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This bi-weekly portion of my Web Site will feature abridged chapters from the book StarWords and previous newspaper columns PLUS inspiring new insights about the stars I have interviewed.

And while it may seem self-aggrandizing to start with me, I have been asked to do this by many readers. Remember: everyone is a star!

Writer Susan Cantrell Spills the Beans
by Susan Cantrell

Q: Why is this the first time youíve consented to an interview?
A: Because Iím a control freak and thatís a nightmare for any interviewer. Plus, Iím a very private person and nowhere near as generous as the thousands of people Iíve interviewed. Oh, I did permit Don Bowen at KRML to interview me on air, and he was a complete gentleman. Still, I sweated bullets and swore never to do it again . . . until now.

Q: Sorry, Iím supposed to ask your age. But you can decline.
A: I plead the Fifth.

Q: Suit yourself. Are you married?
A: I was married, married, and then almost married. And with no children.

Q: Why?
A: Dad once said, ďSusan, youíre a hard person to live with.Ē As for kids, they adore me. But I decided after years of teaching English that I preferred to leave them at school at 3 oíclock.

Q: So, did you major in journalism?
A: Anthropology. I was to become the next Margaret Mead. But, aside from digging up Miwok and Yokut Indian bones (this is the most revealing thing Iíll tell you: Iím a Central Valley girl) I couldnít make any money at it. However, the ďstudy of manĒ was the perfect background for my career. I got a lot of experience interrogating every boy and man who crossed my path.

Q: Have you ever been in therapy?
A: Have been most of my adult life. Aside from this interview, itís the only time I get to interview myself and plumb my depths.

Q: Why do you get such a charge out of interviewing people?
A: A handwriting expert once told me Iím a chameleon. He was right. I take on the persona of every person I interview. An interview with Joan Fontaine? I end up arching my brow for the next week. Glen Campbell? I sing ďWichita LinemanĒ for a month. I guess my interview subject Louis Lebherz, world-renowned opera singer, said it best. Each person he encounters, whether the trash collector or Placido Domingo, he sees their spark of divinity. And it is so with me. I take a good two hours with each of my subjects, usually over tea and cookies, during which I steep myself in their life. Oh! The joy of peering into anotherís home, lifestyle and mental closet is indescribable. I really should take a cab there because Iím so absorbed that when I leave, I can barely remember how to drive. Whether itís about a billion dollar business they built from scratch, how they overcame monumental loss, rejection or disability, or how they express their passion on canvas, through dancing, inventing or with boxing gloves Ė I am immensely inspired by their energy and commitment to excellence.

Q: Are you committed to excellence?
A: When I review my 20-plus-years writing career, I realize I am. I joyfully challenge myself to improve. I love fitting the puzzle pieces of an interview together to form something that readers will read, at least once, before lining their cat litter boxes or bird cages with it. One faithful reader, Nancy Welch, a UC Berkeley grad in world literature, wrote yesterday to say she had followed my career from day one and, ď. . . your writing has gone from an awed ingťnue to journalistic excellence.Ē Iíd never met her, honestly, and I didnít pay her to say that.

Q: Celebrities and VIPs, who have been interviewed ad infinitum, often say yours was the most enjoyable. Why is that?
A: Because I was a cat in a former life. My curiosity killed me nine times until I became a human. Now curiosity fuels my creativity. Iím always thinking up quirky questions that, when pondered and answered, reveal to my subjects aspects of themselves that were heretofore unknown.

Q: Dina Ruiz Eastwood says her favorite of your signature offbeat interview questions is: in what ways are you a weirdo? So?
A: Got another two hours? OK, this may be enough: If you pass me on the ďwreckĒ trail along Monterey Bay, Iím the one riding a dorky looking bike with extended handlebars. Iím wearing a red poncho flying behind me like Little Red Riding Hood, and Iím grinning and ringing my newly installed bike bell.

