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Recommended Books
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    Plume
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  • 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 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
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  • The Writing of Fiction
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  • Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print
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  • Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You
    Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You
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ATW INTERVIEW

Tuesday
Apr152014

Lawrence Grobel

How did you become a writer? When I was 11 I was curious about a certain old house in my suburban neighborhood and disguised myself as a reporter for my nonexistent elementary school paper, knocked on the owner’s door and got invited in to ask anything I wanted about the place. I then became an actual reporter for and then editor of my high school newspaper. I entered an essay contest sponsored by Newsday and won a watch, a trip to Washington D.C, to meet the head of the FBI, my two N.Y. U.S. Senators, and Attorney-General Robert Kennedy. I saw that writing “paid.” In college I wrote for both the newspaper and the humor magazine, joined the Meredith Mississippi March with Dr. King and called in my (unpaid) observations to a Newsday editor. In the Peace Corps I had plenty of time to write a novel and a book about my life in Ghana, neither of which was shown to anyone. When I returned to the States after 4 years abroad I convinced the editor of Newsday’s new Sunday magazine that I could write for him and wound up with some assignments which kept me busy and, when accepted, gave me the confidence to approach the N.Y. Times with some story ideas. They took two of them, and then I turned to magazines—got plenty of rejections but never gave up. Once Playboy took a chance with me, I convinced Barbra Streisand that she should give me an in-depth interview…that led to Marlon Brando and I haven’t stopped talking to people for 35 years.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.). My piano teacher, Ted Harris, was a great character who believed in me when I was 9. I started reading James Joyce at an early age, along with Dostoyevsky, Hesse, Joseph Heller, Norman Mailer, and Saul Bellow. At UCLA I studied independently with the novelist Bernard Wolfe and used to hang around his office in Beverly Hills and his home as well, talking about what he was working on and what I was. He turned me on to reading J.P. Donleavy, whom I eventually interviewed at his home in Ireland.  Also at UCLA I became friends with my Spanish teacher, Enrique Cortes, who was sort of like a Don Juan figure for me. He read everything I wrote and rarely liked anything, but when he once asked if he could keep one page of something I had written, I was elated.

When and where do you write? I work in an office in my home in the Hollywood Hills. I’m not good at writing at coffee shops or hotels or on planes or in foreign places. I try to be at my desk every day, whether I accomplish anything or not.

What are you working on now? I’m starting a script based on my last novel, Begin Again Finnegan. I also went back to some fiction I wrote years ago about Africa—I screwed that up by introducing the wrong characters in the middle of it, so I am rewriting it and seeing where that goes. I’m doing some short pieces for the Saturday Evening Post. I started a story last week based on something I heard that got my attention. And some producers in Singapore contacted me about writing a script for them, so we’re talking about that. But I probably spend more time trying to figure out how to market and promote the 15 books I self-published on Amazon these last few years…and I wish I didn’t have to do that.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? Rarely. But I did stop working on the last chapter of my memoir (dealing with my time with Brando on his island) because I was afraid that I was going to hear from the person who was featured in the previous chapter, Barbra Streisand, since I wrote about all the behind-the-scenes stuff that happened between us over 9 months, when I was interviewing her for Playboy. I could hear her calling me and saying, “I never said that.” Or, “You’ve got it all wrong.”  Or, “Why would you write about that, it’s mean.” Just thinking about that kept me from finishing the book for over five years. Until I just said, to hell with it, it’s my life. (I think Truman Capote helped me here, when he said about how he felt writing about his rich friends, “Who did they think I was? I’m not a court jester, I’m a writer.”) So I finished it, and self-published it on Amazon. Kind of a quiet way to put it out, I know. Maybe I’m still thinking about her.

What’s your advice to new writers? The same advice Bernard Wolfe gave to me when I first told him about a novel idea I had. “Write 100 pages, and if it doesn’t work, fuck it.”  I couldn’t believe it when he said that—100 pages?? And yet, he was right. Sometimes you need to write a lot just to find out what it is you are really writing. And sometimes you need to throw away a lot to keep the good stuff.  Writing is really rewriting, which every writer learns only by doing. You just need the self-confidence to believe in yourself. And not let anyone convince you otherwise.

