Unrecorded and Unplugged
One of my favorite times on the Well Read set is something viewers never see – it’s the few moments when I get to hang out in the green room, hearing authors talk about things that don’t ever make it on camera.
What is a “green room”? The term is showbiz parlance for the place where guests park on a cozy couch, prepare and compose themselves before they appear on a show (I do not know where this term came from, but I intend to investigate).
Authors in the green room are generally: A) happy to have a place to sit and relax, and B) excited about being on the show (a few workaholics have asked for a plug for their laptop, but that’s another story). I have interviewed hundreds, if not thousands, of authors in my work as book editor at The Seattle Times, but they always know they are going to be quoted in the newspaper, and their responses are measured and filtered in some way. Both parties, the interviewer and the interviewee, know their words will be exposed to hundreds of thousands of readers.
The green room is different. We’re just talking. Sometimes we’re speculating, sometimes we’re exclaiming and sometimes we are gossiping, but it is always fun.
So it was with Richard Ford. I grew up in Arkansas, where Ford spent his summers staying at the hotel his grandfather managed in Little Rock, the state capital. This hotel, as hotels in state capitals often are, was a local headquarters for political shenanigans, hard drinking and other dubious behavior. I was raised by strict Methodists, and may I just say that during those long hot summers, Richard Ford saw a side of life my parents fervently hoped I would never hear about, never mind participate in.
Ford told me my sleepy home town, east of Little Rock near Memphis, was well-known as a center for illegal gambling! I had no idea. I sat there enthralled, spellbound by this master storyteller’s melodious Southern accent and his inside scoop on my own local history.
Then there was Peter Coyote. After I complimented him for his explanations of Zen Buddhism in his memoir The Rain Man’s Third Cure, he and I talked about Zen. He spoke in that velvet voice of his about his dedication to it, and how he thought Zen leaders in America make the religion way too complicated. He was a Zen evangelist. I was ready to sign up.
William Gibson and I talked about the mysteries of Amazon – about how the bookselling behemoth sends long out review copies to selected anonymous reviewers, and how they can set the pace for a book’s sales before the book is ever published. So mysterious. Like something out of a William Gibson novel.
The interlude ends all too soon, and the authors go to be interviewed by Terry Tazioli, the host. But I treasure those moments in the green room – it’s my own brush with genius ~ unrecorded and unplugged.