An Interview with This Sunday’s Speaker, Albert Flynn DeSilver, on Writing as a Path to Awakening

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This Sunday, Jan. 20th, Albert Flynn DeSilver will show us how to take our writing to that next mysterious level. What happens when life gets in the way? How does our writing practice open us up emotionally, psychologically, and even spiritually? DeSilver will teach us the steps we can take to stay focused, to stave off fear, doubt, and procrastination. He’ll also tackle issues with editing, completion, agents, and publication.

But first get to know poet, memoirist, and novelist, Albert Flynn DeSilver in this conversation he had with our speaker chair, Cristina Deptula.

What are some ways that writers and creators can heal from addictions and other struggles? Can writing be a tool in personal recovery? 

Albert Flynn DeSilver
Albert Flynn DeSilver will be our keynote speaker for Sunday’s meeting

Writing is the ultimate tool, for becoming more conscious, more compassionate—first with our selves and then with the world at large. But it’s not just writing. In order to get conscious we have to slow way down, be still, sit in silence, or stretch, move, walk in silence. Let nature be our sounding board and mirror. Regular mindfulness meditation practice is an excellent gateway to awareness and therefore healing. How do we know what we think and feel until we write it down, or speak it aloud? We want to become more open to the totality of ourselves. That includes shining light on the dark parts, coming to understanding and then self compassion. A great therapist, support groups, a healthy diet and exercise are also essential. It’s never just one thing that heals us but many voices.

Do you think that writerly types are especially prone to certain struggles? There are all those tragic artist stereotypes—is there truth to that? Are there certain ways we can organize our lives as writers to stay both creative and healthy? 

To a certain extent, yes. I mean writers, musicians, artists of all kinds tend to open themselves to the rawness and immediacy of experience, they don’t look away, when others do. They tend to move toward the visceral and emotional elements with a certain willingness to investigate awareness, clarity, complexity—to be sensitive observers of the human condition. This is not without its dangers. As we expose ourselves to the great mysteries of human consciousness and experience, shunning little, opening much, we enter the unknown, the unpredictable, the risky. But of course that’s where the magic and juice of life lies (not to mention, the great stories).

As to organizing our lives, yes, we can remember this very fact of our vulnerabilities and sensitivities—if that’s true for us and take care of the wild body and roving emotions. This is why I wrote Writing as a Path to Awakening, to remind us to take care, to get quiet, be still, eat well, hydrate, move your body, be generous and kind. The world needs conscious kindness more than anything right now.  

Do you need to go to retreats or travel in order to enhance and awaken your creativity and awareness or can you do something in your own daily life and practice? 

No. Not at all. It’s always available in any given place, at any moment I actually am willing to buck-up and surrender to reality. Of course travel for me is a great inspiration, but ultimately I’ve found I don’t write that much when I’m traveling, outside of notes and keeping track of experience. Daily life is where the creative and spiritual rubber hits the road. One can travel magically far, internally in the comfort and safety of their own home via silence and in turn exploring the vastness of their imagination. Taking time to reconnect with that infinite wellspring of creativity via silence and time in nature is essential for me in order to stay connected to the deeper truths and imaginative dynamism that I want to share with the world in my writing.

You write both prose and poetry. Do you approach writing in different genres differently? 

The process is different. Poetry mind is different than fiction mind. I like to fill my heart, mind, and body with poetry and the poetics of the world when I’m writing poetry or thinking about taking on a new poetry project. Same with fiction. I want to fill my soul with stories, great novels, voices and dialogue, character, and settings—so I read lots of novels. With fiction and other prose, at the onset I free write a lot. With poetry I contemplate sounds and images, and riff and play with language. I have no set word count goals.

In fiction I like to generate quickly and immediately in a rush of accumulation at first writing a minimum word count number per day, then seeing what I have, where the energy is and when my attention should go next. I move quickly, allowing myself to write crap at first, so then at least I have something to work with AND after writing this way for several weeks or months and accumulating 50,000-100,000 words, it all feels like a lot (as messy and unformed as it might be) and something I couldn’t possibly abandon!  

How can you harness your inner creativity and inspiration when you’re tackling an aspect of writing that doesn’t strike you as especially creative? (i.e. synopses, query letters, revision, copy editing, etc)? 

There is a truth about writing that none of us want to really face and that’s the inherent drudgery, the hard grueling work, the gnarly mountain range of editing, the times when we’re stuck and tapped out. But the sooner we can acknowledge and accept, and then integrate these aspects (even make friends with them)—knowing that they are just as essential to the process as the fluid creative fun flowy parts are—then the sooner we can get on with the work of writing and get something completed. And when we get in to that frame of mind, the creativity tends to open up and become available for the revisions, queries, and copy editing. 

Make Time for Your Writing This Sunday

Mingle with writers, tackle your marketing and craft issues, and get set for your best writing this year with DeSilver’s keynote “Creative Awakening in the New Year.”

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Meet Historical Fiction Writer Kay Tolman

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Our January Featured Member, Kay Tolman, Is a Lover of 19th-Century Literature

Kay TolmanAuthor, Kay Tolman is is the pen name of Janice Kay Tolman. Since 2017, Kay has been working on th coming-of-age novel The Compromise. It’s historical fiction based on her maternal ancestors, who were mid-19th century pioneers. In her youth, she rode her horse across the undeveloped land on the outskirts of the Los Angeles suburbs.  In college, she focused on 19th-century literature. She also studied literacy theory, research in education, and discourse analysis at the graduate level.

For nearly 40 years, Kay taught English in high schools and community colleges. Running parallel to studies and teaching,  she practiced Zen in Korea, Japan, and the US.

She says, “I’m writing the novel I wanted to teach. New readers need a kind and welcoming prose style. Teachers need generous extensions to the core curriculum and applications to community life. I want my fiction to help a new generation come of age as citizens and think more critically and feel more deeply about our cultural and political roots.”

Check out her website at Compromise.blog. But now, three questions for Kay Tolman.

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

The reader’s time with your text is precious, so make it count. Meaning happens in the reader, and that goes beyond what we can ever know. Be humble.

What one thing has helped promote your writing most?

Deciding on one thing to promote my writing is difficult because writing is a cascade. In the long-term, integrity between language and action, in other words, honesty, lets me trust my creativity. Reading and conversation engage my core emotions and big ideas. I always need more than I get. These days, fellow writers promote my writing when they trust my rhetorical purpose, respect my learning process, and also read critically. Then together we find those words and passages that hit or miss the mark. I am extremely grateful to my fellow writers, especially those at the Berkeley Writers Circle.

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

Easy. When I was a child I wanted to be a writer, so I guess I finally grew up. Teaching language and literature was a long, minimally sustaining, yet wonderful detour. Teaching involved a lot of storytelling. Working with tens of thousands of students, many of them new readers, was a reality check on what being a grown-up writer really means.

Get to Know Kay Tolman at our January 20th Meeting

Tolman is interested in exchanging guest posts with other writers. If you’re looking for someone to attend literary events, write-ins, or teaming up to send submissions, come out and get to know Kay.

Creative Awakening in the New Year, our Jan. 20th Meeting

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.

linda-mccabe-oct-cwc-berkeley

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.

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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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