welcomes as our guest, New York Times best-selling author and
television producer, Keith Elliot Greenberg. Keith has been a
professional writer and television producer for more than 30 years,
covering a wide range of topics from social issues to professional
wrestling to true crime.
In addition to authoring more than 30 non-fiction children’s books, he has written a number of true crime books and biographies, including the national bestseller December 8, 1980: The Day John Lennon Died (Backbeat Books), To Be the Man, Erik is Homeless, and Zack's Story.
He has written articles
for Playboy, Men's Journal, The Huffington Post, Maxim, the New York
Observer, US Weekly and The Village Voice. Keith has also worked on
several popular programs, including America’s Most Wanted.
Currently, he works full-time at NBC News, primarily producing
hour-long documentaries for networks like MSNBC, TLC, Lifetime, the
History Channel and Discovery ID.
Keith's latest book, TOO FAST TO LIVE, TOO YOUNG TO DIE: James Dean’s Final Hours will be published in time for September 30, 2015 – the 60th anniversary of James Dean’s death.
Norm: Good day Keith and thanks for
participating in our interview.
When did you first consider yourself a writer and what is the most difficult thing for you about being a writer? As a follow up, what was the first piece you ever wrote? What was your reaction?
Norm: Why have you been drawn to writing about wrestling and true crime?
Keith: I’m a third generation wrestling fan, and always appreciated wrestling for its athletics, its entertainment aspect and its underground appeal. If you liked wrestling, you were often scorned by sports purists, and I felt comfortable in that outsider category.
In terms of crime, I was always intrigued by people who couldn’t
exercise impulse control. Everybody probably fantasizes about
killing someone, pulling off the perfect robbery, living as a
fugitive, but most of us will never do it. And that’s good. When
I became a reporter, I also met victims and became sympathetic to
their stories. You’re an average person one day, and then
horrendous events just overtake your life. Then, there are
detectives who find that one flaw in the execution of a crime, and
they put people behind bars. In the meantime, though, they’re
fighting against a system that sometimes seems to be working against
Norm: Many writers want to be published, but not everyone is cut out for a writer's life. What are some signs that perhaps someone is not cut out to be a writer and should try to do something else for a living?
If you want safety, financial security, predictability, this isn’t
the life for you. It’s not a profession, it’s a lifestyle.
Does your writing career ever conflict with your career as a
Keith: It’s not a conflict. The two enhance each other. As a producer, I can tell a story visually – using imagery to convey a message. As a writer, I paint the entire landscape in words.
Keith: I primarily view myself as a storyteller. I didn’t pursue this out of idealism. I don’t expect the world to become a better place. I’m intrigued by man’s worst impulses. At the same time, I meet interview subjects – generally, innocent victims either of crime or injustice -- who I personally like, and I root for them, and feel as though I’m advocating for them. You can’t help it.
Keith: There’s nothing better than having a face-to-face conversation or confrontation with somebody. Email is fine and useful, but you miss the body language, the facial expressions. I feel that I can use whatever charisma I might possess – my New York accent, my sense of humor, my ability to listen and not talk over people – to draw people out, make them comfortable, have them introduce me to other people. Plus, I need to observe the things I describe. I could read dozens of articles about James Dean’s home town. But I couldn’t have written this book if I didn’t walk around the farm where he grew up.
Keith: Everyone’s an individual. Everyone has motives for the things he or she does. Everyone has a rationale for the way he or she thinks. I may not approve, but I want to listen enough to understand. And, of course, then I want to put it in writing.
Keith: I had written December 8, 1980: The Day John Lennon Died for the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s death. With the 60th anniversary of James Dean’s death approaching, Hal Leonard Publishing wanted to see if I could do something similar. I wasn’t sure I could – until I arrived in Fairmount, Indiana, and saw the way James Dean’s family, friends and fans loved him. Once I experienced that passion, I felt I was beginning to understand the sub-culture of James Dean, and I wanted to know more.
I work full-time in Rockefeller Center and pass a framed portrait of
James Dean in one of the stores every day. Why is that? Why does
someone still excite the public 60 years after his death? When I
talk to people about James Dean, they know he died in a car accident,
but generally know little about the details. More often than not,
they’re not even talking about the Indiana kid his friends and
family called “Jimmy.” They’re talking about Jim Stark, Dean’s
character in Rebel Without a Cause.
Certainly, James Dean
incorporated a great deal of his personality into that role. But he
was James Byron Dean, not Jim Stark. This book explores James Dean
as an individual, the circumstances of his early and heartbreaking
demise, the effect it had on the people who knew and cared about him,
and the cult surrounding his death.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and your latest book?
Norm; What is next for Keith Elliot Greenberg?
Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors
Follow Here To Purchase Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die - James Dean's Final Hours