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. → READ MORE

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.READ MORE

Episode 91: Ethan Watters On Longform Journalism

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 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

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.→ READ MORE

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 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.

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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