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Recommended Books
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ATW INTERVIEW

Tuesday
Oct212014

David Kushner

How did you become a writer? My freshman writing teacher in college encouraged me to pursue it. So I switched my major from Business to English Lit. I liked how it didn’t require me to memorize anything for a grade. Writing came more easily to me than other things, and I enjoyed it. I started writing for the school paper, mainly to get free concert tickets and CDs. Then I discovered Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe, and decided to move to New York after college and try to make it as a writer. It took me a while to break into magazines, but, after working for an early online startup, I got my break with Spin magazine. The Internet was just taking off, and, because of my experience in the field, I was sort of an expert by default. I began writing a monthly digital culture column for Spin then finally got an assignment for Rolling Stone, which eventually led to my first book, Masters of Doom. 

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.). Hunter Thompson, Tom Wolfe, MAD magazine, the Atari 2600, The Executioner’s Song, David Foster Wallace, T.C. Boyle, Vonnegut, Kafka, Orwell, Cormac McCarthy, my parents, film and TV.

When and where do you write? Ideally my desk during the day. But if need be any time or place (preferably with electricity and WiFi).

What are you working on now? Magazine stories, a screenplay, a book.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? No. I consider time spent staring blankly at my screen to be part of the process. 

What’s your advice to new writers? Read, write, and be persistent.

David Kushner is the author of Masters of Doom, Jonny Magic and the Card Shark Kids, Levittown, Jacked, and The Bones of Marianna. A contributing editor of Rolling Stone, he has written for publications including The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Wired, New York Times Magazine, New York, GQ, and Playboy. The winner of the New York Press Club award for Best Feature Reporting, Kushner has been included in The Best American Crime Reporting, The Best Music Writing, and The Columbia Journalism Review's Best Business Writing anthologies. His ebook, The Bones of Marianna, was chosen by Amazon as a Best Digital Single of 2013. He has taught as an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University, and is the former digital culture essayist for National Public Radio Weekend Edition Sunday. In the mid-90s, we was a prouder and writer for the pioneering music site, SonicNet. Several of his books and articles are being developed for feature film and television. Web: www.davidkushner.com,Twitter: @davidkushner.

Tuesday
Oct142014

Ksenia Anske

How did you become a writer?

I started writing for therapy. My therapist asked me to. I was depressed and very much wanted to kill myself. Journaling forced me to get the pain on paper, and the more I did it, the more I wanted to write stories. Not my own sad depressing story, but stories that have been germinating in my head all these years. It's like I've opened a faucet and out they came, pouring.

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

Gosh, there are too many. Perhaps the biggest are Russian writers Pushkin and Chekhov and morbid Russian fairy tales I grew up on. Then in my teens I have discovered Stephen King (translated in Russian) and have devoured every book of his I could find. Then came Bulgakov, Nabokov, Dostoyevsky, J.R.R. Tolkien. Later, when I came to US without knowing English, my lit teacher in college said I should write. I couldn't believe him. "It's not my first language," I thought. Then my daughter hooked me up on Chuck Palahniuk, and I fell in love with his style. Then there was Harry Potter and if I won't stop now, I can keep going for another 10 pages... So books. Books were my teachers.

When and where do you write? 

I write at a writing desk in my bedroom. Every day. I don't really go anywhere, put on some colorful socks in the morning, drink a bucket of coffee, tweet a little (okay, I tweet a lot), and then start and don't stop until I have written at least 2K words.

What are you working on now? 

CORNERS, a book about 4 kids jumping in and out of 30 books after they discover that corners of the world can be turned like pages of a book. It's a fun story, really, because I get to revisit all those books I loved reading when I was a kid, like Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and The Little Prince and One Thousand and One Nights and Pippi Longstalking.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? 

I don't believe in writer's block. When I'm stuck, I get up and jump around or do a silly dance or stand on my head (for real) and think and think and think. I wait for a new thought to pop in my head, then sit back down and keep writing. If I'm still stuck and slow, it's either because I haven't slept much (then I take a nap) or because the story doesn't excite me anymore. Then I go back and reread it from beginning. That usually gets me going. Or, if still stuck, I read something brilliant. Always gets me unstuck.

What’s your advice to new writers?

Write a lot and read a lot. Every day. Don't worry about rules or being read or making a living. Worry about the music of your writing. The rhythm. Train your ear. Listen to the rhythm of others. That will help you discover your own. Your voice. That's all there is to it, really. It's that easy and that hard.

BIO: Ksenia was born in Moscow, Russia, and came to US in 1998 not knowing English, having studied architecture and not dreaming that one day she'd be writing. She lives in Seattle with her boyfriend and their combined three kids in a house that they like to call The Loony Bin. She gives all her ebooks away for FREE and tweets a lot.

Tuesday
Oct072014

Philip Ball

How did you become a writer?

