ToniAnn Guadagnoli

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Back when my daughter Casey was 2 or 3, I saw on Facebook that a former high school classmate named ToniAnn Guadagnoli had recently released a children’s book titled, “Chitter Chatter.”

So, being a fellow survivor of Mahopac’s mean streets, I plunked down my dough and ordered a copy. When it arrived, I expected little. Another day, another person writing something for kids. But then—BAM! “Chitter Chatter” became a staple of the Pearlman household reading. Casey knew all the characters, all the words. To this day, it’s one of the most perused things within our walls.

But here’s the funny thing: ToniAnn is sorta ambivalent to “Chitter Chatter.” She’s OK with the book, but has bigger aspirations. Which is why she’s here today, as the 254th Quaz Q&A. In short, ToniAnn is the struggling, aspiring writer: 2016. She’s talented, she’s smart, she’s endearing, she’s prolific. But while she’s had books and plays purchased, she still seeks the big deal; the huge breakthrough; the moment that will send her on her way.

I, for one, am quite certain it will happen.

For me, the Quaz has always been about people like ToniAnn Guadagnoli—high hopes, giant aspirations, unique life stories that serve us well when they’re told. When she’s not writing, she works as a paraprofessional in the Santa Rose County School District in Pace, Florida. You can read her lovely blog here.

ToniAnn Guadagnoli, you are the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, ToniAnn, so I feel like, in a way, I’ve been spoiled as a writer, because I worked at Sports Illustrated, and that opened a door for books that, truly, I probably didn’t even deserve. And I know how great of a writer you are, and I feel your frustrations when it comes to landing book deals. So I wanna ask, what is it like trying to land a book deal in 2015/2016. What lengths have you gone through? How frustrating is it? What do you blame it all on—if you do?

TONIANN GUADAGNOLI: No matter what year it is, landing a book is torture. You have to have an agent to have a manuscript read, but you can’t get an agent unless you’re a published author. How do you become a published author if you can’t get a manuscript read … and so it goes? I started out as an editorial assistant for an educational publisher. I spent a good part of each day sending out rejection letters to people who submitted their manuscripts to our company. I never thought about how those people would feel when they got their letter in the mail; that is, until I was on the receiving end of those letters. For a while I was blaming karma for all the negative responses. I figured I wouldn’t receive a “yes” until I received back as many rejection letters as I had sent out. It would be a long and painful process.

For the book that I finished writing last year, “Joy Cometh: Getting through Divorce with God’s Help,” I went to a Christian writing conference to pitch it to two publishers. I met with editors from HarperCollins and Waterbrook. Both of them felt that because I didn’t have an established platform that I would have a hard time getting the book published. (This is the type of situation where you lucked out! You were able to establish a name for yourself and then the book deals followed.) One of the editors suggested that I should obtain letters of endorsement from megachurch pastors, Christian counselors, and/or possibly have a foreword written by a name that would be recognized. Unfortunately, a couple of months into my quest for endorsement letters, the editor e-mailed me and said that she decided to pass on the book because a similar book in their inventory wasn’t selling well. I never even had the chance to send her the letters that I collected.

A lot of the difficulty in getting a contract has to do with timing as well. In 2002, I wrote a screenplay about animated cars that come to life when humans aren’t around. One of the cars gets stolen and the other vehicles work together to save the stolen car. I called it “Brittany’s Bug.” (I came up with the idea while driving to Disney. I thought to myself, “They have animated movies about everything coming to life—bugs, animals, toys—but no cars. Hmmph!” ) In 2003, I submitted “Brittany’s Bug” to 56 film production companies and 26 agents. I received one positive response in January of 2004. The company liked the concept and thought it would make a great movie; however, they heard that another production company was working on a similar idea and they couldn’t compete. Two years later, Disney/Pixar came out with Cars. What a bummer.

