Meet Poet Roy Mash

January 16, 2016

Bloggers Note:  Come hear Roy speak on Word Selection for Writers.Sign-in starts at 11:15am. Luncheon 12 – 12:45 pm. Speaker 1- 2 pm at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant: 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill. $25 members, $30 guests Reservation required – deadline: noon, Wednesday, Feb. 10th. To reserve, contact Robin at, leave a message at 925-933-9670, or sign up via PayPal: click “buy now” on the Mt. Diablo website, Add $2 transaction fee.

1). In one paragraph, can you give us an overview of Buyer’s Remorse?

Buyer’s Remorse is a celebration of the small, the overlooked, the underrated. Doggedly anti-lofty, reveling in the This-Worldly, the poems deal with the themes of the body, of mathematics and rationality, adolescence and middle-age, love and fear and death. The tone ranges from the irreverent to the wistful—the spritz of seltzer in the face of the Creature from the Black Lagoon to the lover standing in one sock. Drawing on sources from The Three Stooges to Archimedes, Lavoisier to Tweety Bird, the book represents a nail in the tire of post-modernity, a pea shooter smuggled into the High Church of Poetry. Be ready to duck.

Here’s an assortment of lines and the poems they come from:

  • I wanted to be 1932 (“The Untouchables”)
  • Sometimes I envy my bed (“Desire for Retirement”)
  • Come, spritz of seltzer in the face         (“Love of Slapstick”)
  • I pity women / with their purses / like canyons (“Wallet”)
  • Its raison d’etre is being a slob (“The Blob”)
  • Dear Marcel, (“Letter to My Penis”)
  • babushka   babussshka   ba-busssssh-ka (“The Plagiarizer of Words”)

2). Describe your most memorable moment as a poet.

I’m always suspicious of superlatives, but certainly one of my more pleasurable memories is of the

the book launch for Buyer’s Remorse at Book Passage in Corte Madera. I had sent out “Save-the-Dates” six months prior to the launch, and later covered the waterfront with e-vites. The turnout was spectacular, 90 or 100 people, some of whom I hadn’t seen in years. Some close friends joined in, reading poems of mine they’d chosen. It was one of those evenings when everything clicks, topped by a standing O and clamor for an encore. Definitely a peak (if narcissistic) moment.

 3). What authors have most influenced your writing?

Pablo Neruda, especially his Odas Fundamentales (Odes to Simple Things), made a big impression early on. It gave me permission to explore subjects that are decidedly un-profound, that undermine the quasi-religious tone that pervades so much poetry, and that causes readers and audiences to tighten their shoulders and hold their breaths, as though in the presence of the holy. In my work this comes out in poems such as “Pinkie,” “Glasses,” and “Wallet”—not to mention “Letter to My Penis.”

Other writers who have affected, or rather infected, my work include Ted Kooser, Stephen Dunn, Billy Collins, Linda Pastan, Lisel Mueller, Steve Kowit, and Cole Porter. The list is far from exhaustive. What they have in common (for me) is a certain unpretentiousness combined with language play.

4).  What tools do you use when you are wordsmithing?

I start every journal reserving a few pages for words. It is a kind of jam jar where I keep words I pick up like pebbles on a seashore. When I’m reading, or even listening to people talk, I’ll sometimes fixate on a word, and save it for my collection. Often the words are idiosyncratic, but they can also be ordinary. Here are some examples culled from my current journal: wrestle, Cyrillic, guidepost, guff, amputated, compliant, stipend, hock, connive, negligee, scaffold, muggy, pumpernickel. I go to my word pages when I’m stuck on a poem, or sometimes as a way of starting a new poem. Just mixing the words often sparks ideas by mere juxtaposition

Another tool is what I call “word-riffing”. Starting with an arbitrary multisyllabic word, I spurt out as quickly as I can, words that have similar sounds, not worrying about order or length, or anything really. Here’s an example from my current journal that riffs on “astonishment”:

stone stem shant shin meant mesh mash gush shun shimmy massage punishment garnish tarnish Amish luscious eyelash nightmarish mansion extradition friction trash mustached goulash scripture

Then I go back over the list and see if anything tickles my interest. For instance, in the above list, just now I’m enjoying the phrase “luscious eyelash,” the feel of the sh sounds like liquid in the mouth, the slightly oxymoronic quality of an eyelash and its associated quality of delicateness as contrasted with the Rubenesque connotations of “luscious”.

5). Who is your idol?    

Jimmy Carter. Not for his poetry, but his life.

6).  What is the most off-the-wall metaphor you have ever composed?

Again, I shy away from superlatives, but here’s a candidate from my love poem to gangsterism, “The Untouchables”:

        I wanted to be the filed-off serial number,
        the East River,
        Winchell’s voiceover—staccato,
        like a typewriter got caught in his throat.

Strictly speaking, the typewriter line is a simile rather than a metaphor, but the image continues to tickle me. I’m not generally a fan of “frivolous surrealism” of the a-winter-wonderland-of-green-hellos type, but I love surrealism that is tethered to the world in such a way that it manages to be both wacky and accurate.


