Thursday, December 31, 2009

Dog's World

Today was a sad and difficult day for Mike, Heather, Sammy, and me. Sabby, elderly blonde terrier, is gone. His heart was enlarged (always suspected that) and pumping irregularly, he had a mass in his bladder and a very scary mass in his spleen. Although he was 17, people still said, "What a cute puppy," when they saw him. He was a character, befitting his age, but a lovely character nevertheless. We are all richer for having him share our lives. The Cheese Dog lives on in our memories, and I hope wherever he is, there is no arthritis and lots of green fields, no dry dog food, a snail or two to suss out, and people to smile into his smiling face.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Danger for writers

One of my teachers/friends is working on a book about writing into danger, and it has made me think about how writing pushes me into dangerous places I don't want to visit. Writing memoir, I find that the part I want to summarize in a post-facto conversation is usually the dangerous heart of the problem. In writing fiction, my characters try to do the same thing. It's my job to look over their shoulders and say, "No! Tell me exactly what happened, word for word, action for action, when you told him you were pregnant. Don't tell me how you told your girlfriend later about the encounter!" I can only account for the characters having the same danger-avoidance by noticing that they often deal with issues I've brushed under my rug earlier. Having them explore and feel the agonies of the moment gives me some aha moments about my own life. But there's pain, embarrassment, misunderstanding, rejection buried in those quiet mounds and if you dig there, it will hurt in the short term, no matter how much insight for the long term you may unearth.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Interview with Michael Jaime Becerra

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

MJB: My mother fostered my love of books with weekly trips to the library. It didn't matter what we were reading, so long as we were reading something. Left on my own, my childhood reading diet consisted of science fiction, comic books (Frank Miller's Daredevil runs were a favorite), movie-adaptation novels, and Mad Magazine. When I was in the fourth grade, I started emulating the kind of stuff I loved to read through a contest called The Book Fair that my elementary school would hold every year. When I was in junior high, my Book Fair entry was a story about a skateboard contest in outer space. It was a poor combination of influences--Thrasher magazine, Douglas Adams, and The Last Starfighter as I recall it--but through a fortunate series of events the book placed at the County Fair that year. Seeing my book, outside of my immediate world, in a glass case with a ribbon on it, had an immediate and lasting impression on me.

LH: Was that your first success?

MJB: While the junior-high skateboard book certainly qualifies, my first published work was a poem in Mosaic, the journal edited by the undergrads at UC Riverside. That poem was about a small moment--the narrator getting a beer for his father during a football game--but the publication gave me the confidence to continue writing about the world I knew: working-class families, Southern California, the meeting of Mexican and American cultures.

LH: What kind of things do you most enjoy writing?

MJB: I write literary fiction primarily, sotries set in my native El Monte, California, though I've been known to branch out into Mexico onoccasion. I feel most comfortable when the story has a start in reality and then quickly takes on a fictional life of its own. Those are the most enjoyable moments for me, using a real-life setting in a completely fictional context.

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

MJB: My agent took a look at my manuscript at the suggestion of a client, and I feel quite lucky that she saw the promise of my work. Arriving at the point was difficult, in some ways the most difficult part of the process because so much of it was beyond my control. I always tell people that the agents will always be there, and that they shouldn't be approached until the work is truly ready to be published. It also seems crucial that one research the agent(s) to whom they are sending work. Who else does this person represent? What sort of work do they sell on a regular basis?

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

MJB: I think the best martketing occurs in person, meaning that an audience may be more likely to connect with a writer and that writer's work if they have a sense of honesty, approachability, and understanding from the writer. I genuinely enjoy doing public readings, meeting with reading groups, visiting classrooms, etc. From a marketing standpoint, each of these appearances is an opportunity to build one's audience, to build one's brand as well.

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.

MJB: With my novel, I would have started out with a better sense of direction than I originally did. My first year of so was spent starting and retreating, and restarting and retreaing again. Had I sat down and outlined the opening chapters of the book, as well as doing some more defining of my characters, I feel that I could have saved myself plenty of time and trouble. For me, such planning gives me the sense of having a road map into the book.

At the same time, I think one should remain open to the unforeseeable. If the characters and their story demand something that the author did not envision for them, the author has to be open to elling the story as truly as possible.

LH: Any other thoughts to share?

MJB: Character is king, or queen, as the case may be.

Here is a sample of a novella I wrote:

Here is an interview I did with Willow Springs a few years back:

LH: Thanks for letting us have your thoughts about writing, Michael.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Looking for, or looking past women's success stories?

Just wondering how you'd feel about something I heard recently. I pitched my double biography of two highly successful women in molecular biology to an agent and he/she said, "Oh, damn, not another women's success story. No one wants to read those." My question: is this true? Doesn't it (as always) depend on the story and the writing? Actually, not so much, for me. I even like to read women's success stories about obscure women facing private crises, as well as poorly slapped together success stories of women celebrities. So for me, the statement was flat wrong, but then I'm only one person. What do you think?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Interview with Gayle Brandeis

LH: How did you get interested in writing?

GB: My parents read to me constantly when I was little; I taught myself to read when I was 3 and started writing poems when I was 4. Since my memories start at 4, I can’t remember ever not writing! Words have always been central to my life.

LH: What was your first success?

GB: I don’t know if this is a quantifiable “success”, but when I was 8, I wrote what I considered my first novel (it was about a 20 page thinly veiled knock off of The Secret Garden.) My teacher had a copy laminated and bound and put in the school library. Seeing my name in the card catalog gave me my first real taste of being a published author.

LH: That’s cool! I loved the card catalog, and can imagine what a thrill it was to see yourself in there. What kind of things do you most enjoy writing?

GB: Whether I’m writing poetry, fiction, or non-fiction, I enjoy writing the most when it surprises me, when a startling image comes out of nowhere, or a couple of unexpected words find their way next to each other and force me to see language in a fresh way. I love when my characters take me down unexpected paths, when the writing drops into a dark place I may have been trying to avoid.

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

GB: I do indeed have an agent, and am so grateful for her. It’s wonderful to have someone who knows the ropes of the business and who can advocate on your behalf. I certainly would never be able to navigate the maze of a book contract on my own! My current agent is actually my third agent; I am still dear friends with the first two, and love all three women. I met my first at a poetry workshop; I found my second by reading the acknowledgements section of a book similar to my own, and the third one semi-recruited me (after the second one left agenting when her sock company took off like gangbusters.)

