Monday, December 31, 2012

Diana Wagman on Writers on Writing (podcast)

Novelist Diana Wagman, author of The Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets, spent the entire hour with me talking about her new novel, publishing, writing, and more.

 Download audio.

(Broadcast date: December 12, 2012)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Ancient Light Novelist John Banville on Writers on Writing

Dublin-based novelist (journalist, screenwriter, book reviewer) John Banville for an hour to about his latest novel, Ancient Light, his mystery series, writing, writers, and more, and as the show goes on, it gets downright jolly.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: 12.19.2012)

Monday, November 12, 2012


Hi gang, My website has been revamped and so you can now find my blog on the website at If you're just looking for radio shows that have been podcast, has those.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

West Hollywood Book Fair...and more

If you're in Southern California this coming Sunday, come to the West Hollywood Book Fair. Lots of panels and literary company. Free parking, a free fun day in the sun. My memoir panel with Claire Bidwell Smith, Pamela Ribon, and Judith Hannan is at 11 on the Eclectic Stage. Come by!

On October 23 at the Pen on Fire Writers Salon at Scape Gallery in Corona del Mar, our guest will be Martin J. Smith, author of The Wild Duck Chase. Marty is also editor at Orange Coast magazine so he'll be talking about his book, writing narrative nonfiction and essays. More here.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

A writing workshop, upcoming salon, & radio

I always forget to post here that my Gotham Writing Workshop called "Jumpstart Your Writing" begins on October 2. You can read all about it here. It's an online workshop for writers who need to, as it says, jumpstart their writing.  There's exercises, lectures, critiques.  What's also fun about it is that writers from all over the world participate.  Email me if you have questions for me.

Also, the Pen on Fire Writers Salon will host novelists Susan Straight and Tatjana Soli on Sept. 18.  You can read more about it here.

And the show (Writers on Writing) as always, broadcasts Wednesday mornings at 9 a.m. PT on KUCI-FM 88.9.  Listen at iTunes college radio or at (click on the upper right hand corner and listen on your computer or smart phone).  Podcasts of past shows are posted here and on (the dedicated show blog).   Coming up this month and next are Laura Lippman, Rex Pickett ("Sideways" author), Cheryl Strayed, Jo-Ann Mapson, Arthur PlotnikIlie Ruby, D.T. Max and Claire Johns.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Chris Bohjalian & Randy Dotinga on Writers on Writing

Chris Bohjalian, author of The Sandcastle Girls, and journalist and Christian Science Monitor book reviewer Randy Dotinga talk with me on Writers on Writing, KUCI-FM 88.9 in Orange Co, CA and online at and iTunes college radio. More at

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: July 29, 2012

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Robin Hemley interview

This is a Voices on Writing feature I wrote for the June issue of The ASJA Monthly, which I edit.  This is the unedited version. More Voices on Writing Q&As at; click on The ASJA Monthly.

Voices on Writing: Robin Hemley

Robin Hemley is the author of ten books of nonfiction and fiction and the winner of many awards including a 2008 Guggenheim Fellowship, The Nelson Algren Award for Fiction from The Chicago Tribune, The Story Magazine Humor Prize, an Independent Press Book Award, two Pushcart Prizes and many others.  His fiction, nonfiction, and poetry has been published in the U.S., Great Britain, Germany, Japan, the Philippines, and Hong Kong, and he teaches creative writing workshops around the world.  He has been widely anthologized and has published his work in such places as The New York Times, The Believer, The Huffington Post, Orion, The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, New York Magazine, and literary magazines.  The BBC is currently developing a feature film based on his book Invented Eden that tells the story of a purported anthropological hoax in the Philippines. His third collection of short stories, Reply All, is forthcoming in 2012 from Indiana University Press (Break Away Books) and The University of Georgia Press recently published his book A Field Guide For Immersion Writing: Memoir, Journalism, And Travel (reviewed by Steve Weinberg in this month’s What’s in Store column). He is a senior editor of The Iowa Review as well as the editor of a popular online journal, Defunct ( that features short essays on everything that’s had its day.  He currently directs the Nonfiction Writing Program at The University of Iowa and is the founder and organizer of NonfictioNow, a biennal conference that will convene in November 2012 in Melbourne, Australia.   

Your CV is intimidating. Have you always been a writer?

I’ve always written, but I haven’t always identified myself as a writer.  I come from a literary family: My mother was a short story writer, translator, and novelist, and my father was a publisher, novelist, poet, and translator. So, from an early age, part of my life included writing and reading. 

