All posts by tomsoter

Book Party for “Woman in Heels” on March 17

The public is invited to a book signing/reading party for TOM SOTER’s new book, WOMAN IN HEELS, on Friday, March 17, from 7 to 9 PM at 1264 Amsterdam Avenue (at 122nd Street), apartment 3B

WOMAN IN HEELS is a new collection of personal essays, film and TV analysis, and fiction by Tom Soter, author of the critically acclaimed DISAPPEARING ACT (which KIRKUS REVIEWS called “witty and breezy) and YOU SHOULD GET A CAT (“a delight” — KIRKUS). WOMAN IN HEELS contains essays on DONALD TRUMP, film director FRANK CAPRA, movie remakes, improvisation, PERRY MASON, IRONSIDE, and THE SAINT, as well as Soter’s “engaging” (KIRKUS) anecdotes on family, friends, and former loves, and also his first two short stories in over 30 years (“WOMAN IN HEELS” and “SAVING  THE STARFISH”).

Tom Soter at home. “There is a subtle mastery to all of it. Each Remembrance progresses from deft and amusing description to deeply heartfelt revelation.”
– CARL KISSIN, 
author, Twice in a Lifetime

“You Should Get a Cat” Praised by Prestigious Kirkus Reviews

The prestigious KIRKUS REVIEWS praised YOU SHOULD GET A CAT, Tom Soter’s book of essays, saying: “Nearly everyone will find something of interest in this volume, a compilation that’s as diverse and surprising as life on a New York City block.” 

The review went on to say that  “the book explores a wide range of personal and cultural experiences. The author, a lifelong New Yorker, returns with another installment of his collected works. He returns to favorite topics, such as reminiscences of his Greek-American family, and also takes on other issues, such as his diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. In the introduction, he compares his ongoing project to the clip books that he kept in the early days of his writing career, in which he gathered every piece of his published journalism. Here, he gathers together published and unpublished work, and his topics range across his many interests, including the cats that he’s owned over the years, his encounters with cyclists on the streets of New York City, his love life, and his pop-culture obsessions, such as the 1960s television program Combat!

Tom Soter at home.

“The pieces differ not in only in content, but in form and structure as well. There are witty one-pagers about life in the big city; a lengthier piece about some of the more memorable students in Soter’s improvisational comedy classes; an interview-based article about co-op doormen; a memorial poem for Soter’s mother; and even a sci-fi story.

“Although the author’s sharp, journalistic prose is consistent throughout, the four-decade span of the content naturally makes some pieces feel fresher than others. The author is at his best when describing characters he’s met, such as an overly enthusiastic fan of Soter and his pal’s homemade films and an old-school London taxi driver.

“Some readers will wish that the collection was more cohesive, though; as it is, this volume could easily have been two separate books—one of personal memoir and another of cultural journalism. However, other readers will delight in the surprise of stumbling from a rumination on childhood birthdays to an unpublished, intimate interview with the legendary comedian John Cleese (of Monty Python fame) within a few pages.”

 

Soter’s New Book Fulfills 30-Year-Old Promise

LONDON CABS (1)
Taxi trio (from left to right) George Soter, Martin Lester, and Tom Soter in London, 1986.

Thirty years ago, Tom Soter spent several days in London, driving around town in the back seat of Martin Lester’s cab. He was involved in a project that he was sure everyone would be interested in: a story about “The Knowledge” – a three- to four-year training program for London taxi cab drivers that was like no other system in the world. It would also be about Martin Lester himself, a quirky London cabbie.

Soter returned to America with high hopes for a sale of the piece – and with a promise to Lester that he would send him a copy of the story after it was published. Lester asked: “Will my name be in the story?” Soter replied: “You’re the star of the story!”

A few months later, in April 1986, Lester wrote Soter, saying: “Looking forward to hearing from you with good news.” In June, he wrote again, ostensibly to send Soter an article on cabbies in The London Standard, but obviously hoping for news of the article.

LONDON CABS 5
London taxi garage, 1986.

Soter submitted the idea to a number of his regular clients, including Diversion, Newsday, and The New York Observer, and also to Travel & Leisure and The New York Times. No one was interested. He finally gave up.

