A Few Questions for Software Pioneer and Author, Gary Durbin

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This month’s featured CWC member is Gary Durbin, a retired serial entrepreneur and software industry pioneer. Instead of writing computer code and starting software companies, he now writes, hikes, and advises young entrepreneurs. He has published short stories and his first novel, Nano-Uncertainty.

Gary led a research project into the use of artificial intelligence for business systems and an experimental project in computer-aided tutoring. Mr. Durbin holds four software patents, one for distributed inference on massively parallel computers. He has published several technical articles in magazines and journals and authored a special publication of the National Bureau of Standards.

Sample Durbin’s writing at GaryDurbinWriter.com/work-in-progress/

Five Questions for Gary Durbin

What’s the most important piece of writing advice that you could give to other writers?

Beg, plead, or coerce people to read your stuff and give you honest feedback.

What one thing has helped promote your writing most?

Workshops like the Mendocino Writers Conference.

What other writers inspire you?

Isaac Asimov, Stephen King, Evan Currie, Salman Rushdie, Alfred Bester, Clifford Simak, Robert Heinlein

Where are you from and where do you live?

Native Californian. Born: Santa Monica, Raised: Oakland

What other facts would you like to share?

Married to Lori otherwise known as “Love of my life” for 50 years

Meet Gary Durbin and our Featured Guest Patricia Ravasio this Sunday, November 17th

Remember that our members are your community, so treasure this opportunity to get to know Gary and find out how he can help your writers career, and vice versa. Members, don’t forget to come at 11 a.m. to participate in the craft and marketing support groups!

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Nov 18th 2:30-4 pm Patricia Ravasio to speak on "Mission Utopia--Writing to Share an Urgent Vision."


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Interview with Pat Ravasio

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Literary publicist and CWC member Cristina Deptula interviews our November speaker, Patricia Ravasio. Ravasio is the author of The Girl from Spaceship Earth, a book about Buckminster Fuller. She will speak to the Berkeley CWC about pushing past your comfort zones, finding your voice, and writing with a mission.

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November speaker, Patricia Ravasio

How do you handle it when you feel very strongly inspired by a project and it seems to go nowhere or have no outlet to get published?

You are describing my life! It has been very hard to drum up interest in Buckminster Fuller, even though he has brilliant answers to some of humanity’s most pressing questions. I handle it by never ever ever giving up.

Would you suggest that writers hang on to their unfinished drafts, or to their research notes from unfinished projects?

Definitely hang on to old research notes, but unfinished drafts better to let them go. Some of my best writing has come after I tossed old drafts of chapters and started over.

FrontCover-Spaceship Earth copy

How do you know when what you have to say is important enough to interrupt your regular life? How did you know that for your Buckminster Fuller book?

If you’re listening there’s usually a powerful voice inside you that holds these answers. You just know. It’s your intuition talking and if you don’t listen to it you’re making a big mistake.

Did Buckminster Fuller have any wisdom that you think would especially apply to writers?

All of Bucky’s wisdom applies to writers. Here’s one of my favorite quotes:

The future of humanity rests upon our individual integrity and whether or not each of us has the integrity to only go along with the truth.

Another quote that’s easily relatable:

When something is broken, don’t try to fix it. Instead create a new model that renders the old one obsolete.

(This applies to writing and to government!)

Join us Sunday, November 18th for a lively discussion with Patricia Ravasio.

Nov 18th 2:30-4 pm Patricia Ravasio to speak on "Mission Utopia--Writing to Share an Urgent Vision."

See you Sunday! + Interview with Historical Fiction Novelist Linda McCabe

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It’s California Writers Week! This is an annual observation to “encourage the people of the State of California to reflect upon the contributions that California writers have made to humankind,” since 2003.

We will be meeting this Sunday, like every 3rd Sunday, for our monthly day of writerly activities. Networking at 2 p.m., Club meeting at 2:30, Featured club author Alice Jurow at 3 p.m., and our Keynote speaker Linda McCabe at 3:15. Come early for our Craft Group at 12 p.m. and our Marketing Success Group at 1 p.m., and stay late for our new Open Mic at 4:15! (The support groups are for members but guests may audit before joining the club.)

