From Fact-Checker to Editor in Chief of O, The Oprah Magazine: Lucy Kaylin’s Inspiring Story

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What's it like to run the magazine of an American icon? On this episode of Write About Now, Lucy Kaylin talks about both working with the real-life Oprah and channeling her inner Oprah to produce the award-winning O: The Oprah Magazine.

Kaylin began her career as a fact checker at Vogue, rocketing up the magazine ranks to senior writer at GQ, executive editor at Marie Claire, and ultimately where she is today — helming O. 

On her journey, she’s picked up valuable lessons about writing, editing, and life in general. Find out what she’s learned from Oprah, her most controversial interview ever, and her biggest pet peeve about writers.

Sam Hollander Writes the Songs That Make The Whole World Sing

 Photo courtesy of Billboard

Photo courtesy of Billboard

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On this episdoe of Write About Now, hit songwriter Sam Hollander talks music and lyrics. Sam’s written over 20 Top 40 hit songs for artists such as One Direction, Katy Perry, Fitz and the Tantrums, Train, Carol King, and Weezer. His most recent record with Panic! At the Disco, debuted at number one on the Billboard 200.

Sam doesn't play an instrument or consider himself a musician, and yet he's responsible for writing some of the most recognizable songs on the radio. During our lively interview, Hollander breaks down how pop songs are created in 2018, and what his role is as the lyricist/top liner. He also shares his unusual childhood palling around with the likes of Andy Warhol and Nile Rogers.

Like his songs, Sam knows how to catch your attention with a nice juicy hook. 

Stephanie Storey Writes About the Bitter Rivalry Between Michelangelo and Leonardo.

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Since she was a teen, Stephanie Storey has been obsessed with Michelangelo. She's devoured every book about him, studied all his art in college, and even dragged her husband along to Europe on a pilgrimage to see every one of Michelangelo's works. 

"I'm very lucky that my husband is willing to share me with a guy by the name of Michelangelo," she says.

It should come as no surprise then that Stephanie's debut novel, Oil and Marble, features Michelangelo as its protagonist. The fascinating book takes readers back to Renaissance Florence, where Michelangelo and Leonardo are engaged in an artistic rivalry like no other. 

Oil and Marble is a Los Angeles Times bestseller and was named one of Hudson Booksellers’ Best Books of 2016. It just came out in paperback, which is the literary world equivalent of making the playoffs. The book has also been optioned as a major motion picture, which I guess is the Super Bowl?

In our lively interview, we talk about the grueling, but still pretty fun, five-year process of getting the idea from her brain onto the bookshelves, how she researched the book, and what she learned about doing her own publicity. 

Need some inspiration for getting your book done? This is a good place to start. 

Ex-NBA Player Paul Shirley on What Basketball Taught Him About Writing

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Shirley you can't be serious? I am serious and stop calling me Shirley.

This 6'10'' former forward and basketball journeyman played for everyone from the Atlanta Hawks to the UNICS of Kazan. He is also the author of two memoirs, 'Can I Keep My Jersey?', which chronicles his years on the court, and 'Stories I Tell On Dates', which chronicles his years courting.

The latter book has been adapted to a hilarious new podcast of the same name, in which Paul recalls his experience playing for 17 different teams across the globe.

On this episode of Write About, Paul takes us along on the journey of unsually tall kid from smalltown Kansas to the NBA, with detours in Spain, Russia, and Greece.

He talks about his post-career decision to become a writer and how basketball taught him discipline and the freedom of contraints. 

He also makes me laugh -- a lot.

Playwright Michelle Kholos Brooks on Why Theater Matters

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Michelle Kholos Brooks is an award-winning playwright with productions across the U.S. and Canada.

Her new play Hostage, based on a true story of a Midwestern mother who traveled to Tehran in 1979 to negotiate the release of her hostage son, was selected as a finalist for the 2016/17 Woodward/Newman Drama Award, the Fratti Newman Political Play Contest, and was a 2017 Showcase finalist for the National New Play Network. Other plays include Hitler’s Tasters and Kalamazoo.

A former journalist and producer for public radio programs such as Marketplace and The Savvy Traveler, Brooks earned a B.A. from Emerson College and an M.F.A. in Fiction from Otis College of Art and Design. She is currently nonresident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council within the Scowcroft Center on Strategy and Security, where she is working on a series of monologues with veterans.

On the episode, she talks candidly about why she chose to write plays, how she keeps herself motivated and her topics interesting, and what it was like meeting the real-life version of one of her characters. 

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. 

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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.