Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Al Zimbler: Author, Comedian, and Extraordinary Man

SM: I'd like to welcome Al Zimbler, author of The Love Life of Howard Handsome and Other Short Stories. Al, thanks for joining me today.

AZ: My pleasure.

SM: This is your first book of short stories. What inspired you to write them?

AZ: I have been writing poems and limericks for about 20 years. Then I began writing short stories around 2006 when I started online classes from the Writers’ Village and New Trier Extension.

In 2006 I signed up for a writing class taught by Linda Baker Fradin. In one of the class exercises we had to fill out our writing goals. I then wrote that I hoped to write 10 short stories a month. I did that for quite a few years and I have written over 750 short stories.

Some are pretty bad, and some are personal memoirs from my youth and of the Zimbler uncles and aunts. Some are a little risqué, but none have swear or filthy words. I have tailed off the last year or so, and I now only average about seven short stories a month.

SM: Writing 750 stories is remarkable. You're very prolific. No wonder you've slowed down a little bit.

The title of your book talks about Howard Handsome. Who is he and what does he mean to you?

AZ: The stories are inspired by someone I know who got divorced, but what I wrote is not exactly what he told me. I created a sequence based on my own ideas of what could have happened or might have happened, but didn't really happen. Then I added everything together, including some sexual references, to spice up my stories. Once I started on the original story of dating again after divorce, I thought why not keep adding? So I did, using a wide selection of my crazy ideas.

SM: Interesting.

Many of your stories are very funny. Tell us about your background in comedy improv.

AZ: Eleven years ago, when I was renting an apartment in Marina Del Rey in Los Angeles, I saw an ad in the local newspaper stating there was a free senior improvisation group on Sundays in Santa Monica. Free is free. So I went down there and watched. They asked if I would like to get on stage and take part, and I did.

Wow, what fun. No experience necessary! Just be a good listener so that you can respond and always keep the story going by listening to each line spoken to you. I then took free lessons at UCLA. In Chicago I have taken classes at Second City, Piven Theatre, and IO, which was formerly called Improv Olympic.

I have led senior improv classes here in Chicagoland at Sedgebrook Retirement Home and The Friend Center for Alzheimer Patients. I have led a class at Lifelong Learning Institute at National Louis University in Skokie, Illinois, and also for my men's club, MEL (Men Enjoying Leisure).

SM: You sound very busy, and it's beautiful that you give back to the community in the retirement homes and the Alzheimer's Center.

I understand that you’ve also performed on cruise ships. What was your experience like there?

AZ: My wife and I took a cruise on the QE2 to Australia and I persuaded the entertainment director to let me be on the daily program to run a class in improv. It was not very successful as most of the cruise people were older and from England and did not fancy themselves going up on a stage and performing, but I was on the program for two days.

Three years ago my wife and I took a Holland American cruise to Spain, and this time I was on the program for two days and was successful. On the first day we had six people performing and laughing. On the second day we were down to four people, but again we had lots of laughs.

SM: That does sound like fun.

Are you planning to write another book? Tell us a bit about it.

AZ: I am planning to write another book. In fact, my editor has over 100 new stories that she is reviewing in order to get the second book together with about the same number of stories (78) that the first book contained. It might be 2012 before the second book gets published. I am waiting to see if the first book sells 100 books or more before I decide to go ahead with the second book.

SM: I'm sure that your first book will sell many more than 100 copies. Meanwhile, I want to let everyone know that they can purchase your book on Amazon Kindle at http://tinyurl.com/63dvfgn  or in print on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/6dpfhq5

Good luck with your stories and thanks so much for joining me.

AZ: You're welcome.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Interview with Adrianne Sainte Eve , Author of Horizontal Collaborator

SM: Hi, Adrianne. Thanks so much for joining me today.

AS: My pleasure. Happy to be here.

SM: Tell us a bit about your heroine, Violette, in Horizontal Collaborator. Was she based on someone who you know in real life?

AS: The idea for Violette was very loosely based on Marthe Richard, an espionage agent who worked for France during WW1. I borrowed from some of her adventures as a spy, from a book called The Skylark, published in 1932 and written by Major Georges Ladoux. He was the chief of the French Counter-Espionage Service and appears as Major Georges St. Denis in my book. The German Chief of Naval Intelligence, with whom Marthe Richard had an affair, appears as Leo von Beringer in Horizontal Collaborator, but his character is purely my own. Her story was a great starting point, but most of my book is pure fiction.

SM: Your book takes place in the late 1800s and moves on into World War I. What interested you about that time period?

AS: To be honest, it was mostly the fashion. There was so much imagination and novelty in women’s fashions of that period. The industrial revolution and the coming of the war created phenomenal changes in the way women were dressing, and fashion was a reflection of that changing society.

SM: Interesting. Then we can expect some unique descriptions of women's fashions in the book.

Violette was a poor peasant with aspirations. What was the class system in Hungary, and Europe in general, like at that time?

