Thursday, January 29, 2009

Stud Muffins for Me and YouTube

So we’d been featured on TV, on the radio, and in several newspapers. There was one final frontier: YouTube.

Andrea, our lovely agent, suggested we create a short video about the book that could be embedded on the phenomenon that is YouTube. I was very excited about this, as screenwriting has always been my first love. In fact, I’ve attended many screenwriting classes and have written several (unproduced) movie scripts, so the chance to write something that was guaranteed to be produced was too cool. And while Antonio Banderas or George Clooney never returned my calls, my models were a fabulous second choice to star in my Muffin Extravaganza.

I played with a couple of ideas for the video, from a documentary format to a fake newscast. I wrote several drafts, but there was something about them that just wasn’t working for me. I needed inspiration.

Then, in probably the most inappropriate place, it hit. We were sitting in church, quietly waiting for Mass to start, and the whole piece just started playing in my head. I truly doubt it was divinely inspired, as I don’t think my need for a YouTube script about hunky guys in a kitchen is high on His agenda. I think the moment of forced quiet gave my brain a chance to clear away the clutter of daily life. My only concern is that I would forget it before the last amen. Luckily I didn’t, and I frantically scribbled the rough draft in the church parking lot.

My story involved a variety of actors (not me—I’m much happier behind a camera than in front of it). I am beyond blessed to have a bunch of friends who were so generous to donate their talents and Boston terriers to this project. And so, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the cast, in order of appearance: Hobbs the dog as the Dog; my kids as the Kids; the amazing Thad (aka Mr. T.) who had double duty as the Husband and Narrator, Sheri, my Jazzercise instructor and owner of Hobbs as the Wife, and Ryan and Branden as the Studs in the kitchen. They were so good and funny. Thank goodness the music and narration were added in post production, because all you could hear in the raw video was me giggling in the background.

I’d also like to thank Tammy, the photographer for the book who doubled as the videographer and editor of this project, as she was both fabulous and affordable--attributes that I appreciated more than she will ever know.
Thanks also go to my friend Karen, who allowed us to use her lovely dining room that was prominently featured in the video. I would have used mine, but my milk-stained table with the plastic placemats didn’t quite scream “formal”.

Finally, I’d like to thank the Academy for this award. (Okay, I know this part doesn’t really fit. But I’m keeping it here for future reference, just in case…)

So without any further ado, I present (drum roll, please) the STUD MUFFIN VIDEO!

Note: No animals of any species were harmed in the making of this video. However, poor Hobbs was tormented to no end by the bowl of yummy muffins placed in front of him that he wasn't allowed to eat. We edited out the drool.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

When Hand Cramps are Fun

Some of the most fun we’ve had has been at the book signings. We’ve set up our table of books, muffin samples, and always several studs at over a dozen Barnes & Noble Booksellers from Corona to the Grove in Los Angeles, along with several wine tastings, fashion shows, and vendor fairs. All were exciting, as we were treated as celebrities of sorts—people asking for our autographs, people bringing us drinks, people acting impressed by our book. At each, I just kept thinking, “But I’m just a lowly ex-Catholic school teacher. Are you sure you’re talking to me?”

If I had to choose my favorite signing so far, it would have to be the Barnes & Noble in Rancho Cucamonga. Not only is this my hometown, but it was scheduled for the evening of the KCAL newscast (yes, that was a very busy and exciting day!) so word was out that we would be there. When I arrived, I was escorted to the signing area that had been set up toward the middle of the store. As I turned the corner, I saw something that took my breath away: A line of people. And not just a line, but a roped off line, like you would see at Disneyland. There was actually a need for rope! Whoo-hooo!

Quite a few of the models were able to attend this event as well, so store manager eventually had to set up three tables to accommodate all of us. For two hours straight we had people waiting, book in hand, evidently thrilled to have us scribble our names on the pages. Once again, I paused a half-second to take it all in, and it became overwhelming. I choked back the tears, partly because I didn’t want to look like a total dork in the middle of a Barnes and Noble, and partly because I was still wearing the false eyelashes from the TV interview, and I was afraid they’d start to melt off, mid-signature. But it was memorable moment that is forever burned into my mental scrapbook.

Another fun memory of that night came about halfway through the event. Lee, our Secret Center Muffin man, who had been featured on the newscast, had stepped a few feet from the table to take a short break. From the front of the store came a loud and very excited female voice yelling, “There he is!” The owner of the voice came charging across the store and stopped directly in front of him. Suddenly, she dropped to one knee and blurted, “Will you marry me?!” Lee, in his calm and unassuming way, helped her up to her feet, thanked her, and quickly pointed out his wife, Mairi who was nearby and laughing. I’m just thankful that both Lee and Mairi have been such good sports about all of this. Stud Muffins’ goal is to make people happy, not break up marriages.

I don’t think I’ve ever signed my name so many times in such a short period of time. There was a point were we had three events in a span of a week and a half, and while very thrilling, it finally took its toll. Shortly after the last one, I had to sign a credit card slip at a store. Without thinking, I did it with my fancy signature flourish I had practiced for the book, handed the slip back to the store clerk and said, “Thank you, and I hope you enjoy it.” When she gave me a strange look, I realized what I had just said. Embarrassed, I didn’t take the time to explain my response. I just took my bag and left quickly.

Hmm, I wonder if Rachael Ray has ever done that when she was buying her jumbo pack of toilet paper at Walmart?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Lights! Camera! False Eyelashes!

