Wednesday, March 18, 2009

INTERVIEW: From Soaps to Novelist, Louise Shaffer Part 2

In Part 1 of the We Love Soaps interview with longtime daytime actress Louise Shaffer, we talked about her childhood and career as an actress on soaps from the late 1960s to the mid 1980s.

In Part 2, we discuss which soap role was her favorite, her transition to soap writer in the late 1980s and her present career as a successful novelist.

We Love Soaps: You had a brief run as Goldie Kane on ALL MY CHILDREN after SEARCH, which was your sixth soap role. Out of all the roles you played, which would you say was your favorite?
Louise Shaffer: For totally different reasons it would split between Serena/Josie and Rae.

We Love Soaps: Funny that you use the word "split" in referencing Serena/Josie.
Louise Shaffer: It already was split [laughs]. That was just such an incredible experience acting wise. I did a lot of research on that kind of personality and the way those personalities change. It was a real huge challenge. There was a wonderful director there Allen [Fristoe], who was married to the actress who played Ruth on ALL MY CHILDREN. Kyra Sedgwick's father [John Sedgwick] was the other director. Allen was just incredible and let you have your head. Then reigned you in. What he knew about actors was just amazing.

I loved being on RYAN'S and I thought it was a classy show. Saying Mary Ryan Munisteri and Claire Labine's lines was just a joy because it was so well written, in the early days. Josie/Serena was one year and, for an actor, that's an interesting arc. Eventually if you play a character long enough it starts getting changed and watered down, and then you have a fresh set of challenges which is to keep it fresh and alive. So they were two very different experiences, but those two would certainly be my most favorite.

We Love Soaps: P&G launched a Classic Soaps channel a few years ago which ran on AOL until the end of last year. Your episodes of SEARCH from the mid 1980s were running. Did you ever think when you were acting on the soaps that the episodes would someday be available again, either in their entirety or as clips on a video content provider like YouTube?
Louise Shaffer: I have to tell you, that's a little unnerving. There's a part of it that's a little bit weird. Part of the joy, for me, was that we were kind of under the radar. You weren't going to see your show in reruns. I took a lot more chances that I would have with my acting. It's kind of like, "Well, it's one day", so you try something and it doesn't quite come off, it's not going to be there for posterity. I don't know how people do it today.

When I started in the business they were just starting to tape stuff. And the actors who had been doing it live for 10 or 15 years before I walked onto the scene would say, "Jesus, we used to be so free, because we knew it wasn't going to be recorded, and it was like a theater thing, and you try stuff and it if didn't work, so what, we'd be back tomorrow".

We Love Soaps: I have always felt that daytime soaps could generate additional revenue by making some of these classic shows or episodes available to fans in some way, even if it's online for a small fee. The P&G online channel was one example. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Louise Shaffer: Procter & Gamble is the worst. They had so much product they could have sold and packaged and put in into DVDs and stuff like that. I think you have to go back to the basic culture. This was never seen as product, it was always an arm of advertising. Back in the day all this stuff was produced out of the advertising offices. The casting directors were casting people who were working in their Benton & Bowles advertising. You would go to the advertising agency to audition, not the studio. It wasn't seen as an artistic or literary or even entertainment thing. It was about finding something that would make people watch their commercials.

We Love Soaps: Had you always written, how did you transition from actress to writer.
Louise Shaffer: I always loved writing. And I had played around with it. I was someone who on a weekend instead of going out I would write little think peices and got a couple of things published, but I wanted to be an actor. That was my gig and I had trained for that, and I thought that was what I was going to do with my life. Then I got fired from RYAN's and then there was really no more work out there for women my age.

I started writing for RYAN'S because I called Claire and said, "Claire, the handwriting is on the wall here. I'm not about to get my face done, and even if I do I don't think I'll get any work. Can you you help me out and send me a few breakdowns, and give me some pointers, and then I'm going to try to peddle myself as a dialogue writer". So she gave me some outlines and I sent her a sample script and she said, "I don't have any pointers for you, I want to hire you." So I worked for her for a year, then we had the strike, which was bad, and then I worked for her until RYAN'S went off the air.

I have to tell you I think I was a lousy soap script writer because I really wanted to write my own characters. You can do it, and sometimes I think I pulled it off really well, but then I got tired of it.

We Love Soaps: Your first novel, "The Three Miss Margarets," was released in 2004. What lead you to write the book?
Louise Shaffer: I had always had the idea for "The Three Miss Margarets" because we lived in Georgia for nine years, and it was a small town. A couple of things hit me. One was that incredible Southern love of local history and rootedness. The other thing was I have always been someone who didn't want to take a position on a morality, but you get yourself into a small town which is mostly Baptist and Methodist and people know what's right or wrong and really have strong opinions about it. And I came up with these three women who either righted a wrong or committed an act of vigilantism depending on your point of view.

I had this amazing agent who I had pitched the story to seven years earlier and he kept it alive. I wrote it and finished it two weeks before 9/11. He read it and it was four days after 9/11 and he said, "Louise, I think it's a good story and book, but the only thing people are writing about now is the apocalypse." We waited two weeks and then he sold it. And that was sort of the beginning of my novel career. I want to be a novelist. I like having my own stories to tell and I like having my own characters.

We Love Soaps: In 2006, your book "The Ladies of Garrison Gardens" came out and then "Family Acts" a year later. Are the books based on your experiences and influences?
Louise Shaffer: There is no show business component in "The Three Miss Margarets." It's a real small town Southern story. Then "Ladies of Garrison Gardens" has a showbiz component and it is a sequel and then "Family Acts." These are my three Southern books. I don't know why I needed to write about the South first. It was far enough away from my own history and yet I was living down there and I'm married to a Southerner [Roger Crews] and I felt I had enough experience that I could write it. And for some reason I didn't want to write something closer to my own background. But my stories are all fiction and have nothing to do with anything in my life.

We Love Soaps: "Serendipity," your latest novel, is coming out March 24. I read the first chapter on your website,, and really enjoyed it. Carrie is dealing with the loss of her mother. Did you draw from any real life experiences in writing Carrie or this story in general?
Louise Shaffer: "Serendipity" is me writing about the Northeast which is where I grew up, and writing about an Italian-American family. On my mom's side I am Italian-American. And it's writing about show business and very specifically musical comedy which was a field I was in love with all of my life. I didn't do too many musicals, but loved everyone I did. And it's live theater in New York slightly before when I was working in live theater in New York. To that extent, it has some of my experiences in it, but it's all fiction.

We Love Soaps: What would you say if a producer approached you about turning one of your books into a movie?
Louise Shaffer: Thank you, Jesus. I think I write very cinemagraphic books actually. We've had nibbles and offers and been under consideration and then they'd go into turnaround or whatever they do. But we're hoping.

We Love Soaps: Will you be doing any book signings for "Serendipity"?
Louise Shaffer: Oh yes. The schedule will be on my website,

We Love Soaps: You've acted on daytime and primetime, done theater, written for soaps and now are writing your own books. Do you find writing these novels has been the most fulfilling experience for you as an artist?
Louise Shaffer: That's a really good question. Writing is fulfilling in a way that I need it to be now. When I was younger, I needed attention and I liked having people watch me do what I do. I'm older now and I still like getting up in front of people and talking, and I enjoy when I do a reading, but I'm a lot less in love with that than I used to be. Maybe I grew up? This way I get to do the majority of my creative work in private and I kind of like that.

We Love Soaps: Can we expect more books in your future?
Louise Shaffer: Well, now that depends on my well my books sell [laughs].

We Love Soaps: Thank you so much for your time, Louise. It was a real pleasure speaking with you.

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