Q: Sounds more geeky than weird. Anyway, you say your writing started with poetry?
A: Yes. At age six I wrote: ďRoses are red, violets are blue; I like peanut butter, can you swim?Ē Then, 22 years ago, I marched into the Carmel Pine Cone newspaper and demanded to write a poetry column, as I had bi-monthly for The Monterey County Herald (Iíd also started writing feature articles for them). The Cone wasnít interested. Instead, they needed a society writer. All I had to do was wield a camera (my clunky Canon AE-1 in those days), quaff champagne, devour hors díoeuvres (I eventually learned to spell it) and brazenly corner celebrities and grill them.

Q: What has this got to do with verse?
A: Because, poetry is capturing the essence of a person, place or thing, and my years of writing it had well prepared me for profiling people.

Q: Who was your scariest interview?
A: James Bond.

Q: Who?
A: Sean Connery. It was at the Marvin Davis party during the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am golf tourney. I had no problem interviewing Michael Keaton, Billionaire Davis and his glam wife, Famous Amos, Robert Wagner, etc. But when I walked up to this towering paragon of incisive wit and self-assuredness, I was rendered speechless. It was a non-interview. Another one was Clint Eastwood. He was on Maui and I was here, with a lousy fever, wearing a headset while lying in my Bark-a-lounger. I couldnít type as fast as he talked (I always use a computer) and I was too shy to ask him to slow down. Man, did I sweat it.
However, it was worth it, because not only will it appear in StarWords, but he also wrote a foreword to the book.

Q: Hereís a question Iíve always wanted to ask: in what ways are you suicidal?
A: Easy. I do road rage. But Iím working on it.

Q: Yikes! What is your political persuasion?
A: I get all my political news from Comedy Centralís ďThe Daily ShowĒ and ďThe Colbert Report.Ē Iím a bleeding-heart tree-hugger who also has many Republican friends.

Q: Whatís your secret?
A: We never talk politics or religion.

Q: Regarding developing the Monterey Peninsula, I say:
a) build underground
b) save the whales
c) make a moratorium on building mansions that no one lives in
d) let Ďer rip
e) other
A: All except (d). My God is ďgo out doorsĒ and every time I see one more inch of our breathtaking Eden paved over, I cringe and cuss. I also understand (or try to) a parallax view: people have to have homes; our economy must thrive, etc.

Q: So, youíre a pantheist and a chameleon?
A: Guilty as charged.

Q: In what ways are you becoming more enlightened?
A: Character building is more important than anything else because no one can take that away from you. The ending of my column with The Herald has been a major transformation. My cat has cancer. Some of my friends recently died. My financial status is scary. I pray nobody will sue me for typos when my book comes out. And while I wish many things, the epiphany Iíve had lately is that people, things and situations are transient, and you will always fear their loss. Iíve interviewed a lot of multi-millionaires and they are not necessarily any more emotionally secure than people of meager income. Iíve walked enough miles in peopleís moccasins, Buster Browns or Ferragamos to know: it ainít about money. We hear this all our lives, but eventually, if weíre open to continual lessons, we finally get it in the solar plexus.

Q: So what is of lasting value?
A: Love, patience, kindness, courage, integrity, compassion, creative expression, to name a few. And I donít mean to be loved. I paraphrase Gwyneth Paltrow when she said the only way we can truly experience love is by giving Ė not getting - love. Look at it this way: Someone can tell you what it feels like to bungee jump, but you wonít really know until you do it yourself.

Q: Whatís been your most loving act?
A: My most courageous one: being at my motherís side during her death.

Q: Do you have any disabilities?
A: I havenít been tested but I seem to be somewhat dyslexic. But thatís OK with me since I hear dyslexics are mostly geniuses. I also have a sleep disorder in which my legs want to dance all night long. It can wreak havoc.

Q: Speaking of, are you a dancer?
A: Yes, by myself. Iím a leader, not a follower, and thus I trample menís feet and waltz them into the walls. I would like in my next life to be a dancer or tightrope walker because I am such a klutz. I can liken myself to a ball bearing in a pinball machine, slamming against the walls of life. However, I think this goes hand in hand with the fact that my creativity is like a shotgun of confetti Ė and if you want my essence, thatís it. A million exploding colorful pieces . . .
P.S. If this interview generates enough interest, there may be a sequel.

 

 

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