Articles and Essays
Interviews
Blogs

Recommended Books
  • A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation
    A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation
    by Noah Lukeman
  • Adventures in the Screen Trade
    Adventures in the Screen Trade
    by William Goldman
  • APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book
    APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book
    by Guy Kawasaki, Shawn Welch
  • A Room of One's Own
    A Room of One's Own
    by Virginia Woolf
  • The Art of Fiction: Illustrated from Classic and Modern Texts
    The Art of Fiction: Illustrated from Classic and Modern Texts
    by David Lodge
  • The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers
    The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers
    by John Gardner
  • The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present
    The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present
    by Phillip Lopate
  • The Associated Press Stylebook 2009 (Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law)
    The Associated Press Stylebook 2009 (Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law)
    Basic Books
  • Aspects of the Novel
    Aspects of the Novel
    by E.M. Forster
  • Becoming a Writer
    Becoming a Writer
    by Dorothea Brande
  • Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
    Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
    by Anne Lamott
  • Booknotes: America's Finest Authors on Reading, Writing, and the Power of Ideas
    Booknotes: America's Finest Authors on Reading, Writing, and the Power of Ideas
    Three Rivers Press
  • Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Seventeenth Edition
    Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Seventeenth Edition
    by John Ayto
  • The Careful Writer
    The Careful Writer
    by Theodore M. Bernstein
  • The Chicago Manual of Style
    The Chicago Manual of Style
    University Of Chicago Press
  • The Copyeditor's Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications
    The Copyeditor's Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications
    by Amy Einsohn
  • The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear
    The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear
    by Ralph Keyes
  • The Craft of Fiction
    The Craft of Fiction
    by Percy Lubbock
  • The Editor's Lexicon: Essential Writing Terms for Novelists
    The Editor's Lexicon: Essential Writing Terms for Novelists
    by Sarah Cypher
  • Editors on Editing: What Writers Need to Know About What Editors Do
    Editors on Editing: What Writers Need to Know About What Editors Do
    Grove Press
  • The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition
    The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition
    by William Strunk Jr., E. B. White
  • Endangered Species: Writers Talk About Their Craft, Their Visions, Their Lives
    Endangered Species: Writers Talk About Their Craft, Their Visions, Their Lives
    by Lawrence Grobel
  • Fiction Writer's Handbook
    Fiction Writer's Handbook
    by Hallie Burnett, Whit Burnett
  • Fiction Writer's Workshop
    Fiction Writer's Workshop
    by Josip Novakovich
  • Flaubert's Parrot
    Flaubert's Parrot
    by Julian Barnes
  • Follow the Story: How to Write Successful Nonfiction
    Follow the Story: How to Write Successful Nonfiction
    by James B. Stewart
  • The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers
    The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers
    by Betsy Lerner
  • For Writers Only
    For Writers Only
    by Sophy Burnham
  • William Goldman: Four Screenplays with Essays
    William Goldman: Four Screenplays with Essays
    by William Goldman
  • Fowler's Modern English Usage
    Fowler's Modern English Usage
    by the late R. W. Burchfield
  • The Friendly Shakespeare: A Thoroughly Painless Guide to the Best of the Bard
    The Friendly Shakespeare: A Thoroughly Painless Guide to the Best of the Bard
    by Norrie Epstein
  • A Glossary of Literary Terms
    A Glossary of Literary Terms
    by M.H. Abrams, Geoffrey Harpham
  • How Fiction Works
    How Fiction Works
    by James Wood
  • How Not to Write: The Essential Misrules of Grammar
    How Not to Write: The Essential Misrules of Grammar
    by William Safire
  • How to Get Happily Published
    How to Get Happily Published
    by Judith Appelbaum
  • How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy (Genre Writing)
    How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy (Genre Writing)
    by Orson Scott Card
  • How To Write Short Stories: With Samples
    How To Write Short Stories: With Samples
    by Ring Lardner
  • If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit
    If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit
    by Brenda Ueland
  • Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir
    Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir
    Mariner Books
  • Keep the Aspidistra Flying (Harvest Book)
    Keep the Aspidistra Flying (Harvest Book)
    by George Orwell
  • Lapsing Into a Comma : A Curmudgeon's Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong in Print--and How to Avoid Them
    Lapsing Into a Comma : A Curmudgeon's Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong in Print--and How to Avoid Them
    by Bill Walsh
  • Letters to a Young Poet: Translated and with a Foreword By Stephen Mitchell
    Letters to a Young Poet: Translated and with a Foreword By Stephen Mitchell
    by Ranier Maria Rilke
  • Making a Good Script Great
    Making a Good Script Great
    by Linda Seger
  • Making a Literary Life
    Making a Literary Life
    by Carolyn See
  • Master Class: Scenes from a Fiction Workshop
    Master Class: Scenes from a Fiction Workshop
    by Paul West
  • Metaphors We Live By
    Metaphors We Live By
    by George Lakoff, Mark Johnson
  • The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain
    The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain
    by Alice Weaver Flaherty
  • Henry Miller on Writing (New Directions Paperbook)
    Henry Miller on Writing (New Directions Paperbook)
    by Henry Miller
  • Movie Speak: How to Talk Like You Belong on a Movie Set