Your focus, for the most part, has been short stories, essays, and memoir.  What is it about these genres that grabs you?

It’s true I like the short form—essays and stories—though I’ve gone long several times, as well.  My novel, The Last Studebaker, was well-received and reviewed, and I’m only now working on a second novel.  I love the novel form, too, but I tend to write in whatever form interests me at the time. 
            Workshops tend to focus on the short story. When I went to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop as a young writer, I wrote a lot of stories, some of which made it into my first book of stories. I loved short stories well before that.  I used to love to peruse my family library and pull short story collections from the shelves.  That’s how I discovered Kafka, Borges, and Isaac Babel, among others.
            After graduate school, for a couple of years I taught part-time at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and there I taught “Essay Writing.”  This was a basic composition course, but here, I fell in love with the essay, too, largely through an anthology that the poet Donald Hall edited.  At the time, hardly anyone in the academy thought of the essay as an art form that held its own against the short story and the poem.  That’s all changed now, and I’m glad of it.  I think the short form interests me so much because these forms tend to focus on what’s not written as much as what is written.  The gaps, what’s left out, what’s left to the reader’s imagination—this is what makes these forms so vibrant to me.  

What's the crossover?

            Can you repeat the question? I didn't catch that. 

Um, crossover—

            Ha, sorry, my silly sense of humor displays itself.  Okay, crossover.  With my family background, you can see that crossover is inevitable.  I’ve never been one to declare genre loyalty.  Sure, writers tend to excel at one form, but there are many writers who don’t want to limit their creativity to just one form, and that’s certainly how I feel about my own writing.   

Tell me about your new book, A Field Guide for Immersion Writing.

            This book arose directly from my book, Do-Over, in which I revisited past embarrassments and failures from my childhood.  When I was asked what I’d call this type of writing, I said it was an immersion memoir.  The term “immersion” has long been applied to journalism but never before to memoir—when I was speaking to an editor at The University of Georgia Press about this type of writing, she suggested I write a book on it.  Over time, I expanded the idea to consider immersion writing in all its forms: memoir, journalism, and finally, travel writing—which of course involves immersion as well. 

This book crosses over a little bit with another book of yours, Turning Life
into Fiction, which has sold more than 50,000 copies.  I love life-based fiction.  What prompted you to write it?

Turning Life into Fiction, likewise, came out of my engagement with the subject and a discussion with an editor, Lois Rosenthal, who founded Story Press and briefly revived Story Magazine.  I had been teaching about the transformation process in fiction, the ways in which we turn experience into fiction, and Lois asked me if I’d write a book about this for her.  I believe it was the first book that Story Press published.  Later, when Lois and her husband Richard sold their publishing enterprise, the book somewhat inexplicably went out of print, though it was selling well.  And so, Graywolf Press picked it up and it’s now in its second or third printing with them.  

Both A Field Guide and Turning Life into Fiction talk about use what
you're living through and write about it.  Is this the main way you find your
subject matter?

I find my subject matter in a lot of different ways.  As a writer, I’m fairly eclectic.  I’ve written from dreams and I’ve written about people who have nothing to do with what I’m living. One story in my forthcoming collection of short stories is from the point of view of a Portuguese spy on the ship of the explorer Magellan and another takes place outside of Chino, France, in the time of Joan of Arc.  Ideas present themselves in many forms, and if they intrigue me enough, I take them on.

Do you believe immersion journalism is a more...valid brand of journalism?

I wouldn’t use the term “valid,” but I do believe that traditional journalists can be blind to their own agendas.  I’ve experienced this personally—how a self-righteous journalist can completely muck up a story and still remain self-righteous. 
            My experience with this comes from my book, Invented Eden: The Elusive, Disputed History of the Tasaday.  This told the story of a group of 26 people who were “discovered” living in the rainforest in supposed complete isolation in the Southern Philippines in 1971. 
            For a while they were hailed as the ethnographic find of the century and a 45,000 acre reserve was given to them by the Marcos Administration.  For a while they were a world-wide sensation, supposedly living an existence that closely resembled the cave-dwelling lifestyles of our Pleistocene-era ancestors.
             Then in 1986, a freelance reporter from Switzerland hiked into the rainforest unannounced and was told through interpreters that the Tasaday were a hoax, that they were simply local farmers who had been coerced into playing Caveman. 
            Good story, but it wasn’t true.  The guy hiked in and out of the rainforest in a couple of days and believed his translator, a local anti-Marcos activist who had an agenda of his own.  Now, the world declared that they weren’t the find of the century, but the hoax of the century, and credulous reporters followed, all filing supposedly objective stories that agreed the Tasaday were a hoax, without knowing anything about the complex political and cultural situation of the Philippines at the time.
            It’s called “confirmation bias,” the idea that you pay attention to arguments and “facts” that support your theories, and ignore or throw out anything that disagrees with your theories.  Everyone is susceptible to it, even supposedly objective journalists.  In this case, they created a mess. 
            I spent five years researching the story, traveling around the world and meeting everyone alive who was a part of the story: journalists, academics, even the Tasaday themselves, and I found out that the story was a lot more complex and that the real hoax was perpetrated by the people who said the Tasaday were a hoax.  Yet the conventional wisdom today is still that the Tasaday were a hoax, mostly because of bad reporting that was broadcast on ABC’s 20/20 and taken as gospel. 
            I simply think it’s good to own up to your biases, to allow the reader to see that a human being, and not a supposedly infallible news organization, has written the story and gathered the information. 