LH: Sock company? It’s pretty amazing that she left agenting because of that. What are your thoughts about marketing? Do you have any great tips on how to do it well?

GB: I used to really cringe at the idea of marketing—I used to be painfully shy, and very private, and wanted to only focus on the writing, not anything beyond that. I’ve since learned that a writer needs to be proactive if she wants to get her work out into the world. The best advice I have is to try to find creative ways to market that can utilize your writerly self—blog book tours, etc. And have fun with marketing—make a YouTube video, for instance, or turn your readings into performances. And always remember that connecting with readers is a joy and a gift, and marketing is one way to reach more potential beloved readers.

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.

GB: If I could go back, I hope I would be less afraid, of both failure and success. I’d be more bold, more willing to put myself out there, less worried about what people might think. All things I still need to work on, but I’ve definitely made strides!

LH: Any other thoughts to share?

GB: Be true to yourself and your writing; write what you want to write, what you need to write, not what you think the market will embrace. The market is constantly shifting, but there is always room for passionate writing, writing that comes from the heart, the gut, that rings off the page with emotional truth. And don’t forget to bring your body into the process—it’s easy to get trapped in our heads as writers, but when we drop down into the senses and the sinews, we find such rich, vibrant, deeply lived material.

LH notes: Gayle Brandeis won the Bellwether Prize; her novel The Book of Dead Birds was chosen by Barbara Kingsolver for this award which recognizes literature in support of social change. Her new novel is Self Storage, and her book to stimulate writers is Fruitflesh. She teaches writing, most recently the master class in novel at UCLA Extension. See her blog at:

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Interview with Deb Martinson

LH: Deb, how did you get interested in writing?
DM: Mrs. Garfield, my 9th grade teacher, wrote on my Eleanor Roosevelt term paper: “you already have style. You are a writer.” From birth I have been an avid avid reader. And from 9th grade till now, my writer self has evolved.

LH: What was your first success?
DM: Aside from Mrs. Garfield?
DM: Well, I won an DAR essay writing award in 11th grade for an essay on the Cuban Missile Crises (first written for MR. Garfield’s history class—he gave me a B- on it.)
LH: Obviously lagging behind his wife in discerning talent!

LH: What kind of things do you most enjoy writing?
DM: Enjoy??? Well I love researching just about anything. And then, of course, I have to write about it. I’d sure like to try fiction and have 16 scenes written. But I don’t know about the rhythm and cadence of fiction—so I’ll have to learn.

LH: Do you have an agent? Tell us about your experiences with/without agents.
DM: Yes, I have an agent. Nat Sobel who is terrific and yet he’s made me cry (and I am not a weeper). I got Nat through connections and sheer luck. He is a first class editor and task master and a straight talker (hence the tears). I think some books require an agent to do anything with publishing. Academic presses don’t require an agent and are a whole different publishing experience. In University presses, editors don’t intrude much, nor do their marketers. But of course, writers can’t expect to make a dime in any event. And an agent expects to make lots of dimes. That’s the requirement. Nat likes me anyway, I think, though he sure hasn’t made much money off me!

LH: What are your thoughts about marketing? Do you have any great tips on how to do it well?
DM: No. I do have good advice. If you want your book marketed, hire someone on your own. Your presses’ marketers will do MINIMAL. I haven’t done this, and I regret it. Next time. . .

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.
DM: I’d start earlier (had a whole family and other career first). But I really don’t regret starting late . . .success? It is all a crapshoot. Keep writing, trying to do better, experimenting, having fun with it. Expect struggle. Learn to cuss.

LH: Any other thoughts to share?
DM: “Worth the effort. “ I named a whole introduction that on my Hellman book—my agent had turned down flat my first intro and I had to start from scratch. I didn’t want to do it. I wanted Nora Ephron or Joan Didion to write the intro. Ha! I had to do it myself—and it was worth the effort.

LH: Thanks, Deb, I’m sure my blog readers will enjoy this one!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Interview with Jia-Rui Chong Cook

LH: How did you get interested in writing?

J-R C: I’ve always loved to read, so I think it was only natural to want to try writing. I wouldn’t say I love the process of writing, though. It’s often difficult and always humbling. But I am always delighted to have created something in my own words. I think I got interested in newspaper writing because of the adventure. To write the best story, you have to get out to the scene, and you often get to see things most civilians never see. You get to be curious and ask a lot of questions that would normally be considered nosy. Then you get to try to make sense out of it and tell it to your audience in the pithiest, most evocative way. I think deep curiosity about character and the unfolding events makes for really great writing. I am always turned off by writing that lacks an intimate knowledge of a subject or lacks a thorough thinking-through of what things mean.

LH: What was your first success?

J-R C: If you define first success as first bylined article in a major publication, I guess I’d say that happened in the summer of 1999, when I got an article on good vs. bad low-fat foods in U.S. News and World Report magazine. I just started as an intern at the magazine and an editor assigned me to work with another reporter on low-fat foods. That reporter was nonplussed, but said I could start making some calls. When I came back to her saying that some nutritionists I talked to said there were actually bad low-fat foods, she was impressed. She suggested I do my own article.

If we’re defining success as my first award, that would be the 2006 Evert Clark/Seth Payne Award from the National Association of Science Writers and National Press Foundation. (Link to announcement: It’s given once a year to science writers under 30. I won for four pieces – a story about Alaskan villagers on the lookout for bird flu (,0,4438376.story), a story about the impact of bird flu on badminton, a story about recovering a lost text of Archimedes (, and a story about the emerging human health risks from climate change ( I was really excited about winning this award. I had only really started writing stories for the LA Times’s science editor in 2005.

LH: What kind of things do you most enjoy writing?

J-R C: My favorite kind of writing is narrative non-fiction. I love watching things unfold in front of me. I love having enough time with a subject that I can put the things I see in context and highlight the most meaningful bits. I love being able to write authoritatively in my own words, find my own analogies to describe something. This kind of writing is most similar to documentary filmmaking. Here is an example of one of my recent favorites of this kind:

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

J-R C: No, I don’t have an agent.