    Movie Speak: How to Talk Like You Belong on a Movie Set
    by Tony Bill
  • Narrative Design: Working with Imagination, Craft, and Form
    Narrative Design: Working with Imagination, Craft, and Form
    by Madison Smartt Bell
  • New Grub Street (Broadview Editions)
    New Grub Street (Broadview Editions)
    by George Gissing
  • Nonconformity
    Nonconformity
    by Nelson Algren
  • On Becoming a Novelist
    On Becoming a Novelist
    by John Gardner
  • One Writer's Beginnings (The William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in the History of American Civilization)
    One Writer's Beginnings (The William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in the History of American Civilization)
    by Eudora Welty
  • On Writing Short Stories
    On Writing Short Stories
    Oxford University Press, USA
  • On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft
    On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft
    by Stephen King
  • On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction
    On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction
    by William Zinsser
  • The Oxford Dictionary of Allusions (Oxford Paperback Reference)
    The Oxford Dictionary of Allusions (Oxford Paperback Reference)
    Oxford University Press, USA
  • Poetic Meter and Poetic Form
    Poetic Meter and Poetic Form
    by Paul Fussell
  • The Paris Review Interviews, Vols. 1-4
    The Paris Review Interviews, Vols. 1-4
    by The Paris Review
  • Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them (P.S.)
    Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them (P.S.)
    by Francine Prose
  • The Rhetoric of Fiction
    The Rhetoric of Fiction
    by Wayne C. Booth
  • The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life
    The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life
    by Julia Cameron
  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print
    Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print
    by Renni Browne, Dave King
  • Dan Poynter's Self-Publishing Manual, 16th Edition: How to Write, Print and Sell Your Own Book (Self Publishing Manual)
    Dan Poynter's Self-Publishing Manual, 16th Edition: How to Write, Print and Sell Your Own Book (Self Publishing Manual)
    by Dan Poynter
  • Simple & Direct
    Simple & Direct
    by Jacques Barzun
  • Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences
    Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences
    by Kitty Burns Florey
  • The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative
    The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative
    by Vivian Gornick
  • The Sound on the Page: Great Writers Talk about Style and Voice in Writing
    The Sound on the Page: Great Writers Talk about Style and Voice in Writing
    by Ben Yagoda
  • Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting
    Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting
    by Robert Mckee
  • Stylish Academic Writing
    Stylish Academic Writing
    by Helen Sword
  • Successful Television Writing
    Successful Television Writing
    by Lee Goldberg, William Rabkin
  • The Summing Up
    The Summing Up
    by W. Somerset Maugham
  • 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel
    13 Ways of Looking at the Novel
    by Jane Smiley
  • Tales from the Script: 50 Hollywood Screenwriters Share Their Stories
    Tales from the Script: 50 Hollywood Screenwriters Share Their Stories
    by Peter Hanson, Paul Robert Herman
  • To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction
    To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction
    by Phillip Lopate
  • Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art
    Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art
    by Scott Mccloud
  • What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers
    What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers
    by Anne Bernays, Pamela Painter
  • The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles
    The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles
    by Steven Pressfield
  • Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do
    Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do
    Plume
  • Women Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews
    Women Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews
    Modern Library
  • The Writer Got Screwed (but didn't have to): Guide to the Legal and Business Practices of Writing for the Entertainment Industry
    The Writer Got Screwed (but didn't have to): Guide to the Legal and Business Practices of Writing for the Entertainment Industry
    by Brooke A. Wharton
  • Ambrose Bierce's Write It Right: The Celebrated Cynic's Language Peeves Deciphered, Appraised, and Annotated for 21st-Century Readers
    Ambrose Bierce's Write It Right: The Celebrated Cynic's Language Peeves Deciphered, Appraised, and Annotated for 21st-Century Readers
    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
    by Janet Sternberg
  • The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition
    The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition
    by Christopher Vogler
  • The Writer's Legal Companion: The Complete Handbook For The Working Writer, Third Edition
    The Writer's Legal Companion: The Complete Handbook For The Working Writer, Third Edition
    by Brad Bunnin, Peter Beren
  • A Writer's Reality
    A Writer's Reality
    by Mario Vargas Llosa
  • A Writer's Time: Making the Time to Write
    A Writer's Time: Making the Time to Write
    by Kenneth Atchity
  • Writing About Your Life: A Journey into the Past
    Writing About Your Life: A Journey into the Past
    by William Zinsser
  • Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (Paperback)
    Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (Paperback)
    by Natalie Goldberg (Author)
  • Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular
    Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular
    by L. Rust Hills
  • Writing for Your Life
    Writing for Your Life
    by Deena Metzger
  • The Writing Life
    The Writing Life
    by Annie Dillard
  • 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
Aug262014

