Thursday, September 5, 2013
1. You have lived a remarkable and very public life. What motivated you to write your memoir?
My early writing sprang out of my performance days in 70s San Francisco where I wrote scenes collectively with White Trash Boom Boom. We were an all girl comedy troupe who wowed the boys in SF Gay Bars and performed for women behind bars.
When I moved back to LA to pursue more mainstream acting I found few opportunities to audition for legitimate work on stage or screen so I began to write auto-biographical one woman shows. After a decade of writing, producing, creating and sewing my costumes and sometimes even directing myself for several productions, my energy began to wane for live theatre. I moved on to writing screenplays, always including a comedic character bit part for myself in the story. I noticed that even my most fictitious stories were heavily influenced by own real life events.
I think I'm a story teller by nature and whenever I would share tidbits of my life with new friends, particularly younger people or straighter friends, I often witnessed their jaws dropping in reaction to these true stories. I was often told that my real life experiences were stranger than fiction. That encouraged me to start writing them down and then do readings about town. When the AIDS crises hit my theatrical community head on, the grief of losing so many of my closest friends almost buried me alive and at that point I joined a writers' group at APLA that helped me to write and process a lot of that loss.
I think this memoir was in the works long before I realized it but came out in the form of a screenplay first, titled Grace Happens that was a semi-finalist at the Austin Screen Writing Competition in the late 90's. It was optioned once but never made. The feedback was that it was too episodic and my story would be better served as a book.
It took me almost another decade to get over the idea that no one would read a memoir about someone who wasn't famous but by the time I was past 60 and post menopausal, I said who cares, I'm writing it anyway. If not now, when?
2. Favorite stop in LA?
My favorite spot is my own rent controlled apartment on a quite walk way in Venice Beach. I moved there in 1980 when the rent was about $450 for a two- bedroom, one bath, without parking and laundry. But it's on one of the most beautiful blocks that run into the ocean. When I moved into the second story of the duplex, I had a clear view of the ocean, beach and boardwalk because my building was surrounded by empty lots on both sides. In the decade to follow, million dollar condos filled in the sandy lots and a two story artist loft was built and designed by the same architect who did MOCA. When the original owner got bored with the neighborhood she sold it to Erick Clapton who was my neighbor for a few years. Besides the location, the miracle of my home is that it is still under LA city rent control and all the buildings surrounding it were built according to modern building codes which placed them several feet back from the front walkway leaving my apartment the only one that still has an ocean view.
3. You ran with drag queens before it was safe to do so. Tell us a bit about performing with the Cockettes.
I have written lots about this in the book so I'll keep this answer short. Doing my first show with the Cockettes on stage at the Palace Theatre in North Beach, San Francisco had the same force and impact on my life as the big quake of 1906 did on Jeannette Mac Donald in the movie San Francisco. It was a magic doorway into a wonderland that I had only glimpsed in my childhood dreams. It was a wake up call to the desires I had repressed as a child growing up in my working class Italian family in New Jersey. I think I'll leave it at that, since I intend to read the chapter about that first experience performing with the Cockettes at my Reading on Sunday at Book Soup.
4. Where can people see you perform & read your stories these days?
I have read several times at Tasty Words, produced by Wendy Hammers in Santa Monica over the last 9 years. In the past year I got up on stage at the Moth and about every other month or so I perform with my current writer's group, Queerwise directed by Michael Kearns. We are a gang of LGBT seniors from 50's to our oldest writer at 84 and all of us have a lot of life to share. Look up and Like Us on the Queerwise page on Facebook for our next show.
5. You write lovingly of your daughter Viva, and she is a singer/performer as well. How active are you in her career?
Well besides being her biggest fan and posting like a mad woman all over face book and twitter whenever and where ever she is performing, I tried to manage her over sees contracts for awhile. With her encouragement, I even started a Global Talent Agency http://divadot.com/ until I got too busy to keep it up. I booked some of her talented singer/musician friends as well at over sees venues in Vietnam and Thailand and Hong Kong. Viva stopped traveling over the past four years to stay close to home and build her career here but on the same day that I had my first book launch event in San Francisco last month; she flew off to Singapore for a four month contract to sing at a 5 star hotel. We Skype a lot and if I have any energy left after I end my book tour in November, I might go over and join her for her last few weeks in Asia. We both will need a well deserved spa retreat in Thailand.
