When you’re an author and you love to write – and doesn’t that just sum me up to a T – it’s tough signing on to the drudgery side of the publishing biz. Now, I’m not complaining, but my role in the last few days has been to play Inspector Clouseau and chase down the rights holders of lyrics and photos. If I thought my research skills were good before, I've really had to fall back on them for this endeavor.
You see, my publisher, Margot Wilson, insists that we have proper accreditation – as well as permission – from the companies or individuals who own various parts of Ruth Lowe’s creative life. This is for my newest book, “Until I Smile At You” which comes out in 2-3 weeks. Now, if you’re saying, “Who’s Ruth Lowe”, let me remind you that one of the 20th century's most enduring musical talents was a superstar whose astonishing story has never been told until now. Her song, “I’ll Never Smile Again”, dynamited Frank Sinatra's career into the stratosphere in 1940. It charted on Billboard for an unheard of 12 weeks, following which she went on to write Sinatra’s theme song, “Put Your Dreams Away” (in a humorous story which I recount in the book), as well as 50 other tunes for Broadway and Hollywood. As Nancy Sinatra writes in the book’s Foreword, "There’s a reason why 'I’ll Never Smile Again' has endured: it was a perfect song, interpreted by the perfect singer, at the perfect time.”
This is also the ideal time for a story like “Until I Smile At You”: the world is facing increased levels of stress and anxiety and having a positive, feel-good story of resilience like this is fitting.
Did you know that “I’ll Never Smile Again” has been recorded by more than 150 legends of jazz? And it’s still being recorded (I open the book in-studio, as famed Blood, Sweat & Tears singer David Clayton-Thomas records his own unique version). And in today's era of women claiming their full rights, consider that Ruth was one of the earliest liberated females who worked in a man's world and never let her gender, nor her attractive good looks, get in the way of her outstanding talent.
In Ruth Lowe, we are talking about a lady who’s been called “One of the Architects of the American Ballad”, she is the recipient of a Grammy Award, her songs have been inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame and she’s about to be added to the Great American Songbook Foundation Hall of Fame. And yet, no one has been privy to her life story until now. I was personally selected by her family to write the book.
One of the interesting features of “Until I Smile At You” is my interviews with such luminaries as Bernie Taupin (Elton John's lyricist for over 50 years), Sir Tim Rice (who writes lyrics for Andrew Lloyd Webber), Alan Bergman (who, with his wife Marilyn, has written award-winning songs for Barbra Streisand, Sinatra, etc.), David Clayton-Thomas (we join the famed Blood Sweat and Tears singer as he records "I'll Never Smile Again" himself), the late Frank Sinatra Jr., music historian Chuck Granata, Sinatra biographer James Kaplan, Nancy Sinatra, and others… all of whom cast a glow on Ruth’s talents. I also feature my talk with noted businessman/philanthropist Seymour Schulich who learned a lot at the beginning of his career from Ruth’s second husband.
But… I digress. Back to the issue of Margot loving my manuscript, yet starting to ask me questions… the kind that ensure we don’t end up being sued for using things without permission. Who knew that music publishing companies own the rights to “I’ll Never Smile Again” and “Put Your Dreams Away”? And who knew that various photographers own the rights to photos of Ruth and Frank and Tommy and Seymour (as in Schulich). So, it’s fallen on me to track down these organizations, do the research, and then negotiate for the best rates to use the lyrics and photos. And then nail down with them specific verbiage for accompanying each insertion.
It’s not been fun.
But the good news is, I’m almost done: I only have a day or two to go and we should have everything we need.
Man! It’s been a learning experience.
But who says ya can’t teach an ole dogs new tricks?
Now that I've finally found my new publisher, Castle Carrington Publishing Group, it’s time to start the promotion train. This is where the fun is!
First up, impresario Jaymz Bee has just interviewed me for his Vodcast:
Now, I’m not one to complain, but I’m here to tell you that getting published these days is so very demanding, frustrating and challenging. Since Amazon took over the book selling world, profits have become very tricky. Most of the big publishers have merged into 5 big units and the few small guys who still try to eke out a living… well, they still try to eke out a living. Unless your name is King or Rowling or Grisham, publishers just don’t want to talk to you. Believe me: I’ve tried. Time and Time and Time again, I’ve tried!
