A little Q&A with the creator of Teddy Baxter and 'Talk Show.'
By COSMO MACERO JR.
It's a long way from Belmont, Massachusetts to Silverton, Oregon. But as author Jeffrey Michael Tinkham explains, it's sort of a long way from Silverton to just about anywhere. That includes Portland, which is technically just "an hour and change" by car. But "a million miles away, really," he says.
The 55-year-old Tinkham grew up in Belmont, MA and went to college at the University of Rochester in New York. I have a lot of unrelated and disconected memories from my own time at Belmont High School. One of them is walking into the field house atheltic facility one afternoon as the baseball tryouts were going on, and seeing Tinkham swinging away as a pitching machine fired yellow practice balls at the batter's box. I think he must have hit 30 line drives in a row right back at the thing before I got bored. Maybe 40 ...
So yeah, it's a long way and a lot of years. But the things that influence someone as a teenager and young man sometimes linger long enough to leave an impression, become useful or inspiring, and spawn creativity and actual works of art or literature. For Tinkham, one of those things was Johnny Carson and his unmatched body of work as host of "The Tonight Show." The outcome is Talk Show - a novel that enjoys the distinction of being one of the few artistic treatments of the late-night formula of guest couch, host at desk, live studio audience and house band. On a podcast interview I did with Tinkham some time ago, Martin Scorsese's "King of Comedy" was about the best I could come up with in the underused genre. But novels? We've got nothing. Until this. Until 'Teddy Baxter.' Until Talk Show.
Recently I thought it made sense to try and go a little deeper into what's behind Talk Show the novel, and also what brought Tinkham to the place he's at now as a writer, husband, parent and grandparent - living "a million miles" from Portland, OR - which is just to the north of Silverton.
How did the idea for Talk Show emerge?
Like so many folks, I was always a great fan of Johnny Carson. His way with his guests and cast members will always be the gold standard for me in late night television. I doubt he will ever be surpassed. His perfect mix of the cordial, the genuine, with a dash of good-humored sass and self-deprecation made him the perfect host. Certainly the time was right for a home-spun midwesterner to send generations to bed with a smile, but Johnny was far more than timely.
Sometime around 2016, I saw a piece on Carson, which reminded me of his place in the entertainment lexicon. And somehow it struck me that I was pretty sure there'd never been a fictional treatment of a Late Night Talk Show Host. This seemed to be a grave error. And 'Talk Show' was born.
Totally agree that the late night talk show host - with so many incarnations - is way underrepresented as a subject in American drama, modern literature, film, etc. Have you always been a fan of that genre of TV? As a whole it seems (in my opinion) to have declined?
Absolutely, always been a big fan of the Late Night shows. The history is fascinating to me . . . all the way back to Morey Amsterdam, the 'human joke machine'. I actually worked for Steve Allen's son, Brian Allen, in his real estate company, but that's a story for another time. Of course, at my age I grew up on Carson, then Letterman. Forever #1 and #2 in my book. And the work Dave continues on Netflix with his show is another level of greatness.
I think the Late Night shows appealed to me because they could get away with more. Could be edgier, more subversive to a point. Akin to SNL back in that time. I'm with you in that the genre has deteriorated. So political, so cheap in many ways to me. Of the successors to Johnny and Dave, I really only dug Craig Ferguson and Conan O'Brien. Conan deserved better, but he also took things to another level with work taking his show to other countries. That was inspired. (Ed. Note - 'Conan is a giant and Craig Ferguson should have been.')
Describe the main conflicts and challenges that your character Teddy Baxter faces.
Teddy Baxter, America's #1 Late Night Talk Show Host, at the pinnacle of his career, is stricken with a mysterious malady. It begins with odd memories of times and places prior to his birth. These unexplainable memories soon arrive accompanied by violent physical spasms and debilitating pain. While somewhat fascinated by the memories, the physical symptoms send him and his support staff in pursuit of answers. Are these waking dreams? Fragments of a past life seeping through? A brain tumor?
How long have you been writing novels? How many others have you completed? Any future books in the works?
