Monday, December 28, 2009

Steven Thomas and Stephen Elliott

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett interviews Steven Thomas, author of Criminal Karma, and Stephen Elliott, author of The Adderall Diaries: A Memoir of Moods, Masochism, and Murder.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: Dec 16, 2009)

Pen on Fire in Paraguay

Paulette is a Peace Corps volunteer who wrote to me a while ago about the podcast of my radio show. I love that she volunteers for the Peace Corps, so I sent her my book as a gift. She just received it. Here's what she says:

Hi Barbara,
The mail lady came to my house and I ran from washing clothes in the back yard to receive your book. Thank you so much! I'm in a rut with writing right now and I think this book is just what I need! I'm so excited to read it.

Here I am in my hammock, which is my favorite spot to pass a Sunday reading and writing and drinking terere, the traditional Paraguayan beverage. The girl in the photo is holding a guampa, the cup you use to drink it. These are cousins of my host family who follow me around like ducklings and only stop to pick up things and say, "Y eso, que es?" (And this, what is it?) Their names are Chiquetita and Chiquetona and I can't tell them apart for the life of me.

My Paraguayan friends think it's amazing that you sent me a book and I do too. Thank you so much!

I'm going to wash some more clothes and listen to your podcast as I always do. Savage Love is for dishwashing and This American Life is for bus trips.

Aguje (thanks in Guarani),

Paulette Perhach

Thank YOU, Paulette, for volunteering in the Peace Corps!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Save the date for T. Jefferson Parker

Pen on Fire Speaker Series presents T. Jefferson Parker and his new book, Iron River.

This monthly salon, hosted by moi, features authors, literary agents, and others involved in the field of writing. Set in the atmospheric Scape Gallery in Corona del Mar, the salon is a mecca for literary devotees who listen to readings, take part in discussions, and attend book signings.

The next one is Tuesday, January 26, 2010 ...... 7 pm

Join our salon on January 26 when we'll celebrate the launch of Jeff's new book.

T. Jefferson Parker is the bestselling, three-time Edgar Award-winning author of 17 novels. His first novel, Laguna Heat, was made into a movie for cable. His new book is Iron River, published by Dutton.

Our salon will take place at:
Scape Gallery
2859 East Coast Highway
Corona del Mar, CA, 92625

$20.00 includes nibbles, sips and cake. Advance tickets are required. Walk-ins are discouraged as seating is limited.

Paying using PayPal is easiest. Once you get there, send payment to

Please register soon as we expect this to be another sold out event (and we hate turning people away).

More details at; click on Speaker Series.

Upcoming is memoirist Dani Shapiro on Feb. 25. On May 15, plan to help us celebrate the publication of the new anthology, Orange County Noir (Akashic Books), in which Barbara, Mary Castillo, Marty Smith, Gary Phillips, and others have short stories.

Past guests include Lisa See, Carolyn See, Norman Ollestad, Susan Straight, Danzy Senna, Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, Merrill Markoe, Marty Smith, Sally van Haitsma, Elise Capron, Kelly Sonnack, Debra Ollivier, and Karen Karbo.

Another great letter

This one from a Philly fan, my old home town. Hope I'm not logrolling too terribly much by posting it, but it praises a guest whose work I love.


I just want to tell you that I just discovered your podcast this week, and after several work commutes with it, I'm convinced it's the best thing I can find in iTunes on writing.

I'm a dedicated, aspiring fiction writer (experienced, mid-career professional business writer, but an amateur when it comes to fiction) and the discussion with Bret Anthony Johnston really held some great insights...I've been discovering my own personal revision process through trial and error, and Bret's comments about the pyramid (I believe he credited Frank Conroy) really crystallized something that I had been sensing about rewriting as I've moved down that path of discovery. Pen on Fire is a great mix of writer's talking about writing craft, but through their writing. So many of the other now-proliferating podcasts about fiction are either 1) raw instruction that's not always so insightful, or 2) wandering interviews with celebrities, ostensibly about their writing, but really just selling books or people. I'm finding with your blog that there's just the right mix for writers who love to both write and read - I'm listening to authors talk about books I'm not yet familiar with...and it's holding my interest because of the way the detailed craft discussion is woven in. Really nice. Hope you keep landing such good guests!


Barry Slawter
Philadelphia, PA

Robert Olen Butler

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett interviews Robert Olen Butler, author of Hell.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: Dec 9, 2009)

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Memoirists Michelle Maisto and Abigail Thomas

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett interviews Michelle Maisto, author of The Gastronomy of Marriage: A Memoir of Food and Love and Abigail Thomas, author of Thinking About Memoir.

Download audio.

(Broadcast Date: November 11, 2009)

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Writers as Plunderers

Over the years I cut out articles and essays from various magazines and newspapers and, along the way, throw some out while others are keepers. Those I keep I sometimes later find in the most unlikely places.

I found this one, "Writers as Plunderers," which ran in the New York Times in 1998, on my dryer in the garage. It's yellowed and brittle, but still timely. I found what the writer said about why we're so fascinated with true stories especially interesting. See what you think.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Jonathan Lethem and Elizabeth Benedict

Marrie Stone interviews Jonathan Lethem, author of Chronic City, and Elizabeth Benedict, author of Mentors, Muses & Monsters: 30 Writers on the People Who Changed Their Lives.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: Nov 18, 2009)

Friday, November 20, 2009

How to write a great novel

Fascinating article in the WSJ.

Pen on Fire Speakers Series with Danzy Senna and Norman Ollestad

Our Evening with Memoirists rocked. Another glorious sold-out event with a ton of writers and many readers present. We stuffed Scape Gallery until there wasn't one chair left to occupy. Danzy and Norman have both been on the show, at different times. On this page you can search their names for the podcast of those radio shows. In the meantime, we'll podcast the recording of this event in then next couple of months, so keep checking back.

The next event with T. Jefferson Parker is scheduled for Jan. 26. We'll celebrate the publication of his new book, Iron River. Hope to see you there!

(Top photo, Norman Ollestad; credit: Marrie Stone. Middle photo, Danzy Senna and Norman Ollestad; credit: Adele Peters. Bottom photo, Danzy Senna, Norman Ollestad, Barbara DeMarco-Barrett; photo credit: Marrie Stone.)

Monday, November 09, 2009

A letter from a podcast listener

I love that Paulette listens from Paraguay.

