Laurel Corona, author of Finding Emilie and winner of this year's Geisel Award
Laurie Richards, secretary/treasurer San Diego Book Awards and teaches creative writing for the Osher Institute at Cal State U San Marcos
Related Story: San Diego Book Awards
CAVANAUGH: In this age of the Kindle, what does it mean to be an author? San Diego celebrated its best and brightest this month at the book awards. And from the entries, it seems even in these changing times, writers are determined to just keep on writing. My guests, Laurel Corona is winner of this year's top prize. Welcome back to the show.
CORONA: Thank you. Good to be here.
CAVANAUGH: Laurie Richards is secretary treasurer of the San Diego book awards. Welcome to the program.
RICHARDS: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: Laurel, you were out of town earlier this month when the awards were handed out. How did you find out you won?
CORONA: I was at the Santa Barbara's writer's conference, and I was down in the bar having a glass of wine with some students, and I hadn't heard anything so I thought I just didn't win. Then I got a phone call from Caitlin Rather who said I didn't call you in the middle of the meeting when you won your FOR THE first award, then I didn't call when you won your second one because I started being suspicious that you might win the big one.
CAVANAUGH: So you won three awards.
CORONA: I won three awards.
CAVANAUGH: How does this feel?
CORONA: It feels wonderful.
[ LAUGHTER ]
CORONA: It's great to be acknowledged. We write in a vacuum, and there are so many good writers, including people who are in the running this year. And it's wonderful to be singled out, and it's just over the top to be singled out a second time.
CAVANAUGH: Laurie, who runs the San Diego book awards?
RICHARDS: Well, it's all just volunteers. And we always want more volunteers. Every book awards evening, people step up and get interested because it is such a wonderful evening.
CAVANAUGH: How many entries do you get?
RICHARDS: We get a few hundred entries, it depends on the categories. Laurel's Finding Emily was in the published category.
CAVANAUGH: Why is unpublished aing is?
RICHARDS: We have a vibrant writing community in San Diego, people love to write, and learn to write, and put their ideas on paper. And this encourages them. They are judged by three different people. The judges always provide really worthy comments. And it gives them some idea, it validates you thinking well, I'm on the right track.
CAVANAUGH: Right. How do you find your judges?
RICHARDS: I came into this late accident a few years ago. So we have a cadre of judges, but we like readers, writers, and people interested in helping the writing community.
CAVANAUGH: Why honor local writers?
RICHARDS: Writers are very solitary people. We don't sit in a group and write. So this helps them get out there into the community, get their workut there, and one of the things that a lot of us would like to do is get published, and hopefully the prestige of the award will help with that. One winner said that winning the awards that year -- she got a publisher because of it. Yeah.
CAVANAUGH: Wow. That's great. Practical value.
RICHARDS: So it's practical.
CORONA: People want to get something for having read a book, and the thing about historical fiction that's wonderful is you're being educated and learning things in the context of a wonderful story.
CAVANAUGH: Tell us about the plot of your award-winning book.
CORONA: Well, everybody says you're supposed to be an elevator speech, which is the thing you can say in about 15 seconds and I cannot figure out one for Emily. It's based on the story of a remarkable, truly gifted, brilliant mathematician and physicist before the French revolution named Emily dechateau lay. And she was truly one of the most gifted and naturally intelligent fizzists who's ever lived. And her work with Newtonian physics is just completely unjustifiably forgotten. And she also lived a very checkered life. She was a cross-dresser, she would have her friends in to watch her bathe and drink wine with them, and had lovers whenever she wanted them and gambled and all these things. And she died shortly after childbirth at the age of 43, which was considerably old. And the story is really not about her. It's about the daughter she had. The daughter grows up in this constrained prerevolutionary society in France and discovers that the only way she's going to be able to manage her future and not be destroyed by it is to find out more about her mother.
CAVANAUGH: I see. Well, her mother's story sounds like it's just aching to be hold!
CORONA: It is. And the only reason I didn't make her a main character is that she died, and I couldn't handle that. I have a passion for restoring women's history to us. And most of it is just completely lost. And I think that scholars are at a disadvantage because they have to base their work on who they can document. And a lot of the things about important women and just day to day day women are just not there to be found.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Laurie Richards, what are some of the other categories in the awards?
RICHARDS: Well, this year we started one called kids write which is sorry for short stories up to 1,000†words written by children, ages 10-13. And that was a lot of fun at the event.
CAVANAUGH: There are a lot of kids sitting at home saying oh, if I could only get published.
