Saturday, September 17, 2011

Laura Hoopes on Breaking Through the Spiral Ceiling with Libby Grandy

Hi reader and writer friends,
My friend Libby Grandy interviewed me about my new book for this interview series on my blog.  I hope you find it interesting!
Interview with Laura Hoopes by Libby (Elizabeth) Grandy:

Your memoir, Breaking Through the Spiral Ceiling has received excellent reviews.  How did you become interested in writing after a successful career as a biology professor?

            My first year students in Biographies of Biologists seminar were frustrated because there were no biographies of women who had relationships, who married and had children.  They asked me to write it, half kidding, but I decided someone had to do it.  I wanted to show that it is possible to have a career in science and a family life, and that it can be worthwhile and enjoyable.  I think my life has had its share of setbacks and problems, but I also think the reader can see how much I’ve valued my family life and also my ability to make new discoveries with my students.  I had to struggle to learn how to write something besides scientific papers so it took me six years of writing courses and workshops.

Laura, I'm sure you are an avid reader. What kind of books do you like to read?

            You're right, Libby!  I like novels like White Tiger and the Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and The History of Love.  I also like memoirs and biographies.  I just read Harper Lee, a YA biography of the author of To Kill a Mockingbird by my friend Kerry Madden.  What a job she had getting material about this very private but interesting woman.

What is your writing process like? 

            If I am working on something specific, I can’t work in tiny pieces of time.  I need to sit down with a couple of hours before me so I can reflect on what’s gone before and get into the writing state that works best for me.  I do lose touch with reality while I’m writing.  I like quiet over music and bustle, so I write at home rather than in Starbucks as many of my friends do.

Do you write literature other than memoir?

            Yes, I am in an MFA program in creative writing, fiction at San Diego State University and I write short stories and work on novels in that program.  I’ve had a long short story published in The Chaffin  Journal and a couple of short short stories online at Rose City Sisters.

Have you had any inspiring writing teachers?

            Most of my teachers have been inspiring in one way or another, including you when I was in your critique group.  I had several encouraging classes with Mike Foley of UCR Extension early on.  Then I took Writing the World with Verlyn Klinkenborg at Pomona College where I am a professor.  He really focused us on sentences, and I’m grateful, but it was highly intimidating.  Then, I had courses at UCLA Extension leading to a Certificate.  Linda Raymond was an inspiring novel teacher, and Barbara Abercrombie and Gordon Grice inspired me to write nonfiction/memoir in more depth.  Now I have three great writing teachers at SDSU, Stephen-Paul Martin, Hal Jaffe, and David Matlin.  Although they have different styles, they have all had good effects on my writing.

Have you encountered any surprises in becoming a memoir author?

            One surprise is that once I had published a book, I was suddenly an expert according to those who invite you to speak.  I’ve had no trouble doing a book tour in 2011 talking with undergraduate researchers,  young undergraduates, postdocs, community members, and writers. 
            Another surprise is that Pomona College has been so encouraging to me even as I remake myself as a creative writer and become less and less engaged in biology research.
 Do you have an agent? What are your thoughts on agents today?

            I do not have an agent, and I would like to have one someday.  It’s my understanding that agents are very helpful in writing ideas in the way editors used to be.  Without one, it’s not possible to market books to the big companies like Random House and Basic Books.

 How did you publish your book?

            I first submitted it to university presses, and Yale University Press was quite encouraging.  They sent it out for review and got back suggestions for me, which I used for revisions.  The reviewers all thought it should be published.  Yale didn’t give me a contract, but they told me, for three years, that I was “in the queue.”  During that time, I submitted to a new series of publishers and SUNY wanted to see it on an exclusive basis, but when I called Yale they wanted me to stick with them.  I did, and a year later they emailed to say they were no longer interested in publishing my book.  That was that.  So I considered options and decided to use a print on demand site, Lulu.  The Female Science Professor who writes a blog I enjoy had used that for her book, Academeology, and one of my friends from SDSU had published a novel there and liked it.

Do you have any other thoughts you would like to share?

            Going into writing has been a pleasurable journey for me.  I’ve met many interesting people, and I feel glad to give a message to young women considering science careers that family is possible for them.  You can see more about my women-in-science concerns by going to my website, 

Thank you, Laura, and good luck on your new career as a writer. We look forward to reading more of your work.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Interview with Barbara Abercrombie on Cherished

Dear writers and readers,

Here is a fascinating interview with Barbara Abercrombie.  If you ever have a chance to take a writing class with Barbara through UCLA or elsewhere, jump on it!  She has a new anthology of stories about adored animals called Cherished...hope you enjoy her interview!  Cheers, Laura

Hi Barbara!  How would you describe your relationship with writing?  Do you enjoy it, struggle through it, or some of each?

– It’s like a very long  marriage: passionate periods, tough times, and right now kind of mellow.  Writing fiction and pictures books for kids has always been a struggle for me, but now I’m more into essays and non-fiction books and for the first time writing is actually fun.
Your current book, Cherished: 21 Writers on Animals They Have Loved and Lost is an anthology.  How did you get thie idea for this book?

