TV Book Club Q&A: Danielle Turchiano Talks A 'Pop Culture' Life
Danielle Turchiano has a dream job: she turned her love of TV into a career in production and later journalism. Then she decided to share her stories with us.
In her second book, appropriately titled My Life, Made Possible By Pop Culture, Danielle speaks frankly about her passion for the small screen and how it has influenced her relationships over the years.
I've gotten to know Danielle fairly well as our careers have crossed paths, and have found her to be one of the most engaging fellow journalists I've gotten to spend time with. I couldn't resist asking her about her newest book and her TV recommendations!
What made you decide to write an autobiographical book?
The decision for me to write a memoir didn't start out as a conscious decision at all. I started my blog ("Made Possible by Pop Culture") in November of 2007 when I was out of work due to the Writers Guild strike, and I had a lot of time on my hands. Writing was always something I loved but didn't really have time for as I started working because production hours can be so hellish.
The blog was always supposed to be a journal of sorts; in college my friends and I all had "Xangas," which probably dates me a bit, but that was where we could keep an online account of our lives through entries and polls and weird chain-letter like lists where we filled out inane questions about ourselves and encouraged our friends to do the same. Friends from back home could read it to see what I was up to out in California, whatever.
The blog I started in 2007 was never supposed to be simply about my daily life, but I knew that when writing came easiest to me was when I was analyzing personal elements. So the blog was always supposed to be a discussion of growing up with television - and other parts of pop culture - as my babysitter, teacher, friend, and role model, but as I wrote, I realized some pieces were simply too long for a blog entry, and I pushed them aside. I never deleted them, and sometimes I cut out whole chunks so I could still post part of the story on the blog, but at the end of the day, I found myself with a whole folder of about 20 separate documents on my laptop.
I started to see each document - each story - as a chapter in a larger story, and I said "What if this were a book?" I had a literary agent at the time because I was shopping around a young adult novel, and she said that these types of pop culture essay memoirs were really popular and it might be worth going for. So I began to edit - mostly just leaving out stories I felt were off the main theme, which I felt had to be relationships.
Every author has a unique writing process. What's yours?
I don't really have a specific process, per se, mainly because I write when inspiration strikes, which for me, tends to come in weird spurts at random times. Usually after I've watched a particularly exciting piece of television - something that encompasses a story I want to tell. I see someone else's execution, and I'm inspired - or maybe even challenged, in some way - to try to flesh out my own. That's been happening a lot lately with the adoption story and Seth's rehab story, both on Parenthood.
For My Life, Made Possible by Pop Culture, I started not realizing I was writing a book, so my process was extremely stream of consciousness. I would start a story with a clear vision in mind of what event I wanted to recall and what lesson I wanted to show said event taught me, but as I would go deeper into my own memory, other things would pop up that would feel relevant, and I'd detour and tangent into them.
The goal was always to go back and edit out the tangents later, but I found that I left many of them in because I liked the idea that the book read with the spontaneous revelations. Because isn't that how revelations usually come about? It is that way for me, and above anything, a memoir has to be honest!
Now that you've finished the book, do you have a favorite portion? Or something that you wish you'd done differerently?
It's hard to pick a favorite moment or chapter within the book, but I think I'm most proud of "Virtual Insanity," in which I talk about what went wrong with my first boyfriend and basically own up to a lot of my own shortcomings - ones that I ended up repeating years later because I couldn't admit to them then the way I can now. That chapter kind of opened the floodgates for me to analyze other parts of my life and relationships, and without it, I don't think I would have had a book at all.
As for what I would consider doing differently, if I had the chance to do it over again, I would probably include a few other stories. As it is, there have definitely been situations in the last year since the book was published that, after they'd happened, I realized would fit perfectly. Looking back, I talk mostly about what went wrong in my relationships, which at times can have a more negative connotation than I perhaps planned. There were good times, too!
And there are also a few other really heavy influences on my childhood, pop culture wise, that I would have liked to work in - ones that I didn't because I felt like they didn't fit with the theme but which, with some hindsight, I realized I could have squeezed in references or mentions, at the least.
It's obvious from the book that TV has been a big influence on you - so what's your perspective on the idea of it as a social influence?
I think the entertainment industry is an incredible gift, as well as a platform. One piece of programming - one writer, one performer, etc. - can touch millions from all across the world. Sometimes that's done with the story being told on-screen; I know personally I have been inspired to learn more about certain issues after seeing a storyline that deals with them on a favorite show, and I have friends who figured out what they wanted to do professionally based on seeing new worlds of opportunity opened to them through television shows that portray the professions.
Television used to be a solitary activity; you could go home and veg out on your couch and let whatever was on just wash over you. But the internet really changed that; now television is about community - about seeking out those who are also interested in the same shows and performers and connecting with them. That is hugely influencial in a completely different way, but it can have an even greater impact that "just" the show itself. I am constantly in awe of the way fans are inspired to get involved, especially with charitable causes, after learning of them from an actor on their favorite show. I co-run a non-profit organization, IBG, Inc.
We can't talk about a TV book without talking about your favorite TV shows.
I don't even know where to begin! There are some shows that are on right now that just put me in a good mood every time I watch them. They're the kind of shows I can (and do) watch over and over without ever getting tired of the plot points or of knowing the joke so well I can repeat it verbatim.
Shows like Community, Happy Endings, Parks and Recreation, and Raising Hope are just too fun but also have taken the situation comedy to a whole new level full of very real characters capable of delivering a heartwarming moment just as easily as a laugh.
But there are also some really strong, more involved mythology shows that I feel truly enrich the television landscape by challenging what we think can be done on television - but again, always developing extremely unique and real characters. Those are shows like Once Upon A Time, Homeland, Fringe, and Nikita, in my mind.
I also just have a huge soft spot for Parenthood. It's such a simple show on paper, "just" being about a family and all, but the layers to the on-screen relationships are increasingly complex. Jason Katims is the kind of writer I strive to be; he can make you smile with easy banter but make you cry in the moment with something as easy as a character's caught off-guard response to something he or she doesn't want to hear. You immediately connect with his characters and are immersed in their world. He did it with Friday Night Lights, a show that is one of the greatest of all time, and he's doing it again now on this much more underrated show.