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ATW INTERVIEW

Tuesday
May232017

David Cooper

How did you become a writer?

Twenty years ago, I was inspired by actual career upheavals and professional experiences to work out a plot for what eventually became my debut novel “Hatred Ridicule & Contempt”, combining a libel trial with a distasteful round of law firm internal politics. I wrote half of it before becoming disillusioned at the prospect of ever finding a publisher, and shelved it. Then came the Kindle boom and the opportunity it provided for independent self-publishers. This was the inspiration for me to take out the long forgotten typescript, shake it down, finish it off and finally see it in print in 2011. “Infernal Coalition” followed a year later, and “Craven Conflict” three years afterwards, both of them once again legal suspense dramas. 

Name your writing influences.

You’re no doubt expecting me to say John Grisham! I’ll gladly concur, but my all time favourite for reading pleasure and inspiration is Robert Goddard, an undisputed master of the ever twisting plot and the use of fascinating settings. I’d add Tom Clancy, Michael Crichton and Glenn Cooper (not a relation!).

When and where do you write?

Home and office, whenever the moment seems right. I am still working full time in the legal profession, so writing is very much a sideline. Thankfully I can answer “doesn’t the boss mind?” with “I am the boss”.

What are you working on now?

The outline of a potential plot for a new legal suspense drama involving disputed wills, dishonest brokers (far more entertaining than honest brokers) and family turmoil. I’ll need to be sure in my own mind that the plot is both interesting and watertight before the first words start to hit the screen.

Have you ever suffered from writers’ block?

As described above, my initial experience involved a 12 year block…

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

Write about what you know about, and what others are likely to know less about.

What’s your advice to new writers?

It was going to be “ne te confundant illegitimi” (Google it!), but on a more constructive basis “learn how to self publish and get yourself a really good cover designer.”

David Cooper is a solicitor by profession and lives in the UK. He has written and self published three UK based legal suspense drama novels, Hatred Ridicule & Contempt, Infernal Coalition, and Craven Conflict. He tweets as @DavidCooperBks and his blogsite can be found at davidcooperbooks.blogspot.co.uk.

Tuesday
May162017

Douglas Rushkoff

How did you become a writer?

I guess I fell into it. I was a theater director, but writing articles about new technology and digital culture because I had access to the people who were working in these areas, and had enough of a science and psychedelics background to understand what they were talking about. I ended up becoming the go-to journalist for articles about anything to do with rave culture, new media, networks, virtual reality, and non-linear culture in general. 

I was writing in Los Angeles, and tired of the way the theater and film businesses actually worked, so I accepted a job as senior editor for a magazine called Fame in New York. But before I got on the plane, I got a call from the magazine that they were shutting down! So I got on the plane, anyway, with a legal pad. And I listed all the topics I had been hired to write about, and declared them part of the same cultural movement: Cyberia. I wrote a 14-page book proposal during that 6-hour flight, and managed to sell it to a publisher two weeks later. 

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

Gosh, there’s a lot. Milton and Shakespeare, Ibsen and Shaw, Edward Albee and Sam Shepard to start. Theater was my thing. Brecht and Artaud were my theorists, and really informed my sensibility about society. Only later did I get into Adorno, Benjamin, and the Frankfurt folks. 

I love Robert Anton Wilson - also a writer/thinker, rather than just a thinker who happens to write. And some of my contemporaries, my friends, are among my favorite writers: novelists Walter Kirn and Jonathan Lethem, playwrights Annie Baker and Brooke Berman. 

For teachers, Timothy Leary, RU Sirius, Howard Rheingold, and John Brockman have all been huge influences on my writing and, more important, what I choose to write about. 

When and where do you write? 

Whenever I can. It used to be three sessions - morning, afternoon, and an evening one. But since I got married and had a kid, I tend to write whenever I can sneak it in. Right now it’s Sunday afternoon and I’m doing this interview instead of writing. If I had the wherewithal I’d be working on my new book proposal. But for the most part I write during working hours, in an office outside the house. And I keep a little notebook handy for ideas that I can’t get to because of family commitments. 