Steve Albrecht

How did you become a writer?

I was a bookish child, so having skipped a grade and not being very big, all types of literature were my companions. My parents were big readers and my dad was an aerospace engineer and a skilled writer. They always bought me books, took me to the library every weekend, and encouraged my short stories. I sent crime stories to the Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen magazines in the 70s, when I was about 12 or 13, to no avail. I went to the University of San Diego and as an English major, I thought I knew how to write. Outside of college, I learned that comparing and contrasting the literary themes of Chaucer’s General Prologue was not going to be needed everyday. When I was working as a San Diego Police officer, I started writing a monthly column on officer safety for the Police Officers Association newspaper. I wrote that column for 14 years. That gave me the discipline to freelance to other police and specialty magazines. I left police work after my workplace violence book, Ticking Bombs, started to gain momentum in 1999, which was right after the tragedy at Columbine.    

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

I still have the mystery novels I read as a kid and a young adult, including Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe, John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee, and Robert B. Parker’s Spenser. I re-read Mark Twain’s works and consider him and Ernest Hemingway to be two of our greatest American writers. Twain’s use of sly humor and Hemingway’s power and brevity had a big impact on my writing style. I re-read Roughing It and the Tom Sawyer / Huck Finn books from Twain and The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms from Hemingway every few years. On the modern side, I envy Sebastian Junger’s machismo on the page and Jon Krakauer’s take-you-there skill. I’ll grudgingly admit I learned something from every book editor I ever worked with; the best being my father, Karl Albrecht. We co-wrote several books together and he taught me early not to write in the passive voice, a bad habit I developed in college. My dad wrote an entire book in E-Prime, which is the absence of the verb form to be. He continues to be my biggest influence, especially with his ability to organize an entire book before he begins, which I do for each of mine as well.

When and where do you write?

I have an office in San Diego where it’s quiet and I can think. I have a table fountain and with some classical music I can write for long stretches on my Mac, while photos of Twain and Hemingway stare down at me. I also work out of my home on an ancient Windows XP computer with an old version of Word, which works just fine. My usual habit with book deadlines is to go to a cabin we have in the eastern San Diego mountains and write to completion for a week. The cabin schedule is quite Spartan: get up, write, eat, short nap, write, hike for an hour, eat, write, sleep, repeat, for a week. It sounds noble but it’s mostly because I procrastinate when the book deadline is months away and then I have to crash it to finish on time. A lot of genius words don’t make it into the final manuscript. Cutting chapters is not a bad thing.  

What are you working on now?

I have written several books for police officers over the last 25 years, and I just finished my last officer safety book this week. Patrol Cop will be out next year and that will be the end of my writings for cops. I write a blog for PsychologyToday.com, which I find rewarding. My topic area is in their “Law and Crime” section, which is fun because I’m not a lawyer or a psychologist, so I can write about crooks, human conflict, workplace violence, and school violence issues, which are my primary training workshop subjects. I enjoy the blog process and do two or so a month at about 1000 words each. People don’t want to read stuff that goes on forever. I find the people who write vicious comments about my blogs to be tedious since they never argue from a position of facts, only their sourness. I’m also finishing a niche book for the American Library Association on library security. Most people don’t realize how tough it is in our libraries, with the aggressive homeless, thieves, sexual predators looking for kids, mentally ill patrons, and entitled people who give the library staff a hard time. They really have to be part-time social workers as well as full-time information providers.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

Once, for about 18 months and it was agony. I had a contract to write a small book on business ethics (never an easy subject) and one to write for the popular Complete Idiot’s Guide series on customer service. I had to send back both contracts — and the advance money — with my apologies that I just had nothing in the tank. Going back to writing articles broke me of the block and I learned to trust my notes on what I want to write about. They don’t have to be perfect, but they do give me a place to start instead of a blank screen.