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

J-R C: When I am doing “marketing,” I feel as if I’m doing it on behalf of the LA Times. I want people to read my stories, but also to browse the Times and hopefully stumble on another story that interests them. I’m excited that the internet has made connecting to a potential audience that much easier. I have a Facebook page, where I often post my stories and stories by my colleagues that I like. I also have a Twitter feed (@jahree) that I update at least daily. I try not to insert too much of my opinion in these places, but I do give people reading my Twitter/Facebook posts something a little extra. It might be a funny comment a researcher made to me that didn’t make it into the story.

I also try to accept speaking invitations, even if they require a significant amount of work outside of my regular job. For instance, Zocalo, a group that organizes public lectures around Los Angeles, asked me to curate and moderate a panel discussion on veterans’ health issues at the UCLA Hammer Museum. (Link: While the story that this panel was based on has not yet come out in the LA Times, I did have many people come up to me afterwards saying that they’re looking forward to the story.

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.

J-R C: I love the clarifying power of writing. When I first started working at the LA Times in 2002, one of the best writers at the paper said that clear writing requires clear thinking. I’ve really come to believe that when troubled, confused thinking results in bad, confusing writing. It’s worth taking the time to step back and ask, “What’s really important here? How do these things fit together?” Of course, sometimes you don’t know that you have a gap in your thinking until you try to put words on paper and you get stuck. That’s good, though. Then you know what you’re missing.

LH: Any other thoughts to share?

J-R C: I think I’ve said enough!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Interview with Mike Foley

LH: Mike, how did you get interested in writing?
MF: At age 19, I read Kerouac’s On the Road and I was hooked. I’ve been writing ever since.

LH: What was your first success?
MF: My early success came while I was still in the creative writing program at Cal State Long Beach. I had several poems and short stories published in literary journals. My first short story was published at the University of Wisconsin, in their journal “Cream City Review.”

LH: What kind of things do you most enjoy writing?
MF: Short fiction or nonfiction profiles of individuals. I also like travel writing, although I don’t do much of it anymore. Film scripts can be fun too, but I prefer doing those in collaboration with other writers.

LH: Do you have an agent? Tell us about your experiences with/without agents.
MF: Yes, it seems as if I’ve always had an agent. My experiences have ranged from terrible to wonderful. Agents tend to be busy and some of them handle it better than others. My current agent falls into the “wonderful” category. He has been handling some screenplays for me, and he’s great.
LH: What are your thoughts about marketing? Do you have any great tips on how to do it well?
MF: Writers are expected to do much more of this now. Good networking with other writers or editors is essential. So I can recommend attending writer’s conferences, where you can meet many people in the industry face-to-face. There doesn’t seem to be any substitute for this. Meet people, talk about your work, and when you attend a conference, be sure to carry a few asmples with you.

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.
MF: In the early days, I hated rejection so much that I would pore over a rejected manuscript and try to make changes so the next publisher would take it. Now I understand that work gets rejected for a variety of reasons and many, many times it has nothing to do with a work itself. If I were starting over, I would just give a rejected manuscript a quick read and then send it out again. I wouldn’t waste a lot of time worrying about it. That would free up time for writing other things.

LH: Any other thoughts to share?
MF: When it comes to writing, I still haven’t seen anything more valuable than persistence. Be persistent in writing and submitting. You have to write well, of course, but the more persistent you are, the better your writing becomes. Keep doing it!

LH: Can you tell us where to find some of your articles and your website? I know you work with other writers to help them improve/edit their work, and I have found your online courses, workshops, and input on my own manuscripts very valuable.
MF: You can find some of my articles at the Dream Merchant web site, although they aren’t designed to help writers.
My web site is at:
LH: Thanks for the insights into your life as a writer, Mike.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Interview with Martha Ronk

LH: How did you get interested in writing?
MR: I read a great deal as a child, taking books from the public library to read in stacks through the hot Ohio summers. I liked creating sentences and diagramming sentences and rearranging sentences and analyzing literature and studying Latin. I wrote a dissertation on Milton for my PhD and have taught Shakespeare at Occidental College for many years; teaching literature has made me awed by writing.

LH: What was your first success?
MR: My first book, “Desire in LA,” was selected at random for a contest sponsored by the University of Georgia, published 1991. A recent success: I had work chosen for a Norton Anthology, “American Hybrid.”

LH: What kind of books or articles do you most enjoy writing?
MR: I like conceiving of an entire project in which the poems are all related to one another by theme, approach, style, or form. At the moment I am working on “Transfer of Qualities” (quotation from Henry James) in which people and objects transfer qualities with one another—the manuscript is made up of prose poems, short essays, and short “fiction” pieces. In an earlier book, “Why/Why Not” (Univ. of CA Press), I had Hamlet and the phrase “to be or not to be” in mind for each of the sections. In fiction, I like obsessive narrators.

LH: Do you have an agent? Tell us about your experiences with/without agents.
MR: Poets mostly don’t have agents. My work has been published by means of literary contests offered by University Presses or by request from a publisher. If I try for another work of fiction, I would ask all the fiction writers I know for advice; my own fiction, “Glass Grapes and other stories” was published by a small press, BOA Editions, because one of the editors had published one of the stories in his anthology.

LH: What are your thoughts about marketing? Do you have any great tips on how to do it well?
MR: For publishing poems in literary journals, it is most important to know the journal and the editorial approach so that the work you send is fitting and appropriate. Most journals have instructions on how many poems to submit and when. I also think that it is important for all authors to attend conferences, to read at bookstores (and other venues), to attend readings. For poets, the major meeting is the Associated Writing Programs meeting in spring every year. I have had the opportunity to be an editor for Littoral Books, a small press here in LA, but we published 10 books of poems, and for several literary magazines; I learned a great deal working with other writers.

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.
MR: I would start earlier. It also helps to begin with a community formed in graduate school, in one’s city, in publishing ventures with others, in other projects. Writers help support one another and since there is little financial support, this aesthetic support is crucial. I also wish I had tried fiction earlier; it was writing my fictional memoir, “Displeasures of the Table,” that got me to thinking that I might try fiction. For me fiction offers more opportunities for the comic.

LH: Any other thoughts to share?
MR: Writing is the most interesting and exhausting thing I do. And every time I read a great piece, a poem (C.D. Wright, for example) or a novel (I just finished “The Book Shop” by Penelope Fitzgerald with ironic, wry sentences) I am eager to write more, to find yet another juxtaposition of words. Each one offers something of a solution to the mystery of how it is done.

