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Dog-Loving Southern Charm Personified

Posted August 13th, 2010 in Deepak Chopra, Friendship, happiness, Happy People, New York by Glenn Plaskin

Have you ever noticed that some people you know, or work with, are so buoyantly upbeat, blessed with a sunny disposition, that they bring everyone UP around them?

It’s a pleasure just to be in their company. Laughter comes easily. They don’t take themselves too seriously. Nor do they “sweat the small stuff,” as the great writer Richard Carlson used to say.

No matter what happens, their outlooks are consistently optimistic, contented, and appreciative. I wrote a Family Circle article about this subject a few years ago titled: “What Makes Happy People Happy?” And when I interviewed Deepak Chopra, here’s what he had to say:

“Happy people are very comfortable with themselves. They usually look on the bright side, they see opportunity in adversity, their sense of well-being doesn’t depend on performance, and they don’t hold onto grievances and resentments.

“Just being in their company,” said Chopra, “makes you feel better. It’s not what they do or what they think, but who they are.

In the course of working on the launch of my upcoming book, KATIE, I’ve been fortunate to have met just such

Beautiful Shanon--inside and out

a person–the radiantly-congenial Shanon Stowe. She’s the newly appointed publicity director at Hachette Book Group’s Nashville-based FaithWords and Center Street imprints, overseeing the media campaign for Katie Up and Down the Hall. As if a full-time job wasn’t enough, she’s also got a houseful of kids (Dylan, Aiden, and Jack) and dogs!(Barkley and Punkin)

But her professional accomplishments and responsibilities are one thing, while her personality and ebullient nature are another.

Blonde, beautiful, and filled with high spirits, Shanon has a lilting southern accent and an infectious laugh, one that I first experienced in person when she guided me through the introduction of KATIE at Book Expo America last May.

Arriving at New York's Jacob Javits Center at Book Expo America

She met me right at the curb, guided me to the Hachette booth, and during a 2-hour autograph session, made it seem all so easy as people came by. She also bonded with my new puppy Lucy, who konked out after an hour and crawled contentedly into Shanon’s arms.

Flash forward to today, when out of the blue, Shanon sent me an E mail simply titled: “Look!!!”

"Look!!!"

In the E mail, attached was a single photo of Shanon holding up the very first finished copy of KATIE, fresh from the printing press.

After nearly two years–that included writing the book proposal, then writing the book, then a year of post-production (creating a book trailer, a PR and advertising campaign, and planning two launch events)–the waiting was finally over, the news delivered with Shanon’s happy photo.

So here’s a question: Do you have a Shanon in your life?–someone incredibly cheering, even-tempered, and fun to be with? I hope you do.

As for me and Lucy, we count ourselves lucky to know her. (I’ll soon introduce you to another Hachette dynamo, KATIE’S greatest champion, the man who encouraged me to write the book, HARRY HELM, the company’s brilliant associate publisher, editorial and marketing director, and a fellow dog lover to boot.)

Puppy Lucy snoozing, unimpressed by Book Expo America

In the meantime, for any of you who want to meet bubbly Shanon in person, you just might get the chance to do so if you come by the Katie Up and Down the Hall bookreading, being hosted by Liz Smith at Barnes & Noble on September 16th.

Considering that Katie, Lucy, Shanon (and the forever young Liz Smith) are all blondes–I’m wondering if blondes really do have more fun–making everyone around them happier too.

Fellow Blonde

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KATIE CAMPAIGN KICKED OFF WITH A FOODIE INTERVIEW

Posted August 7th, 2010 in Dining in Tribeca, Glenn Interview, Neighborhood Dining, New York by Glenn Plaskin

The TCQ&A: “It’s Like Living on a Houseboat”

Longtime Battery Park City resident Glenn Plaskin is a writer and celebrity interviewer, although his latest book, Katie Up and Down the Hall, is about a much more local star—his cocker spaniel, Katie, who “types, uses a remote, models, has a great wardrobe, makes friends with horses, and changes the lives of everyone around her” (in the words of the book’s promotional materials). Plaskin, who has also written a biography of Vladimir Horowitz, will be at Barnes & Noble Tribeca on Sept. 16. Maybe he’ll bring his new cocker, Lucy (above), although at only five months old she’s a bit rambunctious. In the meantime, you can preorder Katie at your favorite online bookseller.

