Jason Hartman talks with author, editor and literary coach, Ariel Gore. Some call her The Indiana Jones of literature” and her books include Bluebird: On Women and Happiness (forthcoming from Farrar, Straus and Giroux), the critically acclaimed writing guide How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead, the Booksense pick novel The Traveling Death and Resurrection Show, the Oregon Book Award finalist Atlas of the Human Heart, and cult classic The Hip Mama Survival Guide. More at: http://www.speakingofwealth.com/category/podcast/. She founded the award-winning parenting zine Hip Mama back in 1993. Over the years, the zine featured many new and emerging writers. Still, The New Yorker raved: Gore’s the quality of the writing that sets Hip Mama apart. Ariel now serves as Hip Mama’s consulting editor. The Utne Reader said, Ariel Gore’s transformation from globetrotting teenager to the hippest of mamas reads like a movie script about a Gen-X slacker following her bliss to unlikely success.
Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Ariel ran away from high school at age 16 to become an international bag lady. She rambled back home a few years later as a new teen mom. She earned her BA in communications from Mills college and her Master’s degree in journalism from UC Berkeley. She lives in Portland, Oregon.
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Jason Hartman: Welcome to the Speaking of Wealth Show. This is your host Jason Hartman, where we talk about profit strategies for publishers and infopreneurs and authors. Today we are going to talk about authorship, and I have an interview here coming up with Ariel Gore who is the author of “How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead: Your Words in Print and Your Name in Lights”, so we will be back with that in just less than 60 seconds.
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Jason Hartman: It’s my pleasure to welcome Ariel Gore to the show. She is the author of seven books including “How to Become a Famous Writer Before You are dead. Your words in print and your name in lights, Ariel welcome.
Ariel: Thank you.
Jason Hartman: It’s good to have you on to take about the specifics of writing technique and really looking forward to covering this topic. We have not covered it before. First of all tell us a little bit about your background.
Ariel: Well, I studied to be a journalist, and I got really interested in magazine journalism. I started a magazine called Hip Mama when I was a young single mom, and so I started my writing career that way self publishing the magazine and really getting it out there, so I guess my background is as a writer and an entrepreneur at the same time which is something that I think that they don’t really teach a lot in writing programs, even in journalism school and especially not in the MSA programs.
You know right now people are, writers are taught to — you know write this old school magazine, send out their stuff for submission, hopes that the publisher will be so and enthralled by their writing that they will pick them up and do all the promotion for them, and its — I mean its sad because it doesn’t really happen that way for very many writers, and so I think there are a lot of writers and all kinds of artists and creative people who are you know just sort of waiting to get discovered or something or you know even doing some more other work with the submissions, but not really making things happen for those themselves in terms of having confidence in their work and being like, I want to get this out there. I can publish a few copies myself, and I can start to be a writer with anyone having to come and ground me as a writer.
Jason Hartman: Sure. Yeah I would agree with you I think that that sort of the old school of writing something and then getting discovered that just doesn’t really happen nowadays too often.
Ariel: Definitely not.
Jason Hartman: Nowadays it’s a business world. It’s a self promotional world, and those are the people that it really belongs to so let’s talk about actually writing first we can and then we will touch a little bit of that on promotional aspect. A lot of people covered the promotion, but really there are very few that cover the more technical aspects of what does it mean to be a good writer, what does it take, there are really definable skills, aren’t there?
Ariel: Certainly and I think a lot of people feel like they have a writing talent, and I think there is a lot to truth that some of us as kids, love to write, feel like you know people enjoy the stories that you write, but the truth about writing is that it is mostly a craft, and its something that you practice and you keep on practicing at. I teach, and I have been teaching writing workshops for over 10 years and it’s really exciting because people do get better.