I have chosen photographs for the covers of my books; I have written a number of poems about photographs and I love black and white photographs and decided early to use photographs on the covers (although I didn’t have a choice for my last, “Vertigo” from Coffee House Press). My website is through Occidental College, English and Literary Studies Department at LH note: Martha Ronk's most recent poetry book, Vertigo, is a National Poetry Series winner, selected by CD Wright.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Interview with Kay Murphy

LH: How did you get interested in writing?
KM: In 1963, I was in the 4th grade. I was a withdrawn, insecure child with a dysfunctional family and a father who was dying. On every report card since 1st grade, I’d been criticized by my teachers for being “too shy.” Mrs. Walton, however, was a kind and maternal teacher who tried to encourage everyone in one way or another. That year, she taught us how to write dialogue correctly (in terms of punctuation), then she gave us an assignment to “write a story.” We had to include dialogue and it had to be punctuated correctly. (No ditto sheets for Mrs. W!) My story was several pages long. It was about a lonely, shy boy who uses parts in his dad’s garage to build a robot. It had humor and pathos, action and resolution, a beginning, a middle and an end. Mrs. Walton enjoyed it so much, she asked me if she could read it to the class. All these years later, I can still hear her voice—she had a Southern accent—reading it aloud. I can still feel the burn in my cheeks of embarrassment—and the thrill in my heart later when kids in my class said they liked it. I did something right for a change. I did something good for a change. I did something special and not something stupid. I had value as a person. I could create. Mrs. Walton told me that day, “You could be a writer.” I clung to her words like a life preserver in a vast turbulent sea.

I came home that day and told my mother, “I know what I want to be when I grow up. I want to be a writer.” Her response was, “Not everyone can be a writer….” So I didn’t get much support from her. Until my first book was published when I was 26. The day it came out, she bought four copies from four different bookstores. Talk about vindication and validation….

LH: What was your first success?
KM: When I was 21, I entered a writing contest sponsored by Decision, an international magazine with a circulation of six million. (Not bad for 1975.) I won third place (out of thousands of entries), and my story was published in the magazine. In addition, I was invited to attend a writers conference. My first writers conference… sigh… that’s when everything good began to break wide open in my writing. I learned how to write query letters, book proposals, and I learned all the basic marketing do’s and don’t’s.

LH: What kind of books or articles do you most enjoy writing?
KM: I enjoy writing nonfiction. I love reading fiction, but I’m too self-conscious, too self-absorbed to get outside myself enough to create interesting characters. I leave that to the professionals. I like to write pieces that involve universal human experiences, and I like to try, in my writing, to offer hope to those who navigating rough waters. (And I like ocean metaphors.)

LH: Do you have an agent? Tell us about your experiences with/without agents.
KM: Honestly, I have resented the idea of having to have an agent ever since I started writing 30 years ago. If a writer can’t represent herself—if she can’t say, ‘This is what my book is about, and here’s a sample of my writing,’ she may be in the wrong business. I sold my first book on my own—when I was 23. But when I wrote the second book—a True Crime/Memoir (because I discovered my great-grandmother had poisoned a number of people and may have been America’s first female serial killer)—I realized there were publishing houses that wouldn’t consider an “unsolicited” manuscript. So I found an agent who “loved” my manuscript—even though she admitted she’d only read the first few pages and ‘didn’t have time to read the rest’—who ‘presented’ the book proposal by simply emailing some publishers she knew with “Granny was a serial killer’ in the subject line. When she didn’t sell the manuscript in three months, she sent me an email apologizing and offering to let me out of our contract—an opportunity I promptly took her up on. (The book, Tainted Legacy, is now in print.)

LH: What are your thoughts about marketing? Do you have any great tips on how to do it well?
KM: The secret to effective marketing is knowing your audience. And let me just say, anyone who writes a book these days will need to do her own marketing. Unless your name is immediately recognized in literary circles, your book is not going to sell unless you sell it. Now let me be a heretic (my review “nickname” on Amazon is “Heretic”) and say that you should never, ever write a book with the idea in mind, “What is my target audience?” Magazine, newspaper, online writing, yes, you should. But if you have a book in your heart, just sit down at the keyboard and bring it forth; put all the ‘what ifs’ out of your head. For most writers, getting the first draft finished—all the way to the last page—is the toughest task they’ll face. Once it’s polished and published, you can begin to think about who you’d like to read it. If you write a book about business, contact local business groups, chambers of commerce, and other business organizations. Ask to be a guest speaker. If you write a novel that’s historical fiction, contact the museums and history clubs in your area and ask if you can come talk about the book. Marketing should be an ever-widening circle; create a fan base in your local area and it will eventually ripple out.

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.
KM: At the risk of waxing philosophical here, I don’t think we can succeed with less struggle. Every success requires sacrifice. Every step forward results in some loss of energy, some part of ourselves given over to the desire to gain ground. Having said that, I will repeat what my buddy and fellow writer Douglas Clegg (The Hour Before Dark) told me years ago: A writer’s biggest challenge is overcoming self-doubt. If I’d had more support and encouragement early on, if I’d had the courage to keep sending things out despite the number of rejections, I know I would have been more prolific.

LH: Any other thoughts to share?
KM: Don’t give up. Don’t stop writing. If you read something you’ve written and it touches you, don’t ever let anyone make you feel inadequate as a writer. Write every day—even if it’s journal writing—and read every day. Send your work out constantly. When my kids were small, I wrote my first children’s story because my son said he couldn’t find anything ‘scary’ to read. He liked “Wolf Cry,” the story I wrote for him, so I sent it out to Child Life magazine. It was promptly rejected. For two years, I kept getting that story back and sending it out again—like a paper Frisbee game. Finally, when I’d exhausted all the children’s magazines, a friend suggested I send it back to Child Life. “After all,” she said, “chances are someone else is now the ‘first reader,’ and the manuscript might just get passed on.” She was right. I sent it again—and it just happened to arrive when the editors were planning a wolf-themed issue. The lesson here is that a rejection is not a statement about the quality of your writing. Write that on a Post-it note and stick it on your mirror. And chant it as a mantra: “A rejection is not a statement about the quality of my writing.”

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


LH: How did you get interested in writing?
CM: At my liberal arts college, I was told I should do everything – be a Renaissance woman!
So I majored in math, got a PhD in physics, and thought – it's time to be a novelist.