How long have you lived in the area? I feel like Thomas Jefferson telling you I’ve been here 25 years! Back in 1985, the prices for apartments in Battery Park were unbeatable—and so were the views. It was undiscovered then, and nobody wanted to live here, figuring it was too inconvenient. For me, it was scenic, peaceful, and super-friendly. And I considered myself lucky to escape a windowless dark tenement on the Upper East Side to this—a sun-filled apartment overlooking the Hudson and Statue of Liberty. It’s like living on a houseboat. I would never move.

Landmarc’s caramels

Which restaurants do you frequent most often? My all-time favorites have been Bouley Bakery (mushroom salad, truffle-infused pasta, pistachio raspberry tart), Ivy’s Bistro (which has the best turkey burger in NY), Landmarc (the chopped salad with beets, risotto with asparagus—plus complimentary homemade caramels delivered to the table at the end), Gigino (the Esotica salad and any pasta, plus the best view of the Statue of L.), and the World Financial Center’s Donald Sacks (Mediterranean tuna and great homemade soups.)

Which restaurants do you tend to go to for special occasions? For birthdays, if you want a complete circus with tableside cooking, try Acappella. Last time, with his flambé stunt, one of the waiters almost set me on fire! It’s like being in an opera. I’ve also gone to Bouley—where the food and service is impeccable, but a bit formal. I feel the waiters should be sitting down. One of the most enjoyable birthdays was at Bubby’s—you can’t beat their watermelon lemonade, catfish, and the homemade sour cherry pie. I’ve also never gone wrong with City Hall, Capsouto Frères, Nobu, or Odeon (try the doughnuts!).

Where do you order in (or get take-out) from? Are there dishes you always order? When I’m at home with my dog and don’t feel like going out, I usually call Samantha’s, an Italian takeout, where I get excellent lemon chicken. The eggplant hero is really good. For Chinese, I like the China Chalet, especially the chicken and corn soup and garlic chicken. And for thin-crust pesto pizza with olives, I like the Garden Diner.

Which shops do you find it hard to resist popping into when you pass by? I love frozen yogurt (Café Express) and the gelato at Ciao Bella in the World Financial Center is incredible. And on the way home from there, for a sugar high, I sometimes can’t resist the chocolate covered strawberries at Godiva. By now, you must be thinking I’m morbidly obese! (When in fact I’m 5’9” and weigh 150 pounds. I credit this to biking.)

What was the last non-essential item you bought in Tribeca or BPC? New toys for my dog at Le Pet Spa—as she already has enough for an entire troop of dogs, but the chewing never stops. I also love the incredible selection of breakfast cereals at Whole Foods—and I buy all different kinds, putting eight different flavors in the bowl each morning. I’d rather have cereal than dinner.

Are there any services (salon, fitness, etc.) that you’re particularly glad are in the neighborhood? I love having a dog grooming store just a few blocks away. To get a discount, I bought my dog a block of 10 haircuts—and she loves going there and returns transformed. I also love visiting with the the local manicurist Lee at our nail shop, Blooming Nails. My dog, Lucy, gets carted around and cooed over by all the women in the shop and she likes stealing treats from the candy jar there. Also, having a gym in the building, Battery Park Swim & Fitness, is ideal. I’d never go every day if it wasn’t right there—and it’s a great place to make friends.

Where do you always take out-of-towners? Lunch at Southwest—not really for the food, but because the view of the marina from there is incredible. The Grill Room overlooking the Marina is also super-quiet and enjoyable. But better than food, my guests like going out on the Shearwater, a wooden sailboat built in the 1920s offering a two-hour sunset cruise for $50.

What’s the area’s best-kept secret? The restaurant Gigino. Most people in the city would never find it, as it’s tucked on the Hudson behind the Ritz-Carlton—but the views and food are superlative. Try the strawberries covered in chocolate.

Which neighborhood building do you wish you lived in and/or owned? I wished I lived in the Millennium Tower Residences—mainly because I hear you can get maid service every single day! You gotta love a building that offers fresh ducted air that has been adjusted for desired year-round humidity levels and has been filtered to remove 85 percent of all outside particulates, soot and airborne toxins! And that’s not to mention the option of daily maid service!

What’s your favorite part of the area (street, park, whatever)? Without doubt, it’s the tree-lined Esplanade that I often describe in my upcoming book about my life in Battery Park City. All the buildings and outdoor spaces are set along this walkway and I love it. In the fall, the English oaks, river birches, and weeping willows sway in the wind. In the evening, purple lanterns set close to the water glow while you eat at candlelit tables. Have I persuaded anyone to move here?!

Your most memorable celebrity sighting? I didn’t know we had any! Well, I did see Katie Couric eating ice-cream down here—and she looked so young in person. And one July 4, Donald Trump was strolling along the river.

