J. Ryan Stradal’s hit novel Kitchens of the Great Midwest came out in 2015.

Most often, we hear from writers right when their book has just come out. They go on book tours and radio shows and NPR, if they are well-connected. I have been thrilled to talk to writers in this stage of the process, but the longer I work on this show, the more curious I am about the other parts of the writing journey- before the book is finished, or after it has gone out in the world and taken on a life of its own or, as in this case, when one book has sailed and the next has not yet fully formed.

J. Ryan and I talk about the impact of Kitchens and what it’s been like writing a new book. He’s still in the middle and making big decisions about structure and isn’t at the point of sending a finished manuscript off to the publisher. This next book is still becoming, and so the conversation is looser, more organic. I like that about this episode- we can’t talk in easy platitudes when the book is still a possibility and things could still change. For those of you mucking around in the messy middle, this episode will be right for you. It’s not an easy thing to write a book. What I learned from this talk was that, even if you’ve completed one book and done extremely well by it, the next book will still be an entirely new experience. I find this hopeful, since it’s easy to walk away from things that become predictable. After talking to J. Ryan, I’m even more confident that writing never will.

Listen up on iTunes | Kitchens of the Great Midwest | J. Ryan Stradal’s site | Twitter | Instagram

Discussed in Episode 59 with J. Ryan Stradal:

  • J. Ryans of the world
  • Writing about food and beer
  • The evolution of food culture
  • The seductive rabbit hole that is research
  • On writing a long version of a book and then deciding what to cut
  • Publishing excerpts from a longer piece
  • Books that exist as drafts of books the authors might not have intended to share. Mentioned: The Pale King, by David Foster Wallace | Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee
  • Seeing cut material as B sides
  • How Kitchens changed from agent submission to publication
  • The trouble with an easy first novel
  • Making changes between the hardcover and paperback editions and the shock that this is done
  • The politics of hardcover and paperback releases
  • Researching books
  • Lots of fun stuff about beer culture
  • How to know when you’re too deep in the weeds

This episode brought to you by The Story Intensive

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Dal Kular didn’t plan on becoming a novelist.

After recording nearly sixty episodes of The Secret Library, I realized I had a full catalogue of interviews with experts. People who were at the end of the writing journey, in some way. They had either published books as the writer, publisher, or had engaged in the process already and were looking back in order to discuss it.

This began to feel like a disconnect between the guests and the listeners I knew were out there taking the show in. So many people write in talking about the story they are working on now, the one they aren’t sure they’ll be able to figure out how to finish. I knew there was a different conversation that needed to happen on the show.

Dal Kular has been my noveling winglady for quite some time. She has been a social worker, a laughter yoga instructor, and an amazing blogger before a novel snuck up on her and has been pushing her to write it every since. We check in and talk about our writing regularly and share how it’s going as we inch our way along through our books. Recently, I managed to talk Dal into coming on the show so we could talk about this stage of the process- the one at the very beginning when you don’t know if that story you’re working hard on will ever turn out to be a real book. This conversation was such a relief to have, and I think many of you will relate to it. Enjoy listening. I felt such relief talking about the scary aspects of writing from inside the process. Here’s hoping it is of use to you. Plus, you get to listen to Dal’s lovely accent- a major perk this episode, I must say.

Listen up on iTunes | Dal’s Blog | Instagram

Discussed in Episode 58 with Dal Kular:

  • Coming to writing after another career
  • The healing elements of writing
  • How writing changes the way you see your life
  • What therapeutic writing is
  • The need to open to more types of writing and more voices
  • Working through life challenges in life with writing
  • How the novel came to her
  • What it’s like to work on a novel not knowing what will happen once it’s written
  • Writing in community
  • The role of criticism
  • The difference between an MFA and a Masters in Therapeutic writing
  • Why we each write

This episode brought to you by The Story Intensive. Learn more and sign up here.

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I had never thought about how dialogue was like jazz until I spoke with Wesley Brown.

Wesley Brown knows dialogue and he knows jazz. His latest collection of stories, Dance of the Infidels, brings the two together and I learned so much from talking about music and writing with him. In addition, Wesley is Professor Emeritus at Rutgers University and teaches literature and creative writing at Bard College. He is the author of plays, fiction, and nonfiction so there is something here for every genre of writer.

As someone who has long struggled with bringing scenes to life with dialogue, that topic was of particular interest to me. If this is a tricky point for you, or if you struggle with hearing a character’s voice come to life, this episode will help. We also hear about Wesley’s current collection of stories and its fascinating concept. I am happy to be the new owner of a copy and I know everyone listening will want to read it as well.

Listen up on iTunes | Dance of the Infidels | Wesley’s books

Discussed in Episode 57 with Wesley Brown:

  • Working in a variety of literary forms
  • A play about a subway murder
  • How different ideas manifest in different formats
  • The difference between writing and experiencing a play and a book
  • How it feels to watch your work performed
  • How performance is like jazz
  • Dialogue as a way for characters to define who they are
  • Potential problems with dialogue
  • Ways dialogue can work well- when characters say things that are unexpected yet truthful
  • Discussion of the stories in Dance of the Infidels
  • Why he can never write with music playing
  • How music is assimilated into the writing process
  • The decision to do a series of linked short stories instead of a novel
  • Writing about real-life characters and the challenges and gifts of this process
  • Why Wesley doesn’t outline, and how he writes stories instead

Music and Images referenced in this episode:

MaryEllen Mark’s photograph of Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen.