What’s your advice to new writers?

I’ve had lots of people tell me their life story would make a great book. Fortunately for all of us, that’s as far as the conversation went. I believe you know you have the talent to write fairly early. I teach business writing workshops and some people enjoy them and others find it a miserable experience. I’m not convinced the desire to write can be taught, although we can all improve our techniques. Real writers write and when they aren’t writing they are thinking about writing. I have a tattoo on my inner left bicep that says, “Cacoethes scribendi,” loosely translated to mean “the burning desire to write.” I can see it every day as I type.     

Steve Albrecht is based in San Diego and has written professionally since 1985. He co-wrote Ticking Bombs in 1994, which was one of the first business books on workplace violence, and featured his prison interview with a double workplace murderer. Steve worked for the San Diego Police Department for 15 years and retired to write and teach. He holds a doctorate in Business Administration; an M.A. in Security Management; a B.S. in Psychology; and a B.A. in English. His 10 business books include Added Value Negotiating; Service! Service! Service!; The Timeless Leader; Fear and Violence on the Job; and Tough Training Topics. His six books for law enforcement include Streetwork; Surviving Street Patrol; and Contact & Cover. He is finishing his first police novel.

Tuesday
Aug192014

Caryl Avery

How did you become a writer?

I became a writer by default. De fault was my mother’s. Well, partly.

I always loved writing, even as a kid. I started writing parodies and light verse (which I’m pretty sure back then I called “funny poems”) when I was around 10, and stopped when I was 11 or 12. Because whenever I wrote something that my mother found amusing, she would say, “Ca, go get your poem and read it to Mrs. Pianin,” the neighbor four houses down. I’d be mortified, but the more I protested, the more she insisted. Out of self-protection, I hung up my yellow No. 2 pencil.

Although writing always came naturally to me, I never contemplated it as a career until I had to: After throwing in the towel on art history (too low paying) and on practicing psychotherapy (too depressing), I realized I needed a job that would be “just right.” When I asked myself what I could do, the only thing I could think of was write.

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

Ogden Nash, Dorothy Parker, e. e. cummings, Don Marquis, W. S. Gilbert, Tom Lehrer, Franklin P. Adams, E. B. White, Edward Lear, Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim, Noel Coward, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Anonymous.

While flirting with the idea of becoming a writer, I had the good fortune to discover On Writing Well by William Zinsser, which in 1976 had just been published. I was so stunned that a book on writing could be so engaging that I instantly knew that was the career for me. With each expanded edition, I seized the occasion to reread it beginning to end, and each time it was like running into an old love. If you haven’t read it, you’re in for a treat. You might want to follow it with The Writer Who Stayed, a compilation of Zinsser’s weekly essays published on the website of The American Scholar. (“Zinsser on Friday” won the 2012 National Magazine Award for Digital Commentary. He was 87.)

In addition to William Zinsser (with whom I had the pleasure of spending an hour last fall), four other teachers—who couldn’t have been more different—helped make me the writer I am: Miss Dillback, my seventh grade English teacher at Valley Stream South High School, who was scary strict but who hammered grammar into my head so I’d never forget it. Sandra Berwind, Professor Emeritus of English at Bryn Mawr College, who as my Freshman Comp instructor introduced the concept of critical thinking. (She was the toughest and most generous teacher I ever had.) My former boss and medical editor at the Globe (yup, the supermarket tabloid—we all start somewhere), who did the same for not thinking when you have to research and write two medical stories a day. (He: “Caryl, what are you doing?” Me: “I’m thinking.” He: “In this business, you don’t think; you write.”) And the late, great Phyllis Starr Wilson, founder of Self Magazine, who taught me as an editor and writer how to let go of articles: (“Remember, 90 percent of people read this stuff sitting on the toilet.”)

When and where do you write?

I write mostly in my head, often on the bus. Then when I get to my office, I transcribe these noodlings—quick, before they disappear. If ideas or turns of phrase pop into my mind as I’m trying to fall asleep, I force myself to get out of bed to write them down (usually as notes on my iPhone). Otherwise, forget sleeping.

What are you working on now?

