An Interview with Pochino Press Editor Daniel Zarazua

1 Comment

Daniel Zarazua
Daniel Zarazua of Pochino Press
will be joining our Small Press Panel

Daniel Zarazua is co-founder of Pochino Press, alongside his sister Monica and wife Xiomara. “We all play an equal role, with Monica handling the editing duties, Xiomara the graphic design, and myself taking the lead on planning events,” he says. Pochino Press have made their mark as a platform for underrepresented voices from places as diverse as Addis Ababa, Taipei, and their home-base of Oakland. Their publications tend to explore the hybridity of cultures and ideas that have come together to explore new ideas, perspectives, and ways of being. “We also draw upon our experiences as K-12 educators, community organizers, and other life experiences to inform our work and connect with others beyond the literary world,” Zarazua said, “Central to our work is creating and contributing to a broader community, not just a literary one.”

Publicist Cristina Deptula interviewed Daniel Zarazua, ask him your own questions when he appears on our Small Press Editors Panel March 15th.

Questions for Pochino Press Editor Daniel Zarazua

How can interested readers find books published by local or special-interest small presses? 

Go to where those who share your interests will be, virtually and literally! I don’t just mean literary events. Many of our best recommendations come from word of mouth, both online and in face-to-face interactions. For Pochino Press, we’re deeply enmeshed in our greater community, supporting local businesses, live music, and festivals as community members, not just publishers, so many of our connections happen outside of literary-specific events.

How can society and the public best support the unique role that small presses play in getting unique or special-interest books into the world? 

Recognizing the value of small presses that may be giving a voice to unique and needed perspectives is a good place to start. We’re often more nimble and willing to take chances on works that we’re passionate about as our decisions aren’t driven by shareholders. Part of recognizing this value is a willingness to pay a little more than you would at a discount outlet. The money might actually have a larger impact! Speaking from a Bay Area perspective, we live here so the money goes directly to the community through us renting spaces, paying local authors, performers, artists, and caterers. Plus, all of our publications have been published with local printers. Aside from purchases, telling others about our publications, leaving online reviews, checking out and requesting our books at your local library, inviting our authors for interviews, and teaching our works in your class are just a few things that come to mind. Everyone has something to contribute and as a press we always seek ways to be collaborative.

How do small presses publicize the titles they publish, and how would people find out about those books? 

In full transparency, this is an area that we at Pochino Press could experience some growth! We’re proud of our publications and related events, but we could be doing more to further our reach. We have an idea of what to do, such as booking more speaking engagements, hosting workshops, and doing more interviews, but balancing the press with our other responsibilities can be challenging, meaning that we are not reaching more people who would be interested in our work.

As a reader I try to be proactive, following key social media accounts, scouring my local public library, and frequently visiting independent bookshops. Through this process I meet people who make recommendations. Once I find a new press or author I like I follow them on social media and checkout who they’re connected to. I’m never at a loss for things to read and I love the thrill of the hunt.

What do you see as the future of small press publishing, or publishing in general, in the age of technology, Amazon and self-publishing? 

We have to adapt, remain creative, and remember that relationships still matter. Yes, we’re literally selling books, but most people still want a human connection, whether that’s through online forums such as blogs, effectively using social media to build relationships, or simply talking to people! Without the connections, we’re just pushing a product, which is probably not the reason most of us started small presses.

We have to make sure that the quality of our books, from the content to the physical materials, are at a high level. Plus, are we offering something unique? Individual small presses can’t compete with the larger corporations, but should that even be the goal? We have to look at traditional entrepreneurial models, such as finding our niche and developing that, while looking to the future, using technology to our advantage, and being aware of changing social dynamics. 

There are unquestionably some major hurdles for small presses, but ultimately, are we working together to create sustainable solutions? There’s no benefit in lamenting the challenges if we’re not solutions oriented.

Have Questions Daniel Zarazua? Ask them at our Small Press Editors Panel Discussion

March small press editors event

Interview with September Feature September Williams

Leave a comment

Today we have an in-depth interview with the first speaker in the launch of our speaker series: physician-writer, bioethicist, and filmmaker September Williams, M.D. She seeks a better understanding of and between ourselves and her work offers resilience for those who are suffering. She’s the author of The Elephant in the Room: Bioethical Issues in Human Milk Banking, which is representative of her nonfiction works covering health disparities, bioethics, and film, and a fiction writer as well. Chasing Mercury is a romance-suspense-memoir about families committed to human and environmental rights, and the first book of the “Chasing Mercury Toxic Trilogy.” The upcoming sequels are Weighing Lead and Mining Gold

September is also a member of the National Writers Union (AFL-CIO/UAW 1981), the International Federation of Journalists, and the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities. All of these organizations maximize the breadth of her work by informing, provoking thoughtful action, frequent tears and the greatest tool of all, laughter.         

