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)

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Poet Billy Collins on TED

It's 10 minutes. Well worth your time.  Magical. You like cartoons, right? Click here.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Literary agent Linda Konner and author Roy Peter Clark

Linda Konner, a New York City literary agent, and friend, and Roy Peter Clark, author of Help! for Writers, talk on air with me about publishing, writing, and more.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: Jan. 25, 2012)