I’m adding some finishing touches to Eggs Benedict Arnold, a book of culinary light verse, and putting together a team of investors and producers for CUTS: An Uplifting Musical, an irreverent parody revue that skewers plastic surgery and our national obsession with looking young and beautiful. A developmental production recently played to sold-out houses at The York Theatre in New York. For a sneak peek at four songs from the show’s initial presentation, visit www.carylavery.com, click on CUTS, then Preview. Or Google “Joan Rivers from CUTS” to see international singing sensation Christina Bianco’s version of the song.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

I’ve experienced it, sure, but it hasn’t made me suffer. Writer’s block is a writer’s best friend; it tells you you don’t know where you’re going. (“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat. – Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) Once you figure that out, you’re home free. Writer’s block simply saves you the trouble of writing until you do.

What’s your advice to new writers?

1. Write with your ear.

2. Run your work by a few people you trust who are smarter than you.

3. Pay attention to criticisms, but not to proposed solutions.

4. Remember that the urge to edit other people’s copy is greater than the urge to procreate. Your work is your baby. Don’t sell it down the river.

5. Make sure that everything you write has one elegant sentence.

6. Evolve. Try new forms.

7. Don’t write near a refrigerator.

Caryl Avery (www.carylavery.com) has been an award-winning journalist, magazine editor, advertising copywriter, poet, and creative writer for over 30 years. In addition to an eight-year stint as senior editor/psychology director at Self Magazine, she has written extensively for more than 20 consumer magazines, including Self, Glamour, Vogue, Ladies Home Journal, New York Magazine, American Health, Psychology Today, and Reader’s Digest, as well as for such websites as Women’s Voices for Change.  In recent years she has put her experience as psychologist, writer, and editor to work as a creative marketer/advertising copywriter in the cosmetic industry. After a decade as Executive Editor at Clinique, where she wrote national advertising for more than 75 countries, she set up shop in New York where she provides marketing direction, branding, advertising and website copy to a variety of consumer product companies and ad agencies.

In addition, she has returned to two old loves—light verse and lyric writing. Her poems have been featured in Light Quarterly, Alimentum, Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, The Classical Outlook, womensvoicesforchange.org, and anthologized in More Women’s Wicked Wit. Plus, she is nearing completion of Eggs Benedict Arnold, a book of culinary light verse. Her parody revue CUTS: An Uplifting Musical about plastic surgery and everything else we do to look young and beautiful has had a successful developmental run in New York and is gearing up for a commercial production. 

Tuesday
Aug122014

Amy Klein

How did you become a writer?

I was an avid reader as a kid, always sneaking books under my desk in school. For my 12th birthday, I got a subscription to "Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine," and loved the tight short stories. (While my friends were reading "Seventeen.")

But I didn't know one could "be" a writer -- it wasn't a profession ever discussed in my conservative community (Doctor, lawyer, accountant, were). In high school, I wrote a lot of humorous essays, and was the humor editor of my yearbook. I started journaling in college, where my English professor was a "real" writer. I became an English major with a creative writing concentration. But I was not familiar with memoir and personal essays, so I kept trying to write fiction that was really thinly-veiled memoir. At age 25 I took a job with a newspaper, and have been a journalist ever since, although my favorite form is the personal essay. 

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

I think books were my biggest influences in life. As a kid I devoured every series from Nancy Drew to The Three Investigators to Lois Duncan's science fiction, then embarassingly, Sweet Dreams, before moving on to Ludlum and Follett. I was always enamored of humor writing, like Mad Magazine, Mark Leyner and Dave Barry.

I only discovered memoir writing later in life -- even though that's what I am. I did an MFA at Antioch University and fell in love with non-traditional memoirs and essay collections like Girl Walks Into a Bar, Safekeeping, Lying, Seasons of the Body, The Bill From My Father, and later, I Was Told There'd Be Cake and of course, Wild, by Cheryl Strayed.

There is one book I wish I'd written: The Big Love by Sarah Dunn, a seemingly light love story that really gets into the mind of someone raised religious.

When and where do you write?

I write every weekday, although I'm not very disciplined on my own stuff but I usuallly have a deadline for someone, as I make my living as a freelance writer. I really love to work at cafes around the city. There's something about the bustle around me I find stimulating. I seem to be the only writer in the world without a Mac, so maybe I'm undercover? I like to meet up with writer friends and work together but separately. I still hope to find that "magic schedule" that writers like Stephen King talk about -- with his 2000-a--word day minimum, but I'm much more willy nilly.

What are you working on now?

Right now I am hoping to turn my Fertility Diary column at the Times into a memoir, although I'm waiting for my happy baby ending. 