Interview with Linda McCabe

 

Our October speaker, Linda McCabe, is inspired by classical works, particularly the story of Orlando Furioso, a 16th century Italian work that is connected to the 10th century French “Song of Roland.” What do laboratory science, magical creatures, Harry Potter, a Muslim/Christian holy war, Kick-ass heroines and beta readers have to do with each other? Our speaker chair Cristina Deptula did a lengthy interview on her website Lois Lane Investigates Authors, and we’ve excerpted some highlights here.

How do you know when you’ve done enough research and you’re ready to write? 

linda-mccabe-quote-octThis is a gut feeling. There’s a point when I feel like I am procrastinating more than I am doing research. Sometimes I just have to shift gears and stop researching if the aspect I am trying to understand isn’t “knowable” or maybe isn’t all that important. I spent over a week wondering about diapering in the middle ages. This was all because I wanted to have a character do some action in a scene with her baby. I started imagining the characters in my setting and thought of where would the dirty diaper would be placed. Then I wondered how the diaper would be closed, (did they have diaper pins?) How often would they wash them? How many diapers would a noble household have for a baby?
Some research suggested that babies might not have been put in diapers at all. Instead, the parents would watch them carefully and hold them at arm’s length over straw to absorb urine flow.

I considered this matter for too long. I was obsessing over a minor detail that did not enhance or further the plot. I decided to take it out and not “go there.” Instead, I described the baby as been freshly bathed in the scene.

I notice you also write essays and editorials in addition to your  historical fiction. Would you agree with the advice I myself heard as an aspiring novelist, to get other pieces of writing published before you  go out there to agents and publishers with a first novel?

linda-mccabe-quote-tall-octWhile I believe that publication credits are important to demonstrate your authority as a writer, they aren’t as important to an agent as the sample pages of your completed novel. Writing an article or short story is like running a 100 yard dash while writing a novel is more like running a marathon.

Perfecting the art of the query letter or verbal pitching to an agent in order to get the request to submit sample pages is a different skill set than regular writing. Once you get the go-ahead to send your manuscript and synopsis, your overall craft will be on full view. The agent and subsequent potential publishers will only green light a publishing contract based on the strength of your finished product and not because you had an op-ed published in the LA Times.

Honestly, I think getting a pithy book description will do more for you with agents and publishers than having multiple credits to your name. However, it is a different matter if you are writing non-fiction. If you had publication credits in magazines or peer-reviewed journals and you were submitting a book proposal on the same topic – it might help influence the decision of the agent/publisher to sign you as a client/author.

 

Ask Linda McCabe your own questions this Sunday, October 21st at our monthly meeting.

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Some Writing Advice from October’s Featured Member, Art Deco Novelist Alice Jurow

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alice-jurow-oct-feat.jpgSunday, October 21st we’ll be featuring a short reading from our featured member, Alice Jurow. Alice has a degree in Aesthetic Studies from UC Santa Cruz, and is
not afraid to use it. Her obsession with the 1920s has led to a long-standing involvement with the Art Deco Society of California, and she was the editor of the society’s Sophisticate magazine for 12 years. Some of her publications include the North American Review, Archetype, and Bark. Vamps of ‘29 is her first published novel; she is working on a sequel. Alice lives in Berkeley with her human and feline family.

We asked Alice Jurow about the the most important piece of writing advice that she could give
to other writers.

Said Jurow:

I wouldn’t really presume to give anyone else writing advice, but the advice I give myself is: write the book that only you can write, the one you wish you could read.

I can get easily overwhelmed, when I go to bookstores or libraries or readings, and see the huge amount of new work in print, or in process—so much of it interesting, intriguing, well-crafted and crying out to be read. But just as many of these are stories I would be unlikely to write, I also don’t see anyone writing exactly what I envision writing.

About Alice Jurow’s novel, Vamps of ’29

In the darker corners of the City of Light, three fashionable young women revel in the glamor of late-1920s Paris nightlife. They model cutting-edge styles at a couture house on the rue Cambon. And, they are vampires.

While immortal charm keeps the vamps perennially youthful, redhaired Natalie is the oldest of the three. A former Mariinsky ballerina, she is moody and volatile, with a fatal penchant for intense Slavic idealists.