I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Roy Mash. To learn more visit his website:, or contact him directly at You can order Buyer’s Remorse directly from his website, or order it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Powells.

An Interview with Ann Steiner

December 9, 2015

Blogger’s Note:  Please join Dr.  Ann Steiner at the December 12, 2015 Mt. Diablo California Writer’s Club Holiday meeting.  Ann will be speaking on the Platform aspect of the Three Ps of Publishing.  We have a seated meal for this event and you can choose from: pasta primavera, salmon, chicken parmesan, or NY steak.  Costs are $20 members and $25 nonmembers. Reservations required, contact Robin Gigoux at , leave a message at 925-933-9670, or sign up via PayPal: Click “buy now” on the Mt. Diablo website, . Add the $2 transaction fee.  In all cases, please let Robin know your meal choice so the restaurant can plan. Sign-in starts at 11:15 am. Luncheon 12 – 12:45 pm. Speakers 1- 2 pm at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant: 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill. $25 members, $30 guests Reservation deadline: noon, Thursday, December 10th.  If you need to cancel, you must do so before noon on Friday, Dec 11 to avoid forfeiting the cost of the meeting.

  1. Do you think a social media presence is necessary for authors?              

Sadly, these days, yes. That is, IF you want people outside of your immediate circle of friends and family to hear about, buy, read and talk about your book. Visibility and Name Recognition plus a good, value-packed website are truly the name of the game! Having a platform is another major tool for getting your book known. Social media can open doors across the world, and give you access to communities you would never have known about in years gone by.

2. Can you give us some highlights from your new book: The Group Leader’s Workbook and Planning Guide?

As those of you who know me can attest, I am a big fan of Group Agreements – written agreements about expectations and ground rules for groups. Part of the joy of writing my current book has been finding and getting permission to include over 10 sample group agreements from writer’s group leaders, the restorative justice community, Toasmasters, and a hip, humorous, online forum for young women living with chronic illness. One of the unique features of my manual is making these and online agreements available as templates that can be modified to fit each leaders’ needs.

So many work groups, service or volunteer organization leaders don’t think of themselves as group leaders. Each of these groups, and all the clubs and writer’s organizations we belong to, are actually groups. Our elected officers are in fact leaders. Rather than being mentored by their predecessors, or given leadership training, most leaders learn from the “seat of my pants” school. My hope is that the tools and resources I’ve created will help leaders in a wide range of settings serve as stewards for their group’s mission.

  1. Describe your most memorable moment as an author.

My most memorable moment was a few weeks ago when I was the discussant for a paper published by a renowned group psychotherapist and analyst at The Psychotherapy Institute.  This was the first time I was to give this kind of formal presentation to this sophisticated audience. Part way through reading my hastily written paper I looked at the audience and had a moment of panic. Maybe I should have stayed up later and rewritten it yet again. A few minutes later I registered a few friendly smiles and nods. It wasn’t until I ended my presentation, after the applause died down and the author spoke, that I realized I had done okay. It was amazing to hear the author’s “This was the best discussion of any of my papers I have ever heard! Thank you! Thank you!”

  1. What is your worst nightmare when public speaking?

Oh boy! Let me count the ways! All the professional speakers I know have tales of keynotes gone horribly awry. We can all conjure up worst-case scenarios. Nightmares that I’ve been able to do salvage jobs for include: losing my voice the night before an engagement, and the countless technology and organizational glitches that happen when humans and machines try to collaborate. My worst nightmare would be losing my voice in a large venue that doesn’t have a microphone.

The list of Nightmares That Haven’t Happened to Me includes: Missing the last connecting flight for the day of an early morning keynote address in New York. Realizing that everyone in the audience is playing Words with Friends on their phones and under the heading of Irrational, Yet Not Rare Fears: giving a presentation on The Rollercoaster of Chronic Illness: How to Add Joy to the Ride and finding out that the talk was billed as How to Maximize your Return on Investment or How to Train Your Ferret in 5 Easy Steps.

5.  What is your greatest writing strength?

I was once described as being like a dog with a bone when I commit to a project and run into obstacles. So I guess my dogged perseverance, no pun intended, is my greatest strength. While I have my share of times when I allow distractions to lure me away from the keyboard, and I too tend to linger too long in the rabbit holes I fall into, I’ve gotten better at scheduling time to keep my butt in my computer chair and doing the hard work. Being part of our weekly Shut Up and Write! group also helps keeps me on track.. One of my first writing instructors at the California Writers Conference years ago, Bonnie Hearn, had a tip that I still use to comfort and prod myself. She suggested that we have a note taped to the computer monitor, saying Rewrite! Rewrite! Rewrite! Good words to write by!