Soter felt bad about letting Lester down, and it wasn’t until 2016 that he could make it right. Using transcriptions from the original interview recordings, he wrote a new piece, “Travels With Martin,” that he included in his book, You Should Get a Cat.  Not knowing whether Lester was still alive or not, Soter wrote to Lester’s son, Spencer, at the 30-year-old address he had for Martin Lester.

On July 17, he got this reply: “My name is Lorraine Maxwell (nee Lester),  daughter of Martin Lester and sister of Spencer Lester. Our old neighbour from Broadfields Avenue, Edgware has just informed me about your book, with a chapter about ‘Travels with Martin.’ We are all very excited about it – she’s going to post the letter onto me.  Would be lovely if we could get a copy.

Martin Lester in the 1960s, preparing for a taxi-driving test called "The Knowledge."
Martin Lester in the 1960s, preparing for a taxi-driving test called “The Knowledge.”

“Just an update – Martin (now 77) retired a couple of years ago and now lives in Bushey with my mum, Barbara.  They have 5 grand-children, 4 girls and a boy ranging in age from 15 – 24.  Spencer is still a taxi-driver.

“Dad was really excited to hear about the book.

“Look forward to hearing from you.”

Soter replied: “I was delighted to get your e-mail and equally delighted that your father is still with us. I was very disappointed when I was unable to publish an article on him, and was glad to do it, finally. As they say, better late… I will send you, your father, and your brother each copies of the book, if you can just send me the appropriate addresses. In any event, thank you all for your patience and hope you enjoy the book!”

Soter Book Praised by Prestigious Kirkus Reviews

Tom Soter, 2015
Tom Soter, 2015

Kirkus Reviews, the prestigious critical forum,  called Tom Soter’s 2014 volume Disappearing Act “perfect for passing time on an uptown subway ride.”

The review went on to say that the New York-born Soter “has spent a lifetime observing the city’s inhabitants and their lives. In this collection, he continues to provide readers with short essays based on these experiences. Soter’s background is in newspaper and magazine writing (for publications such as the New York Observer and Entertainment Weekly) and teaching improv comedy classes, and his witty, breezy essay style reflects this. Some of his pieces fit into the feuilleton tradition of clever cultural pieces; others would not be out of place in the New York Times’ ‘Lives’ or ‘Metropolitan Diary’ sections. Reading Soter’s essays is like spending an afternoon with an uncle at a Manhattan diner, drinking coffee and savoring stories the listener has probably heard before but still finds enjoyable.

“While Soter’s essays might not be rigorous, they are generally engaging and satisfying. If they favor the quick and cute over the analytical or penetrating, it is by design. ‘Sentimental?’ Soter writes, defiantly. ‘Mawkish? Self-involved? I plead guilty to all charges. That’s who I am. Live with it.’

“While there is certainly shared subject matter between the author’s previous and current essay volumes, the latter is at times a bit more somber and nostalgic. There are fewer discussions of pop-culture obsessions and celebrity encounters and more meditations on loss and the passage of time. He writes of his parents’ illnesses and the death of a favorite great uncle, of first jobs and childhood friends.

“Throughout, though, Soter remains committed to the guiding philosophy he states at the book’s beginning: ‘When I think of the vagaries of life — and its cruelties — I often think of the comment my first improv teacher once made: “Life is a big joke—it only hurts if you don’t laugh.”‘  The illustrated book provides over 100 photographs and reproductions of print ephemera.”

 

Tom Soter Video Bio

AUTHOR TOM SOTER PRESENTS 9 DYNAMICALLY DIFFERENT BOOKS

20151018_133904Tom Soter has written a witty and perceptive collection of books in the past year, all while working a 9 to 5 job, running a 25-year-old weekly improv comedy jam, and teaching three improv classes a week. He has also had to deal with Parkinson’s disease for the past 11 years. How does he do it?

With inspiration from Victorian author Anthony Trollope, who, while working fll-time at the post office, wrote 47 novels in a 30-year career, Soter found a role model for his life and his creativity. He has himself produced nine books since January 2014, including his latest two, Look at Them Now and Driving Me Crazy.

books 1Look at Them Now features short fiction by the author and his longtime friends, Tom Sinclair, Alan Saly, and Christian Doherty. The four wrote the 40 stories in the book – 10 stories apiece – between 1968 and 1975. Most have not been read since they first appeared.