In 2009, I submitted a screenplay about my ex-husband’s 9/11 experience. I was told that there was “9/11 fatigue” and people did not want to see or hear another 9/11 story. If I had submitted it prior to the fifth anniversary of 9/11, maybe the results would’ve been different.

The most important thing in all of this is that I never give up. I just keep writing and submitting. Also, I know you’re just going to love this one, but I found that as soon as I started giving credit to God for my writing abilities, things started happening for me—like they did with my plays.

I submitted my first stage play, “Groove-a-rella,” to four publishing companies in 2013. One of the companies (Pioneer Publishing) wrote back and said, “We like your story, but we have too many similar plays.” They suggested I send it to two other play publishers. I did what they recommended and that was it! I received my first official publishing contract from Heuer Publishing. Before long I became a card-carrying member of the Dramatists Guild of America.

I may not have that coveted book deal just yet, but I’ll get it one day. At least I know that I’m on the other side of the karma hump—I’m finally starting to get those “yeses.”

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J.P.: You wrote “Chitter Chatter,” which goes down as one of the three or four essential books from my daughter’s young childhood. So … what was the process, soup to nuts? Where did the idea come from? How did you work it out into a story? How long did it take? And what did it feel like, seeing it finally as a finished product?

T.G.: I was a pregnant third grade teacher in 2000. Two days before the last day of school, my doctor told me to stop working. I was ordered to be on complete bed rest for the remainder of my pregnancy (four months!) or else I might not carry my baby to full term. I was allowed to get up to go to the bathroom and I could take a shower each day and that was it.

Other than the TV remote, my next best friend was an anti-gravity pen. That pen, along with a black marbled composition notebook, allowed me to write several stories while positioned on the couch (even while I was lying on my back). Two years later, I bought a Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market Guide. I submitted “Chitter Chatter” to 23 different publishing companies who were willing to accept unsolicited manuscripts. I received rejection letters from 20 of them. Most of them sent the standard, “Sorry, this doesn’t fit in with our publishing plan” letter. In February of 2003, I saw a call out for submissions for a Children’s Story Writing Competition that was being sponsored by the American Dream Group (a Pennsylvania-based company that is no longer in business). They offered a $250 cash prize and a contract to illustrate and publish the winning story. I found out in April 2003, that “Chitter Chatter” won.

A woman in Bellingham, Washington, who I’ve only communicated with via emails, was tasked with creating the illustrations and then ADG paid to have the book self-published through Trafford Publishing. Seeing the finished project was very exciting, but as I have told you in the past, I’m not crazy about the book itself. I don’t love the scratchboard style—I envisioned softer illustrations. I also don’t like the way the book feels in my hands. I know that sounds stupid, but I’m just being honest. The experience taught me that there is so much that goes into the marketing aspect of making a successful book. Since I loathe self-promotion, I don’t think that I will ever go the self-publishing route. I must also admit that I don’t consider myself to be a children’s book author. Since this book was not done by a traditional publisher, it was never available in big-named bookstores. So, getting one of my children’s stories published by a traditional publisher is still on my bucket list.

J.P.: You and I both attended Mahopac High School together, and while we were friendly, we ran in very different circles. I love asking people I don’t know this—and I REALLY love asking you this: who were you in high school? What I mean is, I saw you as this confident, popular cheerleader, hanging with the cool kids, life a breeze. But, truly, who were you?

T.G.: I moved to Mahopac from Mt. Vernon, N.Y. just a couple of weeks before our freshman year began. Since my home was still being built, my family of four (along with the dog) lived in our Winnebago on the property next to the shell of what became our home—four months later. It was so embarrassing. My parents moved me away from all of my friends in a city where I could walk everywhere to a piece of property next to a horse farm! (No offense to the Flanagans—I still love my old Mahopac neighbors.)