Hi Barbara,
I just wanted to thank you for your show. I love it! I´m a Peace Corps Volunteer and writer, and I love listening to your podcast while I´m washing clothes in the back yard or taking the four-hour bus trip into the capital. It´s really inspiring. I´m beginning to trick myself into thinking that everyone´s a successful writer and there´s nothing to fear. Ha ha, right? Keep up the good work and know that you´re inspiring writers world wide.

Jajotopata (that´s Guarani for see ya soon!)


Here's her blog.

So many notes from so many people around the world. In case I don't say it enough, thank you!

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Michael Blake and Dylan Landis

Marrie Stone interviews Michael Blake, author of Twelve, the King, and Dylan Landis, author of Normal People Don't Live Like This.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: Nov 4, 2009)

Saturday, November 07, 2009

More with Bret Anthony Johnston and Jincy Willett

There just wasn't enough time with these two on the radio. So I sent them each questions and they each generously responded.

Jincy Willett....

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett: On the show, you'd mentioned an author you just read and loved. Farrell? Book was...?

Jincy Willett: The title is The Siege of Krishnapur, by J.G. Farrell. It won the Booker Prize in 1973. It's about the Sepoy Rebellion, p.o.v. clueless Brits under siege and facing wholesale massacre. It's got everything: wicked satire, adventure, horror, humor, tragedy, great suspense, you name it. And terrific character work. It's fabulous.

BDB: I wanted to ask you more about why you think writers shouldn't spend time on memoir.

JW: Well, first of all, the facts of most people's lives just aren't that interesting. This is not to say that we don't all have great stories to tell. We do, absolutely. But the stories aren't strings of facts. Facts are just raw material. What distinguishes successful writers is the ability to discern what the real stories are, the underlying truths, and that has to do with how we connect certain facts in our minds, how we invest certain sequences with significance.

Second is the moral issue. How does one publicize one's own life without betraying family, lovers, friends, all those with whom one has had and intimate connection? I know that some great writers have had no scruples about this, but I'm with Elizabeth Bishop: "[A]rt just isn't worth that much." And anyway, why do this when you can use your family, lovers, friends, and everybody else as inspiration for your fictional characters? As long as you're not a total slob about it, they may suspect, but they'll
never know, and in any event they won't be publicly embarrassed.

I don't know why the recent public appetite for memoir, or why fiction is the red-headed stepchild these days. A really wonderful memoir--the two by Gore Vidal, Mary McCarthy's, M.J. Andersen's, Robert Graves's--is a work of art and would be severely disimproved if rendered fictional. But great memoirists have great raw material, for Pete's sake, and sharp eyes, and an ability to look at their lives and themselves without pity.

If you want to write, and you don't have all those gifts in abundance, then do the right thing. Make stuff up.

BDB: That Eleanor Roosevelt quote I butchered in paraphrasing was: "The reason that fiction is more interesting than any other form of literature,to those who really like to study people, is that in fiction the author can really tell the truth without humiliating himself." What do you think?

JW: That's so interesting! I'm not sure I agree completely. I mean, in fiction the author can tell the truth (see above) without humiliating everybody else. I guess it follows that the author risks less self-humiliation through fiction than through memoir, but only to the extent that icky factoids aren't being broadcast all over the place. But there's plenty of humiliation available to all writers, including and especially poets and the writers of fiction. After all, if you're doing your job,
you're putting yourself out there--everything you value, everything you know, or think you know. There's always risk.

BDB: Those discussion questions at the ends of books interest me. Did you come up wih the questions, or did the publisher, and what do you think of them?

JW: The publisher does these. I could never do it, because I wouldn't be able to resist horsing around. My Inner Benchley would come out, as in:

In the passage on page 421 about the simultaneous gas leaks, do you the writer intended the asphyxiation of Maud Knuckles to be humorous? Why? What's wrong with you?

Seriously, I'm grateful to publishers for doing these, because I think they serve a function with book clubs and therefore sell more books. As a reader, I don't care for them, but that's just me. If I want to talk about a book I've just read--and what's more fun than that?--I want to ask my own questions, follow my own train of thought.

BDB: Authors never talk about writing novels, and money. Should a writer expect to make a living writing novels?

JW: No. Keep your day job. If you're really lucky and middling successful, like me, every now and then you'll get a nice chunk of money, but if you calculate that money spread out over the timespan of your writing life, you'll realize... Well, you'll wish you hadn't. And anyway, I do believe that if you're lucky enough to be a writer--to produce books that strangers pick up and read and keep reading, not because they know you or owe you but because you've interested them--you've got more luck than most. Day jobs aren't all that bad.

And now, Bret Anthony Johnston:

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett: In Corpus Christi, in the end-of-the-book interview, you said that each
of your stories was revised 15-20 times. How long, on average, did it take to write each story?

Bret Anthony Johnston: Some took months, and some took much longer, but I tend not to think of stories in those terms. I would find it, I fear, too discouraging. Some stories come more easily, more quickly, than others, but my only concern is rendering the characters as they need to be rendered. I’ll work on stories as long as it takes to do the characters and their experiences justice. I feel beholden to the story not the clock or calendar. Editors, as you can imagine, hate me.

BDB: How much editing did you go through with your editor at Random House,or were your stories pretty much there by the time you'd revised them?

BAJ: My editor for Corpus Christi: Stories was the imminent Dan Menaker, who’s also a wonderful writer. He made very few suggestions for the stories, but the edits he suggested were incisive and invaluable. Most of the stories had already been published in magazines, so they were pretty tight, but he found small and brilliant ways to open them up, to fill their cells with oxygen. I’ll always, always be in his debt.

BDB: Do you have readers, and at what point do you allow a reader to read your drafts?

BAJ: I’m lucky enough to have a few deeply gifted readers, and I’m committed to not wasting their time, so I tend to take my pages through countless drafts before I ask for their help. I want to take a story or chapter through so many drafts that when my readers locate something that needs to be addressed—cut, augmented, clarified, expanded, or whatever—I know I couldn’t have found it on my own. They help me identify and isolate my blindspots as a writer. I hope I repay that generosity when I read their work. It’s also how I approach teaching, and how I encourage my students to use our workshops. If a writer shows a piece of work too early in the process, the reader or workshop’s time and energy may be lost on it. The goal is to use those resources once your tools as a writer—your experience and craft, your imagination and vision and voice—are fully exhausted. The readers and workshop provide the fuel to keep working.

