Sunday, July 17, 2005

"A Fine Romance..."

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In tribute to my last two posts, I am coining this one "A Fine Romance"-- Michael Feinstein does a lovely rendition of this (Dorothy Fields-Jerome Kern) song, and I was talking about romance novels earlier today.

I know a handful of parents who kiss their children on the lips. Such is not the case in this family. But most recently, for fun, my youngest decided, "Let's kiss on the lips." And so we made a game of it -- moving forward then N. quickly retreating as I puckered up in comical fashion. Hysterical laughter breaks out on his and my part as our game repeats itself. But finally he "moves in for the kill." Steadily...cautiously...both eyes open.

The kiss comes...followed by his loud pronouncement: "I think this means we're in love!"

Romance Is Romance Is Romance

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I copy edit romance books. Once upon a time, as a young teen, I read these same books, very happily toting home stacks upon stacks from the public library. In those days, the books were gentle, sweet love stories that featured doctor-nurse stories, or holiday romance stories, and I escaped into British operating rooms or Greek isles when reading these stories.

Nowadays these stories are not as sweet all the time -- yes, there are still those British books or the holiday stories, but in between we have intrigue, chick lit, "kick-ass" heroine stories, mysteries, historicals, fantasy, down-home America stories...and Christian romance.

For the past few years I've had to work with the Bible near at hand, checking references and Biblical quotes in both the Old and New Testaments. Aside from always checking the night table drawer at a hotel/motel for a copy of the Gideon Bible, I'd never had reasons to consult the New Testament, and I suddenly became good friends with the many books in that Bible! The four apostles and I meet on a regular basis and we're on a first name basis: John, Luke, etc., not Saint John, Saint Luke. I respect them in their belief and they respect me in my belief!

Imagine a romance book based on "tsniusdik" (modest) values: I am a censor board for what is deemed Christian and question un-Christian-like behaviors, references, comments, etc. Working on these books is a very eye-opening experience, as I realize that people truly live by the values exemplified in the stories; they talk like the characters do and they think like the characters think.

I also freelance for a U.S. based publisher and work on African-American romances. What makes African-American romances any different than any other romance? NOTHING, except the cultural references: songs and the singer/songwriters, names of fashion designers and publications, some of the regional lingo...but otherwise, these books are no different. Of course, cover art and the intended readership and marketplace sometimes differ than other mass-market media products, but when I read these books, I try to leave "color consciousness" out of my work.

It would be nice if color distinctions in the mass-market media place did not have to be made. After all, romance books should be deemed the same as "good lovin'" books and the same as "love of G-d, love of man" books.

And if you don't believe me, pick up a variety of romance books, and do some research of your own. You might just love the variety of books you read.

Tales from the Toilet

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Having just returned from Florida last week, I made this observation. I found the public bathrooms in Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure to be quite clean...but please explain something to me.

Why do so many of these bathrooms have automatic-flush toilets but non-automated sinks or hand dryers? Okay, so where's the logic? I don't have to touch a toilet handle, but I do have to touch the taps and then the paper towels. Did someone think the situation through?

I first encountered automatic flush toilets and automatic sinks way up in the Swiss Alps at some public rest room, when I was in my teens. I was fascinated by them, especially the automatic flush toilet, and thought these Swiss were on to something good...

But in general, why do these automatic flush toilets, and so many other regular ones, sound like a great rush of water is coming at you, when you flush. I've had my two youngest freak out at the sudden sound of Niagara Falls rushing up from their behind. It's powerful-sounding and frankly, scary-sounding.

My youngest child, a five-year-old, never understands why, when we're in a public place and it's only he and I, why we have to go into the washroom marked LADIES. "I'm not a gehrl," he tries to convince me in his Scottish-sounding brogue. I try to explain that as a 5-year-old boy, he can still come into a ladies' washroom, but as a 43-year-old female, I can certainly not go into a washroom marked MEN...and he can't go alone into a public washroom, either. I think he's not entirely convinced...

And now I need to take a census while I'm on the topic of toilets. How many of you women reading this -- if any -- have ever tried to bypass a long lineup leading into a women's public washroom, and gone into the men's washroom when there were no men around? Or if you haven't done so, would you consider doing it?

Flush once if the answer is yes, twice if the answer is no. Then wash your hands with soap and make sure not to touch anything on your way out!

A Finagler's Fine-Tuning

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...Okay, so Michael Feinstein and Lifestyles Magazine were meant to be a shidduch.

First things first: write a proposal letter to the Lifestyles editor. So I sat and composed an award-winning letter of who Michael was and why he should be featured in the magazine. And then I wrote a (equally award-winning) presentation of who I was, what I did and what I'd written before -- not much, anyways.