The youngest is Lucienne, an emigrée from Indochine, whose cool exterior conceals depths of mysterious knowledge and a complex past which comes back to haunt her, when her powerful Uncle Yu re-enters her life. And then there’s Sally. An Enlightenment-born native Parisienne, she’s eager to embrace all things twentieth-century: bobbed hair, hot jazz, the English language and a series of mortal friends and lovers, including a New Orleans jazz pianist, a British pilot, Oscar Wilde’s niece and an actress named Louise. When a lavish trip to Venice with a couple of American socialites turns dangerous, Sally goes undercover by cross-dressing her way to Berlin. The three vampire friends re-unite in Paris to model in one last astonishing fashion show and bring the 1920s to a close.

Learn more at Vampsof29.com

Have coffee with Alice Jurow and Linda McCabe at our October Meeting

After Alice Jurow reads to us from Vamps of 29, we’ll learn how to research historical figures, settings, and customs for historical fantasy writing. Our featured guest Linda McCabe will show authors how to decide when to use dramatic license vs. adhering strictly to the historical record. Fantasy has its own rules regarding logic and consistency and Linda will discuss the craft of balancing the needs of historical fiction with drama and fantasy. Linda’s novel Quest of the Warrior Maiden was honored by the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association’s (BAIPA) as Best Historical Fantasy and received an Honorable Mention by the Hollywood Book Festival.

Join us for our October meeting Sunday.

linda-mccabe-oct-cwc-berkeley

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Patricia McBroom Gives Us a Taste of Female Divinity in the Deep Human Past

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Patricia McBloomPatricia McBroom began her career as a science journalist in the 1960’s and became deeply interested in the subject of human evolution.  After a stint at the Philadelphia Inquirer as the first woman journalist in the newsroom, she entered graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania to earn a degree in anthropology.  One day while casting about for a thesis topic, she noticed that women had cast off their “feminine” clothing and were showing up at the health club wearing blue suits.  So she undertook an ethnography of women on Wall Street, detailing the changes women were undergoing as they took on roles as financial managers, formerly restricted to men.  The study was published as a book, under the title, The Third Sex: the New Professional Woman.

With that publication, she began teaching women’s studies, first at Rutgers University and later at Mills college in California where she returned in 1987 after some twenty years on the East Coast.

The election of Trump inspired her next writing project, which focuses on Bronze Age matriarchal society.

As our featured member, this Sunday Patricia Bloom will be reading a short passage from her new manuscript: She Speaks: Female Divinity and Equality in the Deep Human Past. In this work she traces the transformation of the Goddess from an earth and mother figure into a warrior Goddess of the Bronze Age.  The story demonstrates that a divine female goes hand-in-hand with gender equality.  Says McBloom, “Today, the female half of humanity needs its sacred mirror.  The book is also part memoir, with details of what it is like to live inside a story of evolution that is written almost entirely by men, even today.”

To get a taste of Patricia McBloom’s writing check out her five-year project documenting California’s water wars at CaliforniaSpigot.blogspot.com

Sunday Patrica Bloom joins Marty Nemko for our September meeting, but for now, let’s get to know Patricia.

What’s the most important piece of writing advice that you could give to other writers?

“Write because you don’t know what you think until you read what you say.” (a somewhat altered quote from Flannery O’Conner)

What are your writing habits?

I write in the mornings before breakfast and after an hour’s meditation to center myself.  In earlier years, I would write for four hours; today it’s more like two hours per day.  I usually write whether I feel like it or not; discipline and focus are helped by meditation.

Sept 16th Marty Nemko at Preservation Park

Interview with Marty Nemko, our Guest for This Sunday, Sept. 16th

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book cover for Careers for Dummies by Marty Nemko

Marty Nemko is the author of Careers for Dummies, as well as hundreds of articles in national magazines.

This month, the California Writers’ Club has harnessed the wisdom of Bay Area author and career coach Marty Nemko. At our regular meeting, Sunday September 16th, he’ll speak to how to apply career-building knowledge and hip wisdom to your literary pursuits.

As a career coach, would you say that creative writers need to plan their careers in the same way that other job seekers do?

First, I’m assuming that by “career,” you’re talking about people who expect to make at least a modest living from their writing and ancillary activities such as paid speaking engagements.