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

I suffer a unique form of writer's block: working on too many things at once. When I get nervous about something I'm writing, I just start something else, or pitch another article somewhere else. As a journalist, it really works in my favor, because I can publish a lot of different pieces on a lot of different subjects. But it's not so helpful for longform, which requires more discipline. 

When I do get real writer's block -- i.e., I'm sitting in front of the computer and don't know where to go with the piece, I think it means I've gone off in the wrong direction. As I humorously wrote in my Draft piece about "Kill Your Darlings," your darlings might just be that amazing lede in an article or a great scene that's just sending to a dead end. That kind of writer's block usually works itself out if you take a step back and ask what's really wrong. If you backtrack, you'll figure it out.

What’s your advice to new writers?

As a journalist, I would tell you to pick a field you love and focus on it -- I wrote about religion for many years but then I realized I didn't care about it so much anymore, so I started writing about health, arts and culture.

If you are writing memoir or essay, I would really advise people to write in journals. There is something about taking great notes on your life that later on helps provide the details for a great story. 

Inasmuch that I was kidding about writer's workshops in my New York Times piece (and not everyone got that I was joking), I've been in workshops for the last decade and find them invaluable. It helps to hear your work read aloud, it helps to have critiques, and it helps to keep rewriting. One of my MFA teachers said, "Novels are not written, they're rewritten."

Bio: I've been a journalist and essayist for the last 20 years, and today mostly write about health, arts & culture and travel. I write the "Fertility Diary" column for The New York Times Motherlode blog. My work has been published in Slate, Salon, NPR, The Los Angeles Times, Poets & Writers and other places.

My Website: www.KleinsLines.com. Follow: @amydklein.

Tuesday
Aug052014

Ted Trautman

How did you become a writer?

It’s easy to look backward today and point to all the childhood traits and habits that steered me toward writing, but that arc wasn’t visible to me until I was about 25. I’ve always loved reading, especially if it was under the covers with a flashlight after my bedtime, or behind a stack of boxes in the warehouse of the patio furniture store where I worked in high school. When it came time to head off to college, though, it was very hard for me to let go of science and particularly math. My dad, who has a very utilitarian view of education, encouraged me to study patent law. But my mom’s more romantic take on academia, which emphasized the reading of paperbacks in the shade and the irresistible sex appeal of beret-wearing philosophers, seemed truer to me at the time. I ended up majoring in English and philosophy.

In the philosophy department, I gravitated toward the subject of ethics in the context of international economic development. By the time I graduated, a career in literary writing was the farthest thing from my mind. It seemed to me that all the world’s endeavors -- art, science, entertainment, etc. -- were petty personal projects so long as a single person suffered from extreme poverty or a preventable disease, which is why after college I shipped out to Kyrgyzstan for a two-year stint in the Peace Corps. If they’d sent me to a warmer country, or at least a nicer one, I might be digging wells or distributing mosquito nets this very minute. But I was lonely in my village and insufficiently prepared for my job. When I was robbed twice in one day -- first by a Bishkek teenager, then by the police I’d turned to for help -- I decided it was time to reconsider my career path.

I had more free time in Kyrgyzstan than I’ve ever had before or since, and I spent that time reading and writing. It didn’t occur to me in those days to try and publish anything, which I now regret, but I assiduously documented every detail of my life in lengthy emails I sent to just about everyone I’d ever met. And when the power went out, as it did most nights, at the hour of some corrupt hydroelectric dam manager’s choosing, I closed my laptop and read by candlelight. On top of the books I was reading -- nearly two a week, on average -- I borrowed stacks of old New Yorkers and Harper’s from a local university’s English department, and in that way fell in love with long-form journalism. I spent my last month in Kyrgyzstan frenetically working on an application to intern at Harper’s, which is where I ended up after Peace Corps.

A lot of former Harper’s interns head straight into the world of freelance writing, and a lot of them have thrived. By the time my internship ended, however, I’d become a pretty solid fact-checker but had absolutely no idea how to go about pitching or writing a story myself. After pouring coffee for a few months at a Starbucks in Harlem, I headed out to California to pursue a master’s in journalism at UC Berkeley. I was frequently distracted by all the twenty-first century bells whistles in the school’s curriculum -- web design, video editing, etc. -- but I did end up learning a few things about writing and, just as crucially, I came out of the program having met a few friendly editors willing to read my pitches. I’d call this a happy ending, but it’s really just the beginning. The end will come when I pay off my massive student debt.