  1. What are your top tips for establishing an author platform?

Hmm.. How can I put this in the form of Coming Attractions for our workshop this Saturday? OK I’ll try not to give away the store…Here is a subset…

  •  Decide whether you want your book to be read, talked about, recommended, and fly off the bookshelves.
  • If you want a platform, it won’t happen with you staying at home in your flannel PJs. You have to put yourself out there. Most of us worry about been seen as arrogant and stuck up if we shine, stand out or draw attention to our work. Especially for my women friends and the women that I see in therapy, the issue of standing out. Letting your light shine is a big challenge. It’s as though we were all told not to draw attention to ourselves, ever! Were you told: “That’s not lady-like! Don’t make a spectacle of yourself!” – or “Nice girls don’t let themselves be the center of attention.?” You probably don’t have to create a spectacle, but getting comfortable with being visible is essential for promoting your book in public. Find your own balance of pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone and not scaring yourself too much.
  • Having a good professional photo on the directory of every organization you belong to is one of the many tips I will be sharing this Saturday. Jill Lublin refers to this as the “Don’t I know you from somewhere” phenomenon.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Ann Steiner. To learn more feel free to email her at, call (925) 962-0060 or visit her website: Her book, Groups that Thrive: Workbook and Planning Guide will be available on Amazon in January 2016.


An Interview with Lynn Goodwin: Author of Talent

November 17, 2015


Blogger’s Note:  Please join Lynn Goodwin at the December 12, 2015 Mt. Diablo California Writer’s Club Holiday meeting.  Lynn will be speaking on the Prompts aspect of the Three Ps of Publishing.  We have a seated meal for this event and you can choose from: pasta primavera, salmon, chicken parmesan, or NY steak.  Costs are $20 members and $25 nonmembers. Reservations required, contact Robin Gigoux at , leave a message at 925-933-9670, or sign up via PayPal: Click “buy now” on the Mt. Diablo website, . Add the $2 transaction fee.  In all cases, please let Robin know your meal choice so the restaurant can plan. Sign-in starts at 11:15 am. Luncheon 12 – 12:45 pm. Speakers 1- 2 pm at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant: 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill. $25 members, $30 guests Reservation deadline: noon, Wednesday, December 9th.  If you need to cancel, you must do so before noon on Friday, Dec 11 to avoid forfeiting the cost of the meeting.

  1. Can you give us some highlights from your new book, Talent?

Fifteen-and-half-year-old Sandee Mason wants to find her talent, get her driver’s license, and stop living in the shadow of her big brother, Bri, who disappeared while serving in Afghanistan. You can read the first chapter at

It’s a good book for teens, parents, military families, and those who love shows and drama. There’s no crowd like the drama crowd. I know because I used to teach drama in high school and college.

  1. Describe your most memorable moment as an author.

Just one? Every time I make a scene work or create a moment that rings true or read a compliment from a reader or a client, I store it away and all of those moments have formed a collage in my head.

  1. What authors have most influenced your writing?

I’m often influenced by whomever I’m reading. Today that would be Travis Hugh Culley, author of A Comedy and A Tragedy, who is telling a story I wish I had heard beforeI taught high school. Earlier it was Mary Karr, or Elizabeth Gilbert or David Arnold, whose wonderful debut, Mosquitoland, reinforced my love of the YA genre and of teens discovering themselves.

  1. Describe your path to publication. The music for “A long and winding road” just came up in my head. Followed by “To dream the impossible dream…” Followed by a line Cicely Tyson said at the beginning of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. “Where to start? Where to start? So here are 9 Steps Toward Publication:
  2. Long ago I directed a high school production of Oklahoma!
  3. A few years later I created Sandee, Diego, and maybe Jenn as characters in a series of 9 articles describing warm up and improvisation activities for a high school drama class. It was called “Dear Diary” and published in Dramatics Magazine.
  4. I decided to use those characters in a novel about a high school production of Oklahoma! I used the format of a rehearsal schedule to help me build plot and tension and thought it was good until the rejections came in.
  5. I put it aside while I worked on Writer Advice,, interviewed authors, reviewed books, and later used my draft for submissions to an online critique group.
  6. Later still I took a Media Bistro class called “Writing the Young Adult Novel” where I learned the plot of TALENT was thin. I remember typing that the narrator, Sandee, needed to prove that she was as good as her big brother, and as I wrote the words they rang true. The instructor loved the idea.
  7. I put it aside again while I wrote You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers, which had some agent interest.
  8. Went back to TALENT after I blogged for Caregiver Village and Inspire Me Today and continued with Writer Advice. I decided that Sandee’s older brother, Bri, disappeared while serving in Afghanistan. The stakes around sibling rivalry and loss escalated.
  9. Eventually I decided I wanted this published before I died and resolved to put it out to anyone who read YA. I told myself I would take the first offer from either an agent or publisher, so when Eternal Press, now an imprint of Caliburn Press, which is part of Spero Press, sent me a two-sentence acceptance, I took it. A year and a half later, I have a whole new appreciation for the challenges small publishers face today.
  10. What are the biggest mistakes you see as an editor?

