Interview with Howard Eisenberg

When did you first start writing?
World War II had just ended and I was an 18-year-old PFC in Company K of the 357th Infantry bivouacked in an SS barracks. “I see in your file,” Captain Ingraham said, “that you’ve had two years of college. The Krauts left a mimeograph machine here when they took off. Write us a newspaper.” A half-dozen interviews and days later, the first copies of “The Rifleman” came hot off the mimeograph and I thought, “I’m a writer. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
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.”
What's the story behind your latest book?
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.
What are you working on next?
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.
What do you read for pleasure?
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.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
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.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Well, I can thank my wife for that. Breast cancer stole Arlene away 14 years ago, but she’ll always be my muse. Somewhere around 1990, we were on a book tour to Australia and New Zealand for her “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” (Her publisher had bought her a first-class plane ticket, but she traded it in for two coach seats so I could keep her company.) Then, while she was doing interviews in Melbourne, I visited its zoo and took notes about the animals for a book I had been thinking of writing about the world’s best zoos. On the long flights home with nothing special to write home about, I decided to write and mail Guess Who postcards to our six grandchildren. So at 30,000 feet, the idea for a Guess Who Zoo book was born.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
I didn’t have to think twice about that. It would be Arlene. I called her Wonder Woman and — because she spent so much of her scant time helping others — Saint Arlene. She never planned to be a writer — much less one whose “What to Expect” collaborations with out daughter, Heidi, have sold more than 50 million copies and been translated into scores of languages. She just wanted to be a wife and mom (50 years ago that’s what most women wanted), but that changed when. I hit Writer’s Block on a deadline for my first major magazine assignment. I spent two weeks writing, rewriting, and worrying and on the day before the piece was due. Finally, Arlene said, “Move over.” She got behind my portable electric typewriter, picked up all the pieces, connected them, and in two hours the article was done. For the first of hundreds of times, I happily typed “By Arlene and Howard Eisenberg” under the title — and we became a writing team. For that and 1,000 other reasons, if it could only happen, dinner with Arlene would be the best dinner of my life.
What’s the best thing about being an author?
I guess it’s seeing your ideas, your words, your thoughts in print. Maybe they won’t last forever, but it’s great to see kids enjoying them now. Like the afternoon I was coming back from Mascot Books, my publisher in Virginia, on an Amtrak train with the galleys of Guess Who Zoo in my bag. A kid of about five was on the seat behind me with his mom and I asked if she’d like to read them with her son. The trip was three hours or so and the book kept him busy almost all the way. She thanked me warmly, but even more important was that her son loved the book.
What question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview?
We all want the same question: “What are you working on now?” Especially if we’ve just finished it and it’s about to come out. For me, that’s “Adorable Scoundrels,” a book I began 25 years or so ago when Arlene was touring with “What to Expect in the Toddler Years.” I started writing poems about those tireless little terrorists then and Arlene would introduce me by saying, “If you’re going to have a toddler, you better have a sense of humor.” Then I’d read poems like these:
There are so many books about zoos and animals. Why would you want to write “just one more?”
I wanted to do something unique — rhyming books that wouldn’t just give kids facts about animals, but would be guessing games as well. Why In rhyme? Because educators agree that rhyming books — from Mother Goose to Dr. Seuss — make reading, so they encourage children to want to read more. Sort of an escalator that takes them from fun books upward to prose books. I wrote clues to the animals’ identities into every line of the poems and left the last word blank. That allowed them to guess the animal’s name and get a feeling of achievement along with the fun. There’s a Guess Who Zoo CD, too (for anyone who still plays CDs) with lively music that’s fun for little kids who haven’t learned to read yet.
Published 2016-04-24.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Adorable Scoundrels: A Treasury of Toddler Poems
Price: $10.99 USD. Words: 1,400. Language: English. Published: July 1, 2016. Categories: Nonfiction » Parenting » Reference, Nonfiction » Entertainment » Humor and satire
Reader's Favorite says, "Adorable Scoundrels by Howard Eisenberg is a fun collection of short verses about bringing up toddlers or children. There are 43 poems, each accompanied by bright and colorful illustrations. Parents and grandparents everywhere will recognize and empathize with the humorous take on life with youngsters that these poems convey."