“On reading these old stories,” says Soter, who selected and edited the science fiction, mystery, and fantasy tales, “I have to admit, some of them really wowed me. It’s sometimes hard to believe that they were written by teenagers.” The pieces first appeared in self-published magazines that Soter created and sold in high school.

Driving Me Crazy represents a collection of personal essays, the third in his ongoing “does anyone really care?” memoir project that started with the acclaimed Overheard on a Bus. The new book features nearly 50 amusing anecdotes about his crazy life and family, booksincluding his online dating adventures, and also features a revealing interview with James Bond screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz (“Diamonds Are Forever,” “Live and Let Die”), and a conversation about improv comedy with improv legend Carol Schindler.

Soter’s other books include Overheard on a Bus; Disappearing ActBedbugs, Biondi & Me (humorous but useful advice for co-op and condo owners); A Doctor and a Plumber in a Rowboat: The Essential Guide to Improvisation (co-authored with Carol Schindler); and The Whole Catastrophe: My (Often Terrific) Life, a combination autobiography and memoir, which he edited and co-GS BIOwrote about his 1960s advertising executive father George (one of the original “Madmen”).

Soter also designed and edited both Memoirs of a Wandering Warthog by Tom Sinclair, and his father’s children’s book, The Nick & Tom Pajama Story.

About the Author: Tom Soter is seen every week as the host of the long-running “Sunday Night Improv” comedy jam. He has taught improv since 1987 and has been an editor at Habitat magazine since 1982.

4 Books, 3 Authors on Display, Dec. 4

Tom Soter, 2015
Tom Soter, 2015

Using the pitch, “GET YOUR HOLIDAY SHOPPING DONE EARLY! GET SOME BOOKS! MEET SOME AUTHORS!” Cleveland Sinclair, the director of marketing at Apar Books, announced a book-signing event for three of its recent books: DRIVING ME CRAZY, LOOK AT THEM NOW, and MEMOIRS OF A WANDERING WARTHOG. A fourth, non-Apar Book, THE DARK SIDE OF THE AMERICAN DREAM, will also be represented.

The event, called “Reading, Writing, and Refreshments,” will take place on  Friday, December 4, with: Tom Soter, Tom Sinclair, and Jonathan Slon reading from and selling and signing copies of their new books! The event will take place at the Slon apartment, 448 Riverside Drive, Apt. 52, at 6:30 P.M. Refreshments will be served.

The books:

(Apar Books, 2015)
(Apar Books, 2015)

DRIVING ME CRAZY, by Tom Soter. The follow-up to the “hilarious and heart-wrenching” OVERHEARD ON A BUS and the “funny, touching, and revealing” DISAPPEARING ACT, in which Tom Soter recalls: learning to drive in his 30s, talking to James Bond screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz about Sean Connery, trying to get his father to quit smoking, shooting the long-running public access TV show VIDEOSYNCRACIES, discovering he had a sister, discussing improv comedy with Carol Schindler, meeting the “real” George Costanza from SEINFELD, and facing bomb threats and angry neighbors as the president of his co-op.

(Apar Books, 2015)
(Apar Books, 2015)

LOOK AT THEM NOW, by Tom Sinclair, Alan Saly, Christian Doherty, and Tom Soter. A unique collection of science fiction, fantasy, and mystery stories written by four young men who met in grade school, produced and sold six monthly magazines of fiction under the Guardian logo, and remained friends for 50 years. Although Guardian is long gone, the essence of Guardian itself – about the value of collaboration, communication, and friendship – has survived. So have a grand time with these long-forgotten but timeless tales of talking warthogs, menacing aliens, and on-the-edge detectives!

The new version of an old favorite.
The new version of an old favorite.

MEMOIRS OF A WANDERING WARTHOG, by Tom Sinclair. Meet the most intelligent Warthog on Earth in Tom Sinclair’s delightful new book! Join “the Wart” and his two human friends, Frank and Joe, as they encounter the horrifying Giant Bees and the deadly Man-Apes of the planet Phobos! Thrill with them as they battle poachers on Earth, solve “The Mystery of the Peridot Emerald,” save an Arabian kingdom, and face off with the magical and mysterious Fabulous Twins from another dimension!

