Q&A with Chaitali Sen on Her Interview Series BORDERLESS (Next Event with Juli Berwald on March 9!)

“Although we might provide an escape from reality through our writing, we are still part of this world . . . I wanted to dig into the question of what role we play as writers as things are happening around us. “

–Chaitali Sen

In the interview series Borderless: Conversations on Art, Action, and Justice, emerging and established writers talk with host Chaitali Sen about the power of words and the role of art in reflecting and changing our world. Chaitali is a novelist, WLT class instructor, and fantastic friend to the Texas writing community and WLT. We couldn’t be more excited or inspired by this new project from Chaitali.

The next Borderless conversation will be with author Juli Berwald and will take place at Austin indie bookstore Malvern Books on March 9, 2018 at 7 p.m.

We talked with Chaitali to learn more about this series and the upcoming event.

Scribe: Tell us about the mission of your “Borderless” interview series and what inspired you to start the series.

I started Borderless: Conversations on Art, Action, and Justice, so that I could talk to other writers about “the power of words and the role of art in reflecting and changing our world.” From talking to friends in the writing world over the last year, this seemed to be a topic that kept coming up. I have been to a lot of great discussions on writing, especially on craft and process, but I felt a real lack of discussions on writing that connected writers to the world at large. Although we might provide an escape from reality through our writing, we are still part of this world, and though there are vague pronouncements on the importance of literature for developing empathy, I wanted to dig into the question of what role we play as writers as things are happening around us.

Scribe: Your first interview was with Nikki Luellen. What’s one surprising or illuminating takeaway that resulted from your interview with her?

CS: Nikki is mainly a spoken word poet, and I had seen her captivate people out on the streets at protests. It gave me a whole new appreciation to hear her poetry in the intimate space of Malvern, because I really got to appreciate how she inhabits characters and modulates the pitch and tempo of her voice, how it really is a whole performance (she’s also a playwright). Her poems have a lot of movement and a lot of substance, because they take on very big social and political topics, yet they are also very personal, about how she is struggling with these questions and overcoming her own fear. I wanted to start this series with someone who is not a part of the literary establishment, because her work illustrates to me how confining that world can be. There are so many parameters that are set within that world, either implicitly or explicitly, about what makes someone a writer, what we should be writing about, how to challenge an audience within acceptable limits, how to get published and recognized as a writer, what purpose our art should serve, and so on. Nikki doesn’t care about any of that. There is an absence of ego in her work that is so refreshing.

Scribe: Your next interview will be with Juli Berwald on March 9. Can you give us a preview of some of the topics you might discuss?

CS: Juli Berwald is the author of a great science memoir called Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone. I’m looking forward to seeing what surprises come out in this interview, but we will touch on the science of climate change, the changes in the ocean ecosystems, being a woman in science, and of course, jellyfish. 

Scribe: Malvern Books is such a special space with truly unique titles available. Can you recommend one book by an indie author that you’ve picked up from Malvern recently?

CS: I just picked up Danez Smith‘s poetry collection at Malvern, Don’t Call Us Dead. Because Malvern is dedicated to independent publishers, you can find titles and discover writers there that will not be featured or available in other bookstores. Last year, I bought a novel translated from Indonesian called HomeThis novel was published by Deep Vellum, a Dallas-based independent publisher that highlights world literature in translation. For any Writers’ League members in Austin who have not been to Malvern, I urge you to change that immediately. It’s a warm, beautiful space that will open your eyes to all kinds of literature.

Thanks, Chaitali!

Find out more about Chaitali here, Juli here, and their upcoming conversation at Malvern here.

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Community Member Guest Post: Ageless Authors

“Those who continue to read and write well into old age suffer 48% less memory loss, dementia and other mental impairment than those who don’t take part in these activities. “

-Larry Upshaw, Ageless Authors

Community membership in the Writers’ League of Texas allows businesses and organizations to support our programming and services. It’s also a great way for our community of writers to learn about the many valuable and varied services, programs, and opportunities available to them.

Dallas-based Ageless Authors is the only national group exclusively for senior writers age 65 and older. Read a guest post from Editorial Director Larry Upshaw below, and find more information about Ageless Authors’ upcoming contest for senior writers at the end of the post.

