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Recommended Books
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  • Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You
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ATW INTERVIEW

Tuesday
Nov252014

David Hair

How did you become a writer?

I'd always wanted to write, but for various reasons — some practical (young family, busy and stressful work life) and some psychological (lack of confidence) — it took a while to get started. I finally found the space to write, and to my quiet amazement my first novel (a YA fantasy called The Bone Tiki, set in my homeland of New Zealand) got published in 2009, won an award and spawned a six book series, which set me off into fulltime writing, both YA and adult fantasy novels. I'm now 13 books into what I hope will be a lifelong new career.

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

When I was trying to kick-start my writing I attended some writing courses at night school in Wellington, one with Frances Cherry and another with Chris Else. They were invaluable in finding my 'voice' and thinking about technical aspects of character development and story structure, as well as helping to give me the confidence to write. In terms of books, I've never read 'how to' manuals on writing, but tried to learn by reading widely and seeing what works for me as a reader. In terms of writing role-models, I loved Alan Garner's YA books (written before 'YA' was a category) and the way he blended the mythic with the modern; and I fell in love with fantasy after reading Tolkien, Eddings and Donaldson.

When and where do you write?

I write at home, in an upstairs office with a skylight, and a window looking out over the rooftops to Totara Park in Auckland, where I go running most days around midday to clear my head and freshen up. I like to be up early and am usually at my desk by 7.30 am, and will chip away at whatever project I'm busy with for most of the day.

What are you working on now?

I'm currently finalising Book 4 of my adult fantasy series, The Moontide Quartet. It's the last book of the series, with lots of wrapping up and big events, and the deadline is looming!

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

Not really - unless you count all the years before I began writing! Some days things don't flow, and I step away, work on something else or do jobs around the house, and before long I'm back in the mood. Sometimes I'll run up against a problem with a particular scene or plot device, and will simply skip ahead in the story and keep writing, then go back to the problem scene later to find it's more or less resolved, because looking at what happens after the problem scene helps me focus on what was important in that scene, and enables me to finish it.

What’s your advice to new writers?

Write! Have a go, and believe in yourself. You'll never find out what you are capable of if you don't try.

David Hair is a YA and Adult fantasy writer living in Auckland, New Zealand. After a career in financial services, he became a fulltime writer following the publication of his first novel in 2009. He has a degree in History and Classical Studies, and a Diploma in Financial Planning, two grown children and is on the feline side of the cats versus dogs debate. He has two writing awards:

'Best First Book' award, for The Bone Tiki, NZ Post Children's Book Awards 2010

'Young Adult' award, for Pyre of Queens, LIANZA Childrens Book Awards 2012

David has lived in the UK and India and is inspired by travel, history and folklore.

Tuesday
Nov182014

Jacob Appel

How did you become a writer? I wish I could claim I'd had a great epiphany like Martin Luther in his outhouse or that I'd had a typewriter delivered to my house by accident like Penny Sycamore in "You Can't Take It With You," but I have no such dramatic story to offer. I suppose I became a writer because I was always afraid of not being a writer -- of ending up one of those hopeless souls out of John Cheever's stories, boarding the 5:48 train to Westchester. I watched those unfortunate men and women disembarking from the commuter train as a child, returning to the safety of a town with (to pilfer from Hemingway) wide lawns and narrow minds, and I am so glad I did not become one of them.  How can you argue with a job you can do in your bathrobe?

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.). I've been very fortunate to have a series of brilliant teachers -- essayist Andre Aciman, playwrights Tina Howe and Richard Schotter, bioethicist Edward Beiser -- who have taken the time to share their wisdom. I also had a handful of high school teachers (among whom Julie Leerburger, Eric Rothschild and Neil Ginsberg remain living) who tolerated and even encouraged my unconventional ways. I'm reluctant to credit any living writers with influencing me, because I'm not so sure they'd want the "credit"; among the dead, Phillip Larkin has certainly been a profound influence. His appreciation for disappointment and diminished expectations dovetails well with my own innate cynicism. (I can overlook his politics for his poetry.) I'm also a great admirer of Willa Cather, whose slow banishment from the canon is a cause for considerable grief, as well as Shirley Jackson, whose sudden resurrection merits much joy.

