Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Meet Author Terry Spencer Hesser!

My guest today, Terry Spencer Hesser, is a writer and documentary filmmaker who has received several Emmy nominations and awards for her work, including an Emmy award for Treasures of the Art Institute (2001) and A War on All Fronts: The Life and Times of Robert Rutherford McCormick (2005). She has worked with Audrey Hepburn, Oprah Winfrey, and R. Kelly. Her play, Christmas with Elvis, was described by FOX-TV as "the funniest show in town."

A lifelong resident of Chicago, Terry has written two books. Her debut novel, Kissing Doorknobs (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 1998) won an American Library Association award and has been translated into five languages. Her latest book, I Am a Teamster (Lake Claremont Press, 2008), is a biography of Teamster Union Organizer Regina V. Polk.

For more information about Terry Spencer Hesser and her work, visit

Welcome to It Happened in Chicago, Terry!

Q: Please tell us a little about your personal ties to Chicago.

TERRY: I grew up in the lawless area just west of Chicago known as Cicero.  As an adolescent one of my favorite activities was taking the el downtown and walking to Old Town to buy love beads and patchouli oil but mostly to visit the Wax Museum and examine the St. Valentine’s Day massacre.  I think it was the beginning of my interest in Chicago’s roaring reputation and history.

Q: How old were you when you first realized that you wanted to be a writer?

TERRY: I never took my writing seriously until college when I saw the power of a uniquely told scenario,  scene, and finally story.

Q: Please describe one of your earliest works (go back as far as you can remember). Who or what inspired you to create it?

TERRY: I made villages out of buttons at my grandmother’s house…its what you play with when there were no toys to play with.

Q: Can you name someone whose encouragement made a significant difference as you developed into a writer and documentary maker?

TERRY: My ex-husband Dennis Hesser was extraordinarily significant in my personal growth and for that I will always be grateful.

Q: What was one of the easiest things about writing I Am a Teamster? What was one of the most difficult?

TERRY: The easiest was finding Regina’s point of view – she was very straightforward.  The hardest was making her come alive with only interviews and research – without the opportunity to hear her talk about herself.

Q: What is one of the things you admire most about Regina Polk, the heroine of I Am a Teamster? Are there any similarities between the two of you?

TERRY: I admire her ability to act on instinct…and if not instinct then flawless execution of a plan.  I share her concerns for humanity, for women, for personal freedom and maybe even her warrior spirit.

Q: Would you tell us a little about the "road to publication" of I Am a Teamster?

TERRY: It is a short  story.  We took it to Sharon at Lake Claremont Press and worked out the details.  Our mistake was rushing it into print for a conference of teamsters and bypassing some publicity as a result.

Q: Of the characters mentioned in Kissing Doorknobs -- a novel about an 11-year-old girl with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) -- please name one character you would like to meet and tell us why.

TERRY: I would like to meet the main character Tara because she is a fictionalized version of myself as a child and give her a hug.

Q: Your have written about and filmed many Chicago people and places. Can you tell us briefly about some of these?

TERRY: I did a profile about Chicago Tribune publisher Robert McCormick for WTTW and told the history of Chicago from the standpoint of the Auditorium Theater Building.  I’ve done publicity for R. Kelly and worked with Oprah on a documentary about Paul Adams and Providence St. Mel.

Q:  A brief bio I read about you says that you "searched for vampires in Transylvania." What was that all about?

TERRY: For an A&E series called “The Unexplained” we investigated the vampire myth from Bram Stoker’s book to the Transylvanian mountains and goth bars in Beverly Hills.  It was such bloody fun!

Q: What are you working on right now? What has been the biggest challenge of this project so far?

TERRY: I am working on a book about the town of Cicero and my family – the biggest challenge is integrating my family into essentially a history book – and sometimes sacrificing unverifiable stories.

Q: Anything else you'd like to share?

TERRY: I am just very lucky to be able to interpret this continually surprising world.


  1. Kissing Doorknobs sounds fascinating. My son and my husband have OCD, among other things, and it certainly creates a dynamic in our family. I imagine this creates interesting conflict.

    nice interview, Scotti.

  2. Thanks for commenting, Kathleen. I have met (or communicate online with) a number of people with OCD. I wonder if it is more common than it used to be, or if we are simply able to identify a condition that used to be unnamed.

  3. omg times 3 i love your book and i really want to learn more about ocd

  4. Interesting life, usually this kind of people when they found that the life they are having is not worth in anyway, look for sucess.

  5. I must say I'm so glad to find your blog, even though I did it by a fluke. The information posted here is so entertaining and different to the other blogs. In short, a really nice blog that I'll keep visiting very often.

  6. Does anyone know when terry spencer hesser was born?

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