I usually introduce my guests with a little background info, sincere personal praise – a mention of nominations and awards, spectacular blurbs from acclaimed writers, a few glowing reviews from prestigious critics and publications – and then we head right into our chat. I have never asked my guests to provide this info-I seek it out myself. In Dylan’s case, I was prepared to remind you that besides being a criminal defense lawyer for the past fiften years, Dylan was also a guest blogger here at Murderati, AND he writes an absolutely terrific legal thriller series – first being, of course, MISDEMEANOR MAN, which won Mystery Ink’s 2004 Gumshoe for best debut, and the second in the series – I RIGHT THE WRONGS, was a Booksense selection. Oh, so was MISDEMEANOR MAN. And then I was going to tell you that his next book, LIFE, DEATH & BIALYS: A FATHER/SON BAKING STORY (which made me laugh, smile and cry all at once) is due out September 6th. And…ta da…is a Barnes & Nobel Discover pick.
Anyway, God help me, I still don’t know why I asked Dylan for some additional info, but I did. I mean, I know him, okay? He’s a pal. I know that a mischevious monkey resides in his cranium-so I shoulda been warned.
Fasten your seat belts – here’s what he sent me:
Dylan Schaffer was born Hilda Nihelitheg in 1912. During WWII she served as a factotum to the Emperor of Jerusalem. Ms. Nihelitheg disappeared from the political scene until 1974 when, having shed his female skin, he took a position as Gerald Ford’s manicurist. After careers in journalism, plumbing, and phlebotomy, Mr. Schaffer settled into the final chapter of his life as a writer. His comic legal thrillers, MISDEMEANOR MAN and I WRITE THE WRONGS were both well received in the Japanese religious community. The well known celebrity chef Mario Batali called Schaffer’s new memoir, LIFE, DEATH & BIALYS: A FATHER/SON BAKING STORY, "a book."
See what I mean? But, not to worry, it gets better. Well, sort of. But be warned -you ain’t seen nuttin’ yet.
Oh, and I should mention this interview will be in two parts. Dylan was so generous with his time, we just got carried away chatting. You know how that is with friends. You just go on, and on and on. So be sure to come back next Saturday for the conclusion. If you can handle more, that is.
EE: Somewhere in the night, Dylan, or at what point in your career, did you find it necessary to stop after each chapter draft to go outside and stare at the moon? I mean, to know you is to love you, but what?
DS: Elaine, Elaine. You’re amazing. I haven’t thought of that weekend in New England in years. It was fall, Saturday, 1970. I was taking a few days away from my job trading zero coupon bonds on the Street. My pockets were full, but my heart was empty. I parked in a shuttered seaside town. The fog slithered over me, its chilly fingers sneaking behind my collar and up my pants legs. I ducked into a dive, Avenue C. The barmaid was called Mandy. She looked like Terri Hatcher, only blond and tall, with Streisand’s nose and a chest that would have hooked Johnny Depp. She fed me near beers and laughed at my jokes about Jewish cannibals and David Hasselhoff. By the time her shift ended I swear I couldn’t smile without her. It could have been magic. But around daybreak, during some romantic gynmastics, I tripped and spent the next six hours in the emergency room trying to get the feeling back in my left foot. Mandy said she was going out to find some Chuckles. I never saw her again. To this day I’m running too hard, chasing that feeling, saying these words, "Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there."
Gosh, is that all it took? Uh, Dylan? Don’t turn around. There’s a duck chasing you yelling, ‘AFLACK!
EE: I understand you like to talk to yourself (?!). I’ve been told you and Gordy Seegerman, your protag, spend a lot of time deciding you’re ready to take a chance again and get Barry Manilow to sign one of your books.
DS: I knew you were going to ask that. You could substitute any kind of cannibals you like – Polish, Republican, doesn’t matter. But the way I like to tell it, two Jewish Cannibals are standing around a big pot of stew. One says to the other, "I just can’t stand my mother-in-law." So the other says, "Geeze, what’s the big deal? Just eat the noodles."
Ha! I’ll bet that was you and Jackie Mason last week at the Joan Rivers soiree.
EE: When October goes, will you have fond memories of Bouchercon in Madison? Or will you still want to ring ‘…………’s’ neck for heckling you last year at your panel in Chicago?
DS: Speaking of Bouchercon in Chicago, my wife has a bunion. Do you know anything about bunions? It’s more serious than it sounds. She’s a very normal person, my wife. Cute, smart, pretty good dresser. Works like a dog to keep me in electricty and Captain Crunch. But all of her left shoes have a bulge at the side that looks like she’s growing another toe. The disturbing thing about bunions is that they are mostly self-inflicted. Women, mostly, get them from wearing tight shoes. Reminds me of the Chinese practice of binding women’s feet. Women who wear the wrong size shoes can also develop other disabling foot problems like corns, calluses and hammertoes. I suppose this will sound unfeeling, but I really hope my wife doesn’t develop hammertoes.
Actually, I know very little about bunions. But, Pari does. Maybe you three should get together? Uh, Pari? Take two Advils first. Preventive medicine is always smart.
EE: Please don’t be scared, or take offense, but I’ve got to ask this next question. You do thoroughly scrub your hands before making those famous cookies you give out at book signings, don’t you? I promise not to turn you into the Cookie Police if you just rinse them, but I’ve been asked to ask you.
