Friday, May 29, 2009


LH: How did you get interested in writing?
MH: My mother was a writer, and there were always books and manuscripts lying around the house. She’d get up early and write in her converted garage. Seeing my interest, she taught me to use her electric typewriter and bought me a copy of Writers’ Market. I wrote a truly awful short story about a girl in a mental institution who befriends a white tiger cub, and sent it off to Seventeen Magazine. Needless to say, it did not get accepted for publication.

LH: What was your first success?
MH: At fifteen, I had a short story titled “No Paper Airplanes Flew” in a national kids’ magazine called Scholastic Voice. It was a fictionalized account of a substitute teacher who’d just undergone a radical mastectomy, and how her recounting of the experience tamed an unruly class of junior high students. (I was one of the unruly students.) Scholastic Voice paid me $50, and I felt like a real writer.

LH: What kind of books or articles do you most enjoy writing?
MH: I love writing literary memoir and essays that inspire readers to think about subjects—owls, adoption, lesbian mothers—in a new and different way.

LH: Do you have an agent? Tell us about your experiences with/without agents.
MH: My agent, Michele Andelman, left Andrea Brown Literary agency directly after selling my memoir, Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood. At the moment, I’m actively looking for a new literary agent. Michele approached my writing with insight and helped me to shape Gringa into something that would appeal to editors. I miss her!

LH: What are your thoughts about marketing? Do you have any great tips on how to do it well?
MH: If you can write short articles and essays for magazines and newspapers, whether related to the topic of your manuscript or not, this is a terrific way to get your name out there. Most editors ask for an author bio, in which you can include the name of your book and your contact information. I also love to teach at writers’ conferences, where I can network with other writers, plus agents and editors.

LH: If you could go back in time and start over, tell us one thing you have learned that would help you to succeed better/faster/with less struggle.
MH: I would have asked my professors in my undergraduate and graduate programs for advice on how to begin submitting my shorter and book-length pieces to editors and agents. Believe it or not, I used to be shy, and I didn’t take advantage of my teachers as resources. After earning my Master of Fine Arts degree, I knew how to write, but I had to teach myself the business of publishing.

LH: Any other thoughts to share?
MH: It may sound shallow, but I’ve taken for my motto one used by Ben and Jerry of gourmet ice cream fame. “If it’s not fun, why do it?”
I try to write what I love, what’s fun for me to craft. Even when I’m working on a particularly tedious writing project, I try to change my attitude about it so that it’s pleasurable. If this involves consuming large quantities of chocolate, so be it.
LH: Sounds great to me! Thanks for your thoughts, Melissa.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Interview with Gordon Grice

LH: Gordon, how did you get interested in writing?

GG: As I soon as I learned to read, I heard narration unfolding in my head. I knew I’d be a writer.

LH: What was your first success?

GG: My first publication was a prose-poem in a literary magazine called Xanadu.

LH: What kind of books or articles do you most enjoy writing?

GG: I like writing that’s beautiful and frightening at the same time, and that’s what I try to achieve in my own work. My best work is about the natural world.

LH: Do you have an agent? Tell us about your experiences with/without agents.

GG: Before I met my agent, I thought of myself as an artistic sort of writer, doomed to make my living at a day job while scribbling on the side. My big accomplishments were publishing a chapbook of poetry, having a couple of my songs played in a night club, and getting paid $50 for an essay in a litmag.
That all changed when Harper’s reprinted one of my essays from a litmag. It was only days after Harper’s hit the stands that a stranger named Elyse Cheney phoned. She asked if I had any ideas for a nonfiction book.
“Well, I have some essays,” I said.
“I was thinking of something more focused,” she said. She grilled me about my writing and my experiences, and before we hung up we’d hashed out a general idea for a book of essays about animals with some philosophical subtext. Over the next few months, we developed a pitch and a few sample chapters. I really had no idea how to build a pitch, because it had never occurred to me to write a nonfiction book. I’d actually pinned my hopes on finishing a novel. I outlined 31 chapters about the animals I’d encountered in the countryside where I grew up. Elyse told me to cut it down to the seven most exciting ones. We called it The Red Hourglass: Lives of the Predators.
A week after I sent Elyse the finished pitch, she called to tell me she’d sold it for six figures. After I applied the defibrillator to myself, I told her I was amazed it all happened so fast.
“That’s why you have an agent,” she said.

LH: What are your thoughts about marketing? Do you have any great tips on howto do it well?

GG: The biggest difference between successful writers and unsuccessful ones isn’t talent, but perseverance. My best advice is to keep going. I had a story chosen for Best of the ‘Net a couple of years back that had been rejected 62 times. I kept revising it and sending it back out.
More important, though, persevere with your writing. While you’re waiting to hear about one piece, write a couple more. Always be writing. Besides making you a better writer, it will give you more stuff to send out and thus improve your odds in the marketplace. It will also give you a more realistic sense of the relative strengths of your pieces. Some writers send out one piece, get a rejection, and feel too demoralized to go on. I say, send out a piece, then forget about it and write something better before you even get word on the first one.
Don’t think of the market as a judge of your talent, because it’s not.

LH: If you could go back in time and start over, tell us one thing you have learned that would help you to succeed better/faster/with less struggle.

GG: I’d have written more. When I as young I was easily frustrated. I’d put stories aside because I couldn’t make them work or because my prose was ugly and I couldn’t get it on its feet. Now I know that the only way to get to be a good writer is to do a lot of bad writing. I’d want my younger self to apply ink to paper every chance he got, accepting that clumsy writing is nothing to be ashamed of, that it’s wholesome exercise, that every attempt at improving a line, no matter how lame the result, is a step toward some graceful line later on.

LH: Any other thoughts to share?

GG: My advice for aspiring writers is to find joy in the process. The publishing business is rarely kind to the right people, so if you are only in it for the rewards, you’d probably be happier doing something else. But if you can find the joy in the pursuit of a page that sings, you’ll have your reward, whether you succeed in publishing or not.
(BTW—For UCLA, I’m teaching a short marketplace class again this summer, among other things: )

LH: I sure enjoyed your UCLA online class. Thanks for giving us your insights, Gordon.