Lawrence Grobel is a novelist, journalist, biographer, poet and teacher. Four of his 22 books have been singled out as Best Books of the Year by Publisher’s Weekly and many have appeared on Best Seller lists. He is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for his fiction. PEN gave his Conversations with Capote a Special Achievement Award. James A. Michener called his biography, The Hustons, “a masterpiece.” His The Art of the Interview is used as a text in many journalism schools. Writer’s Digest called him “a legend among journalists.” Joyce Carol Oates dubbed him “The Mozart of Interviewers” and Playboy singled him out as “The Interviewer’s Interviewer” after publishing his interviews with Barbra Streisand, Dolly Parton, Henry Fonda and Marlon Brando. He has written for dozens of magazines and has been a Contributing Editor for Playboy, World (New Zealand), and Trendy (Poland). He served in the Peace Corps, teaching at the Ghana Institute of Journalism; created the M.F.A. in Professional Writing for Antioch University; and taught in the English Dept. at UCLA for ten years. He has appeared on CNN, the Today Show, Good Morning America, Charlie Rose and in two documentaries, one on J.D. Salinger, the other Al Pacino’s Wilde Salome. His blog, books and articles can be found on his website: www.lawrencegrobel.com and at Amazon.com’s Kindle Store.

Tuesday
Apr082014

Katherine Harmon Courage

How did you become a writer? I've always written--my mom says I even used to sit with a pad of paper and make rows and rows of squiggly lines before I knew the proper alphabet. As a kid and teenager I gravitated toward poetry and short stories. But once I reached college I became interested in narrative nonfiction. After looking at MFA programs while working as an assistant in book publishing in NYC, journalism school seemed downright practical (everything's relative). So I wound up getting my master's degree at the Missouri School of Journalism. From there, I was incredibly lucky to get an internship at Scientific American, which led to reporting and editing jobs there--as well as, indirectly, to my first book, Octopus! The Most Mysterious Creature in the Sea.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.). I was lucky to be supplied with terrific books--by my parents and grandparents--and surrounded by wonderfully encouraging teachers when I was growing up and through college and graduate school. I could never say my humble writing efforts have been influenced by such great works, but books that I return to again and again include: Moby Dick, Mrs. Dalloway, Ulysses, Trawler (by Redmond O'Hanlon) and Trsitram Shandy.

When and where do you write? I only recently moved from Brooklyn to Colorado and became a full-time freelance writer--with an actual home office. Before that, I wrote my articles for work each day at my desk in Scientific American's open floor-plan offices and worked on my book at home in the evenings and on weekends (admittedly, mostly from an arm chair or the couch). Now, I sit down to work in my little office at my little desk facing the mountains in the morning right after breakfast. The morning often gets consumed with email and managing various projects. Midday I try to break for lunch and a run (or bike or swim). My real, focused writing starts closer to 4pm (by which point, I've usually migrated with my laptop to my arm chair) and lasts until my fiancé harangues me enough to knock off for the day (usually around 7pm). 

What are you working on now? I have some feature articles and a blog series coming out this spring that I'm excited about. I also do ongoing editing work for Scientific American and maintain a regular blog there called "Octopus Chronicles." Right now I am mostly scrambling to polish off a handful of lingering freelance writing assignments so that I can clear a little bit of writing (and brain) space to finish up proposals for a few new book ideas. 

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? Will I make a lot of enemies if I say, not really? I suffer more from writer's procrastination. And when I do finally make myself stop reading email and start writing, I always end up over writing. And I think there are three reasons for this: 1. Much of my daily writing is for monthly, daily, or online publications, where I am working with a word count limit (800 words never seems long enough to explain the awesomeness of sequencing ancient pathogens!) and tight deadlines. 2. I currently stick to journalism and other nonfiction, so the material out there in the world is endless. 3. I'm still relatively new to this professional writing thing, having been out of journalism school for only five years now. But I think I may take it as a good sign if I start getting writer's block. That would mean I am actually giving an article or book the time and mental space that it deserves.

What’s your advice to new writers? I think it's pretty common advice, but I recommend writing as much as possible. Even if it's not for publication. That said, do start writing with an eye toward public consumption. That doesn't mean dumb things down or pitch silly stories if you don't like silly stories. But crafting a succinct, engaging, well structured article or story is a challenge--and one that will force you to become a better writer. And if you can, find an editor or experienced writer who is willing to edit your work and talk through their revisions with you. I learned some of the best and most basic lessons from my daily editors when I first started working at Scientific American. Also, get a deadline. They are what keep me in business. 

Katherine Harmon Courage is an award-winning freelance journalist and author who recently traded in the wilds of New York City for those of Colorado. From there she works as a contributing editor for Scientific American and also writes for WIREDGourmetPopular Science, Nature, and others. Her first book, Octopus! The Most Mysterious Creature In the Sea was published in 2013 by Current, a division of Penguin Random House. Her work was also recently featured in The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2013. Visit her website www.katherinecourage.com or follow her on Twitter: @KHCourage for more about health, science, writing, and, of course, octopuses.