It’s hard to find my own mistakes because I’m reading what I think I wrote instead of seeing what’s actually on the page. In other people’s writing, I frequently find description for its own sake and erratic pacing. Sometimes characters want nothing. Sometimes I feel indifferent towards them. Sometimes the writing is passionless. Sometimes grammar and spelling are either “creative” or optional.

  1. Do you think a social media presence is necessary for authors?

Only if you want to increase your sales by letting people know about your book. <g>

  1. What is favorite writing prompt?

“Today I want…” or “I am proud to say…” or “If only…” or “As we join our story today…” I’ve probably written over a thousand prompt over the last 12 years for a free-writing group I am in. I should do something with them besides keeping them in a file on my computer.

  1. What is your greatest writing weakness?

I get incredibly tired sometimes, but I’d call that a condition rather than a weakness. Maybe I’m spread too thin, but it’s exciting to have lots to do. I don’t like to focus on my weaknesses. I’d rather not give them any more space, focus, or spotlight-time than they already have.           

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about B. Lynn Goodwin. To learn more visit her websites: and, where you can find the opening chapter of TALENT.

TALENT is available at “Amazon, Scribd, Sony, Kobo, B&N, and a lot of others” according to her publisher. The Amazon URL is

You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers is available at

Lynn is open to all invitations for guest blogging and invites those who’ve published a YA, NA, or MG to contact her about guest blogging opportunities on She’ll open the field to more genres in February. She also runs a Manuscript Consultation Service,


Meet David Congalton: Screenwriter and Radio Talk Show Host

October 10, 2015

Bloggers Note: David Congalton, author, screenwriter, and radio talk show host, will be speaking on the topic of Chasing a Creative Dream at the November 14th meeting of the Mt. Diablo branch of the California Writers Club.  The meeting will be held at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant at 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill.  Cost is $25 members and $30 for guests.  Sign-in is at 11:15 am–12 pm, luncheon at 12–12:45, and program at 1:00 –2:00 pm.  Reservations required:  Please RVSP to Robin by November 11th.

  1. You wrote the screenplay for the feature film comedy Authors Anonymous. Sounds like it’s about writers. Can you share a few highlights?

You are correct! Authors Anonymous is about a dysfunctional critique group of unpublished writers who meet weekly to provide support and feedback on each other’s work. The stability of the group is threatened when one member (played by Kaley Cuoco of TV’s Big Bang Theory) scores an agent, a book deal, and a movie deal in quick succession. The storyline was inspired by what happened to a friend of mine after she became a bestselling novelist. Authors Anonymous asks the question of how much success one writer is allowed to have and pulls the curtain back on that ugly notion of envy that all too many writers wrestle with. I ran a writers conference in Central California for twelve years, so believe me when I tell you that I know these characters, these emotions, all too well. Authors Anonymous is currently available on Netflix, Amazon, and other Video on Demand services if people want to check it out prior to my presentation.

  1. What is the best marketing tip you can provide to new writers.

The best marketing tip for any writer is the reminder that you have to learn to market yourself. Writing is only half the job, regardless of genre or ability. I have been a professional for-pay writer since 1989. Every single writing assignment, every job I’ve had for nearly 30 years, is a direct result of contacts I’ve made by networking. The newly-minted writer labors under the antiquated delusion that if he or she sells a novel, then the job is done. More and more, the writer is responsible for marketing. So mastering the craft is certainly important, but getting your name and face out there is equally important. Only 1 in 5000 scripts is currently produced in Hollywood. I beat the odds because I made a personal connection to people who could get my movie made. You have to sell yourself, promote yourself, and establish a deep network of professional contacts. You never know when one will open a door for you.

  1. What artists have most influenced your writing?  

For nonfiction, I’ve always been drawn to the writing of Joan Didion, Bill Bryson, and the late film critic Roger Ebert. I am amazed by both what they write, and how quickly they produce. With fiction, I’m drawn to humor, so I tend to go with writers like Christopher Buckley, Christopher Moore, and the San Francisco beat poet Richard Brautigan, who taught me that there are no rules to writing. I’m also a huge fan of Dorothy Parker, whose creative mantra breathes within me: “Write five words, rewrite seven.” My interest is screenwriting, so let’s give a tip of the hat to those I particularly admire: Robert Towne, Alexander Payne, Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Guest, and Nora Ephron.

  1. Describe your path to the big screen. What was it like on the set of Authors Anonymous?

How much time do you have? I could write a book on the experience, and perhaps I shall, but here’s the short story: I wrote the first draft of a script called Scribble in 2005. During the next eight years, the movie was scheduled for production twice, but fell out both times. We had four different directors and chased money around the world before finally going into production in 2012 as Authors Anonymous (don’t ask). The film was finally released in 2014, nine years later. Reread that number: nine years. In terms of being on the movie set, I tell people that “there is no greater feeling in the world than catching a dream.” Those three weeks in Los Angeles were the most satisfying of my professional career. I got to meet and work with actors I admired like Kaley Cuoco, Dennis Farina, and Jonathan Banks. I had the satisfaction of bating the odds and having a script produced. Most importantly, because I was on set and available, I was introduced to a visiting producer who inquired about other scripts I might have. I did. She read it. Bought an Option and we’re gearing up for Seven Sisters to go into production in the coming months.