If you could change one thing about the neighborhood, what would it be? I’d change the number of new buildings under construction. It’s ridiculous to use up every inch of spare space. Also, sadly, the ongoing construction of the WTC site is a continuing burden for all—too much confusion, dust, transportation disruption, and, of course, the  harrowing memories of those who were lost. In Katie, there are three chapters with a first-hand account of what happened that day.

What’s changed around here that you like? That you don’t? After 9/11, the neighborhood, which was always friendly, became incredibly unified. In most buildings in NYC, you can’t borrow an egg! Here it’s like a suburban resort. Walk around enough and you know everybody. The neighborhood is filled with kids, and hundreds of dogs, and students, and seniors, a wonderful dinner party.

Why Tribeca or Battery Park City? The atmosphere is relaxed, there’s no crime, we have our own troop of Conservancy gardeners, unobstructed views of the Hudson, and a parade of boats up and down the river.

Any questions you wish you’d been asked? Just one: Do you ever leave the neighborhood?! (As little as possible.)

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Hachette Trailer Treat: Coming Attraction for Dog Lovers

For generations, moviegoers have been seduced into buying tickets for upcoming attractions by watching those all-important movie trailers, alluring previews that generate the ‘impulse buy,’ pulling you back into the theater for more. 

These 30-second trailers are elaborately produced, intended to incite in the viewer a visceral reaction. I think of them as Hors d’oeuvres, whetting your appetite for the main course. In fact, I often make my decisions about what movies I see based upon trailers, which ideally give you the flavor and texture of the story without giving the plot away.

While movie producers have banked on the power of trailers for years, it’s only in

History Precedes Book Evolution of Book Trailers

the last few years that the book industry is finally catching up, borrowing the concept by producing so-called “book trailers”– video advertisements for new releases that can be acted out using flash videos, animation, or simple still photos set to music (with optional narration), designed to build advance interest and sales.

It’s hard to believe that the first book trailer wasn’t produced until 2003! And it wasn’t until 2005 when user-generated online video upload became more popular that such trailers become a common reality on sites like MySpace, YouTube and iFilm. The cost of such trailers range from the bare bones low-end of $1500 to $15,000 and up toward $100,000 depending on productions values. But such trailers turn out to be invaluable as an author can use them on social networking sites, in their press kits, in presentations to book chains, on commercial sites selling books, at Book Expo America, and at book readings.

The Final Book Jacket Design

When I learned all this about a year ago, my goal was creating a book trailer of my own. After all, KATIE UP AND DOWN THE HALL is an emotional, highly-visual story that takes place along the Hudson River–with a very photogenic dog (Katie), an adorable little boy (Ryan), and a charismatic matriarach (Pearl), so I envisioned a book trailer that could capture the color and mood of the story.

Glenn, Ryan, Pearl, and Katie

But I didn’t get the idea of producing such a trailer until the great book coach, Ann McIndoo, suggested that I consult with with the renowned book marketing authority  John Kremer, who wrote a great book titled, 1001 Ways To Market Your Book. “If there’s one thing you should do, it’s build an Internet audience through social networking sites, one key tool to doing it being a book trailer.”

John defined the most effective book trailers as “poems with music,” consisting of three major elements–an inspiring message (the script), beautiful images (in my case, a montage of photographs that illustrate our family story), and atmospheric background music that matches the mood of the story. As an example of one trailer that got 40 million views, he sent me to thedashmovie.com.

So I set to work: The first thing I did was write a 4-minute script that would capture the essence of the story in an emotional way.  I started with the line: “Some of the best things that happen in life are purely accidental…an intuition can take you almost anywhere–even to a beautiful friendship when you least expect it. That’s what happened to me.” And then I transitioned to setting the scene by writing: “There’s a little town built on water with a never-ending parade of sailboats, ferries, and cruise ships.
Into this world arrived a homely little puppy with skinny legs and gigantic ears.”

Pitiful As A Puppy

That, of course, is the star of the book, Katie. And on it went.

Next, I combed through 20 of my scrapbooks, each identified by theme, choosing the most expressive pictures I could find. I eventually wound up with 300 “finalists,” that told the entire story of our 16 years together. From this pool of photos, I eventually narrowed it down to 65 pictures to tell the story of KATIE.

Finally, I needed to find background music that would match the mood of the story–and hopefully evoke in viewers an emotional reaction. One night, I found a great movie on cable titled “My Dog Skip,” and as soon as I heard the film score, I knew it was perfect for my story.