LH: So, what was your first success?
CM: It was a "back page" piece in Ms. Magazine, on both partners keeping their names when they marry. (The piece is on my website,

LH: What kind of books or articles do you most enjoy writing?
CM: I love it all. I've written 13 mysteries, countless first person essays, blogs, a self-help book, short stories …

LH: Do you have an agent? Tell us about your experiences with/without agents.
CM: My first two novels were published by a small press, Avalon. After that, I found it easier to get an agent. I’ve been with my agent now for 11 books.

LH: What are the advantages and disadvantages to working with a small press?CM: The advantage is a lot of personal attention from your editors. The disadvantage is you don’t get a wide distribution: your press is a little fish in a big pond and you feel like that too.

LH: What are your thoughts about marketing? Do you have any great tips on how to do it well?
CM: Who knows? I do all the things the publishers suggest: website, blogging, visiting bookstores and libraries, courting a niche market, and social networking. So far, no one I know has been able to make a correlation between any of these and sales.

LH: How did you get the ideas for your two series of books?
CM: I'm a retired physicist, so the periodic table was a natural! And I've always loved and worked on dollhouses, so the second series was a natural too.

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.
CM: Other than be born to rich, educated parents who were in the publishing business … again, who knows?

LH: Any other thoughts to share?
CM: For me the payoff is meeting with readers, hearing from people who've gotten something from my work, whether it's a bit of information, a chuckle, or a connection of some kind. Publishing one's writing is not for the weak. You have to be very persistent, bounce back after rejections, and – often – keep a day job. Fortunately I love my day jobs (teaching and scientific editing), so I'm not stressed out (well, not too much) when things don't gel quickly enough.
My three words of advice would be: KEEP AT IT.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Interview with Kathryn Wilkens

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

KW: I didn’t get interested in writing until my late 20s when I felt the urge to start a personal journal. I didn’t want to write for anyone else, only for my future self. A few times when I came to the end of a book I would consider abandoning the enterprise, but I always wound up buying a new book and filling it up. No one had ever encouraged me to write, so I had to encourage myself. My writing was a form of rebellion against my traditional, Midwestern, male-dominated upbringing. My journals taught me how to write and helped me become the kind of adult I wanted to be.

LH: What was your first success?

KW: My first paid acceptance was an essay in Walking magazine, followed closely by a personal essay in the Los Angeles Times and a travel article, also in the Times. For me the stumbling block was in mustering the audacity to send out queries and manuscripts. Once I got over that, publication came easily (not that I didn’t have rejections and rewrites). Of course, by this time I was in my 50s!

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

KW: I write short nonfiction—700 to 900-word personal essays or 1,000 to 1,200-word articles. I write about anything that interests me at the moment. In addition to travel articles, I’ve written about the English language, writing techniques and photography. I wrote several articles for the now-defunct Personal Journaling on topics such as nature writing and how to title your journals. I’ve had three essays published in anthologies, with another one coming out in 2010.

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

KW: Only what everyone has heard a million times: Never give up. A story or article is only a failure if you quit sending it out. Of course, you may have to update, revise or re-purpose a piece of writing (by changing the angle or writing it for a different audience than you first envisioned). Also, I like to use the word “decline” rather than “reject” because it’s less emotionally loaded, as in “The editor declined my article, but I’m sending it out again.”

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.

KW: I took an article-writing class at UC Riverside Extension with Mike Foley and he explained the marketing process (queries, cover letters, submission formats). I wish I had taken his class (or a similar one) at a younger age. I struggled with my own attitude for years and couldn’t accept that I was a real writer. Then I looked at all my journals and realized of course I’m a writer! Who but a writer would maintain a journal for so many years without a reason other than the desire to do it? Anyway, I think a certain amount of self-doubt is good if it motivates you to take writing classes, read writing magazines, learn how to research, revise and market.

LH: Any other thoughts to share?

KW: Join or start a critique group. Set up ground rules that everyone agrees to. Read your story aloud, then be still and listen to what others say, without jumping in to justify what you wrote. Accept both praise and criticism with equanimity. You don’t have to take everyone’s suggestions, but you should pay attention to what is working and what isn’t. And right before you send a manuscript, it’s a good idea to have someone proofread it. They will find little mistakes that you may have read right over several times!

Here is the link to my travel article about Egypt:

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Interview with Emily Rapp

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

ER: I’ve been writing since I was very little. My first crack at writing was a “rewriting” of the Christmas story! =) But I think I really became interested in writing when I learned to read. I have always been a voracious reader. Before I decided to pursue writing as a profession, I was a theologian and a pastor. My very first “shorts” were sermons!

LH: What was your first success?

ER: I actually think my very first story, called “Double Deception,” written in the third grade, was my first feeling of success. The story felt complete to me; in other words, I rewrote it several times and finally felt like it was done. And I still like the opening line, “A shot rang out in Beverly Hills.” Fun stuff. I think my first “taste” of adult writing success was being accepted into an MFA program.

LH: What kind of things do you most enjoy writing?

ER: I’m working on a novel at the moment, so I’m very most focused on long-form fiction. I also love to write letters.

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

ER: I do. My experience with agents has been nothing but positive. An agent is a writer’s advocate, because the business of publishing has very little to do with the work of writing.

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

ER: I think every writer has to find venues in which to promote her work. That said, I’m not inclined to focus a lot of energy on that. Sure, it’s great to make money as a writer, but I’ve never expected to make a living at it. A great deal of my life is devoted to teaching, which is much more up my alley than devising marketing strategies. I try to be strategic, but I don’t make myself crazy trying to figure out how to sell myself.

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.

ER: I would not worry about what other people are doing, and focus on my own work. A thoroughbred runs her own race. Envy is a waste of time.

LH: Any other thoughts to share?

ER: If you want to be a good writer, read as much as you can, and learn how to be a fair and thoughtful critic of another person’s work.

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.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Interview with Linley Erin Hall

LH: Can you tell us how you got interested in writing? I know you were into science back at Harvey Mudd College.

LEH: I started writing stories in the fourth grade, and although I wrote for the school newspapers in junior high and high school, I mostly wrote fiction. When I went to HMC, I thought I’d become a chemistry professor. I found biochemistry fascinating. But I didn’t enjoy lab work. Putting my science interest together with my writing skills was a great combination for me.

LH: What was your first success with writing?