Writing, reading key to mental agility in seniors

 

“Lyric poetry is a domain where talent is discovered early, burns brightly, and then peters out at an early age.”  This statement by Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, when extended to writing in all its forms, presents a frustrating future for older writers wanting to publish.

It’s well known that novelist Jonathan Safran Foer wrote his 2002 bestseller Everything is Illuminated when he was 19. And Stephen King published Carrie, Salem’s Lot and The Shining before he was 30. Somehow, though, we discount the fact that Daniel Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe at age 58 and Laura Ingalls Wilder completed her Little House series at age 76.

We have bought into the obsession with youth, searching for effective ways to combat aging. There is a physical side to it all, packing fitness centers to aim for peak performance by strengthening muscles and building endurance.

We also have what you might call mental gyms. For a small monthly fee, websites like Lumosity.com and MyBrainTrainer.com promise to enhance memory, attention and other mental processes through a series of games and brain teasers. They fit perfectly with our instant gratification culture, providing ready-made mind exercises for people who worry that time is catching up with them.

For members of Ageless Authors, the nationwide organization of senior writers age 65 and older, the answer may be closer at hand. A 2013 study published in the journal Neurology suggests that writing and even reading books slows down cognitive decline in old age and those who participate in these mentally stimulating activities over their lifetimes have a striking edge in memory and mental agility over those who never read or write.

Those who continue to read and write well into old age suffer 48% less memory loss, dementia and other mental impairment than those who don’t take part in these activities. This jibes with the purpose of Ageless Authors, which is to promote and encourage creativity and especially writing as long in life as possible.

In a Smithsonian.com article explaining this phenomena, journalist Marina Koren writes:

“Reading gives our brains a workout because comprehending text requires more mental energy than, for example, processing an image on a television screen. Reading exercises our working memory, which actively processes and stores new information …. Writing can be likened to practice: the more we rehearse the perfect squat, the better our form becomes, tightening all the right muscles. Writing helps us consolidate new information for the times we may need to recall it, which boosts our memory skills.”

The key to mental acuity is the same as physical superiority over the long haul; start your exercises (reading and writing) early and stick with them throughout your life.

Senior writers, when you are forced to look up a word that was in your active vocabulary just a decade ago, or you confuse John Irving with John Grisham, know that you are doing everything you can to slow aging.

Just curl up with a book or your trusty word processor.

Thanks, Larry!

Find out more about Ageless Authors here.

Larry Upshaw is Editorial Director of Ageless Authors, the only national group exclusively for senior writers age 65 and older. This group is now conducting its second annual writing contest awarding cash prizes and publishing. Deadline is Wednesday, February 28. Click here for more details and to enter. For more information, email larry@agelessauthors.com or call 214 405-5093.

Are you a business or organization interested in getting involved?

Community Membership is a great way to connect with the Writers’ League’s membership base and share news and information about writing-related services and events. For more information on Community Membership click here or call our office at (512) 499-8914.

 

Photo credit: #WOCinTech Chat

 

Meet the Conference Faculty: Agent Arielle Datz

“Read! Consider it research for your career.”

-Arielle Datz

Every year, the Writers’ League of Texas brings a faculty of close to thirty agents, editors, and other industry professionals to Austin for its Agents & Editors Conference. As we look ahead to the 25th Annual A&E Conference, taking place June 29–July 1, 2018, we’re happy to share Q&As with some of our faculty here.

An Interview with Arielle Datz

Arielle Datz started as an intern at Dunow, Carlson, & Lerner in 2011. She then worked in the foreign rights department at WME, followed by 2 years at the Elizabeth Kaplan Literary Agency. She returned to DCLA in 2015. She is looking for fiction (mostly adult, but is open to young adult and middle grade), both literary and commercial. In nonfiction, she is looking for essays, unconventional memoir, pop culture, and sociology.

Scribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author?

Arielle Datz: I am as involved as the author wants me to be. I have a strong editorial eye, so I am very involved pre-book sale, and once a book is with an editor at a publisher I take a step back unless my input is needed. I see myself as a guide for the author through the labyrinth of the publishing world.

