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 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