When doing immersion journalism or travel writing, I assume it's best to
come across as much like a non-writer as possible?

I wouldn't say that’s always the case; it’s only true of writers who write what I call an “infiltration.”  Ted Conover, for instance in New Jack, when he was writing about being a guard at Sing Sing.  Or Kevin Roose when he, a liberal student from Brown, infiltrated the conservative Christian Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.  Short of that kind of infiltration, I think it’s good to be honest about being a writer—and I think that there are ethical considerations involved in the infiltration as well.  There’s no rulebook, but I have a chapter of ethical and legal considerations in which I delve into the writer’s responsibility to the subject. 

Talk about the marketplace, especially for travel writers.

I think there’s always a market for a well-written travel book.  I can’t say for certain because I’m not a marketer, but it seems to be a pretty strong niche. 
Quite a few publishers now print disclaimers on an opening page of a memoir that names have been changed.  Which makes me wonder: Should a memoir writer allow his or her subjects to vet the manuscript at any point along the way?

That’s a good question.  It really depends on what you’re writing about.  When I was writing Do-Over, one of the people I wanted to write about said that she didn’t want to be “an incidental character in your adventure.”  I liked that. It made me think about my relationship to the people I wrote about.  In her case, I showed her what I had written and changed her name, but others didn’t ask that of me. I changed the names of anyone under 18 except for my daughters, but I also gave them the chance to read the manuscript before I sent it to the publisher. 
            When I wrote Invented Eden, I didn’t have the luxury of changing names, and I needed to make sure that nothing I wrote was actionable.
            Traditionally, journalists have resisted showing what they write to their subjects, but in some instances, that’s something worth reconsidering. 

Some have said the memoir genre is a crowded one. What do you think?

Every genre is crowded.  Thousands of novels are published every year.  Thousands of books of poetry.  There are plenty of good books and plenty of bad books of every kind. 

What's your opinion of the mountains of self-published books, and do you
think they help or hinder the publication and marketing of traditionally
published books?

I know of a couple of people who’ve self-published books successfully, but they are definitely the exception.  While I don’t think it carries the stigma it used to, there are so many exciting independent presses out there now.  Not only is it easier to self-publish, but it’s also easier to publish other people, to start your own press.  One start-up, Engine Books in Indianapolis, has published a short story collection and a novel by two friends of mine, both fabulous writers who might be relegated to the mid-list with traditional houses.  But they’ve been doing well—this publisher publishes two to three titles a year, and my friend’s short story collection was just reviewed in O: the Oprah Magazine.  So why self-publish when there are so many good independent publishers out there?

Many of your books have been published by smaller presses. In other words, not by the Big Six. Talk about the value of smaller presses.

