Thursday, October 25, 2012

Turning the tables

Please welcome Veronica Andrews (no relation, though we felt an instant affinity), host of Off the Shelf—Books on Tour at Danvers Community Access TV. Veronica made my first ever TV interview easy and fun. Now I get to turn the tables and ask questions of her. 

1. You’re perfect for this gig-- knowledgeable, insightful and flexible. How did you end up with it? Did you train for broadcast, or did it grow out of other experiences?

Mostly by happenstance, I guess. Love hubby very much, but on days when he wasn't busy after retirement, he got very, very comfortable and accustomed to having me right there. Always helpful and thoughtful, not to be faulted, but I didn't really need him monitoring my phone conversations, mistakenly telling me how to paint a table or chair I was working on, or how to stack the groceries in the shopping cart. 

I had always written Good News, funny, thoughtful, insightful articles about the good neighbors, helpmates, thoughtful people of this world who most don't know are in fact the important people! Many were involved with Special Education and children in general.
I thought if I understood cable and the federal mandate for local television access, maybe, just maybe some of the Good News would convert nicely to video. It did! I worked cameras, cables, sets, in studio and offsite shoots for about a year or two, then became the first camera person when my community went on the air with School Committee and City Council. (It was great. I was always politically savvy--if I didn't like what they were saying or doing, I could always go to a wide shot and not give them their much anticipated moment in the sun.)

I watched as many seasoned interviewers did books and was fascinated by the process. One day a book came in, Count Us In, written by the two Down Syndrome boys who grew up on Sesame Street. NOBODY would pick up the book. None of the established interviewers would even take it home and read it. (As so often happens with Special Children, highly educated folks are uncomfortable one on one. In fact, they are afraid that they themselves will be diminished if they cannot communicate with Special People.) My boss at the time threw the book at me, and said, "Show up Monday, ready. You’re on..."

The young men, 17 or 18 at the time, were delightful. Their mother was so pleased. She is head writer for Sesame Street, so it was a bonus meeting her. Courteous, thoughtful, articulate and funny, they handled me very, very well and it was validation for me. This was why I stepped into cable. The program received many good comments and the adventure began.

 In over 200 interviews I received only two thank you notes. First one was from these young men and second from Barbara Bush. Interviewed her on Friday and Monday a thank you note appeared in my mailbox. A lady is a lady, and those young men were gentlemen in every sense of the word.

2. You have certainly taken advantage of every opportunity that came your way—and if opportunity didn’t come, you made it happen! How do you choose books to review and authors to interview? Do you ever reject any? Have you ever scheduled an author only to discover the book was awful? (No names, please!)

At my original studio, in my home community, the books came from the publishers every day. They would be unpacked and lined up and we would just pick the ones we wanted to read.

If a publisher was constant or an agent would push a book, my boss would ask if I would please just do this and get them off her case. They were not my most enjoyable. Now we search out books through book fairs, newspaper articles, word of mouth. Just can't seem to make the publisher connections. 

3. Tell us about a particularly notable interview—funny, difficult, moving.

I guess running close second to the boys of Sesame had to be Steven J. Cannell. Handsome, OMG ! Personable, easy. Cowboy boots, jeans, wool jacket. When we finished talking about his many accomplishments, including his involvement in The A Team, he asked, "Veronica, may I use this time to say something that is very close to my heart and needs to be said?" Gulp, of course, thanks for asking and go for it. Two weeks before he and his family had been at a beach in Calif. His boys, 12 and 15, were digging a tunnel in the sand...and it collapsed on his son! The boy died, never regained consciousness. He felt it necessary to tell any and all who would listen, "Never allow your children to dig a tunnel in the sand at the beach." I was a basket case, can't even remember how I ended the interview. He was such a class act, his message getting out there mattered more than the book and he was so appreciative of the opportunity that cable had given him.

What a terrible story. It must have been heartrending. I can’t imagine going on with my normal life two weeks after losing a child. He must have been an extraordinary man.  

Veronica’s interview continues tomorrow. Stop in again and read about running for mayor, Hillary Clinton, and the secrets of a long marriage!