Tuesday
Apr012014

Janet Fitch

How did you become a writer?

Lonely, ignored, I

discovered Dostoyevsky. Ah.

Kill the landlady.

 

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

Faulkner, JCO

Nin and Miller. Bergman films.

Williams, Tennessee.

 

When and where do you write?

Mornings, afternoons.

My secret lair or somewhere

Mountainous, discreet.

 

What are you working on now?

Terror and beauty.

The Russian Revolution.

Almost done. This year!

 

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

Am I a writer?

Is it hard? Do I yearn?

I love, also suffer.

 

What’s your advice to new writers?

Notice everything.

Love the senses. Ban the cliché.

Hold nothing back.

 

Janet Fitch is the author of White Oleander and Paint it Black, novels set in Los Angeles. She teaches creative writing at USC and the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, and shares short shorts and writing tips at www.janetfitchwrites.wordpress.com.

Tuesday
Mar252014

Anne Gracie

How did you become a writer? I've been a voracious reader since childhood, and I've always had stories in my head, but somehow I never thought of becoming a writer. But some years ago I was backpacking solo around the world, often in countries where I didn't speak the language, and the writing bug bit me. I started writing by hand in exercise books. When I got home again I started writing seriously — submitting work to publishers and researching the market, and a few years later I sold my first book.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.)All the authors of the books I devoured from when I was a child onward — the list is endless. I'm always discovering wonderful new writers and always learning from them. I love craft-of-writing books and here are some of my faves. Some of these are about writing novels, some from screenwriters because I think screenwriters concentrate more on storytelling, which is good for popular fiction.

         Dorothea Brande — Becoming a Writer. An oldie but still in print because it's good. My take on Dorothea is here: http://www.annegracie.com/writing/DorotheaBrande.html

         Linda Seger — Writing Unforgettable Characters. When I'm stuck, she always helps me go deeper into the characters.

         James N. Frey — How to Write Damn Good Fiction.

         Blake Snyder — Save The Cat  When I'm 3/4 of the way through a book and am convinced it's never going to work, I apply my story to his beat sheet and it usually calms me down when I find I'm more or less on track.

         Jerry Cleaver - Immediate Fiction.

I also have some articles on writing on my website, and on my "links" page I like to some writing sites I like.

When and where do you write? I started off writing in notebooks anywhere — in my bed, in hotel rooms, cafes, train and bus stations etc., but once I got published I more or less only wrote at my desk. Then a few years ago I started writing by hand again — and again, that can happen anywhere. I'll explain more in my response to question 5. As to when, I write mostly in the morning and edit in the afternoon, but sometimes I'll write at night as well. Writing is like a muscle — the more you use it the stronger it gets and the easier it becomes.

What are you working on now? I'm working on The Spring Bride — the third book in a series of four, called the Chance Sister's series, about four girls in Regency-era London who find themselves in dire straits and set about turning their lives around. It's my third series and my 17th book.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? I call it "writer's anxiety" rather than "block" but yes, I have battled with it on and off — I think most writers will experience it at some time in their career. It's slowed me down, but I can't let it stop me altogether — I have contracts and obligations, thank goodness, and they're very motivating. I believe the root cause of it lies in perfectionism -- the kind of perfectionism where you know the minute you try to put the vision in your head into words, you will ruin it.

I've learned a number of strategies for dealing with it, apart from "talking myself down" from the anxiety. As I said above, I now write the first draft of a scene by hand in notebooks. I deal with the anxiety/perfectionism by telling myself it's "just scribble." Then I type it up onto the computer, telling myself "it's just typing." By then it's a first draft, and I can work on that. I guess I play a few mind games with myself.

I also keep a writing journal in which I reflect on my progress (or whine about my lack of progress and give myself a good talking to.

It's really helpful because there comes a stage in any book where I'm certain I can't make the story work, and that this will be the worst book ever and everyone will hate it and my career will be over — and then I'll flip through previous journals and find very similar sentiments about previous books — books that won awards or made “best of” lists. So then I'm reassured that if I can just work out this problem in this book (because it's always a different problem) I can make this book work, too. I also write about what I like about this story, and characters, and I “talk through” story problems with myself. I love my journal.

What’s your advice to new writers? Love the work. There will be days when that's very hard to do, but once you get past the difficulty, and the story is spinning in your brain and the words are flying and your world has sprung into being and your characters  have come to life and it feels like they're taking you on an adventure, there's no better feeling.