  1. What was the biggest mistake you made as a writer?

I gave up too soon on my dream of being a screenwriter. I first started in 1987 and wrote about seven truly awful “spec” scripts, falling completely on my face and failing miserably. I stopped in 1993, convinced by repeated failure that this was not going to happen. Some writers are the hare, others are the tortoise. I wish I had stuck with screenwriting. Instead, I waited 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12 years before being coaxed back into the water. You have to believe in yourself and keep plugging, keep writing, keep trying.

  1. Do you think a social media presence is necessary for authors?

Yes, but I also caution writers to maintain a healthy balance between social media and their own writing. Does the world really need yet another blog about writing? That two hours you spent commenting on other blogs might have been more wisely used editing your own material. I use Facebook and Twitter regularly, though I am still searching for the meaning of LinkedIn. I set up a simple (and free!) one page web site just so folks could have a basic idea of who I am, but I don’t see the need to spend thousands of dollars on a web site unless you’re on the national stage or you’re in search of speaking engagements. So, yes, develop social media savvy, but don’t let it distract from your main goal of writing.

  1. What makes the difference between success and failure?

I certainly don’t claim this to be original, but there are five main factors that determine the degree of success a writer will enjoy: (1) TALENT – How much raw talent does the beginning writer have? You can take classes, attend conferences, and study published authors to learn technique, but there has to be a degree of talent to begin with, something that can’t always be taught; (2) AMBITION – Why do you write? Do you dream of being on National Public Radio, or do you merely wish to write the family memoir? What is your professional goal? How high up that publishing ladder are you trying to reach? My elusive personal goal remains full-time writing, but I’m not quitting my day job yet; (3) DISCIPLINE – We all dream of creative success, but how many of us are willing to commit, to do the work? How many of us write every, single day? Is writing your passion, or just an interesting hobby? If you crave the national spotlight, buckle down, cut back on all your other obligations and focus on the work; (4) NETWORKING – This echoes my point from a previous question. If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, does it make a sound? If an author writes a book, and nobody knows the author or the book, will it make a splash? No! Most writers tend to be shy, including me. Too bad. Get over it. Force yourself to go meet that agent, to introduce yourself to that teacher, to get your name and work out there, however you need to do it. Opportunity knocks once. Be ready; and (5) PLAIN DUMB LUCK – You can be talented, ambitious, disciplined, and well-known—and still not succeed. You may have the best novel ever written about vampires or the best Western screenplay in history, but nobody will bite because no one is interested in the genre. Sometimes success comes strictly from luck: Being in the right place, at the right time, with the right story.

  1. Have any of your six dogs ever inspired your writing?

When I do my presentations, I like to remind writers that sometimes life gets in the way of writing, or life ends up changing what you write about. In December 1997, my wife Charlotte and I suffered a horrific house fire and the lost of our five beloved animals in San Luis Obispo. For roughly the next six years, I ended up putting all of my other writing on hold and I wrote specifically about animals. My first book, Three Cats, Two Dogs, One Journey Through Multiple Pet Loss, was published by a small press up in Portland and went on to win a national award for writing. Then I wrote a second nonfiction book about animals and dozens of magazine articles. I had to deal with our loss. I had a new purpose to my writing. By around 2004, I pretty much had said everything I had to say and no longer wished to limit myself to just pet writing. That began the journey that eventually put me back on the path to Hollywood. So, yes, animals have clearly inspired my writing, so the reason why continues to haunt me.


I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about David Congalton. To learn more visit his website:

Amanda McTigue: On Writing

September 5, 2015

Bloggers Note:  Amanda will be leading a workshop for the Mt. Diablo California Writers Club on the topic of writing emotion on Saturday October 10, 2015.   Sign-in begins at 8:30 am at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant, 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill. Full breakfast included   9-9:30. General meeting 9:30. Workshop 9:45 – 12:45. $40 members, $50 non-members. Reservation deadline: noon, Wednesday Oct 8. Contact Robin at or leave a message at: 925-933-9670 for reservations

  1. In one paragraph, summarize your book Going to Solace.

My debut novel, Going to Solace, offers stories to live by—literally. It’s Thanksgiving week, 1989. We’re in the Pineys, two hollows just outside Garnet in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Life may be going along for some, but for others, somebody’s sick, real sick, dying sick. Through interwoven narratives, we track a handful of characters whose paths cross at a local hospice called Solace. Some are country people. Some are far-flung, fancy people. All are helpers—resourceful family members, improvising professionals—each one determined to beat back death, or hurry him on about his business. In the end, they must find a way to stand up from the bedside and walk back into life after the dying is done. Neither grim nor roseate, it’s a book whose tone is bracing: often funny, sometimes wrenching, ultimately comforting. 