Scribe: What do you look for in a debut author?

AD: A strong voice with a story (or stories!) to tell.

Scribe: If you could give writers one piece of advice, what would it be?

AD: Read! Consider it research for your career. Read books within your genre, and stay up to date on what is successful in mainstream publishing.

Scribe:  Tell us about a recent book that you worked with–you know, brag on one of your writers!

AD: If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio–the story set me ablaze from the beginning, and then it turned out that we work tremendously well as a team. She has a keen sense of voice and her characters weasel their way into my brain, such that I can’t stop thinking about them.

Thanks, Arielle!

Click here to read our 2018 A&E Conference agent bios.

Click here for more information on the 2018 Agents & Editors Conference, a weekend long event in Austin, TX (June 29-July 1) that focuses on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and building a literary community.

An Interview with Jeremy Ellis of Interabang Books, plus a special discount for WLT members!

“Share your love of books all the time. Don’t be afraid to sing the praises of the books you adore.”

-Jeremy Ellis, General Manager, Interabang Books

If you’ve been keeping track of our 2017 events calendar, you’ve probably noticed that we’ve been traveling quite a bit this year. One of our favorite places to visit is Dallas’ newest bookstore, Interabang Books. We’re thrilled to announce that Interabang will now be offering WLT members a 15% discount.

We spoke with Interabang Books General Manager Jeremy Ellis about his career as a bookseller and how Interabang came to be. Read the interview to learn more, and stop by Interabang soon!

Scribe: You’ve spent many years in the book world, working in top positions at well-known bookstores like BookPeople in Austin and Brazos Bookstore in Houston. Where did your bookstore journey begin, and what inspired you to work in bookstores?

Jeremy Ellis: Working in bookstores was a happy accident. I was in my early twenties and flailing. I had intended to become a famous stage actor, but was coming round to the notion that I might need something to pay the bills until that happened. So, I applied to be a bookseller at Taylors Books in Dallas. I had always loved books and reading, but hadn’t really considered I could make it my career, but I excelled and was quickly promoted. I had discovered my new calling.

Scribe: You opened Interabang with partners Nancy Perot and Lori Feathers. How did the idea to open Interabang come to fruition?

JE: I left Dallas in 2011 to take over the Brazos Bookstore in Houston. It was really a dream come true, but my better-half was never able to find a job there, so I always had one eye searching the horizon for a way that might take me back to the Metroplex. Initially, I had been trying to bring Brazos Bookstore to Dallas. As I was pursuing that course, I met Lori and then Nancy. In the end, the complexity of expanding a Houston neighborhood store to Dallas made the deal untenable, so we decided to launch a new brand.

Scribe: Tell us a little about the name of Interabang Books — what’s an interabang, for those who might not know, and why did you choose it as the name to represent your bookstore?

JE: Naming a bookstore is a challenging project. There were lots and lots (and lots and lots) of ideas proposed. Frankly, most of them were pretty dull. But the pressure was on. We needed to make an announcement, so I made a new list of printmaker and book terminology. Interrobang was on that list…  An interrobang is an exclamation point and a question mark in a single punctuation mark. We thought that an icon that represented curiosity and excitement was perfect for the bookstore. In the end, we chose the secondary spelling – interabang – to distinguish ourselves from the mark.

Scribe: Here at the Writers’ League, we love sharing book recommendations. What’s one Texas-related book that has come out within the past year that you couldn’t put down?

JE: I’ve been revisiting WATT MATTHEWS OF LAMBSHEAD by photographer Laura Wilson. This is a third edition with a terrific introduction by David McCullough, and a new foreword by Anne Wilkes Tucker. The photographs are an amazing view into a vanishing lifestyle and Western culture. The new edition from the Texas State Historical society is really gorgeous as well. I’m looking forward to reading THE LINE BECOMES A RIVER by Francisco Cantu (Riverhead). I’ve glanced at the first few pages and it looks amazing. It’s published in February of 2018 and he’ll be touring across Texas. Go out and meet him and support your local bookstore!

Scribe: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to aspiring booksellers?

