David Itzkoff on Robin Willams, Maxim Magazine, and How He Found His Voice

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Dave Itzkoff is a culture writer for The New York Times and the author of Robin, the new bestselling biography of comic icon Robin Willams.

On this episode, we talk about how Itzkoff landed the job, the process of researching and writing such a weighty book (it's 250,000 words) while working full-time at the newspaper and fathering a newborn, and the surprising things he learned about Williams along the way.

We also delve into Itzkoff's fascinating backstory, which has resulted in two poignant memoirs, Lads and Cocaine's Son. If you're looking for a little inspiration, this podcast will do you a whole lot of good. 

Reality. What a concept. 

Sarah Rhea Werner: Why She Podcasts Her Novel

I'm a fan of Sarah Rhea Werner -- and you will be, too, after you listen to this episode

Sarah hosts a popular podcast about writing called Write Now. Her Facebook group "I Am A Writer" is an invaluable resource for professional and aspiring scribes, and she just launched a fictional podcast called Girl in Space, which dramatizes her novel of the same name.

Ok, I know, I know. Her subject matter and podcast name are suspiciously close to mine, but I only found out about Sarah's show after it kept popping up on my Apple Podcast page under the heading: "Your Listeners Also Liked..."
 
And I'm happy it did. Because Sarah's inspired me both by the community of like-minded writers that she has built online and by her latest approach to writing. 

Rather than look for a publisher or self-publish, Sarah is releasing her novel as a podcast, complete with friends and family as the actors.

The success of this podcast has exceeded her wildest expectations. Methinks she just might be onto something.

Remembering Food Critic Jonathan Gold

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We lost one of the greats last week. Pulitzer-Prize winning food critic Jonathan Gold. 

A few months before his surprising death, I spoke with Laura Gabbert, whose documentary film "City of Gold" chronicles this culinary geographer's journey to ethnic restaurants in strip malls, food trucks, and off-the-Hollywood-grid locations all over LA. 

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Laura also talks to me about how she went from journalism to documentary filmmaking, what she's learned making numerous docs, and her advice for those trying to break into the business. 

RIP Jonathan Gold and Bon Appetit! 

Nine People Almost Drowned Then a 'Human Chain' of Strangers Came to Their Rescue

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I'm thrilled to share this new Write About Now episode with you. It's an audio-tastic retelling of a story I wrote for the August 2018 issue of Good Housekeeping. You can find it on the newsstands and online right here. 

Roberta Ursrey and Jessica and Erik Simmons recount the harrowing tale of how the Ursrey family and 4 other swimmers, were trapped in a deadly rip current off the coast of a Panama City, FL. beach.

 Photo courtesy of Roberta Ursrey

Photo courtesy of Roberta Ursrey

With no lifeguards on duty and the tide getting stronger by the minute, it seemed like they might not make it.

Then they were spotted by the Simmons' who wrangled together a bunch of strangers of all races, ages, and nationalities to rescue them. 

 Jessica and Erik

Jessica and Erik

I won't spoil what happens next but let's just say it could have been a lot worse. Video was captured of the heroic event and the story immediately went viral. 

Robert and Jessica have since become BFFs and consider what happened that day to be a complete miracle. Says Roberta of the rescue, "It has inspired so many people that they've regained their faith in humanity that day."

The world needs that these days.

Jarie Bolander on How to Be a Writer Entrepreneur

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Jarie Bolander is a successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur and engineer, who brought such innovations as USB, Bluetooth, and DNA sequencing to market.

He also happens to be a co-host on the "Story Grid Editors Roundtable" podcast and author of three books, including The Entrepreneur Ethos: How To Build a More Ethical, Inclusive, and Resilient Entrepreneur Community. 

On the pod, he offers a game plan for how to become a successful writer-preneur. We talk about the stumbling blocks most writers face on the business side and how to overcome them, why your "why" is so important, and the single most essential quality for any writer and entrepreneur. Bolander blasts the myth that writers can't also be businessmen and inspires with his words of wisdom.  

How This TV Comedy Writing Couple Makes It Work

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What happens when two divorced TV comedy writers meet on the picket line of a writer's strike? You'll just have to listen to the podcast to find out.

But this episode is not just the story of Hunter Covington and Stacy Traub's unlikely courtship, it's also a handy guide on how to break into the world of comedy writing.

Stacy has been a showrunner and staff writer for such shows as black-ish, Glee, The Real O'Neals, Trophy Wife, and Notes from the Underbelly. Hunter was most recently showrunner for the ABC comedy, Alone Together. His other writing/producing credits include My Name is Earl, Community, and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. 

