Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest Howard Eisenberg. Howard has written for TV, radio, the screen, and theater, and has authored six adult books—four with his late wife, Arlene—and three Guess Who Books for children, which include Guess Who Zoo, Guess Who Farm, and Guess Who Neighborhood.
Norm: Good day Howard and thanks for participating in our interview.
Please tell our readers a little bit about your personal and professional background?
Howard: My personal and professional lives were inseparable for more than 40 years. That’s because my late wife, Arlene, and I not only lived together, we collaborated on magazine articles and books together.
In fact, a memoir I’ve been working on is entitled, A Typewriter Built for Two. There’s a pretty important sub-title: My 50 years with the Woman Who Co-Wrote the Bible.
The bible being What to Expect When You’re Expecting which she wrote with our daughter when she was pregnant but couldn’t find answers to many of her questions. What to Expect When You’re Expecting had all those answers and dozens more -- which I guess is why I got a postcard this week from her publisher telling me about its 92nd printing of 90,000 copies.
Norm: How did you get started in writing? What keeps you going?
Howard: I was a bazooka-toting18-year-old PFC with Company K of the 357th Infantry when WW2 ended for us at a former SS barracks in Germany.
Our captain thought a company newspaper would be a good idea, noticed in our files that I’d had two years of college, and ordered, “Write me a newspaper.” There was an abandoned mimeo machine there, so I did, and The Co. K Rifleman was born. So was the thrill of seeing my words in print. I thought, “This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
Norm: Could you elaborate on your writing for TV & Screen? How did you get started and which programs and films were you involved in?
Howard: I did a little work for Howdy Doody, an early children’s TV show, and some for Name That Tune, moving on a month or so before a scandal broke about the producers feeding answers to favoured contestants. (I was as surprised as the losers.)
I met 50s superstar Eddie Fisher singing with the band at the legendary Grossinger’s in the Catskills and became his first press agent. (My big coup was getting Time to do a piece about him.)
Later I wrote for Eddie’s radio and TV Coke Time show. When it moved to Hollywood, my young family followed, and between scripts I got the chance to interview and write free-lance pieces on stars like Steve McQueen, Alan Ladd, Shelley Winters, Deborah Kerr, and Audie Murphy.
My son, Evan, a very talented author and screenwriter, is finishing up the second draft of Jungle Ball, a script we wrote together. And a book I wrote,
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Cooperstown seems likely to be headed for filming as The Pheenom – but you never know. Funny things happen on the way to Hollywood.
Norm: What do you see as the influences on your writing?
Howard: If you don’t do a lot of reading (I particularly loved Dickens), I don’t think you can become much of a writer. But oddly, I’ve got so many writing projects going on now, I don’t have nearly enough time for reading.
Norm: What did you find most useful in learning to write?
Howard: I still remember the day in high school that my English teacher commented on a composition of mine pointing out how active verbs and adjectives enriched prose -- like the “alarm clock jangled” instead of “rang.” And a wonderful free-lance writing mentor, Murray Teigh Bloom, whom I met him in the army, taught me a great lesson: “Start the article with a fire cracker. End it with a fire cracker.” It’s advice -- first get readers’ attention and end with something to remember -- that works for writing in any medium.
Norm: What's the most difficult thing for you about being a writer?
Howard: Choosing among all the projects on my To-Write wish list.
Norm: Do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two? Summarize your writing process.
Howard: Sometimes my mind seems to plot while I sleep. That’s how the musical I wrote book and lyrics for, The Million Dollar Bet, came about. (It’s had two readings so far and is in submission.)
I do a lot of light verse – like the 43 toddler poems in Adorable Scoundrels – and they just came from observation. Before my dog, Travis, died many of my other poems came while walking him. I’m never without index cards, and I’d come back with a poem a day.
Norm: Why did you choose to write children's books?
Howard: My wife was my muse. When she read poetry to our grandchildren, she always paused to let the kids guess the rhymes. So when I started writing the Guess Who Zoo – that happened when I was on a book tour with her in Australia and wrote animal postcards to our grandchildren --I decided to write clues in every line and leave the last word in the poem blank for them to guess the animal’s name. I’ve done the same for Guess Who Farm and Guess Who Neighborhood.
Norm: What did you enjoy most about writing these books?
Howard: The looks on children’s faces when they shouted out the names. I saw a lot of that when I formed a Guess Who Troupe that performed shows at museums and hundreds of birthday parties.
Norm: What purpose do you believe your children's book serve and what matters to you about the story?
Howard: Educators have told me that books in rhyme are fun and therefore encourage kids to want to read more.
Since my Guess Who poems are riddles, too, they’re twice the fun. The poems are preceded by rhymed narratives.
The Farm, for example, is about Old Macdonald’s son, Young MacDonald who wants a farm of his own. He buys a truckload of animals, but they won’t get out until he guesses their names. Young Mac is a poor guesser, so he asks kids to help him guess.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and your books?
Howard: At my WEBSITE: the umbrella site for
Norm: What is next for Howard Eisenberg?
Howard: I’m working on a memoir about life with my late wife. It’s called A Typewriter Built for Two and sub-titled My 50 Years with the Woman Who Co-Wrote the Bible.
Norm: As this interview comes to an end, what question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has?
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with your books?