When and where do you write? I'm a psychiatrist at a busy New York City hospital, so I do a lot of my writing in the nursing stations. So do many of my literary-minded colleagues. When you see a doctor typing away in the emergency room, odds are 50-50 that he's working on his novel and not a patient chart.

What are you working on now? Seducing Sophia Loren through my prose -- she hasn't responded to my novels yet, but I tell myself she's just playing hard to get. On the subject of novels, I have two novels on my agent's desk--one about a sociopathic cardiologist and the other about a teacher who discovers that the American Civil War is a hoax. If you're a publisher interested in buying them, please be in touch. I'm also scribbling away on more stories, all well below the radar screen.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? Not really. I'm fortunate in that I always have another bad idea for a story or a novel up my sleeve--although it often takes me several hundred pages and months of work to realize how truly deplorable my idea is.

What’s your advice to new writers? Marry wealthy. And if you marry wealthy, ask your spouse if she has a younger sister who'd be interested in meeting a ne'er-do-well physician-writer in New York City.

Jacob M. Appel is a physician, attorney and bioethicist based in New York City. He is the author of more than two hundred published short stories and is a past winner of the Boston Review Short Fiction Competition, the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Award for the Short Story, the Dana Award, the Arts & Letters Prize for Fiction, the North American Review’s Kurt Vonnegut Prize, the Missouri Review’s Editor’s Prize, the Sycamore Review’s Wabash Prize, the Briar Cliff Review’s Short Fiction Prize, the H. E. Francis Prize, the New Millennium Writings Fiction Award in four different years, an Elizabeth George Fellowship and a Sherwood Anderson Foundation Writers Grant. His stories have been short-listed for the O. Henry Award, Best American Short Stories, Best American Nonrequired Reading, Best American Mystery Stories, and the Pushcart Prize anthology on numerous occasions. His first novel, The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up, won the Dundee International Book Prize in 2012. His second novel, The Biology of Luck, was short-listed for the Hoffer Society's Montaigne Medal. Jacob holds graduate degrees from Brown University, Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, Harvard Law School, New York University’s MFA program in fiction and Albany Medical College’s Alden March Institute of Bioethics. He taught for many years at Brown University and currently teaches at the Gotham Writers’ Workshop and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

Tuesday
Nov112014

Matt Stone

How did you become a writer? I minored in creative writing in College, and after a 20 year career in various aspects of the real estate business, I just threw the hammer, quit my job and started writing full time. Actually it wasn't a pure cut and run, as I'd begun freelancing on a part time basis while still working my other full time job. It didn't allow much free time but facilitated me learning more about the game, getting into good work habits, and developing a client base. I'd recommend this as a way to get in the game. 

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.). I'm a car guy, and grew up on Motor Trend, Road & Track, Car and Driver, and the like, back when those monthly buff books had really great writing. Many of their great staffers, such as Eric Dahlquist Sr., Peter Egan, John Christy, Michael Lamm, David E. Davis Jr., and many others who wrote about cars and the car scene. 

When and where do you write? Its my full time career now, and I have a fully equipped office at home, so I write nearly every day from my own comfy office, with no more daily freeway commute. And don't let starving, failing, sit around and drink coffee all day writers tell you there's no work out there, because there is, but you have to work hard to develop paying clients and it takes some time. 

What are you working on now? Always a plethora of magazine feature articles, and at least one book in the oven at all times.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? Seldom. If I do, I just start writing the middle of the story, or whatever aspect of the piece comes to mind, then work outwards to the lead and wrap if I have to. Some times it works to write your conclusion and declarative statements first, and then work backwards to get the story moving and heading in the direction of your wrap up. 

What’s your advice to new writers? We all do a little work for free or little to no money at the beginning, just for the experience and the bylines, but don't waste away too much time or your whole career doing it for nothing so others can make money off your talents. I have always viewed this as a pie chart cut three ways; one slice is your ability to write (in other words, can you write?), another slice is your knowledge and passion for subject (or do you know what you're talking about?) and finally your ability to conduct yourself as a business (and as an adults). In other words, write to size and meet deadlines, handle your invoicing, pitches, editing and follow up. You must do all three at a high level.

Matt Stone, freelance journalist, author, broadcaster, former Editor, Motor Trend Classic magazine, has been a professional automotive journalist/photographer since 1990. 