What are you working on now? 

I’m working on a book called Team Human about asserting human autonomy and connection in a world that has been designed to prevent both.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? 

I don’t believe in writers block. I do believe that there are extended periods of time when writing isn’t the thing you’re supposed to be doing. I’m always writing, whether I’m writing or not. Sometimes an idea needs to germinate. Writer’s block is simply a way the marketplace has of making you feel bad for not having output on its schedule. There’s no such thing.

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

To write the stuff I was born to write. The stuff I was put here to do, that no one else can. 

What’s your advice to new writers?

Find a beat. Champion a place, a thing, an idea. All writing is travel writing, to some extent. Where do you go? What do you know about? It doesn’t have to be a physical place. It could be a depth of experience. A perspective. A way of thinking. Learn as much as you can about it, and share that. Before long, you’ll be the world’s biggest expert in it. And the more you write about it, the bigger and more popular that thing will become. 

Douglas Rushkoff is a writer, documentarian, and lecturer whose work focuses on human autonomy in a digital age. He is the author of fifteen bestselling books on media, technology, and society, including Program or Be Programmed, Present Shock, and Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus. He has made such award-winning PBS Frontline documentaries as Generation Like, Merchants of Cool, and The Persuaders, and is the author of graphic novels including Testament and Aleister & Adolf.

Tuesday
May092017

Patricia McArdle

How did you become a writer?  

I began writing as a teenager in a series of plastic-covered “Dear Diaries,” which I kept hidden under my mattress. I’ve been journaling ever since. Many of the themes, events and characters in my fiction writing have been drawn from those decades of journal entries.

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

Tony Hillerman was the University of New Mexico’s student newspaper advisor in the 1960s and early ’70s. He was also my instructor in a “Media and the Law” class at UNM. In 1971, just after The Blessing Way (the first in his series of Navajo mystery novels) was published, Tony encouraged all of us aspiring journalists to take at least one fiction writing course before we graduated. I did not become a journalist, but I did take Tony’s advice about fiction writing. My first published short story, “I Joined a Free Love Family,” written during that fiction course, appeared in a 1972 issue of Intimate Story.  

James Michener’s Caravans, which I read and reread while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in a remote Paraguayan village from 1972-1974, sparked my lifelong obsession with Afghanistan. Thirty years later, I served for a year (2004-2005) in that war-torn country as a U.S. diplomat embedded with a British infantry unit. Although I had initially planned to write a non-fiction memoir about my year in Afghanistan, Michener’s Caravans inspired me to try writing a novel instead.  

I’m a huge Jane Austen fan, which some reviewers of Farishta have noted and complained about. Graham Greene and Ernest Hemmingway have inspired me to write sparingly.

When and where do you write?  

I write on my laptop at different times of the day and in many different places—at my desk, on my back porch, in bed, on trains, planes and boats. While writing Farishta, I occasionally switched to pencil and paper for days at a time. My characters would often do and say the most unexpected things when I wrote by hand.

What are you working on now?  

I’m currently rewriting my non-fiction expose about efforts to impede the development and distribution of simple solar cooking devices for the world’s poor. I’m making notes for my next novel, which will include events and characters drawn from the journals I kept during my decades of military and diplomatic service overseas. I’m also working on a redraft of the screenplay adaptation of Farishta, which I wrote several years ago.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

Not really, although there are periods when I don’t write any fiction because I’m working on a non-fiction piece.  I write in my journal every day no matter what.

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

After you’ve finished a piece put it away and don’t look at it for a while. When you take it out and read it again, the inconsistencies, the gaps and the missed connections will jump right off the page.

What’s your advice to new writers?

Keep a journal, write what you know about and never give up.