BDB: When you visited with my class last month, you said that the job of
the first draft is to deliver us to the second draft. Elaborate?

BAJ: For me, the first draft is almost all lateral movement through a narrative. I want to get from the beginning of a story to the end, and I’ll use anything and everything at my disposal to achieve that goal. I’m pretty Machiavellian in this regard, and I ask my students to view the challenge of the first draft similarly. Once you have a beginning, middle, and end on the page, then you can return to the draft and make informed and sophisticated decisions about how the story and characters—and the reader—will be best served. I don’t worry about narrative structure or metaphor or symbol or theme or anything on that higher plain of imaginative writing until I have a solid foundation on which to build. I worry about clarity—of prose and emotion, of action and detail—and I refuse to fall into the trap of procrastination (editing sentences, doing research, fiddling with character or place names) that so often accompanies the excavation of an initial draft. My only goal is to get to the second, third, fourth, forty-second draft. I trust the work will pay off.

BDB: You also said the way to generate a plot is by giving your character a
tangible desire. Which of your stories do you feel best encapsulates this

BAJ: From Corpus Christi: Stories, I’d say “The Widow.” Minnie, a woman who’s dying of cancer, wants her son to take her to a park with a pond. She wants to feed the ducks. There’s a story on my website ( ) called “Republican” that also, I hope, employs that mechanism in a way that satisfies the reader. Once you have a character with a tangible desire, then you only need put obstacles in their way and the story will almost write itself.

BDB: In Naming the World, you have a section on Hiding the "I." Will you

BAJ: That’s a wonderful exercise by Marlin Barton, a wonderful writer from Alabama. I think the exercise is working on at least two different levels. On a surface level, Barton is offering writers very specific techniques to vary their sentences, to sidestep the pitfalls of starting too many sentences with “I” in a first-person piece. On a different level, he’s encouraging writers to test how deeply they can inhabit a character’s senses and skin, how vividly and persuasively can you imagine someone else’s life. It’s an exercise in empathy, a tool by which you can engage the reader through sensate language and original, precise detail. Many, many people love that exercise. I’m proud it’s in the book.

BDB: One last thing we didn't get to in my show. You've been a
skateboarder for years, and at one time you competed. How is skateboarding
like writing?

BAJ: I think it comes down to grit, to discipline, to a stubborn refusal to quit. One thing I see in some aspiring writers is a lack of commitment, and for me writing, like skateboarding, depends on commitment. How much punishment are you willing to take? What are you willing to sacrifice? How long are you willing to stay alone in a room with twenty-six letters and their infinite combinations, trying to make order from chaos? As a skateboarder, I’ve been hurt so many times and I’ve worked for years and years—in one case, a decade—on tricks, so while the demands of being a writer are different, I understand and value what it means to log hours, to use pain and discouragement as opportunities. To succeed in these worlds, you need to be an optimist and a masochist. It’s not about talent or inspiration. It’s about showing up for work, clocking in early and staying late. It’s about getting back on the board after you’ve fallen, about revising your every sentence a few more times than everyone else will.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Bret Anthony Johnston and Jincy Willett

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett interviews Bret Anthony Johnston, author of the short story collection Corpus Christi and the writing book, Naming the World: And Other Exercises for the Creative Writer and Jincy Willett, author of The Writing Class.

Download audio

(Broadcast Date: October 28, 2009)

And do check back in a few days for a written Q&A with Jincy and Bret, as a follow-up to the radio interview.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Day of the Dead

My altar, today. Photos of dead relatives, and pets. Water for quenching thirst and purity. Flowers. Incense. Candles. Fruit. A freshly baked divine date bar since my mother loved dates. Should I put a bottle of Seagram's up there, too, since my father loved it? Nah.....

Photos from an Evening with Novelists

Introducing the brilliant and charming Susan Straight and Sarah Shun-lien Bynum...

At the atmospheric Scape Gallery in--no, we're not in New York, we're in Corona del Mar, California. 'Tis true.

Author Patrick Kersey with Susan's novel.

Sarah and Susan sign books.

That would be Sarah and Susan, with me in the middle.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Jonathan Tropper and Stewart O'Nan

Marrie Stone interviews Jonathan Tropper, author of This is Where I Leave You, and Stewart O'Nan, author of Songs for the Missing.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: Oct 7, 2009)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

An Evening with Memoirists: Nov. 17

This monthly salon, hosted by yours truly, features authors, literary agents, and others involved in the field of writing. Set in the atmospheric Scape Gallery in Corona del Mar, the salon is a mecca for literary devotees who listen to readings, take part in discussions, and attend book signings.

Our next event takes place Tuesday, November 17 • 7pm

An Evening with Memoirists

Join our salon on November 17 when two memoirists, Danzy Senna and Norman Ollestad join me in conversation.

Norman Ollestad is author of Crazy for the Storm, a Los Angeles Times bestseller and Starbucks pick. His book begins: I was in a plane crash with my father; his girlfriend, Sandra; and the pilot of our chartered Cessna. Sandra was 30. My dad was 43. I was 11. By the end of our 9-hour ordeal, I was the only survivor. The novelist Jim Harrison said, "Crazy for the Storm is an absolutely compelling book which I read in one long sitting. The fact that it’s true made me shudder, but then Norman Ollestad is a fine writer and every detail is convincing."

Danzy Senna was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of two writers, an African-American father and a white mother who met during the Civil Rights Movement. She received her B.A. from Stanford University and MFA in creative writing from the University of California, Irvine. Her first novel, Caucasia (1998), was an instant bestseller and received the Book-of-the-Month Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction. It also received the Alex Award, American Library Association, and has received praise from The New York Times and Newsweek. Her second novel was Symptomatic (2003). Danzy Senna's latest work is the memoir: Where Did You Sleep Last Night?: A
Personal History (2009). In the book, she reconstructs a long-buried family mystery that illuminates her own childhood, her enigmatic father, the power and failure of her parents' union and, finally, the forces of history. Senna lives in Los Angeles with husband, novelist Percival Everett and their two sons.

Our salon will take place at:
Scape Gallery
2859 East Coast Highway
Corona del Mar, CA, 92625

$15.00 includes nibbles and sips. ($16 if you pay using PayPal.) Advance tickets are required—walk-ins are discouraged as seating is limited.