I wouldn’t necessarily call them smaller presses. Three of my books have been published by Graywolf, which isn’t exactly a small press anymore, but a giant of independent presses.
            In any case, I’d prefer to call these presses “Independent” rather than “small.”  My father was the founder and publisher of just such an Independent Press, the somewhat legendary Noonday, which in the fifties was what Graywolf is today.
            One of the biggest strengths of independent presses is that they don’t necessarily have to be as slavish to the bottom line as some of the larger presses are.  They can take chances, especially those that are nonprofit, such as Graywolf.
            A case in point is Noonday.  When my father was first starting it up in the 1950s he and my mother attended a cocktail party given by the owner of The New Yorker Theater, Dan Talbot.  In the middle of the party, Talbot shushed everyone and said he wanted to read this great new story that had just appeared in the latest issue of The Partisan Review, an important literary magazine of its day.  Can you imagine anyone at a party doing such a thing now?  The story in question was a translation by Saul Bellow of a then-unknown Yiddish writer, Isaac Bashevis Singer.
            Talbot read the story and my father asked if Talbot knew Singer.  He did and a meeting was arranged.  It turned out that Signer was upset by the way that Alfred Knopf had edited his first novel, The Family Moskat.  According to Singer, Knopf had butchered the book, and so Singer was amenable to working with my father.  Singer and my father were a great match, and my father became Singer’s translator, editor, and trusted friend.
            Independent publishers love literature.  That can’t always be said for the big corporate houses.  Matthew Arnold said that “journalism is literature in a hurry,” but now literature is literature in a hurry.  What I mean is that that nurturing spirit is largely absent from large houses: If you don’t succeed right away, you’re out.  But independent publishers still nurture their writers for the most part. 

Let’s talk about teaching. How do you teach nonfiction writing?

That’s a difficult question to answer—but briefly I do it through a combination of manuscript critique, peer critique, and individual conferencing.  But it really depends on the venue: a traditional university, a weekend workshop, or a low-residency distance-learning model.  They all demand different approaches.  In general, I give students models in the genre in which they’re working, I sometimes use writing exercises (again, depending on the level), and I try to see what the writer is attempting to do and help him or her achieve that goal.  I’m working with so many different kinds of nonfiction writers that I have to tailor my approach somewhat to each writer.

How does teaching help or hinder your own work?

Sometimes it helps, sometimes it hinders.  It depends on the time of year and the students with whom I’m dealing.  I work with some mightily talented students and while I don’t usually find myself directly inspired by their work, I do get a vicarious pleasure in helping them turn their ideas into essays and books. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012


Every so often I rant about how everyone should read poetry if they want their writing to move to the next level. So here's a poem for you, one I just ran into today on Melanie's blog, by Theodore Roethke.  I've loved this poem ever since I studied poetry in college. Do you read poetry--ever?  Favorite poem? Post a link if there is one.

The Waking

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.
Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.
This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ken Ballen & Tim Harford

Ken Ballen, author of Terrorists in Love: The Real Lives of Islamic Radicals talks to Marrie Stone about why and how some of the world's most dangerous terrorists opened up and shared their stories, America's misconceptions about terrorism, and what we should really fear.  Tim Harford, author of Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure, chats about how this book has helped with his own approach to writing and life.  

(Broadcast date: July 4, 2012)

Blueberry tarts for fella tarts

Okay, this one isn't about books or authors or the show, but about tarts. Cleanse your minds, folks; you've been looking at online porno a bit too much.  I'm talking about the tarts you make from scratch using summer fruit.  In this case, blueberries.  These tarts were a major hit and my cousin Gerry and a few friends asked for the recipe, so here it is.  The recipe hasn't been kitchen tested so don't sue me if the tarts don't come out exactly right. But the recipe is kinda basic so I'm confident your result will be delish.

Blueberry tarts for fella tarts

It’s so hard to get it exactly right when you see how things are going and you add a little more of this or that. Most tart recipes can be modified. Cakes—no.  They rely more on chemistry and exactly measures but it’s hard to mess up a pie.


Any pie crust recipe. I used one from my Fanny Farmer cookbook and instead of a full 2 cups of unbleached flour, used ½ cup of whole wheat flour and 1 ¾ cups of unbleached.
Gluten free….Also made a gluten free flour mixed that tasted heavenly and held together using 1 cup of tapioca starch, 1 cup of brown rice flour and ½ cup of almond meal that I ground using raw almonds and then sifted so it was all smooth. This with a pinch of salt and 12 tablespoons of ice cold butter and water.
Line little tartlet metal molds (bought mine at Sur le Table) and bake in a 350 degree preheated oven for 10 minutes or until they look lightly done.

In the meantime…


4 or so cups of fresh blueberries
1 cup of sugar (I used organic)
3 T cornstarch
1 cup water
1/8 teaspoon salt
(optional: a tablespoon or two of butter. I didn’t add it but for butter lovers, you might want to)

Mix the sugar, cornstarch salt and water in a pot and cook over very low heat until thickened.  Add blueberries and cook a little more.  Turn off heat but allow the mixture to stay in the pot and cool.

Crumb topping

Mix ¼ cup of flour and ¼ cup of brown sugar, mix, then add two tablespoons of cold butter. Mix with your fingers.  You want a crumbly texture. If the mixture seems too buttery, add in some brown sugar, then flour. It’s hard to mess this up. 

