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Recommended Books
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    by Ambrose Bierce, Jan Freeman
  • The Writer's Chapbook: A Compendium of Fact, Opinion, Wit, and Advice from the Twentieth Century's Preeminent Writers (Modern Library)
    The Writer's Chapbook: A Compendium of Fact, Opinion, Wit, and Advice from the Twentieth Century's Preeminent Writers (Modern Library)
    Modern Library
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    The Writer on Her Work, Volume 1
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    The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition
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    The Writer's Legal Companion: The Complete Handbook For The Working Writer, Third Edition
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    Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular
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    Writing for Your Life
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    The Writing Life
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    The Writing Life: Writers On How They Think And Work
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  • The Writing of Fiction
    The Writing of Fiction
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  • Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print
    Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print
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    Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction and Other Dilemmas in the Writer's Life
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    You're a Genius All the Time: Belief and Technique for Modern Prose
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  • Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You
    Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You
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ATW INTERVIEW

Tuesday
Feb212017

Peter Guralnick

How did you become a writer?

I always wanted to write — started writing every day when I was 15 or 16, after reading Hemingway’s Paris Review interview. It was all fiction — I wrote my first novel when I was 19, published a couple of collections of short stories, Almost Grown and Mister Downchild, over the next couple of years. The non-fiction came about almost by chance, when I was offered the opportunity to tell people about this music that I thought was so great — James Brown and Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and Skip James and Solomon Burke and Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley, etc.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

Here’s a totally non-inclusive, off the top-of-my-head list. Joyce Cary, Henry Green, Zora Neale Hurston, Grace Paley, Alice Munro, Italo Svevo, Don Carpenter, Sigrid Undset — there are just so many others, including contemporary writers like Jess Walter and Elena Ferrante and Jhumpa Lahiri and Michael Chabon and Zadie Smith that I so much admire. Here are some more. Dawn Powell, My Home Is Far Away; Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy (I liked the movie, too); Philip Roth: Sabbath’s Theater, Nemesis, American Pastoral; Richard Holmes, Footsteps; Orhan Pamuk, The Museum of Innocence; Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man; Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters; Paul Hendrickson, Hemingway’s Boat; George V. Higgins, The Friends of Eddie Coyle; Ford Madox Ford, Parade’s End; Anna Karenina (Pevear-Volokhonsky translation); Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Pied Beauty; Donna Tartt, The Little Friend; Kem Nunn, The Dogs of Winter; Chekhov’s stories; August Wilson’s plays; William Carlos Williams’ poetry; James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

When I was in the 9th grade, I had Omar Pound as an English teacher. He assigned three stories a week — and it was a wonderful opportunity to put some of my inchoate thoughts, ideas, and aspirations into practice.

When and where do you write? 

I’ve always written at home — in a room of my own! No, seriously, that’s been the one thing I’ve been most concerned about in every move I have ever made. Where will I write?

What are you working on now? 

Some short stories, a profile of Dick Curless that I’ve been meaning to do for the last 10 or 15 years (I interviewed Dick and his wife extensively for the album my son, Jake, produced on him, Traveling Through, in 1995. One of the most soulful albums I know.)

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? 

Not really, but kind of. Sometimes I’ve been overwhelmed by how much I think I have to say (this is with non-fiction particularly), and I have to wait a little for it to settle. In a way it’s become more difficult for the years — though I may not be remembering the past that well. (We all tend to skate over remembered difficulties.) With these recent short stories I just sit there sometimes and think, What is this shit? This is just never going to go anywhere. And maybe it won’t. But all I know to do is just to keep my head down and work my way through it. My grandfather always said, “Keep your eye on the ball,” good advice for baseball and life. And, you know, when I look back at my writing notebooks from 20 or 30 years ago (or more), I guess it’s always been the same. But it’s hard sometimes.

What’s your advice to new writers?

Write every day that you can. Live a real life. Don’t look for validation. Trust yourself. Always be ready to make that empathetic leap.

Peter Guralnick has been called "a national resource" by critic Nat Hentoff for work that has argued passionately and persuasively for the vitality of this country’s intertwined black and white musical traditions. His books include the prize-winning two-volume biography of Elvis Presley, Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love; Sweet Soul Music; and Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke. His latest work, Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll, was a finalist for the Plutarch Award for Best Biography of the Year, awarded by the Biographers International Organization.