– I had blogged about losing my horse, how much I had loved him and how hard I was grieving for him, and one of my readers (a vet) said there ought to be a book, a collection of pieces like I wrote/blogged. And it was like Bingo! for me.  That was the kind of book I wanted/needed to read. And of course you always write the book you need to read.
Can you tell us a bit about how an anthology is born?

          – First of all I checked out Amazon and there was no book like the one I had in mind. So then I emailed some of my writer friends who love animals and explained my idea for the book, and asked if they wanted to write an essay for it - and if so to send me a few paragraphs about what their essay would be about. Then I found some published essays about loving and losing an animal by Anne Lamott, Tom McGuane, Jane Smiley, Mark Doty etc. and I wrote to them about reprint rights. Finally I had a proposal put together and sent it to my agent.
What did you like best about putting together this anthology?  What was hardest?

      – I loved practically everything about putting together an anthology. I’m a literary groupie so it was like getting to hang out with the band.  Even marketing – something I usually loathe – was fun cause there was always a group of us when we did readings at bookstores.
Do you work with an agent?  How do you view the role of agents today? 

Agents are important unless you’re self-publishing – They deal with contracts that most writers don’t want to even read.  I sold some of my children’s picture books to publishers and then had my agent handle the contract. I also did that with Courage & Craft – my agent sent it out to everybody in New York and they replied with wonderful rejection letters but basically said, Who needs another writing book? So I did some research on my own and sent it to New World Library in California and they bought it – then my agent handled the contracts and money. NWL has turned out to be the publisher of my dreams – small and very hands on. And they love their writers. The bottom line is that you can sell a book to small publishers on your own (be sure to research what they publish) and then find an agent to handle the deal. The agent’s 15 percent is a bargain.

What kind of publicity help did you get from your publisher?  What are your thoughts about how authors should approach publicity these days?

        – I love New World Library’s publicists – they’re very available and have booked me on radio and pod casts, and do a lot  with magazines – and if I want to do bookstore appearances they set it up for me.  They also expect me to come up with ideas and contacts of my own – as all publishers do now unless you’re on the best seller list. The Internet is hugely important for publicity.  You need Facebook, your own website for the book, and also a blog.  I call myself the Marketing Whore when it comes to publicity because that’s what it feels like.  
What kind of books do you most enjoy reading?  Any current favorites to recommend?

       – I finally read The Help and loved it. Also I just read The Journal Keeper by Phyllis Theroux on a trip to Russia. I loved it so much I got in touch with her via Facebook from Moscow – and was thrilled when she replied. I’m now reading Lacuna by Barbara Kinsolver and a biography of Frida Kahlo. And Thirst – Mary Oliver’s poems. I love reading all kinds of books. You can’t be a writer without reading.
You have facilitated writing groups for women facing cancer.  How did you keep that activity from becoming depressing?

       – There was a moment early on in the workshop when I thought I just can’t do this – a dear woman I loved had  died – but then I realized most people didn’t die. The workshop was filled with people who went on from having cancer to thrive. And I went on to conduct it for another twelve years. It turned out to be much more inspiring than depressing.
You have taught a lot of wonderful classes at UCLA Extension.  What is it like working with such a variety of people, who have self-selected as members of your class?

       –  Joy, pure and simple. I love teaching at UCLA Extension. I love my students and I love the other instructors. I finally found my own community.

You travel a lot; does this feed into your writing or interrupt it?

         – It used interrupt my writing and it would take days, weeks, to get back into it. But there’s nothing like a book deadline to focus you, so for the past year I’ve written every day while traveling.  I love to write in hotel rooms or on boat cruises (as on our last trip to Russia.) or up in Montana where we have a place. My husband and our rather large family are used to me disappearing to write on vacations. 
Can you give us some ideas for creating a wonderful writing life for ourselves?

        This is the subject of my next book! (A Year of Writing Dangerously.) It’s 356 days of anecdotes and encouragement and writer’s quotes. Kind of like a party – you get to hear how all these other writers struggle and have fits over their work. It’s also about thinking like a writer, writing every day, grinding through the tough times, etc. I just sent in the final manuscript to my editor at NWL.  (Message from the Marketing Whore: it’ll be published May 2012 and author is available to come to any and all groups to talk about the book!)
Any other thoughts to share with writers?

       – Just this: when you write you’re part of a community of writers. You’re in the Writers Club – the only condition is that you write every day. Even if it’s just for ten minutes. Even if you think what you’re writing is all crap (all writers feel this way at one time or another) and you keep going because only you can write your story – and somebody out there needs to read it. ( One of the perks: You get to read as much as you want – because that’s the best way to learn to write. )

Laura's note: If you enjoy Barbara's thoughts, you may want to follow her blog at   It is often full of inspiration, not to mention many great book recommendations!  Also check out her website at http://www.barbaraabercrombie. com.  Cherished is available now on and you should keep an eye open for author events featuring her at your local bookstores.