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May 11, 2006

Crossing Over to the Other Side by Jane Heller

Janeheller_1 Crossing Over to the Other Side

by Jane Heller

No, this isn't about dying, although appearing on national television used to feel like a death sentence to me.  I was such a chicken shit author, obsessing about what to wear...imagining myself being scrutinized by an audience who'd rather be watching a real celebrity...anticipating the moment when my tongue would stick to the roof of my mouth as I tried to answer a question.

What's weird is that I was the least likely person to suffer from National TV Performance Anxiety.  I had worked in publishing for ten years as a publicist and had spent many hours sitting in Green Rooms telling the likes of Judy Blume and Danielle Steel: "Hey, what's to be nervous about?  Just smile and say the name of your book three times.  No biggie."  I was a hot-shot promoter in those days, fearless in my attempts to get media attention for my authors, so it's not as if I was a stranger to TV cameras.  I just never figured they'd focus on me someday.

That day came in August of 1994, shortly after my first novel, CHA CHA CHA, was published.  I got booked on the Today show, and I was ecstatic--at first.  But as the date of my appearance loomed, I started thinking about how much easier it was to be behind the scenes...about how I didn't want my friends and family, let alone eight trillion people, to see me screw up...about how I really, really wanted to stay home.  Panic set in.  Sheer terror.  It was the realization that I had gone from promoting authors to being one and had, therefore, crossed over to the other side.

I tell the story of my Today show appearance whenever I speak to groups about changing careers, and it never fails to get a laugh.  What happened was this...I arrived at the studio that fateful August morning, and the producer announced that my blue dress would clash with Katie Couric's blue dress.  What was I supposed to do?  I hadn't exactly brought a closet full of backup dresses.  I was so undone by his comment that I popped a Xanax (my shrink had written me a prescription).  By the time I was semi-composed, I was ushered into the makeup chair.  The makeup lady applied the pancake to half of my face and was about to start on the other half, when her beeper went off.  Bryant Gumble, it seemed, had developed a shiny forehead and needed powdering.  Off she went, leaving me to freak out.  I stared at myself in the mirror and thought, "How can I go on national television with one side done and one side not, looking like a creature from Phantom of the Opera?" I reached into my purse for another Xanax.  (I know, I know, I'm cringing as I write this.)  Eventually, the makeup lady returned and finished me up, and I was escorted onto the set.  And there was Katie in her blue dress.  She asked me her first question:  "So, Jane, how does it feel going from being a promoter of writers to being a writer?"  I felt my eyes roll back in my head, and I said, "I don't know.  I'm heavily sedated."

Not to worry.  Katie chuckled and the rest of the interview went fine.  The point is, I'm much, much better at the TV thing now.  I've written a dozen novels in as many years, so I've had lots of practice being on camera.  I'm actually very good at it, people tell me.  Still, when my publicist called the other day with the joyous news that I'd been booked on the CBS Early Show to promote my 13th novel, SOME NERVE, in September, my stomach did a little flip.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to promote SOME NERVE.  It's a romantic comedy about a celebrity journalist who volunteers at her local hospital so she can wrangle an interview out of a movie star patient, only to fall in love with him and learn how rewarding it is to be a volunteer.  In order to research the story, I became a volunteer at my local hospital and, like my heroine, I experienced the rewards of helping others.  The book has a positive message, and I'm proud to deliver it.

Okay, look.  The truth is, I'll probably refill the Xanax...in case I show up at the Early Show wearing a blue dress and Julie Chen is wearing one, too.



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Jane, three minutes before I went on a regional talk show, I had a hot flash in the green room. No time to grab the pancake makeup. So there I was---a shiny purple face----which I could see on the monitor over the lovely host's shoulder. Wish I'd had your prescription! Gawdawful.

Ha, ha, ha. "I'm heavily sedated." Okay...I am now claiming that as my excuse for everything. "Where's that manuscript?" Answer: "I don't know, I'm heavily sedated."
Now, where to get one of those Xanax prescriptions...
Great post, Jane. Welcome!!

I actually use that excuse, although the diabetic coma one works well, too, when I fall asleep during a conference call at snacktime (as happened a couple of days ago). I find that the meds enhance rather than diminish my ability to write. They give me an excuse for some of my posts here, too.

Great story - love your books. I save them for my vacations!

A friend who is a doc told me that everyone should have an emergency Xanax with them at all times. I keep mine in the same unobtrusive little bag as the airline-sized bottle of Captain Morgan, Peanut Butter Crackers, Purell and a tampon. Some people carry first aid kits. This is mine.

A 'friend' of mine (who is not a super-hero) gave me an 'emergency' Xanax to use when I got stressed out. I carried it around in my purse for a year, but got nervous about trying to go to Mexico with it in my pill bottle. I ended up flushing it - although there may be some people that WISH I would sedate myself on a regular basis, I'm a bit of an adrenaline junkie and prefer to face my crises head-on. However, my crises rarely include anything so stressful as having to face down Katie Couric on national TV in a matching dress . . . I think that definitely qualifies as an occasion for multiple sedatives!

My first talk show with my first book, I showed up and there was panic in Hair & Makeup because . . . well, Hair & Makeup had called in sick. The show's host handed me some pancake and we bonded while doing our own makeup.
BTW, my maid of honor from 10 years ago, Dr. Tara Fields, has her first appearance on OPRAH this week sometime. Watch for her! Cheer her on!

Great post, Jane. I've done TV with hosts who were heavily sedated! You are such a pro, I've seen the nice job you do.

When I was the ED of the Center for Vicitms of Violent Crime I used to regularly do TV in those hours when nobody on the scene will talk or when there is no new news. Almost always I'd be talking about the impact of crime and violence on individuals, families, children, community-----you get the picture. Within the hour my mother would be on the phone to me asking me why I just can' smile when I'm on TV!

....Happy Mother's Day to all.
Mary Alice

PS........In the future, what one carries in the first-aid kit might be interesting grist for this mill....Thanks, Kathy

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