Some takeaways from this episode:

  • Everyone has a story inside them that's specific to only them--and that's what you have to go out and share in meetings and in your spec scripts. Ask yourself: What is the thing that only you can write about? That's what Hunter and Stacy have done, and it's worked pretty darn well for them so far. 
  • Know that you're not going to click with everyone, and that's fine. It doesn't matter if someone doesn't laugh at your script. Now, if five people don't laugh...
  • Puns and 'Nakamuras' are the two things you need to avoid.

Who Shot Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G.? Kyle Long Thinks He Knows.

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Twenty-plus years after the murders of rap legends Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls, investigators still haven't solved either case. But Kyle Long, my special guest on this episode of Write About Now, is pretty confident he knows who did it. Long is the creator and executive producer of Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G., a compelling 10-episode limited series that is currently streaming on USA Network.

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A staff writer on such shows as Suits with Princess Meghan Merkle, Long has long been fascinated with the lives and the deaths of Tupac and Biggie. After reading LAPD detective Greg Kading's book Murder Rap, he wrote the pilot for Unsolved on spec as a passion project. Kading agreed to give him the rights, USA Network jumped on board, and the rest is TV docu-drama history. Here Long shares his juicy theories about the case, the challenges of writing a mini-series about real people and events, and his intriguing advice for writers getting into the game. 

Mind-Hacking Tips for Writers

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Get ready to have your mind blown—or at least updated.

On this special bonus episode of Write About Now, Sir John Hargrave offers tricks and techniques for how to reprogram your thinking to be more productive, focused, and positive.

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Hargrave is the author of Mind Hacking: How to Change Your Mind for Good in 21 Days. Drawing from his own painful experience going sober, Hargrave has developed a system for treating your brain like a hacker would a computer: getting the bugs out, identifying and deleting loops, and upgrading the operating system.

In our interview, he talks about how to take control of your mental space, the power of repetition, and helpful little exercise called, "What Was My Mind Just Thinking?"

A Drunk Driver Destroyed Her Family But Not Her Empathy

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I first met Jennifer Tracy while on assignment for Good Housekeeping. The magazine wanted to feature a heroic mom and to say that Jennifer's story fits the bill is an understatement.

Jennifer lost her young daughter and husband to a drunk driver, but rather than being consumed with anger and crippling sorrow, she turned this tragedy into a life of meaning and purpose.

She wrote a book entitled Inside the Mind of Suicide. She became a motivational speaker, helping first responders and others cope with loss and depression. And she became an advocate for the drunk driver who destroyed her family, insisting that he receive proper care in prison and supporting his early release.

On the podcast, she tells her heart-wrenching but life-affirming story and talks about the process of both writing and reading about herself. Look for the story in the July 2018 issue of Good Housekeeping. 

Music credits: Jonathan Small, Michael Small, Enya, Amy Grant

What's It Really Like to Live In North Korea? Author Travis Jeppesen Tells All

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Meet Travis Jeppesen, the first American to study in North Korea.

He's been to the hermit kingdom five times, and I hope they'll let him back in after listening to this podcast. 

Jeppesen has a fascinating new book out called See You Again in Pyongyang, which is part travelogue, part history lesson, and all crazy interesting.

Some things I learned from reading his book:

  • The North Korean zoo has separate houses for cats and dogs. 
  • Each morning, the residents of Pyongyang wake up to the same creepy morning anthem piped through the city corridors. 
  • Children are taught that the correct way to refer to an American citizen is "American bastard."
  • North Korea has its own time zone.
  • It is unknowable how many still believe the state propaganda. Probably not many. Even outside of Pyongyang, people have learned that you have to play the capitalism game in order to survive.

If you're as curious and confused as I am about what the hell is going on in North Korea, and why Kim Jong Un is suddenly besties with Trump, you'll want to hear Jeppesen's interview.

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Romance Novelist Jasmine Guillory's Journey from Law to Love

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When a friend suggested I interview romance writer Jasmine Guillory on the show, I'll admit I was a little skeptical. Romance novels? Not really my jam.

Then I binge-listened her book, The Wedding Date, and I was hooked. Seriously. there were days when I would wait in the driveway just to find out if Drew would end up with Alexa. Damn it, Drew. She's perfect for you. Why can't you see that??

My reaction to her writing was all the more amazing, considering this is a woman who never imagined she'd be a writer. 

"My vision of a writer was someone quiet, someone introverted, and—especially—someone white," she says.

A high-powered Bay Area lawyer, she knew how to write legal briefs, not about lovers in briefs. But she also knew she needed a creative outlet or else she'd burn out.

Guillory loved reading romance novels, so why not try to write one?

Eeking out time early in the morning and late at night, she methodically taught herself how to write a novel.

