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VOLUNTEERS NEEDED!

Catching Up with Louise Shaffer (Rae Woodard, Ryan's Hope)
By
Laurie Bedigian
October 23, 2009

Louise Shaffer

Last month I had a lovely conversation with actress and author Louise Shaffer.  Soap fans remember Louise best as Rae Woodard on “Ryan's Hope.”  Louise also spent time writing for daytime soaps, including “Ryan's Hope.”  These days, Louise is a novelist.  She's written four novels: "The Three Miss Margarets," "The Ladies of Garrison Gardens," "Family Acts," and "Serendipity."  Louise's fifth novel, "Looking For a Love Story," will be available in April of 2010.  I hope you enjoy my conversation with Louise as much as I did.

How old were you when you decided to become an actress?

I was about 15, professionally.  There was a little summer stock company near where I lived.  Then that winter I had auditioned for The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan - they had this special program for teens.  You had to audition and there were a very small number of us that got in.  There were a professional adult academy – it was sort of like Julliard.  It was on the weekends, and as soon as I got my driver's license, I used to drive into the city (New York), and I worked with one of the coaches at the Yale Drama School, and I was in shows with the Yale theater group.

Were your parents supportive of your desire to act?

Both of my parents loved the theater.  They met in a little theater in New Haven, Connecticut.  My dad was doing lighting and my mom was doing props and sets and costumes and just about everything.  She really loved acting.  In those days New Haven was a huge theater town, because shows that were on Broadway would go out on the road to try it out for a couple of months.  Usually the last stop was the Shubert Theater in New Haven.  So as a kid I saw a lot of big shows.  We went into New York City and saw theater all the time.  We were a real stage struck family in a lot of ways.  My father died when I was 15, and my mother was a little afraid for me, particularly after my dad died.  She was aware of what a tough life it was.  But she was excited every time I had a part.  And every time I did a show at Yale, she was sitting right there in the front row.

Talk a little bit about your transition from acting to writing.Louise Shaffer

I'd always loved writing and I wrote a lot of short stories before I became an actress.  I was in my 40's and I'd always kind of played around with writing in my spare time.  When I hit my 40's the (acting) parts dried up.  There just weren't a lot of roles for women 40 and above.  So I asked a friend, Claire Labine, who was writing “Ryan's Hope” at the time if she would give me a few breakdowns to work with.   So Claire gave me some breakdowns, and I wrote the scripts and she said, “I'd like to hire you.”  So I started writing scripts and I did that for several years on and off for different soaps.  I never really liked writing for the soaps because the fun to me is in creating your own characters.  That's the joy of it for me. 

Given the choice, do you prefer writing novels to acting? 

I don't know… I think I like the life of a writer better.  It's much more your baby.  There's respect for the fact that it was your idea, that it was your concept, that they're your characters.  There's a great deal of respect for you as the creator.  So from that standpoint it's a much more civilized and humane way to make a living. 

Do you miss acting?

That's an interesting question and it's one I ask myself a lot.  There are things about it I miss.  I miss being in front of a crowd.  I love that.  I miss it until I start thinking about it and then I remember all the pressure involved.  The cosmetic pressure was huge.  An awful lot about being an actor is how you look.  With writing you just get to be more purely creative.  There were a lot of things I loved about acting and if somebody came up with a role for me, sure it would be fun to do it again.  But I think writing is more where I'm really at. 

Do you think your acting career had an influence on the books you've written?

That's a good question.  I was always somebody who wanted to reach a lot of people and wanted to give them a good time.  I've always seen entertainment as a way to take a vacation.  I think I have a rather “show biz” approach to writing books.  I wanna reach a lot of people.  I wanna know that a lot of people are reading my books.  It really matters to me.  I just want people to have a good time reading me. 

How did you come up with the idea for "Serendipity"?  Can you talk a bit about the writing process?

With "Serendipity," I always knew I wanted to write about four generations of women.  I always knew when I finished the first three books, I'd want to write about an Italian-American family.  Not my own family, but about that culture.  I knew I wanted to write a book with a character in musical comedy.

What always comes to me at some point is an incident.  Once I have that, I create characters that I believe a reader will believe would do that.  I never have a written outline, but I probably have an outline in my head.  I can't start writing unless I know where I'm going. 

Do you ever get writer's block?

Don't say that out loud.  No I don't but I can go for a few days where I just don't know where I'm going.  Living with a writer is not a lot of fun.  Once I get going, it's really the only thing I wanna talk about.  I'm really not interested in much else.  When I can feel myself getting tight and anxious, I'll just pick up a book and read for five or six pages just to get away from it.  Or I'll check my emails.  Or if it's really bad, I'll go clean out the kitty litter – it gets me away from the desk.