But I got a green light, and that's all that mattered!

Next thing to do was find out how to contact Michael's people to arrange for an interview with him -- it was September now and I had about a six-week lead time, enough I figured to get things arranged.

First I contacted the Toronto venue where he was to be performing and they gave me the record company name. The record company provided me with the management company in L.A., and the management company got a letter from me. (I am much better in writing than I am on the phone, and I look for every excuse to write letters or e-mails so as not to have to telephone places)I was asked to forward a sample copy of the magazine, which I did, and then got the green light from them...and a press kit and a CD sampler. I was told that closer to the time, I'd be getting a call from the record company to schedule the actual interview with Michael. I was elated; I was on a roll.

I incorporated the information from the press kit, the influence of Michael's music playing in the background, and did loads of online research at home and at the public library, finding press clippings, etc. I'd suddenly became an expert on the life and times of Michael Feinstein up until that point.

The L.A.-management company heard from me again when I requested photos to accompany the piece, and although they had a standard publicity shot or two, it was the "back home, growing up" photos I was seeking for such an in-depth piece. And so, my name and number and request was passed on to the next best person, Michael's mom, Mazie Feinstein. She contacted me one day, asked what sorts of photos I'd need and said she'd send an envelope to me but would need them back. Of course she'd need them back: there was Michael with Liza Minnelli (she'd sort of helped him with a Hollywood entree into the music scene), Michael with presidents, Michael with Ira Gershwin, Michael as a little boy with microphone in hand and singing at a family simcha back in Ohio.

So I'd done the prep work and then the week of the concert, I got a call with a place and time to meet Michael: 12 noon, Four Seasons Hotel, the day after the concert, for a 20 minute personal interview. I began to wonder: Did I bite off more than I can chew? Yes, I'd come out of left field to land a magazine article in a glossy-pseudo international prestigious magazine; I'd managed to make all the right connections to land an interview with someone whose music I adored (and whose looks weren't bad, either!);I'd prepared; knew tons about his background; had a list of questions ready; microcassette player was ready -- I should be ready. But was I really going to be ready?

Okay, the concert came and went, and I loved it so much -- Michael's talent for musical interpretation of old standards, his interjection with personal stories of great American songwriters, and his natural charisma entrance an audience of fifty or a thousand people. That in itself is a talent.

Taking the subway downtown to Michael's hotel, all I could think was: Will my tape recorder work? Will I get all the information I'm seeking? Will I come across as a total newbie at this? And lastly: What the hell did I get myself into?

I arrived at the front desk, asked for his room number and called from a house phone. He answered, I announced myself and he told me to just give him a few minutes and then come up to the room. I did as asked and then eyeing my watch a few times, decided that enough time had passed: I was ready for Michael and Michael was ready for me!

He answered the door, let me in, asked if I wanted/needed anything, to which this nervous Pearl replied jokingly, but in more of a murmur, "A stiff drink." I really wanted to say, "Could we sing a duet?" His room was a suite that had a sitting area and separate bedroom. The sitting area had a piano against the wall, where I guess he'd been practicing before the concert, and I wanted to "make beautiful music" together with Michael Feinstein!

In any case, he was very congenial, asking if I preferred to sit on the couch to ask my questions, or at the round turned into a round table discussion...and the assigned 20 minutes turned into 40 minutes (I think generally unheard-of in the realm of journalistic interviews...personal interviews often also being out of the norm). We were interrupted by a phone call, which happened to be the next appointment for Michael. I was very fortunate I'd been granted a face-to-face interview rather than a phone interview.

The interview, the concert, the idea and the following through of my idea, dealing with Michael's mother at least a couple of times (I called her again after the interview to get some more "insider information" on her son), and seeing my name and my article and the photos I'd managed to get to accompany the piece were a WONDERFUL and memorable experience for me. It didn't hurt that the particular issue the article finally appeared in had a cover story of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (he was still alive at the time), thus making it somewhat of a "keeper" issue for many more people than just myself!

More than anything, I think I was most proud of the fact that I'd had one of my offbeat ideas, had done everything possible to accomplish what I'd set out to do, and accomplished it. Yes, I was insecure in many ways about it, continually doubting the events I'd set in motion, but pleased with the final results and the more-than-personal touch I'd brought to Michael Feinstein's story.

Every now and again, I pull out that issue of Lifestyles Magazine, reread the beautiful story/interview with the late, great Rebbe Schneerson, and then turn several more pages and admire my own words, knowing that behind every story is another story just waiting to be told...