Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Interview with Jim Comer, Author and Speaker

After his father suffered a massive stroke and his mother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Jim Comer found himself an "overnight parent" at the age of 51. Though everyone looked to him as the “man who knew all the answers,” he soon realized that he didn’t even know the questions. In eleven years of caregiving, Jim has lived the questions and learned the answers. He’s learned to deal with hospitals, insurance companies, rehab centers, nursing homes, his father’s deafness and his mother’s dementia. Through it all, Jim has kept his sense of humor and forged a deeper, more intimate relationship with his parents.

His book, When Roles Reverse: A Guide to Parenting Your Parents, is terrific! It was published nationally in the fall of 2006 by Hampton Roads and is available in bookstores and on line. His website is http://www.whenrolesreverse.com/. Jim has been getting lots of publicity, so we asked him to share a bit about his experiences with the media.

LA: Jim, has news coverage been hard to get for your new book?

JC: No, because this subject is on everyone’s mind right now. It is growing in importance every day as more and more baby boomers reach the age where they are caring for their parents, or getting ready to do so, and also thinking about their own retirement needs.

I believe this subject will be extremely newsworthy for the next decade and beyond.

LA: Your book is so needed in our society today. Are reporters and talk show hosts focusing on the trend of care giving… or more on your personal stories?

JC: NBC Nightly News did a two-week daily segment on The Aging of America and got the largest email response in the history of the show. It is an ideal subject for talk show hosts, both TV and radio. It could also have a program all its own, on radio, TV, or public access, and I’m thinking of moving in that direction.

LA: What have you learned about dealing with the media as you’ve launched the book?

JC: I’ve learned that the media is as hungry for good stories as writers are hungry to tell their story. If your material is timely and fresh, and you really know your subject, you can get interviews in the press and radio. TV morning shows will give you about three minutes. The hard part is getting on national TV because there is so much competition and so many gatekeepers to get through. That’s why an “end run” might be most effective.

LA: Clarify what you mean by "end run."

JC: An end run in football is when a ball carrier does not go up the middle through the line, but out to the side (an end run). What I mean is that tackling the big name talk shows through their official channels may not work unless you have a powerful name representing you. You need to find someone who has access to the star even if the person has no official position. I don’t care how Oprah gets the book as long as she gets it. I’d love to know her manicurist and get the book to her. If she loved it, then Oprah would hear about it and might take a look. That’s an end run.

LA: You have been wanting to be interviewed on the Oprah show for a while. How’s that going?

JC: I have Oprah’s picture in a frame on my desk. I met a man who claimed to know her father, but it turns out that he only knew a friend of the father and has not volunteered to send him the book. I need to find a way to get the book to Oprah, probably an unconventional solution, and may have a focus group just on that one subject.

LA: You’re good at seeing the funny side of life. What is the wackiest question a reporter has asked you?

JC: No one has asked me a wacky question that I can remember, probably because of the nature of my subject, but I use lots of humor in my book, speech and interviews. The question I find most interesting (and a little odd) is “Do you feel anger or resentment because you’ve had to give up so much in order to parent your parents?” The answer is a resounding “NO.” I couldn’t do this if I was angry and resentful though I’m sure there are children of aging parents who live with anger and resentment. I’ve been fortunate because I really like my parents, have excellent facilities where they have lived and the full support of my cousins.

LA: What else would you like to add?

JC: I feel that promoting my book is a long-term project. It’s an “evergreen” and will be just as important – or more so – in ten years as it is today. I’ve had surprisingly strong support from my publisher, and now it’s time for me to make publicity and paid speeches the number one priority in my business life.

If I can give enough speeches, interviews and get some national TV and corporate sales, I think the book will take off….and allow me to “do well by doing good.” The absolute best part of having written the book is when I get an email, letter or have a personal conversation in which someone tells me how much the book has meant to them and their family and how it helped them make decisions and get out of denial.

LA: Jim, I'll tell you how much the book has meant to me. It made me laugh--and cry--out loud. I bought copies for my friends with aging parents and for my parents. Aging and caregiving can be ugly, tough subjects and you handle them beautifully.

Jim is eager to hear from anyone who knows someone who knows someone who knows Oprah, Ellen, Dr. Phil, Rosie O’Donnell, Barbara Walters, John Stewart, Charles Osgood or the folks at NPR. If you can help, please go to his website to find out how to contact him by phone or email.

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