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

I have a deep love of science fiction, and I tip my hat to any writer who breaks down the barrier between supposedly superior “literary fiction” and conversely inferior “genre fiction.” Michael Chabon, Colson Whitehead, and Joss Whedon are champions in this arena.

Other favorite writers include Bill Cotter (especially in Fever Chart), for his insane-yet-rational characters; Tom Bissell and Robert Ashley for treating video games like the art form they are; Robert Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) for steering a pretentious philosophy major back to the real world; Jon Mooallem (Wild Ones) for seeing the sublime in the goofy and the goofy in the sublime; and Randall Munroe (of the comic strip xkcd) for his infinite curiosity and perfect sense of humor. “99% Invisible” host Roman Mars has so far stuck to radio, but if he ever writes a book I’ll buy every copy and read each one separately.

My first significant lesson in writing came in the fourth grade, from a woman whose name I can’t remember -- I’ll explain my debt to her below, under the question about writer’s block. As an adult, though, my first lessons came from Wittenberg University’s English Department, particularly from D’Arcy Fallon and Kent Dixon. At Berkeley, I benefited infinitely from the attention of Cynthia Gorney and Kara Platoni, as well as that of Eric Simons, Jennifer Kahn, Edwin Dobb, and Michael Pollan.

When and where do you write?

I write almost exclusively at the dining room table in my apartment, mostly because I work best in silence, but also because the snacks in my refrigerator are cheaper than the ones at the café and I can go the bathroom without worrying that a stranger will steal my offensively expensive computer. Also I’ve been suffering from some unexplained lower back pain for the better (or rather, obviously the worse) part of the past year, which requires me to rotate between sitting and standing positions while I work. There are not a lot of public venues where this is feasible. The main downside to working at home is that it’s surprisingly easy to go several days without leaving the apartment, provided the kitchen is well provisioned. The Boy Scout in me believes a day spent inside is a day wasted, which is an unfortunate view to hold when your job(s) mostly requires sitting in front of a computer.

As for when I write: I work full-time as a contributing editor at Circa, which is a “mobile-first” news organization (a little bit more on this below). That job involves a lot of writing, and in my case a fair amount of copy editing, but it’s a collaborative publication without bylines. The freelance writing that bears my name I usually work on in the evenings and on the weekends. Although it’s an unhealthy habit, it’s not uncommon for me to work straight through the night, which is not wholly unrelated to my relationship with writer’s block, which I address below.

What are you working on now?

As I mentioned, I’m a contributing editor at Circa, which takes up the lion’s share of my time. A Silicon Valley startup is the last place I would have imagined myself when I first entered journalism school, but it’s been very interesting to approach and, if we are successful, “reimagine” journalism through the eyes of several bright tech entrepreneurs.

As time allows, I also contribute periodically to the New Yorker’s Currency blog, and here and there to other magazines and websites. Lately I’ve been particularly interested in the business and culture of video games. I’m also working on a short radio piece about the O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships for The Organist, which is a show produced jointly by McSweeney’s and KCRW in Los Angeles.

Oh, and I’m just starting to look into writing a book. All I should probably say at the moment is that it will be a journalistic, non-fiction book best shelved in the business section, stemming from several pieces I’ve done for the New Yorker.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

I sometimes find it very difficult to start a piece -- once I have a little momentum it’s easy to keep going, but I like to write my intros first and it’s hard for me to move on until their tone is just right. When I’m particularly desperate, though, I do have a strategy for pushing through that I picked up from the nameless teacher I mentioned above. In the fourth grade I participated in a contest called “Written and Illustrated By…”, which is pretty much what it sounds like -- a bunch of kids writing and illustrating (and binding) their own books. The woman coaching us through the process, who in fact was probably not a teacher but an outside volunteer, suggested by way of analogy that the best way to start a painting, to overcome the intimidating perfection of the spotless canvas and its infinite potential, was to swipe the brush at random across the surface -- to “destroy the power of the white.” In addition to being an excellent slogan for the Black Power movement, this proved to be excellent advice in its creative sense, at least for me. The strategy may be obvious to writers with cooler heads than mine, but if I truly can’t think of anything worth writing, I just tap out a string of random words -- usually curse words. Occasionally I forget to delete them.

What’s your advice to new writers?

It’s always worth reiterating that you don’t need to publish to write, the implication being that there is literally nothing stopping anyone from becoming a writer. But that notion comes with an obvious caveat: it’s no fun to write if no one reads your stuff. At least that’s how it is for me -- in the Peace Corps my audience was my family and friends. I’m not exactly sure who reads the things I write these days -- my mom and my girlfriend, at least, and presumably also the folks enumerating my work’s failings on Twitter, although you never really know.

