Fiction Fest: An interview with Todd Landry and Dr. Schenk of Ryan Rapier’s ‘The Reluctant Blogger’

Not Matt Lauer
Photo: NBC

It’s 8:36 on a Wednesday morning and we’re here in Studio 1A at Rockefeller Plaza. I’m Not Matt Lauer and you’re watching “Not Today.” Not Savannah and Not Al have the morning off, so I’ll have the spotlight all to myself today. Let’s take a look at the literary world.

“The Reluctant Blogger” is a novel that chronicles the challenges faced by Todd Landry, who, when the story begins, is struggling with the sudden death of his wife, Marci, nine months previous. The story opens in the office of Phoenix area psychiatrist, Dr. Melvin Schenk, who has encouraged Landry to blog regularly in an attempt to not only get the young widower to identify his own problems, but to give the doctor an idea of how to help him. What ensues is a roller coaster ride of emotions that result from a variety of Landry’s challenges, including a strained relationship with his father, looking for love again, and the fallout his wife’s death has on their three children, ages four to 13.

With us today in studio are Todd Landry and Dr. Melvin Schenk, the main players in “The Reluctant Blogger.” Gentlemen, good morning.

Dr. Melvin Schenk: Good morning, Matt.

Todd Landry: Good morning.

Not Matt Lauer: Dr. Schenk, what struck me most about the opening of this story is your counseling methodology. Is blogging as a counseling tool commonplace in the psychiatric field?

DMS: Well, Matt, the truth is, blogging as I use it is really nothing more than an update of having a patient journal their day-to-day experiences. I think most people would find that the blog entries submitted by Todd, and the rest of my patients for that matter, don’t really resemble what most people would consider a “traditional” blog post. It really is more a recitation of what happened to them throughout a given day.

Now, as far as this practice being commonplace: I believe there are many therapists out there who use a journaling type approach. Whether or not they use a blog to facilitate that practice, I can’t speak to.

NML: That’s an interesting correlation that I didn’t make before, doctor. Todd, you were hesitant to submit to Dr. Schenk’s blogging demands at first, but by the end of the story, you seemed to take to the blogging-as-therapy process quite nicely. What changed your mind?

TL: I suppose the fact that he was going to boot me out on my head if I didn’t. Just kidding, Doc, just kidding.

In all reality, up until that first blog post where I allowed myself to let some true feelings out, I felt like a pressure cooker. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I seriously needed some kind of outlet. Once I released some of what I was feeling onto my computer screen, it felt like a weight came off my chest. After that, I almost became addicted to the blog.

What’s funny is that even though I no longer see Dr. Schenk, I find I keep a much better journal than I ever did before. So if good journal keeping ends up being the “Golden Ticket” that gets a person into heaven, I’ll just have one more thing to thank the good doctor for, eh Doc?

(Doctor Schenk sighs and shakes his head.)

DMS: Please excuse my former patient’s sarcasm, Matt. It’s like a disease for him. A chronic one with no cure.

NML: (laughs) You guys have a pretty good rapport, I see. The book tackles some pretty sticky issues within the Mormon community – and the entire nation, for that matter. The one that stood out the most to me was homosexuality. Without giving away too much of the story, Todd, how has the experience with your friend Kevin affected you?

Reluctant Blogger, The_2x3TL: Well, Matt, I would definitely characterize myself as one who used to see most every issue as black and white. What’s funny is that after several months of wandering in the grey, I’ve come to realize there still is a lot of black and white out there; it’s just whether or not we as a people have defined it correctly.

You know, that probably sounds a lot deeper or convoluted than I meant it to. Bottom line, I thought I understood the issue of homosexuality. Turns out I didn’t. Today, I feel like I don’t understand it at all. But that’s okay. Maybe I was never meant to. Where I am now is that maybe God wanted me to understand His love for each and every child He has on the earth and that it is my job to love unconditionally. You know, judge not, that I be not judged? I don’t understand Kevin’s experience. But I don’t think I need to. What I do understand is that is Kevin is my friend. He doesn’t need me to preach to him, to save him or to remind him of things he already knows. He just needs me to love him and accept him as a fellow child of God. Period!

NML: Dr. Schenk, readers get a glimpse at your ego in a part of the book that I loved! Tell us, how important is a psychiatrist’s office décor in the overall picture of your patients’ treatment?

