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

Crystal Hana Kim

Crystal Hana Kim

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.
23:40: The origins of If You Leave Me, and how her family — her grandmother, in particular — helped shape the book’s plot and themes.
32:30: How she wove “big issues” into a personal story; finding the balance between setting/backdrop and plot; the challenges of writing an epic story as your first novel.
44:45: Deciding to make her protagonist(s) “frustrating,” and how much stumbling and questionable decision-making is necessary for realism vs. risking alienating readers.

Episode 82: “Writer’s Writer” Fenton Johnson

Fenton Johnson

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.
17:12: Growing up gay in rural Kentucky, and how a unique background helps form a writer.
26:18: The twisting road of faith and how Catholicism (and the local Trappist monks) can inform an artistic worldview.
33:20: Carrying the weight of growing up in the South into the modern world.
40:08: Leaving Kentucky, heading to California and starting out as a writer.
50:02: “Solitaries,” the Harper’s article and the new book.

Episode 81: Dawn Raffel On Navigating And Writing Shadowy History

Dawn Raffel

Dawn Raffel

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

Lydia Kiesling

Lydia Kiesling

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?

Larry Rosen and Bridget Quinn

Larry Rosen and Bridget Quinn

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. 

Episode 78: Matthew Zapruder’s Favorite Book (Might Surprise You)

Matthew Zapruder

Matthew Zapruder

What’s poet Matthew Zapruder’s favorite book? Find out this week, as the author of Why Poetry and former New York Times poetry editor joins BQ and Larry for a live podcast at the San Francisco Public Library, where he lays out the case for the impact W.S. Merwin’s The Lice has had on his development as a poet and a person. He also talks about the function of poetry, word choice, Merwin’s unconventional use of punctuation, and much more in this lively conversation.

Episode 77: Victoria Piontek On Writing for Young Adults

Victoria Piontek

Victoria Piontek

Victoria Piontek’s literary journey has taken her all over the U.S., but when it came time for this author and literary associate to publish her first book, she chose to return to the verdant lushness of her Florida birthplace. This week, Piontek joins the GrottoPod to talk about the Southern Gothic overtones of her haunting middle-grade story The Spirit of Cattail County. She also discusses the challenges of juggling writing, working a day job and raising a family, and helps Larry and BQ define “Y.A.” and “library chic.”

Episode 76: Nick Mamatas On Writing A Book A Year

Nick Mamatas

Nick Mamatas

This week, BQ and Larry enter the extended Nick Mamatas universe to learn about horror novels, manga, writing term papers for profit and much more. Join them as the author of the upcoming short story collection The People’s Republic Of Everything shares his unique and compelling tales and talks about how he manages to produce a new book every year. Mamatas also authored the San Francisco zombie novel The Last Weekend, the Lovecraftian murder mystery I Am Providence, and the forthcoming Hexen Sabbath.

Episode 75: Virgie Tovar on Activist Writing

Virgie Tovar

Virgie Tovar

Don’t miss this one! For the first time, BQ goes solo as host — and she’s talking with influential author and body-image activist Virgie Tovar, who is dropping the truth bombs. Tovar talks writing honestly and writing to empower, fat discrimination and celebration, and how to leverage social media for good. Tovar started the viral hashtag campaign #LoseHateNotWeight, pens the weekly column Take the Cake, and edited the ground-breaking anthology Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion. Whew. Listen in, then check out her forthcoming book, You Have the Right to Remain Fat, now available for pre-order.

Episode 74: Beth Winegarner On Self-Publishing

Beth Winegarner

Beth Winegarner

This week, BQ and Larry are joined by high-quality, low-maintenance, independent writer and editor (and GrottoPod producer) Beth Winegarner for a podcast that tracks Beth’s career as a writer, reporter, editor and student. In our conversation, we touch on themes of self-publishing, marketing, sexism and racism in heavy metal, community journalism, and chronicling the lives of underrepresented populations. We also learn why metal singers sometimes look like they are clutching invisible oranges. Check out her new book, Tenacity: Heavy Metal in the Middle East and Africa, and don’t miss her at Writers With Drinks this Saturday, July 14, in San Francisco.