For more information see:

 Interview with Author September Williams

How do you stay intelligible to average readers without ‘dumbing down’ science or medicine? 

I think of complex  information in scenes of a novel as film script. You can’t just have a white screen showing with words — there has to be something pictured. That  something has to be understood by others than myself — an actor, cameraman, special effects person, reader. I have to make the reader a participant in the scene. I establish a line that serves as a slug line in my head— Where they are and time of day.  Then only the dialog drives the visuals after that. Then I write the science information, and I usually allow the reader to be touched emotionally by laughter, sadness or love — so the scene and the science stick with them. 

The issue is that the details have to become visual for the reader just as they would for a patient or a medical student — and the “teacher” in the exchange get’s feed back from the learner and vice versa.  I also make sure there is more than one purpose for the exchange of didactic information — so if science really bores you then you stick with it to hear the end of the part of the scene that interest you. In the example in the shot  here the interlocutors are clearly flirting. But the scene is here as an explanation of the Seldinger technique—which is used to draw water samples to test for mercury. The purpose of the scene is for Sicily to understand how arduous and monotonous is. 

Do you ever take liberties with facts to tell a better story? If so, how and where do you draw the line and make those decisions?

I do take liberties but I have rules.

  1. I never take liberties with scientific facts.
  2. I do take liberties with historic details that are not scientific because that would defeat the purpose of incorporating science into fiction.
  3. I never take liberties with facts around real people who are depicted in a scene who were really in that situation in that place even if their names. 

In the novel Chasing Mercury the lovers meet in the Montreal Airport en route to a World Youth Festival in 1973 Berlin. I changed the dates of the festival. I did that because though based in fact the story is fiction. I wanted anyone who had been there to know that the story was fiction. I also did it because the timeline was set so that the main character would be 18 years old before the festival ended because she began having sex with a 26 year old man before the end of the  festival. I needed her to do that on her 18th Birthday because of key things elsewhere in the story. Anyone who was in Berlin would know the dates were wrong. 

All of the material related to The Queens Ballet in the book is accurate except for the name of the principal male dancer —this is because I couldn’t reach his estate and he has died. So I changed his name. However, I kept Rudy’s name because I know he would have wanted me to. 

The farm the main characters visit in Grunwald was actually modeled after one in Karlmarkstad. But you can’t see the Berlin Wall from there—so the Horse couldn’t take Sicily to the water and it would be too cumbersome to explain the journey to Karlmarkstad. Fictional story based in fact but a work of fiction. But anyone who was there would also know many things happened in the city about which they were unaware. 

Though I will own that the female protagonist Sicily is modeled after me, the male protagonist is modeled after many First Nation Brothers I was close to at the festival but with whom I did not perform. Though I did perform with a Canadian who was studying in Berlin before 30,000 people it was a reading of poetry and he translated and played the guitar for me. 

I never took liberties with facts about people who have popular exposure and  are real. For instance Angela Davis, or the sole survivor of the Massacre of Mali. Who were both at the  World Youth Festival and the events surrounding them happened as reported not with a fictitious person but in fact with me—so the content was accurate.

Does the research you do ever end up inspiring new stories, or new plot points?

Constantly— I love the research and I still don’t understand how it makes me do what I do with it.  I don’t write by outline but plot points which I recognize when I write them. In Chasing Mercury the Character Sicily has epilepsy not because I have epilepsy ( I do) but  because seizures or Cat Dance disease was the key symptom in recognizing Minamata disease in Japan. I wanted one of the characters to have a visceral affinity with a diagnosed child or children in the story.  Neurological damage to the body that looks more like cerebral palsy could have been a more visually recognizable option but I needed to link one of the main characters directly to the affliction that was being described. I did want to also have a child with a lesser manifestation of mercury poisoning to illustrate the subtlety sometimes as happens with lead poisoning.

Learning that  private citizens contacted the Minamata Disease researchers in Japan for help in 1972 inspired me to write the story because it showed the same unity that resulted in the Minamata Convention on Mercury being signed into Law began 30 years before.