Editorially, Stone was in charge of advance and strategic planning for the magazine, including story selection and editor assignments. He participated in all manner of Motor Trendactivities, including road tests, special interest stories, industry news, and MT's world-recognized Car, Truck, and Sport/Utility of the Year programs. His specialties are history, design, and interview features. Stone contributed to MotorTrend.com, and his voice was often heard on the syndicated Motor Trend Radio Network. 

Stone has a Bachelor's degree from Cal Poly Pomona, with a major in Business, and minors in Journalism and Marketing. He has authored and photographed more than a dozen automotive book titles with more in process, and for seven years was a member of SPEED/Fox Sports' Barrett-Jackson auctions television broadcast team. 

Matt enjoys anything with four wheels, though demonstrates a particular passion for sports, performance, and racing cars. He was Chief Class Judge at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, a judge at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, a member of the Le May America’s Car Museum Steering Committee, and officiates at other shows and events. He serves his profession as a past Officer and Board of Director member, Keynote Address Committee Chairman, and past-President of the Motor Press Guild (MPG) trade association. 

A California native, Matt currently resides in Glendale, and still hopes to own a Ferrari Daytona, a Ford GT, and a Shelby Cobra 289. Well, some day, anyway…

Tuesday
Nov042014

Brooke Borel

How did you become a writer? I've always loved writing and have written stories and poems since I was a kid, but I didn't follow a typical writer's path to my current career (if there is such a thing). I never worked at a school paper, I didn't take many lit classes in college, and I didn't publish my first article until I was 28. Instead, my focus was science. I studied biomedical engineering as an undergraduate--which required coursework from biology to electric circuit theory to physics--and after I graduated I considered a career either as an engineer or a patent lawyer (yes, really). But neither felt right. I went back to school and finished a graduate program that involved the history of science and science studies, and I fell in love with the act of writing about science. I lucked into a brief internship at the science magazine Cosmos when I was traveling in Australia in 2008, and started freelancing right after. As for the rest, history and all that. 

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.). Oh wow, this is a hard one. There are too many to list here. There is my second grade teacher Mrs. LaGrone, who had us write and bind our own books and then donate them to the school library. And my graduate thesis advisor at NYU Andy Jewett, who was always really encouraging about my writing, was an excellent reader and editor, and was the first to suggest I'd be a good journalist (he's now at Harvard). And all of my editors at Popular Science have been so great over the years I've written there, especially Martha Harbison (now at Audubon), Susannah Locke (now at Vox), and Jenny Bogo.

As for books, I've always appreciated Roy Peter Clark's writing advice, and I try to read the Elements of Style every year or two. That reminds me, I'm overdue on that one...

When and where do you write? I work from home in a tiny office with a window. It looks out onto a busy street in Brooklyn, so sometimes it gets distracting, but it's also nice to see people walking around and going about their days. I write on and off pretty much all day, in between research and interviews, but I usually get my best burst of writing energy in the early to late evening. 

What are you working on now? I just wrapped up a book about bed bugs, which will be out this spring from the University of Chicago Press. It's called: Infested: How the Bed Bug Infiltrated Our Bedrooms and Took Over the World. I'm working on a handful of stories for various science magazines and websites that cover everything from agriculture to invasive species to cricket farming. And I just started a new book project--also for Chicago--that will be a fact-checking guide for journalism students, freelancers, and anyone else who wants to learn how to fact-check nonfiction writing.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? Of course, but I usually just step away from the computer and either take my dog for a walk or go for a swim at the YMCA. Getting away from it for a little while usually helps. 

What’s your advice to new writers? Just keep at it. The only way to get better is to practice and to share your work with smart writers and editors who will push you to do better. Oh, and stay curious about everything. The best stories come from asking a lot of questions and wanting to learn more, more, more.

Tuesday
Oct282014

Jessica Lahey

How did you become a writer? I'm not sure where the distinction between being "a person who writes" and being a "writer" lies, but I have always written. I was not a big journal keeper or diarist, but I've always loved writing nonfiction. I love telling a true story, whether mine or someone else's, and am so grateful that I get to do it for a living as a teacher and a practitioner of the craft. 