Complete and bake…

Now, you have a couple dozen partially baked tart shells, a cooked blueberry mixture and a crumb topping. Scoop blueberries into the tart shells so they are nicely rounded and once they’re all filled, sprinkle with the crumb topping. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes. Bake a little more until the crumb topping looks a little golden and the edge of the tarts are a little golden, too. You can always use this to make one big plump pie and there’s enough pie crust to make a lattice top instead of using crumbs. And you can also use a different fruit and the same ingredients.  Up to you! Let me know how it goes. Take a picture! And enjoy. 

Love, Barbara

Saturday, August 11, 2012

New Yorker podcast

Does anyone listen to the New Yorker magazine's podcast? I just listened to Maile Meloy read a Laurie Colwin short story here. If you've never read Laurie Colwin, or even if you had, listening to Maile read this one is, as my son would say, chill.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Steve Kemper & Bridget Hoida on Writers on Writing

Steve Kemper, author of A Labyrinth of Kingdoms and Bridget Hoida, author of So L.A. talk about their books and about writing.

 Download audio.

 (Broadcast date: July 25, 2012)

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Dinah Lenney at TED

Memoirist Dinah Lenney was recently a guest author at the Pen on Fire Writers Salon here in Corona del Mar. She also just did a TED x USC talk. Here it is. I love TED. And I love Dinah.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Camille Noe Pagan & Janet Groth

Camille Noe Pagan talks to Marrie Stone about her novel, "The Art of
Forgetting," how journalism feeds her fiction, the discipline of writing
 with children, and the mysteries of brain injuries.  Janet Groth joins
in the second half, talking about her years working at The New
Yorker in her memoir, "The Receptionist: An Education at The New

(Broadcast date: July 11, 2012)

Litstack & Robert Olen Butler

Have you visited Litstack? Here's a cool review of Robert Olen Butler's writing book, From Where You Dream. Robert was on the show a couple of times talking about this book and talking about his newest novel.  Play particular attention to what the reviewer has to say about writing using the senses. As he says Chekhov says, don't talk about how the moon was shining; show it glinting on a piece of glass.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

This Sunday at Laguna Beach Books

This Sunday, July 22, my students from the Literary Posse and Writers Block Party and I will be reading from works in progress at Laguna Beach Books on Pacific Coast Hwy. in Laguna Beach. Join us at 4 p.m. for good words, good food, and good company, in one of the best indie bookstores anywhere, and it's free. Hope to see you then!

 Also, this just in from Sonia Marsh: Write a 1,000 word or less "My Gutsy Story" to be featured on my blog and each month the winner gets to pick a prize from our list of sponsors. The story is about something that either changed you, or made your life take a different direction. Click here for more information.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Last night's event with Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins author

Jess Walter's new novel, Beautiful Ruins, has been out for a few weeks and doing great. Does he get no bad reviews? One writer present, Pat Kersey, commented that he never saw an author with such positive reviews. Here are a few photos from last night. Thanks to C.J.Bahnsen for most of the photos, and Travis Barrett for a few others. If you were present, please share what you remember about last night. If you want to hear the radio interviews I did with Jess, go to, enter "Walter" in the search box and both should come up.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Eva Gabrielsson & Carin Gerhardsen

Stieg Larsson's partner of 31 years, Eva Gabrielsson, talks with Marrie Stone about her memoir, "There Are Things I Want You To Know (About Stieg Larsson and Me)."  She shares her pain of his sudden loss, memories of their years together, and her intimate decision to share their story.  Carin Gerhardsen, author of the Hammarby Series, talks about her writing process, carrying a storyline across several novels, and her methods of sustaining a mystery and characters.  She is the author of "The Gingerbread House.  

(Broadcast date: June 27, 2012)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Joan Schenkar talks about writing biography and Patricia Highsmith

Joan Schenkar, biographer, playwright and author of The Talented Miss Highsmith, talks about writing biography and Patricia Highsmith on Writers on Writing. If you've read or seen The Talented Mr. Ripley or Strangers on a Train, then you know Highsmith's work, because she wrote both.  And Schenkar's biography is one of the best I've read.  It's a literary biography.  There's much to learn here about the form.

Download audio.