On our first day of high school, I sat on a piece of gum during homeroom. Later that day, I tripped up the steps trying to get to one of my classes on the second floor and my armful of books went flying all over the place. Then the dreaded lunch period arrived—I got my tray and found a spot to sit down. I ate by myself day after day, for a long time. A few weeks into the year, I tried out for the dance company. Despite my previous 10 years of dancing experience, I didn’t make the cut. My mother still talks about how devastating that was (more for her than for me) and she wanted so badly to intervene. Thankfully she didn’t say anything. Those first few months were really difficult. I was a miserable teenager and I blamed my parents and the move to Mahopac for every bit of my unhappiness.

Things started to get a little better when I joined the track team. (I bet you didn’t know I did that! I couldn’t run to save my life, but I loved the field events! There’s something very empowering about throwing a javelin across a field!) Ultimately the real game changer occurred on a late bus ride home after track practice one night. I met Christine Catalfamo, Joe Mazzei and Lori McGowan’s laugh. Her laugh could turn anyone’s misery to bliss! The girls talked about cheerleading and suggested I try out for the team. Becoming a cheerleader definitely altered everything for me. From that point on, I enjoyed every moment of high school. I made the kind of friends that I could rely on for anything—seven of whom I still communicate with via group text just about every single day.

Yeah, life wasn’t always a breeze. And because of my period of “friendlessness” I made an effort to be as friendly as possible to everybody—no matter who they were. To be honest, I still try to do that, even to this day.

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ToniAnn, second from left, during the Bad Medicine days at Mahopac High.

J.P.: A book you were trying to write concerns being a divorced Catholic parent—and it seems like it’s REALLY hard getting a religious publisher, because of the church’s views on divorce. Does this piss you off, or do you understand? I guess, what I mean is, a church can pretend something doesn’t exist—but it does. In huge numbers. But is my thinking kinda off there? Am I missing something?

T.G.: First, just to clarify, the book is a Bible study for anyone going through divorce (not necessarily Catholics or parents). It is not specific to any one denomination. I feel that Christian denominations do more to divide people of the faith than they do to unite, but that discussion could take up my whole response, so I’ll just leave it at that.

My earlier response explained two of the reasons why publishers have not picked up this book yet: 1) I have no platform and I’m not a known Christian author. 2) A similar book about divorce wasn’t selling well for one of the companies. Like with any publisher, I guess it all boils down to the dollars and cents. They aren’t willing to invest in someone if they aren’t going to get their money’s worth—especially not in today’s market where selling a book is tough stuff.

However, to get to your comment regarding the church’s pretending that divorce is not happening—I agree to a point. Are there churches out there that still shun those who get divorced? Yes, absolutely. Are there churches that refuse to acknowledge that Christians are divorcing at a similar rate as non-Christians? Yup, for sure. However, there are loads of churches that have acknowledged their divorced members and have divorce recovery meetings and offer single parenting resources. With that being said, I wholeheartedly encourage divorced people who feel like they’re getting the shaft from their pastors or church members to consider changing churches, or denominations for that matter. God loves divorced people just like He loves married people and single people. I think we should attend churches that accept us for who we are, no matter what—since that’s what Jesus would’ve done!

J.P.: You and I have had myriad online chats over faith. You’re a very devoutly religious person—and I don’t get it. I mean no disrespect, but there’s so much crap in the world, from 9/11 to Paris, ISIS, cancer, etc. With all the bad, why do you believe in God? And how do you maintain that faith when crap happens?

I’ve already answered this question on my blog, so I’m just going to link to it here in case anyone wants my full response.

Otherwise, in a nutshell, either God exists or God doesn’t exist. I believe He does. Nothing that happens or doesn’t happen has any effect on my belief in Him. It’s faith—I don’t think of it as something I have to maintain. For me, it just is. To use the “crap” that happens in the world to prove that God does not exist is as silly as me using the “crap” that doesn’t happen in the world to prove that He does exist. For example, some say that there can’t be a God because He wouldn’t let 9/11 happen. To that I could say, well there must be a God because nothing bad happened at the New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square. Do you get what I’m trying to say? My faith is not tied to the events that happen or don’t happen in the world. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” It’s a choice to believe or not to believe—I choose to believe.

