Writing Tips From San Diego Writing Women
Nine members of San Diego Writing Women are organizing an offshoot group, not only for themselves but for aspiring writers in San Diego who want some advice on how to write that book and get it published.
Caitlin Rother, true-crime author. Books include Poisoned Love and Dead Reckoning.
Laurel Corona, writer of historical novels; The Four Seasons, Penelope's Daughter.
Kathi Diamant- author of the biography Kafka's Last Love.
This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.
CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Ever think you've got a really great idea for a book? Or do your friends or family keep mentioning that book they intend to write some day? People often talk about writing the same way they talk about moving to an island in the south Pacific, as a dreamy blissful fantasy, well, my guests are here to tell you that writing professionally may be many thing, but dreamy and blissful, it is not. [CHECK] have formed an off shoot of the San Diego writing women's group to talk about the reality and the business of writing. They are launching effort this weekend at a reading signing and wine event on Adams avenue. I'd like to welcome three members of the San Diego writing women group. Caitlin Rother is a true crime author, her books include poisoned love and dead reckoning, she is a former report for the San Diego Union Tribune. Caitlin, good morning.
ROTHER: Thank you for having us.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Laurel Corona is a writer of four historical novels, including the Four Seasons and Penelope's Daughter. She is a professor of humanities at San Diego City College. Laurel, Good morning.
CORONA: Good morning Maureen.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Kathy Diamond, is author of the biography Kafka's Last Love. Former San Diego TV newscaster and personality, and often seen on fundraisers right here on KPBS. Good morning.
DIAMOND: Good morning, Maureen.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, we're inviting our listeners to join the conversation. This is your chance to ask, how do they do it? In how do they find the time, get their ideas, find a publisher? How much do they make? Give us a call with your questions and your comments. 1-888-895-5727. So Caitlin, what's the mission of this group of San Diego writing women.
ROTHER: Well, when I history the Union Tribune in 2006, I really missed the sense of community that I had in the news room. There's that family kind of a feeling or feeling part of a tribe. And so I joined the larger group, writing women, where I found that, we had each other, we were networking we could share advice with each other, knowledge and experience, and as I grew a little bit in my author's careers, I felt I really wanted to get a smaller network together, [CHECK] and this grew out of that, to form a writing community in San Diego where, you know, there are authors, there are writers but there's really no way for us all to come together.
CAVANAUGH: Right. How many different kinds of writers are involved in terms of what they write about?
ROTHER: Well, we have nine authors, and we have three pHDs, we have some masters degrees and a veterinary surgeon, so we have some pretty educated and diverse group here. So we have a travel writer, we interviewed two people who write about pets and animals and we have a chicklit author and historical novelist, and a biographer, Kathy, it comes from pretty much every place you did think of.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Laurel, when tell people that you are a published writer, what are the first things they ask you?
CORONA: Well, they want to know how they can do it. One thing that I've noticed is that they really seem to admire that you can do it, and they want to know how they can do it themselves, they generally say, oh, I have a book in me too.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yeah, I would misdemeanor. Is it a little like being a doctor.
CORONA: You know, my background is as an English professor. [CHECK].
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Do they actually go on and say, you know, I'm trying to develop this idea or what kind of questions do they ask you?
CORONA: Well, I think that they want to know what kind of work is involved? Because, you know, the blank pain is always scary, I mean, even for us, I've written a number of books, and I face the blank page like everybody else does. And I think the big difference between somebody who has written a book and somebody who hadn't, is you look at the blank page and you know you can do it. And I think people who [CHECK] you have to write. Then you have to write better. And then you have to write as well as you can. And then you have to put it away, and you have to write it better, if you want to succeed. And I think a lot of people just have no idea just how much work it is to put together a book. It is an astonishing effort. I have a rule that I call the 60 percent rule, which is when you photocopy the first draft, you're about 60 percent done with the total work you're about to do.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Wow, wow. We're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Kathy, I know that your background is not in academia, but you wrote a detailed biography of Dora diamond, and the life she shared with the great writer, Franz Kafka. Would you advise an aspiring writer to take on a challenge like that, or would you say it's -- [CHECK].
DIAMOND: No, I would say do what you're driven to do. I did not set out to write a biography of Kafka's 50 love. [CHECK] then you feel the need, often, to write it. And if don't have the skills, then you're probably the luckiest person in the world because I don't think there's any other profession that has more help available, in magazines, in other writers, in books on how to write, in classes, I'm teach, I think we all teach writing, Caitlin and I teach extension writing, extension courses she at UCSD, me here at San Diego state university, and the fact is, there is help if you want to write. And I believe anybody can write. As Laurel said, it's a matter of rewriting, you write, and you rewrite, and you rewrite. Brenda Ueland, [CHECK] and that's the secret.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I wonder, Caitlin and Laurel, do you agree is it important to write about the what you love, or is it important to find out where the market is and direct your efforts there? Let me go to you first, Caitlin.