Also, when you're in the early stages of a story, try not to think about the market and what's hot and what people are buying at the moment. Go deep into your world and your characters and stay true to them. Yes, to have a career in writing you need to please the readers, but first you have to serve the characters and the story. Breakout books come from wonderful, fresh, original stories, not people second-guessing the market. So have faith in your own, unique vision.

Anne Gracie wrote her first novel while backpacking solo around the world, and while that novel never even got typed up, it was a start. Anne is published by Berkley USA (and Penguin Australia) and is a nationally bestselling author in the USA. A former president and honorary lifetime member of Romance Writers of Australia, she's a four time RITA finalist, has won a number of awards and has several times been featured on national "best of" lists in the USA. Her books have been translated into sixteen different languages, including Japanese manga editions.

As well as writing, Anne has had a lifelong interest in promoting adult literacy — it started when she was at university — and until recently, she kept bees in her back yard. Her website is: www.annegracie.com. Writers might also be interested in Anne's writing articles: http://www.annegracie.com/writing/writing.htm.

Tuesday
Mar182014

Lisa See

How did you become a writer? I didn’t want to be a writer. My mom’s a writer and my mother’s father was a writer. I wanted to do something different. But then I became a writer! I feel like I’ve been in a lifelong apprenticeship. I learned a lot about writing from my mother that most people take years and years to learn or may never learn. Writing was literally in my blood. I always say it was a good thing they weren’t plumbers. But after years of resistance, I woke up one day, and it was like a light bulb went off. I mean it was just like, “Oh, I could be a writer…” At the time, I was living in Greece, and I didn’t want to get married, and didn’t want to have children, and I only wanted to live out of a suitcase, and I thought, how can I do that? I’ll be a writer!” It really had to do with how can I have real freedom with my time? My goal was how can I have a life where my time is my own? Where I don’t have to be in an office, where I could travel, where I could choose my own hours? I was really trying to find what that could be because it was really important to me, and it still is. Especially when my sons were younger, I could work from home. When they had the Halloween special thing at school, I wouldn’t have to miss it. And that was just very important to me.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.). I adored my paternal grandmother. She probably was the greatest influence on my life. She loved to travel. She wasn’t very conventional. (She married a Chinese man when it was still against the law.) My mom, Carolyn See, who is a writer, has been a huge influence on my life as a woman and a writer. I can honestly say I wouldn’t he the writer I am if not for her. Bob Dylan has also been an influence, not that I know him or anything. I love how he can tell an entire story in just a few minutes, and I love how he plays with words. Lastly, I’d have to say Wallace Stegner. I used a line from Angle of Repose as the epigraph for my first book, On Gold Mountain: “Fooling around in the papers my grandparents, especially my grandmother, left behind, I get glimpses of lives close to mine, related to mine in ways I recognize but don’t comprehend. I’d like to live in their clothes a while.” I didn’t realize when I used those lines that the sentiment would continue to influence me and my writing to this day.

When and where do you write? I have an office in my house. When I’m writing, I work first thing in the morning. I write a thousand words a day. Sometimes I can do that in two hours. Sometimes it takes eight or ten hours. On those days, we have cheese and crackers for dinner.

What are you working on now? I've just finished a new novel. It's called China Dolls, and it's about Chinese American performers in the 1930s and 1940s here in this country. These were people who billed themselves as the Chinese Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the Chinese Houdini, the Chinese Frank Sinatra. My story is about three young women who meet in San Francisco at the Forbidden City nightclub. High jinks ensue!

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? No, thank god!!! That doesn’t mean that some days I don’t feel like writing or that I don’t know that what I’m writing sucks and will eventually be cut. Even when it’s going badly, I feel it’s really important to just keep writing that 1,000 words a day.

What’s your advice to new writers? Always look at writing as a job. That means, you get up and you go to work. I don’t wait for that moment of inspiration. By now, I do a lot of things—I write, I do a lot of speaking, and I do other fun—rather, what I consider to be fun—projects. But the most important thing is writing, so that always comes first. When I get up, the first thing I do is write. My rule is 1000 words a day—just four pages—that isn’t very much. Life is short, so be passionate about everything you do.

Lisa See is the New York Times bestselling author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love, Shanghai Girls, and Dreams of Joy. She has also written a mystery series that takes place in China, as well as On Gold Mountain, which is about her Chinese-American family. Her next novel, China Dolls, will be released by Random House in June 2014. Ms. See serves as a Los Angeles City Commissioner on the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Monument Authority. She was honored as National Woman of the Year by the Organization of Chinese American Women in 2001 and was the recipient of the Chinese American Museum’s History Makers Award in Fall 2003. To learn more, please visit her web site at www.LisaSee.com.