J.P.: You wrote a cookbook, Recipes Remembrances: A Chef in Every Family’s Kitchen. Might be a dumb question, but why? And what was the process like?

T.G.: Ten years ago, my church wanted to make a cookbook using its members’ favorite recipes. They thought it would be a nice keepsake and possibly a great fundraiser. I volunteered to take on the project for them. I collected and input all the recipes into a program that was provided by the cookbook publisher (Morris Press). As I was about to place their order, I noticed that they offered a special discounted rate if two cookbooks were ordered at the same time. I come from an Italian family where happiness begins in the kitchen. I quickly reached out to my family members to collect our favorite recipes. I enlisted my grandparents, who are the leading chefs in my family’s kitchen, to cook while I did my best to keep track and measure each of the pinches and handfuls in their most delicious dishes. My original intent was to order 50 copies for my friends and family members. But, at the time, I belonged to the Gulf Coast Author’s Group. Through the group, I was able to sell “Chitter Chatter” at local venues alongside other local authors. So, I figured I’d order a “few” extra copies of the cookbook in case anyone wanted to buy them at the local events. Surprisingly, I ended up selling 500 copies. I made sure to save one for each of my sons. Hopefully the cooking gene has made its way into them.

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J.P.: You’re a single mother with two boys. I’m wondering how you handle social media and technology, when it comes to your kids? Because it’s a burden our parents didn’t have. Is screen time an issue? Do you worry about online bullying, etc?

T.G.: I am the type of parent who is huge on consequences. I don’t make a threat and not follow through with it. So, if the rule is that you must be off of your phone by 9 pm and I find it hidden under your covers at 10:30 pm, then I take it away for at least a week. My boys know what I expect of them and they know the consequences of not following the rules. I am so consistent that they know better than to even try to convince me to change my mind about the consequences when a rule is broken. Without a cell phone, my younger son, Gian (11), doesn’t have as much access as my older son, Nick (15). When Nick first got his phone two years ago, we made an agreement regarding passwords. He would keep his passwords in a sealed envelope in his room. I would check his phone in front of him periodically to make sure that the password was kept updated. As time went on, he knew that he could trust me not to invade his privacy by ripping into the password and I knew that I could trust him to not do what he shouldn’t do on his phone. My younger son, on the other hand, might present more of a challenge in this area. Lol! I’ll let you know how it goes.

As for the online bullying, my boys know that they can tell me anything; but I am not naïve. I know there are things you just don’t tell your mom. The best that I can do is to keep the lines of communication open and honest with them. Strange as it sounds, I think it helps that I wasn’t exactly an angel as a teenager (sorry Mom!). My sons realize that there isn’t too much that shocks me and also, they know their safety is more important to me than anything else.

J.P.: Greatest moment of your life? Lowest?

T.G.: Outside of the birth of my sons and witnessing each of their amazing accomplishments, the greatest moment for me was when I became a published playwright. Shortly afterward, I looked up the title online and there was a picture of a man presumably studying lines for his role in a performance of my play. It is so strange to think that there are people who are memorizing the words that I wrote! (By the way, this realization led me to earnestly memorize lines of Scripture. If they could learn my words, I should be able to learn God’s Words.)

Coupled with that is the fact that my two plays have been performed in schools and theaters in 26 states and in three other countries: Canada, Australia, and Indonesia. (I didn’t even know they spoke English in Jakarta!) Too cool! Maybe one day this greatest moment will be replaced by the moment when I am sitting in a movie theater and I see, “Screenplay by ToniAnn Guadagnoli.”

The lowest moments in my life were when I first split from my husband and my family lives six hours away and I had to think about whom I could put down as my emergency contact on a doctor’s form—I had no one. Furthermore, I was devastated at the realization that my kids would be labeled as being from a “broken home.”