ROTHER: [CHECK] there is a myth out there that authors are rich, and make a lot of money at books, and I can't tell you how many times I run into that. But I think you have to do a little of both. You have to look at the market, if you want to be a commercial writer, which I consider myself to be, or more of a literary writer, if you want to sell books, you need to write about what people want to read, but you also really need to write with what you want to write about, as Kathy said, you need to have a passion for it. This book, my new book, dead reckoning, I spent five years on that. [CHECK] the amount information I had in my brine, that never got into the book, and that's not the writing. That's the retch.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's amazing.
ROTHER: I really had to love the story, [CHECK] but I love doing this. And although it doesn't pay all that much, it's more about the journey and enjoying what you do, and getting out and talking about it, and then helping other people with their careers. I enjoy that as well.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Laurel, how do you balance that practical aspect with writing about what you love? You must keep this in mind, right? The idea of who's gonna buy this? How am I gonna sell this 1234.
ROTHER: How do you balance those ideas.
CORONA: Well, I think you have to write passionately. [CHECK] in historical fiction because I can teach and tell a great story at the same time. And I've just been discovering over the course of the books that I've written, I'm finishing up number four, and working on the early stages of number five now, and I'm just discovering that my passion it is for the stories of misrepresented or forgotten women, and I just have so much upon energy to tell as much of those stories that I can. And fortunately the people you're trying to sell your book to have to love it too. And one of the things that [CHECK] and the thick that is compelling about that is that the editors can only do a certain number of projects a year, and they have hundreds probably pitched to them so they can like your book a lot and still not buy it. It has to be one of the dozen or so that they love. And of course, one of the reasons that they love it is because they can picture what shelf it's gonna go on in Barnes and Noble. And one of the mistakes, I think that neophyte writers make is, they just say, I'm gonna wight what I feel like writing, and it's gonna appeal to everybody. Well, that's a fatal error. Because there isn't a shelf [CHECK] you're probably not going to sell it, because they won't know what shelf to put it on. So you have to be extremely practical about genre, they have to know what genre your book is, mine are historical fiction. This is simple. If they don't have a shelf for that, they have a shelf for fiction. And they put it under the Cs in ever Corona, and everybody will be very happy.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Donna is calling us, she's on the line from Michigan, I think. No, San Diego from Michigan. Donna you're from Michigan.
NEW SPEAKER: Yes, I am.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How can we help you.
NEW SPEAKER: I have written a detailed family history, I have about 400 plus page, not including the preface, and I don't want know where to go from here. First of all, I want to say that your 60 percent rule is absolutely correct. I have what I think to be, which I've taken ten years to write a first draft, and I know that I'm already 60 percent there, I can already feel that myself, and I've never done this before. [CHECK] what form does a publisher want? [CHECK] and then how do you find someone that you can trust that you can publish a book? Is it okay to do it on line? Or do you do someone locally?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I think there are an awful lot of questions, here, don allele stop you and get some advice from the writing women, but I'm also going to throw out the idea, there are an awful lot of seminars for people who want to learn how to market their books, aren't, Caitlin?
DIAMOND: I was just gonna say, I teach a writing fiction course [CHECK] this lady sounds like she would be the perfect -- this would be the perfect plates for her to shape her book into a marketable manuscript.
CAVANAUGH: Right. Because what she's saying to us is that she's done 60 percent, she's got the makings of a book, but now she doesn't know what to do with it. And so how much does she have to learn to get this packaged into something that she can send out?
DIAMOND: I knowledge people need to learn what publishers want. And it depends how much education she's gotten. I went to the San Diego state writing conference three times through the extension here, and I learned a lot about the publishing industry. I had to read a lot of books like the ones that I wanted to write, and then I had to did and listen to authors speak, go to readings, get an idea of the voice, read it aloud to myself, I mean, there's all kinds of tips that you can get if you learn about writing. But if you finish a manuscript [CHECK] what hers looks like, but there are just certain things that they look for, formatting and character development, and plot, and scenes and setting and description, and if you're writing that without having any kind of education in that, you might set yourself up for disappointment.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: As I'm saying issue all three of you, in fact, all nine of the members of the group ever this San Diego writing women are published writers, and Laurel, let me ask you, when we talk about Caitlin just used that word, rejection, which I know writers talk about a great deal. Talk to me a little bit about that. How did you deal with getting started and perhaps sending your material out and publishers liking it, as you say, but not loving it enough to publish it.
ROTHER: Well, you only need one [CHECK] it's not hike you get accepted once, and then you're in. That was one of the big fantasies that I had.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right. I would think so too.
ROTHER: Right, no, it doesn't work that way, because they have to love your next work too. [CHECK] so I have several going on right now, and so I can take bad news about one of them a lot more easily if I would if I was just sitting there waiting for my life to change because I was going to sell this book and it was going to be fabulously successful.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you about rejection too, Kathy.
CORONA: Oh, I know rejection. [CHECK] [CHECK].
DIAMOND: Love it and buy it, that each rejection got me closer, Alex Haley selling Roots got what? 123 rejections before he got sold. That may be an exaggeration. But rejection is a part of it. And I put all my eggs in one basket. I had one story I wanted to tell. So each rejection was a blow. In the beginning. But I learned that each rejection got me closer to a yes, and timely it did. Don't give up. The rejections just mean you need to look at what you've done, maybe make a couple of tweaks if you've gotten some really good advice in that rejection, and then move on. What was it? Was it Jan who said that the rule was never sleep with a rejected manuscript in the same house? Get it back out. Once a manuscript is rejected, send it back out again into the world. Yes.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Takes a lot. Julio is calling us from Imperial Valley. Good morning, Julio, welcome to These Days.
