Sam Harper

How did you become a writer? I grew up in a large, chaotic household. There were six of us under the age of seven, and two sets of twins. One afternoon when I was 10, I was flipping through the channels on our big black-and-white and landed on Each Dawn I Die, an old Jimmy-Cagney-in-Prison movie. Jimmy kicked and screamed as a guard dragged him off to solitary. I didn’t quite understand what he was complaining about. He got his own room in a quiet corner of the prison. Meals delivered. And lots and lots of alone time. I decided that I wanted a career that provided similar amenities, or at the very least, a quiet room to create order out of chaos.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.) As I was writing this and that, I read my favorite authors (Barry Hannah, Robert Olmstead, Ian McEwan, Mark Helperin, etc.) but very often I’d finish a book and think, Jesus, I’ll never be as good as that guy, so why bother? Two teachers and an editor pulled me from this pit of self-doubt and encouraged me carry on. My 10th grade history teacher convinced me that I had a “voice,” and though I’m sure I didn’t know what that voice was, he put me on the path to find it. A history professor read a humor piece I’d written in the college newspaper and became the only person in my life who ever suggested that I become a screenwriter. And the editor at the trade magazine where I worked after college slaughtered my copy, teaching me more about writing in three years than I’d ever learned. Mostly, he taught me to keep it short.

When and where do you write? I get up between 4 A.M. and 6 A.M., make coffee, shuffle into my home office and get to work before the world gets noisy. On good days I’m in there all day, playing darts.

What are you working on now? I’m finishing an animated feature film for 20th Century Fox. I’d tell you what it’s about but then I’d have to kill you. Yes, working in animation is like working for the CIA. Tell the competition that you’re writing a story about a talking otter and you could end up dead. Or worse, unemployed. Also, I’m adapting a children’s book, Frindle, by Andrew Clements, that I hope to direct this fall. And I’m laboring over a cover letter to publishers and agents, trying to convince them that my recently completed young adult novel is fantastic.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? In 1998, I spent six months writing the same 65 pages over and over again. It was my true Shining moment. Desperate to break out of this creative vacuum, I showed the pages to my agent. He said, “This needs work.” I threw the pages out and decided to try something unrelated to anything I had ever written. That led me to a little fatherhood 500-word column in my son’s nursery school newsletter. Somehow my ruminations on fatherhood opened up a creative compartment that had been closed through the Shining year, and my flow returned.

What’s your advice to writers? 1. Turn off the Internet. 2. Stay in the chair. 3. When you’re stuck, do something (preferably legal) that takes you out of your creative routine. 4. Turn off the Internet. 5. Forgive yourself. You don’t suck, you’re just writing a first draft. 6. Turn off the Internet. 7. Write every day. 8. Give the email a rest. 9. Writing is like parenting. If you’re patient and firm the words will obey, if you’re impatient you’ll have a rebellion on your hands. 10. Only write if you must, otherwise invest in a Bait & Tackle shop.

 

Sam Harper is a writer, screenwriter, and director. He was Associate Editor at Advertising Age magazine, and has been published in Parenting, Fatherhood Today, and Laugh Your Shorts Off: Short Stories to Make You Giggle By Award Winning Writers. His columns on parenthood appear on various web sites. His movie credits include Rookie Of The Year (1993), Just Married (2003), Cheaper by The Dozen (2003),Cheaper By The Dozen 2 (2005), Open Season (2007), Housebroken (2009), and the upcoming Rio (April, 2011). He also did un-credited work on Night At The Museum, The Little Rascals, Dunston Checks In, Fat Albert, Like Mike, Aliens In the Attic, Garfield, and Marmaduke.

 

Norrie Epstein

How did you become a writer? It was just a natural outgrowth of being a reader. I can’t pinpoint a moment when I declared myself a writer because in my mind I already was. I began writing a diary at six. Recently I came upon it and began searching it for evidence of precocity. There was none—obviously I didn’t think being a writer meant you had to be good at it.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.) As a child, I loved stories in which characters enter a portal into another world, like Alice in Wonderland. But also influential were the biographies of the Siamese twins Chang and Eng, Babe Didrikson, the first female superstar athlete, and Christine Jorgensen, the first transsexual. I’d love to write a novel that would encompass all that.

When and where do you write? Anywhere and anytime. For a while I could only work in my attic office, but when it seemed too solitary, I began writing in public places. I find the background hum a reassuring reminder that normal life goes on.

What writing tools do you favor? (Specifically: computer, word processor, dictionary, thesaurus, apps, etc.) I’m loyal to the Macbook Pro.   