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J.P.: Your ex-husband Dom was a US Marshal who went to the World Trade Center shortly after the first plane hit to help rescue survivors. I’ve long felt that while we paid lots of attention to the families of victims (and rightly so), we sorta overlook the impact 9.11 had on responders. This is kind of a huge question, but how would you saw it impacted Dom?

T.G.: Wow, this really is a huge question. To be honest, 9/11 altered the course of our lives in so many ways. Dom was affected physically, mentally and emotionally. He was at the base of the building helping people out when the first Tower fell. He ran down a subway stairwell to seek shelter. He emerged from the stairwell slightly injured from falling as he ran. He went to the other Tower to help people out again. When the second Tower came down, he ran back to his office. He was brought to the hospital along with two other marshals who were injured as well. Dom had a sprained hip; he needed stitches in his palm; and the eye doctor counted over 100 corneal lacerations. The doctors at the hospital said that they weren’t even going to bother doing chest x-rays on the ,arshals because they knew their lungs would be completely clouded by the debris that they inhaled. Dom was “lucky” because his physical injuries were minor compared to many of the other first responders. However, as a result of his corneal lacerations, he had repeated corneal ulcerations for several years afterwards. Debris was accidentally left in his palm under the stitches. Just last year he had surgery to remove the annoying lump from his hand. Last month he had surgery on his sinuses—who knows whether or not it was 9/11 that caused his constant battles with sinus infections?

Unlike his physical injuries, the mental and emotional anguish left by 9/11 won’t ever heal. It was really hard for Dom to return to work in the weeks that followed Sept. 11. He had a difficult time with the smells, the sounds and all the reminders that surrounded him. Though at first he didn’t admit to it, he was suffering from PTSD. There is a feeling among survivors that if you weren’t there, you don’t get it. And I couldn’t agree with them more—I couldn’t possibly claim to understand what they went through and how it made them feel. I knew that when things were bothering Dom, the guys who were there with him were the only ones who could help to make him feel a little better. He wouldn’t go to a therapist because he felt he didn’t need one, but also because he didn’t think anyone who wasn’t there could possibly help him.

A few months after the New Year, Dom requested a transfer to Florida. We moved to Pensacola in July of 2002. It was great for Dom to be away from the city, but unfortunately, the change in scenery didn’t eliminate the lasting effects of 9/11. A few months after we moved here, we attended a Blue Angels (Navy Flight Exhibition) show. Dom went to get us something to drink from a nearby food stand. Just as he turned toward me with drinks in his hands, one of the Blue Angels F/A-18s seemed to come out of nowhere and it screeched right above our heads. I watched Dom’s face turn white. He dropped the drinks and ran to the nearby hangar. I chased after him with our son in the stroller. I found him sitting in a curled up position under the overhang of the building. Dom finally agreed to get help for his PTSD.

He began seeing a local therapist who used a method called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). The therapy was life changing for him. It helped him to gain control over his innate responses to the different 9/11-reminding stimuli. He had to reprogram his gut reactions to hearing fire engines and jets. He was able to smell smoke and not think of the Towers. One of the reasons why the impact was slightly different for Dom than for many of the other first responders is because he was photographed by an Associated Press photographer while carrying a woman (Donna Spera) from the Towers. The impact of just the photo alone was tremendous. The photo led to phone and television interviews every single year since 2001. No matter whether we were living in New York or in Florida, he was asked to talk about his experience over and over and over again. I’m sure in some ways talking about it is therapeutic, but after a certain point, he just wanted to be left alone. However, he does not want people to forget what happened and therefore, he continues to talk about it whenever he’s asked to do so.

Unfortunately, no matter how much time passes, 9/11 will never be far from his mind. It seems like he can’t help but look at the clock right at 9:11. And a night never goes by that the news doesn’t talk of terrorism or a call to 9-1-1. Even TV shows and movies might show the Towers in the background or have scenes that bring reminders. I watched “San Andreas” not too long ago and advised him not to watch it. Watching scenes of crumbling buildings is not easy for the survivors. I guess the most important thing for the rest of us to do is to remember and keep remembering. We mustn’t let a 9/11 go by without honoring them. The rescuers were willing to sacrifice their lives for strangers. The least we can do is remember them for it and support the legislation that will take care of the lasting health effects from that horrific day.