  1. What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

What matters to me is that we all keep at it with gusto, with more joy than pain. I’m all for prying those two words apart, “aspiring” and “writer.” By saying, “I aspire to write,” I’m already telling the story of someone who’s not writing when, in fact, we can always choose to write. Hey, I’m someone who squeezed her writing in over decades of paying the rent and taking care of loved ones. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I am saying it’s simple. I don’t aspire to write, I write. It’s on my calendar. Fifteen minutes a week or fifteen hours a day. Two words on the page or two thousand or none, zero. Those days count too. I chalk that silence up to the percolating we need before words appear. Bottom line, writing is a Just-Do-It opportunity we all share. The great news? The astonishing news? Guaranteed, if we keep at it, the work accrues. It takes shape. Eventually, we get good at it.

And then there’s aspiration, but it’s usually not writing to which we aspire (even when—especially when—we’re avoiding it!). For most of us, aspiration has to do with other things. Publication or adoring readers. The imprimatur of a hot agent or a mega-bucks movie deal. Or maybe we dream of creating a classic that lives on for centuries. We need our aspirations. They provide jet-fuel to our daily practice of writing. But we mustn’t confuse putting gas in the tank with the adventure of travel itself. The writing is the point. For me, that’s both an accurate and sustaining truth. To keep going, I have to love keeping going, even through the wanderings-in-the-wilderness of hollow drafts and demoralized edits. I aspire on walks, in the shower, as I drift off to sleep. But when it’s time to write, I just write.

  1. What authors have most influenced your writing?

Oh, my goodness, the flood your question triggers. There are some writers whose work so slays me that I’ve found myself closing a book or finishing a story or poem with a deep conviction that there’s no reason for me to write another word. I’m a Southern gal. The deities to whom return are Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty and William Faulkner. I bow to Mark Twain and Anton Chekhov. And then there’s my man, Shakespeare. As Woody Allen says (in Annie Hall? Manhattan?), “Well, I’ve got to model myself on someone…” More recently, I’m knocked out by the work of all kinds of contemporary writers: Elizabeth McCracken, Frederick Busch, George Saunders, Michael Ondaatje, Karen Russell, to name way too few. I’m a slow reader. I like tale tellers. I also like writerly writers whose stories sing through exquisite language.

  1. What has been the biggest challenge on your path to publication?

The only important challenge has been and continues to be writing work that is so damn good it makes your teeth hurt. The rest of it is dogged determination. I’m a thin-skinned person who taught herself to go for the long haul, to submit and submit, weathering the endless No’s for that eventual Yes. It’s also been hard for me to find my editor(s), that is to say, professional readers who both resonate to what I’m up to and have an ability to send me farther, faster. That’s an ongoing search.

  1. What is your writing routine?

Writing is my favorite thing to do, even on bad days. It took me years to realize this, to drop my fear of inadequacy enough to feel that pull toward the page. I write pretty much daily. I’m a morning person. My husband and I get up early and read the papers—you know, real newspapers that smell of ink and ink your hands—big photos, gorgeous, large type. Old-school stuff. Then he’s off to work and I’m upstairs “in harness.” These days I have to set a timer reminding me get out of the chair and onto the treadmill. That’s not to say it’s all one happy flow; it’s not. But here’s a tip: before I abandon the desk each night, I leave myself a task, written on a Post It. I set it right here on my keyboard for the morning, so I won’t have any blank-page paralysis. If I’m in the middle of drafting, I leave myself a prompt. If I’m editing, I leave a next step or focus for the coming session. That helps enormously.

  1. Your range of writing is amazing – playwright, short stories, novels, and children books. What is your favorite form?

At the moment, prose fiction, long or short, feels wonderful in comparison to writing for performance. On stage, the rich world I’m imagining can only be hinted at through dialogue. What a pleasure to be free to capture any and everything running through me more fully. It’s daunting but liberating.

  1. If you were to describe yourself as a children’s book character who would that be?

Aspirationally? Wilbur. I’d love for someone to weave over my head “SOME PIG.” More seriously—well, Scout lives in my mind. That’s an adult book about a girl, but her relationship with Atticus—I love the way she loves her daddy. Oh, and one more. This one for little kids. I really love Little Bear in A Kiss for Little Bear, a book that serves as my model for the perfect picaresque story.

  1. What is your greatest writing weakness?

No question, it’s the weakness I can’t see yet. It’s the flaw in the writing I can’t recognize because I don’t know enough. I hate that moment (and it happens all the time) when I’m reading stuff back and I see a blunder, a hole, a stretch of boring or confusing or just plain unreadable junk. It’s suddenly so obvious. It’s been there all along. Why didn’t I see it before? Those are not good moments. But, of course, that’s the literal experience of learning.