Paying using PayPal is easiest. Visit and once you sign in, it will ask to which email address you are sending. Please use

If you'd rather send a check, make it out to “BD Barrett” (with “memoirists” jotted in the lower left hand corner) and send to Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, 503 Larkspur, Corona del Mar 92625.

Please register soon as we expect this to be another sold out event (and we hate turning people away).

If you’d like to get on the email list to be notified of future events, enter your email address below. (Please note that this is a different e-list than the one you see at left.

Upcoming is crime writer T. Jefferson Parker (Jan. 26), another evening of literary agents, and more. On May 15, plan to attend, because the new anthology, Orange County Noir (Akashic Books), in which Barbara, Mary Castillo, Marty Smith, Gary Phillips, and others have short stories, will be out.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Oprah apologized

Does everyone know about this but me?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Lorrie Moore

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett interviews Lorrie Moore, author of A Gate at the Stairs.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: October 14, 2009)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

What I woke up to

Husbands, boyfriends and sons, take note: Doing things like this on your wife's, girlfriend's, or mom's birthday goes a long way. Here's what I woke up to. Nice....memorable...and oh so thoughtful.

Lucille Ball summed it up neatly when she said, “The secret to staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age.”

And friends, thanks for all your birthday wishes. They mean a lot. Big hug....

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

An Evening with Susan Straight and Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum

I hope you'll join us for the next event scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 27, from 7 - 9 p.m. at Scape Gallery, here in Corona del Mar.

It will be a night of talk about writing fiction with two National Book Award nominees. Read more here. I hope to see you there!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Ethan Canin and Nick Baker

Marrie Stone interviews Ethan Canin, author of America America and Nicolson Baker, author of The Anthologist.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: Sep 23, 2009)

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Danzy Senna and Peter Gadol

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett interviews Danzy Senna, author of Where Did You Sleep Last Night? A Personal History and Peter Gadol, author of Silver Lake.

Download Audio

(Broadcast Date: September 30, 2009)

Friday, October 02, 2009

Debra Ollivier & Karen Karbo at the Pen on Fire Speakers Series

Two pics from last Saturday's event at Scape in Corona del Mar. Debra's on the right; Wendy Mason, who won the raffle is in the middle; and Karen Karbo is on the left.

And the cake! The cake!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Judith D. Schwartz and Literary Agent Sally Van Haitsma

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett interviews Judith D. Schwartz , author of The Therapist's New Clothes, and literary agent Sally Van Haitsma.

Download audio

(Broadcast date: September 09, 2009)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ethan Canin says

Author Ethan Canin (America, America), on the show with my co-host Marrie Stone, says don't think about you're writing unless you're writing.

I like that.

It's so easy to trick yourself into thinking you're working when you're thinking, but you're truly not working. Yes, thinking about your work has it's place. But how much actually gets accomplished through pondering. Not a heck of a lot.

You can listen to the show in a few days when it will be available via podcast, right here.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Debra Ollivier, Karen Karbo and Jennifer Niven

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett interviews Debra Ollivier, author of What French Women Know: About Love, Sex and Other Matters of the Heart and Mind; Karen Karbo, author of The Gospel According to Coco Chanel: Life Lessons from the World's Most Elegant Woman; and Jennifer Niven, author of Velva Jean Learns to Drive.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: Sep 9, 2009)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Overcoming those voices

The other night in class a lovely, talented student asked how to make yourself stay in the chair when you're writing crap (or believe you are) or you wonder if anyone will ever want to read what you're writing.

It reminded me of something MSNBC correspondent Richard Wolffe (author of Renegade) said on the show when my brilliant co-host Marrie Stone interviewed him. He said if you think writing is a fun idea or you think you might like it, find something else to do. That's not enough of a determination factor, not enough of a reason to stay in the chair. But if you find you must write, that nothing else does it for you quite like writing, then go for it.

That's how I make myself stay in the chair.

Years before Pen on Fire was published, I remember beautiful days when I made myself stay at the desk. Travis was quite small then. Brian and Travis would try to coerce me in going to the beach with them. I said no, said if I didn't stay where I was I would never have anything publishable. And this is when there was a lot of discouraging words re: inspirational books on writing. Nothing gave me any idea anyone would ever want to buy my book. Just my writing group and a few students kept me believing.

The other thing is, no one is born published. Remember that. No one comes out of the womb with a book deal.

It's the work, the words on the page. And the way they get there is by staying in the chair.

So when the voices get to me, I just figure they're getting to everyone and the writers who get published are the ones who don't listen.

And now here's something new and exciting: I can finally make my own lattes! Glory day! I bought a Moka on-the-stove espresso maker (thank you, cousin Gerry, and whoever else recommended it) and a Aerolatte, which makes the most delectable foam--better than just about any from a Starbucks or any cafe (thank you, Michele Huneven, for your advice), and there you go.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tin House looking for submissions to themed issue

Tin House literary journal seeks submissions for its winter issue. Here you go:

Tin House is pleased to announce its Spring, 2010 theme: Games People Play. From Texas Hold ‘Em to Cricket to Mind Games, from Pee-Wee Baseball to Pokemon, from passionate participants to player-haters, we are looking for fiction, essays, and poetry that capture the essence of competition. At this stage (of the game, race, rally, inning, hand, match, set, clash, etc.) we are taking on all comers, fielding all pitches. The deadline is November 24, but please submit much earlier than this as the issue will be crowded with contenders.

Also, our Winter issue, which is not themed, has not quite closed. If you have something fabulous, please send asap.

Thank you for your continued support of Tin House.

Rob Spillman

Tin House
PMB 280
320 Seventh Avenue
Brooklyn NY 11215
Phone 718-788-1116
Fax 718-788-6866

Inspirational books

A few of my Gotham students have asked for my book review of some of my favorite writing books. Click here to read.

The ASJA Monthly, in which the review ran, and which I edit, is full of good info for writers. Every month a Q&A interview with an agent, editor or author. Check it out.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Betsy Lerner and Rachel Resnick

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett interviews literary agent Betsy Lerner and Rachel Resnick, author of Love Junkie.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: September 09, 2009)

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

West Hollywood Book Fair: Oct. 4

Oct. 4, Sunday, all day in West Hollywood, the book fair I attend and take part in every year because it's a mini-LA Times Festival of Books, with great panels and colorful scenes. This year I'll be moderating a memoir panel with Rachel Resnick, Danzy Senna, Norman Ollestad and Michael Kearns from 2 - 3:15. Come by. Should be great. Click here to read more.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Luis Alberto Urrea and Jill Ciment

Marrie Stone interviews Luis Alberto Urrea, author of Into the Beautiful North and Jill Ciment, author of Heroic Measures.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: July 29, 2009)

Monday, August 31, 2009

Pen on Fire Speaker Series: Lisa See

Lisa See, author of Shanghai Girls, shares her wit, wisdom and writing during the Pen On Fire Speaker Series at the SCAPE Gallery in Corona Del Mar.

