Hollywood Stories - author interview - Stephen Schochet

Author Stephen Schochet
Stephen Schochet

Author Stephen Schochet is a professional tour guide in Hollywood who years ago began collecting little known, humorous anecdotes to tell to his customers. His new book Hollywood Stories: Short, Entertaining Anecdotes About the Stars and Legends of the Movies! Contains a timeless treasure trove of colorful vignettes featuring an amazing all-star cast of icons including John Wayne, Charlie Chaplin, Walt Disney, Jack Nicholson, Johnny Depp, Shirley Temple, Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, Errol Flynn, and many others both past and contemporary. Tim Sika, host of the radio show Celluloid Dreams on KSJS in San Jose has called Stephen, “The best storyteller about Hollywood we have ever heard." Available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or wherever books are sold. For more information go to http://www.hollywoodstories.com

Welcome to The Writer's Life, Stephen Schochet.  Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

A: I’m a tour guide in Hollywood and I have been writing for about twenty-five years.  Years ago I got a job as limo driver and wrote while I was waiting for the customers.  I was asked to by some of the clients to give tours; in college I had become a bit of a film buff and I got a good reaction.  Gradually it dawned on me that I’d rather give tours because it was sharing information and using my head rather than just driving people from A to B although a lot of limo drivers are great tour guides themselves. 

Can you please tell us about your book and why you wrote it?

A:  My book is called Hollywood Stories: Short, Entertaining Anecdotes About the Stars And Legends of the Movies!  The title sums up what the book is about; it has over a thousand vignettes about actors, producers, directors, movies and television shows. I kept researching and telling fun little tales to tell to the people on the bus and to keep the tours fresh.  The overall reaction was so good I had the idea that they could be told anywhere.  On the tour you can’t always finish the stories; a new site will come up, someone will ask you a question etc., so writing the book gave me the opportunity to be as precise as possible.  I’d say the book was more built than written.

What kind of research was involved in writing (please italicize book title here – no caps or quote marks)?

A:  I read over 500 books, talked to valets and housekeepers, and watched interviews, read magazines, the Internet, wherever I could get a good story from.  I tried to keep things fresh for example I wanted to do a story about Marlene Dietrich who knew very little about:

Marlene Dietrich found her true calling entertaining the Allied troops in 1943. The forty-two-year-old actress, who never enjoyed making movies, got a crash course in how to talk to audiences. Nothing could be tougher or more fulfilling than performing in front of young men who might die in battle the next day. The Berlin-born American citizen overcame suspicions that she was actually an Axis spy, and was proud of spurning Hitler’s request to return to Germany. After World War II ended, she enjoyed being a lusty cabaret singer for many years and tried never to take herself too seriously. Marlene, whose long list of romances ranged from John Wayne to General Patton, once mentioned to her husband that she should have married Hitler back in the thirties, and then there would have been no war. She laughed when he agreed and stated that the Fuhrer would have killed himself much sooner.  

The story about Marlene and Hitler came from a People Magazine article I found on the net; once I had the punch line it was a matter of going to other sources to find more bio information that lead up to it.  Giving tours helped me get used to being very economical with getting out a lot of information with less words; it blended over into my writing style.

Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing? 

A:  I’m self-published so it’s not bumpy as far as having your manuscript rejected but everything takes longer.  You do lose your chance to get reviewed in trade publications like Publisher’s Weekly or Library Journal unless you pay them.  Hollywood Stories, is actually my third project, previously I had done two audio only projects called Tales of Hollywood and Fascinating Walt Disney.  When I recording Tales of Hollywood, I just put a cover on it and tried to sell it, I had no idea what an ISBN was, no idea how to market it; I just was filled with enthusiasm for storytelling.  Over time I was able to get both Tales of Hollywood and Fascinating Walt Disney into bookstores and they did well though I made some very costly mistakes mostly due to inexperience. Things like changing the price without changing the bar code, and not knowing that would not read right on the bookstore scanners when people purchased the CDs. It led to tons of product being returned to me and it was devastating. I consider Hollywood Stories to be a fresh marketing and with the advent of e-books the whole industry has changed and it is thrilling for content providers. 

For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?

A:  Well again, that doesn’t apply because it is self-published.  Hollywood Stories is about twenty years of research and then once I actually sat down and started writing it took about ten months, then about another two for the type setting and editing.

Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is?  If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?

A:  No I work with publicists from time to time, no agent yet.  I have not ruled it out.  My advice is no matter who work with plan and try to enjoy doing as much of it on your own as possible.

Do you plan subsequent books?

A:  Not yet, but I am always collecting new material so I’m sure another project will happen in good time.  I have recently written several articles for BigHollywood.com and other web sites.

Can you describe your most favorite place to write?

A: My living room; it’s less distracting than coffee houses.  I tried the public library but my keyboard banging disturbed some patrons.

If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book? 

A:  Some sort of infomercial where I get to tell about 4 or 5 stories that appears on National TV

How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

A:  It’s everything; NOTHING beats enthusiasm and passion for your own work.  I have done a lot of radio interviews, less TV although I’d like to do more, been reviewed by bloggers and written articles.  There is not one thing. One of my marketing inspirations was reading about the book, The Shack, the writer and publishers just did non-stop promotion for about two years before the book really took off.  Some books may do better quicker, some authors may hit the lotto but I think most of us have to keep plugging along.  The trick is to get into a place where you enjoy it and to remember not to worry about immediate sales.  Every time you let someone know about the book, whether it’s a radio interview or a speaking engagement you are raising awareness, maybe it will catch someone’s fancy later on, or they’ll remember it during gift giving season.  At the same time you can’t expect to give up your day job, so there will times where you have to overcome being tired and balance your time.

What’s the most common reason you believe new writers give up their dream of becoming published and did you almost give up?

A:  Well, fear of rejection again that didn’t apply to me in the getting published sense but when I first started I was intimidated by the idea of getting my first project, The Tales of Hollywood audio book in stores like Barnes & Noble.  How could my little CD be on the shelf next to Mark Twain or Stephen King?  Then I read an interview with Chuck Jones, the late great Warner Bros. animator that really helped me; I even wrote a story about it for my book called Be All You Can Be:

Legendary animator Chuck Jones identified more with his less-than-perfect characters. Bugs Bunny was such an invincible force that he had to be minding his own business before he was provoked. Only then could the rabbit be justified in raining down complete destruction on his enemies. Chuck Jones felt more kinship with the perennial loser Daffy Duck. Likewise, the ever-hungry Coyote was made more sympathetic than the invulnerable Roadrunner. The helpless carnivore, that was totally responsible for his own destruction, represented Jones’ personal ineptness with tools. How could someone with such an inferiority complex be a success in his own career? Chuck often told the story how when he was a kid in art school, he wanted to quit because the other students were so much more talented than he was. He changed his mind when the teacher advised him, “Just be the best Chuck Jones you can be.” 

Any final words of wisdom for those of us who would like to be published?

A: With the advent of e books and blog promotion opportunities I’d give serious thought to self-publishing.  Read The Self Publishing Manuals by Dan Poynter.  Also get critiqued by someone honest before you attempt to publish and remember even the best go through the ringer sometimes.  When Michael Crichton wrote in an early draft of Jurassic Park he told the story through the eyes of a kid and friends hated it.  He listened and made the necessary changes; it’s better to be savagely critiqued BEFORE the book comes out.

Thank you for your interview, Stephen.  I wish you much success!


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