 (Broadcast date: June 20, 2012)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

More on rejection

Can there ever be too much to say about rejection? I pulled a book of essays off my shelf this morning, The Writing Habit, by David Huddle. I bought this book back in 1991 and have held onto it ever since because of the gems between the covers. This morning I read the essay, "Let's Say You Wrote Badly," in which Huddle compares baseball with writing. I love baseball so I kept reading. He talks about how baseball players deal with rejection, how there is no baseball pitcher who has ever not given up a home run or a batter who has not struck out.  I like this paragraph:

"And what more than failure--the strike out, the crucial home run given up, the manuscript criticized and rejected--is more likely to produce caution or timidity? An instinctive response to painful experience is to avoid the behavior that produced the pain.  To function at the level of excellence required for survival, writers like athletes must go against instinct, must absorb their failures and become stronger, must endlessly repeat the behavior that produced the pain."

Why do I like this paragraph so much? Because that's how it is: We writers keep repeating the behavior that produced the pain and sometimes we hit a home run, but too often we strike out.  But we keep playing, we stay in the game, because there's always the chance we'll score, and after all, we love playing.

There are so many other good essays in the book.  Grab one from wherever you can.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Jess Walter, author of "Beautiful Ruins," on Writers on Writing

Jess Walter, author of the new novel, Beautiful Ruins, discusses his writing and work for the entire hour. I'm ecstatic that he will be a guest at the Pen on Fire Writers Salon on July 17, 2012. I loved his last novel, The Financial Lives of the Poets, and I'm reading The Zero now.  We have only a couple of seats left so if you're interested, act fast. More info here.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: June 13, 2012)

Friday, July 06, 2012

Ha-va-ii, not Hawaii

A few days ago we came home after spending a week on the Big Island (Hawaii).  I don't know what I expected, exactly.  I've only ever been to Hawaii  on my way to someplace else.  At the Honolulu airport I walked outside, felt the humidity, and got back on the plane.

The Big Island is a geological marvel.  Spent Tues to Weds in the rainforest on the eastern side of the island and now my favorite color is yellow green / chartreuse / lime green because it's the color of the rain forest.  We walked in the rain to Akaka falls, a 400 foot or so waterfall, and it was so worth it.  I remember every inch of that walk.  I remember the startling shades of green.  There must be a million.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Don't write what you know

I'm finally catching up on my reading--sitting on a plane and traveling helps with that--and just got to this article by Bret Anthony Johnson. Love it. Take a look and tell me what you think. Do you agree with him?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Pen on Fire book giveaway

I did an interview with Eliza Cross for her website and we're giving a book away, so if you know anyone who would like a signed Pen on Fire sent to him/her, have him/her visit Eliza's site.

I'm leaving tomorrow for a week; we're taking Travis on vacation to celebrate his high school graduation. I'm trying to decide whether to work on my new project while we're away--not on computer but longhand, the way I write most first drafts.  What do you do when you go on vacation: forget about writing as much as possible, or chip away at a project you're enjoying?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

More on The DeMarcoPolo Show

In Gary Lycan's OC Register column, he talks about my new show. (Scan down to about the middle.)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A new show: The DeMarcoPolo Show

I've been meaning to tell y'all....I'm starting a new show called The DeMarcoPolo show. It's around the Southland with unexpected discoveries and spicy surprises, like what Marco Polo might find if he arrived in 2012 in Southern California. Well, sort of. We'll focus on Southern California people and issues concerning those of us who live here. We'll have authors, musicians, activists, teens....attitudes may be mild or controversial. it's wide open. The show will air at 5 p.m. PT on KUCI-FM, 88.9. Listen at iTunes college radio, too. Writers on Writing will continue in its usual time slot. If you know someone who would be perfect for the show, let me know. Wish me luck!

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Hannah Barnaby and Susan Davis

Marrie Stone interviews Hannah Barnaby, author of Wonder Show, and Susan Davis, author of I Was Building Up to Something.

Download audio

(Broadcast date: June 6, 2012)

Jesse Katz and Pamela Redmond

Marrie Stone interviews Jesse Katz, author of The Opposite Field: A Memoir, and Pamela Redmond, author of The Possibility of You.