Patricia McArdle retired with the rank of Senior Foreign Service Officer, from the U.S. Department of State in 2006 after a twenty-seven year career as an American diplomat. She also served for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer health educator in Paraguay and for three years as a U.S. Naval officer at a remote communications base in Sidi Yahia, Morocco. Her last overseas diplomatic posting was as the U.S. government's senior civilian representative in Northern Afghanistan, where she was based with a British infantry unit. Her 2011 New York Times op-ed, “Afghanistan’s Last Locavores,” called for the aggressive promotion of renewable energy technology in that war torn country. In 2010 McArdle won the Grand Prize for General Fiction in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest for her fictional war memoir Farishta, which also received the San Diego Book Award. Since retiring from government service, McArdle has become an expert in and advocate for the introduction of solar cooking technology in the developing world. She has served on the board of directors of Solar Cookers International (SCI) and Solar Household Energy and as the editor of the Solar Cooker Review. She is currently a member of SCI’s Global Advisory Council.

Tuesday
May022017

Geoff Nicholson

How did you become a writer?

I liked books and reading from a very early age (four or five years old) and I told my parents I “wanted to be a writer” but I suppose only in the way that kids who like football want to be football players. I obviously had no idea what was involved.

Growing up I mostly read novels (and wrote my first one when I was 12), but when I was in my late teens I developed a brief infatuation with the theater – wrote a few plays, some of which got performed in student productions and then on the fringe in London and at the Edinburgh festival. One play was also broadcast on BBC radio, at a time when radio drama seemed quite a big deal in England.

I also did some comedy writing for TV and radio but none of this was really very satisfying. When I started writing my first novel Street Sleeper (and I had no idea whether I could write a novel or not) it all seemed to fit into place. 

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

There are writers I love but whose influence don’t seem apparent in my writing – examples would be Thomas Pynchon, Joan Didion and Raymond Chandler – and in any case who would be foolish enough to claim to be “influenced” by them - but I’m sure reading them has made a difference at some level.

Ian Fleming was an early, and now incomprehensible, passion.

When I started writing plays I was in the shadow of Harold Pinter, Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco – but then so was everybody else in England at that time.

At university I was taught by JH Prynne – a poet of thrilling obscurity, whose writing has absolutely no similarity to my own, but he taught me to go my own way, and also a love for the complexity of language.

JG Ballard and Angela Carter were very important to me when I started writing prose. I didn’t think I could write a Gravity’s Rainbow but I thought I might just possibly write a High-Rise or a Moving Toyshop – I was wrong about that, of course, but it seemed a reasonable goal at the time.

When and where do you write? 

I aim to work pretty much 9 to 5, five days a week – at home in a small dark room without much of a view. “Writing” in this context includes research, editing, replying to emails, and sometimes staring off into space, or into the craw of Youtube. I also try to walk every day – and the creative process certainly continues in my head as I walk.

What are you working on now? 

I’m putting the “finishing” touches to a novel that keeps changing its name, currently titled The Miranda. It’s a book about walking and torture, and about men who do bad things for good reasons, (at least that’s what I think it’s about – authors are rarely the best judges of these things, I find).

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? 

I think most serious writers constantly question the value of what they’re doing, and they inevitably experience periods of weariness and nausea with the whole business of writing, when they absolutely can’t see the point of carrying on. I experience this on at least a weekly basis. But of course that’s the moment when if you’re a serious writer you have to butch it out, get your head down and carry on, which I do. So I suppose the answer has to be no, to writer’s block.

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

Keith Waterhouse, author of Billy Liar, said, “I never drink when I’m writing, but I sometimes write when I’m drinking.”  Words to live by.

What’s your advice to new writers?

If you find writing easy you’re probably doing it wrong. If it were easy every damn fool would be doing it – and of course there are plenty of damn fools who are doing it, but don’t be one of them. Also, of course, do listen to advice, but then feel completely free to ignore it.