LEH: I was a graduate student in the science writing program at UC Santa Cruz, and one of my internships was at The Californian, a small newspaper in Salinas. I was assigned to cover the visit of the Olympic Torch to the area, and my article ended up on the front page! That my article was important enough and good enough for the front page gave me a lot of confidence.

LH: What kind of things do you most enjoy writing?

LEH: The in-depth ones. I’ve written a lot of different kinds of nonfiction, but it’s more fun to dig deep into a subject, to tell a real story, than to write a 300-500 word article skimming the surface, although those are important too. I also still enjoy writing fiction, although I haven't had any published yet.

LH: Any experience with agents?

LEH: Not yet. I sold Who’s Afraid of Marie Curie without one. I wrote an essay about the hairs we leave behind, not science at all, for the magazine section of the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle. In the blurb about me at the bottom, I said I write about science and engineering. About two and a half months later, an editor at Seal Books emailed me, said she liked my writing style, and asked if I’d like to write a book for Seal about women in science. That contact grew into Who’s Afraid of Marie Curie. So I basically skipped one of the hardest parts of getting a book published. It’s almost like I cheated.

LH: What are your thoughts about marketing?

LEH: It’s the part of freelancing that I enjoy least. It’s hard to put yourself out there. There are so many people trying to reach your audience, you need to stand out from that background. Target your audience and be creative.

LH: If you could go back in time to when you started writing and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

LEH: If you want to be a freelance writer, make a specific, detailed business plan. I sort of made one when I first made the leap into freelancing, but I could have avoided rough places if I’d done more research and planned more carefully up front. As for the writing itself, outline, outline, outline. Having a plan, even if it changes, makes writing both fiction and nonfiction easier.

LH: Thanks for sharing your thoughts on writing with us, Linley.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Interview with Catherine Ipcizade, children’s author

LH: Hi Catherine, how did you get interested in writing?

CI: I’ve always been interested in writing. Poetry was my first love. The first time I remember actually being recognized for my writing was in elementary school. I was in the third or fourth grade and I wrote this poem called A Fluffy White Feather. It was terrible. But my grandmother saw it, loved it, and called the Phoenix newspapers to tell them they HAD to publish my poem. She declared that a star was born and I was the star. Talk about motivation! I was far from a star, but my grandmother’s faith in me inspired my writing from then on. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, none of those papers published my poem.

As far as my career in children’s publishing, I started dabbling in writing books for kids in college. It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my first child though, that I set out to make a career of it.

LH: What was your first success?

CI: My first success wasn’t with book writing. I found success first as a freelance writer. My first publication was a piece called My Turkicans for The United States Turkish Times newspaper. I then went on to write more articles for them, as well as blogs for sites like, and articles for other publications including Chula Vista Living, Avenues, Ladera Ranch Magazine, and STOMP Fashion Magazine. I also dabbled in writing greeting cards for Leap Greetings and started writing web content—all while pursuing my main love—writing for children. My first book success was my picture book, ‘Twas the Day Before Zoo Day. After its publication, I began writing a lot for the educational market. By the end of the year, I will have 14 books in print—one from Sylvan Dell Publishing, and 13 from Capstone Press.

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

CI: I enjoy so many types of writing. I love writing funny, quirky picture books. I also enjoy writing somewhat serious contemporary novels in free verse. For articles, I prefer clever parenting articles that show the “real,” often fallible nature of life.

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

CI: No, I am not currently represented by an agent. It’s not imperative for a picture book author to have an agent. Would it be nice? Sure. When my current novel is complete, however, I do plan to begin searching for agent representation.

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

CI: My general feeling about marketing is to do all that you can. This is a given when you publish for a small or independent publisher. But even when you publish with a large publisher, doing your own marketing can mean the success or failure of your book. With big publishers, people assume they handle the marketing for you, that they push your book. Sadly, this isn’t often the case. Publishers push the books they think will sell really well. With the others, marketing efforts falter. If you want to gain a wide audience for you book, it’s best to start early, before the book even comes out. Here are some things to consider:

1. Do you have an online presence? This could include a website, a blog, a presence on Facebook or Myspace—anything that gives you a link to the outside world.

2. Do you want to do bookstore signings? If so, become friendly with your nearest independent bookstore. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t approach the large chain stores—you should, but an independent book store is likely to give you and your book the attention you both deserve. And because some stores book authors up to a year in advance, you’ll want to get a jump start on this.

3. Can you find a niche market for your book? For example, my zoo book lent itself easily to doing visits at zoos or animal parks. If your book has a specialized focus, hone in on that.

4. Have a contest! People love to get things for free, and hosting a giveaway contest on your blog or website will help generate interest for your book.

5. Have a launch party. If your book is out and you want to re-energize sales, have a re-launch party. These can be anywhere. Invite family, friends, and anyone else you think might be interested in your book.

6. Consider school visits. Many children’s book authors make a living doing school visits. There are some logistics to be worked out when pursuing this, but you may find it’s well worth your time, especially if you enjoy kids or teens, depending on the genre of your book.

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.

CI: I wish I would have known that there is a support group out there for children’s writers. With organizations like SCBWI and online sites like (check out the Blueboards section), aspiring and established children’s book writers aren’t alone! So much of this business is trial and error. If I could do it again, I would have asked for help sooner and not been afraid to approach those who knew how to navigate the scary, scary world of publishing.

LH: Any other thoughts to share?

CI: Just that I teach online for UCLA Extension. I currently teach Writing for Children: A Beginning Workshop. In the winter, I’ll also be teaching a general non-fiction for the youth market course. Stop by my website at to learn more about me, my books, and my upcoming classes.

LH: Thanks for telling the blog visitors about your interesting experiences with writing, Catherine!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Maralys Wills Interview on Writing

LH: I’ve enjoyed your memoirs and your workshops at writing conferences. I’m pleased you have a book out on writing now, Damn the Rejections, Full Speed Ahead. How did you get interested in writing?

MW: When I was a little girl, I lived on a ranch seven miles from town. I read all the time. Once I ripped all the blank pages out of my mom’s books and tied them together with string so I could write a book of my own. I developed a passion for writing books and it never faded.

LH: What was your first success?

MW: An article for United Airlines’ Mainliner Magazine. I sold them an article on my kids’ hang gliding for $350. That was a lot of money in those days, enough to fly to Hawaii! We took a trip to Hawaii on United, and there was my article in the seat pocket, and it was all I could do not to run up and down the aisle pointing to my page.

LH: What has been your experience with agents?