Download audio

(Event Date: June 06, 2009)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Dean Kuipers, Trish Riley & Christine Heinrichs

Marrie Stone interviews Dean Kuipers, author of Operation Bite Back: Rod Coronado's War to Save American Wilderness, Trish Riley, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Greening Your Business and Christine Heinrichs, author of How to Raise Poultry.

Download audio

(Broadcast date: August 5, 2009)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Fellowship for journalists

If you have five years of journalism experience and cover--or want to cover--"topics of pressing concern to the U.S. and Japan," check it out. Click here.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Debra Ollivier & Karen Karbo at the next Pen on Fire Speakers Series

Save the date!
Sept. 26, 7 p.m.
Book launch party for authors Debra Ollivier and Karen Karbo. They join publicist Kim Dower and me in conversation about their books, writing nonfiction and to celebrate their book launch.

Debra Ollivier is the author of What French Women Know: About Love, Sex, and Other Matters of the Heart and Mind, and Entre Nous: A Woman's Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl. Her work has appeared in the best-selling anthology Mothers Who Think and Because I Said So. She has written for Harpers, Salon, Playboy, The Guardian, Parents, and Le Monde, among others. She lived in France for ten years and currently resides with her family in Los Angeles, where she is at work on a historical novel.

Karen Karbo is the author of three novels, all of which were named New York Times Notable Books; four works of non-fiction—including How to Hepburn, which the Philadelphia Inquirer called “an exuberant celebration of a great original,” and The Stuff of Life, a People Magazine Critic’s Choice—and three books for young adults. Her essays, articles, and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, Outside, Elle, Vogue, More, and She lives in Portland, Oregon, where she is still hunting for a piece of vintage Chanel couture.

Kim Dower is famed Los Angeles publicist, Kim-from-L.A., an author and a poet.

These events, which take place at Scape Gallery in Corona del Mar, gladly sell-out, so make your reservation by emailing me at Tickets are $15, including drinks and nibbles.

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

A nice write-up by the Daily Pilot...

....about the Pen on Fire Speakers Series. Click here.

And for info on the next speakers' series event, click here.

Top photo: Sally van Haitsma, Barbara DeMarco-Barrett
2nd photo: Kelly Sonnack, Sally van Haitsma, Elise Capron
Photos by Adele Peters

Monday, August 03, 2009

Nick Reding and Richard Wolffe

Marrie Stone interviews Nick Reding, author of Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town and Richard Wolffe, author of Renegade: The Making of a President.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: July 29, 2009)

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Dani Shapiro on writing memoir

Dani Shapiro, who wrote Slow Motion, one of my favorite memoirs, talks here about writing memoir.

Agent blogging about word count

Here you go, thanks to Writers on Writing listener Linda Mocilnikar. Click here.

If you go to her most recent blog, she talks about the evolution of a cover.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Katherine Russell Rich

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett interviews Katherine Russell Rich, author of Dreaming in Hindi.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: July 22, 2009)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Vicki Forman and Scott Martelle

Marrie Stone interviews Vicki Forman, author of the memoir This Lovely Life and Scott Martelle, journalist and author of Blood Passion: The Ludlow Massacre and Class War in the American West.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: July 15, 2009)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Norman Ollestad

Marrie Stone interviews Norman Ollestad, author of Crazy for the Storm.

Download audio

(Broadcast date: July 08, 2009)

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Pico Iyer's joy of doing with less

I love this piece. It reminds me a little bit of the summer I lived in West Virginia and cooked--even baked--with wood and hauled water from the well. For a time I lived with no electricity. Those days are some of the most memorable I've had.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Be inspired....

...or entertained. A Lorrie Moore short story that sucked me in.

Mary Patrick Kavanaugh

Marrie Stone interviews Mary Patrick Kavanaugh, author of Family Plots: Love, Death and Tax Evasion.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: Jun 24, 2009)

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Desert rain

Desert rain. Fat warm drops, with all the patience in the world.


When I hear new(ish) writers say if they don't make it by a certain age--35, say--I think of all the writers who made it long past that point. It may not be what you want, but success does happen on it's own time.

I'm reading Writing at Risk, a collection of interviews, and came across Nathalie Sarraute who had her first bestseller, Childhood, at 83. So there's hope, right?

Another interview with novelist Elizabeth Cox, who's married to Michael Curtis, the Atlantic Monthly's fiction editor. Interesting what she says about how listening to music has taught her about structure.

Day 2

You can imagine being at a true river with rocks and water if you send your eyes a certain way. I finished reading Carolyn See's The Handyman, for the second time, and loved it more than the first (when it came out in '99).

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

SJ Rozan and Monica Bhide

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett interviews SJ Rozan, author of The Shanghai Moon and Monica Bhide, author of Modern Spice.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: Jun 24, 2009)

Monday, June 29, 2009

This is my day, now, 1:30. One hundred and six degrees, swimming pools, Lazy Rivers. I'm upstairs now, still damp and fooling with words, reading a little, fooling some more, while Brian and Travis just below cruise around the Lazy River playing catch.

And here it is, at 6:30 in the morning:

Thursday, June 25, 2009

What writers do with their time

Amusing article in today's Los Angeles Times.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Adele Slaugther and Jeff Kober, Raleigh Pinskey

Debbie Keith interviews Adele Slaugther and Jeff Kober , authors of Art That Pays and Raleigh Pinskey, author of 101 Ways to Promote Yourself.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: Oct 06, 2005)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

What a wonderful world

The world can be a wonderful place, don't you think?

For your listening pleasure... I love this song, and the video accompanying it is the sweetest, even if it is from a movie...

And Stella by Starlight....gorgeous....

An Evening with Agents - Save the date

It'll be on August 1, at Scape Gallery in Corona del Mar. Three agents from major agencies. Stay tuned for more soon.