JE: Share your love of books all the time. Now that everyone carries a media studio in their pocket, we all have the ability to trumpet our favorite books directly to the authors and publishers. Don’t be afraid to sing the praises of the books you adore. The more you do it, the stronger your reach and influence.

Thanks, Jeremy!

To take advantage of our discount with Interabang Books and other benefits, consider joining the Writers’ League. Questions? Call our offices at 512-499-8914 or visit writersleague.org.

Meet the Members: Patricia Vermillion

“I am a school librarian who loves placing those just-right books into the hands of children.”

-Patricia Vermillion

A member of the Writers’ League since May, Patricia Vermillion lives in Dallas, Texas.

Scribe: In what genre(s) do you write?

Patricia Vermillion: I write children’s books.

Scribe: What author would you most like to have a drink with, and what’s the first question you would ask them?

PV: Eudora Alice Welty. I’d ask her, “Does your photography inspire your writing?”

Scribe: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what book would you want to have with you to keep you sane? 

PV: I’d want to have The Catcher in the Rye.

Scribe: What have you learned from your association with the Writers’ League?

PV: There are a lot of Texas writers!

Scribe: Where do you see your writing taking you (or you taking it) in the future?

PV: Hopefully, publishing more children’s books!

Scribe: Here at the Writers’ League, we love sharing book recommendations. What’s one Texas-related book that has come out within the past year that you couldn’t put down?

PV: I’d recommend Wishtree by Katherine Applegate.

Scribe: Is there anything else about you that you would like to share with the world?

PV: I am a school librarian who loves placing those just-right books into the hands of children. You can visit my website here.

Thanks, Patricia!

If you’re a Writers’ League member and you’d be interested in being interviewed for our Meet the Members feature, email us at member@writersleague.org for more information. It’s a great way for other members to get to know you and for you to share a bit about what you’re working on! Please also email us, at the same address, if you’d like to learn more about WLT board service.

5 Questions for Screenwriter Jill Chamberlain

“Likeable characters are boring. You’re doing yourself a great disservice if you worry about making your protagonist likeable.”

-Jill Chamberlain

Jill Chamberlain is a screenplay consultant and founder of The Screenplay Workshop with Jill Chamberlain, which offers private script consultation and group instruction in Austin and via Skype. Her book from the University of Texas Press, The Nutshell Technique: Crack the Secret of Successful Screenwriting, is considered the go-to manual many professionals swear by and is on the syllabus for the acclaimed screenwriting program at Columbia University. Many of her students have achieved success in Hollywood with screenplays optioned, sold, and made into award-winning feature films.

On December 2, Jill will teach “Structuring a Successful Screenplay Using the Nutshell Technique” at St. Edward’s  University in Austin, TX. This class will cover eight essential elements for a successful screenplay. We asked Jill about the films she’s learned from, advice she gives often and advice she thinks is overused, and what people will take away from the class.

What is a film that you recommend to people over and over? What makes it so compelling?

Paper Moon is about as perfect as a movie can be. Take the first shot: Moses drives up to a graveside funeral in progress and steals flowers off of a nearby grave to present to the bereaved. That tells you everything you need to know about this guy. He’s a con artist but also at times his heart is in the right place. It is a masterpiece, from the first frame to the last, and yes, that last frame is connected to the first one.

In your work as a script consultant, what has been one challenge posed by the craft, structure, voice, etc., of a screenplay that you’ve had to puzzle out?

Last week, I was consulting on a screenplay for a major studio; this was for a movie with a huge budget. I can’t discuss any specifics about the project, but I’ll say generally that I discovered I was dealing with the exact same kind of story issues that I deal with when working with amateur screenwriters. At the heart of everything, a story is a story. It doesn’t matter if it’s ultimately a $150 million movie or a $150,000 movie or zero-dollar labor of love, you need to ensure the same story elements are in place and are structurally sound when you’re writing the screenplay.

What piece of advice do you find yourself giving to screenwriters again and again?

If you want to be a screenwriter, you must read screenplays. Not one or two screenplays but tons and tons of screenplays, as many as you can get your hands on.

Is there a common piece of writing advice that you wish people wouldn’t put so much stock in or follow too closely?