Tuesday
Feb142017

Beatrice Colin

How did you become a writer?

I used to write a lot as a child, making stories out of the words we were given to learn to spell at school. My spelling could be better but even then I loved making stuff up. I created what was known as a “fanzine” when I was fifteen, interviewing bands and writing reviews.  Most of it was typed by my mom and I then photocopied and sold it. I think the money I made just about covered my costs.  I suppose you can consider yourself a writer when someone pays you and so my first gig was as visual art reviews for a small listings magazine in Edinburgh. The pay, however, was very bad and so I reviewed anything they would give me; theatre, books, shows for the Edinburgh Festival, restaurants. You had to write a lot to make any money but it was fun and I was grateful for the experience. I graduated to writing longer pieces and I was a fashion editor for a few years.  I was writing short stories too and one won a competition run by the BBC Radio for young writers. That encouraged me enough to keep writing fiction. Ever since then I’ve written prose and drama for radio.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

It’s hard to pick any one influence. I love many writers for different reasons, Muriel Spark for her playful tone, Nabokov for the way he uses language and Carver for his economy. I never studied writing but think you can learn a great deal from reading widely. Badly written books can often teach you as much as well-written ones. For example, after reading one poorly-written novel, I went back to my first, then unpublished, book and cut out all the adjectives. It was so much better and then found a publisher.

When and where do you write? 

I am lucky enough to have a small study at home. I am a morning person and most of my best writing is done before lunch. Late night fiddling, however, can also be good. I teach at Strathclyde University and it’s it hard to find time to work during the two semesters but that’s the price I pay for having a regular wage.

What are you working on now? 

I’m working on a novel about the wife of a Scottish plant hunter. It’s set around 1912, just before the Great War. Many plant hunters were Scottish and were obsessed with discovering plants in remote places.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? 

I often find myself ‘stuck’. Sometimes a walk will resolve it and sometimes you just have to see it as part of the process and go away and do something else. The next day everything usually clears. I don’t have any huge blocks – I have a stack of ideas that I haven’t had time to write.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

My first agent, a man called Giles Gordon, was very supportive. He took me on when I’d only written some short stories and a screenplay. He suggested I turn the screenplay into a novel. If someone else has faith in you it’s easier to start. He was also on my side when the rejection letters piled up and proclaimed that the editors were all idiots. I think he taught me to write for myself and realise that you can never please everyone so why bother trying. He died, unfortunately, but my current agent is equally amazing. 

What’s your advice to new writers?

Write the kind of book that you want to read. A novel that reads well takes a long time to write, so write, rewrite and then put away for a while and read again with ‘fresh eyes.’ If you can’t stand the sight of your words change the font.

Beatrice Colin is the author of the novel To Capture What We Cannot Keep which is published in the US by Flatiron Books. It is also by published in the UK, Australia, Germany, Italy, Brazil, Poland and the Czech Republic.

She also wrote The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite (published as The Glimmer Palace in the US) and The Songwriter. She has been shortlisted for a British Book Award, a Saltire Award and a Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year Award and writes short stories, screen and radio plays and for children.

One of her children's novels, My Invisible Sister (with Sara Pinto) has been made into a film for TV by Disney in the US. Her novel for children, Pyrate’s Boy is written under the name E.B. Colin and published by Floris Books.

Beatrice is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at Strathclyde University in Glasgow. Her website is www.beatricecolin.com. Her new book has its own website: http://www.tocapturewhatwecannotkeep.com.

Tuesday
Feb072017

David Henry Sterry

How did you become a writer?