BUT!!! I’m thrilled to tell you I’ve not only found a publisher who wants to bring my newest book to market, they want to publish 3 of my books! I’m really pumped about this and look forward to a long term relationship with Castle Carrington Publishers of Victoria B.C.
Those books? Well…
“Until I Smile At You” features the celebrated story of Ruth Lowe who wrote the song that dynamited Frank Sinatra’s career into the stratosphere, “I’ll Never Smile Again”. “It was a perfect song, interpreted by the perfect singer, at the perfect time,” says Nancy Sinatra in the book’s Foreword. This astonishing story has bever been told until now, and Jennings was personally selected by the late songwriter’s family to write the book. Tom Sandler, Ruth’s son, told him, "I don't want mom's story forgotten. I now know I've met the man to ensure her life will continue to shine. You're a writer, a singer, you love the Great American Songbook and you love mom's song. Could there be anyone better to write her story?"
"Pushing The Boundaries! How To Get More Out Of Life” is an intriguing account of 31 people from around the world who reveal how each has overcome obstacles to achieve success in life. As Jack Canfield, renowned co-author of the "Chicken Soup For The Soul®" series says in the book's Foreword, "Having the conviction to reach beyond your fears and take chances means you’re ready to achieve lasting success." The profiles include daredevil tightrope adventurer Nick Wallenda; intersex Belgian super-model Hanne Gaby Odielle; doctor of change Patch Adams; design wizard Tommy Hilfiger; Mount Everest record holder Alan Mallory; corporate glass ceiling smasher Katie Taylor; disabilities champion Rick Hansen; platform-merging NBC Chair Bob Wright; and many other inspirational individuals.
“Being Happy Matters" showcases 37 people from around the world who talk with me about staying happy in unhappy times. Celebrated sociologist Dr. Christine Carter from the University of California has labelled me “A Happiness Expert” due to the depth of research I commit to in my writing.
One of the reasons I elected to go with Castle Carrington is that the principal person there, Margot Wilson, has committed to getting “Until I Smile At You” out by late November so we can hit the Christmas market, the largest book buying time of the year. Most publishers will take at least a year to bring a book to market but Margot agreed to pull out all the stops and make this happen!
So, there ya go. It seems to have taken a lifetime but now I can focus on writing and not trying to get my work published. A relief to be sure!
Hmmmm... how to react to the news about President Donald Trump testing positive for Covid-19? I’m just honest enough (hope you are too) to acknowledge there was a side of me that did a “Yahoo” salute when I heard the news. Poetic justice, right? After all, this is the train-wreck-of-a-man who is like the drunk driver who kills another innocent driver who just happens to be out for a joy-ride. But my euphoria was quickly replaced (c’mon, you knew I wasn’t really that bad, didn’t you?) by sorrow for anyone who comes down with this vicious, pernicious disease. And I’m truly sorry the President has tested positive: it’s no way for anyone to live their lives.
Interestingly, amid my jockeying back and forth between feelings on this diagnosis, I was besieged by an associate who is absolutely convinced it was a Trumpian trick: fake news. “C’mon PJ,” he said,” you know as well as me that Trump lies about everything. Why stop here? His ‘admission’ of a positive test gets him out of the next debate and leaves him claiming, on the other side, about just how easy it is to beat the virus, you know, ‘something I’ve been saying all along’.”
OK, gotta tell you I’ve never been a conspiracy theory guy at the best of times (with the exception of my belief in the fact that Lee Oswald didn’t kill JFK), but I didn’t see this one coming. Looking back, as soon as I heard the news about Trump’s positive diagnosis, it never occurred to me it wasn’t authentic. But... hmmm... my pal has a point. Trump is an inveterate liar. Why stop here?
Going to Walter Reed pretty much out the kibosh to my friend’s theory.
But what’s worrisome is that there is so much that’s false about the current U.S. president that anyone even stopped to think his claim might just be bogus. And that’s sad.
