A Conversation with Lisa Erspamer

Lisa Erspamer is a creative force, expert at identifying and transforming great stories into moving visual spectacle. She is a three time Emmy-nominated producer, New York Times best-selling author and Co-Founder of Happy Street Productions, a television, film, digital production and entertainment consulting company focused on creating emotionally connective scripted and non-scripted content. She’s known for her influential 19-year collaboration with Harpo Productions, as Chief Creative Officer and Executive Vice President of Programming and Development for The Oprah Winfrey Network, and Co-Executive Producer of the Oprah Winfrey show, where she produced some of the show’s most memorable episodes, including the biggest flash mob in history, Oprah’s After Oscar Specials and Whitney Houston’s final interview.


Lisa is the creator of the A Letter To My ... book series. In A Letter To My Mom, the third installment (following A Letter To My Dog and A Letter To My Cat), contributors share letters of love, gratitude, connection and even conflict to the women whom they call mom.

Each letter -- whether written by celebrities, including Suze Orman, Mariel Hemingway, Shania Twain, will.i.am and Christy Turlington Burns, or everyday daughters and sons -- speaks to the extraordinary bond between mother and child.

These are moms who made sure their children would never feel held back by disability; became roommates or business partners; put their own lives at risk to keep their kids out of harm's way; inspired their children to start families of their own; or simply made the best cookies of all time.

A Letter To My Mom is a tribute to the women who shape us into the people we become.


Karin: How did the idea for the “Letter” brand series of books come about?

Lisa: Actually, we had sold one book to a publisher, and while we were celebrating that publishing deal - we were having dinner with them and drinking wine - I said, we should really do a “dog book” because my friend Robyn had photographed my dogs for my birthday as a surprise, and the pictures were unbelievable. And I said we should call it “A Letter to My Dog” and have everybody write letters to their dogs. And the publisher said, “I want that, I'll buy that right now.” We said, “Okay, now we have a two-book deal!” And my co-author, Kimi Culp, and I started putting that book together right away.

As the letters started coming in, I realized how powerful the art of writing a letter is. We actually used it over the course of my career at the Oprah show. It was sort of a technique to get people to the heart of their story.

What was the technique you used? In what way?

Say if they were surprising somebody like their mother on the show or a friend, and we wanted them to say something to the person, and they were like, “I don't know what to say,” we would ask them to write a letter. And that would help them get their thoughts together about what they would want to say to that person. What we realized is that writing a letter is something that people can do really easily. It's hard for somebody to write their story if you say, “Hey, write your story.” That's really daunting and hard, as you know. It makes people crazy. But when you ask people to write a letter, it's really easy for them to do. Not easy, but much easier. People can wrap their brains around the concept. Nobody asked us, “What should we write the letter about?” People just did it.

Like the dog letters that came in, they were funny or really heartwarming. But they all made you feel something, which is what I really loved about the idea. And so then I built it out into an anthology, and we have 17 titles.

Can you share what the next title might be?

I think our next two would probably be “Baby” and “Dad.” I'm obsessed with “A Letter to My Baby” even though I don't have one. I think about that relationship and how, when you're a parent, your baby - regardless of age - is always your baby.

For the “Dog” and “Cat,” those two books celebrate the relationship that people have with their pets. And we hope that people will see how special it is and maybe adopt a pet that needs a home. But I think with “Mom,” “Baby” and “Dad,” we hope that it inspires people to write letters for the people in their own lives.

What have you learned about publishing?

I think of television. Neither one of them are businesses you should go into if you're hoping to get rich. I'm not saying that you can't get rich. They're things you have to do because you're really passionate about them. And I feel like publishing is the same. It's really personal, it's really not business. You care about it like you're giving birth to it. It's probably not healthy.

You do it because you really care what you're putting out there, and you want people to love it, and you want to make them feel something. You want them to laugh, or be touched and moved. I'm definitely not in it for the money. It's costing me more money than I'm making. But I really believe in what we're doing. I love the concept of writing a letter. I think it is the best gift we can give somebody, and the best gift to get.

What kind of 'letters to Mom' are you looking for?

We're not looking for, “I hate my mother” letters for sure. I think the tone is really about the love, and you know, the fact that this person put you on the planet. And that it is a complicated relationship. But that we all still have some gratitude for that relationship. And I think as we grow up, we sort of come full circle.


Check out the first two books in the A Letter To My... series:


'A Letter To My Dog' is now being sold in seven countries; read an excerpt from the book.