But anyway, if my point is that writing is a lot more satisfying when there’s somebody waiting around to read it when it’s done, then the good news is that there are more places to publish, and more literate humans reading these publications, than ever in the history of humanity. The bad news is that most of them pay little or nothing. So hold on to your day job unless you have some outstanding reason not to, but don’t interpret a lack of lucrative work as a lack of creative achievement.

Unfortunately I’m also obliged to say that if your goal is to publish in “prestigious” publications, set aside some time for that dreaded but necessary pastime: networking. It’s not as cynical as it sounds -- there’s a vast pool of writers competing for limited space in our favorite magazines and bookstores, and editors are disinclined to sit around waiting for the writers they haven’t heard of to prove themselves when there’s plenty of great work flowing from the pens of the ones they have. One published piece of writing can lead to another, just as one friendly cup of coffee can lead to another. The writing is, of course, the most important thing, but it never hurts to tell someone what you’re working on.

Ted Trautman has written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Paris Review, Slate, Wired, and others. When he manages to leave the house he is reminded that he lives in Puebla, Mexico. But more importantly, he’s an Eagle Scout, a Trekkie, and a Minnesotan.

Tuesday
Jul292014

Pamela Erens

How did you become a writer?

I feel as if I never became, always was. I remember car drives when I was four years old, telling my mother stories about a creature who lived at the bottom of Lake Michigan. I was fascinated by books and the idea of making them. I believe I had a brief wanting-to-be-a-ballerina stage somewhere in there, but by a quite young age I had decided I wanted to write novels. At the age of 10, I did write a novel on a hundred-some pages of school loose-leaf paper. It was about a slave girl in the South who escapes to the North and marries a Quaker. My mother, being my mother, thought it was pretty good, and she submitted it around. It ended up being published by a feminist press in California with a wonderful name: Shameless Hussy. The press was run by Alta, a feminist poet you can still find in some anthologies.

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

In college, I fell in love with the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century novelists, above all George Eliot, Henry James, Edith Wharton, and Tolstoy. They offered an internal, expansive view of character that remains an ideal for me. But it was only later that I found writers whose styles I could directly learn from. I studied at a non-degree program in New York City, The Writers Studio, which was (and is) run by the poet Philip Schultz, and which emphasized very close analysis and imitation of the techniques of established writers. The work of John Cheever and Eudora Welty showed me how to fashion a voice that was independent of the characters in my stories, that was stylized and idiosyncratic. That was the beginning of my understanding of the centrality of voice in fiction. Since then, I’ve learned from such a huge variety of books and writers that I would hesitate even to begin naming some.

When and where do you write?

Blessedly, I have a “room of my own” in my New Jersey home. It’s on the second floor and there are casement windows overlooking our back yard, which is dominated by a large spruce tree. I try to work first thing in the morning, because that’s when I’m freshest. I’m not a morning person, though, so “first thing” is not as early as it might be.

What are you working on now?

I’m into a new novel. Beyond that, my lips are sealed, because it steals the magic to talk about work in progress.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

It depends on how you define writer’s block. I never feel as if there are literally no words inside me. What I do feel, and more often than I like to admit, is that I just can’t bear to sit down to work. I’m tired, or I feel stupid, or I would really rather read a stack of magazines or take a long walk. I guess that’s procrastination or avoidance rather than block.

What’s your advice to new writers?

Patience. Oh, God, patience. There are wunderkinds who have success very quickly, but they are the exception. I thought I was on the wunderkind track (see childhood slave-girl story, above), yet through my twenties and thirties I wrote mostly unpublishable stuff. It took me a really long time to figure out how to find a viable form for my obsessions and my particular way of using language. Of course, I worried that I was insufficiently talented. Now I think that new writers should avoid thinking of themselves in terms or talent or lack of talent. Each writer needs to find the unique chemistry that works for her, the right combination of style and subject matter and practice (in the sense of “a writing practice”). For some this comes more quickly, for some, much more slowly.

Pamela Erens is the author of the novels The Understory, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist, and The Virgins, which John Irving in The New York Times Book Review called “flawlessly executed and irrefutably true.” The Virgins was named a Best Book of 2013 by The New Yorker, The New Republic, Library Journal and Salon. Recently, Reader’s Digest put Erens on its list of "23 Contemporary Writers You Should Have Read By Now."

 www.pamela-erens.com