I started writing when I was very young person. I started writing little stories, poems and jokes when I was four or five years old. I’ve always loved reading, and that has fueled my writing. When I was in high school I got encouraged by an amazing teacher when I wrote a parody of Clockwork Orange for a paper. It was all written in that weird Russian/English hybrid that Anthony Burgess invented. My teacher had read the book, so at first he thought there was something wrong with me. But when I showed the book to him, he changed my grade from an F to and A. That was the first time another actual human had said something nice to me about my writing. In college I started getting published in small poetry journals that no one reads, except the people published in them. The Angry Orangutan, I believe was the first place I got published. In fact, where I went to school, a place called Reed College, I was discouraged from being a writer, because the stuff that I wrote didn’t fit in with the dry, academic poetry that was filled with obscure literary references which was popular at the time. They wouldn’t let me write a creative thesis. I felt like I knew I was on to something, even though no one around me seemed to agree. Apart from turning me on to some great books, they did literally nothing to train me to be a professional writer in the world, and I’m afraid that’s very typical of institutes of higher learning in America. I went from writing poetry to writing songs, short stories, and in my 20s I wrote a bunch of short plays, all under seven minutes long, that I performed all over New York City. That was a tremendous education as a writer, to get up in front of a bunch of people I didn’t know, and perform these pieces I wrote. I really got a sense of what worked and what didn’t. I was a professional actor for many years, and that also helped me enormously as a writer. Learning how to write authentic dialogue, create tension, make people laugh, have a satisfying ending, and an attention-grabbing opening. I belonged to many writer’s groups, I found that very very helpful. In San Francisco I belonged to a group that contained incredibly inventive and hard-working writers, including Tamim Ansary, who has written many books, including East of New York, West of Kabul, which has been a fantastic international sensation, and which I recommend everyone, especially in these ridiculous, surreal times in which we find ourselves. Khaled Husseini, author of Kite Runner, was also a member of this group, before he was published. I spent time as a screenwriter in Hollywood, and at one point had a three-picture deal with Disney. Studying under the Disney system was horrifying and helpful. Because of the way they tightly control their stories, every single beat, every single action, every single piece of dialogue, all had to be planned out beforehand. It was great in terms of organization structure, but I found it stifling because there was no room for improvisation. I felt like I really found my voice when I started writing prose in my 30s. There was a freedom in this kind of work that I never found writing for the stage of the screen. I also found that I absolutely loved writing books. It fills me with joy. Of course it’s frustrating and difficult, but those moments where the Muse fills you are absolutely magic. In my own life I control so little. I have a nine-year-old daughter who reinforces that daily. So I love inventing a world where I can control everything. Woody Allen once said the only things in life you can control her art and masturbation. I try to engage in both those activities daily.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.)

Kurt Vonnegut, Dr. Seuss, Mark Twain, Roald Dahl, Edward Albee, ee cummings, Charles Dickens, Charles Baudelaire, William Carlos Williams, Edgar Allen Poe Irvine Welsh, George RR Martin, David Mitchell, Maurice Sendak, Vladimir Nabakov, and the above-mentioned Anthony Burgess. Among many others.

When and where do you write?

I write my first drafts in longhand, with a special pen that has a tiny point called a rapidograph. Then I talk that into a computer, using voice recognition. So I spend a lot of my time in my upstairs office in my house, but recently I’ve written at the Betsy Hotel in Miami Beach, the Fairmont in San Francisco, Powell’s Bookstore in Portland Oregon, Aunt Charlie’s in the Tenderloin, the Santa Fe Writers Conference, and a very nice pastry shop on 23rd St. in New York City. I’m very lucky, I can write anywhere anytime. I have very strange sleeping habits, for instance today I wrote between the hours of 1-5 am, and after I take care of my business, and hang out with my daughter, I’ll probably start up again around 9 o’clock tonight, and God knows how long I’ll be doing it then.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a pilot presentation for my first memoir, Master of Ceremonies: A True Story of Love, Murder, Rollerskates and Chippendale’s, about when I was the master ceremonies at Chippendale’s in the mid-80s in New York City and my boss was assassinated with a bullet in the head. Putting the finishing touches on a YA novel about an orphan who gets shipped off to boarding school where the buildings were all built by Shakers, were famous for making exquisite furniture, and not having sex. Needless to say, there are no more Shakers. It’s a coming-of-age historical time travel neo-Goth murder mystery magic realism romantic black comedy ghost story. I’m one chapter away from finishing an epic, multi-character neo-noir story about a giant battle going on for control of the sex industry in the Tenderloin in downtown San Francisco. It’s kind of like Game of Thrones meets The Wire, only instead of drugs and swords, it’s got sex and guns.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

No. When I’m not writing, I’m constantly visualizing what I’m going to write, so that by the time I sit down, I have lots and lots of details about what I want to write next.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

I once had a screenplay agent who said, “Stop sending me all the shitty scripts I can’t sell.” Still the best advice I’ve ever gotten.