In fact while writing Chasing Mercury I also  was a writer-bioethics consultant on a children’s book called Toxic Water Minamata Japan.  One of the photos I chose for the book was of a woman who is one of the longest survivors of Minamata disease. In Geneva she told me that I had a selected a photo of he, in her first demonstration as a child. She inspired the character Sophie in Chasing Mercury just based on the photo. 

How do you incorporate background information on a topic for your readers without taking them out of the story? Are you usually able to present all the knowledge readers need to understand a story within the narrative? 

I definitely can’t provide all of the information. I try to figure out  two things: 1) an over arching paradigm that connects the dots and 2) things in the near past that foreshadow things in the near future. 

The over arching paradigm in Chasing Mercury’s themes are the attributes of the god himself. This created the characters in the book. Greed and commerce, medicine, moving around the world, duplicity.

Writing about things in the near past—I know what’s important because I’ve been following the science for 30 years and if I’m writing about something that was toxic 30 years ago I can bring the readers up to speed by bringing them back to the past. In Chasing Mercury the epilogue explains why the book exists. But the epilog is about events that happened the year I started writing it. The story starts in 1973—but it was stimulated by the events of both 1956 and 2017.

Don’t get me wrong I lived and breathed mercury for three years. I made friends with people all over the world dealing with mercury from artisanal gold miners to UN diplomats. That’s how I picked the time period of the main story. Picking the time period is important for how much information you have to deliver in the book. Weighing Lead required that I go back to a point when the first water-borne lead toxicity was being dismissed.

Does it require any sort of mind-shift for you to get out of ‘facts mode’ into ‘storytelling, imagination mode?’ How do you make the transition? 

Definitely it is hard to get out of the fact-spewing mode. The facts are easy. They are in the literature and in my history in science and medicine. I read and research a lot because the science has to be accurate for the time period. I am kicking myself for not having kept 30 year old textbooks. So in a week I may absorb 100 pages of new data on a heavy metal. I’ve absorbed it but I have not massaged and learned it enough to condense it. That’s why it is good to have characters of different temperaments. I  channel them. I let them tell me when to shift gears. I use those characters to get me out of didactics. The frictions in their relationships can shut down a boring diatribe in a heart beat. The Whistleblower Journalist protagonist is really more tied to facts than to his emotions—that is—he masks his emotions with lame humor. The ballerina drags him back to feelings forcibly.

In fact there is a scene in Zurich where the powwow dancer is going on and on about Algae growth in the Limmat River and the guy who discovered the cause. The ballerina takes a break by retreating into her own thoughts which are pretty funny including jealousy directed at the river.  But I needed the water connection in the scene. I set the scene in Zurich to make that ecological concern the Powwow dancer expresses.

As for fiction inspired by science, what do you think are emerging new areas of science that will, or could inspire stories? 

Of course the next direct hit on fiction and science is going to be CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats)  a family of DNA sequences found derived from DNA fragments of viruses used to detect and destroy DNA from similar viruses.

I think we will see stories first about therapeutic uses and then cosmetic uses of CRISPR. We will see stories of CRISPR insertions to black babies from getting sickle cell anemia, and removing hereditary diseases like muscular dystrophy. The bioethics will be a large sub theme because the risk is to further marginalize those who are “different” by assuming that they should be  genetically altered. But beyond science fiction the stories and possible stories related to this technology will be told in espionage, in love, in heist tales etc. But if I write it it will start with Linus Pauling determining the genetic sequence of Sickle Cell Anemia Hb and working forward. Or the irradiation of malaria—and the bioethical battle related to doing that by erasing female mosquitoes from the earth without know what else they do beyond malaria. Yep it gonna be the new genetic fiction. 

Next will be the environmental fiction—as a version of post apocalypse stories. 

Any of these will be open for romance-suspense, espionage corporate and international, and mysteries. 

I think we will also see bioethical stories about loss of speciation and it’s side effects but not in a science ficiton model but a domestic model. 

Meet September Williams at our next meeting THIS SUNDAY Sept 15th

Don’t miss our speaker series kick-off!

Full Schedule of Events

Preservation Park
Preservation Park, where we have our meetings

12:00 pm Setup
12:30 Doors open & member services
1:00 Small Press Panel
2:00 Announcements & Networking
3:00 Marketing Group*
4:00 Craft Group*
5:00 The End

$5 for members, $10 for non-members*

  • Coffee is provided, bring cookies and treats to share!
  • Admission includes 1 free raffle ticket

PLEASE PLAN TO PURCHASE A RAFFLE TICKET! Only $1 each or 6 for $5, every ticket supports the club’s equity program. You can win a book written by our club authors!