DS: Thanks for asking. You’d be surprised how many people don’t know what a bialy is. I suppose you can’t really blame them. I sometimes think that bagels are the insecure bread, couldn’t tolerate sharing the Jewish breakfast food arena. I suppose we have Noah to thank for that. You don’t see that dude pushing bialys on bus stop advertisements, do you? Anyway, I suppose by now it’s pretty obvious that bialys are like bagels – round, baked, made with flour, good for spreading cream cheese. But unlike bagels, they don’t require boiling to taste good. If you ask me, only narcissistic bread feels the need to sit in a hot tub before baking. A hot oven is good enough for bialys, and bialys are good enough for me. There’s a good bialys recipe (http://bialybook.com/bialy_recipe.htm) on my site.
Where’s my Advil? Nevermind, where’s my Jack Daniels??
EE: Okay, I can handle this guy. Really. Let’s try this: What is your favorite retreat? And what do you do there? Just don’t tell me it’s the Bermuda Triangle, okay? Or a weekend in New England.
DS: My favorite retreat? Well, that would be any sort of conversation with you, Elaine, of course. I’ve done a lot of interviews in the past few years, and before that, even more in my work as a construction engineer, and before that when I appeared in the sixties situation comedy, My Mother the Car. I’ve rarely encountered someone with a more natural, instinctive, relaxing style. Obviously this is because you’re a writer, and you understand character, and you know how to work your way into a guy’s heart before getting under his skin and finally opening up his arteries. You’re the best, Elaine, truly. Chatting with you is one of life’s great treats.
Gosh, that was nice. But I owe any and all accolades to my guests. Particularly the lucid ones.
EE: Somewhere down the road, people begin to develop a Walter Mitty dream. I’m almost afraid to know yours, but what the hell, go for it.
DS: Incredible. I swear to God I have goose bumps. My gardener’s name is Walter. Seriously. I have no reason to make this stuff up. Walter Laing. He’s normally a damn good gardener. But lately, I don’t know. We have some trees in the backyard he’s been promising to cut down for ages. When I call him he give me all sorts of excuses – his back went out, he’s in Boston. It’s just ridiculous. If he doesn’t want to get paid to cut down our trees, all he has to do is say so. I’d be fine having someone else do it. But this business of putting me off is aggravating to say the least.
Walter Laing? Sure you got the spelling right? Wasn’t Walter Lang that famous director? Didn’t he direct ‘Call Me Madam’ and ‘The King and I’? So he turned to gardening, huh? But, Dylan-since he died in 1972, it’s no wonder he hasn’t done your trees.
EE: Word on the street is that even though some good things never last, you’ve been plauged by angry Oaklanders to change the name of Santa Rita in your series to Oakland in the next Gordy Seegerman book. Has there been that much social pressure from a town known as ‘there’s no there there‘?
DS: I’ll just answer that question by asking you a question. Is that okay? I hope so. I really do. Sometimes I think being definitive, answering directly, is such, I don’t know, western, linear, right brain bullshit. Sometimes the reader ought to have to work for the answer. Sometimes the audience should have to engage. I’m not criticizing the question at all. It’s totally a fair question. But I’m just weary of the straightforward response. Anyway, sorry, here’s my answer: If there’s no there there, then where are you when you’re there?
That’s what I mean!! There’s no there there! I know that for a fact! I was born there!!
EE: Could it be magic, or can you really complete a first draft in two weeks?
DS: Magic. Please. Magic? I don’t think so. I’m not trying to embarrass you, but magic? If someone’s magic, it’s you, Elaine. Your books? Incredible. The awards? Deserved, deserved, deserved. I remember watching you eat your Kung Pao shrimp in Chicago last year and thinking to myself, "Magic. There’s really no other appropriate word." Listen, if I’m Magic – and I have my moments, sure – well, you’re triple super-duper magic. Seriously.
You’re a darling to say such wonderful things about me, but lean closer and I’ll let you in on my secret. No, closer. That’s it…a few more inches. Okay, just between us, right? I cast a spell, and it worked. I have all these dolls, see, and at midnight at every new moon, I…well, I’ll have to show you. It wouldn’t have happened otherwise. I mean, a gal’s gotta do what she can, right? So I used magic. They don’t call me Evil E for nuttin’.
EE: Even now, after reading MISDEMEANOR MAN and I WRITE THE WRONGS twice, I still can’t get enough of Gordy. When can we expect to see him again?
DS: That’s a painful question to address. I don’t want to seem like I’m unwilling to go there. I’m willing. I am. I don’t want to come off as someone who is unwilling to answer the tough questions. I just, it’s only, well, it’s painful. Can you understand that? I’m being honest here. I’m not hedging. I’m not avoiding. I’m letting it all hang out. I’m showing you the real me. Can you handle it? Can your readers? They’re used to seeing the protected me,the closeted me. The guy with the smiling face on television and in the magazines. The guy with the beautiful woman on his arm walking the plank at the Oscars. That’s me. Sure it is. But there’s another me, too. This is that me, the me you’re talking to. The me who’s willing to face the music, who’s open to a meaningful, heart-to heart dialogue. The me who says, "Shit, bring it on, baby." I wasn’t born yesterday. I’ve been to hell and back. Give me your best shot. You may knock me out today, but I’ll be back tomorrow. Oh yeah.
Oh, just come here and let me give you a big hug. Poor baby, I had no idea! Come hell, or high water, we’ll work it out. You’ll see. Trust me. Have I ever let you down? We can do this.
SEE YOU ALL NEXT WEEK? LIKE I SAID, YOU AIN’T SEEN NUTTIN’ YET. NEITHER HAVE I!