This episode brought to you by The Story Intensive. Learn more and sign up here.

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Doree Shafrir knows Startup culture.

This is immediately obvious when reading her first novel, Startup, out now and gracing more and more must-read lists every week. It’s laugh out loud funny as well as a well-observed critique of the tech culture we follow as closely as celebrity news these days. Doree and I spoke about Startup on the show, as well as her experience in the tech world at Buzzfeed and other places, her surprise at realizing she wanted to write a novel instead of a non-fiction book and much more. She’s a smart cookie and I was thrilled to learn that she’s already dreaming up more books so those who fall in love with Startup hopefully wont’ have long to wait before we read more from her.

We also got into character, the ways it feels different to write fiction than journalism, writing a story from multiple character perspectives, and the blow by blow process of writing and selling Startup to a publisher. If you want to know what it’s really like to sit down with an idea and turn it into a book, this is your episode.

Listen up on iTunes | Startup | Doree’s website | Instagram | Twitter

Discussed in Episode 56 with Doree Shafrir:

  • How to make characters feel real
  • Doree’s process of getting to know her characters
  • The ones that didn’t make it into the book
  • The freedom of creating characters
  • How journalism helped create good characters
  • The movement from the euphoria of endless possibility to crafting the story
  • The difference between characters telling the story and the reader being inside the action
  • The decision to make the action happen now instead of as something that’s remembered
  • Being surprised by the book being a novel instead of non-fiction
  • How the idea first showed up
  • Beginning with a side character to get into the world
  • Getting trapped in re-writing
  • Getting a multiple perspective structure right
  • Selling the book as a partial manuscript- the pros and cons
  • Writing a timely book, and the last minute edits when Vine disappeared
  • Getting input from 20-somethings
  • LA vs. NYC tech culture
  • The amusing cross-over between imaginary tech in the book and tech that appeared in real life
  • The cult of the introvert
  • Being over 30 in the tech world
  • A new book on the horizon, perhaps…


This episode is brought to you by The Story Intensive, now open for enrollment, with Caroline as a TA option. Learn more and sign up here!

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Once you sell a book, you’re going to have to sign a book contract.

Thanks to Autumn coming on the show, this doesn’t have to be a terrifying process. Every writer who has come on the show has emphasized book contracts as something you need to understand before you sign. I don’t know about you, but despite the fact that the majority of my friends are lawyers, I wouldn’t feel comfortable reading and signing a contract without some help. Autumn speaks in simple language in this episode and clarifies all the areas you’d need to understand and the areas you need to consider before signing a contract.

In this day and age of eCourses, eBooks, and spin-off options for books, there is a lot more to a contract than just royalties and hardbacks and paperbacks. This is the beginning of a conversation you’ll want to have with a lawyer yourself when it comes time to publish your book. This can apply as well if you’re self-publishing as it’s possible you will get picked up from there for print rights or if there is a movie in the offing, a la The Martian. I promise this episode is just as fun to listen to, even if the content is more practical. Autumn is delightful and very passionate about supporting authors. Get ready to feel a whole lot more confident when you sell that book one day. Hopefully, you can feel that day getting closer already.

Listen up on iTunes | Autumn’s Website | Podcast | Facebook | Twitter

Discussed in Episode 55 with Autumn Witt Boyd:

  • Why you need a lawyer who specializes in IP and, ideally, publishing and creative fields as well
  • The need to clearly define the book you are writing from a contract perspective
  • Publishing contracts are specific to the publishing house
  • Deciding what rights the publisher will have
  • What rights there are: paperbacks, TV, film, podcasts, eCourses, etc.
  • Other pieces that may be up for negotiation: audiobook rights, cover design, book layout for visual books
  • The negotiation process and how it differs between publishing houses
  • The difference between fiction and non-fiction contracts
  • Pitfalls to look out for in contracts
  • What happens if the publisher buys the proposal and not a finished manuscript
  • Handling changes between proposal and delivering a manuscript
  • Why you should not sign away your copyright to the publisher
  • How a lawyer fits in to the writer, publisher, and agent relationship
  • The difference between hiring a lawyer for a flat-rate project or on retainer
  • The skinny on multiple-book deals and how they work
  • The dynamics of the book advance
  • The difference between intellectual property and “the book.”


This episode is brought to you by The Story Intensive, now open for enrollment, with Caroline as a TA option. Learn more and sign up here!

  • June 17, 2017 - 02:15

    AC K. - Excellent 43-minute audio podcast that summarizes book contracts and what typical red flags to watch out for!

    I would have included a reminder to both US-based and international authors to make should they register their manuscript’s copyright with the US Copyright Office BEFORE shopping it around; do NOT rely on the “poor man’s copyright”! In fact, I wouldn’t even trust the publisher to register my book!ReplyCancel

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