the entire shopping center!? My husband complains when I buy out one measly shop.

John Locke:  Well… maybe you need to see the bigger picture.

HDYGT: That’s exactly what I said when he yelled about my 10 ft ‘Screaming Daffodils’ painting!

(more screechy music)

John Locke: (tries not to imagine daffodil painting, but can’t shake it)

HDYGT: What do you like most about being a Private “I”?

John Locke: People think it’s prestigious, but in reality I’m getting big bucks to do what a monkey could do.

HDYGT: This monkey – is he for sale?

John Locke: Excuse me?

HDYGT: I assume he’ll work for peanuts.

John Locke: What monkey?

HDYGT: (winks) Right, our little secret. So what do you think is the key to your brilliant success – other than the monkey?

John Locke: Watch it – I said no monkey business!

HDYGT: Oops, my bad. I won’t bring him up again! How about: What skill set or unique abilities do you think have led to your conquering the concrete jungle?

John Locke: (eyes narrow) My ability to instantly recognize a deal as being good or bad.  If only I had the same ability with regard to the interviews I accept.

HDYGT: Is this ability instinctive or something you’ve EVOLVED into over time?

John Locke: (shrugs) To be successful in my business you have to make more mistakes than the competition, in a shorter period of time.

HDYGT: Hey – I’m good at that!

John Locke: Of course it helps if you actually LEARN from those mistakes…

HDYGT: (baffled by last statement, but shakes it off) What did you do before managing your own portfolio?

John Locke: I owned a life insurance company.

HDYGT: How did you get into life insurance?

John Locke: I quit college with one week to go before graduation in order to sell insurance door-to-door on straight commission. By age 28 I was one of the top insurance sales people in the world.  By age 35 I bought my own life insurance company and appointed nearly 7,000 agents in 34 states.

HDYGT: (whistles) Wow. And now you have written a series of page-turner crime novels – or “Button-pushers”, as new Kindle owners say. Any other memorable experiences?

John Locke: I sang in a rock and roll band for ten years. I became quite adept at dodging ice cubes and the miniature fruit people pulled out of their cocktails and hurled at me.

HDYGT: I find miniature fruit dodging is a handy way to practise my fast manoeuvre skills, and reflexes.

John Locke: (embarrassed for HDYGT as she re-enactments this) One summer I loaded hundred-pound bags of sugar on pallets in a warehouse until the crew boss went nuts and attacked me with a broken bottle.

HDYGT: Really? What else?

John Locke: (finds HDYGT’s enthusiasm a tad creepy) I tarred roofs in Louisiana, and did fine until the day I got my shoe stuck on a roof and a crew member attacked me with an axe.  As memorable experiences go, these come to mind.

HDYGT: Sounds like the Stanislavsky method of experiencing what your characters experience, only for writers. Say–would you mind teaching me? I’m sure I have an axe or a broken bottle in here…(rummages through handbag)

John Locke: (looks alarmed)

HDYGT: While I’m looking for it, how about sharing with our readers your words to live by?

John Locke: Sure: Learn to be nimble on your feet.

HDYGT: Found it! (looks around) John? …John?  (Melon balls and pineapple wedges catapult through the air hitting HDYGT with deft precision)  There you are! As always, Thank You For Playing!!

© HDYGT 2011

In John Locke’s career journey from rock and roll singer—to door-to-door salesman—to the creation of more than a dozen multimillion dollar companies, he has encountered a wellspring of bizarre people from which to craft his unique characters. He is the author of four fiction books, Lethal People, Lethal Experiment, Saving Rachel and Now & Then – JUST OUT; and two nonfiction books, Dynasty in the Making and Qualities of Character. He lives in Kentucky, where he is currently at work on a novel titled Wish List.


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Writing.ieThere’s a NEW KID in writer’s-blog-town:  WRITING.IE!

Inkwell Writers Workshop founder Vanessa O’Loughlin has just launched a brand new website for Irish writing scene, with the most up to date writing tips by best selling Irish authors. I’m very excited to be a contributing writer to this wonderful new site, will keep you posted.

Fish Awards Longlisted AGAIN!!Enough about them, what ABOUT ME: I’ve just been Longlisted (Short Story) for the prestigious Fish Awards, a very big honour!!  They selected less than 10% from ~ 2,000 entries, so I am thrilled.

New Year’s Resolutions


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Am I the only one who gets around to her New Year’s Resolutions…in November?

  • Exercise like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
  • Fit into Nicole Kidman’s clothing.
  • Read all the Best Novels of all time
  • Write a series about a schoolboy and become filthy stinking RICH.

I’m thrilled to say that ALL of my Re-zezzes (that’s the rap word) were actually achieved!! …just not by me.

So, I’m catching up on my podcast listening, and what do I hear??

Making and Keeping Your Goals

60 Second Psych: Christie Nicholson interviews David Allen, best-selling author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, on how to make and keep goals.

A few tips that gave me heart:

  • Don’t make a short list. Make 45, or 100 goals, and see which ones stick around. It can be anything from bench pressing more, to feeling happier when you wake up in the morning…
  • It’s easier to get there by doing it wrong, than by doing nothing. Standing still takes more energy than going the wrong way and turning around.
  • Lighten up!! We almost never achieve our goals, but setting them helps us envision what we want to create. Because as you get 1/2 way there your goal will change.  You have more information than you did before you started, and you may realize THAT over there is what you REALLY want.

The BEST thing to do Right Now? At the end of the year?

1. List what you DID accomplish this past year.

    • No one’s invited me over to move their couch.
    • Nicole Kidman isn’t suing me for wardrobe copyright infringement
    • I’ve supported countless authors… fiscally.
    • My new novel: Bart Simpson-Potter –  is about an orphan, who thanks to being an amazing wizard stays 11 yrs. old for the rest of his life. And he’s yellow.

2. CLEAN HOUSE – tie up the loose ends, toss out what goals didn’t suit, finish up what’s almost there.

3. Set new 51% goals, ones that you’re 51% sure you can reach. Don’t stretch the rubber band too far, or it’ll break.

4. And Most importantly – KEEP SETTING GOALS. It will keep you focused on what you enjoy.