(Dr. Schenk glares at Todd.)

DMS: Yes, I’m not sure Todd appreciates how important a professional office décor is in my profession. His narrative certainly suggests he doesn’t.

Regardless, your question is a good one, Matt. The décor of a psychiatrist’s office is paramount to the healing process. If a patient feels uncomfortable in what should be a therapeutic setting, it can hinder their ability to fully explore their feelings.

TL: And you still bought those chairs anyway?

DMS: Very funny, my friend. Yes, I bought those chairs anyway.

Matt, the office of a mental health care provider should also be an expression of what the psychiatrist is comfortable with as well. Just like the patient, if the therapist is distracted it can also have a negative impact on the sessions. But I would point out, Todd, that I eventually changed the chairs back to the couch you love so much, didn’t I?

(Todd snickers as he nods.)

DMS: Exactly. I always do my best to cater to my patient’s comfort.

NML: Todd, for a guy supposedly hesitant to get back into the dating scene, I’ve got to admit you had some pretty smooth moves landing a date in – of all places – a Boy Scouts of America office. All kidding aside, has your view on Scouting changed in light of your relationship with Abby?

TL: Umm…wow. Am I allowed to say “No Comment” here? No? Dang!

All right, here goes. I do very much see the value in Scouting. It is a great organization with a proud tradition. And now that I’ve finished reading the back of the BSA publicity pamphlet, the truth is, I will never be Scouting’s biggest advocate. And I think the reason why is that I have been put in charge of too many Friends of Scouting drives.

I recognize that the LDS Church and Scouting have a strong partnership and it is the organization to which the Church entrusts its young men, but the time commitment required for someone to be considered a “Scouter” is just way more than I’m willing to give. I could expound, but…I think I will choose not to.

Except to say that I hate the uniforms and I hate the stupid songs. Okay, I feel better now.

NML: “The Reluctant Blogger” epilogue picks up three years after the dominant part of the story. By all appearances, Todd has gone on to find peace and contentment again. Dr. Schenk, is Todd a cured man?

DMS: Well, Matt, I suppose that depends on your definition of “cured.” I don’t know that Todd was ever truly broken. He just needed a little help getting out of a rut. During that process, he learned a few things about expectations and relationships that have, in my opinion, been very helpful to him.

For those who might need a more direct answer, I would have to say that Todd is where he should be. I’m sure he and his family will always miss their wife/mother/friend, but he has been able to form a new life that provides him happiness. And if a person has that, then I believe mentally, there is no healthier environment.

NML: Todd, how is the family? I see the kids over there off camera. Hi, kids!

Ryan Rapier
‘The Reluctant Blogger’ author, Ryan Rapier.

TL: You know, Matt, we’re really good. Alex is a junior in high school this year and just thriving. All of my kids are growing up way to quickly, but we are a family that’s in a good place. And as much as I give him a hard time, I have to say that Dr. Schenk played a huge role in that. I truly appreciate him and all he has done for my family.

NML: Speaking of the good doctor, we don’t know much about you from the book, Dr. Schenk. Tell us a little about you. Married? Kids?

DMS: Not much is known about me because I strive to keep my personal life out of the lives of my patients. However, I am more than willing to share that I am married and have been for 38 years. My wife, Moira, and I have one son, Stephen, who completed medical school and is a surgeon who is now finishing up his residency in Pennsylvania. We are hopeful that he will move back to the Phoenix area when he’s done and as of right now that looks promising. But he refuses to take a job offer from Colorado Springs off the table. I think he would return here in a heartbeat, but his new wife isn’t quite ready to make the commitment to Arizona summers.

NML: Let me get you out of here on a light note. My kids will kill me if I don’t ask you this one. Todd, did Kevin ever get Alex her Blizzard?

TL: Oh dear. Kevin has paid that Dairy Queen debt and about twenty-five others since then. He just doesn’t have the good sense to realize that compared to him, Alex is a chess master. He should really quit trying.

NML: Really? Chess? That’s impressive. Gentlemen, thanks for your time, it’s been a pleasure.

DMS: Thank you, Matt.

TL:  Thanks, Matt.

NML: (Turns to camera) “The Reluctant Blogger” is available in bookstores and through online retailers right now. There’s more “Not Today” after these messages.

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