Episode 115: Mary Ladd’s “disrespectful cancer book”

In this special episode of the GrottoPod, author and former GrottoPod co-host Bridget Quinn interviews writer Mary Ladd and San Francisco Chronicle “Bad Reporter” cartoonist Don Asmussen for the Betabrand podcast theater, recorded with a live studio audience at the apparel company’s San Francisco headquarters on October 17, 2019. This event celebrated Ladd’s publishing debut of her “disrespectful cancer book,” The Wig Diaries, illustrated by Asmussen. Ladd and Asmussen swap cancer stories, invariably finding the gallows humor in their circumstances — which is poignant, knowing Asmussen’s cancer returned last year and is now in his brain. Quinn’s irreverence adds to the medical mayhem, which makes this one of the funniest interviews about cancer you’ve probably ever heard.

Episode 114: Spooky Reads for Halloween

What’s scarier: an abusive father imposing the re-enactment of an iron-age human-sacrifice ritual on his teenage daughter, an idealistic young man imprisoned and brutalized for a crime he clearly did not commit, a cast of characters adrift in a genuinely haunted house, or the political history of the United States? This week’s GrottoPod takes a look at four books that touch on these skin-crawling topics. They are Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss, The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, and These Truths by Jill Lepore. GrottoPod hosts and producers Beth Winegarner, George Higgins, Daniel Pearce, and Ben Marks each present a book, and at the end the show, the group votes on their favorite. With apologies to the language of clickbait, the results may shock you!

Episode 113: You and AI—David Ewing Duncan and our Robotic Futures

Julia Scott and David Ewing Duncan

The future is already here—but there’s another one, two, or three futures right around the corner. David Ewing Duncan’s new book, Talking to Robots: Tales from our Human Robot Futures, speculates on the possibilities of what comes next in the AI-human interface, with help from theoretical physicist Brian Greene, futurist Kevin Kelly, and more. What could go right? What could go wrong? Duncan, whose previous books include Experimental Man and The Geneticist Who Played Hoops With my DNA, is interviewed by Writers Grotto print and radio journalist Julia Scott about his unique hybrid of storytelling and speculative nonfiction.

Episode 112: Talking Books with The Stacks host Traci Thomas

Traci Thomas, the Stacks

Rummaging through piles of books has never been more fun than with books podcaster Traci Thomas, whose ebullient personality and searing smarts have grown her show, The Stacks, into a true indie media phenomenon. Whether she’s in a page-by-page read of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, revisiting Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, or getting honest over Iain Reid, Thomas and guests dig up treasures, poring over the best nuggets and helping us understand why we need to discard the worst. Thomas stopped by the Writers Grotto for lunch and visited the GrottoPod for a chat with Susie Gerhard that (spoiler alert!) includes lists of Traci’s favorite fiction and nonfiction titles.

Episode 111: Writing Humor and Action

Bonnie Tsui, Chris Colin

Write funnier — and livelier! Today’s episode is the second of two special podcasts about a new series of books from the Writers Grotto called Lit Starts, which are available on September 10, 2019. Each book is filled with prompts to help writers practice the craft of writing character, dialogue, action, and humor. Each book also features a foreword by a Grotto writer. Today’s podcast is devoted to a conversation between two of those writers, Bonnie Tsui, who wrote the foreword to Writing Action, and Chris Colin, who wrote the foreword to Writing Humor. Tsui is the author of American Chinatown, which won the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature and was a San Francisco Chronicle bestseller. Colin, whose most recent book is What to Talk About, is a contributing writer for California Sunday and Afar magazines.

Episode 110: Writing Dialogue and Character

Shanthi Sekaran, Connie Hale

Want to take your writing to the next level? Today’s episode is the first of two special podcasts about a new series of books from the Writers Grotto called Lit Starts, available starting September 10, 2019. Each book is filled with prompts to help writers practice the craft of writing character, dialogue, action, and humor. Each book also features a foreword by a Grotto writer. Today’s podcast is devoted to a conversation between two of those writers, Shanthi Sekaran, who wrote the foreword to Writing Dialogue, and Constance Hale, who wrote the foreword to Writing Character. Sekaran’s most recent novel, Lucky Boy, was named an IndieNext Great Read and an NPR Best Book of 2017. Hale is the author of four cheeky writing manuals, a book for adults on hula, and a picture book for children set in Hawai’i.

Episode 109: Joshua Furst on Writing the Counterculture

Joshua Furst

Joshua Furst is an aficionado of American counterculture. His 2008 novel, The Sabotage Cafe, was a story of then-and-now punks defining themselves in opposition to the mainstream: dumpster-divers living in the shadow of American consumerism. His new novel, Revolutionaries, out now from Knopf, explores the life, legacy, and activism of an Abbie Hoffman-like figure, Lenny Snyder, as told by his disillusioned son, Freedom. Revolutionaries is populated with recognizable figures, both imagined and real. Lenny’s allies include folk singer and icon Phil Ochs and famed radical attorney William Kunstler. And yet at the core of Furst’s books is a fascination with family, dependency, and mental illness, subjects that he explores with great complexity and intimacy. Furst joined us in the GrottoPod on August 13 to discuss his new book, his teaching, and what messages the political upheavals of the sixties might have for us today.

Episode 108: Sara Schneider on the Language of Wine

Sara Schneider

Sara Schneider has been a wine, food, and general lifestyle editor and writer for 25 years, most recently as Consulting Wine and Spirits Editor for Robb Report. Before that, Schneider was Sunset magazine’s Wine Editor, which is where she met GrottoPod co-host Ben Marks of CollectorsWeekly.com back in the 1990s. In this conversation, recorded on June 14, 2019, Schneider and Marks discuss the sometimes peculiar jargon employed by wine writers, defining many colorful wine-writing terms along the way. It also sounds like they drank a fair amount of wine.

Episode 107: Traditional Publishing and the Winds of Change

Litquake panel

What does the publishing industry still have to offer writers who are breaking in? In this episode, George Higgins and Susie Gerhard take to the field to check out the Litquake panel “Tried and True: What’s so great about traditional publishing?” On a windy Sunday morning in front of Z Below in San Francisco’s Mission District, they speculate about what the title means before heading inside to interview audience members and hear from moderator Natalie Baszile, author of the novel Queen Sugar, and her publishing pro panelists Trisha Low of Small Press Distribution, indie-publishing consultant Pamela Feinsilber, and literary agents Anna Ghosh and Ted Weinstein. Tune in to get their takes on publishing in multiple genres.

Episode 106: Julia Flynn Siler and The White Devil’s Daughters

Bonnie Tsui and Julia Flynn Siler

New York Times best-selling author Julia Flynn Siler takes us deep into the story of the women who fought slavery in San Francisco’s Chinatown with her new book, The White Devil’s Daughters. The Writers Grotto’s Bonnie Tsui, author of the award-winning American Chinatowntalks to her about the meticulous research and care required to pull together revelations about the trafficking of young Asian girls that flourished in San Francisco during the first hundred years of Chinese immigration (1848-1943), and the “safe house” that became a refuge for those seeking their freedom.