APA Exclusive! Interview with the author of “Adrift in Havana”

Steve: “Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule for this interview!”
Steve: “Not at all, Steve. Sorry, mind if I call you Jim? It’s a bit confusing to interview yourself.”
Jim: “That’s fine. Call me Jim. Steve, I understand this is your first novella. Surely, you’ve written before?”
Steve: “Actually, not since 4th grade.”
Jim: “Tell me about that…”
Steve: “Well Jim, I was a student at James Fallon School, in Wayne, New Jersey. Our teacher, Mrs. Ryan, had each of us write a short story.”
Jim: “Interesting! Go on…”
Steve:  “I wrote ‘Wags, a Dog’s Tail’.
Jim: “So, you were trying to be clever?”
Steve: “No, I just couldn’t spell.”
Jim: “Go on…”
Steve: “This was a fictional story, concerning my mixed, short-haired German pointer, Lady. I renamed her ‘Wags”. The story is set up like this… My father is yelling at Lady to get out of the living room (where she is forbidden). Lady backs up nervously and her tail gets stuck in our light blue Electrolux canister vacuum cleaner hose. As she turns around to investigate, her foot accidentally turns on the vacuum. In a panic, she takes off running with vacuum cleaner in tow. As she rounds corners, the Electrolux starts smashing up furniture and  walls. Cabinets are shattered,  collectibles are going to ground. My father gets knocked off his feet… You can imagine… Three Stooges kind of stuff.”
Jim:  “How long did Lady’s rampage go on?”
Steve: “Hours, Jim. Lots of damage… to the town, too. Mercifully, the mayor, Wayne Newton, is killed.”
Jim: “Wouldn’t the electric cord just pull out of the wall, ending the mélee before it started?”
Steve: “No. It was a very long, retractable cord. Come on, Jim! I was a kid!”

Steve Eilenberg And Lady 1963

From the original manuscript “Wags, a dog’s tail”

Jim: “How was the story received?”
Steve: “Students had to read our stories out loud, in front of the class. I thought it was hysterical! In fact, I fell to my knees before finishing the first page and had to stop. I also peed a little bit in my pants from laughing so hard.”
Jim: “And the class? What was the reaction?”
Steve: “They were staring uncomfortably at me.”
Jim: “And Mrs. Ryan…?”
Steve: “I think she was with the class on this one, Jim.”
Jim: “Was it traumatic for you? Were you discouraged from writing more?”
Steve: “Sure it was. I’d pretty much put down the pen until now! On a positive note, I haven’t peed in front of an audience since.”
Jim: “Steve, some have compared your writing style to that of Ernest Smallwood. Reaction?”
Steve: “Who is Ernest Smallwood?”
Jim: “Exactly.”
Steve: “Has anyone compared me to Dave Barry?”
Jim: “No.”
Jim: “OK…inspiration? Where was the inspiration for Adrift?”
Steve: “It’s in my DNA, Jim.”
Jim: “So you have writers in your family?”
Steve: “No, haplessness. That’s in my genes”.
Jim: “You’ve lost me there. Can you elaborate?”
Steve: “Example. OK, it’s 1977, my parents drove to Belmar, New Jersey for dinner. Since they never make reservations, there was a 3 hour wait. Killing time, they walk down a fishing pier to inspect the usual catch of sea robins, sand sharks and medical waste.”
Jim: “Sorry, but that sounds pretty normal… “.
Steve: “My father wants to take a picture of my mom. He has her stand at the edge of the pier and asks her to take one more step back.”

Belmar Pier, Ripple Photography

Low tide at the very same Belmar Pier, courtesy of Ripple Photography via Pinterest

Jim: ” I see where this is going.”
Steve: “Yeah, she drops into the ocean in like a sack of potatoes, fully clothed, with her glasses and purse. She is blind without her glasses!”
Jim: “And your father, did he jump in with his camera?”
Steve: “That would have been him, but truth be told, he can’t swim. My father was afraid of the water. Never learned to swim, so he yells to her.”
Jim: “What does he say?”
Steve: “He cups his hands around his mouth and shouts ‘MARY, SWIM TO SHORE!’ ”
Jim: “That’s pretty helpful! How was their dinner?”
Steve: “Yup! I can tell you many stories like that. Stories featuring canoes, carpenter ants, chainsaws, riding lawn mowers, car jacks and even guns!”
Jim: “Sounds like the making of another book.”
Steve: “I’m about to shop it.”
Jim: “So, back to ‘Adrift in Havana’.’”
Steve: “OK…”
Jim: “Has the story been fictionalized?”
Steve: “No, Jim, this is pretty much a straight account.”
Jim: “I’m surprised. The story didn’t put you in the best light.”
Steve: “How can I answer that?”
Jim: “Were you tempted to make your character a bit more…heroic?”
Steve: “Tempted, yes but I don’t think it would have been as compelling or believable, especially to people who know me.”
Jim: “Did you ever feel in danger?”
Steve: “Do you mean when diving with sharks and crocodiles or in Havana?”