* Support groups are members-only but guests may audit
* Empty pockets? Ask about our sponsored guest program at the door. We are writers helping writers, a welcoming community.

1204 Preservation Park Way, Oakland, CA 94612

Our meetings are right off 980 in downtown Oakland, at beautiful Preservation Park. Just off 12th Street, naturally you can get there from the 12th St. BART station. Those with limited ability can use the parking lot off of MLK Way; otherwise there should be plenty of FREE parking within the park and on surrounding streets.

Say you’re coming on Facebook!

Our Forthcoming Events:

  • April 19th – Author/Editor Tanya Egan Gibson (featured member Lynn Fraley)
  • May 17th – Agent Andy Ross ( featured member Nicole Berg) 
  • June 20th – Member Book Launch

Check for support groups and more member events on our Calendar.

Planning your Novel: an Interview with Beth Barany

Leave a comment

Today we have an interview with our April Keynote Speaker, Beth Barany.

An award-winning novelist, Master NLP Practitioner, and certified creativity coach for writers, Beth Barany specializes in helping genre fiction writers experience clarity so they can write, revise, and proudly publish their novels to the delight of their readers. Her courses are packed with useful hands-on information that you can implement right away. She runs Barany School of Fiction, an online school for fiction writers, which includes a 12-month group coaching program to help you get published. Beth is also the editor of the Writer’s Fun Zone blog, for and by creative writers, where you can download her free reports on book marketing and novel writing. She’s also the author of books for writers, including The Writer’s Adventure Guide, Overcome Writer’s Block, Twitter for Authors, and Plan Your Novel Like A Pro: And Have Fun Doing It! Ready to embark on the next step in your writer’s adventure? Sign up for her free 5-day Writer’s Discovery Mini-course here:

Questions provided by CWC member Cristina Deptula of Authors Large and Small.

Five Questions on Plot for Beth Barany

Do most novels benefit from planning? What would you say to someone who writes by the seat of their pants and thinks that outlines stifle their creativity?

Honestly, I think every novelist needs to decide whether or not they want to plan their books. If you work best by allowing inspiration to strike you, then go with that. If you love outlines, go with that. Or if you like to do some planning and some off-the-cuff writing, then go with that. The point about the planning process I teach is to help you find the best process for you. If you’re stuck not knowing where to go with your story, then having a roadmap will help you get going. I have seen this time and time again with people who have taken our “Plan Your Novel” course. Essentially, there is no one right way to write a book; there is only the way that works for you.

What’s your own writing process like? Do you do a full on outline before writing?

I don’t like the word outlining. Ha! That is why the book PLAN YOUR NOVEL LIKE A PRO is about planning, not outlining. For those who want to outline we suggest some tips, but the book is for people who also find outlining boring or hard. I don’t like knowing every single detail about the story before I write it. I like to be surprised as I go, but I also want to have a general direction and understand what my story is about before I start.

Usually I start with a sense of what my genre is and who my main characters are. From there I develop the conflicts of the story. I often go back-and-forth between what kind of story I’m writing, the genre, who my main characters are, and the theme of the story in my planning process. In my writing process I just go. In my editing process I go back-and-forth between being and story and characters and genre and finding the connections between everything.

Is it different when you’re writing YA novels than other types of books? How much does genre influence how you plan a novel?

My planning process has evolved, and it is different with every set of books I’ve written. I wrote my young adult fantasy novels (3-book series) using primarily the hero’s journey as my guide (from the book, The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.) When I wrote my romances (5-book series) I was using my planning process that I teach. I’m currently working on a science fiction mystery series now and also used my planning process to brainstorm this 4-book series. Those books are more plot driven than anything I’ve written so far. I would say genre influences how I plan and write my novels tremendously. Genre provides the boundaries of what does and does not go into the story. In terms of characters, action, and conflict.

What do you do if you’ve got a novel planned and then a character seems to want to do something completely different? Have you changed plans midstream, and do you redo your outline in that case?

As I said, I don’t do outlines. I do a plan that is essentially a scene-by-scene structure. Usually by the time I’m writing, I have a pretty good sense of who my characters are and where the story wants to go. If characters want to go off in some other direction that I didn’t plan for, I let them. That’s the fun of writing my first drafts. I really can’t judge whether or not a plot works better than what I planned so I just follow my intuition. I follow the plan if it seems to make sense or if it doesn’t seem to make sense, I write it differently. I do not revise my outline. That’s way too much work. When I’m writing, my focus is solely on writing. When I get to the editing process, I tend to do a lot of character and the world exploration. But I don’t revise an outline. I’m only revising the prose.