The only real answer is that I wrote. Ever since I can remember (in fact, I recently unearthed my first "book" in my cellar, written at the age of 10). Yet it never crossed my mind until I was in my mid-20s that a career in writing was an option. I was always supposed to be a scientist, which is what happens if you seem to have an aptitude for science. Only in retrospect is it clear to me that writing is what I always really wanted to do. But in practical terms, I got there by getting a job as an editor at a top journal (Nature), through pure good furtune, and then using that as a launching base for learning about how to write "properly".

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

There are stacks of good science writers, and while I never had a key influence among them, I learn little bits from anyone who writes well. For example, I noticed my style changing in tiny ways (fewer subjectives at the start of sentences) after reviewing James Gleick's The Information. I felt vindicated in my wish to write beyond the bounds of traditional science writing by the final pages of Richard Holmes' The Age of Wonder. My one published novel was hugely indebted to James Meek's The People's Act of Love for showing that it was OK to write in a thoughtful, intelligent way while telling a fantastic yarn. I get influenced by people not because they are doing things similar to me, but because they are inspiring writers: Sebald, Ishiguro, Angela Carter…

When and where do you write?

I write almost entirely in my study in my converted attic, looking out over all of London - which sounds grand, but it's an absolute tip, crammed with books, obsolete children's toys, a spare bed etc. I regard it as a job, and do it from 9.30 until 6.00 each day. A job but not a chore - it's a privilege that I hope I never take for granted.

What are you working on now?

A book on the role of water in Chinese culture and history. It is an absurdly immense subject, but I'm learning a lot - which is one of my key criteria for choosing a new subject for a book. I think I know what my next three books will be after this one, but I'm not saying yet...

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

No, I just write really badly when uninspired, and hope that I'll find a way to fix it later. But I suspect it is easier for non-fiction writers, who can fill in the "blocked" days with research. Doing journalism as well as books is great for combatting writer's block too: when the deadline is tomorrow, you have no choice.

What’s your advice to new writers?

Never try to tailor your writing to what you think will sell. But that's not the same as trying to make it engaging, accessible, topical etc. - those are fine. But the subject has to be one you really care about and have something to say about. In the final days of writing the book that won me my biggest award, I was convinced that it was a waste of time and that no one would want to read the book except me. Fortunately I didn't listen to that voice, but it taught me a lesson.

Bio: I am a freelance writer, and previously for many years an editor at the science journal Nature. I studied chemistry at Oxford and physics at Bristol. I have written something like 20 books, depending on how you count them, generally on science and its intersections with culture, art, history and society. I also write regular columns for various science and other magazines, and contribute to newspapers and magazines of whatever kind will have me.

Tuesday
Sep302014

Stuart Dybek

How did you become a writer? Writing (and reading) gave me a special jolt even as a kid, but I got more serious about writing in high school, although my main passion then was music, especially jazz. I played saxophone but not well enough and I'd ultimately trade the horn for the instrument that in those days was called a typewriter.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.). Music and for that matter the other arts are strong influences. Writing is the only art that has an abstract medium, the other arts come through the senses so I try to swim upstream against abstraction and make language as sensual as possible. the writers I'd list as influences generally are doing that very thing. I read a lot of poetry. Fiction writers who've influenced me over the years include Isaac Babel, Franz Kafka, Hemingway, Eudora Welty, James Joyce...for starters.

When and where do you write? I rent a little studio stuffed with books, notebooks, tons of records, cds, stereo gear. I spend the day there when I am not teaching, but try as I might, I don't get down to writing until afternoon and work then until evening.

What are you working on now? A comic--hopefully--memoir type novel set in Chicago where I grew up and a book of poems set in the Caribbean where I once lived for a couple lovely years.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? I run hot and cold and in between. I'm grateful for when it seems to come easy, but don't expect that or even trust it. I write to music and that often helps me through the slow times.

What’s your advice to new writers? Try to practice another art as it will give you a better idea of the role of craft in writing. Learn the craft as if you are learning to make something as that's what writing is: making something, not lit interp. Read as my friend the poet Michael Ryan says "carnivorously."

Bio: Two new collections of fiction by Stuart Dybek, Ecstatic Cahoots and Paper Lantern, were published simultaneously by FSG in June 2014. His previous books of fiction are Childhood and Other Neighborhoods, The Coast of Chicago, and I Sailed with Magellan. He has also published two volumes of poetry, Brass Knuckles and Streets In Their Own Ink. His work is widely anthologized and appears in publications such as The New Yorker, Harpers, The Atlantic, Tin House, Granta, Zoetrope, Ploughshares, and Poetry. Dybek is the recipient of many literary awards including the PEN/Bernard Malamud Prize for “distinguished achievement in the short story”, a Lannan Award, the Academy Institute Award in Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Writer’s Award, the Harold Washington Literary Award, two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and four O’Henry Prizes. His work has appeared in Best American Poetry and in Best American Fiction. In 2007, he was awarded both a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and the Rea Award for the Short Story. He is the Distinguished Writer in Residence at Northwestern University.

