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ATW INTERVIEW

Tuesday
Jul282015

Hilary Liftin

How did you become a writer?

I always wrote, starting when I was eight years old, but I never thought I would or could make a career of it. Instead I worked in book publishing, where I loved helping books find their way into the world and being surrounded by book people. I had written a couple of memoir-y books (DEAR EXILE and CANDY AND ME), but I was done talking about myself. It was only when I started collaborating with people on their books--ghostwriting primarily celebrity memoirs--that I unexpectedly found a kind of writing that I could see myself doing day after day, year after year. Telling very personal stories with people whose lives are more dramatic than my own turned out to be a perfect fit. I love the intimacy, the organization, the fast timeline. It was writing celebrity memoir that led me to my current book, my first novel, MOVIE STAR BY LIZZIE PEPPER. And so what had been a hobby became my career, and now I have no hobbies.

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

The idea of who or what has influenced my writing is so sprawling I hardly know where to begin and how to home in on any particular source. I have needed and had many supporters:  the high school teachers, who affirmed my efforts in a way that nothing else I'd ever done received affirmation; the random college administrator who sent me a handwritten letter about the only fiction piece I ever published in college (which was barely fictional); my first boss, the publisher Sam Lawrence who treated his authors like celebrities; the two writer friends who sat down with me before I wrote a word of MOVIE STAR BY LIZZIE PEPPER to help me break the story; my husband, who supports my writing in a million ways even when he has his own to do. 

Then there are books themselves--but where to begin? Because all my work to date has been memoir of one kind or another, that seems like the best place to focus. I've been inspired by Frank Conroy: STOP-TIME;  Jeannette Wells: THE GLASS CASTLE; Danny Sugarman: WONDERLAND AVENUE; Lena Dunham: NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL; and so many more. I love strong, original, fearless voices that remind me how unique and relatable each of our stories is. 

When and where do you write? 

I do best in the morning, the earlier the better, but I can write a full 8 - 6 day. I finish at dinnertime--if I get anything done after dinner it's email and filing. On days I don't exercise, I am vastly more productive (a good way to convince myself I shouldn't exercise). I always write at a cafe which is walking distance from my house. This particular cafe is amazingly generous with iced green tea refills, and neighborhood friends are often either coming in for lunch or to write at tables alongside me. I definitely need other people around and excuses to stop and talk.

What are you working on now? 

I've just started thinking about the proposal for my next novel. This is absolutely the hardest part. My first novel has just been published and I'm still so wrapped up in that book that the idea of envisioning an entirely new story with all new characters and an original arc is a daunting prospect, to say the least. 

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? 

I'm not sure I believe in writer's block. I would just call it procrastination. Or being stuck. The practice of writing celebrity memoir, where there is always a tight deadline and my material is handed to me, has trained me to plow through. It's much more difficult to do that with fiction, but I'd rather write in a wrong direction than end a day with nothing at all. 

What’s your advice to new writers?

I have two pieces of advice for new writers. The first is to outline. I know that there are many novelists who create characters and let them carve their own paths, but I think it's very important to know from the start why you are writing the book, what story you want to tell, and the major milestones along the way. That doesn't mean it can't all change. But having a strong direction from the start will keep you moving forward and give the reader the sense that s/he is in expert hands. The second advice I have is to write it fast without worrying about the art of it. Crafting sentences, choosing images, tightening ideas--all of that is the fun part. Especially when the length and structure of a novel is new to you, my strategy is to hurry to the end, then go back and revise at leisure. 

Hilary Liftin is a collaborator specializing in celebrity memoir. Since 2006 she has worked on fifteen books, ten of which hit the New York Times bestseller list. Hilary has also written three books under her own name. The first, DEAR EXILE, is letters that she exchanged with her co-author, Kate Montgomery, when Kate was in the Peace Corps in Kenya and Hilary was in New York. CANDY AND ME: A Love Story is Hilary’s memoir told through different kinds of candy. Before becoming a full-time writer in 2006, Hilary worked in the publishing industry for ten years. MOVIE STAR by Lizzie Pepper is her first novel.

