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 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 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.

Episode 105: Diana Kapp on Subjects Near and Far

Diana Kapp

Journalist Diana Kapp is published widely, from San Francisco magazine to the New York Times, ESPN, and O, the Oprah Magazine. She’s taken a circuitous path to many of her stories, which have included an investigation of teen suicide clusters in Palo Alto and an exploration into the education of girls in Afghanistan. But the trail she took to her latest story—an NYT essay on her 84-year-old father’s new crush—was direct; as in, straight from the heart. It brought about a reckoning of sorts, however, when she shared it pre-publication with her subjects. She chats with Grottopod’s Susie Gerhard about the process and the poetry of newspaper and magazine writing. Kapp’s new book, Girls Who Run The World: 31 CEOs Who Mean Business, comes out in October.

Episode 103: Virgie Tovar reinvents “fat camp”

Virgie Tovar

We revisit our July 2018 interview with influential author and body-image activist Virgie Tovar, who was recently interviewed for the Pacific Standard by Writers Grotto member Beth Winegarner. Tovar is hosting a new summer camp, Camp Thunder Thighs, at the end of June in Northern California. When we spoke to her last summer, she dropped truth bombs about 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 authored You Have the Right to Remain Fat.

Episode 91: Ethan Watters On Longform Journalism

Ethan Watters

Ethan Watters

Journalist Ethan Watters spent the past two years working on a single magazine article. This week, in what he calls “a high point for feeling completion,” he joins BQ and Larry in the GrottoPod to discuss the challenges, triumphs and eye-opening discoveries he experienced while working on “The Love Story that Upended the Texas Prison System” for Texas Monthly.

“I have 3,500 pages of material, and it’s good, but it’s like pulling down a puzzle from your grandmother’s attic and trying to decide what fits.”

09:14: How a magazine article became a two-year journey
17:33: Finding a life/work balance in the midst of a consuming project
35:18: Facing challenges and working through a low point
45:09: How a project of this size impacts and changes its writer, and opens up new areas of career interest
53:12: How to determine when major project is “complete.”

Episode 90: Jaya Padmanabhan On Writing Displacement

Jaya Padmanabhan

Jaya Padmanabhan

Jaya Padmanabhan entered boarding school when she was four, and has been a sales rep, a software engineer and now a fiction writer, journalist and editor. This week the Examiner columnist and author of the short-story collection Transactions of Belonging joins Larry and guest co-host Laurie Ann Doyle to trace her path, talk about how readers respond to “ambiguous” endings, a lifelong interest in displacement and belonging, her novel-in-progress … and toddy tappers.

“Writing is a reflex action that comes out of reading, at least for me.”

7:12: Writing across a “broad spectrum”
13:12: “The epiphany,” and learning to write short stories
20:55: Her favorite stories, and how readers responded to “His Curls”
29:48: The roots of a lifelong interest in displacement and belonging
41:30: Entering the world of journalism
49:48: New projects, toddy tappers

Episode 89: Kevin Smokler On Innovative Book Tours

Kevin Smokler

Kevin Smokler

We celebrate John Hughes and others this week with author Kevin Smokler, who joins Larry to talk about his book Brat Pack America: A Love Letter to ’80s Teen Movies. Join Larry and Kevin as they touch on innovative book-tour strategies, finding your audience, re-reading the classics and respecting pop culture while name-dropping Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast ClubValley Girl and many others.

“If you’re sick of your book or your subject by the time it’s time to go talk about it, you’re in big trouble.”
8:03: Defining Kevin Smokler as a writer, marketer, speaker, and more.
10:12: Thinking outside the norm about promotions and touring.
20:28: Why it’s valuable to treat “mundane” art with respect.
27:36: Mis-reading Catcher in the Rye and asking how culture ages.
39:40: Generating and following ideas for new projects.
49:20: Pursuing new projects that may not be books.

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

BQ and Larry

BQ and Larry

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.
26:44: How do you get motivated?
41:42: BQ talks about the perils of networking.
53:20: Keeping Larry accountable while he’s in Switzerland.

Episode 85: Mary Jo McConahay On Writing War

Mary Jo McConahay

Mary Jo McConahay

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.
27:18: Transforming an idea into The Tango War.
36:12: Researching events that happened almost a century ago.
41:20: Becoming an “accidental filmmaker.”
45:30: Feeling overwhelmed while writing The Tango War