Yes, that your protagonist should be likeable. This is the central precept behind the number one bestselling book on screenwriting, “Save The Cat,” and I couldn’t disagree with this idea more! Think of, for example, the Bill Murray character in “Groundhog Day” — he isn’t in the least bit likeable. The movie wouldn’t have worked had he been likeable. Likeable characters are boring. You’re doing yourself a great disservice if you worry about making your protagonist likeable.

What is one thing that people will take away from this class?

Well, you’re going to take away a ton of things because the class is going to be absolutely jam-packed with information. But here is perhaps the most important thing: In my work as a script consultant, I have discovered that 99 percent of first-time screenwriters fail to tell a story. What the 99 percent do instead is present a situation. The most important thing I’ll show you is how to ensure you’re telling a story and that you’re not falling in the 99 percent who are merely presenting a situation.

Thanks, Jill!

 

Click here to learn more about and register for Jill’s class.

Click here for our current class schedule.

Meet the Members: Susan Johnston Taylor, plus a special discount for WLT Members

“I love something Liz Garton Scanlon said during her recent WLT class. When revising her picture books, she thinks not about making them shorter but more potent. I think that’s a good way to approach revisions in any genre.”

-Susan Johnston Taylor

A member of the Writers’ League since September, Susan Johnston Taylor lives in Austin. She’s co-chairing the first Austin regional conference for the American Society of Journalists & Authors on February 3, 2018. It’s a full day of insights and inspiration for nonfiction writers with a keynote by Sarah Bird, sessions on the craft and business of writing, networking and much WLT members get a $20 discount on registration with the code TX18-WLT-TX. More details at tiny.cc/asjatx.

Read the interview to learn more about Susan.

Scribe: In what genre(s) do you write?

Susan Johnston Taylor: After working as a freelancer writing nonfiction articles about personal finance and small business for almost a decade, I was starting to burn out, so I had the crazy idea to write a picture book. Several classes and manuscripts later, I’m now hooked and find that tapping into my younger self’s curiosity fuels my writing for grownups, too.

Scribe: What author would you most like to have a drink with, and what’s the first question you would ask them?

SJT: I’d ask Charlotte Brontë about her revision process. What was in the first draft of “Jane Eyre” that was left on the cutting room floor and did any of those scenes wind up in another story?

Scribe: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what book would you want to have with you to keep you sane?

SJT:  Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. The subtitle (“Some Instructions on Writing and Life”) reflects how the book not only speaks to the craft of writing but also the challenges of being human.

Scribe: What have you learned from your association with the Writers’ League?

SJT: I love something Liz Garton Scanlon said during her recent WLT class. When revising her picture books, she thinks not about making them shorter but more potent. I think that’s a good way to approach revisions in any genre.

Scribe: Where do you see your writing taking you (or you taking it) in the future?

SJT: I’m shopping around several picture book manuscripts (including a pun-filled grammar story), so I hope my writing leads to a publishing deal. I’d love to write an adult nonfiction book, too, but I’m still zeroing in on the right focus.

Scribe: Here at the Writers’ League, we love sharing book recommendations. What’s one Texas-related book that has come out within the past year that you couldn’t put down?

SJT: Texas has so many awesome writers, it’s hard to choose one! I studied with Jason Gallaher at the Writing Barn here in Austin and loved his debut picture book Whobert Whover, Owl Detective, which came out this summer, so shout out to Jason and his awesome class. (He also spoke at WLT’s July Third Thursday this year.)

Scribe: Is there anything else about you that you would like to share with the world? An opportunity for blatant self-promotion!

SJT: Yes, I’m co-chairing the first Austin regional conference for the American Society of Journalists & Authors on February 3, 2018. It’s a full day of insights and inspiration for nonfiction writers with a keynote by Sarah Bird, sessions on the craft and business of writing, networking and much more. WLT members get a $20 discount on registration with the code TX18-WLT-TX. More details at tiny.cc/asjatx.

Thanks, Susan!

If you’re a Writers’ League member and you’d be interested in being interviewed for our Meet the Members feature, email us at member@writersleague.org for more information. It’s a great way for other members to get to know you and for you to share a bit about what you’re working on! Please also email us, at the same address, if you’d like to learn more about WLT board service.