Its not you know there is some things that you know our talent is sort of inate and that’s that, but at writing through practicing, through getting our words on paper, and sharing them, and I mean that’s why I think of publishing or you know just even included in publishing would be going out to the local café, open mike and sharing your stories, and getting a feel for people how will react, what people will react to, you know what people think its funny, what kind of pacing in your storytelling makes people emotional. All these different kinds of things I think a lot of us love telling stories as kids, and so it’s a question of how do we get back to that if we have been formally educated I think a lot of our writing, our ideas about writing, gets sort of either academic or we kept told that isn’t good enough or you can’t start a sentence with and, and that’s not really what its about. It’s about how do I communicate my heart, and my soul to you. How do I do that with the written word?
Jason Hartman: When you say this, your language right now sounds like you are talking about fiction, novels, storytelling I mean that almost implies that.
Ariel: Right. Well, I have written one novel, and I have written a memoir, but most of my books are actually non-fiction books. With the works I did with Hip Mama the work, the book that I have called How To Become a Famous Writer before your dad there essentially if you would categorize and most how to looks, or how, or Journalism, and I think that its important to bring the tools of the storytelling to non-fiction work.
I mean even people at my workshops do business writing. They do things that we don’t traditionally think of as creative writing, and yet if they are going to be successful. You have to bring in the tools of the storyteller. You know we’ve all read boring non-fiction books. They are not interesting and the way to make a non-fiction book interesting is by using anecdotes and telling stories, and then in the case of a non-fiction they just happen to be true stories.
Jason Hartman: So storytelling is obviously something it’s very, very important. And it’s important as a writer, but it’s also important as a speaker. It’s important as just a communicator of any sorts just in daily life.
Jason Hartman: Just give us some tips on storytelling? There is a real technique to that is it there?
Ariel: There is. And I think as I have noticed as the culture gets more visual that storytelling does have to be more cinematic in order to keep people’s attention, and so it always come back to this sensory details, the visual details really painting a cinematic picture, and if you are — been something that’s not may be a short story or a novel.
If its more of a non-fiction thing then you might just use a few little visual or sensory details to almost create the illusion of a scene even though you know, what you are doing in your writing is telling somebody how to put together a bicycle or something, and so there is ways you can, you bring in just even just a couple of phrases of visual or any kind of sensory details to bring your reader into your world and sort of get them out of the space with they’re you know wanting to argue with you or anything like that.
Now you are entertaining them at the same time. I had always talked about well can describe what this character looks like, and then the natural thing for someone to do is they are like, oh they have brown hair, and blue eyes, and you know this color of skin, but a lot of times to describe what your character looks like might just be the clicks that they wear on their jeans when they ride their bicycle or the shape of their glasses, something, sometimes just a really small detail like that can kind of suggest the whole.
Jason Hartman: So painting a picture, a good song does that. A good story does that. can you address the issue of Cadence and bringing people up and bringing them down in the story and adding that sort of roller coaster effect I think has always been intriguing to humanity I mean the Greeks thousands of years ago would have techniques for storytelling and live feed or and so forth.
Ariel: You know you want to have your reader have some level of anxiety to keep reading. I mean that’s why that’s a part of what we go to literature for is that sort of pace turner movement, and sometimes that you know there is all kinds of different techniques that we use for that. I mean sometimes its writing in the present tense, so there is no promise that the character is going to survive. Some people find it awkward to write in the present tense about this one, one technique. A lot of time when people are telling a story even if it’s in the past tense they will sort of flash forward and give it away.
You know we don’t want to know for sure that you survived. I mean of course you are telling us the story and you know I don’t just mean survived like you are alive at the end of the story, but know there is a love survived or the your action plan survived as if you are writing a story about someone who had a great goal to do something. You know we don’t want to have any hint beforehand that they succeed even though we know, we hope or not reading and tragedy, but there is always and it’s the writer’s job, so always keep that up in the air.
I mean that’s life too right everyday you don’t know if you are going to meet your goals or if you are going to discover who done it, and so that I think that’s just a very human part of storytelling. Some writers really don’t like to share their work with other people while it is in progress, and everyone has their own process out fine, but I think it’s so important to you. You know have a writing partner or a small writing group, or a small writing workshop where you can start to share your writing. And you know again its practice that going to help you out with all these techniques. So sharing them seeing what works you know oh that was too fast for me, oh that was too slow for me, and the only time you are going to get that feedback is by sharing with other writers.