Screen Shot 2015-11-14 at 6.07.57 PMTHE DARK SIDE OF THE AMERICAN DREAM, by  Ibrahim Abubakari (Author) and Jonathan Slon (Editor). A modern version of DOWN THESE MEAN STREETS, Ibrahim Abubakari’s book tells the story of the immigrant experience. Growing up in Ghana, Abubakari moved to America as a young man, expecting freedom, education, and happiness, however life takes a turn for the worst as he falls helplessly into the world of murder, addiction, and homelessness. This is a tale of amazingly powerful inner strength, and Abubakari’s rise from the depths of hell.

The company also said: “We will  have a limited number of past Apar Books, including THE WHOLE CATASTROPHE and OVERHEARD ON A BUS, available for signing.”

RSVP (212) 353-7716

 

 

 

When Theft Is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

An unused cover for the book.
An unused cover for the book.

To paraphrase  an old saying, “Theft is the sincerest form of flattery.”

That was one thought that went through the heads of Tom Soter and Carol Schindler when they saw three listings on the Google search engine that all offered free downloads of their book, A DOCTOR & A PLUMBER IN A ROWBOAT: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO IMPROVISATION.

“It was flattering in a strange kind of way,” Soter said, “because someone thought our book is popular enough to attract internet users to their scam, whatever it ultimately is.”

Soter also said that there was a site that offered nine of his books for a free download. “At least they are completists,” he said.

The copyright infringement was reported to Google, which removed the listings from the web.

New Site Launched for Improv Book

COVERSApar Books has launched a new site devoted to one of its most popular books, A DOCTOR & A PLUMBER IN A ROWBOAT: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO IMPROVISATION, by Carol Schindler and Tom Soter.

The book, which features theory and practical exercises involving improv, draws on the experiences both authors have had in teaching improvisation and is available from Amazon.

The original (alternate) cover of the book.
The original (alternate) cover of the book.

“It was wonderful collaborating with Carol, though we did have some difficulties in producing the final product,” Soter recalls. “The book was quite different in its original form. When we started, I suggested to Carol that rather than a straight ‘how to’ book, we should present the book as a discussion of improv, with the two of us talking to each other about how to do improv. Although I didn’t tell Carol this, in my mind the model for the book would be Hitchcock/Truffaut, the volume featuring a conversation between the two famous film directors, Alfred Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut. We actually did our book that way, and, after months of effort (Carol would write her comments and I’d add mine and vice versa), we showed the galleys of our efforts to friends. The reaction was not what we expected. One person said the conversational format was confusing and off-putting; another said that we were presenting ourselves as big stars and that distracted from the content. One person actually liked the ‘discussion approach,’ and praised us for our originality. In a panic, we ended up redoing the book in a more conventional format, keeping some of the dialogue exchanges for the sidebars scattered throughout the text. I still think the initial idea had merit. For those who are interested in the original format, I included some of it in my new book, DRIVING ME CRAZY.”

An unused cover.
An unused cover.

The book is also available with two different covers: one is more sedate and abstract, an elegant edition designed by Michael Gentile. “Carol likes that edition for corporate clients who may be intimidated by a book that screams out, ‘Improv!'”

Soter felt, however, that a cover that does some screaming was what was needed to sell the book in stores like The Drama Bookshop, in Manhattan, where the title is on sale. “We used a great photograph of Chicago City Limits,” Soter said. “It’s a catchy cover.”

“Improvised Life” Led to New Book

(Apar Books, 2014)
(Apar Books, 2014)

By TOM SOTER

It seems like I’ve been improvising my whole life. I don’t mean living my life as improv – there would be nothing special in that since life is a big improv and we are all the players – I mean doing improv for the theater.

I first encountered theatrical improv when I was 11 or 12. My father and mother had guests over, and my father thought it would be fun to improvise a murder mystery involving all our guests. They were game and so, without telling them anything except that they would be suspects in a murder investigation. After that, I spent 1968 to 1971 improvising radio-style shows on audiotape and from 1971 to 1974, improvising movies on Super-8 film.