I don’t normally do book reviews but I’m making an exception to talk about poor Mary Trump’s attempt to use her odious Uncle Donald’s notoriety to get the public to read about her father. The first 130 pages of “Too Much and Never Enough” showcase her dad Freddy’s ineptitude as a dull drunk lacking in the fortitude and backbone to stand up to his soulless father. And while this certainly contributed to abetting Donald’s development, the facts could have, and should have, been collected in a defining couple of paragraphs (such as the summation info on the back cover), not taking up nearly the first 2/3 of a book supposedly about “The world’s most dangerous man”. Frankly, I was bored with the over-abundance of detail on Freddy Trump by the time his grieving daughter got around to what was billed as the topic of this book. Too bad.
Don’t get me wrong: I am no fan of Donald Trump. But the atrocious character flaws the author attributes to her uncle could well have been defined in a smart essay, not in this thin book disguised as a cry out for public recognition of her sad father. By the time we end up at Chapter 14, “A Civil Servant in Public Housing”, and the Epilogue, we finally get the psychotherapist’s view of Trump, surely a delineation we should have expected way back in Chapter 1. (That being said, I find Mary’s assertion baseless that Trump wishes it was him putting his knee on George Floyd’s neck and killing him.) And does she really place Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un and Mitch McConnell in the same sentence, rendering this endearing threesome as bearing “more than a passing resemblance to Fred” referring to Trump’s foul father? Why, she even attempts a final-inning last chance to convince us of the legitimacy of her pathetic parent by describing his “filial responsibility and his decency” as excuses for his lack of gumption. Enough already!
It’s all too sad Mary, but I’m afraid I cannot recommend your book. I can suggest, however, that you find yourself a good shrink to deal with your clearly unresolved family issues. You’ll feel better for it.
Whoa! That didn’t take long. A friend has already objected to my using the term buffoons to describe the folks to the south. Fair enough, but I’ll stand by the word because there are way too many blockheads in the U.S. today – sorry folks, but most of you dolts are voters siding with the Republican Party these days – and it’s clear you’ve given up on your country. That makes you a buffoon in my books.
Why should I respect you or show you any admiration anymore? And I say "given up" because no one seems to care about the once mighty and formerly important USA. All you chumps seem to do is argue over what party should be in power. And that is so sad. You’ve devolved to a point where you place cash before country.
Let me ask you a question. Has anyone on either side of the political fence stopped to consider: so, what happens if the other side does get in? I mean seriously. You ought to stop and think about that for a second or two. If you’re a Republican, will your country up and die if a Democrat gets in? Don’t think so. And if you’re a Dem, will the GOP destroy the U.S.A? Nope. Seems to me that history shows there have been periods of great growth when both Democratic or Republican presidents ruled the land. So what’s the worst that can happen, folks? And based on that, why don't you start considering your country, not your party.
Sadly, this is a question that’s avoided by stalwarts on both sides. And the fight goes on while the country’s reputation sinks further and further. In my nation, Canada, a new poll has just revealed that our view of the United States has sunk to its lowest level in years. Seems I’m joined by my countrymen who don’t like buffoons either. The poll tracks a similar trend in the U.K., France, Germany, Japan and Australia.
The U.S.A. is clearly going to “hell in a hand cart”, and this journey is aided and abetted by the dunderheads who rule the land, like Trump and McConnell. I can only hope that sane people in the GOP (please tell me there are some!) will see the chicanery being offered for what it is and decide to put their country before their politics.
Oh, and by the way, while I confess to being a political junkie, I must acknowledge I don’t know where the rule is harbored that confirms a U.S. president may support the nomination of a justice entering the Supreme Court and then have that individual stay in power for the rest of their lives. These days, that can mean 40+ years. That’s a hell of a long time for the mood of a president - liberal or conservative - to dictate. Isn’t it time to re-write the rules? Like, maybe having Supreme Court Justices only having an 8 year term, beginning when a new president takes over. Then, at the end of the President’s term in 4-8 years, they must vacate their seat. Now, at the risk of losing good, experienced men and women, I also propose that they can run again, attempting to re-up their seats on the bench. Not only will this limit the silly 40+ year potential reign, but cause the justices themselves to be more diligent, knowing they'll be voted out in less than 8 years if they're not on top of the nation's mood. And along with this will come re-solidified respect for an important American institution.