And you know people that you trust who aren’t going to go out and show your rough stories to their friends and laugh at you, but you know, but I do find that its just with all these techniques its really a matter of practice and also of reading I think that a lot of times we only read the genre that we write in, and I think that can be a mistake. I think all writers can learn so much from really good mystery writers. I mean what you are talking about sort of plot, and keeping that anxiety with the reader. You know we can read old and memoire stories, and we don’t have to pick up all that sort of cheesy language, but the pacing of the multi-socket is this amazing thing.
And so even if you are, you know you are writing something completely different you are going to learn from that. A lot of times, I think it’s more valuable actually to read outside your genre to bring poetry into your non-fiction writing, to bring mystery into your memoir to really have all those techniques that is your proposal.
Jason Hartman: So you teach an online course to teach people how to write, how to be good writers. Can you sort of go over the outline of that course, and things covered, and may be give some tips on those different areas of writing?
Ariel: Yeah people can find about the writing workshops if they are interested at arielgore.com. Its Let’s Start Training is the name of the class. It’s a eight week class, and we get 15 to 20 writers together in this online forum, and its been really great for me just to have writers from all over the world working together previously I just have taught workshop in Portland and Santa Fe, and Mexico, but then you are getting this sort of small sampling of the population of those in person workshop. Online workshop people are from all over the world.
All we have in common is that we are writing in English and there is an assignment. There is two assignments every week. It’s actually quite a productive experience. There is a quick write every week, and so I just give people a prompt and they write. They set the timer for eight minutes, and they write on the prompt and can’t do it wrong, and you just have to post it up for the eight minutes.
I think sometimes people cheat because there is some really great stuff that they post, but the pacing of the class is such that they probably don’t take more than 15 minutes to do it. they do it, so they — you are getting a habit of almost meeting a deadline that means going to journalism school was actually very good for me as a creative writer in that, its midnight, your piece is done. That’s it. There is no, it’s not perfect.
You are going to press its done, and so that sort of brings some of that into the quick write. And then each week there is also a longer assignment that I give people, and people either working memoir, or fiction sometimes people do working on book projects and they will sort of take elements on my assignment, but actually be writing a chapter for their book every week.
We’ve had a couple of books come out of the class, so that’s been exciting. And we just, I read everybody’s stories, and give them all kinds of feedback and then all the writers in that class read a few of each other stories, and so if you were in the class you would read may be three other writer stories and give them feedback, and that’s I think extremely valuable too.
I mean sometimes if you have a writing workshop and you know say you’re in the workshop and you haven’t written anything in this week, you will say that oh, I won’t go this week, but in fact I think its actually more valuable to the writer sometimes to listen to other peoples work in progress, and learn that way what works. A lot of us only read things that are already published, so there is all this sort of mystery and magic like how did it get to be so good. You know how did it get to be so perfect, and there is a lot to be said for seeing the process as it though hearing stories that are going to your masterpieces long before they are masterpieces.
Jason Hartman: Why don’t you just take up an issue with you real quickly on that for a moment on feedback? So there is no shortage of the stories where someone got turned down by 39 publishers, and all their friends said it was awful, and yet they became extremely successful as a writer.
Ariel: Right. Well, that’s the feedback I am talking about being with the writer is not going to editors first because they might not be looking for something that’s wonderful. They might be looking for something their selves, and I am not talking about going to your friends either because if people aren’t writers it’s not the same, and so having a — and it doesn’t have to be a workshop that you have to pay for.
You can just put a flyer out there at your local bookstore and get together a group of writers, and whether or not they are extremely talented or experienced the fact that their writers make them see things differently and understand things differently, and of course there is always going to be a wingnut in your group who gives you crazy advice, and god bless them, and you will learn to have the confidence in your own work. You don’t have to take everyone, you know everyone’s feedback.