I have begun work on the second book in the Talk Show series, entitled, 'Alice'. The story continues with a focus on Alice Waters, Teddy Baxter's assistant and fiancee. When Teddy does not return from his drive in the desert at the end of Talk Show, Alice heads out, in vain, to look for him, and eventually when Teddy remains AWOL, she accepts the network's offer to replace him and become the first permanent female network host of a Late Night TV show. 'Talk Show' has always been planned as at least a trilogy. 'Alice' will attempt to widen the field of vision and deepen the mystery surrounding Teddy's odd malady and subsequent disappearance.
I wrote my first novel from 2002-2004, finishing on the day the Red Sox won the World Series. The book sits in cardboard boxes in my office ... I've also completed half of another novel, entitled, 'Dinosaur Food'. The story was posted daily in serial form on social media during the initial pandemic lock down as an attempt to provide an escape for folks. It is told in the first person from the point of view of a young man, Remington, who lives ten miles inland from the Pacific Ocean on the Russian River in Sonoma County. His is a wild tale, involving time travel, UFO's and Bigfoot, to name a few. The experience of presenting 'Dinosaur Food' in serial form was quite rewarding. It was an unedited approach and I'm pleased that it has led to a story well worth finishing, in my opinion.
I also wrote a screenplay circa 1999-2001, called 'Park & Renfro', two brothers who run an Ad Agency in San Francisco, who get involved with a pair of well meaning and slightly playful modern day witches. Seems it was a bit of practice for 'Talk Show', in that included were the actual ads the brothers produced similar to the show snippets in 'Talk Show'. The format of a screenplay, I found to be a challenge - a horse of an entirely different color.
What inspired you to become a writer? And how has your career and livelihood over the years mixed in with writing?
I've always liked to write. The choice to pursue writing in a more serious fashion came about as I was flunking out of college sophomore year at the University of Rochester. I was enrolled in a basic liberal arts course of study and it was clearly not working. I took a year off and decided to take some writing courses at Harvard Extension in Cambridge. Most notably, a creative writing course run by the author Ann Bernays out of her cozy home just off campus. A group of 6-7 students would meet in the front room of her house, sit under her picture window with tea and cookies and dream the afternoon away.
Encouraged by my success in these writing courses, I returned to the U of R the next year, became an English Major and received mostly straight A's for the the duration of my time in Rochester. Like many artists, I have over the years had many and various jobs while pursuing my craft. I've been a bookstore clerk, an ad agency gopher, an event planner for the March of Dimes, a gardener, an Adult Day Care Aide & Driver, an in-home health care aide, a barista, a busboy, a waiter, and a real estate broker. I've also been fortunate with some real estate investments, one of which gave me the time and freedom to write 'Talk Show'. Currently, our family is opening a Restaurant/Bar in our home town of Silverton, Ore. Another grand adventure in the works!
Talk a little about your writing space. Is it a special corner of your home? An office? Or are you very mobile?
I do have an office in our home. I don't spend much time writing in it, however. It does have a large foam core board for post-it notes on various works in progress. Especially when a project is super-live, those notes and thoughts come fast and furious. When they're gone, they often don't return, so gotta grab 'em.
Yes, I am very mobile. Most of my work starts freehand in journals. If it makes it onto a computer, it likely will become part of the finished product. The office does contain a wide array of talismans and inspirational items. Stones, feathers, keys, candles and a tiny wind up monkey who does backflips given to me by my youngest grand-boy. My process usually includes a rubber ball to toss against the wall and up in the air. In fact, I bought a new one yesterday, which says to me, I'm getting ready to get serious.
"I love to golf. But I don't get out enough." - Oregon-based author Jeffrey Michael Tinkham
My journey, thus far, as a writer has been quite interesting. I always had a sneaking suspicion that it would be later in my life that I could 'sit still' long enough to type a novel. I guess I was correct. It's been a true gift to have these stories appear in front of me in my mind, to have characters speaking to me. I"m blessed that the spigot still flows and I'm gonna ride it until it does not, I suppose.
My wife, Carole, is also an artist. A fantastic painter, who has just started writing her first novel! It's been fun to watch her get drawn in and captured by the process. We live in the small town of Silverton, Oregon, population 10,000, an hour and change south of Portland (but a million miles away, really.) We have kids and grandkids right down the street and share our home with a 17 year old cat named Captain Fantastic. Life is good, we are supremely blessed.
I love to golf, but don't get out enough. I keep busy on our property, which includes a large stand of ancient Pines and Cedars.