I barely had a chance to catch my breath from the radio interview when I got a call from KCAL news, which is a Los Angeles-based station affiliated with CBS. They heard about our book and asked if we would like to be featured on their newscast later that week. Would we like that? How about, “Would we love that?" “Would we adore that? “Would we do cartwheels down the main street of town, if we knew how?” Those would be the better questions. Between heart palpitations, I booked the gig.

They originally wanted to film it in my kitchen where the book got its start. While I have a decent sized kitchen, it is rather nondescript, along with being long and narrow. The thought of trying to comfortably squeeze in a bunch (herd? gaggle? pod?) of studs plus cameramen and a reporter gave me serious pause. To the rescue came a wonderful friend (thanks, Val!) who had an equally wonderful friend (thanks, Cindy!) with a gorgeous, huge, Tuscan-inspired kitchen. Problem solved.

The week became a whirlwind of muffin baking, clothes shopping, stud scheduling, demo preparing (think many little glass bowls filled with ingredients, a la any Food Network cooking show) and lots of jitters. The time flew, and the day arrived before I knew it. Ready or not, we were going to be on TV. Holy guacamole.

I arrived at the surrogate house an hour before the news crew was due and started unloading what felt like a small bakery. There were already quite a few people inside buzzing around, and the excitement was almost palpable. I spent several minutes setting up the demonstration area, putting out fresh muffins for “the magic of TV” baking—the ones that would be pulled out of the oven immediately after mixing the ingredients—and warning everyone not to eat the muffins that were being used for decoration, as they were over a week old and beyond stale, but still presentable for the camera.

Now it was my turn to become presentable for the camera, as I, too was over a week old and beyond stale. We hired a professional makeup artist, and I watched through the mirror as she applied layers of concealers, foundations, creams, and shadows (I believe I saw her dip into a vat of spackle from Costco to help camouflage my wrinkles.) The final touch was the application of false eyelashes, which I have never worn. They felt so weird, as if someone parked a pair of spiders on my lids, but I was told they were necessary as the camera lights would fade out my normal puny lashes. Heaven forbid I offend the viewing public by making them look at someone with less than lush lashes. (Side note: When I went home later that day, they scared my young daughter, who kept her distance and said repeatedly, “Mama, take them off!” So much for my critics.)

Cater Lee, the reporter from KCAL arrived, along with her cameraman, and the next two hours were a blur of sound checks, lighting adjustments, pre-camera interviews, and then the final taping. As with the radio experience, I had a head full of clever quips and smooth comments I wanted to say. What came out was completely not what I practiced. It was if I was outside my body, watching someone else answer the questions. What the--?! I asked Ms. Lee if I could have a do-over, but she insisted that what I said was just fine.

It was now nearing 11:00, and our piece was scheduled to be aired at 12:40. Ms. Lee and the cameraman quickly left and went as far as their van parked out front. When they didn’t leave right away, I went out to see if they were all right. Turns out that they had a full-fledged editing bay in the van, and they were cutting the film and laying down the voiceovers in the driveway. Modern technology is so amazing.

I went back inside to repack my small bakery and help clean up. The wonderful homeowner was kind enough to invite all of us to stay and watch the broadcast on a massive big screen TV in her beautiful home. When she brought out some champagne, it sealed the deal. I stayed.

She turned on the TV at noon, and we went about the last minute clean-up with champagne goblets in hand. I remember thinking that I should always clean the house this way, but then decided it might become very counterproductive very quickly. As we listened to the top stories, the traffic report, and the weather forecast, our excitement began to grow. Then, around 12:20, the worst possible thing happened. We stood in stunned horror as the studio reporters said the words that brought dread to our hearts: “We have breaking news of a police pursuit in South Los Angeles.” Noooooooooooooo!

Now, for those of you who do not live in the Southern California area, this is when ALL news comes to a screeching halt as some fool driver thinks he can outrun a squadron of police cars on his tail and a tracking news helicopter over his head. These things can drag out for hours, as the driver and his tails swerve in and out of (or against oncoming) traffic. And once the cameras have latched on to this pursuit, they will not break away until the fool driver crashes or is caught. That day, the world could have come under nuclear attack, and the cameras would have still been honed on the 1978 maroon Pinto on the 405 until the bitter end.

So there we sat, drinks still in hand and watching the clock tick closer to our 12:40air time. We suddenly became very ardent and vocal supporters of the police department as we yelled at the screen, “Cut him off at El Segundo!” “Use the frigging spike strip!” “It’s a Pinto, for heaven’s sake! Just plow him off the road!” The longer the chase went on, the louder we got. I’m sure it had nothing to do with the alcohol. It was just that we worked so hard for this moment. Okay, maybe the alcohol might have figured in a bit. But we were so close to getting on TV.

Then, the Muffin gods took pity on us, and we watched with great relief as the fool driver wiped out onto a patch of grass at 12:30. We gave a hearty cheer, but that was quelled quickly when the fool driver exited his car and became a fool runner. We were now on our feet, screaming at the pursuing officers to get him! Get him NOW! It seemed an eternity, but the officers finally caught up to the fool runner and tackled him to the ground. It was like we just watched the final play in the Superbowl where we had a huge bet placed on the winning team. We cheered. We hugged. We high-fived. We had even more champagne. It was a great moment.

So we were not bumped from the newscast after all. As our two-and-a-half minute segment played in all its big screen glory, which was a succinct mixture of interviews, baking demonstration, and description of the book, I was struck by three thoughts: 1.) My models looked and sounded great on camera, and I am so blessed to have them as a part of this crazy project, 2.) I guess Costco spackle can’t conceal that second chin I’ve tried to pretend I didn’t have; 2.) A dream come true cannot be quashed, not even by an L.A. car chase.

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