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Book Soup presents Greg Sestero and The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside the Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made
The hilarious and inspiring story of how a mysterious misfit got past every roadblock in the Hollywood system to achieve success on his own terms: a $6 million cinematic catastrophe called "The Room."
Nineteen-year-old Greg Sestero met Tommy Wiseau at an acting school in San Francisco. Wiseau’s scenes were rivetingly wrong, yet Sestero, hypnotized by such uninhibited acting, thought, I have to do a scene with this guy. That impulse changed both of their lives. Wiseau seemed never to have read the rule book on interpersonal relationships (or the instructions on a bottle of black hair dye), yet he generously offered to put the aspiring actor up in his LA apartment. Sestero’s nascent acting career first sizzled, then fizzled, resulting in Wiseau’s last-second offer to Sestero of costarring with him in "The Room," a movie Wiseau wrote and planned to finance, produce, and direct in the parking lot of a Hollywood equipment-rental shop. Wiseau spent $6 million of his own money on his film, but despite the efforts of the disbelieving (and frequently fired) crew and embarrassed (and frequently fired) actors, the movie made no sense. Nevertheless Wiseau rented a Hollywood billboard featuring his alarming headshot and staged a red carpet premiere. "The Room" made $1800 at the box office and closed after two weeks. One reviewer said that watching "The Room" was like getting stabbed in the head. The Disaster Artist is Greg Sestero s laugh-out-loud funny account of how Tommy Wiseau defied every law of artistry, business, and friendship to make the "Citizen Kane" of bad movies ("Entertainment Weekly"), which is now an international phenomenon, with Wiseau himself beloved as an oddball celebrity. "The Disaster Artist" is an inspiring tour de force that reads like a page-turning novel, an open-hearted portrait of an enigmatic man who will improbably capture your heart. (Simon & Schuster)
This is event will include a screening of a behind the scenes documentary on the making of The Room complete with actor interviews - followed by a talk & book signing with author Greg Sestero and The Room mastermind, Tommy Wiseau.
This is event will be held at the New Beverly Cinema located at 7165 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles. $5 entry fee or free w/ purchase of book, at door. Only books purchased from Book Soup will be signed after the screening & discussion.
Thursday, August 22, 2013
Monday, August 5, 2013
1. How does an accomplished professor of nuclear medicine come to write fiction?
I’ve been writing since I was five. My first composition was in red crayon on the living room wall. My mother panned what I considered a brilliant piece of work. My interest in writing has continued all my life. Even as my medical career and family responsibilities increased, I continued to write, getting up before dawn to get in an hour or two before going to work. Eventually demands of career and family forced a hiatus in my writing, but when I retired from academia, I took up writing full time.
2. What is your favorite stop in Los Angeles?
That’s easy -- the home of Justin, Amanda and my grandson, Nathaniel.
3. Who are your literary influences?
First comes Mark Twain. Twain is the most important Southern writer and has had a huge influence on all American literature. I think Huckleberry Finn initiated a new writing style when it was published; one so close to the people and places he wrote about that it invites you to appreciate the story with all five of your senses. Another writer who influenced me was John Steinbeck. I don’t know how many times I’ve read Of Mice and Men and his other short novels. Grapes of wrath, of course, helped change our nation. Steinbeck was a great story teller, and readers remember his characters because they were so close to our own humanity. Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea taught me that a writer must know his characters so well they can enter their souls and put more than just their thoughts on paper.
4.You are perhaps infamous for your frank and colorful advice. What advice would you give to young writers?
The first thing you need to do is read one book that covers such things as person, point of view, arc, etc. then throw the son of a bitch away and don’t look in another one. Read good literature by accomplished authors and see how they used the rules of writing. Then stop screwing around, sit your ass down and write. Don’t write about molecular biology if you think a base pair is a piece of bad fruit. Write what you know. Get a writing group together, people who read good literature and are serious about writing. Don’t have more than six people in the group and five is optimal. Check your ego at the door and listen to the criticism of what you read. Evaluate every critique when you get home and take time to consider it. I have a rule. If one person thinks something needs changing and no one else does, I give it serious thought, but if two people think it needs changing, I make changes. Finally, if you want to write for publication and keep getting rejection letters from agents, do not stop writing! Remember, if you slam your guts against a door long enough people will open it, if for no other reason than to get rid of the noise.
5. What was it like to watch William Shatner play you on a television program?
It was funny. Many years ago some magazine voted Shatner one of the sexiest men in America. I’ve been homely as a mud fence all my life. I laughed for months about Shatner playing me.