NEW SPEAKER: Morning. It's been about two years, [CHECK] I'm hearing you guys say sometimes it takes people much longer than it should. And I have no training in writing. This is a first work that I've ever started to do. And I'm getting a little disappointed with all the quirks and things that you actually have to do. And it seem it is like I have no idea of what I'm doing but I continue writing on it every now and then. So I'm wondering which direction should I take? That's no training seminars or anything like that, especially here in Imperial Valley that are available. So I'm wondering should I continue finishing this the way I'm doing it with no direction or should I wait until I get a little bit more educate indeed this area?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let's get some advice, Julio, Caitlin.
ROTHER: I was gonna recommend that you pick up a copy of poets and writers magazine. They have all kinds of writing seminars and fellowships, and that sort of thing, you know, out of town, that you might have to go maybe for a week or maybe a weekend. But just because it's not offered in your area, doesn't mean it's not available. They may have something on lineup. I don't know. But I definitely recommend that you get some training. [CHECK] and figuring out where you are.
DIAMOND: There are also tons of books, one of my favorite new ones is 50 Writing Tools, by Peter Clark. [] Writing is a lot like carpentry in that you can learn specific skills, and you practice and practice. So that you can learn to build that cabinet. There are skills, there are books, there are magazines. There are workshops and conferences, but the fact is, you've got the passion, you've got the need to write. And that comes first. So far I would encourage you to keep writing and learn as you go. But keep writing.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let's take another call, Debra is calling from Encinitas, and I've been told Debra, take us off speaker phone. Okay? Good morning.
NEW SPEAKER: Good morning. Can you hear me?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yes we can.
NEW SPEAKER: Oh, requested, good. So I have total and complete writer's block. And I have had many, many people tell me I should write a book. And I know I have at least one phenomenal book in me. So is there and way that you can help me? Is there must be people who like to write that would love to have something to write about. I'm sure that my book would be great.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay. Debra, thank you so much for the call. Upon and there it is of it's a classic. So can somebody like Debra who really doesn't have the facility to actually sit down and write or feels she doesn't talk to somebody who wants to write her story?
DIAMOND: I tried that. I did try that. I tried to interest even else in Kafka's last love because I wasn't a writer. Nobody else would take the story. So I had to learn how to write in order to do it. And I learned how to write.
ROTHER: If she has a story to tell, I think she needs to sit down and try to write it. And if she has problems doing that, she can [CHECK] and just see what comes out, and by association, write about your dreams, write about your goals, write about what happened today, and try to free up the writer's block. [CHECK] you have your story to tell issue you just didn't have access to it somehow you goes.
NEW SPEAKER: I'm still here. Oh, yes.
CORONA: Debra, do you consider yourself a perfectionist?
NEW SPEAKER: Oh, total. I can't do marketing. I'm a very successful professional in my field. I'm the director of supervision at the place where I work. And I have a ton to offer. I know my supervisors love what I teach them.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Debra, let's get an answer. Thank you.
CORONA: I think that's probably your biggest enemy. Because when you're writing, [CHECK] crap the first time, and you just have to keep working on it until it's not. So one of the things that keeps me going, and gets me so that I'm not afraid of the blank pain is that I can write pretty much anything as long as I've gotten it down, and then when I have it down, I go back over it and I revise it. So I think of writing as being a layering process. So I just get whatever I can get down first, and then I go over it again. And then I add a little. And I add a lot. [CHECK] or I don't actually know what this room looks like yet. And so I'll go through, and by the time I've finished a scene [CHECK] but nobody ever sees the thing that you write first, so who cares how good it is? The important thing is just to get something down and don't worry about it being good. So try to get that perfectionist out of you, and be what I call an approximist, it just has to be somewhere close that I beginning.
CAVANAUGH: We're just about out of time. You about I want to ask you, Caitlin, what is the Saturday night launch going to be like?
DIAMOND: Well, it's gonna be great, I have to say. We have great a good RSVP list coming, there's gonna be nine of us, doing presentations, [CHECK] and we're gonna have a plates, basically, where people can mingle with each other and start building this writing community which I really hope that grows from here. So it's the launch of our group, and I hope that it's the launch of a movement that we can really keep this community growing.
CORONA: And to also invite people to come to our blog, because all of this blog once a week, with advice and all the how tos, that we've experienced that we're now sharing so we want to make sure we let people take advantage of that as well.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to let everyone know once again, [CHECK] with reading, wine, hors d'oeuvre, and live music, Caitlin, Laurel, and Kathy, thank you so much. I appreciate it.
ROTHER: Thanks for having us.
DIAMOND: Thank you, Maureen.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And if you would hike to comment, please go on-line, KPBS.org/These Days. Coming up, the latest on orthopedic surgery as a national convention of surgeons assemble in stealing, that's as These Days continues here on KPBS.