Photo Perfect Brandon Williams

And now, with all three elements chosen, I needed a video and sound editor to put it all together. It’s fitting that since my book is all about building a family from neighbors–I was able to build my book trailer the same way! One of my best friends is the brilliant Broadway and TV actor, comic, voice-over artist, and screenwriter Brandon Williams, who lives fifteen floors above me with his wife Sheila and their two young sons. Brandon has the most mellifluous voice–almost haunting in its expressiveness–and I felt he was the perfect person to record the trailer voice-over. As if all his other talents weren’t sufficient, Brandon, I quickly discovered, is also a skilled video editor. Brandon arranged the photos in the right order, matching the meaning of the script to the image, creatively panning and zooming on pictures, coordinating the final look of the trailer.

There was only one thing missing–a sound editor to record the voice-over and edit the film score to match the flow and meaning of the words. I lucked out knowing Diego Costa,

Diego Costa

a skilled musician and audio editor, who again, lives right in my building, 20 floors above me with his wife Daniela and their two young sons.  Don’t I have great neighbors?!

Diego and Brandon Recording Katie Book Trailer in my Dining Room

So rather than going into a recording studio or hiring a producer or video editor, we produced my book trailer right at home in my dining room! There we sat, and in just 3 hours, we recorded the script, edited the music, and then Brandon, over a period of just a few days, put the pieces all together. Taking the pictures of the session was Brandon’s talented wife, Sheila of Sheila Williams Photography.

The final result speaks for itself. Just click and see. I have to tell you that I’ve screened this trailer for many people–kids, seniors, businessmen, dog lovers, and those not even interested in dogs–and the reaction has been startling. Almost everybody who sees it cries! Why? I think it’s because each of us has a child, or a grandmother, or a best friend, or a dog in our lives who we’ve bonded with deeply–and who we’ve ultimately lost, due to the inevitability of death or separation.

Well, there you have the story of my book trailer. I recently found the trailer posted on the Barnes & Noble web site, pictured here. It makes me feel great to share the story of our lives with families and dog lovers everywhere. And if you come to the Barnes & Noble bookreading on September 16th, we’re going to have a special screening of the trailer, the evening hosted New York legendary journalist Liz Smith.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll watch the trailer–and let me know what you think of it.

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Vim & Vigor: The Happiest Friend I Know

One of the enduring pleasures of life (and a key component to the message of Katie Up and Down The Hall) is the phenomenon of intergenerational relationships.

My best friend and mentor down the hall, the heroine of my book, PEARL

The Ebullient Bud

I can tell you that nothing beats the friendships I’ve had with people older than me–wise souls who have been my mentors, confidantes, companions, and best friends. The value, comfort, and enjoyment found in such friendships can forever change your life.

Bud and Kim at their Ct. wedding, 9/19/09, a very MODERN thing to for an octogenarian

My charismatic grandmother, Essie, with the star of my book, Katie

I was incredibly close to my maternal grandmother, Essie,

Together with my grandmother, Essie, at my Horowitz booksigning

who is featured in the KATIE book; and in keeping with the theme that “a family is anything you want it to be,” I was equally close to the heroine of my book, Pearl, who was Katie’s devoted keeper and my down the hall comrade-in-arms for 16 years.

Pearl with Katie, Ryan, and Me

And although forty years separated us, I felt as if we were complete contemporaries, able to talk about anything and everything, exchanging ideas and experiences bringing us ever closer.

I’ve been equally blessed to have in my life many other sages, my current all-time favorite being my 88-year-old friend Bud–who I always call “the youngest friend I know” in terms of his spirit, vim, and all-important vigor.

You won’t find anyone with more optimism, enjoyment for life, or a calendar filled with more social engagements.

Intelligent, quick-witted, well-informed, Bud is featured in KATIE in a cameo role, as he was one of Pearl’s friends who shared with her a love of the Broadway theater. In fact, Bud loved it when Pearl would bring over her vintage collection of Broadway programs, reminiscing about productions dating back to the 1920’s and 30’s. (Pearl would shoo Katie away when she tried to “peruse” one with her teeth.)

“It was great meeting someone even older than me who could present something from the past,” Bud reflected, “and we always played a little

My favorite picture of Bud and me taken on “his” bench in Central Park

quiz about our favorite shows.” Indeed.

Nowadays, whether Bud is out on the town–backstage greeting his longtime friend, Broadway great Elaine Stritch, having a brunch with Tony Bennett, lunching with Liza Minelli, or savoring Sunday brunches at the Algonquin Hotel–where his close friend, brilliant pianist Barbara Carroll performs each week–Bud is a unique figure in New York cafe society, and a wonderful friend to me.