MW: I’ve been agented for nine books, yet it was something I did myself that sold five of them. You have to be willing to help. Nobody will work as hard for you as you’ll work for yourself. Three different agents tried to sell my biggest success, Higher Than Eagles. Longstreet Press bought it after Richard Curtis and a couple of others gave up and I sent it out myself. Then I got a fourth agent to negotiate the contract. Now, I’m working with Stephens Press. Damn the Rejections, Full Speed Ahead came out with them.

LH: What are your thoughts about marketing?

MW: With all the practice I’ve had, I’m going to write a book on that subject. I’ve had two great publicists and one bad one. They always want to send you to radio and TV interviews, but I’m not convinced that sells my books as well as being a speaker. I love to give workshops. They really connect with the audience better than these short radio talks. People buy the book on the spot.

LH: If you could go back in time and start over, tell us one thing you’ve learned that would help you succeed with less struggle.

MW: You have to take a class. No matter how smart you are or how many books you’ve read, you don’t know how to write without some formal training. It’s like going to piano recitals. You can go to a hundred piano recitals, but you wouldn’t expect to come home and play the piano. Yet a lot of avid readers think they can sit down and automatically write a book. Writing is like creating a brick wall. You want people to see the bricks, but not the mortar. Yet it’s the mortar that holds everything together. All those hidden techniques that nobody notices. Even the smartest readers don’t necessarily know about the mortar. Writing technique is what you learn in classes and critique groups. I wish I’d started taking classes years before I did.

LH: Thanks for sharing your insights with us, Maralys.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

This is the next to the last batch of writing tips from HARO, Enjoy! Laura

“Don’t use dialogue to tell something that should be shown. It just makes the character who is speaking sound long winded. Putting quotation marks around exposition won’t draw readers into the scene or involve them more than if you’d left it part of the narrative.” From Patrika Vaughn,

“If I feel I’m having a bad writing day, I’ll re-read some things I’ve written in the past that I really like. Reading my own writing helps to put me in the “zone” I was in when I wrote it.” From Melissa A. Rothermel

“Create a style sheet to ensure you use the same spellings and refer to names the same way throughout. For example, numbers spelled out vs. numerals, and full names (e.g., "Laura L. Hoopes") vs. shorter versions (e.g., "Laura Hoopes").” From Linda Carlson

“My favorite tip for writers comes from author Graham Greene who wrote 500 words a day. NO MATTER WHAT. He was so compulsive about it he was known to stop with a “The” if that was his 500th word. I am a writing coach and workshop leader –– my book, BANG THE KEYS: Four Steps to a Lifelong Writing Practice comes out with Penguin this summer –– and this bit of advice has helped more of my clients than I can say. Additionally, for concentration-challenged 21st century writers, I would also recommend two software programs. One is called Macfreedom ( Right now it’s free, and it allows you to tell it to keep you off of the Internet for as many hours as you wish. Priceless! Writeroom is also wonderful. It allows you to write on a black screen with a green blinking cursor. Writeroom is also wonderful. It allows you to write on a black screen with a green blinking cursor.” From Jill Dearman

“Take at your blog posts over the past year or more; has your opinion changed or do you now hold a completely contrarian point-of-view? Those kinds of posts are great fodder for people afraid to say they’ve changed their mind. Another way to approach it is, even if you still agree with yourself, try to write a post from the opposite perspective. It’s a great way to get the juices flowing.”From Jennifer Lindsay,

“ 1. Identify the audience - visualize a typical reader sitting across from you and your task is to explain something so that they will understand the explanation 2. Define the purpose - What are you going to explain, and why do they need to know about it - or why should they even care 3. Prepare an outline: Tell 'em what you are going to tell 'em; Tell 'em; Tell 'em what you told 'em. 4. Write the piece 5. Review the piece against the purpose - does the piece achieve the purpose? 6. If a fairly extensive rewrite is needed - start over rather than correct or try to fix what is already written - it is very difficult to throw out your hard work, but often the results will be much better.” From Dr. William R. Osgood

“Anyone can take a good idea and give it shape and substance. Some can do it better than you, some not as well. But nobody can take the idea that sings to your soul and perform the kind of alchemy on it that you can. Only you can transform that idea into the one-of-a-kind gem it longs to be. Surrender to that right idea. Perform your magic on it. Let the right idea for you be the idea you write.” From Mark David Gerson

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

More Writing Tips

Here's another crop of HARO tips. We're seeing patches of the bottom of the barrel, only two more rounds and then we'll start some author interviews with their best ideas for writing.

“I've learned that there is one way to succeed in every part of blogging. Be authentic. Whether you're asking another blogger to look at a post (and hopefully link to it) or you're writing about a niche topic, authenticity is crucial.” From Thursday R. Bram

“The big problem with writer's block is getting started. If you stop by completing a thought, sentence, paragraph, page or chapter, then you are starting cold the next day. Starting up in the middle of a sentence is starting already warmed-up.” From Robert Evans Wilson, Jr. Author of The Un-Comfort Zone

For a blog, “…the writer must read, and must not write about oneself. There is nothing more boring to readers than stories purely about the writer. Analyze what you see and experience for the benefit of your readers. Show readers a different way of looking at something.” From Elizabeth Ross

“One of the ways I keep inspired about content for my blog is to continuously save things I come across online that I feel passionate about. I save them as PDF or Word files in a blog inspiration folder on my desktop and assign the files short names that remind me why I saved them.” From Karl Johnson

“Read something terrible. I have some favorites, but I feel like this may be more personal. For instance, if I really want to get myself riled up about the state of literature, I’ll skim The Da Vinci Code. The short chapters and constant cliffhangers make me giggle, and they also make me want to do a better job than good old best-selling Brown boy.” Sara Dobie,

“…the best tip I have to offer is to occasionally find ways to meet with your audience. I write non-fiction, so I offer an occasional class through community education, hire out a guest-speaker, appear as a guest expert on social networking sites, or speak at support groups. This puts me in touch with the very people I am trying to help, the very people with whom I am sharing ideas and hope. “ From Maureen McKay

“My tips: be tenacious, check your facts and always do quality work. Refresh your grammar skills. Believe in yourself.” From Joan Fitting Scott, Author of Skinning the Cat: A Baby Boomer's Guide to the New Retiree Lifestyles

“MAKE YOUR DEADLINES! or don't. Because I do. and I'll get all the assignments you drop. “ Brooke Kelley

Friday, May 8, 2009

Writing tips, winding down, preview of new feature coming

Hi WestCoastWriters blog readers,
There are only a few more postings of writing tips coming up, and after that I am planning to post some interviews with writers about writing for you. If you want to suggest people I should interview (including yourself) please post a comment and I will contact you if your idea works for the blog.