AS: During that time the class system throughout Europe was changing dramatically with new discoveries and technologies. Those in the privileged classes were rapidly losing their money and power as the lower classes were becoming less dependent on them. More opportunities for the working classes in general were created and women were slowly becoming more independent. It was no longer unthinkable to rise above the circumstances of one’s birth.

Hungary was still based on the ancient feudal system, and that system collapsed spectacularly as the war went on. Titles were revoked and land confiscated. The upper classes were wiped out in everything but their own opinion.

SM: That was a very auspicious time for a young woman like Violette to come of age. How many women acted as horizontal collaborators and was it a dangerous job? Were they ever killed when they were discovered?

AS: No one knows how many women were horizontal collaborators. It was a derogatory term used to describe women who slept with the enemy for profit, or even just to survive. I was able to discover a handful of women who were allegedly spies during WW1. Edith Cavell, a heroic Red Cross nurse, was caught and executed by the Germans. The infamous Mata Hari had offered her services to the Germans, but it is believed that she had not proven very useful to them. They cast her aside and through her own clumsiness she was caught by the French, used as a scapegoat during the espionitis epidemic and executed.

There were some very successful German women who were legendary spies: Anna Lesser, “the schoolgirl,” was one. “Fraulein doktor,” and “the tiger-lady” were believed by some to be the same person, but their (her) true identities were never discovered. Most of them had less fantastic but still interesting stories, carrying messages and working as cipher decoders. Women were considered to have a natural ability at this. The British even used the Girl Guides in a small capacity.

SM: I've heard of Mata Hari, of course, but not the others and certainly would never have expected the Girl Guides!

What inspired you to be a writer?

AS: I read constantly and read everything. The idea of women spies during WW1 intrigued me. When I read The Skylark it struck me that for Ladoux the topic of interest was the war. I was more interested in the character’s individual personalities and their lives. I wanted to know what they thought, these people who were on opposite sides of the war. I wanted their perspectives. This woman had an entire life besides being a spy for a while. What happened before and after? One day I suddenly thought I could absolutely do this and just started. I kept at it because I really enjoyed it. No one was more surprised than I was when it was finished.

SM: Having read the book, I think that you did an excellent job of portraying the different emotions of the characters over the years. And like you, that is what would have interested me most about their lives, too.

Tell me, Adrianne, are you planning to write another novel?

AS: I am planning on writing another novel. It will not be a sequel, but I will reference some of the characters from the first one. Only because I have grown attached to them and want to know what happens to them.

SM: Glad to hear it. I’d love to know what happens to them.

Before we wind down, what do you do in your spare time when you're not reading or writing?

AS: I always have some project going on. Right now I volunteer two days a week at the Chicago Park District Conservatories. I'm taking classes in horticulture at the Chicago Botanical Gardens.

I'm also taking singing lessons, something I've always wanted to do. My voice is so bad I'm embarrassed to go, but I'm forcing myself. I used to sing to my kids when they were babies and they would beg me stop. My son would scream and clap his hand over my mouth, but I like to sing and I know the lessons will be fun.

SM: Ha ha! Kids are so funny. We can trust them to tell us when the Empress has no clothes.

Horizontal Collaborator is a wonderful book, rife with information, suspense, colorful characters and humor. It's available on Amazon (http://tinyurl.com/3qwmsxu) and as an e-book on the Total Recall website (http://tinyurl.com/3kum6j9).

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Polanski, the Victim? Review of Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired

This 2009 documentary by Steven Soderbergh and Marina Zenovich was fascinating and I learned quite a bit about Roman Polanski that I never knew because I hadn't followed his case that closely. I didn't know he was a Holocaust survivor and had lost his parents to the camps. I did know that his wife Sharon Tate was brutally murdered by the freakish Manson clan. And I imagine that all those hideous and traumatic incidents left a terrible and indelible mark on his psyche. But does this somehow justify drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl?

The production is far too sympathetic toward Polanski. Yes, it appears he had a judge who was obsessed with celebrities and his own fame and publicity. Yes, it looks as though his sentence was unfair, but even the original proposal to incarcerate Polanski for 90 days for a diagnostic was absurd. 90 days for taking a pubescent girl and giving her Quaaludes and sodomizing her? Please? What century are we living in?

Although the girl who was molested appeared on the show and spoke as an adult, I got the distinct impression that the message was "poor Roman", not "poor 13-year-old girl." At one point her prior sexual history was even mentioned -- disgraceful -- yet she clearly said that she had said *no* to him. Even if she had said *yes* and begged him to have sex with her, at 13, she didn't have the mental or legal ability to give consent.

The whole situation is very sad. If only Polanski had served out his time properly in the US, some of this would be behind him and perhaps he could have continued to be a wonderful director. People are complicated. Just because he committed a heinous act doesn't mean that he doesn't have redeeming qualities. He is brilliant and the French realize this. But one problem I had with the documentary is that it's not either or -- it's not that he is wanted in America and desired in Europe where he has won awards, so the Americans are wrong and prudish. It's that he has complex human traits that make him phenomenal in some respects and ugly in others.