Download audio

(Broadcast date: May 30, 2012)

Sonia Faleiro and David Bezmozgis

Marrie Stone interviews Sonia Faleiro, author of Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay's Dance Bars, and David Bezmozgis, author of The Free World.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: May 16, 2012)

Monday, June 04, 2012

Soundtracks, part 2

Monday morning, back at the memoir. I'm in tweaking/restructuring mode. And what music did I just turn on? Why, the Godfather, of course. What music do you use to trigger your mojo? I wrote about this last June, too, when I was in first draft mode--well, new draft mode anyway. I'd already wrote a draft that Sally sent out to editors who said, Like/love the writing but what's the story? I had to find the story in my massive hutch full of bizarre to interesting to sad family stories. When my brother was diagnosed as terminal and I found I was still pissed off at him, I had to forgive him fast. The book is about how you forgive the unforgivable. I didn't have a focus until that point.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

William Todd Schultz and Hope Edelman on "Writers on Writing"

It's nonfiction day on "Writers on Writing" with a psychobiography author and a memoirist. William Todd Schultz, author of Tiny Terror: Why Truman Capote (Almost) Wrote Answered Prayers (Oxford) and Hope Edelman, co-author (along with Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez) of Along the Way: The Journey of a Father and Son (Free Press) discuss their books and the art and craft of writing with Barbara DeMarco-Barrett.

 Download audio.

(Broadcast date: May 23, 2012)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Photos from the Pen on Fire Writers Salon

If you'd like to see the photos from our May 15 Salon with James Brown, Dinah Lenney, and Claire Bidwell Smith, click here. (I've been trying to post them here, to no avail.)

Kurt Vonnegut on the Shapes of Stories

One of the many reasons I love doing the show is because of what my guests bring to me. Thank you, Hope Edelman, for mentioning this video on the show yesterday.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Pen on Fire Writers Salon with Pam Houston, Stacy Beirlein, and Eric Puchner

Our next Pen on Fire Writers Salon is around the corner. This time we're hosting an evening with writers of fiction (novels / short stories). 

On Tuesday night, June 5, Pam Houston (Cowboys are My Weakness, Contents May Have Shifted), Stacy Bierlein (A Vacation on the Island of Ex-boyfriends) and Eric Puchner (Model Home) will be my guests. We'll talk about writing fiction (autobiographical and otherwise), craft and the business of writing fiction.  We'll also have nibbles and sips. Laguna Beach Books will be on hand selling books, which you can get signed as you chat with the authors.

Our events have gladly been selling out, so if you're interested, visit the Salon page now to reserve your seat. That night, should you find you can't be with us, you can give (or sell) your seat to a friend.

Hope to see you on June 5, if not before.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Co-host Marrie Stone speaks with French novelist David Foenkinos, author of Delicacy (one of Amazon's Best Books of the Month, February 2012) and Clay Johnson, author of The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption.  "Media personalities and high profile Google and Microsoft employees are extolling the virtues of Johnson's data plan" - Wired Magazine

Download audio.  (Broadcast date: March 21, 2012)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Critique groups: getting personal with memoir

I was talking with a friend who worried that the critique of her memoir by her group was verging on the personal. Where is the line between critiquing the work, and critiquing the person?  She wondered if perhaps people were wanting to know a bit too much about her, rather than sticking to the work.  This is an interesting quandary because when you're in a critique group presenting your work, you want the criticism to be focused on the work, and not on you.  But in memoir, the work and you are pretty much one.  Where is the line? Good question!  If a friend in a group says, "Why did you react that way? We want to know more about how you really felt," that may seem to be a personal question, yet, it's relevant to the work because maybe it's just not on the page, how you felt when your mother said that horrible thing to you. When you're presenting fiction and a workshop member says, "How did she really react?  It's not on the page," we don't feel personally attacked, because the criticism is about a character, not you.  This is especially on my mind because I'm also writing a memoir and find it interesting, parsing what someone is saying about my work and what parts of what they're saying I need to pay attention to.

What do you think? Should memoir and fiction be critiqued in different ways? Where's the line between focusing on the work (in memoir) and focusing on the writer?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

T. Jefferson Parker and Joan Schenkar

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett interviews T. Jefferson Parker, author of The Border Lords (Charlie Hood) and Marrie Stone interviews Joan Schenkar, author of The Talented Miss Highsmith: The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: January 5, 2011)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Steve Weinberg, Jack El-Hai and Julie Metz with Barbara on the show

Biographers Steve Weinberg and Jack El-Hai, author of The Lobotomist in the first half, and memoirist Julie Metz, author of Perfection, talk with Barbara about the art, craft and business of their chosen genre..

 Download audio.

(Broadcast date: May 9, 2012

Q&A wih biographers Jack El-Hai & Steve Weinberg

Biographers (and colleagues from The American Society of Journalists and Authors) Jack El-Hai and Steve Weinberg were on the show yesterday talking about writing biography. We never have enough time on the show, I swear, to talk about everything we want to talk about, and yesterday was no exception (that podcast will go up soon). Jack and Steve agreed to carry on here, so what you see were the questions I wanted to ask, but couldn't because I ran out of time.

