Episode 88: BQ and Larry On Motivation’s Fickle Fortunes

Larry and BQ dig deep this week in an episode that checks in on both of their writing projects, probes the fickle fortunes of motivation, explores the ups and downs of networking with other writers and much more. 

“The process from book deal to book is the opposite of Dante’s Divine Comedy. You start out in parades, and you end up in Hell.”

1:40: Larry has an idea for a new podcast.
6:48: Are you comfortable telling someone, “this is the best book (movie, TV show, etc.) ever?”
11:54: What’s happening with BQ’s new book.
20:00: Larry’s latest attempt at a new book.READ MORE

Episode 87: Yang Huang On Writing On Your Own Terms

Yang Huang, author of the Juniper Prize-winning book of short stories, My Old Faithful, joins the GrottoPod this week to discuss a fascinating journey that includes her immigration to the United States as a teen, a career in engineering, an MA and an MFA, raising a family and, along the way, learning English and starting to write fiction. She also delivers, according to guest co-host Lee Kravetz (sitting in for Larry this week), “at least 15 sayings that should be tattoos.” Huang is also the author of a novel, Living Treasures.

“I always thought I would write, on my own terms.→ READ MORE

Episode 86: Kristin Kaye On Writing Mystical Experiences

Kristin Kaye didn’t set out to write a YA book, much less an award-winning YA book, but that’s exactly what happened. This week, the writer of Tree Dreams, one of Buzzfeed’s “5 Books to Read to Prep for Earth Day,” joins the GrottoPod to trace her unlikely path from avant-garde theater impresario to environmental activist and author, stopping off along the way to touch on eco-warriors, breaking our addiction to consumption, jobs that offer health benefits and the multi-dimensional world of women’s body-building. 

“The big question was: how do I write an internal conversation with a tree that sounds like a two-way conversation?


Episode 85: Mary Jo McConahay On Writing War

The Tango War author Mary Jo McConahay joins us in the studio one day after the release of this new book, which explores Latin America’s “hidden” role in World War II. The journalist, war correspondent, memoirist, sometime boat-dweller and confirmed world traveler chats about her rich and colorful life, her motivations and the challenges of tackling a book of historic nonfiction.

“Of course, danger is part of the job. There are so many people in so much more danger. The people from the countries where the wars are taking place are much bigger targets.”

11:21: How she started out in journalism and met the challenges and triumphs of an international career; the dangers of being a war correspondent.


Episode 84: Lillian Li On Finding Your Process

Number One Chinese Restaurant author Lillian Li joins Larry and Lee (subbing again for BQ) in the GrottoPod this week to discuss the many roads that led to her debut novel. She shares her brief-but-intense experience as a waitress, what it’s like writing a beach novel at Panera, and how family, life experience and tradition shaped her writing voice.

“In some ways (my book) is and isn’t inspired by working in a restaurant. I was just trying to get through the day without crying in the walk-in refrigerator at least once.”

10:02: How a panoply of inspirations led to Number One Chinese Restaurant
20:11: Getting into the mind of a male protagonist
24:05: Questions of plot; finding your writing process
33:55: How Li came to see writing as a career instead of a hobby
47:26: Number One Chinese Restaurant’s journey from manuscript to book

Episode 83: Crystal Hana Kim On Making Your First Novel Epic

For her first novel, author Crystal Hana Kim tackled an epic, multi-narrator love triangle set against the backdrop of the Korean War. She joins Larry and guest host Lee Kravetz in the GrottoPod this week to discuss the challenges of writing If You Leave Me, her love for her characters and how she balances teaching and writing.

“I wanted to write about a woman, because war narratives are so often about men in battle. I wanted to write about what happens when a woman is traumatized by war.”

12:20: Why she chose to pursue both an MFA and an advanced teaching degree, and how training for both is cross-beneficial.→ READ MORE

Episode 82: “Writer’s Writer” Fenton Johnson

“Writer’s writer” Fenton Johnson joins the GrottoPod this week for a far-ranging conversation that touches on some of the recurring themes in his work: place, solitude, faith and belonging. Johnson has written six books, including three novels and the memoir Geography of the Heart.

“I believe in writing as rhetoric. The challenge is to do the triple backwards somersault flip where whatever you’re writing is teaching you to convey that to the reader in a way where the reader is engaged and is participating in the process.”

8:36: How searching for “place” and finding one’s way became a theme in Johnson’s work.→ READ MORE

Episode 81: Dawn Raffel On Navigating And Writing Shadowy History

Dawn Raffel, author of The Strange Case of Dr. Couney: How a Mysterious European Showman Saved Thousands of American Babies, joins us in the GrottoPod this week to talk about the sometimes-painful process of writing the book. Raffel is also a novelist, short fiction writer and memoirist whose previous books include the best-selling The Secret Life of Objects.

“I felt a responsibility to Couney himself, to get it straight. To tell it well. Sometimes I wonder what he’d think of this book.”

7:36: Raffel shares why her path from idea to book was sometimes “torture”
23:06: Navigating the twists and turns of researching a somewhat shadowy historic figure
32:08: How the book touches on important themes in American history
42:30: Gathering the surviving “incubator babies” together for a reunion
44:20: The responsibilities Raffel felt in telling the story of an overlooked (and perhaps misunderstood) historic American figure

Episode 80: Lydia Kiesling On First Novels

The Millions editor Lydia Kiesling joins Larry and co-producer Laurie Ann Doyle in the studio this week to chat about Kiesling’s new book, The Golden State — a tale of motherhood, immigration and California, out September 4.

“You have things you want to say. Do you have the correct container to put them in? When I wrote book reviews, I could fit them into essay-shaped things. When I became a parent, I had stuff, but I didn’t have the shape to put it in. A novel was the only shape I could fit it.”

9:50: Discussion of of pre-publication essays and Lydia’s work as editor of The Millions
19:55: “Writing while mothering,” and balancing story with thematic issues
30:42: Structural choices and narrative distance
39:40: Drawing dramatic themes from your own life
45:02: Lydia’s development as a writer

Episode 79: What’s New In Your Writing Life?

Beat the dog days of summer by stepping into the GrottoPod, where BQ and Larry await. This week, your hosts sit down for a wide-ranging discussion about the writing life that touches on everything from process to payment, 1,000 words a day, BQ’s looming book deadline and Larry’s now-defunct magazine column. Guest- and filter-free, this GrottoPod episode takes a deep dive into the minds of two working writers who happen to double as podcast hosts.