During college, I did little improv, but started performing again in 1980 on the public access cable show, Public Abscess, which eventually led to Videosyncracies, a sketch comedy show.

Carol Schindler, co-author of A DOCTOR & A PLUMBER IN A ROWBOAT, performing with Chicago City Limits and Robin Williams in 1983.
Carol Schindler, co-author of A DOCTOR & A PLUMBER IN A ROWBOAT, performing with Chicago City Limits and Robin Williams in 1983.

Looking to improve my sketch-writing, I attended an improv class taught by the late George Todisco in 1981. I loved it. I have been improvising ever since, in class for seven years with George, Carol Schindler, Linda Gelman, Paul Zuckerman, David Regal, and Chris Oyen as my teachers at Chicago City Limits, and one memorable class with Del Close of Second City.

I performed with the New York Improv Squad from 1984 to 1986, helped Gary Stockton and John Weber win the Stanislavski Open (an improv competition in 1986) as part of Improv DaDa, and took over the improv jam from Ian Prior in 1993 (renamed Sunday Night Improv).

Tom Soter (pointing), co-author of A DOCTOR & A PLUMBER IN A ROWBOAT, performing with the New York Improv Squad at the Village Voice Festival of Street Entertainers in 1985.
Tom Soter (pointing), co-author of A DOCTOR & A PLUMBER IN A ROWBOAT, performing with the New York Improv Squad at the Village Voice Festival of Street Entertainers in 1985.

I began teaching classes in 1987. My first few classes only had two people attending, but I didn’t despair; I figured if I kept coming every week and offered a good product, they’d show up. And they did. Within a few years, I was teaching on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday nights, all the time developing and adapting  games to fulfill specific needs.

Looking back, I amaze myself at how much teaching I did. But I really enjoy it; teaching is as wonderful and as different as the students you instruct. Over the years, I have had celebrity actors drop in for class, people with various disabilities – a blind man, a double amputee, and a fellow with MS – and also doctors, psychiatrists, writers, comedians, senior citizens, 12-year-olds, and, of course, actors. Once, I agreed to teach 45 teenage students from Canada. And it wasn’t a straight lecture. They all had to participate, because I always feel that you learn more from doing it than watching it.

And I learned almost as many lessons as I taught.

Tom Soter (pointing) performing at Sunday Night Improv in the 1990s.
Tom Soter (pointing) performing with Greg Pak and Tom Carrozza at Sunday Night Improv in the 1990s.

I learned that improv is a social experience, that while the form itself is essentially shallow (a great scene gives an  illusion of depth but is gone forever once it’s over) the ties and connections that develop from improv can last a life time; after 30 plus years, the relationships with some of my closest friends – Alan Saly, Tom Sinclair, Christian Doherty, Carl Kissin, Ian Prior, Tom Carrozza, and Carol Schindler – were born in the trenches of improv.

Chicago City Limits in the 1980s.
Chicago City Limits in the 1980s.

Over the years, my students have frequently asked me why I didn’t put all my insights, anecdotes, and mantras (like the one for “Listening, Observing, and Communicating”) into a book. I toyed with it, but never seemed to find the time. When my former teacher, Carol Schindler, returned to teaching a few years ago at my theater, we would naturally talk about improv scenes, techniques, and all that jazz. Then my book, Overheard on a Bus, was published. Carol and I were talking about that, and I said, “Why don’t we do a book on improv?” She said, “Sure!” How improvisational! And, in the end, working with Carol has been just as fun as working on a scene, except this relationship has lasted longer than three-minutes, and no one has turned off the lights yet! Thanks, Carol.

Tom Soter's documentary about improv, on DVD from Amazon.
Tom Soter’s acclaimed documentary about improv, on DVD and available from Amazon for only $10.

The book, A Doctor and a Plumber on a Rowboat, is finally here, available from Amazon. It makes a great gift (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). And if you really want the full experience, you can see Carol and me talking about and performing improv in my documentary on improvisation, Sense and Nonsense, available from Amazon (and this is a longer version than the one on You Tube, featuring Joe Perce, Linda Gelman, John Fulweiler, and others who got cut from the shorter version). Completists will want to pick up items from this site.