Of course, a small percentage of successful writers succeed because of raw talent, great connections, and, yes, luck—being at the right place at the right time with the right writing. Alas, that’s too rarely the case, so let’s focus on the more typical situation. There are three key factors. On the following continua, the more to-the-right, a writer is, the greater the chances of pecuniary success.

Of course, beyond those three, there is that ineffable but central factor of talent. There are many ways to try to assess talent, all of them imperfect: Internal self-appraisal, comparing your work with that of writers you respect, feedback from respected people—especially those you’re not paying, your previous publication record, and contest results.

What are some similarities and differences between setting up a regular job search and seeking to develop your career as a writer?

As in most job searches, alas, connections matter. Perhaps that’s even more so in writing because judging of writing is so subjective. If someone likes you as a person, that halo tends to spread over your work. So, while I must admit I do not practice what I’m going to recommend, it helps to regularly connect—at book fairs as well as in writing solid and human queries— with people with the power to help you make that middle-class living as a writer. Typically, that means editors and media outlets that pay writers well. That isn’t always the biggest publications. For example, I’ve written 20 articles and essays for TIME’s Ideas section and, although I’m not shy about negotiation, they said, “The pay is zero. Take it or leave it.” Alas, the outlets that tend to pay well tend to do that because they otherwise couldn’t attract good writers. So, a trade publication or a mutual fund may, alas, be more likely to pay writers decently. Of course, check Writer’s Digest for a fuller look at writer’s pay.

And of course, you need to send your stuff out to lots of potential publishers, recognizing that even the work of well-published writers get rejected a lot.

Are you going to discuss how you can get a ‘day-job’ that encourages some writing and fosters one’s creativity or are you going to focus more on approaching your own writing like an entrepreneur: writing for paid publication, building your platform, etc?

Marty Nemko

This Sunday, talk to Marty Nemko about your writing career

I’m not planning to talk much about that. The advice in my previous answers, of course, pertains. Common sense dictates that if you’re not yet making a living at your writing, unless you’re living off of someone else’s money, you’ll need a day job. And of course, most writers would find it more fun and facilitative of writing to work in an environment such as a bookstore or a place/people you’d be writing about. So, for example, if you’re planning to write about life as a waitperson, take such a job, as Barbara Ehrenreich did in preparing to write Nickel and Dimed.

It’s a reality that many writers will need some sort of day-job, at least for part of their writing lives. Would you advise writers to go for day jobs that involve creativity, writing, etc. or does it tend to work best to have a position that doesn’t require as much stress and leaves time for writing on the side?

Stress so often is internally caused. Some people can work in what’s widely deemed a high-stress job (e.g., Emergency Medical Technician) and be calm. So, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. I’d rather suggest that each writer decide what sort of job yields the optimal combination of money, flexibility, low-stress, short commute/work from home, and facilitates their writing.

marty-nemko_9-16

What do you think is the biggest attitude shift, or action, that a writer can take that would help them better plan or advance their careers? What are some misconceptions or mistakes that hold us back professionally?

Alas, it’s hard to get honest feedback. Most teachers are inclined to be encouraging. Friends find it awkward to say, “You’re not good enough to expect to make a living from your writing.” In addition, we hear messages that we all deserve good self-esteem. So, a lot of writers (and many others) have unwarranted optimism, sometimes because, deep down, they don’t want a “real” job.

So the big attitude change I’d wish on writers is that they make a clear-eyed assessment of their potential to make a living as a writer. If they have inadequate information to make that decision, they need to get sufficient such information, for example, by asking for honest feedback. Of course, if they choose to write without expecting to make a living at it, write on!

What advice would you give to Writers’ Club members who are retired or who are homemakers and who are really writing as a hobby rather than a career?

I’m feeling relaxed having read that question. Even though I’ve made significant money from my writing, my net hourly wage is low and, importantly, looking back, the main benefits I have derived from my writing are not pecuniary: I like the process of writing, I like the thought that my writing will help people, and I like that writing clarifies my thinking about a subject.

What in your presentation will be useful to them?

I like to think my talk will be useful to most people and hopefully at least moderately entertaining. I promise it will be an honest look at my life as a writer—beauty marks and warts.

Thank you very much! We look forward to meeting you and hearing you in person on Sunday the 16th.