  1. Tell us about your DreamTime series.

I haven’t thought about that in a while. Thanks for asking. The material for DreamTime grew out of a musical project. I had written the text for a children’s cantata with a composer I often work with, Jeff Langley. At the same time, I was considering migrating from the stage to the page. Going to Solace was in draft. So it occurred to me to adapt the cantata into a children’s book and self publish it in order to learn about publishing from the ground up. That’s so me. I come from DIY stock. It was one of the great decisions of my life. I taught myself book design. I studied the publishing business. I partnered with my niece; her childhood drawings became the illustrations (after much adjusting through Photoshop). Then I registered as a publisher with Lightning Source and learned the whole distribution and marketing routine. Phew.

I learned a lot in ways that have stood me in good stead with traditional publishers. Meanwhile, those books live in my heart. They present bedtime as an adventure—great for boys, for rambunctious kids and for children who are afraid of the dark. I published different read-out-loud versions customized for different kinds of caretakers, all with a sensitivity to the needs of same-sex parents, and an awareness that families come in all shapes and sizes.

    10. How do you balance writing with life?

You know what? I don’t. At this age, with my stepson all grown up and a husband who loves to work as much as I do, I get to go overboard. What a privilege. As long as I have a little brain power left and the sheer good fortune of relative health, it’s all about go-go-go on the page. I find that very happy-making.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Amanda McTigue. To learn more, visit her website at Ask your local bookstore to order Going to Solace for you or order it online at Amazon. It’s available in hardcover, paperback and all e-book formats.

Blogger’s Post Meeting Note:   Amanda also presented a workshop on what voice can do for your writing at the Mount Diablo California Writer’s Club meeting on October 11th 2014.  The response from attendees was overwhelmingly positive.  Here’s what one member had to say:

Amanda exceeded our greatest expectations – she was fabulous – vivacious, engaging, interesting, versatile, authentic  and prepared. She used lots of visuals to engage us in writing different voices.  Lyn Roberts


August 20, 2015

Bloggers Note: Grant Faulkner, Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month, co-founder of the lit journal 100 Word Story, and cooperative co-founder of the Flash Fiction Collective, will be speaking on the topic of The Power of Writing with Abandon at the September 12th meeting of the Mt. Diablo branch of the California Writers Club. The meeting will be held at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant at 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill. Cost is $25 members and $30 for guests. Sign-in is at 11:15 am–12 pm, luncheon at 12–12:45, and program at 1:00 –2:00 pm.  Reservations are required:  RSVP to  Robin at or leave a message at: 925-933-9670 for reservations by Wednesday 9/9/15. 

Here are some noteworthy quotes on topics ranging from National Novel Writing Month, to writing with brevity, to how writing can change the world. I hope these interview excerpts will inspire you to want to learn more on September 12th:


I think writers are generally taught to write more rather than less—from the first time a teacher tells a student in elementary school to add detail to a sentence, to include more supporting evidence, etc. That’s good to begin with, but at a certain point, a writer needs to realize how writing less, whether leaving things out or writing more succinctly, serves a story. A writer needs to learn how a story moves best through the whorls of mystery and suspense created by the gaps of a story.

Writers naturally try to prove themselves through their words, through florid descriptions, curlicues of syntax. Our words can sometimes resemble a body builder’s muscles, which cover up the true person inside, so a writer has to find the balance of words and the textures that serve the story.


National Novel Writing Month is a rollicking rollercoaster ride of creativity that happens every November. By nature it’s excessive and extreme, encouraging people to aim higher, to write more, to accomplish bigger and bigger things. It also encourages people to dare to experiment and break all sorts of boundaries. So it can’t possibly be described in one sentence. At its simplest, though, it’s a challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel in a month.


Writing is thinking. We discover our thoughts in all of their nuances and counterpoints through language. We also open up new pathways and new possibilities—we imagine new worlds—when we allow ourselves to channel language and riff through the concepts and images it delivers.
Stories also connect us with others, and help us see life through others’ viewpoints. Writing heightens your sense of the world around you and within yourself. You’ll notice things, you’ll notice yourself, you’ll seek new experiences, just by writing stories.


I posit that our stories connect us as humans like nothing else. We are all, at the most fundamental level, the stories we tell ourselves. The way we see other people and the world is a story. Every shift in a narrative, whether personal or cultural, changes us and how we interact with others.

I read that one of the things that truly changed our culture’s perception of women was the stories of women on TV shows. Think about the difference between June Cleaver in the 50s and Clare Huxtable in the 80s, and then all of the strong, dynamic, independent women on TV shows now. Those stories weren’t the symptoms, but the agents of cultural change.

Stories existed before societies formed themselves. Stories come soon after our first breath. They’re our first step out of the reptilian brain. I can write a million sentences on this subject, but I guess I’ll just ask how could creative expression not change the world?

TO LEARN MORE ABOUT GRANT FAULKNER AND HIS BOOKS, Fissures: One Hundred 100-Word Stories and The Names of All Things –  Visit Grant’s Website:

An Interview with Eric Elfman

April 4, 2015

ericcoverBloggers Note: Eric Elfman will be speaking on the topic of How to Hook Them From The First Page  at the April 11th meeting of the Mt. Diablo branch of the California Writers Club.  The meeting will be at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant at 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill.  Cost is $20 members and $25 for guests.  Sign-in is at 11:15 am–12 pm, luncheon at 12–12:45, and program at 1:00 –2:00 pm.  Reservations required: Reservations are required, and must be received no later than noon on Wednesday, April 8. Contact Barbara Bentley at, or by phone at (925) 212-4727.

