Writing for over 50 years – An interview with Howard Eisenberg, The Toddler Poet Laureate
By Guy Boulianne | On 15/07/2016 | Comments (0)
Here is an interview with Howard Eisenberg, The Toddler Poet Laureate. Writing for over 50 years, turning 90 this year, author Howard Eisenberg has written hundreds of articles, countless books –often with his late wife, Arlene (What to Expect When You’re Expecting)– for national publications. Howard’s writing has been published in the New York Times Magazine, Saturday Evening Post, Reader’s Digest, Cosmopolitan, Parade, The Wall Street Journal, Parenting Magazine, Baby Talk, Reader’s Digest and dozens of others.
Additionally he’s written six adult books, four co-authored with Arlene, three Guess Who (Guess Who Zoo, Guess Who Farm, Guess Who Neighborhood) books for children, and scripts for radio and TV. Howard’s latest book Adorable Scoundrels is a wry read of super poems about tenacious tots. A great grandfather even greater writer, Howard’s website is www.howardeisenbergauthor.com.
About his last book entitled “Adorable Scoundrels, a treasury of toddler poetry”: You’ll recognize your own toddlers (past or present) in the charming illustrations of Susan Robinson who has two 3-year-olds of her own and in the truth-telling verses of author, poet, and playwright Howard Eisenberg who met them first as toddlers of his own and of his much beloved late wife Arlene, who co-wrote the parenting bible, What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Arlene and the hundreds of toddlers he met with her became Howard’s inspiration for a treasury of charming Adorable Scoundrel poems that “make you smile when you feel like crying.” After hearing them at Arlene’s lectures parents would ask, Where can I get the book? There was no book then, but there is now.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START WRITING, AND WHEN?
“Private Eisenberg, write us a newspaper!” The place was a former SS barracks in Flossenburg, Germany a week after the end of WWII. The voice was that of Captain Ingraham, who wanted a morale booster for a very bored infantry unit: Co. K, 357th Infantry.
Fleeing Nazis had abandoned a mimeograph machine and my company commander, checking military files, had discovered my two years of college, and assumed I could spell. I set to work profiling the guys and published the first and only issue of “The Company K Rifleman.” Somehow a copy reached Corps Headquarters and I was drafted to write for the 90th Division’s weekly “American Traveler.” When it featured my first article on the front page, I thought, “Hmm, it might be nice to spend the rest of my life as a writer.” And so, for roughly the last 70 years, I have.
HOW MANY BOOKS HAVE YOU WRITTEN?
I’m up to No. 11 — plus hundreds of national magazine articles, a musical, a film play, and one-man show. A lot of that was written with my wonderful late wife for life, Arlene, who was later hijacked by our daughters to write the original books in the “What to Expect” series. Pretty good move. The series has sold more than 35 million copies and moms (dads, too) can read it in 30 languages.
WAS THERE AN AUTHOR THAT INSPIRED YOUR WRITING?
Charles Dickens and Mark Twain, for both their drama and their humor, light my lit. And Ogden Nash and Dorothy Parker’s satirical light-as-a-feather verse continues to inspire mine. Readers with time and children on their hands might like to check out my first three Guess Who Books — Zoo, Farm, and Neighborhood — at howardeisenbergauthor.com. What makes them worth checking out (and, if I may say so, unique) is that they both rhyme and riddle. They are “fun that educates” — with clues in every line and the last word left blank for readers to guess. If you can spare the time, check out this sample:
My face is quite adorable,
But you may think it horrible.
I wear a mask upon my eyes.
Why not? I came to rob you guys.
When sun has set and darkness falls,
I want spaghetti and meatballs.
Since I do not know how to cook,
Your garbage can is where I look.
My nose can sniff from half a mile.
When it smells leftovers, I smile.
The stuff you left upon your platter,
I’ll dine upon with midnight clatter.
I lick my lips and thank your Mommy
For chicken nuggets and salami.
Oh how I feast beneath the moon!
I’m sure you know my name:
DO YOU PLOT OR WRITE BY THE SEAT OF YOUR PANTS?
Sometimes I write by the seat of my pajamas. Early one morning, I suddenly sat bolt upright with the opening and theme of a musical in my head. I headed for my computer, went into a zone (the best place for a writer to be) and had written the first four scenes of what became “The Million Dollar Bet” before breakfast.
Oh, there was a long way to go and plenty of rewriting ahead, but my inspiration was five years as super-star singer Eddie Fisher’s press agent. When he was onstage, I often wondered if it might have been me if only I’d taken the singing lessons a Bronx “talent scout” had tried to sell my parents, who couldn’t afford them. That inspired the idea for a million dollars (his) bet against a year’s Social Security checks (mine) that I could win if I became a singing star in one year.
Having others read my early draft paid off. One pro suggested a surprise ending that was just what the play doctor ordered. Two readings so far and lots of hope to go. I live on 80th St. in NYC and I know that for a musical to travel from there to a Broadway theatre in the 50’s can take ten years.
DO YOU HAVE PLANS FOR A NEW BOOK?
For half a dozen new books. One will be a memoir of my wonderful years collaborating with Arlene entitled, A Typewriter Built for Two: My 50 Years with the Woman who Co-Wrote ‘The Bible.’ A few chapters are written, but other projects keep getting in the way. First it was the Guess Who series. Now it’s the newly published Adorable Scoundrels (available, of course, on Amazon) 43 poems about the wonderful world of toddlers. Can you tolerate another sample? (If not, skip on.)
Hurricane? Tornado? Violent spouse?
Who wrought this havoc in our house?
You want to know what is it?
Our grandchildren came to visit.
Since nobody’s ever written that many poems about toddlers or claimed the title, I’ve officially appointed myself The Toddler Poet Laureate.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR WRITERS STARTING OUT?
Yes, two pieces. First, if you have something started or a finished first-draft (a short story, a novel, a memoir, a play, whatever) an inexpensive way to get top-notch feedback is to sign up for a course at a local community college or, even better, (in NYC or online) Gotham Writers Workshop. It welcomes beginners, but it’s for pros as well. I’ve taken both the Children’s lit course and the film writing class and feedback from fellow writers and instructors turned good into better.
Second, attend the annual Writers’ Conference of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA). It’s usually in NYC, which makes it possible to write off a great visit to the Big Juicy Apple. Its workshops with prominent authors, agents, and book and magazine editors often lead to assignments or book contracts. I’ve been a member forever — since it started as the Society of Magazine Writers (SMW) — and all (or much) I am or ever hope to be I owe to my darling mother and the ASJA — whose members are free with coaching and counsel for both beginners and those qualified via previous publications to become members.
Just google the ASJA and get on your way.
Book links: www.amazon.com/author/eisenberg.