Also I know "Serendipity" is a work of fiction but talk about some of the things in the book that were influenced by you and your own family.

I did use my grandma's kitchen and I got to go back in my mind and my imagination to New Haven when I was a kid.  The trip that Lu takes on the train when she hands him the magazine – I did that on my first audition.  I went into Manhattan and I was so nervous I left the sheet music on the train.  So I didn't audition – I went home and cried.  Also Lu's backstage routines and rituals.  Most responsible, serious actors have the mix of honey and lemon for the throat and the number of hours they need to sleep.  It's like being a professional athlete.  You're a real blue-collar worker.  Everybody thinks it's such a glamorous life, and it's really a serious, hardworking, life. 

The men in "Serendipity" were so colorful and appealing.  I loved Uncle Paulie.  I was also very drawn to Bobby and could see why the women loved him.  And George was wonderful – It was easy to see why Lu was drawn to him.  Do you find it more difficult to create the male characters than female characters?

Louise Shaffer - 1983 Emmy'sThat's a very interesting question.  I have no problem creating men as long as I don't have to get inside their heads.  I always write men from the vantage point of some woman watching them.  I write men strictly as I observe them.  Through the point of view of some woman.  I feel equipped to write from the female perspective watching a man or reacting to a man.  I don't know that I feel equipped to write an internal monologue for a man.  I write strong women.  I come from a long line of really strong women - very feisty and tough ladies.

Of the books you've written, do you have a favorite?

Not really. Each one kind of grabs you for a different reason.  The "Three Miss Margarets" was my romance with the south.  It was my first book, and it had all of that excitement.  I've always been proud of "The Ladies of Garrison Gardens" because that was my second book and with all the pressures of "Second Book Syndrome" and writing a sequel which I wasn't expecting to do, I managed to make as big an emotional investment in it as I had with the first.  I kind of felt like I'd grown up professionally with that book.  "Family Acts" was a joy for me.  I just loved doing all the research.  That one, in a lot of ways was just so much fun to write.  In "Serendipity" I got to write about an Italian-American family.

Talk about some of your favorite books and authors.  Are there books you enjoy reading over and over again?

I read most books over and over again.  I love anything about The Tudors.  They fascinate me.  They were just a larger than life kind of people.  I love "To Kill a Mockingbird."  I love Rick Bragg, Bailey White, Pat Conroy, and Harlen Coben.  I'm getting into Michael Connelly.  I love thrillers and I like John Grisham.  In the old days I used to like Agatha Christie.  I like Jane Austen.  Louisa May Alcott was my first big favorite as a kid.  I love PG Wodehouse.  I like Georgette Heyer – she's a regency romance writer.  I'm not a particularly deep reader.  I like escapist material. 

Can you tell us anything about your next book?

It's called “Looking For a Love Story” and it comes out on April 27, 2010.  It's Louise Shaffer's idea of a romance novel (laughs).  It's set mostly in New York.  It's about a writer who's down on her luck and takes a ghostwriting job.

Thanks to the lovely Louise Shaffer for spending so much time with me.  It was my pleasure to speak with her.  It was truly one of the most interesting and enjoyable conversations I've ever had. 

Please read my review of Louise's new book "Serendipity: A Novel."

Louise's books are available on Amazon.com. For more on Louise Shaffer, visit her official website http://louiseshaffer.com/ .   You can also follow Louise on Twitter at http://twitter.com/louiseshaffer.  


Read all of Laurie Bedigian's celebrity interviews:

Melissa Archer (ex-Natalie, OLTL)  10/21/12
Sean Kanan (Deacon, Y&R)  11/20/11
Greg Cipes (JT, GH)  9/5/11
Colin Egglesfield (ex Josh, AMC)  9/4/11
Brad Maule (Dr. Tony Jones, GH)  12/13/09
Tim Gibbs (ex-Kevin, OLTL)  11/7/09
Louise Shaffer (Rae Woodard, Ryan's Hope)  10/23/09
Tobias Truvillion (Vincent, OLTL)  8/14/09
Brian Gaskill (Rafe, Port Charles; ex-Bobby, AMC)  7/24/09
Catherine Hickland (Lindsay, OLTL)  4/12/09
Senta Moses (Winnifred, GH)  2/15/09
Blake Gibbons (Coleman, GH)  12/5/08
Brad Maule (Dr. Tony Jones, GH)  11/23/08
Graham Shiels (Cody, GH)  11/19/08
Bradford Anderson (Spinelli, GH)  4/5/08
Bradford Anderson (Spinelli, GH)  1/11/08


Page updated 2/27/13

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