How do you plan without having your plan show through in the book and having your writing look formulaic?

The plan is like a roadmap. When you’re actually on your trip it looks nothing like the map itself. So when you’re writing, that’s going to take on a life of its own and look tremendously different than any outline or planning notes you have. In terms of being concerned about being formulaic, don’t be. Every story has a structure. You can’t get away from that. Humans deeply understand story because we have been telling a story for many millennia. You could say that every story is based on formula. Of course, the story structures change over time and are even different depending on what culture you’re from. This notion that stories are bad if they’re formulaic ignores the fact that every story has structure—a formula of sorts.

On April 21st we welcome Beth Barany to guide us in planning our novels.

Join us April 21st for story plotting tips and exercises with Beth Barany. We will also have support groups for craft and book marketing, as well as a reading from our featured member, Kacey Carpenter.

Interview with Victoria Zackheim, Author of The Bone Weaver and This Sunday’s Guest Speaker

Leave a comment

Victoria Zackheim

Victoria Zackheim, our keynote speaker for Sunday’s meeting.

Victoria Zackheim wrote The Bone Weaver, and edited six anthologies, including the bestselling The Other Woman, and her most recent: FAITH: Essays from Believers, Atheists, and Agnostics. She teaches creative nonfiction in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and is a frequent speaker and instructor at writers’ conferences and organizational events in the US, France, Mexico and Canada.
She will be our keynote speaker at this Sunday’s meeting, on the topic of adapting your work to stage and screen. So you may wonder, what does she know on this topic? Well, she adapted her first anthology, The Other Woman, to a play that enjoyed a simultaneous reading at more than twenty theaters nationwide. Her newest play, Entangled, adapted from the memoir by Lois Goodwill and Don Asher, is now under development, with readings in California theaters. She adapted Caroline Leavitt’s novel, Meeting Rozzie Halfway, to a screenplay, as she did with Anne Perry’s international bestseller Southampton Row. Victoria’s screenplay, Maidstone, is in development with Anderimage, in collaboration with SJ Murray. Victoria wrote the documentary film, Where Birds Never Sang: the Story of Ravensbruck and Sachsenhausen Concentration Camps, which aired on PBS nationwide. We look forward to her sharing her expertise on adaptations.
She is interviewed by Cristina Deptula of Authors Large and Small.

Intereview with Victoria Zackheim

How do you know when your book is something that could be adapted for film or theater?

When you’re writing, do you SEE the action? Can you visualize the characters moving about, sitting on trains, crossing the meadow? Is it a story that moves through a classic arc for characters and story? Can it be adapted with minimal dialogue and maximum action?

What has to be different in a screenplay/script versus a novel? And what do you do with your lovely descriptions of setting?

In a screenplay, the audience can see the action, facial expressions, body language, sunsets and hurricanes. In a novel, these must be described. As for those lovely settings…show them! That’s what cinematographers do so well.

How did you decide to edit anthologies? Did that experience help or inform your play writing?

I created one anthology almost by accident, The Other Woman, and discovered something magical. As the essays arrived from the twenty authors, I began to see a play unfold, a conversation between five women, verbatim, taken from five essays. That experience WAS my playwriting. The second book-to-play was done as the request of a theater director…also an act of love.

You’ve turned an anthology into a play? How did that work? I think of the Vagina Monologues with speakers representing a variety of characters, was it something like that?

Eve Ensler wrote all the parts in The Vagina Monologues, whereas I used the essays of five women represented in the anthology. The process I used is, I realize, unusual and unique…and I’m happy to discuss this during our event!

Where and how do you learn to write for film and stage, and where do you go to get your novel or memoir adapted and produced?

My screenwriting began quite by accident: I overheard a story and absolutely had to turn it into a film…which is happening now. Today, it’s nearly impossible to get any book published without an agent. My agent has sold all of my anthologies, now numbering seven. As for a writer getting a memoir or novel adapted to film…I honestly don’t know! I come to…me!

Join Victoria Zackheim at our Sunday meeting, where she will speak on taking your work from print to performance.

She will be joined by featured member Leena Prasad. As always, members should come at noon to participate in the craft and marketing workshops. Click the link above for further details.

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


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.”

Meet Historical Fiction Writer Kay Tolman

Leave a comment

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

Kay TolmanAuthor, Kay Tolman is the pen name of Janice Kay Tolman. Since 2017, Kay has been working on the 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 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

Leave a comment

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.

pat ravasio

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."

Older Entries