Ok, I loved her writing already. Of course. And not many people get to say they've been played by Meryl Streep. But when I saw her speak on a panel and she said something to the effect of "Everything I needed to know about writing I learned from the Vikings," she had my complete attention. In the ways that no one expects the Spanish Inquisition, no one expects the Vikings. I got her to tell this story on the episode and did a lot of listening to so many important things she shared. As smart as you think Susan Orlean is, I assure you that she's even smarter than that.
Getting to discuss the reality of being a writer in a time of such change and transformation in the world of media and publishing was invaluable. The story of how she ended up at the New Yorker as a staff writer is absolutely worth the price of admission and anyone, I mean anyone, who has dreamed of being a writer as their job must listen to what she has to say about writing as a profession. Period. I haven't been the same since. You won't be either. See you on the other side... happy listening.
As we move ahead in unprecedented times here in the US, I knew I wanted to talk to Ben Winters. Not only did he launch an anthology project in the wake of the election in collaboration with numerous authors and Slate, he's also the author of Underground Airlines, an alternative history novel that explores what might have happened if Lincoln was assassinated before he took office.
As Ben says in the episode, "Writing is always a political act," and he and I discuss the role that fiction can play in starting important conversations, making people more aware of important issues, and how writing is an incredible way to manage what's happening in the world at the moment. Even beyond this, we get into questions of how to write responsibly outside of your direct lived experience, the importance of not being an asshole when doing so, and all kinds of juicy stuff. As writers, we get to decide what topics we dive into, but given how much rich material is presenting itself right now, I wanted to make sure we talked about writing in a crazy time as soon as we could. I hope you leave this conversation as fired up as I did.
Dr. Ezzie Spencer didn't begin writing and teaching about the impact the Moon can have on our lives. Quite the opposite- she began in a law career which travelled through social justice work and academia before she began teaching about how tracking our lives through the phases of the moon can be life altering. This episode gets a little meta: not only has Ezzie written about a process that she has taught for years, the process itself was incorporated into the way she wrote the book. If that made your head explode a little bit, don't worry – we spell it all out in the conversation.
This episode is an excellent myth buster as well. Here are just a few off the top of my head: you don't have to have been a writer your whole life to publish a book. Nor do you need to have a torturous experience writing it. Ezzie and I spend a lot of time talking about how she consciously planned to write her book nearly a year after she wrote the outline so she could do so under conditions that worked for her. If you are afraid writing a book is an experience you have to suffer through, let this episode dispel that notion. Finally, the myth that publishers will misunderstand your project and turn it into something else is one that we find doesn't have to be true either. I hope you feel as bubbly and light and hopeful after listening to this episode as I did after recording.
I love speaking with writers whose careers have evolved as they have written; Elizabeth is a beautiful example. Beginning by writing as an art critic, she found her way to writing about animals and the cultures that surround them. She's won awards for her coverage of the municipal animal control program in NYC, and is the author of Lost and Found and Nim Chimpsky, which became the documentary Project Nim.
We talk about the incredibly exhaustive research that went into her books, how she followed the trail of interviews to get to the bottom of Nim's story, and the new exploration of an animal-based subculture that she's writing about now. If you love animals, this will be an especially engaging episode, as we learn how writing can change animal's lives for the better.
Not only was he a professional screenwriter, he had big successes under his belt, like being the creator of the TV show, Prison Break. It shocks me that I live in Los Angeles and have reached episode 40 without having a single screenwriter on the show (although sticklers will note that V.E. Schwab has done a bit of screenwriting). Paul was the perfect person to talk to about writing for television vs. writing long-form fiction. We talk about studio politics, what it takes to write a show or a movie and how different it is from novel creation.
This is a deep episode, all about returning to the original impulse that drove Paul to write back as a student at UCLA and how this book has brought him full circle. We also discuss the impact of Buddhism on his writing along with the details of how he structures his writing day, where the idea came from for his novel The Far Shore, and his process of outlining and research. Yet another favorite.