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.). I got serious about writing in high school. I was lucky enough to have two phenomenal teachers, Don Cannon and K.C. Potts. I specifically remember getting a paper back from K.C. in my junior year of high school. He'd written a note about a tiny moments in that paper, a description of clicking my cycling shoes into my pedals. He said it was beautiful, and that was it. I was hooked on the rush of rendering a sensory moment in words. Don and K.C. taught me so more than English and writing; they taught me about the real depth of language, the power language has to stitch ideas together and convey more than one meaning at a time. It's not coincidental that I became a teacher. I love writing, but I also love showing my students how to create the magic themselves. I have tried to model my own teaching after Don's and K.C.'s example, and still rely on them for advice on both my teaching and my writing.

When and where do you write? When I was teaching full-time (English, Latin and writing), it was catch as catch can. Between classes, during lunch, during my prep periods, and in the moments between helping my kids with their homework and making dinner. Now that I'm teaching very part-time, I have established a much more productive schedule. I'm primarily a morning writer. I am clearest first thing, after coffee, and get my best work done before lunch, either at the dining room table, at my desk in the back room of our house, or at the little coffee table in our kitchen. I'm pretty hyper, so I have to get up a lot and move in between ideas, pages, or sections. When I have a serious deadline to meet, it helps for me to get out of my house, away from the temptations of laundry and gardening. I go to Dartmouth's Baker Library a lot, and wrote much of The Gift of Failure at the King Arthur Flour cafe in Norwich, Vermont. A little background noise is good for me; I'm pretty good at tuning it out. 

What are you working on now? I write education pieces for the Atlantic and have a column called "The Parent-Teacher Conference" at the New York Times, so there's always something in progress for those two publications. I also do regular commentaries for Vermont Public Radio, and I love the radio work. I am also finishing up a YA novel that I'd started before selling The Gift of Failure and while it's much harder for me to write fiction, I love writing this book. It's a story that was born out of a friend's memory loss, and the parts that were hardest for me to write had to do with the experience of having no memory and dealing with the aftermath of a head injury. However, the day after I handed in my draft of The Gift of Failure, my husband and I went for a trail ride in the New Hampshire woods and I was thrown from a horse, on to my head. I had no memory of who I was, where we were, how to get home, what my book was about, or even where I'd been that morning. Suddenly, I had an insight into my main character. I don't recommend this kind of "method writing," but my own head injury offered its own silver linings, I suppose. 

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? Not really. I've suffered from anxiety and worry when challenging edits come in, but I usually can go for a walk or go out and weed a flower bed and the answer presents itself. Once, when I was having trouble framing a piece I really wanted to write, I went for a long cross-country ski, and the piece just presented itself to me. I came home and simply wrote down the stuff that percolated up. I've come to understand that gardening, writing, running, skiing, walking, laundry, vacuuming, are actually a really important part of my process. For me, writing is about being quiet or doing something with my body so my brain can unhinge and do its thing, sifting through ideas and letting them settle into place.

What’s your advice to new writers? At the risk of being cliche, read, write, and read. My friend and New York Times editor K.J. Dell'Antonia likes to talk about giving your best writing hours to your most important project, so I try to do that. I read a lot to get ideas about the subjects I write about (education and parenting), but I just love to learn stuff. I will read just about any nonfiction book - about mapmaking and history and extreme sports, and food foraging...I love to read about stuff I don't know much about. That, in turn, feeds the idea mill. Ideas for my own writing comes from odd places, and I just have to reading a lot and paying attention when those connections and ideas show up.

Bio: I studied comparative literature at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and then law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I got my first teaching gig at Duke University during my time at UNC, and fell in love that very first day. I finished law school, but knew I would end up teaching. I wrote my first book and, like most first books, it was a valuable lesson in writing if not a publishable work. After that book went nowhere, I started writing about education, first at my own blog and then for the Core Knowledge Foundation for my first really wonderful editor, Robert Pondiscio  For the first time, I began to understand that editors are not there to make me feel bad about my writing, but to improve it. I published my first article at the New York Times Motherlode blog, and later, at the Atlantic. That article, "Why Parents Need to Let Their Children Fail," went viral and helped me land my agent, Laurie Abkemeier (I'd chased her for years!) and led to an auction for my book, The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed. That book will be released by HarperCollins in August of 2015. I live in the wilds of New Hampshire with my husband, a physician and writer, and my two boys, 15 and 10.