After a few devastating fails, she landed an agent, sold her romance novel The Wedding Date to Penguin Books, and secured a deal to do a whole series.  

Related: 5 Things Literary Agents Wish You Knew

This is Jasmine's story. Hope you find it as fun and inspiring as I did.

True Crime Journalist Billy Jensen on Capturing the Golden State Killer

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Billy Jensen is the acclaimed true crime investigative journalist and producer, who helped finish his friend Michele McNamara's haunting book, "I'll Be Gone in the Dark," after her death. The book tells the tale of The Golden State Killer, a serial rapist and murderer who terrorized Californians for over a decade.

Related: This Father-Daughter Duo Solved a Century-Old Murder Mystery

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Just months after the book was released, police announced they had a suspect in the case. On this podcast, Jensen talks to me about this horrifying story, the process of writing the book, and his path to becoming a journalist specializing in unsolved crimes.

Related: 10 Ways to Be A Better Writer Right Now

Jensen's stories have appeared in Rolling Stone, Los Angeles Magazine, Boston Magazine, and the New York Times. He is also a  supervising producer and special investigator for the Warner Bros. program "Crime Watch Daily," where he runs all digital operations for the program.

Special thanks to Dan Piscina for engineering this episode.

To hear a special extended version of this podcast, subscribe to my mailing list @ writeaboutnowmedia.com/subscribe. 

Novelist Blanche Boyd: The Best Writing Professor I Ever Had

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Novelist Blanche McCrary Boyd is one of the main reasons I’m a writer today.

As an undergrad at Connecticut College, I took classes with her that changed the way I viewed journalism and storytelling. She introduced me and my classmates to a whole new world of writers such as the late great Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, Hunter Thompson, and Norman Mailer. She showed us how long-form journalism could read just like a novel.

And Boyd didn’t just talk the talk, she walked the walk. Her writing was just as daring, creative, and funny as the authors to whom she introduced us. And her life story was something out of a movie. Born in the deep south, she was an alcoholic who wrote for the Village Voice in a hippie commune before turning her life around, teaching at a college, and writing great novels, short stories, and essays.

Related: 10 Ways To Be A Better Writer Right Now

Her latest work, "Tomb of the Unknown Racist," was named by the BBC as one of the 10 best books in May. It’s her first book in two decades and the third of a trilogy that includes "The Revolution of Little Girls" and "Terminal Velocity.” She also the author of a collection of autobiographical essays, "The Redneck Way of Knowledge." Her short story “The Black Hand Girl” was included in Best American Short Stories 1989.

In our interview, Boyd weaves together tragic and funny tales from her life with invaluable teaching points for writers. For those who didn’t have the privilege of studying with her at Conn College, think of this as your very own Master Class.

Joanna Coles on Dating in the Digital Age

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Relationships and sex have gone through a seismic shift in just the past few years. The old rules of dating no longer apply.

With the advent of dating apps, #MeToo, and hookup culture, women and men are looking for help understanding, navigating, and staying safe in a world where people have sex to get to know each other rather than the other way around.

Enter Joanna Coles. If anyone has their pulse on what's happening with Millenials, it's her. Joanna is chief content officer at Hearst Magazines, the first to hold that position at the company. She's also the former editor-in-chief of Marie Claire and Cosmo, and sits on the board of directors of Snapchat.

In her new book, "Love Rules: How to Find a Real Relationship in a Digital World,” Joanna offers a plan for finding love while loving yourself. She also goes under the covers to expose what's really happening in the relationship frontlines. Filled with fascinating stories from the people she talked to while writing the book, her observations are sharp, illuminating, and a bit shocking. Sex might not be dead—but a whole generation of people seem to be enjoying it a lot less. 

How SiriusXM's Lori Majewski Turned Her Passion for Music Into a Writing and Radio Career

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When Lori Majewski was 16-years-old, she camped out in front of Manhattan hotels just to get an autograph from her idols, Duran Duran. Now she's on frontman Simon Le Bon's speed dial.

As a host on SiriusXM's Volume and First Wave channels and the co-author of the book Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Music and Artists That Defined the 1980s, Lori's parlayed her childhood obsession with New Wave music into a successful media career.

Related: 5 Things Literary Agents Wish You Knew

Lori has also held top spots at US Weekly, Entertainment Weekly, YM, and Teen People, the latter of which she served as editor-in-chief. She's written for such publications as Women's Health, Rolling Stone, Billboard, and Good Housekeeping.

On this episode of "Write About Now with Jonathan Small," Lori talks about her journey from running a Duran Duran fanzine in high school to running a major magazine for Time Inc, and how she pivoted later in her career so that she could focus full-time on her lifetime passion for music.