I’m just saying…
What a disgrace that the U.S. Republican Party has no shame at all. It is so sad to see the international reputation of the United States degrading further day by day because of President Trump. But now, the odious McConnell ignores his own heinous behavior in denying President Obama his choice of Supreme Court justice and instead plans to push Trump’s selection ahead.
I’m a Canadian so have no dog in this race. Yet, I can say that it is so very sad that Justice Ginsburg’s death must be marked by this repulsive behavior.
So long U.S.A… it was good to know you when you were worthy of my respect. No longer: sadly, you have become a nation of buffoons.
I was talking with an associate recently who told me something I’ll confess I never tire of hearing: “Peter, you have amazing interviewing skills.” I suppose this goes back to honing such attributes in my on-air radio days. “You get people talking about things they wouldn’t normally discuss,” my friend continued, “and that’s a real art. But more than that: you then go onto report what you’ve learned not so much as an interview but as a discussion, and one that we’re allowed to sit in on, whether across the kitchen table, the desk, the dining table or wherever. It becomes very personal.”
Fact is, I do seem to be able to form a more personal relationship with the people I’m “interviewing” for a book. (Truth be told, I really don’t like that word “interviewing” because it suggests something, I guess, more pre-canned, more practiced. I don’t interview people. But I sure as hell enjoy having conversations with folks who reveal neat things to me.) Like Rick Hansen, the “Man in Motion” whose round-the-world tour in a wheelchair brought attention to people with disabilities. As Rick and I chatted, he made a stunning admission to me: "Before the accident that left me paralyzed, I had a real negative attitude towards people with disabilities. I thought they should be pitied."
My conversation with Marina Nemat yielded an equally startling revelation. She’d quite literally defied fate – certain execution as a 16-year-old Iranian dissident – at Evin prison in Tehran. Marina told me that after escaping to North America and composing her memoirs, the PTSD she still suffers from after more than 25 years is acutely debilitating. “There is a sense of panic, and anger, hatred, disgust. … You basically lose control of your body.” She told me she‘d never discussed this publicly before.
And in a no-holds-barred exploration of his life, I learned how George Cohon – a mastermind of McDonald’s Restaurants who defied the odds and took a grueling 14 years to break into the Russian market – dealt with anti-Semitism. Arriving home one afternoon, he overheard his neighbor state, “Look, the dirty Jew is back.” Cohon called his lawyer and told him to buy the property next door anonymously. “I don’t have the money,” he said, “but let’s just buy the house and be done with it. And them." He over-paid and they never caught on, but he was satisfied he would not have to hear that kind of slur again.
There's also this question I asked daredevil Nik Wallenda (I'd been wrestling with it, unsure if I should even ask.) “Nik, do you have a death wish?"
"This is my life, Peter," he replied. "I don't have a death wish at all. I guess I'd answer that question with a question: do you have a death wish because you got on a plane to get here? It's that simple to me."
My friend Tommy Sandler (son of Ruth Lowe about whom we've written a book, "Until I Smile At You": ruthlowestory.com) tells me I have “chutzpah” (that lovely Yiddish word meaning audacity). Where this comes from will be found in the fact that I have – and always have had – a great sense of curiosity. That, to me anyway, is a wonderful quality to be imbued with. And I suppose it derives from having been raised by pretty compliant parents who brought me and my sisters up on the crossroads of Main-Street & Normal. They never ventured outside the confines of how they were supposed to be: seems there was some kind of rulebook that authorized the canons of life, and woe betide the person who dodged it. And you know what: that just didn’t sit well with me. So my curiosity took over, and I became someone not willing to accept things just as presented, but to question, to seek, to want to understand.