Oh, and one more thing I should add—sometimes people assume Dom received money from all the 9/11 funds raised for victims and rescuers, but the truth is, he never received a dime.

Pearlman and Guadagnoli: The Hall and Oates of pens.
Pearlman and Guadagnoli: The Hall and Oates of Mahopac-produced pen wielders.

J.P.: Where do you write? When do you write? What’s it like for you? Hard? Easy? Smooth? Difficult? Do you love it? Hate it? Both? Neither?

T.G.: I absolutely love to write. I put a desk in my bedroom—that is my happy place. I have so much material in my head waiting to get out. My enemy is time. I never have enough time to write. I have a full-time job at a primary school. After work, I have to do all the things that a homeowner/single mom of two boys must do. I feel like I’m being a neglectful mother if I write while my kids are home; so I usually wait until they are with their dad. Unfortunately that only leaves me with a little bit of writing time every other weekend. Jeff, you have my dream job. Maybe one day I will grow up and get to be a full-time author just like you …

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• Three memories from the senior prom: Sadly I have no significant recollections from this night! How pathetic! I know I went with my high school boyfriend, Chris McCartney (who went to Lakeland). I wore a white dress and we went to the Jersey Shore with friends for a fun weekend afterwards.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Dwight Gooden, Dave & Busters, Long Island University, American Airlines, Holly Robinson Peete, gerbils, Dennis Haysbert, “Bull Durham,” Rodak’s Deli: No. 1 is definitely Dave & Busters (I sent them an e-mail a few months ago explaining why they should consider opening a place in Pensacola. I even forwarded some real estate links with locations that were available for lease. I never heard back from them, but I am holding onto hope!); gerbils (assuming they have a gerbil ball); 2. Rodak’s Deli in Mahopac (Believe it or not, I was only there once!); 3. Holly Robinson Peete (for her 21 Jump Street role); 4. Doc Gooden (only for his no-hitter while in pinstripes—not a fan of his off-the-field antics); 5. Long Island University; 6. “Bull Durham”; 7. Dennis Haysbert; 8. American Airlines.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Yes! Coincidentally, I was with several of our high school classmates. It was on a flight to the Bahamas for spring break of our senior year. The landing gear wasn’t going down. The pilot was concerned (and so were we!). He circled the airport several times. He tried and tried to get it to work. We could hear the mechanical parts grinding below us. After what seemed like an eternity, the wheels lowered into place and we landed safely. Shortly after our trip, that airline (I think it was called Braniff Airways), went out of business. Yikes!

• One question you would ask Gene Hackman were he here right now: Gene, I quote lines from “The Birdcage,” specifically those spoken by Agador Spartacus quite frequently, and I wasn’t even in the movie! What movie lines, if any, do you find yourself quoting on a regular basis?

• Why didn’t you vote for me when I ran for student council?: Firstly, how do you know that I didn’t vote for you? Secondly, IF I didn’t, it was only because you wrote that darn article for the school newspaper that argued against acknowledging cheerleading as a sport.

• The next president of the United States will be …: Nobody I am particularly excited about.

• Five reasons one should make Pensacola his/her next vacation destination: 1) The beaches are beautiful. The sand is white, soft, and it squeaks when you walk on it. You can choose from the more populated spots to enjoy all the water sporting activities, boating, fishing, boardwalk bars and restaurants, or you can seek out the more secluded areas for quiet reading and sunbathing. The shoreline is vast and it is kept clean. (It was voted No. 1 in the 2015 USA Today’s Best Florida Beaches.)

2) Pensacola is the “Cradle of Naval Aviation.” We are home to the Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, and the most amazing National Naval Aviation Museum. We can catch the Blues practicing on many weekday mornings throughout the Spring and Summer (and the museum is free!).