First, Jack El-Hai, the author of The Lobotomist, has worked for more than twenty years as a freelance writer of books, essays, and articles. He has contributed to The Atlantic Monthly, American Heritage, The Washington Post Magazine, The History Channel Magazine, and many other publications. He specializes in writing history-based journalism.

And Steve Weinberg''s books include a guide to journalism in Washington, D.C. (“Trade Secrets of Washington Journalists,” Acropolis, 1981); a biography of Armand Hammer (Little, Brown, 1989); a guide to reading and writing biography (“Telling the Untold Story,” University of Missouri Press, 1992); “The Reporter’s Handbook: An Investigator’s Guide to Documents and Techniques,” published by St. Martin’s Press and commissioned by Investigative Reporters and Editors, 1996; A Journalism of Humanity, the centennial history of the Missouri School of Journalism (University of Missouri Press, 2008); and a dual biography of Ida Tarbell and John D. Rockefeller (W.W. Norton, 2008).

Are living or dead subjects the best?

Steve: Impossible to answer. Passion is necessary to research/write a great biography.  The living/dead division is an irrelevant division...each carries its positives and negatives.

Jack: I much prefer writing about dead people.  Their records are often better organized and more easily available, and family members, friends and enemies are more willing to talk about them.  A final consideration: Dead people have no legal right to privacy and cannot block the efforts of a biographer.

Should you begin with a healthy knowledge of your subject before you even
begin to research?

Steve: Not necessarily. Passion and curiosity and well-honed research skills are necessary, whether prior knowledge about the subject is vast or negligible.

Jack: I usually begin biographical projects by writing magazine articles about my subjects.  That way I learn more about them, find out whether readers are interested, and discover the level of obsession I've developed.  Obsession trumps all.

And how much research is enough? Esp. Because writers can lose themselves in the research and forget about writing.

Steve: Enough is never enough. But, sometimes, commercial practicalities require an end to the research.

Jack: You can never do all the research that's possible, so it's helpful to set a research deadline and stick to it.

Do you sell a biography as you would a nonfiction book: with a book proposal? Or do you finish the book first (as you might with memoir)?

Steve: No biographer who depends upon book income to feed loved ones can afford to finish the book first.

Jack: I would never attempt to write a biography without first having first drafted a book proposal.  There's the important consideration of time -- why invest massive energy in a project that might not sell?  More important, though, is that writing the proposal and discussing it with an agent or editor helps produce a better book.

Can you talk about the market in terms of advances (typical)?

Steve: I received one sizeable advance in my long career. But because the book took me six years, because I did not receive the second half of the advance until delivery of the manuscript, because the literary agent takes 15 percent off the top and the IRS takes its chunk, I actually averaged about $8000 per year in actual cash from the advance while researching/writing. Expecting a total advance of more than $25,000 is usually unrealistic.

Jack: Most published biographies receive advances between $3000 and $100,000, I would guess, with the majority falling into the lower half of that range.  Given the time required to write a biography, our genre isn't the ticket to riches.  A few famous biographers and those writing about sensational and celebrity subjects command more.

Can you say anything about film, in terms of, is it better to write the
biography and hope your agent/publisher gets it to a producer, or write the
film/documentary, and get a film agent?

Steve: I am not anxious to work with Hollywood folks ever again, even if lots of money is offered. Life is too short to deal with such craziness. No offense to the estimable Jack El-Hai, of course.

Jack: I am not a screenwriter or filmmaker, and the resources and collective energy required to put together a film are immense, so I wouldn't consider creating a screen version first unless the opportunity dropped into my lap with lots of financing.  The best way to spark a screen adaptation of a published biography is to write a book with vivid characters, unforgettable scenes, and lots at stake for the people involved.  Get your book out there before a lot of eyeballs in any way you can imagine.  Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), there is no single right way to do it.

Jack will moderate a panel at The Compleat Biographer's Conference at USC in Los Angeles next weekend, May 18-20. More here.

Monday, May 07, 2012

John Irving and memoirist Novella Carpenter on Writers on Writing

We're still reconstructing the podcast site, re-posting shows for which the audio fell out. Here's one that I especially liked: John Irving, author of Last Night at Twisted River and memoirist Novella Carpenter, who talk about fiction and memoir, last lines, first lines, chickens, and more.

Download audio. 

 (Broadcast date: 7/8/2010)