What are you working on now? I'm writing a book about the human/dog bond, which I don’t see as sentimental. Its more like the relationship between Frankenstein and his monster. As the only species created by humans, dogs reflect our dreams. prejudices and values. Take the purebred/mongrel distinction, which arose during the waves of immigration. Or dog fancy, a mirror of our own stratified society. It’s funny—we’re surprised at and praise dogs’ responsiveness to our needs—but it’s breeders who’ve made them that way.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? In graduate school I was practically aphasic. A Ph.D. in English literature is a mixed blessing. You’re introduced to the “canon,” i.e., works by “real writers” who inhabit a very different sphere from your own. At the same time you’re honing your critical skills. I was constantly comparing myself to great writers, and when I did write, my prose sounded like that of a senile Oxford don.  

What’s your advice to writers? This goes back to the last question. A professor of mine asked me to tell him what I wanted to write, to pretend we were having an informal conversation. I probably wasn’t very coherent, but when I was finished, he said, “Write all that down.” I was stunned. I asked, “I can do that?” “Absolutely,” he said. And that’s my advice: Pretend you’re talking to a sympathetic listener and just write it down.

Norrie Epstein is the author of The Friendly Shakespeare and The Friendly Dickens; she is the editor of The Technique of the Love Affair by Doris Langley Moore and, with Jon Winokur, Happy Motoring: Canine Life in the Fast Lane. After receiving a Ph.D. in Victorian Literature, she taught at UCLA, Goucher College, and Stevenson University. She is currently writing a book about dogs and people.

 

Michael Sigman

How did you become a writer? In college I was more interested in music and philosophy than writing. My dad, who was a songwriter, helped me get a writing job at Record World, a music trade magazine, during the summers. When I graduated with a degree in philosophy, there were no jobs for philosophers, so I went to work full-time at Record World and stayed for 11 years, most of them as editor.

Name your writing influences (teachers, writers, books, experiences, etc.)  My ninth grade English teacher, Mr. Keith. Professor Dennis Baumwoll at Bucknell U. Getting hit with billy clubs during the 1968 riots in Paris. Besides the obvious canonic writers, there’s Ken Kesey, Jon Stewart, the Family Guy guy, Elmore Leonard, Jon Leonard, Jonathan Lethem, Michael Ventura, Harold Meyerson, David McGee, tons more.

When and where do you write? Early in the morning in a little room downstairs.

What writing tools do you favor? (computer, word processor, dictionary, thesaurus, apps, etc.) Computer. Definitely online Dictionary, Thesaurus, Bartlett’s and, in a pinch, rhyming dictionary.

What are you working on now? I’m writing once or twice a week for huffingtonpost and putting together a book of my essays, to be accompanied by illustrations. Also pieces for the small but mighty online mag The Bluegrass Special.

How do you assess the current state of book publishing? Terrible for authors. Unless you get very lucky, you need to have a “platform” to be seriously considered. Otherwise, self-publishing is a way to go if you are good at shameless self-promotion.

Do you foresee a time when you’ll bypass traditional publishers altogether? Absolutely. I’m in the midst of self-publishing a book right now, and preparing for shameless self-promotion. See above.

How has the Internet affected your writing process? It’s a blast to write something and have it available to readers instantaneously. It’s also wonderful to get comments – and corrections – and be able to improve on the original.

Do you ever have doubts about your writing ability? If so, how do you overcome them? I have almost nothing but doubts. I don’t overcome them, just press on.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? No. for many years I was a publisher and mostly wrote emails and memos, which had to be produced constantly. So I got used to some sort of writing every day.

What’s your advice to writers? Besides the clichés – e.g. “write!” – I’d say find a friend or acquaintance who knows writing to read your stuff and give you unvarnished critiques.

 

Michael Sigman is a writer, editor, publisher and media consultant, and the president of Major Songs, a music publishing company which owns the catalogues of his late father, the songwriter Carl Sigman -- whose songs include “Ebb Tide,” “It’s All In The Game,” “(Where Do I Begin) Love Story,” “What Now My Love,” “Arrivederci Roma” and hundreds more -- and several contemporary songwriters.

Sigman was the publisher and later also president and CEO of LA Weekly, the nation’s largest alternative newsweekly, from 1983-2002. During his tenure at the paper, he was also corporate publisher of LA Style Magazine, a successful monthly founded and published by LA Weekly from 1985-88 until it was sold to American Express. Sigman was also the founding publisher of OC Weekly, sister paper to LA Weekly, when it was launched in 1995. 

Sigman also supervised LA Weekly Books, an imprint through St. Martin’s that published books by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jonathan Gold, Bruce Campbell, Diana Wagman and Eddie Little, among others.

Prior to joining LA Weekly, Sigman was a music journalist, and served as a reporter, then managing editor, then editor-in-chief of Record World Magazine, a leading music industry weekly, from 1972 to 1982.

Sigman’s writing appears weekly on huffingtonpost.com and has also been published in Record World, LA Weekly, the LA Times, OC Weekly, The District Weekly, LA Style, The Bluegrass Special and other newspapers, magazines and websites. He is also the author of a biography of his father. He’s currently working on a biopic of legendary music man John Hammond.

Michael Sigman graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Laude, with a BA in Philosophy, from Bucknell University in 1971.