Jessie Beauchaine's Village Voice piece

Some of you know Jess Beauchaine, a former student and good friend, who's now living back east. Here is her first major article in The Village Voice. I'm proud of you, Jess.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Louise Ure and Joan Wester Anderson

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett interviews Louise Ure, author of Forcing Amaryllis and Joan Wester Anderson, author of In the Arms of Angels.

Download audio

(Broadcast date: Aug 11, 2005)

Betsy Lerner's blog

Betsy, once an editor, now an agent, wrote The Forest for the Trees, a highly recommended book about the publishing business. Here is her blog.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Fun way to waste time

My student Aline offered up this URL. So fun.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Poetry Panel with Stanley Plumly, B.H. Fairchild and A. Van Jordan

Marrie Stone moderates a poetry panel with poets Stanley Plumly, author of Old Heart, B.H. Fairchild, author of Usher, and A. Van Jordan, author of Quantum Lyrics.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: June 3, 2009)

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Pen on Fire Speaker Series: Merrill Markoe

Merrill Markoe, author of Nose Down, Eyes Up and Walking in Circles Before Lying Down, shares her wit, wisdom and writing during the Pen On Fire Speaker Series at the SCAPE Gallery in Corona Del Mar.

Download audio.

(Event Date: April 09, 2009)

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Can writing be taught?

Food for thought, in the current New Yorker. Thoughts? Comments? Criticism?

Monday, June 01, 2009

Lisa See

Here's an interesting link with more info on Lisa See, who will be our author guest on Sat. here in Corona del Mar, CA.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Literary Agent Dorian Karchmar

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett interviews Dorian Karchmar, literary agent with the William Morris Agency in New York.

Download audio

(Broadcast date: May 26, 2009)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Geoff Dyer and Mary Gaitskill

Marrie Stone interviews Geoff Dyer, author of Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, and Mary Gaitskill, author of Don't Cry.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: May 20, 2009)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Lisa See on June 6 at the Pen on Fire Speakers Series

On June 6 at Scape Gallery, we'll celebrate the publication of Lisa See's new novel, Shanghai Girls. Lisa will discuss her book, writing novels, take questions, and do a book signing. We'll have nibbles and sips. Cost: $15. We expect this event to sell out before the night of the event so don't wait till the last minute to reserve your seat. You can PayPal $16 to or write to me and I'll give you the mailing address.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Fiction Panel with Janelle Brown, Bo Caldwell, and Lisa Fugard

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett moderates a fiction panel featuring Janelle Brown, author of All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, Bo Caldwell, author of The Distant Land of My Father, and Lisa Fugard, author of Skinner's Drift.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: May 13, 2009)

NPR's Best Books

What do you think about this list?

It's just one man's opinion, and not a very informed opinion at that, but still....six women authors on a Best Of list? Too bad this list wasn't confined to a private blog.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Poet Stephen Dunn

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett interviews Stephen Dunn, author of What Goes On: Selected and New Poems 1995-2009.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: January 07, 2009)

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Ed Husain, Paul Harris, and the Last Days of the KUCI Fund Drive

Marrie Stone interviews Ed Husain, author of The Islamist: Why I Became an Islamic Fundamentalist, What I Saw Inside, and Why I Left and Paul Harris, author of The Secret Keeper.

Download audio

(Broadcast date: May 06, 2009)

The KUCI Fund Drive is entering its final days. We appreciate all those listeners and friends who have donated and supported KUCI and Writers on Writing.

There's still time to donate! Visit for details on how you can support KUCI, and view the array of premiums available for those who contribute $40.00 or more.

Barbara and Marrie are so grateful for the wonderful support we've received this year! For your support and listenership, we thank you.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

A fund drive thanks

The fund drive isn't over, and if you're so inclined to donate, you can do so online at, where you can also check out the premiums.

So far, though, Marrie and I are very appreciative to those of you who've donated:

Cindy Cooksey
Bruce Miller
Taurean Watkins
Lynette Brasfield
Adele & Ben Peters
Kathryn Atkins
Charles Leister
Diane Moos
Sandy Welch
Allison Johnson

(If you donate online, please let me know so I can put your name on this list.)

Your donations mean a lot to us, and to the station. You're helping to keep the show on the air. Thank you!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tom Epperson and the KUCI Fund Drive

Tom Epperson, author of The Kind One, joins Barbara DeMarco-Barrett and Marrie Stone in a special KUCI Fund Drive interview.

"Writers on Writing" is committed to bringing you the best in author and agent interviews. Each week, for 11 years, we have dedicated this show to writers struggling with the art and craft of the written word.

Hundreds of newly published writers, and dozens of prize-winning and highly acclaimed authors have been guests of the show. Agents and publishers have shared their wisdom and insights into the book industry. All of this available, week after week, via podcast and public radio.

Now is your opportunity to show your support. Any donation, large or small, is appreciated. We depend not only upon listeners like you--we depend on you--each and every one of you. We appreciate your loyalty, your comments, and your support.

Thank you and enjoy the podcast.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: April 29, 2009)

Fund drive

7 a.m.
Marrie and I hope that today you will call between 9 and 10 a.m. PT to donate to KUCI during our annual fund drive. The station hangs in the balance, and needs to raise funds. Your donation is tax deductible and we have books, CDs, tickets (if you're local) as premiums. Call 949 UCI-KUCI this morning and I'll be there, answering phones. And thanks for your steady support over these 11 years.

11:37 a.m.
Thanks to Bruce Miller, Cindy Cooksey and Taurean Watkins for donating to the station during the fund drive. The fund drive will be on next Weds., too, though you can call anytime and donate, and go to, as well. Just indicate that you're donating for "Writers on Writing." (You can also contact Marrie or me off hours and we'll take your donation.) If you listen to the show or podcast and find it valuable, Marrie and I hope that you will donate. The smallest amount--$10!--helps. We still have books (and CDs and gift certs., etc., as premiums.)

The university doesn't fund the station and we're finding it more and more difficult, financially. Please help us stay on the air. (The podcasts are a direct result of the on-air show.) Unless, of course, you don't listen and don't care, and then if the show goes away, you won't notice....; } And thanks...

Sunday, April 26, 2009

L.A. Times Book Award Winner Zoe Ferraris and Dennis Palumbo

Marrie Stone interviews L.A. Times 2008 Book Award Winner Zoe Ferraris, author of Finding Nouf: A Novel, winner of the Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, and Dennis Palumbo, author of From Crime to Crime.

To see all L.A Times 2008 Book Award winners, click here. Congratulations Zoe!