1. Can you give us some highlights from your new book: Edison Alley?

Neal Shusterman and I are having a lot of fun writing this series of novels about Nick and his friends trying to retrieve the last inventions of Nikola Tesla, which our protagonist inadvertently sold at a garage sale in Tesla’s Attic (the first book of our series). Each of Tesla’s objects has a power that, in the wrong hands, could destroy the world. And, as it happens, the wrong hands are trying to get ahold of the inventions: the Accelerati, a secret society of sinister scientists founded a hundred years ago by Thomas Edison.

Our goal was to fill the books with laughter along with the fantasy and fast-paced action. One of my favorite moments in the second novel, Edison’s Alley, is the scene illustrated on the cover. A small team of Accelerati agents, led by Dr. Jorgenson, raids Nick’s house to steal the objects he has recovered so far. To stop them, Nick grabs something that looks like an ordinary household fan—but actually has the power to generate an ice storm. Nick points the fan at Dr. Jorgenson and shouts “Freeze!” But the scientist doesn’t listen to him because he doesn’t know that Nick means it literally!

2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of having a writing partner?

As every writer knows, writing can be a solitary pursuit—many hours spent alone in a room with nothing but the blank page (or screen) and your thoughts. So the first advantage: it’s simply more fun to write with a partner! (Of course, it has to be the right partner!) Neal and I have a similar sense of story, and a similar sense of humor, too. We will toss ideas and lines back and forth, trying to make each other laugh, and sometimes at the end of the day it feels like we’ve just spent six hours goofing off, then we look down and twelve pages have been written.

Another advantage is being able to find out right away if something is funny or not. When I’m working on a project alone and I write something that I think is funny, well, it might only be me who thinks it’s funny! But if I say something that makes Neal laugh, I can extrapolate outward that if one other person laughed then it’s likely many other people will find it funny too!

Unlike some writing partners who exchange and edit each other’s chapters, Neal and I usually try to get in the same room together to write. And that’s another advantage: it keeps us working! If one of us doesn’t feel like writing that day, but the other has made the effort to get there, we feel a powerful obligation to write.

As far as potential disadvantages, one thing I’m often asked is what happens when we disagree. This can be a major downside in a writing partnership, and is the reason many dissolve. Neal and I sidestep this problem because each of us has total veto power over any idea or element the other comes up with, and so we never argue. If I come up with an idea that I love and Neal hates it, or vice versa, we don’t argue. We simply let that idea go, and say, “Let’s come up with something better.” And we always do!

3. What are the biggest mistakes you see in an author’s first pages?

Many new authors don’t appreciate the importance of the first page. As a writing coach, I have read manuscripts by good writers that begin with lengthy scenic description, or obscure backstory, or a random conversation that leads nowhere. Sometimes I get the feeling that these writers are, in effect, treading water before their story begins.
By the bottom of the first page the reader should have a sense of where the story is going, and the tension that comes from knowing that something is about to happen or be revealed. Many first pages simply provide information when the opening page needs to be compelling. There has to be a reason for the reader to turn the page. Put another way, the author has one page to grab the reader by creating a living, breathing, three-dimensional character we care about, with a hint of the story to come, and a narrative voice the reader connects to. That’s all!

4. Do you think a social media presence is necessary for authors?

While a social media presence seems, increasingly, to be a requirement for an established writer (and I have to admit that my own is woefully inadequate!), I don’t feel it’s as important for writers at or near the beginning of their careers.
While a “platform” of some kind can’t hurt a writer hoping to sell their first book to a publisher (and having tens of thousands of followers will certainly help!), the one thing a new writer needs more than anything is an incredibly good, page-turner of a manuscript. The advice I heard an agent at a conference give to a room full of first time writers still rings true: instead of spending time on Twitter or Facebook or your website, devote that time to polishing your manuscript.

5. Describe your most memorable moment as an author.

The thing I get the most joy from, on an on-going basis, is speaking at schools. When I appear in front of a group of youngsters—whether a small gathering or several classes in an auditorium—and I get to see their enthusiasm about reading and writing, and they get to see that writers are real people, it helps remind me why I am doing this. And kids are honest, too—they will ask you anything and really tell you what they think! I occasionally lead writing workshops for small groups of students at the schools I visit, and I feel privileged to see the passion and energy and talent they bring to their work.

But the single moment from my career that meant the most to me came shortly after my first book was published — The Very Scary Almanac, an offbeat almanac from Random House. I can still vividly remember the first time I walked into a bookstore and there it was, my book, on the shelf, where anyone could buy it. That’s a a feeling I will never forget.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Eric Elfman. To learn more visit his website:


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