I begin nearly every morning with a phone conversation with him–drawing from his unbeatable perspective and wisdom. I know that when I ask his advice about something–I’m going to get a great answer. And more than anything, he’s just fun to talk to!

A retired fashion executive typically dapper in a snappy bow-tie, this octogenarian is consumed by his passions,  traveling to London, taking three cruises per year, devouring baseball and tennis, art and music.

I sometimes wonder where he gets all the energy, high spirits, and overall happiness–which is why, a few years ago, I interviewed him for FAMILY CIRCLE. In that interview, he confides that although he has faced divorce, alcoholism, and a bout with cancer, (maybe because of it all), he has honed a sense of  contentment, an uncomplaining nature, that makes him a magnet to anyone needing a lift.

The photogenic Bud

Here’s what he told the magazine:

“Keeping my attitude ‘up’ is from training! It’s something I learned at an early age from my mother, a very practical, grateful woman, who lived to be 97. Neither she,nor my father, who was an extreme optimist, would tolerate much complaining. So I wasn’t brought up with pessimism or a lot of whining. For me, I find that happiness is being surrounded by people with a positive outlook, which helps exorcise the demons that can bring anybody down–resentment, anger, guilt, or shame. To maintain my equilibrium, those demons must not be encouraged. I actually police them, don’t allow them to penetrate my soul.

One of many birthday parties held at my apartment

“When I’m beginning to feel negative, I automatically ‘switch channels’ and turn to my builder-upper friends with positive vibes. Wherever I go, I’ve got my eyes open for a dose of smiles. Just yesterday I saw a baby on the street who was beaming up at me from her carriage. It was just as if I was getting a huge dose of positive thinking from this smiling infant,  who had no clue what happened yesterday, no regrets or worries like we do. I recognized that this 7-month year old had a better key to life than we do when we’re riddled with toxic emotions that stand in the way of letting us appreciate what God’s given us.

“In order for me to be happy, I pragmatically maximize on what is actually available. Happiness depends on having realistic objectives in life. I don’t set myself up for disappointment. I feel grateful for what I have and don’t pine for what I don’t have. I have a lot of younger friends who keep me vital and energized. That’s key. I have my companion, Kim, the foundation of my happiness. He is pure giving, unconditional generosity, loyalty, an unbelievable spirit–a person with real empathy who provides support without guile.

“I also have a very close relationship with my son and my 27-year-old grandson, Jason, a really talented guitarist who is following his passion. We e-mail each other regularly, discussing music and his future. I have an I-Mac computer and it’s fantastic being online. It’s a great way of communicating, finding out information, and organizing things. I have a rent-controlled apartment  I’ve been living in for 47 years and I’m grateful for it.

“What else makes me happy? I’ve volunteered on an AIDS hotline for 12 1/2 years and it’s important to feel I’ve positively affected somebody’s life. I love the Yankees and know every batting average, and which players are being traded. I’ve been going to the Broadway theatre for 65 years–and  get absolute joy from it. I feel blessed that I live in a city where I can’t get enough of it.

“I also have a passion for travel and pride myself on doing it reasonably. I go on cruises, trips to London for more theater, and, since I turned 78, have taken art tours. I’ve recently learned about 18th-century French art and Dutch painting, and feel more passionate about it than when I was in college.

“All this keeps my mind churning and learning. I focus on people, places, and things that feed my self-esteem. I’m living the life I’ve always dreamed about. Sure, I’m human and I have mood swings–life isn’t ‘Cinderella.’ But you can learn to focus on the positive. I turn to flowers, to Central Park, to a song that recalls a happy moment, to meditating, praying.

I don’t feel 88. I feel GOOD! So the chronological number doesn’t matter to me. I handle loss realistically. When my contemporaries get sick or pass away, sure it’s sad.  But I’m still functioning and can’t let it get me down. It’s just another sign to maximize on today, to make every minute count. Everybody has more gifts than defects, and the secret of happiness is maximizing on them. Lose yourself in your passion. Give music, reading, walking, exercising,recalling happy days a chance. Feel lucky. I do. In fact, the luckiest thing is that I’m NOT a victim of my expectations. The horizon you imagine is always within your reach.

On a recent Carribean cruise, reading an advance galley of Katie

In short, Bud epitomizes the definition of happiness, as Deepak Chopra described it to me in the same magazine article:

“Happiness,” Chopra believes, “is having a sense of wonder at being alive. It’s being grateful for what you have, having a task at hand that you wish to do, knowing what your purpose in life is, and the willingness to accept challenges and ultimately accept and embrace the mystery of our existence.”

That’s Bud!

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