What’s your advice to new writers?

Research, network, persevere, write write write write write and read read read read read.

David Henry Sterry is the author of 16 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, activist, and co-founder of The Book Doctors, who's helped dozens and dozens of writers get successfully published with his book The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published http://www.thebookdoctors.com/our-book. His first memoir Chicken Self:-Portrait of a Man for Rent, 10 Year Anniversary Edition http://bit.ly/1ancjuE, has been translated into 12 languages, and is being made into a movie by the showrunner of Dexter. His book Hos, Hookers, Call Girls & Rent Boys http://nyti.ms/1FrRNfC appeared on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. He has featured on NPR, the London Times, Washington Post, and the Wall St. Journal. He writes for the Huffington Post, Salon and Rumpus. He can be found at davidhenrysterry.com.

Tuesday
Jan312017

Carl Safina

How did you become a writer?

Very slowly, by writing first a few little items for newsletters, then a lot of research papers, then in policy journals, then books and magazines. It was 20 years from my first newsletter article (age 22) to my first book (age 42).

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

Peter Matthiessen, Rachel Carson, Aldo Leopold, Thoreau, John McPhee, Barry Lopez—

When and where do you write?

Wherever I can as I bounce around and when not bouncing in a small comfortable studio behind my house.

What are you working on now?

Planning a new book on animal behavior.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

For me it doesn’t seem to apply to non-fiction.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

“Whenever you write, tell a story.”

What’s your advice to new writers?

There are no rules, but there is one rule: to be a writer you have to write.

Carl Safina’s writing about the living world has won a MacArthur “genius” prize, Pew, and Guggenheim Fellowships; book awards from Lannan, Orion, and the National Academies; and the John Burroughs, James Beard, and George Rabb medals. His seabird studies earned a PhD in ecology from Rutgers; he then spent a decade working to ban high-seas drift nets and to overhaul U.S. fishing policy. Safina is now the first Endowed Professor for Nature and Humanity at Stony Brook University, where he co-chairs the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science and runs the not-for-profit Safina Center. He hosted the PBS series Saving the Ocean. His writing appears in The New York Times, TIME, Audubon, and on the Web at National Geographic News and Views, Huffington Post, CNN.com, and elsewhere. He is author of the classic book, Song for the Blue Ocean. Carl’s seventh book is Beyond Words; What Animals Think and Feel. He lives on Long Island, New York with his wife Patricia and their dogs and feathered friends.

Tuesday
Jan242017

Larry Tye

How did you become a writer?

By accident. 

I was deferring law school after college and, as a native New Englander, wanted to see another part of America. Being a reporter seemed like just the way to be a voyeur, so I talked myself into a job at the Anniston Star in Alabama, found I loved reporting and writing, and stayed in journalism 20 years (I never did get that law degree). Then I made the easy jump to books, which were a longer form of telling the same kind of stories I loved doing in journalism.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

Too many to name them all, but the ones who matter most in my life are my literary agent/friend/handholder Jill Kneerim, my old Boston Globe pal and best journalist I know Sally Jacobs, my Nieman Fellowship curator/mentor Bill Kovach, and my wife Lisa.

When and where do you write? 

I start at 4:30 in the morning, go until lunch, restart early afternoon and go until dinner. I like writing best at our place near the water on Cape Cod.

What are you working on now?

I just sold to Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt my next book--a bio of Senator Joe McCarthy, whose dark story seems more relevant today than ever.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? 

Journalists can't afford to, and that's one of the best habits I have taken from journalist to books.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

To think before I start writing about what my book talk will be, because those are the high points/takeaways you want to convey to readers, then to work backwards.

What’s your advice to new writers?

Persistence -- with everything from coming up with just the right topic, to finding a literary agent who loves you and your topic, to sticking it out and reworking your proposal until you find a publisher, to writing about something you love so much you have no choice.

Larry Tye is a New York Times bestselling author whose most recent book is a biography of Robert F. Kennedy, the former attorney general, U.S. senator, and presidential candidate. Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon explores RFK’s extraordinary transformation from cold warrior to fiery leftist.