Marty Nemko’s books have been published by Ten Speed/Random House, Avon, Barron’s, and Wiley, including the just published Careers for Dummies. He’s written 20 articles for TIME’s Ideas section, a column for The Atlantic, an eight-part series, “What’s the Big Idea” for the Washington Post’s Innovations section, 100 pieces for U.S. News, 1,240(!) on PsychologyToday.com, plus five years as columnist on the front page of a section of the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle before going national. That’s all while being a full-time career and personal coach (the SF Bay Guardian dubbed him “The Bay Area’s Best Career Coach” and being in his 29th year as host of Work with Marty Nemko on KALW 91.7 FM (and NPR San Francisco).

Ask Marty your questions about the arc of a writing career this Sunday, September 16th at our next monthly meeting.

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Five Questions for Laurie Panther, Tomorrow’s Featured Member

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Lately we’ve been doing interviews with the guest we asked to come speak to the club, but we also want you to have a chance to get to know our fellow Berkeley CWC members. It’s not only our guests who have something to contribute, our members are capable, interesting and knowledgeable. Our meeting is mostly a chance for us to share our insights and struggles.

That brings us to this month’s featured member, Laurie Panther.

Laurie Panther holds a master’s degree in education and an Administrative Credential in Educational Leadership for Social Justice.  In her personal life, she has served in many capacities in both twelve-step recovery groups, as well as for Adult Survivors of Child Abuse; and has maintained twenty-nine years of sobriety and abstinence from drugs. She gives workshops on recovery and empowerment (for example, this upcoming workshop). Panther writes poetry and has performed a one-woman show about her life in several venues (see Laurie’s story about the “pussy bushes” at the Moth). She blogs about these topics at Mixed Girl Survival School

Five Questions for Featured Member Laurie Panther

1. What’s the most important piece of writing advice that you could give to other writers?

Don’t be afraid to let other people read what you write. When you get lots of feedback, you can find trends to validate observations, and you won’t take each one of a few as the be-all and end-all. Less devastating. Also be prepared to revise—a lot!

2. When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A housewife (because my mother worked and emotionally neglected her children) and a writer (because I could express my unspeakable emotional truths as child). I began journaling when I was 11 years old.

3. If you could truly be the writer you wanted to be, what would your career look like?

My writing would be published by a reputable house, and after hot sales of the memoir style, I’d write in other genres, such as “self-help” and parenting—all focused on helping people identify and overcome the damage of trauma (sex abuse, child abuse, neglect, depression, anxiety, etc.) I would also travel to share my writing, as well as providing workshops & and individual consultations.

4. What other writers inspire you?

Female writers inspire me. Especially ones who capture the struggles of sexuality, repressions, overcoming barriers. Of the classic female English novelists: the Bronte Sisters, Virginia Woolf, and Kate Chopin come to mind, and from the modern women writers: Barbara Kingsolver (Poisonwood Bible is one of my all time favorites), Ann Pachett, and gritty memoir and memoir style writers: Jeannette Walls, Dorothy Allison, and Toni Morrison.

5. What do you think of the writing business these days?

I really miss the art in writing. It used to be that the people who were born with the ability to communicate their burning inner fire or insights were sought after by publishers and taken in and nurtured. Or less talented people could labor and hone their skills, achieving a fair chance that a publisher would give them a shot. But now, talent doesn’t seem to play much of a role. There’s so much crap being published and sold at Barnes & Noble, and people will read the latest crap displayed on the tables and buy more “in the series.” Access to a good publishing house, and the support they used to offer the writers is gone. The self-promoting that writers have to engage in has moved the craft aspect from the page to the internet manipulation game. It feels like prostitution to me, or a marathon where the most dogged win and not the most talented. When experts come to us with the great idea that instead of writing what we are moved to write, we should research what is selling and write what will get published—art has died.

At this Sunday’s meeting, Laurie Panther will be present to read from her memoir: Mixed Girl, Trauma Oncologist: How I Cured the Soul Sickness That Ate My Family Alive. A life-long East Bay native, Laurie’s story covers how her mixed race family, with adopted children from orphanages around the world, navigated the 50s, 60s and beyond. Laurie unpacks trauma, her inspiring efforts to survive, and how she broke the chain of dysfunction. We hope you’ll join us. Our featured guest will be Joe Clifford and as usual there will be coffee, snacks, marketing advice and craft discussion groups. 

 

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