Gardens Of The Queen Composite
Jim: “I didn’t know you were diving too. Was this earlier in the trip?”
Steve: “You worry me, Jim! You were there, too!”
Jim: “Fair enough. Did Havana seem safe?”
Steve: “Yes, it did. We did lots of walking. There were scruffy areas, but generally, it felt safe.”
Jim: “‘Adrift in Havana’ then is not a cautionary travel tale?”
Steve: “Not at all. It’s just an amusing account. Snowball effect, when one thing goes wrong… That’s all”
Jim: “Was it amusing at the time?”
Steve: “At times, but mostly no.”
Jim: “What advice do you have for our readers? What should you have done differently?”
Steve: “Not being robbed! I wish we had done that differently. I don’t mean to be flip, but we shouldn’t have had that much money or passports with us…or cell phones for that matter!”
Jim: “Can you expand on that?”
Steve: “We had a room safe at Hotel Parque Central. It was our last night and Marie was rushing to meet up with our friends. She didn’t take the time to figure out the safe… As for the money, you can’t use credit cards at restaurants.  There are no ATM machines for American tourists.  And, the cell phone… true, you can’t make calls or get data on the fly, but Marie uses it for the Spanish dictionary.”
Jim: “And the passports…?”
Steve: “We’re back to the safe, Jim.”
Jim: “Do I remember hearing that you had trouble getting your passport, just before the trip to Cuba?”
Steve: “I wasn’t going to bring that up, but since you’re asking, I did. I got it at 4pm, the day before my rescheduled flight.”
Jim: “Rescheduled?”
Steve: “Yes! Let’s just say it had that new passport smell.”
Jim: “Do you see a mini series?”
Steve: “Well, the test audience has been very encouraging.”
Jim: “Who would you like to see casted?”
Steve: “Steve Carell as me and Lucy Liu for Marie. Steve Buscemi as Greg. Mrs. G from “The Facts of Life” TV show, uh, Charlotte Rae, for Yani. The little boy watching TV? Definitely Tattoo from “Fantasy Island”. I think his name is Hervé Villechaize.
Jim: “Didn’t Tattoo die in the early 90s?”
Steve: “Yeah, but the kid just sat there watching TV, watching ‘Kid versus Kat.’ Not what you’d call a demanding role!”
Jim: “Who’ve you been in contact with?”
Steve: “Well, I’m a member in good standing with Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video.”
Jim: “I’m impressed! How have they reacted to the script?”
Steve: “I’ve left an inquiry with customer service, but haven’t heard back yet.”
Jim: “Anyone you want to send a shout out to?”
Steve: “Yes, my mother, Mary Bladen Austin Eilenberg. She died tragically a few years ago, but she would have definitely put the story out there!”

My mother Mary as a young woman

Jim: “And by out there, you mean…”
Steve: “On her refrigerator. Definitely would have made the refrigerator!”
Jim: “Was she following your blog, your website?”
Steve: “My mother? Seeing her in front of a computer was quite a sight! I bought her an iMac because, let’s face it… doesn’t get easier than that, right? Well, imagine if I smeared dog shit on the mouse and keyboard, sat her down and asked her to surf the web. Imagine her expression. That was my mom with computers. So, no, she didn’t follow me online. I would have had to print the story out for her.”
Jim: “So Steve, what’s your next project?”
Steve: “Jim, I’m thinking about a graphic novel… an exploration of my troubled childhood…”
Jim: “Comedy? Tragedy?…”
Steve: “Yes!
Jim: “Tell me. Do you have a title yet?
Steve: “Things my parents didn’t teach me because they were making shit up as they went along.”
Jim: “Kind of a long title…”
Steve: “Yes, it’s a long story.”
Jim: “Will you also be doing the art work?”
Steve: “Yes, I’ve been doing caricatures all my life. Pissed a lot of people off.”
Jim: “That’s about all I had for you today. Anything you want to add?”
Steve: “No, I think we covered it”.

-Steve

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7 thoughts on “APA Exclusive! Interview with the author of “Adrift in Havana”

  1. I remember a couple spots on pants when workers would appear in the Office Waiting Room measuring for a fish tank ;-0 Great interview, similar to the mumbling heard from your self-therapy.

  2. I never realized you had RDEFS (real dog experience, figuratively speaking). I think you are well qualified to dog sit for my Char. Besides, I think that making up shit, as did your parents, probably prepares you for picking up shit:) So, if you ever want to make a few extra bucks…….and possibly enough new material for a second novella…….

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