Geoff Nicholson was born in Sheffield, England, and studied English at Caius College, Cambridge, then European Drama at the University of Essex. He is the author of 16 novels and 8 books of non-fiction. His debut, Street Sleeper, was shortlisted for the Yorkshire Post First Work Award; Bleeding London (1997) was shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize; and Bedlam Burning (2003) was a New York Times Book Review notable book of the year. Non-fiction titles include Sex Collectors and The Lost Art of Walking, and his journalism has appeared in, among other publications, The New York Times, Bookforum, Gastronomica, Art Review, The Believer and McSweeney’s. He is a contributing editor to The Los Angeles Review of Books. He currently lives in Los Angeles.

Tuesday
Apr252017

Alina Tugend

How did you become a writer?

I’ve always been a writer ever since, well, I could write. I loved writing short stories when I was a kid (there’s a family classic I wrote in fourth grade from the viewpoint of a piece of bubble gum in a bubble gum machine.) I also wrote poetry from childhood on, received some awards, and was included in some anthologies. I added on journalism probably in high school, when I wrote and was features editor for the school newspaper. I enjoyed – and still do - learning about new things. interviewing people and bringing to light issues or wrongs most people don’t know about. And I managed to get hired to do that.

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

Well, my grandmother, who was from Germany and not warm and fuzzy, loved my writing and strongly encouraged it, as did my parents and numerous teachers. But the drama of Watergate and the role of Woodward and Bernstein – I was in my teens then – certainly influenced me. So did some of the great journalists I read in my hometown newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, such as Barry Bearak and David Lamb – they travelled the world writing about fascinating topics and also crafted beautiful sentences. Joan Didion’s spare direct writing was also an influence, and brilliant non-fiction books like Common Ground by J. Anthony Lukas and Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc. I am so impressed when an author can make an apparently dry or difficult subject, as Lukas did with Boston school desegregation or LeBlanc with urban life in the Bronx, and turn it into a compelling narrative that changes how I look at things.

When and where do you write?

In my house, in what was first called the play room, then the TV room as my sons got older. It’s an odd, two-level room, so my desk, computer and all my stuff is on the upper level. It actually has worked surprisingly well over the years. When my sons were young, I mainly wrote while they were in school, but sometimes I had to do an interview when they were deep into a TV show or video game. They quickly learned that if I made a wild gesticulating motion with my hand, they had to hit the mute button.

What are you working on now? 

A long education piece for a national magazine that is still in process, so I don’t want to talk about it because I’m superstitious and it’s not published yet. I just finished an article for the Berkeley Alumni Magazine that I’m proud of on the research behind why most of us fail to live up to own ethical standards and how that can be changed.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? 

Not really. I’ve certainly had the writer’s dread of the blank screen, but I’ve always forged ahead. I think journalism or even writing non-fiction books is different, though, than writing novels. As the paperweight on my desk says, “The ultimate inspiration is the deadline.”

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

At my first internship at United Press International, a seasoned editor told me, “You can give the same article to 10 different editors and it will come back 10 different ways.” It is so important – and I have to remind myself of this even now, decades later – that there is no one way to write anything. Also “ass in chair” which some famous author (I can’t remember who) said was her best piece of writing advice.

What’s your advice to new writers?

You can’t be a writer without being a reader. And be willing to do lots of grunt work, but don’t sell yourself short.

Alina Tugend is a long-time journalist and author who has worked in Rhode Island, Washington DC, Southern California, London and New York.  From 2005-2015 she wrote the award-winning biweekly Shortcuts column for The New York Times business section. She still writes regularly for the Times, and her work has appeared in numerous other national publications, including The Atlantic, O, the Oprah Magazine, Family Circle and Inc. Magazine. In 2011, Riverhead published her first book, Better by Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong. She currently lives with her husband (and two sons when they’re home from college). Follow her on Twitter at @atugend and see more of her work at www.alinatugend.com.