May I share with you some accolades about my book “Pushing The Boundaries! How To Get More Out Of Life” (being considered by a potential publisher as you read this) that I think may just hammer home this point…
In his enviable writing and interviewing style, Peter is able to capture and document the qualities possessed by those who reach inspirational goals. Through a wide range of personalities and accomplishments, he challenges us to dig deep to evaluate how our approach to overcoming obstacles measures up- JRM, avid reader
I love Peter's casual writing style and the ensuing conversations that go back and forth between him and the interviewee. As a reader, it makes me feel like I’m sitting down with the two of them and am part of the conversation. I love that. It makes me feel included and with that statement, likely important. because I’ve been invited in. - SW, avid reader
. Peter Jennings is a master at attracting diverse, unique interviewees and "Pushing the Boundaries" is no exception. It will renew your faith in humanity. You will come away uplifted and inspired to live life to the fullest, take leaps of faith, make a difference in the world and push your own boundaries.
- Cindy Watson, author (Out of Darkness: the Jeff Healey Story)
. I love your positive attitude and your ironic tone which can always steal smiles."
- Ginevra Grasso, Editor, Europe Books
Knowing that we want more than just a shopping list of character sketches and achievements, Peter takes us to the living rooms, across the desks and into the faces of these over-achievers, who reveal their strengths (and a few weaknesses), their secrets, and their view of the world in language we can all appreciate and understand.
- Ted Barris, author (tedbarris.com)
Thanks to each of the folks who've reflected on my ability to break free of interviews and entertain depth of discussion. It may be a fading art (see ya, Studs Terkel). And here’s to continuing those real-life conversations, so important in this era of “fake news” we seem to embody!
"Peter, I'm not sure if I want to tell you this or not."
It's a lovely fall afternoon and I’m listening to Muriel Cohen – Mickey to friends and family. She’s unsure whether she should share a story from the past with me. It’s about her sister.
Mickey’s been regaling me and her nephew Tom Sandler with stories about growing up with the extraordinary Ruth Lowe, her older sis who wrote the song that dynamited Frank Sinatra’s career into the stratosphere back in 1940, “I’ll Never Smile Again”. That tune went on to break all records as a huge international hit, leading to Ruth going on to write Sinatra’s theme song, “Put Your Dream Away” and about 50 other Tin Pan Alley tunes throughout her illustrative career. Mickey is telling me how Ruth came to write the song “heard round the world” for the that book I’ve been writing with Tom, about his mom – “Until I Smile At You” (ruthlowestory.com).
I had learned from Tommy (himself named by his mom after bandleader Tommy Dorsey) about his Aunt Mickey, then 95 years of age and spry as a gingersnap. When he suggested we might talk with her, I immediately signed on. We met Mickey at her suite in the Baycrest in Toronto. Founded in 1918 as a Jewish Home for Aged, this facility has grown to include Baycrest Health Sciences, a global leader in geriatric residential living, healthcare, research, innovation and education, with a special focus on brain health and aging. "What I like about Baycrest," Mickey tells me, "is that we embrace the long-standing tradition of all great Jewish healthcare institutions: improve the well-being of people in their local communities and around the globe."
I must tell you, I was thrilled to meet Mickey and have her tell me stories about Ruth and their family. We spent a delightful afternoon during which I learned what a huge fan of her older sis she was, and particularly of the accomplishments she attained in music. I got first hand facts about Ruth – consumed with sorrow over the sudden death of her young husband – one day just having the song that changed the lives of both girls literally pour from her soul.
But then, Mickey stopped and said, "Peter, I'm not sure if I want to tell you this or not."
"Go ahead Mickey," I encouraged her, "if you're ultimately not comfortable with it being in the book, don’t worry, it won't be there." The thing is, when you get to be 90+ years of age, I figure there ought to be a moratorium on embarrassment. Still, Mickey, who I‘d learned was pretty forthright at the best of times, seemed to be hedging a bit…
But then: "Alright, here it is," she confessed. "I think it was 1938 or '39... doesn't matter really. Anyway, Ruthie and I ended up going to a teacup reader. Now, don't laugh. But here's what the reader told my sister: ‘One day, you will write a song that will be popular all over the world. As a result, you'll be rich and famous.’ Seriously, that's exactly what the reader said! And you know what, a year later Ruthie lost Harold and wrote 'I'll Never Smile Again'."
