Sunday, December 2, 2007

Down the Shore with...Lisa Rogak

This week's "Down the Shore With..." victim, er, subject is Lisa Rogak, author of A Boy Named Shel: The Life and Times of Shel Silverstein. Did you know the man behind The Giving Tree, Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic was also a go-to guy for musicians? Including Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash? I didn't. I just knew I liked that poem about picking your nose (because it was funny -- not because I'm gross). She's also written books about Barak Obama and Dan Brown, among others. Jealous yet? I know I am.

I haven't had a chance to read A Boy Named Shel yet (sorry, Lisa!), but it is on the to-read list for my "Book a Week" project. Eric Nuzum, author of The Dead Travel Fast, previous "Down the Shore with..." interviewee; and reader at the end of of his book a week project, reviewed it on his blog. Check that review out here.

Rogak has buckets of shore memories, too, including those of Atlantic City before gambling, let alone the recent construction boom, came to town.

1. What do you consider "your" shore town? Why?
Two: Asbury Park, because that's where we went when I was a kid, and Cape May, because I discovered this town later on, and I love the elaborate Victorian architecture.

2. Most people go down the shore just to eat. Any favorite restaurants or foodie memories?
In Cape May, I stayed at a place called The Packet Inn in a tower room that had a little fridge in it. Anyone who stayed in the tower room had to raise and lower the flag every day, but half the time I lost track of time and the owners -- Jay & Marianne Schatz, who are still in the business -- would have to do it. I would go to the supermarket and bring back a few things and eat in the tower room and look out at the ocean or take it down on the beach. My dream house will have a tower room that will serve as my office.

3. Do you still get to the shore now that you're a big famous author? ;-)
I haven't been to Cape May or Asbury Park in years, though I have been spending time on the beaches of South Carolina recently, in preparation for my move to Charleston in the spring.

4. How do you think Atlantic City's changed? For better or for worse?
It's changed, that's all. The Atlantic City I remember is from the 60s when we used to sit on the boardwalk and throw peanuts at the pigeons in between skee-ball games as the cigar smoke from old men wafted by. That's still one of my favorite smells in the world: peanuts, old wood, and cigar smoke. It's a rare combination these days.

5. How did you pick Shel for a biography subject?

There was no full-length adult biography on him. But the fact that he wrote "The Unicorn," my favorite song as a kid, sealed the deal.

6. Why do you think he's misunderstood? I was shocked to learn about his influence on Bob Dylan.
To the outside world, Shel was selfish: his creativity came first, and he never apologized for that. As a result, he could be brusque and rude, but he fiercely protected his work. And those people who stuck by him were rewarded by Shel's great generosity in time and spirit. He was a little boy who never really grew up, plus he lived in an era that was very different from ours.

6. You have written so many interesting books. How did you get your start? And how do you pick your subjects?
I started freelancing for magazines because I didn't like the idea of a j-o-b where I had to be in the same place for the same time five days a week. Fortunately, years spent reading everything in sight as a kid panned out. The subjects pick me, and then I decide with my agent whether it would be a good book for me to write.

7. What's next?
I'm finishing up a biography of Stephen King to be published next year, and then there are a few other projects I'm considering. I'm finishing two novels, one for adults, one for kids, so we'll see where they go.


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