3) Come so that you can discover what we already know—we were here first! Pensacola is rich in history—and it is home to the first European settlement in the United States (1559). (This is a touchy subject when discussed with our friends in St. Augustine, so we’ll just leave it at that. We know the truth and that’s all that matters.)

4) Gallery Night is a blast! On one Friday night of every month, the main street of downtown Pensacola is closed off to cars. There are street performers, outdoor bars, and food trucks. People can roam, shop, eat, drink, and dance. It’s a monthly street party and it is always a lot of fun.

5) I couldn’t pick just one more thing, so No. 5 has two reasons: Parades and Baseball.

Parades in this area of the country (New Orleans, Mobile, Pensacola), are like nowhere else! You walk away from these parades (no matter the occasion—Mardi Gras, Christmas, Five Flags, etc.) weighted down with so much stuff that you need bags to haul away your booty. During these parades we have received (or caught) things like beads, moonpies, cans of soda, ice cream sandwiches, candy, T-shirts, Frisbees, footballs, bouncy light up balls, bracelets, coins, rings, cinnamon buns, stuffed animals, umbrellas, koozies, cups, and even a pair of ladies underwear (thankfully still in the package)! Our parades are considered “family friendly,” so there’s no need to flash any body parts to enjoy the full experience.

Pensacola is home to the very awesome Blue Wahoos baseball team. The Wahoos are the Double-A minor league affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. The Blue Wahoos stadium is a fantastic place to see a game. The team is partly owned by one of our Pensacola natives, two-time Masters Champion, Bubba Watson. Thus the concessions sell some of Bubba’s co-branded merchandise. Once you’ve got Pensacolians rooting for you, you’ve got fans for life! These people are hard-core sports fans and they just love a good hometown hero.

• What didn’t you know 20 years ago that would have been helpful?: Twenty years ago, I didn’t have a relationship with God like I do now. Seriously though, I wholeheartedly feel that if I had only turned to God and relied on Him then, like I do now, my life may have turned out very differently.

• Five all-time favorite writers? I don’t like to read. There, I said it. Okay?! I majored in English and worked as an editor. Reading always felt like a job to me. I’m also a bit embarrassed because I have the reading tastes of an impressionable teenager. I’ve enjoyed books written by J.K. Rowling, Jane Austen, John Green, J.R. Ward, and James Dashner. I do, however, read the Bible every day. Do I get any points for that?

• Who’s the most famous person you’ve ever met—and what do you recall from the interaction?: Top “most famous” encounters (not including those with our famous classmates: NYT bestseller, Jeff Pearlman; Emmy winner, Gina Girolamo; and the Italian Stallion, Frank Zaccheo 😉

• 1. Phyllis Ayers-Allen Rashad (aka Mrs. Claire Huxtable, of the Cosby Show)—In the 80s, I saw Mrs. Ayers-Allen at the local supermarket in the city where we both lived, Mt. Vernon, NY. Two friends and I went up to her and asked her for her autograph. She glared at us for a second and then said, “Fine. But just one.” I guess writing her name three times—once for each of us—was too much to ask.

• 2. Mark Messier—(former NY Rangers hockey star) In 2001, I was outside St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in Italy with my family. I spotted Mr. Messier—he was standing there by himself. I went up to him and told him that I was a long-time fan. I asked if I could have my cousin take a picture of us and he said no. He didn’t want his picture taken. Meanie!

• 3. Paul Sorvino (Goodfellas “Paul”)—I introduced myself when I saw him at the San Francisco airport while on a business trip. He was super cool. He posed for pictures with me and my co-workers.

• 4. Joe Gannascoli (The Sopranos “Vito”)—I met him at Vincent’s Clam Bar in Long Island. He is a regular there. He was selling his book and signing autographs. He was a really nice guy.

Sorvino and Gannascoli—it must’ve been the Italian connection.