Tuesday
Jul212015

Julie Schumacher

How did you become a writer?

I can think of several different narrative threads that would answer that question, including:

a) I had a roll-top desk in an empty closet when I was growing up, and when I sat at that desk with the pull-chain light-bulb burning straight overhead, I felt mysterious and literary;

b) Writing things down always seemed to me the best remedy for not being able to explain, face to face, what I thought or how I felt;

c)  Kind people encouraged me.

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

Teachers, teachers. I didn't do terribly well in school when I was young, in part because I was often daydreaming and staring out windows, wondering about other people's more interesting lives; but beginning in high school I had several teachers -- marvelous, eccentric, powerful women -- who paid attention to and took seriously the poems and musings that I put down on paper. I started to fall in love with words, and to understand what they were capable of, and how endless were the ways in which they could be rearranged, combined, deployed. 

I don't think I'd met a flesh-and-blood writer until I was in college, and then one day when I was 19 or 20, Eudora Welty sat down in the chair beside me in a creative writing classroom in Ohio, and it was as if Zeus and Athena had taken their places at the seminar table. I so loved Welty's brand of story-telling, steeped in family and setting and dialogue and painful humor. For similar reasons (though they're very different sorts of writers) I was drawn to Donald Barthelme and Evan Connell and Grace Paley and Jane Austen and Tobias Wolff and Tolstoy and Garcia Marquez and Anne Tyler and Lorrie Moore: character and wit. That's what I read for, and that's what I aim for in my writing.

When and where do you write?

Post-coffee, I try to write for several hours in the morning, before the students or email or the day manage to fasten their respective hooks in me. But I'm not as disciplined as I would like to be, and I am always amazed to hear about writers who stay at their desks for hours each day, and write every day without fail. How do they do it? Do they not have dentist appointments, car problems, friends in crisis, or children?

As for where I write: that varies. The magic of a particular spot can wear off, and then I go in search of the next new place: a library, a coffee shop, the kitchen table. I generally write by hand, in a composition notebook, so I am very portable.

What are you working on now?

A novel as well as a collection of stories -- but that's as descriptive as I want to be at this point. 

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

That term strikes me as oddly mystical -- the counterpart, I guess, of the muse. Some days I feel like I'm writing well (but I don't sense the presence of a muse), and some days the writing goes very badly (but that doesn't feel like a "block" to me -- it just feels like bad prose). I like Chuck Close's motto: "Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work." I've had plenty of workdays that involved tearing up the previous day's efforts, or even the previous month's or year's pages. But I try to tell myself that's part of the process. If writing books were easy, everyone would have a shelf-load of volumes to his or her credit.

What’s your advice to new writers?

Fitting the writing into your life is part of the battle. And don't forget to enjoy it. Writing is often a challenge and a struggle, but it should offer up rewards and surprises every now and then, too. 

Julie Schumacher is the author of Dear Committee Members (Doubleday, 2014) and seven other books, including the PEN/Hemingway finalist, The Body Is Water. Her short stories and essays have appeared in The Atlantic and The New York Times, and in the Best American Short Stories and the O. Henry Awards collections. She teaches at the University of Minnesota.

Tuesday
Jul142015

Paul Guyot

How did you become a writer?

My flippant answer is I possess no other skills. I always wrote as a kid. I wrote stories to make my friends laugh. But I had no idea it was a job, or you could get paid to do it. I came from very blue collar parents, and there were no literary influences on me at an early age. I watched TV and went to movies, but still had no idea people actually wrote those things. I went to college and realized you could major in creative writing. While there, I met a fellow student who also had a passion for writing and movies and we left school and traveled to LA to become famous writers and directors. Thirteen years later I finally earned my first paycheck as a writer. Thus, my real answer is, I followed my passion and never stopped writing. 