Tuesday
Sep232014

Robley Wilson

How did you become a writer? I can't remember not wanting to be a writer. I was fortunate, I think, to have been an only child, with a doting mother and an indifferent father. My mother read to me whenever I was sick, and in the 1930s all of us kids were afflicted with measles and chicken pox and whooping cough and scarlet fever—illnesses modern children are mostly spared—so my mother had ample opportunity to read to me. If I'd been a hundred percent healthy in those days, I might never have read a book. Later, I read Albert Payson Terhune's dog stories, and when the war came along I was an avid reader of war stories. We lived in my paternal grandmother's house during the Depression, and I recall finding a pictorial history of World War One that fascinated me. Most of my childhood seems to have been spent in my room with battalions of toy soldiers.

I referred to my father as "indifferent"—and he was—but he was responsible in a way for the first piece of writing I ever published. He was a great baseball fan, of the Boston Red Sox and the Boston Braves, and we would listen to the games on radio. In those days, the away games were broadcast as "telegraphic re-creations"—which meant the announcer sat in a Boston studio and read the Western Union ticker tape that described the game. You could hear the machine ticking away in the background, and you realized the announcer knew before you did what was happening in Chicago or St. Louis; the pleasure came from how well the announcer dramatized events he couldn't see, building up suspense to feed your imagination. What sometimes happened was that a game would run long, and when that happened, the station—I think in those days it was WHDH in Boston—would have to return to its "regularly scheduled programming'" at five or five-thirty in the afternoon. Usually, the program was "Superman", a staple of radio in the '40s.

The Boston Post—a newspaper now long dead—ran a weekly column called "All Sorts." It was edited by a guy named Joe Harrington, and consisted of rants and verse and general comments sent in by his readers. It was an eclectic feature, and I was a regular reader. After a Superman interruption of an especially riveting extra-inning ballgame, I wrote a bit of doggerel expressing my annoyance, and I sent it to the Post. It was printed, and it was my very first published work and byline. I must have been 14 or 15 years old. All through high school I sent work to Collier's and Saturday Evening Post, but nothing came of it. I did get wonderful encouragement from Phoebe Lou Adams, an editor at The Atlantic, and that kept me going.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.). All credit to my mother. She had only a high-school education, but she was a sensitive and lovely woman, and she admired every bit of writing I showed her. After she died, my father passed on to me a sheaf of poems she had written off and on over her lifetime. They were amateur, but they were heartfelt and honest and, I must say, moving.

I wasn't much of a reader, as I've said. It was college that finally got me into books—Thomas Wolfe was my favorite, and Hemingway, and Somerset Maugham. At Bowdoin in my freshman year, my best friend was a fellow named Richard Secrest. We both planned to write the great American novel, and during our first semester we competed, showing each other our newest poems and stories, and critiquing them over our beer. I dropped out of school at the end of that semester (that got my father's attention) and after a brief foray to New York City—which taught me a lesson in humility—and four years in the Air Force, I re-entered Bowdoin, where my best and most helpful professors were Stephen Minot, Lawrence Sargent Hall and Louis Coxe. Much later, at the Iowa Writers Workshop, I worked with George Starbuck, C.D.B.Bryan, Vance Bourjaily and Kurt Vonnegut. I'm not sure any of them were "influences," but they were great friends and, I suppose, role models.

It was while I was in the Air Force, stationed in Germany, that my first short story was accepted by a magazine in Paris, called New Story. It was a quarterly, with a list of patrons that included Jean-Paul Sartre, Martha Graham, and Tennessee Williams. I was ecstatic, of course, but the story was never published; the magazine folded before it could appear. (Never think the writing life is going to be easy.) I wrote stories all through my enlistment, and submitted them to various magazines. None sold. When you're in the military, any writing you want to show the world has to be read by your commanding officer; mine respected me, but he seemed to think I was a little weird.

When and where do you write? Nowadays I do most of my writing in bed, propped against a couple of pillows. Is this important? I doubt it. I wrote my first novel on a yellow legal pad at the dining room table; the second using Word Perfect on a computer in an upstairs study; the third partly on a laptop in bed, partly in a notebook at the mall while my wife did her daily walk.

What are you working on now? I'm trudging through a novel to be called Bloodweed, an extended riff on death and dying. It's already in its fifth year, and I'm not sure I see the end of it—although it's entirely blocked out; I simply have to write it.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? There are two kinds of writer's block. One is procrastination/laziness. The other is when you've written yourself into a corner and need time away from writing to work yourself out of it. Neither is a serious problem.

What’s your advice to new writers? Read. Read. Read. And never ask your relatives to look at what you've written.

Robley Wilson has been a Guggenheim Fellow in Fiction and a Nicholl Fellow in Screenwriting. He was for some thirty years editor of the North American Review, a literary quarterly which twice won the National Magazine Award for Fiction. His novels are The Victim's Daughter (Simon & Schuster), Splendid Omens and The World Still Melting (both St. Martin's/Thomas Dunne); the most recent of his six story collections is Who Will Hear Your Secrets? (Johns Hopkins). He lives in Cape Canaveral with his wife, novelist Susan Hubbard.