An Interview With
Author Samuel Garza Bernstein
Author, screenwriter, and playwright SAMUEL GARZA BERNSTEIN is the winner of a Stonewall Book Award from the American Library Association for Uncommon Heroes. He will direct the stage musical adaptation of his acclaimed book Mr. Confidential: The Man, His Magazine & The Movieland Massacre That Changed Hollywood Forever in 2023, for which he is also writing the book and lyrics. He has written, produced, and directed in multiple tv formats and genres, indie film, both musical and non-musical theater, and is the author of three books. His life and writing reflect the wild intersections of modern life—born to an undocumented Mexican mother who passed as white, with a fake name; and a psychotic Jewish father who allegedly sold arms to the Palestinians in Egypt, where his family
lived for a year.That story will soon be explored in a TV adaptation of his hit solo stage show The Secret World of Danny Lopez. In 2024 Applause Books will publish his latest book, WWJD: What Would Joan Crawford Do?—exploring the films and cultural impact of Ms. Crawford.
How many books have you written that were published and how did you become a published author?
Books have never been my main focus, but I’ve had three published—the two listed in my bio above and another one called Lulu, about the silent film star Louise Brooks. I refer to it as a non-fiction novel. It’s about the time when she was making Pandora’s Box in 1928 in Berlin. I became a published author by sleeping around. I say that because I was dating someone who introduced me to the person I did my first project with. And it makes me laugh.
What experience did you have as a writer before your first book was published?
I’ve been writing for theater since before I was 20. I started performing as a precocious tween—doing three-month runs of shows in Austin, Texas, with five or six shows per week. I graduated high school early and went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York at age 17. Even as I started doing musicals and touring I was always writing. My first play was produced when I was 23 and then I started working in film and television.
Once you had the deal for your first book, how was the process of writing it? Once you turned it in, did the publisher require any changes to it?
The first book was on spec, and when the publisher picked it up they didn’t ask for many changes. Frankly, I think that had less to do with the book’s quality and more to do with it being the beginning of the end of the era of hands-on editing because of the cost. That was Uncommon Heroes—a photo essay book about 150 LGBTQIA+ “heroes and role models.” It seemed to mean a lot to people. I couldn’t go to the Stonewall Book Award ceremony in Chicago because I was making my first movie at the time. I sent my husband, and when he got to the podium he said, “My name is Mrs. Samuel Bernstein” ala “A Star is Born.” And we’re still together all these years later.
What makes a good literary agent and what do you expect them to do for you?
Different people work in very different ways. In my relationship with Lee Sobel, which is relatively new, we’ve hit pay dirt twice very quickly by the two of us looking at his area of the book world very pragmatically, as a business. Both projects he sold were things he suggested because he knows the marketplace for entertainment industry related books. My take on each subject is very much my own, but I’m responding to a need in the marketplace. My screenwriting and playwrighting careers are enough of a crapshoot. If I’m going
to write a book I’m not doing it on spec at this point in my career and I want it to sell.
Without burning any bridges, what are some of the best and worst experiences you've had with the book publishing business?
Rather than answer your question directly, I’ll say that I loved the book promotion events I did for Mr. Confidential. I was on the radio a lot and even became a weekly entertainment correspondent on a station in Vancouver because we had so much fun when they interviewed me. I loved doing events where we had quizzes and prizes and all kinds of silly things. It fit the nature of the book and I’m a big ham so I had a blast.
Where do you see the book publishing business going in the future? Will there still be book stores? Will people buy less and less physical books?
What am I, a market analyst? What the hell do I know? I like physical books still but like everyone else I also read on my phone and computer. And if I am entirely truthful I will say that I buy everything online—even groceries and clothes—and was already doing this pre-Covid. The romantic notion of spending afternoons in book stores is lovely. But at the end of the day, who can be bothered? I know that’s blasphemy...
If you could change anything about the book business, what would it be?
To be honest, I haven’t really thought about what I like or don’t like about the business. I mean I have fantasies of the glorious past where publishers and agents took authors to 5-martini lunches trying to persuade them to change a comma, but I fear those days are gone forever. Actually, it’s probably totally fine that they’re gone. Less liver disease.
If you could impart any wisdom to would-be authors about getting their first book published, what would you tell them to try to help them?
JUST WRITE. I have always written—I write when I’m depressed or happy; fat or thin; drunk or sober, and I do it in any circumstance or location. So I urge young writers to avoid contemplating the perfect writing room or the perfect first sentence and the perfect agent and just get to it. Write. Make friends with other writers. Join groups. Meet people who will introduce you to other people. Of course, if you can merely post something hilarious on TikTok and get a six-figure deal based on your sparkling wit more power to you.
(c) Lee Sobel, 2022