[ LAUGHTER ]
RICHARDS: Yeah, well, remember airagone, well, how do we get the word out? We're hoping that this interview will help with that for one thing. But we'll be contacting schools and working with the society of children's books writers and illustrators next year. We want to have one for the 10-13, and one for 13-15, for example. They're very imaginative at that age, and for them to capture that on paper and then be competing with it, we make sure that they all get certificates whether they win or not, and it's all very encouraging.
CAVANAUGH: Do you have the normal things we think about? Mysteries and romance, the genre categories in that way?
RICHARDS: We have a new genre categories. We tend to combine some of them this year. We got a mini-grant from the sisters in crime chapter here in San Diego. So this year, we also had our first monetary prize award for a mystery. But we have poetry, but we published nonfiction, memoirs, Sci-fi and horror, and cookbooks, local interest.
CAVANAUGH: And if an author perhaps is listening to this or next time -- when do you start accepting entries and how do they get those entries to you?
RICHARDS: We start accepting entries in November, and I think it goes for three months. And the entry fee is for small. We try to keep all our costs for the writers very small because we want to encourage the writing.
CAVANAUGH: What kind of city do you think San Diego is for writers? Is there a thriving writing community here?
RICHARDS: Absolutely. I went into a website this morning, San Diegowriteway.org, we had publishers and writers association, the San Diego writers and editors guild, then there are a lot of small groups. I'm in a couple that get-together. Of and the library sponsors some groups. Some of the libraries sponsor writing groups, and there's a lot of critique that goes on in these groups
CAVANAUGH: And Laurel, is this a good place to be a writer? Could you have had that this is a stimulating environment for you?
CORONA: I think San Diego is a good place for just about everything. It's a wonderful place as a writer. Belong to a couple of groups, one of which, the San Diego writing women, we get-together, we never read our writing, we never even talk about it. It's just a support group that we use to give each other advice and consolation, and promotion around the community. So I just love my writing friends in San Diego. And my connection to San Diego writers Inc., and other places, it's a really vibrant -- rationalably vibrant writing community.
CAVANAUGH: Do you think it's easier or harder for a young writer to break into the business now?
CORONA: I think it may be easier in that the publishers just don't know when they want to publish. It's a difficult time for agents and editors and everyone. And I think that very often you see indications that they'd rather take a chance on a new author than a book by a published author who has perhaps published several times but hasn't had a best-seller. So I think it could be a very good time to get into it. The other thing is that self-publishing isn't vanity press anymore. It's a really viable alternative for everyone.
CAVANAUGH: So much writing is done now, blogging and so forth, where no one actually expects to get paid. I'm wondering, is it harder to make a living?
CORONA: It's probably always been hard. If people start out young saying they want to get rich as a writer, they probably ought to consider major league baseball or becoming a supermodel. Their chances are probably about as good as that. I think it's a good idea to plan to do something else to pay the bills. I know my author friends trying to make a living at it, they are very stressed. It probably isn't realistic to think that you're going to be living in Rancho Santa Fe on the money you make as a writer.
CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh, wow. How does winning an award like this help you as a writer?
CORONA: I don't know.
[ LAUGHTER ]
CORONA: Maybe it equates to sales. I think what's nice about it is that when I say I'm a writer and an author, people's eyes glaze over until they hear that you're a published author, then they get more interested when they hear you have a major publisher, then they get more interested when they hear you're an award-winning author published by a major house. But that happens in the course of conversations that are usually quite casual.
CAVANAUGH: It doesn't translate into speaking engagements or --
CORONA: Oh, yes, it does. It's a lot easier to be invited to come do things. I was at the Santa Barbara's writers' conference, which is why I wasn't at the award, and that's one I've been trying to get for a long time.
CAVANAUGH: She's talking about the dual-edged sword in these times in the publishing industry. Some things are going away, like brick and mortar book store, and some things are being added like the ability to self-publish. Do you see this as an opportunity for writers or is it a time to be cautious?
RICHARDS: I don't think it's ever a time to be cautious for writers. We write because we're writers, and we just love to write. And I don't write because I expect to be published or make a million dollars. I write because I have these stories that are bubbling up, and characters that come out. So I agree with Laurel, who is obviously looking at the silver lining on thing, and I think that's a good way to look at it. To just learn the craft, and learn, and write, and write, and write.
CAVANAUGH: And write some more. Laurel?
CORONA: Overall I think one of the things I've held to in decisions I make about what to write, would it be worth writing this even if I never sold?
CORONA: And I look at my work in historical fiction and says yes, it's worth it to know what I know, and it's been worth it to conquer the challenges that I face. And it's very nice to be published, but I would not be heart broken if I were not published again.
CAVANAUGH: Words of wisdom. Thank you both for coming in and speaking with us.
RICHARDS: You're welcome. Thanks for having me.
CORONA: Thank you, Maureen.