Plus, we totally go behind the big hair and Member's Only jackets to geek out about the music of the 80s. Whether your hungry like the wolf or dancing in the sand, sit back and enjoy this oral origin story back to the future. 

Confessions of Erotica Writer Joanna Angel

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Joanna Angel is not what you might expect an erotica writer, adult actress, and porn business mogul to be. But then again she's defied expectations all her life. Growing up in an Orthodox Jewish household in northern New Jersey, Joanna broke with her kosher household, replacing Purim with punk rock, the kabbalah with Kerouac, and the Talamud with tattoos. While attending Rutgers University, she launched a porno company from her dorm room, which would eventually become a thriving business with movies, toys, and magazines. 

On this episode of Write About Now, Joanna talks about her first foray into erotic fiction. Her new book, Night Shift, is a choose-your-adventure sex fantasy novel that mirrors parts of her own life. Joanna also gets candid about how she found her way into the porn industry and her views on the state of sex in 2018.

Our conversation is lively and fun—but definitely not suitable for kids. So you've been warned. 

Let me know what you think in the comments below. 

 

David Hochman Is the Freelance Whisperer

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David Hochman's success as a freelance writer, editor, and storyteller is as enviable as it is expansive. He has written about everything from flying around the world in a private jet to potty training his son, visiting the vanishing tribes of Ethiopia's Omo Valley to helicopter parenting his dog, with his byline appearing regularly in The New York Times, Forbes, GQ, and Food and Wine.

He's also the founder of Upod (Under Promise Over Deliver), an invaluable online resource for freelancers, writers and editors, and Upod Academy, which offers in-person workshops, webinars, retreats, and private coaching sessions.

On this episode of the podcast, David offers 10 valuable lessons he's learned over his 20-plus year career, sage wisdom that's rightly earned him the nickname "The Freelance Whisperer." From keeping "Diddy hours" to "thumbslamming", these are the tips and tricks you need to know.

Let me know what you think of the interview in the comments below!

 

This Father-Daughter Duo Solved a Century-Old Murder Mystery

 Photo credit: Kansas City Star

Photo credit: Kansas City Star

On this chilling episode of Write About Now, Bill James and his daughter, Rachel McCarthy James, tell the fascinating and tragic story behind The Man from the Train, their true crime thriller that ties together a series of horrific murders that occurred across America from 1898 to 1912.

Through extensive research and some good old-fashioned detective work, the father-daughter writing team makes the compelling case that the murders were all the handiwork of one of the most prolific serial killers ever.

Journey back in a time machine to rural America—before the FBI, before serial killers were even a thing—when a small, ugly man would arrive in a town on a train, find a house near the tracks, slaughter an entire family with the blunt side of an axe, and disappear back onto the train without a trace. Co-author

Bill James is a famed sportswriter and baseball stats guru, whose work has been widely influential. He even appeared as himself on an episode of The Simpson. After getting the idea to write The Man from the Train, he tapped his daughter, Rachel, to research the book. It was Rachel who eventually cracked the case, identifying the man from the train by name.  

Stacey Glick on How to Land a Literary Agent

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Ah, the coveted book deal. It's a writer's holy grail—even in the golden age of self-publishing. But can you get a book deal without a literary agent?

Chances are slim to none‚—unless you're crazy famous (and even that's hard). Agents are the gatekeepers between you and the shelves at Barnes & Noble. Think of them as the Night's Watch of the publishing wall.

Stacey Glick is one of the best literary agents in the business. And in this episode of Write About Now, she gives honest and actionable advice on how to get noticed by an agent, what publishers are buying (and not buying), and the one untapped market you might now know about.

As Vice President of the New York City agency Dystel, Goderich, and Bourret, Stacey represents an impressive and eclectic list of authors.

On the adult side, she covers such topics as memoirs, cooking and food, psychology, science, health and wellness, lifestyle, current events, pop culture, and select adult contemporary fiction.

On the children's side: YA, middle grade, nonfiction, and picture books. For more about her agency and their submission guidelines, check out https://www.dystel.com/

The Habits of Highly-Effective Health Writers

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Lisa Lombardi is a writer/editor and co-author of What the Yuck?! The Freaky & Fabulous Truth About Your Body. On this episode of Write About Now, she talks to me about her dynamic career, which has included top editorial jobs at YM, TwistRedbook, and, Health.

 It was at the latter where she realized her true passion for health and wellness journalism. Lisa also gives advice to aspiring health writers about how to break into the market, the health stories editors just can't get enough of, and the truth about blotting your pizza slice with napkins.

Lisa also shares some crazy tales from the editorial front lines, including one memorable, #metoo moment with Sugar Ray frontman, Mark McGrath. You won't want to miss it!

Check out Lisa's latest story in The Washington Post here