I raise my eyebrows, narrowing my gaze. I look to Tommy who’s got a wondering glance too. I mean, sure, I've read about the fortune-telling methods that seek to divine patterns from tea leaves. But c'mon...
Mickey catches my dis-believing glance. "See, I told you! You think it's crazy, don't you!"
I realize I've offended this charming lady when the exact opposite is my aim. "No Mickey, I don't think it's crazy," I fight back. "I'm not saying I'm a believer, and for sure I'm always open to new notions and never feel my limited knowledge is enough to shut down ideas. But if you and Ruth –"
"Ruth laughed it off too," she states emphatically. "She thought, just as you obviously do, that it was some ridiculous fantasy."
At this point, Mickey paused for effect and looked me right in the eye. "But then it all happened, didn't it. Coincidence? Possibly, but..."
This week, I received the sad news from Tommy that his aunt had died, just shy of her 100th birthday. I will miss Mickey.
"Of course, Ruth is with me every day," she had told me. "Visibly, you know... look at that needlepoint hanging on the wall. Strange that for someone as busy and sophisticated as she was, Ruthie loved doing handiwork. She made blankets and pillows... all sorts of things. She had a real knack for it.”
And indeed, Muriel Cohen had a knack for living.
I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have known Mickey and feel such a connection with her sister I could otherwise not have known.
RIP, beautiful lady.
I’m a guy who writes creative nonfiction, and I was asked the other day what that term means.
Nonfiction itself occupies such a wide avenue in book writing. From historian Doris Kerns Goodwin to journalist Malcolm Gladwell to Bob Woodward's commentaries on Washington, this is a genre with breadth and depth.
But in recent years, a new term has emerged for a type of storytelling that sees the author add a certain voice to the writing style. This form incorporates writing techniques often associated more with literary fiction that many readers find engaging and enjoyable. Hence: creative nonfiction.
Here’s an example. Self-discovery is an element of creative nonfiction that I use in my most recent book "Pushing The Boundaries! How To Get More Out Of Life". I explain to the reader up front that I'm searching for ways to enhance my life, just as they are, outlining my personal connection to the subject matter. I then go on to invite them to join me in meeting 31 interesting individuals (many of them well known) who have overcome their fears about taking risks, and have gone on to gain greater fulfillment in their lives. Essentially, I am asking the readers to come with me on a voyage of discovery. That's one aspect of creative nonfiction.
I believe nonfiction readers respond to stories featuring real world characters who are emotionally invested in the story’s outcome. Publishers call this a story arc. At the same time, the information has to be based on authentic facts since nothing undermines the authority of nonfiction books more than inaccuracies or exaggerations.
Another device I have used regularly in my writing is humor – where it fits. This may be as simple as a wry comment about someone or something, or a self-inflicted put down of myself, but for the fun of it. If the going gets heavy, nothing like a little smile to take you down from the high road.
Ginevra Grasso, who's an Editor with Europe Books, wrote me recently to praise "Pushing The Boundaries": "From a literary point of view there is no need to say that is a very well done job, it is obvious that you have a good experience in writing, interviewing, collecting information and transforming it into a motivation for your public. I love your positive attitude and your ironic tone which can always steal smiles." Aha: there is it: the ironic tone that can always steal smiles. That's creative nonfiction.
Lee Gutkind, Editor and Founder of Creative Nonfiction Magazine (that’s right: this category even has its own journal now), defines the genre as “True stories well told". He goes on to say, "In some ways, creative nonﬁction is like jazz – it’s a rich mix of ﬂavors, ideas, and techniques, some of which are newly invented and others as old as writing itself." I think that does a pretty good job of summing up the category.
Did you know that creative nonﬁction has actually become the most popular genre in literary and publishing communities?
That's nice. Because it's the category I trade in!
Hi there. I've written 6 books so far and am working on others. Feel free to comment