More writing tips:

Keep your blog posts short: say what you have to say crisply, then stop. Use lists, and keep the formatting clean. For those who want to read further, include links to more detailed articles. More tips at "Blogging Tips & Techniques" From Jonathan Lockwood Huie

“For fiction: Take inspiration from your life, especially for comedic writing. There is nothing more absurd than reality! Listen to the conversations of friends, family, and strangers. Some of my most successful pieces have been written after overhearing a snippet of conversation!” From Andi Enns

“As for blog tips, linking to other people’s blogs and/or articles is a great way to cross-promote and get traffic you might not otherwise get. Anytime I am published elsewhere or quoted elsewhere, I put up a blog posting about it, linking back to the other website/ blog/ article.” From Caroline Ceniza-Levine,/

Assume your reader won’t read: Online reading is different than print. People skim, skip ahead, and generally avoid the “reading” aspect of reading. People often DON’T scroll down. Put the most pertinent info at the top, and keep your entries to about a page (single-spaced) or less. With your website’s margins, pictures, etc, that one page will look long enough. Be interactive: I hate when bloggers/online magazines basically just post print online. A good blog is interactive, it has helpful links that enable the reader to learn more (a la Wikipedia). It should have pictures or video, if you can and it makes sense. It is not static. A good blog references other blogs. Robin Levinson

My own best tips:
1) Schedule your writing time. Mark it in your calendar just as you would a dentist appointment or regular trips to the gym.
2) Network, network, network. You never know where your next good contact or story lead will come from.” From Flo Selfman President, Independent Writers of Southern California (

Draw! No matter if you're not an artist. Do a quick line drawing of your setting: a living room or restaurant where action takes place, the streets of the town, the configuration of a dresser or significant piece of furniture. This will accomplish at least two things: first, the sketch serves as a "bookkeeping" tool so you won't make an error when you refer to the item/place again. Second, the act of drawing often inspires further description in the book and or more action.” From Camille Minichino/aka Margaret Grace, author of eight books in the Periodic Table mysteries and three in the Miniature Mysteries.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Writing tips continue again

Here is a new set of tips, general as well as blog-related:
“Be realistic. What do you want to accomplish with your blog? Change the world? Sell something? Get a job? Improve your writing? Connect with others who share your interests? It helps to know what your goals are and set reasonable expectations.
Be adventurous. Don't be afraid to experiment. There are no "rules" for blogging. Try something you've never tried. If you "screw up," you'll learn something. Others can learn from your experiment. You never know when you might hit on something that captures the imagination of others.” From Scott Hepburn

“ 1. Write first thing in the morning before you think about anything else.
2. Only share early drafts with people that you know support you and will say positive things, like your mom.
3. Share later drafts with people who will tell you the truth.
4. Write and re-write, a lot.
5. When you've written a book, ask everyone you know if they know an agent. If you find people who know agents, you're halfway through the door."
From Andrea Askowitz

“Notebooks and Pens Everywhere. Have multiple spiral-bound notebooks. Stick pens inside the spirals. Place these notebooks with pens attached anywhere you might be “stuck” for awhile and definitely in your briefcase, purses, or pockets. Always keep a notebook and pen in the bathroom for shower, bathtub, and toilet “light bulb moments.” In other words, you are a writer; never be caught without your notebook.” From Allen and Linda Anderson, Check out their 101 good quick writing tips!

“Have a platform – do talks about your subject prior to submitting your book proposal. That way you have audiences who will be interested in purchasing your books, and you’ll have publishers interested in you (assuming you’re not self-publishing) since you have an audience to purchase your books! We (my co-author and I) did talks at the local level – Rotary, United Way, for the school systems, local university, library, etc. We did these for free at first, and had regular speaking engagements when we submitted our book proposal.” From Jan Cullinane, co-author, The New Retirement: The Ultimate Guide to the Rest of Your Life (Rodale, 2007)

“So often people come to the task of writing with their energy on 'empty.' That just doesn't work. It often doesn't take much to refuel--a walk in nature, a few deep breaths.” From Lisa Tener,,

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

More Writing Tips

Today's crop of tips is a mixture for all kinds of writers. The last one below has some great ideas for making your blog visible. Enjoy! Laura

“… my tip for writing fiction is to get dressed in character to get inspired. When writing my book I would get dressed up, put on jewelry to actually make me feel like I was going to a party so I could write about them.” From Beth Dunn

“Stay positive, and maintain your sense of humor. As in any highly competitive field, even the most able-bodied workers are subject to the vagaries of the marketplace.” From Scott Steinberg,

“…in every scene, the characters need to want something from each other--a loan, the clue to a mystery, a kind word, the keys to the car--something that motivates the characters and creates tension in the scene.” From Kristin Mellon, Sylvan Learning, agency website:

Good tip for bloggers: “Build an inventory of posts and images. I'm not the best at this, but having a few posts "in the can" means that when things get hectic in the "real world" I still have fresh, well-written content to post. (See tip #1). Also, get to know the timed publication option on your blog software - this allows you to write and format a post but not publish it until a later date (you choose the date and time that it will go live). This is great if you're traveling, or, as I said, if "life" gets in the way! The same goes for images. If photography is an important component of your blog (which it is for many), then it's also a great idea to build your own library of "stock" images. If I'm shooting a particular recipe or food item for, for instance, I will always get additional angles and shots that I can use as 'generic' images for future posts.” From Emma Williams

“Remember that writing is a business and that paying money for courses, training and activities is an investment, not a cost. Zena Polin

“… under the "viral marketing" aspect: Blog authors need to understand the basics of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and organic search. There are a number of free tools that can help you quickly craft the best version of a post title - based on how people actually search. For example, you can do a quick check in to see what version of a phrase is more commonly used to search. A really simple version of this can be seen here: Pick your categories or tags with just as much care as the articles you write. Since each of these becomes a page on your blog - they also can become major destinations for those searching for the topics you cover on your site. Another must read is Google's free Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide available here: Jeanne Kramer-Smyth