Jason Hartman: Advice and face value sure, no I understand.
Ariel: [Laughter]. So I just think that’s so important. I had a student a little while ago, and who — you know she had been sharing her stories with her friends for a long time, and they would, and then she was writing memoir, and she is writing about a really hard time in her life, and so of course the friends kept coming back to her with feedback about her life which is nice of them may be, but or not so nice, but as writers we are obviously compassionate, and sorry that people have had this may be hard times in their life but we are looking at their writing and what how can we have changes experienced and are this hard thing that you went through into something that appealing.
Jason Hartman: We will be back in just a minute.
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Jason Hartman: Now let’s switch gears if we could. Well, if there is anything else before we switch gears because I want to talk about your promotion area. Anything else you want to mention on the technique of writing. I know there is a lot more to this. And it’s really rarely covered. There is a lot of write something who cares if it’s any good, got there and promoted to death and it would be good, and just wrap this up and make sure we cover some of the main points on the technique.
Ariel: Well, you know I love the story of you know the Goddess Laxmi who is sort of bestows property and Goddess Saraswati who is all about creativity and reading, and the way that you get Laxmi to pay attention to you, and dump money on your head is not, had any attention to it all those, all your attention to Saraswati who is all about making your art really good, and so that’s not about technique really, but it’s a focus. I feel that focusing on our craft, the successful follow you know there is too much junk out there in the blogosphere in publishing things that are very widely published, and that aren’t good.
And that’s just not helping the world, and that’s not why we want to be writers. Well, I don’t think so and that’s not why I want to be a writer, so it’s just focusing on the craft first, and then you can turn around and promote. It was all kinds of confidence because this is the beautiful thing that you have made. It’s very hard to switch gears when you really put your heart at something, but it’s possible, so that’s I mean all I would really add.
Jason Hartman: So switch gears on the promotion side. One someone has written something what do they do have people find about it? We all heard for old saying no profit is ever revered in their own time, right whether it would be music, writing, art, every category, philosophy everything. They are not discovered, or they don’t become renowned in their own time, and people want success, and they wanted it as quickly as possible. What did I need to know promoting their work?
Ariel: So the first thing is that it is the fallacy that self publishing is looked down upon, so getting your stuff out there, and publishing in print if you can I think there is a kind of validity to that, and so putting things on the internet is as fine, publishing and sharing your work and that’s that part of storytelling is putting it out there, and so getting away from these ideas that somebody else have to do that for you.
When I first started book publishing, publishing with outside publishers about well I don’t know about 15 years ago, they didn’t talk about this thing called the platform which they all talk about now. What’s your platform? Well, what your platform is the promotion that you have done yourself. You know how many people in your town know about you, and it’s not because you are swept off your feet and put on television. It’s because you then going around to bookstores that have opened mikes and getting your stuff out there. It’s because you have been publishing zine.
It’s because you have been putting your stuff on the internet and supporting other writers as well. You know people send me their books all the time. You should edit them or blurb them, and that’s fine, but I don’t — if I don’t know them their literary community is going to be the people that they know, the relationships that they cultivate. I think the writers are notoriously shy and sometimes a little awkward in talking while we writing and so having to send that part of our personality and get out there in network and have a literary community can be a lot of work, but the stuff that sort of say its okay and that I am a total weirdo, and I can barely talk about the writers they are like. I am going to get out there, and be my weird self, and that’s fine, so there is just the curious side of that, but also you know as a writer you are not expected to be a super eloquent glamour queen. You will just get out there, and share your work, and so, and I am not obviously again traditional publishing.
Most of my books have been published by traditional publishers. But I think that all successful writers now do both. They do some they publish some of their own work. They use traditional publishers when that it’s going to meet their goals a lot of times most of my books the print run is much too big. I couldn’t pay for it myself even if I wanted to self publish.
Jason Hartman: What kind of print runner are you talking about by the way when you say that?