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

I discovered Graham Greene in college and he blew my mind. Other early inspirations include Flannery O'Connor, Hemingway, and most everyone at the Algonquin round table. Once I realized you could make a career of it, I was in love with the romance of being a writer. Later inspirations include James Lee Burke, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, John Rogers, David Chase, Steve Zaillian, Scott Rosenberg, Tony Gilroy, the list goes on. As for books, I'm very much in the camp of, Most How-To Books Are Crap. I believe writers can do more for themselves by going out and experiencing life rather than paying for books and seminars. That said, a couple of books I will recommend (like a hundred other writers) are King's ON WRITING, and Anne Lamott's BIRD BY BIRD. I also really encourage young screenwriters to read fiction. All screenwriting gurus preach reading screenplays, which is fine and has its place, but I believe reading fiction—where there are no formatting or budgetary boundaries—can help open a writer's mind and really kick the muse into overdrive. 

When and where do you write?

I do my best work in the morning. I have to start every day at the keyboard BEFORE I do anything else. Before I check email, look at the internet, check messages. I give myself one good hour of what I call a creative burst before I allow my mind to go into a reactive mode. Then I’ll usually write on and off most of the day. I try to take weekends off because for me, part of the process is letting things marinate on the back burners while you're doing something else. But you must be disciplined about this, or you can quickly find yourself writing two days a week and "marinating" the other five. Discipline is probably the single most important, and yet least discussed aspect of being a writer. 

I have an office in my home that I write in. When I'm in LA or on location somewhere, I will write in coffee shops and hotels. Some writers hate this, but I find being around "the world" helps me. Writing is such a solitary endeavor, that just being among others—even if I've got headphones on, and am totally focused—is still better than sitting alone in a room all day. 

What are you working on now?

Currently, I am the Co-Executive Producer of THE LIBRARIANS on TNT. We have just started shooting season two in Portland, Oregon, and that's where I am at the moment. I'm also developing two other television projects, and trying to finish a couple more short stories. 

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

Ah, writer's block. Some swear it doesn't exist, while others write books on the subject. To me it's simply a label. Because this job involves making stuff from nothing, literally creating people and worlds and conflicts, there are times when the creative mind is empty. But it's just part of the process. I guess if I had to choose a side, I'd lean more to the "No such thing as writer's block" tip, but I know what someone means when they're discussing it. I think it's one of the many aspects of this life that is a bit too romanticized and embraced. Just do your job. 

What’s your advice to new writers?

Write. And rewrite. As a screenwriter, if I had a dime for every aspiring scribe who's come to me with their one or two first draft screenplays looking to "become a writer" I could buy us both a few margaritas. The big ones. Much more so than prose, screenwriting comes with this lottery mentality. Write a screenplay and become a millionaire! Yes, it's happened. It's happened a bunch. But it's maybe a one in fifty thousand chance that the first thing you ever write will create a career. The odds are much better if you quit worrying about selling and marketing and networking, and just get better at writing. And you do that by writing. Over and over. Even the best, most successful, highest paid writers still rewrite and rewrite. If they're doing it, how can you not? Goes back to discipline. 

My other piece of advice, and this is a button for me, is to never pay so-called gurus for screenwriting lessons. There are so many people out there taking advantage of aspiring screenwriters by offering these books and courses and seminars all about the secrets of becoming a great screenwriter. But when you check the credentials of these gurus, 99% of them are failed screenwriters. People that were never good enough to have a career doing it. So how can their advice be good?

Paul Guyot has written for multiple television series including FELICITY, JUDGING AMY, LEVERAGE, and THE LIBRARIANS. He is the co-writer of the motion picture GEOSTORM, starring Gerard Butler, Andy Garcia and Ed Harris, which will be in theaters in 2016. His short stories are available on Amazon.

Tuesday
Jul072015

Alice Gregory

How did you become a writer?