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: Aug 13, 2008)

Friday, April 24, 2009

KUCI's fund drive

We're moving into fund drive time, which, unlike many public radio stations, occurs only once a year. This coming Weds., April 29, from 9 - 10 a.m., we're asking (and praying for) you to call and make a donation to the station. There's more and more pressure from the university to raise money, to pay the bills, the electricity, the phone, to keep the station running. My co-host Marrie Stone and I will be there, with noir/suspense writer Tom Epperson, and lots of books to give away. Your donation is tax-deductible. Please call between 9 and 10 a.m. Pacific time on Weds. 949 UCI-KUCI. We'd love to hear from you.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Pulitzer Prize Winning Author Elizabeth Strout

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett interviews Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Elizabeth Strout, author of Olive Kitteridge. Congratulations Elizabeth!

Here's a wonderful review of the podcast with Elizabeth.

To view a complete list of winners of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize, click here.

Download audio

(Broadcast date: Unknown)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Jay Asher

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett interviews Jay Asher, author of Thirteen Reasons Why.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: April 15, 2009)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Pen On Fire Speaker Series: T. Jefferson Parker

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett interviews T. Jefferson Parker, author of The Renegades, during the first event of the Pen On Fire Speaker Series at University of California, Irvine.

Download audio

(Event date: February 10, 2009)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Blatant self-promo?

Or just a lovely letter from a reader that made my day? I think it's the latter, but I'm sure someone here will tell me it's the former. Did I say the book is in its 7th printing? It's nice to know people are still reading it and loving it.
"I just finished reading Pen on Fire and wanted to thank you. I borrowed your book from the library along with several other books about writing. This has been a guilty pleasure of mine for many years now. I read about writing. All this time I’ve been thinking, I’d love to write someday, but…

Your book spoke to me on a personal level and addressed all of my fears and excuses, which I used as roadblocks to writing. Your style of gentle encouragement made me feel as if you were speaking to me as a friend. I was also encouraged by the examples you gave of other successful authors who wrote at their kitchen table with chaos, otherwise known as “life,” happening around them. It made me realize, If they can do it, so can I! and the 'someday' I’ve been storing away could be now.

I’ve often had the urge to write but found myself at a loss for what to write and of course the ever ready excuse, 'I don’t have time' was a handy crutch as well. I started to put many of your tips and exercises into practice and I began to not only jot down ideas and write, but feel energized about doing so. I have an eagerness to write now, which I did not have before. It’s as if I absolutely must get all these ideas and thoughts down on paper. I wish I could find the perfect expression for how I feel. Oh! I’ve got it! It’s as if my pen is on fire. And for that, I would like to thank you."

Olivia Percle
Panama City, FL

Just so this post isn't too sickeningly about me and my book, here are some of my favorite writing books:

Writing by Margaret Duras
Mystery and Manners by Flannery O’Connor
Starting from Scratch by Rita Mae Brown
Ron Carlson Writes a Story by Ron Carlson
Paris Review Interviews
Making a Literary
Life, by Carolyn See
If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland
Thunder and Lightning by Natalie Goldberg
This Year You Write Your Novel by Walter Mosley

There are so many more and they provide a balm for rough days and a kick in the behind, too.
Photo by Travis in Barnes & Noble, Fashion Island, Newport Beach, CA. They had a dozen copies. I love it when that happens.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Lauren Groff

Marrie Stone interviews Lauren Groff, author of Delicate Edible Birds: And Other Stories.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: Feb 4, 2009)

Essays worth reading

I'm teaching a 10 week class at UC-Irvine and we're spending time on a lifelong love: the essay. I gave an assignment to my students to find essays online and share them with classmates. One is on the short story, thanks to Kris. A bittersweet Modern Love piece--thanks Peggy. The beginning of a Sun piece called "The Fine Art Of Quitting," thanks to Elaine. All good, all worth reading. If you have favorite essays that can be found online, I'd love to read them. Post here?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Snowy night

Spring break in the snow. We're in Mammoth. It's a blizzard out there. As Billy Collins says in "Snow Day," when I stick my head out the slider and am happily pummeled by blowing snow, I'm aware of "the grandiose silence of the snow." I love it.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Martha Lawrence

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett interviews Martha Lawrence, author of Pisces Rising (Elizabeth Chase Mysteries).

Download audio

(Broadcast date: September 28, 2000)

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

NPR's Picture Show: Helen Levitt

I heard NPR commentator Melissa Block the other day talking about photographer Helen Levitt who just died at 95 years old. One of the few times I managed to write down an URL as I was driving and today I saw it in my book. You can listen, or read, here. And of course look at the photos. I love that one of the white girl and black boy dancing in a New York street.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Pen on Fire: A Speakers Series, with Merrill Markoe

First, thanks to all who attended the Marty Smith event a week ago Monday night at the Newport Beach Tennis Club. Everyone I talked with said they enjoyed the night--meeting and chatting with writers--and loved hearing Marty discuss the writing process, writing for Orange Coast magazine, and writing essays.

Our next event on April 14 will be quite fun, and the night before Tax Day don't we all need a good laugh? Merrill Markoe will be our guest author. She's an Emmy winning former producer and writer from the David Letterman show, and now writes novels--funny novels that I love. She and I will be in conversation, she'll read from her work, and answer questions. And we'll hang out a bit, have a sip and chat.

The setting will be a bit more casual than the tennis club. The event will take place at a friend's spacious home in Corona del Mar, with easy free parking and view of the water. Seating is a bit more limited than it was at the Tennis Club, so don't wait too long to register. Once you register, the address will be sent to you.

Time: 7 - 9 (but can hang out a bit longer)
Cost: $15, include snacks, libation and cake of course. Feel free to forward this email to your literary friends. ($16 via PayPal.)

Looking forward to seeing you again...

Monday, March 23, 2009

Kim Addonizio and Jim Tomlinson

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett interviews Kim Addonizio, author of Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within and Jim Tomlinson, author of Nothing Like an Ocean: Stories.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: March 25, 2009)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sara Davidson

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett interviews Sara Davidson, author of Cowboy.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: April 13, 2000)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Stephen Lovely and Thomas Robisheaux

Marrie Stone interviews Stephen Lovely, author of Irreplaceable, and Thomas Robisheaux, author of The Last Witch of Langenburg.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: March 18, 2009)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Pen on Fire: A Speakers Series features Merrill Markoe on 4/14

Join Merrill Markoe and me in conversation. Merrill is a novelist and former David Letterman show comedy writer and producer where she won a bunch of Emmys. More here. She's one of the funniest comedic novelists that I know. Her latest is Nose Down, Eyes Up. We'll talk, she'll read, then take questions. And hang around afterward to talk one-on-one with Merrill and the other writers in attendance.

