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Recommended Books
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    Plume
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    by Brooke A. Wharton
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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
  • The Writer on Her Work, Volume 1
    The Writer on Her Work, Volume 1
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  • The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition
    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
    by Brad Bunnin, Peter Beren
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    A Writer's Reality
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    A Writer's Time: Making the Time to Write
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    Writing About Your Life: A Journey into the Past
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    Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (Paperback)
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  • Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular
    Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular
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  • Writing for Your Life
    Writing for Your Life
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  • The Writing Life
    The Writing Life
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  • The Writing Life: Writers On How They Think And Work
    The Writing Life: Writers On How They Think And Work
    by Marie Arana
  • The Writing of Fiction
    The Writing of Fiction
    by Edith Wharton
  • Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print
    Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print
    by Lawrence Block
  • Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction and Other Dilemmas in the Writer's Life
    Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction and Other Dilemmas in the Writer's Life
    by Bonnie Friedman
  • You're a Genius All the Time: Belief and Technique for Modern Prose
    You're a Genius All the Time: Belief and Technique for Modern Prose
    by Regina Weinreich, Jack Kerouac
  • Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You
    Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You
    by Ray Bradbury

 

ATW INTERVIEW

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.

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.