Ariel: I published the book myself last year that actually won the Lambda Literary Awards. I was so excited about that, and I printed 3000 copies of that, and I could still afford that. I think my other books probably the print runs are 10 to 20,000 and so that something, publishers are doing smaller print runs down because they can.
Its cost effective to just reprint when necessary still I mean if you are trying to publish more than 3000 books that’s a pretty big investment. There is also the skill set of distributing books which is quite overwhelming to a lot of writers, and so that’s another reason to bring in a publisher in terms of the actual marketing though even very large publishers now are not really paying for a book towards if you are not Stephen King, and so a lot of them, the promotion and marketing of your book is going to be up to you no matter who you — no matte if you are self publishing or working with the traditional publisher.
And so the skill set that you bring when you are ready to publish the book from all experience publishing magazines is going to come in amazingly handy when its time to get up there, and do readings and set up your own bookstore, and a lot of cases you will even be booking your own book tour even if Harper Collins publishes your books, so its just the business side of writing its also a really fun side of writing. Its very — I think its very intimidating to people in the beginning, but everyone also has like their inner ham, and performing kind of the growth on you.
Jason Hartman: How about on the digital side of it? Are you publishing your stuff and all the new digital media Kindle, iPad etcetera, or are you still on the print side so far?
Ariel: Most of my books are available on Kindle. The ones that I have self-published I have not done the digital stuff yet, but most of my books are with traditional publishers that they are available digitally. You know I mean there is a balance in terms of how much of our writing we want to put online for free. At some point it sort of, its starts to value what you do to give your rating away for free, and so its important to pay attention to you know is anyone going to buy your book if it’s the whole thing is online.
Some people will because its strain in the eyes to read things online, so you know making sure that you value what you do and there is a monetary value to what you do as an artist, and respecting that I mean its not may be and not always going to get paid at all or what the value is, but its not letting go off as writers as artists we are giving something to the world, or doing something really important, and you never did not forget that. It’s not really like people are doing you a favor if they publish your writing or if they buy your book. It’s great.
I mean and they are supporting you, and that’s important, but they are not doing a favor. You are doing them a favor too, and in promotion I mean that you just, you always want to becoming with state of ideas, I mean once I tell you what to do, it will be sort of like everyone is doing it, and then it won’t be that interesting. It’s like in advertising it’s always a shock of the new. There is also, you know if you are going on a book tour, I think readings have a reputation for being boring, so how do you — you know how can you guarantee your audience in reading that’s not going to be boring. You can bring a band with you.
You can bring something that’s a little more lively especially if you are not a college performer per say. In my first book tours, I always brought somebody else along who was more of a diva, and who was, who really had more of a stage presence than I did, and I — and the main event was me reading for my work, but it was just having other support performers to kind of back me up until I felt more comfortable in that role, so how do you make your readings not boring that something to brainstorm about when you are ready to promote your stuff. A lot of times Indie musicians are sort of further ahead than writers in terms of being treated being open to smaller venues may be if a bookstore is not interested in having you in the given town that you want to go to may be there would be a shop that you could do your reading at.
Jason Hartman: Coffee shops are the places.
Ariel: Yeah coffee shops, different depending on the topic of your book. It could be all kinds of places. Yeah definitely coffee shops, bars, you know depending on who your audience is they might even be better venues than bookstores. So, being creative in that way also being willing to sort of be non-traditional and be very accepting as the fact that may be two people are going to show up, may be 200 people are going to show up, but may be two people are going to show up, and you don’t know how far they drove or walk through the snow, and so its important to put on the show for those two people. And you know not to do their efforts because they didn’t bring 200 friends.
Jason Hartman: Right exactly well, that’s a good point. Alright Ariel well thank you so much for sharing us insight with us today. The website is arielgore.com, and anything else you would like to say in closing.
Ariel: No it’s been great. Thanks so much for having me, and I hope your listeners will start writing more.
Jason Hartman: Excellent. Well, please do listeners get your thoughts down on paper, and they will be there forever, so thank you Ariel, appreciate it.
Ariel: Alright thanks a lot.
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