This event will take place on April 14 at 7 p.m. Reservations are required as there's limited seating available. No walk-ins, please. The event costs $15 and includes light snacks. A full bar is available.

If you'd like to make reservations, please email me at And feel free to pass this on to your friends.

If you’d like to get on the email list to be notified of future events, enter your email address below. (Please note that this is a different e-list than the one you see at left)

May 19: Carolyn See is author of Making a Literary Life, novels and memoirs. A generous, experienced, and funny author and sage.

June 6: Lisa See, daughter of Carolyn See and author of many bestselling novels. This will be a launch for her latest novel, Shanghai Girls.

Each event is $15, which includes light snacks.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Last night's event with Marty Smith

Marty was stellar as usual. He's one of the kindest editors I've ever worked with. This cake sports an image of his third crime novel. He spoke at length about writing essays and what makes an essay work. And we had a full house--a sell-out, actually. Thanks to all who attended.

Beth Kephart

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett interviews Beth Kephart, author of Into the Tangle of Friendship: A Memoir of the Things That Matter.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: September 13, 2000)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Pen On Fire: A Speakers' Series in the OC Register

Here's a nice write up of the speakers series by Peter Larsen of the OC Register.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Beth Kephart

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett interviews Beth Kephart, author of Nothing but Ghosts.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: March 11, 2009)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Amy Dickinson and T.C. Boyle

Marrie Stone interviews Amy Dickinson, author of The Mighty Queens of Freeville and T.C. Boyle, author of The Women.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: March 4, 2009)

Monday, March 09, 2009

Audio books

Here's a place to get free audio books and to volunteer to read, as well.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Ads from the '30s

For a good laugh on a Sunday, click here.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Literary Orange

Here's an announcement from the event organizers. I'm on a panel on writing fiction, which takes place in the morning.

3rd Annual Literary Orange

Now in its 3rd year, Literary Orange, a premier Orange County literary event, comes to UCI for the first time on Saturday, April 4, 8-5 pm, at the UCI Student Center. Presented by the UCI Libraries and the OC Public Libraries, Literary Orange is an exciting day of substantive interactions with outstanding writers and fellow book lovers. Attendees have the opportunity to hear from an array of exceptional authors, have their books signed, ask questions, and learn about the writing process.

The event features keynote speakers Stephen Cannell, best-selling author and TV producer; Ron Carlson, award-winning author and UCI fiction program director; and Sandra Tsing Loh, writer, performer and radio commentator. Over 40 authors will participate on panels covering fiction, non-fiction, journalism, mystery, poetry, science fiction, romance, children's books, horror, food, graphic novels, memoir, and young adult.

Tickets are $75; $35 for students with I.D. (walk-in registration $85/$45). Admission includes all keynote and panel sessions, book sales and signings; as well as a continental breakfast, sit-down lunch, and afternoon snacks. Limited seating; registration is first come, first served. Information and registration forms are available online at, or at all UCI Libraries and OC Public Libraries. For further information, or to inquire about sponsorship opportunities, please call (949) 824.4651.

For those without html capabilities, information about the event can also be found in the Events and News section of the UCI Libraries Partners & Friends web site.

Thursday, March 05, 2009


After reading "Looking In," the essay I posted yesterday, one of my students asked me via email if I hadn't been afraid of writing it for fear of being judged, of exposing such a personal time in my life. She was even nervous to ask that question and said she would have never asked me in person.

I welcomed her question, but told her no, I wasn't afraid of others judging me, that it was a long time ago that I was writing about, before I remarried, before I had my son. No one's perfect, I said, and some of us are less perfect than others, so no, I wasn't afraid of what people would think of me. If we writers aren't writing the truth, then what are we writing?

That said, there are essays I will probably never write because they could expose more than the people I'd write about would want exposed. Those are experiences I may one day fictionalize, But essays, no.

I did worry a little about publishing "Looking In," worried that those I was writing about would become unhappy with me. In the end, I figured that the person who looked worse of all was me, and if I was willing to put me on the page, than everyone else would be fine. I was wrong, though, and I know that there is at least one person unhappy with me because of writing it.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Debra Gwartney and Sonja Lyubomirsky

Marrie Stone interviews Debra Gwartney, author of Live Through This: A Mother's Memoir of Runaway Daughters and Reclaimed Love and Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: February 18, 2009)

"Looking In"

This was pubbed in December in Orange Coast magazine.

Essays sometimes take a long time in coming. I started this piece many, many times over the years. Last year when I approached the topic again, it was time.

My students (and friends) often become frustrated when they write an essay, work on it, submit it and it's rejected. I can empathize. I hate rejection, and moreover, I hate it when I think a piece is ready, when I think I've worked on it all I can, and the editor either ignores it, and me, or sends a form rejection or a patronizing note that says he/she knows it will find a home somewhere. Just not there.

I don't know what to say. Sometimes editors are idiots (I'm an editor, so I can say that). And sometimes your piece just isn't ready. You don't know it at the time, or else why would you send it out?

Sometimes we are just so anxious to see our work in print. That anxiety can compel us to send something out before it's time.

But if an idea harasses you, won't leave you be, that's a good sign that you're not done with it and should work on it until you either place it or you become so sick of it you put each draft through the shredder.

The essay posted here was one that wouldn't leave me alone. It seems every year since the peeper came by my house, I tried to write the piece. After I wrote the current version and was going through old papers, I found drafts. Horrible drafts. Embarrassing drafts. But drafts nonetheless. I was compelled to write it and the draft had some good elements, but it wasn't ready.

And then, of course, not everyone will be happy. Some people will be very, very unhappy with you and your work. And that's regrettable and sad, but it should never stop you from writing and publishing something you're called to write and publish.

So much of writing and publishing is encompassed in persevering. No one is born a published writer.

I'm working on an essay now that I've brought out over the past few years and have worked on off and on. There's no telling whether it will ever see print. But I want to continue to want to work on it, and that's enough for me. I've learned to pay attention to those ideas and works in progress that bug me, that won't leave me be.