Friday, July 19, 2013
Don't forget about the Sunset Strip Music Festival which takes place again on Saturday, August 3rd just down the street from us on Sunset between San Vicente Boulevard and Doheney Drive. This year's bill features Wale, Asher Roth, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and headliners Linkin Park. And while you are in the neighborhood stop in at Book Soup to peruse the best music books selection on this or any coast!
A few of our favorites:
Rock 'N' Roll Billboards of the Sunset Strip by Robert Landau
Landau was born & raised in Los Angeles and steeped in the urban landscape, particularly the Sunset Strip which he has photographed extensively since the seventies. This is essentially viewing for classic rock fans!
Wonderland Avenue: Tales of Glamour and Excess by Danny Sugarman
Embraced by rock & roll at a very young age, Sugerman escaped a troubled family life to the only world he could ever imagine living in. He followed The Doors closely, first as a fan, then a kind of roadie, and eventual manager. He pushed it to the limit too, throwing himself into the rock & roll lifestyle with all he had. This book recounts a remarkable journey and offers a backstage look at a tender Jim Morrson and wild Iggy Pop.
The Art of Punk by Russ Bestley & Alex Ogg
Starving artists forging a new sound with no rules and no idea what they would do after the next gig. Captured brilliantly by Bestley & Ogg, this book lovingly illustrates the histories of iconic bands from homemade gig flyers to major and indie record label deals.
between San Vicente Boulevard and Doheny Drive
between San Vicente Boulevard and Doheny Drive
Wednesday, July 3, 2013
1. You are a founding editor of LA Review of Books. Tell us how that came about.
As you know, Los Angeles is one of the largest book markets in the country. All of us were a little surprised there wasn't a Los Angeles Review of Books already. (After all, New York has one, London has one . . . ) Tom Lutz, LARB's editor in chief, had a strong belief that books coverage was declining in many traditional venues--newspapers cutting or shrinking their Sunday book review supplements and so on--but that readership, and interest in books, hasn't declined in the slightest. As it happens, he was absolutely correct. But we saw a need for it, for an expansive site that would provide essays and cultural commentary of all sorts, including thoughtful, provocative pieces about books. Between the five of us (the original founding editors of LARB: Tom, myself, Evan Kindley, Julie Cline, and Lisa Jane Persky), we knew a lot of writers we felt might be willing to contribute to such a site, if it existed. And so we started working the phones, so to speak. It was that simple.
2. Favorite stop in LA?
Besides Book Soup? Well, I have to give a certain amount of credit to King's Road Cafe, since I wrote most of American Dream Machine there at a corner table, under the influence of their astonishingly strong coffee. I'm partial to Musso & Frank, when I want to old school it. Pizzeria Mozza when I'm feeling flush.
3. Who are your literary influences?
Too many to mention. Writers to whom I return often include Philip Roth, Wallace Stevens, Henry James, Jane Austen, George Eliot, Denis Johnson, Nabokov, Saul Bellow, James Salter, Pynchon. Contemporaries I love would include Jonathan Lethem, Dana Spiotta, Maggie Nelson, John Jeremiah Sullivan. Right now I'm reading the first volume of Karl Ove Knausgaard's "My Struggle" and it's thrilling me to bits.
4. American Dream Machine is about many things, but very much an LA book. Do you have a favorite book about Los Angeles or the film industry in particular?
Again, there are so many. It really varies according to mood. Ones I've enjoyed (or re-enjoyed) recently include Robert Stone's Children of Light and Steve Erickson's Rubicon Beach, though I guess the former is more an "industry novel" than a "Los Angeles" one. I just started David Freeman's A Hollywood Education, which I'm told is quite wonderful as well.
5. You wrote a book about George Roy Hill's 1973 film The Sting. Any chance you will publish more film criticism?
I certainly hope so. I love writing criticism, whether of film, literature, music. Really I don't distinguish terribly between fiction and criticism. Writing of any kind is essentially reader-response. I'm talking back to the texts that have made me. Criticism is just a little more direct in doing this, is all. I loved writing about The Sting, which delights me every bit as much today as it did when I was a kid (and I've surely seen it more than twenty times, by now. At least). I'd love to write at length about Altman, or about Hal Ashby . . .
Matthew Specktor discusses & signs his novel American Dream Machine at Book Soup on Wednesday, July 10th at 7pm.