But don’t believe me: here’s what longtime improv teacher, performer, and master class instructor Rob McCaskill said in a recent e-mail: a beautiful, worthwhile book.  It is deeply informed, reflecting decades of first-hand experience and your study of the greats.  The two of you have distilled your complex understanding to a very readable volume. Like most great teaching, it comes across as simple.  The prose style itself is clean, the syntax perfectly organized. The insights are wisely arranged and described with well-chosen examples.

The New York Improv Squad, performing on the street in 1985.
The New York Improv Squad, with Tom Soter, second from right, performing on the street in 1985.

The two of you have captured the history and craft in 138 pages. Hats off. You’ve also captured the people.  Spolin and Sills. Close, Johnstone, Todisco and yourselves, along with seemingly every other improv playerand teacher in the last 50 years.  It will remain a document of our time and will be read by actors and improvisers for decades to come.

But, although it is a great teaching tool for anyone who wants toimprovise well, it’s really about living well.  Sharing, listening,being in the moment. Saying yes to the offerings of others.  I believe that was Viola’s intention all those years ago.  Still works today. 

And your book is heartfelt guide.

Look at Them Now: Old Stories Gain New Life in Unusual Book

S&U 35 COVERBy TOM SOTER

I was a publishing magnate. And I was only 13 years old. The magazines I published between 1968 and 1975 were real – although you’ll never find them in any reference book: Mystery Magazine, Strange & Unknown, The Edgar Rice Burroughs Pellucidarian, The Warthog Reader, The Monkey’s Mag, and Quarterly Shorts. And they had an international following: copies were flown to England, France, Greece, and Australia, as well as to national fans in Illinois and Pennsylvania. There was also a following at St. Hilda’s and St. Hugh’s high school in New York City, where copies were eagerly snapped up at 25 cents apiece.

And what were these subscribers – actually, friends of the family and/or family members – and “newsstand readers” – actually, classmates of mine – getting for their money? Stories that were frequently absurd, often violent, and were clearly influenced by the macabre humor of The Avengers and The Prisoner TV series, with a pinch of James Bond tossed in for good measure.

GUARDIAN 4The stories – by Tom Sinclair, Alan Saly, Christian Doherty, and me – were printed on a hand-cranked printing press and appeared every month in the six magazines we published every month.

They have not been publicly seen. Until now.

The new volume from Apar/Guardian, LOOK AT THEM NOW,  features 40 stories – fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and black humor  – that have not been available for 40 years.

(Apar Books, 2015)
(Apar Books, 2015)

The stories include “I Hid in the Ice Box,” “The Ultimate Weapon,” and “The Conditioners,” by Alan Saly (who is always precise and logical, crafting well-received sci-fi stories, much in the style of sci-fi greats Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov), “Look at Them Now,” “At the Top of the Stairs,” and “Trigger Happy,” by Christian Doherty (who is a different kind of storyteller altogether, the king of the illogical, the emotional, and the darkly absurd; a three-line short story, “Green Figs, Yogurt, and Don’t Forget the Death,” is about a man at a restaurant, ordering a plate of “death,” but not for himself. “Put it on Waldo’s check, won’t you?” goes the punch line; and “The Cave of Thith,” “Two Against the Wilderness,” and “The Warthog in America,” by Tom Sinclair (who is  the best writer of the pack: literate and imaginative, author of a series of stories about a talking warthog and his two human companions that merited a publication all their own (Memoirs of a Wandering Warthog).

GUARDIAN 1And me? I wrote stories that were thin on descriptions, long on dialogue, and derivative in ideas. Fiction was not my strong suit, though I think the ten stories I’ve assembled here demonstrate my strengths and weaknesses as a writer of short stories.

Only in my last story, “Understanding Williams” (1975), do I see the glimmerings of the fiction writer I might have been. The hero, Simon Williams (no relation to the actor who played James Bellamy on Upstairs Downstairs), is balding and nervous around women, and also plagued by self-doubts (welcome to the 19-year-old Tom Soter’s world). Although the plot resolves predictably – for a sci-fi buff, at least – the character of Williams held my attention. If the essence of life is change, then “Understanding Williams” held out hope for me as a writer. In the course of the story, Williams grows and changes; so, too, did I over the course of six years writing for Guardian – and the four decades of writing that followed.

Check it out!