It was mostly a failure of imagination, I think. “Being a writer” is one of the few jobs that a 20-year-old can conceive the mechanics of. It more or less looks like being in college. In terms of actual tasks, it’s a pretty homogenous occupation. I still don’t know what most people do at their jobs, like on an hour-by-hour basis. I was really lucky to have graduated without any debt and could live in New York on a cobbled together salary of less than $20,000 for a few years. That’s a small sum of money, and if you can scrape it together and find creative ways to distract yourself from—or better yet, exploit—your relative poverty, then writing little things here and there for pittance (or free) is fine. I also need to give loads of credit to n+1, which publishes and mentors and edits young people with a seriousness that I haven’t experienced outside a few big legacy magazines. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I owe most, if not all, of my so-called career to them.

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

This is a moronically literal answer, but it’s also the truest: my editors! The best part about being a young writer is that your editors are almost necessarily older than you, even if only by a little, and therefore very easy to imbue with extra authority, which is something I crave in my day-to-day life as a person without superiors or a boss. I love feeling dumber than my editor. Otherwise though… Janet Malcolm, David Owen, my husband Leon Neyfakh, and my best friend Molly Young.

When and where do you write? 

I write at home, but not in any kind of dignified way. I have a desk, which I quite literally have never worked at. Usually I start the day off writing at my husband’s desk, but that only lasts for about an hour. I migrate to the kitchen table and then the couch and then the bed. One of the most heartening historical facts I’ve ever learned is that all the photographs of Edith Wharton writing at desks were staged publicity shots. She too wrote in bed. Phew!

What are you working on now? 

As a freelancer, I have this really counterproductive hoarding instinct when it comes to taking assignments and also an intermittently compulsive desire to pitch. It comes from an inchoate terror that the work could disappear at any moment. So, right now, I’m working on six features and four reviews. It’s extremely dumb. The idea of writing a book has always struck me as boring, lonely, and scary, but I must say having an excuse to do just one thing does sound nice. Too bad there’s nothing I want to write a book about!

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? 

Only when I trick an editor into assigning me a story that I haven’t thought through and realize I have nothing to add to the original pitch.

What’s your advice to new writers?

Don’t take a high-volume blogging job unless it’s an absolute financial necessity.

Alice Gregory is a columnist for The New York Times Book Review and a contributing editor at T: The New York Times Style Magazine. She has written for publications including The New Yorker, Harper’s, GQ, and The Atlantic. Her essay “Mavericks” which first appeared in n+1 was republished in The Best American Sports Writing 2014.

Tuesday
Jun302015

Peg Fitzpatrick

How did you become a writer?

I've always been a creative person - I was in theater and sang in school. I took photography classes in college and loved it. I've designed costumes and done many other creative things. When I started in social media people kept asking me if I had  a blog which I didn't but I eventually started on. So I guess you could say I'm a writer-on-demand. The best part about that was that I had a built-in audience for my blog when it launched.

Blogging and social media turned into writing my first book, The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users, with co-author Guy Kawasaki.

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

My writing influences are Nora Ephron, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Guy Kawasaki. 

When and where do you write?

I write at home in my office ideally first thing in the morning. For my blog, I write on Saturday mornings and edit on Sunday. I bring my laptop when I travel and try to write on the go as well. 

What are you working on now?

I'm working on a book for writers on how to market and launch their books. It's much harder than you think to sell a book!

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

I'm very lucky to say no, I haven't. I've had projects take longer than I had anticipated but finished them. I have tons of ideas that I keep on Evernote and Trello so I can grab something from them if I need to.

What’s your advice to new writers?

My advice is to just start writing! Don't worry if you don't have a publisher or agent etc. If you have an idea, suss it out and keep working on it. Just start writing and don't edit as you go. Write, write, write. Then you can edit later.

Peg Fitzpatrick is a social media strategist and popular blogger writing on her own website and across the web. Social media is her passion. And her job. She's built a thriving social media platform of over 1,000,000 followers. Peg has spearheaded successful social-media campaigns for Motorola, Audi, Google, and Virgin as well as having been a brand ambassador for Kimpton Hotels. The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users is her first book.

http://pegfitzpatrick.com/