Elizabeth Hess | Secret Library Podcast

Elizabeth Hess was an art critic before she began writing about animals.

I love speaking with writers whose careers have evolved as they have written; Elizabeth is a beautiful example. Beginning by writing as an art critic, she found her way to writing about animals and the cultures that surround them. She’s won awards for her coverage of the municipal animal control program in NYC, and is the author of Lost and Found and Nim Chimpsky, which became the documentary Project Nim.

We talk about the incredibly exhaustive research that went into her books, how she followed the trail of interviews to get to the bottom of Nim’s story, and the new exploration of an animal-based subculture that she’s writing about now. If you love animals, this will be an especially engaging episode, as we learn how writing can change animal’s lives for the better.

Author photo: Sylvia Plachy

Listen up on iTunes | Elizabeth’s website | Nim Chimpsky | Twitter

Show notes for Episode 41 with Elizabeth Hess:

  • Writing at the Village Voice (2:45)
  • Crossing genres (3:40)
  • The animal ambulance (3:50)
  • Writing Lost & Found (4:30)
  • How work as an art critic prepared her for animal investigative journalism (5:00)
  • Writing as part of the political climate (6:45)
  • The life changing impact of writing about municipal animal control in NYC in the 90s (7:30)
  • Writing about companion animals (9:45)
  • Wanting to write a biography about one animal (10:00) Mentioned: The obituary of Nim Chimpsky
  • The research & interviewing process of writing Nim Chimpsky (11:20)
  • The overview of the Nim experiment & argument between Noam Chomsky and B.F. Skinner (13:15)
  • The evolution of chimpanzee research (15:30) Mentioned: Project X
  • Where Nim came from (17:00)
  • Connecting with Nim’s human family to learn the story (18:45)
  • Interviewing the science team (22:00)
  • Becoming the Nim library (23:00)
  • Seeing the book mirrored in fiction and film (23:15) Mentioned: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, Project Nim by James Marsh
  • The change of viewpoint in relation to animals changed by writing (27:00)
  • Researching on location and interviewing beyond the family (29:45)
  • Flying out to see the chimp lab in its final days (30:30)
  • Dumpster diving for files (31:40)
  • Continuing to place chimps in human homes (32:30)
  • The life of a research chimp & their connection to sign language (33:00)
  • Nim’s time in New York & the controversy around it (34:15) Mentioned: The Fund for Animals
  • The great love of Nim’s life (36:10)
  • Elizabeth’s current project on pit bull & dog-fighting culture in America (37:20)
  • Taking care of herself as she tackles dark and painful subjects (41:20)
  • The fascination of hidden subcultures (43:00)

This episode sponsored by Scrivener


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Paul Scheuring | Secret Library Podcast | Screenwriter to novelist

First-Time Novelist Paul Scheuring was already a professional screenwriter when he started his book.

Not only was he a professional screenwriter, Paul Scheuring had big successes under his belt, like being the creator of the TV show, Prison Break. It shocks me that I live in Los Angeles and have reached episode 40 without having a single screenwriter on the show (although sticklers will note that V.E. Schwab has done a bit of screenwriting). Paul was the perfect person to talk to about writing for television vs. writing long-form fiction. We talk about studio politics, what it takes to write a show or a movie and how different it is from novel creation.

This is a deep episode, all about returning to the original impulse that drove Paul to write back as a student at UCLA and how this book has brought him full circle. We also discuss the impact of buddhism on his writing along with the details of how he structures his writing day, where the idea came from for his novel The Far Shore, and his process of outlining and research. Yet another favorite.

Listen up on iTunes | Paul’s website | The Far Shore | Twitter

Show notes for Episode 40 with Paul Scheuring:

  • The beginning of Paul’s writing life (1:20)
  • Beginning to write screenplays (2:15)
  • Mortality reminding you of what you really want to do (2:40)
  • The secret of writing (3:30)
  • Coming up with the idea for the Far Shore (4:00)
  • Buddhism’s influence on the book (4:40)
  • The influence of the style of writing on the era of the characters (6:00)
  • The best form of drama (6:40)
  • On putting characters through hell in novels vs. TV (7:45)
  • The importance of an outline in TV (8:10)
  • The joy of discovery in novel writing (8:45)
  • Joan Didion on why she writes (9:05)
  • Outlining for TV vs. novels – the nitty gritty (9:20)
  • Earning the ending (10:00)
  • The novel as a writing vacation (11:20)
  • The importance of criticism and insight (11:50)
  • The question to ask when receiving criticism (12:05)
  • The first notes Paul ever received as a beginning writer (13:10) Mentioned: Bullets over Broadway
  • How a writer is like a tree (16:00)
  • Who are you writing for? (16:20)
  • Fitting a novel into the screenwriting schedule (19:40) Mentioned: V.E. Schwab on writing schedules
  • The research process for The Far Shore (21:30)
  • Holding the characters in mind while researching (23:40)
  • The practical process of research (25:00)
  • The active elements of reading (25:45)
  • The day-to-day writing schedule (26:30)
  • The timeline of creating the novel (28:10)
  • The revision process (29:30)
  • Three draft guy (30:45)
  • Great work and normalcy in life as dual goals (31:10)
  • Good enough vs. the curse of perfect (32:30)
  • The rarity of repeating success (34:15)
  • Letting go of attachment to success and being “somebody” (35:00)
  • The impact of the loss of his mom (36:20)
  • Humility & impermanence as a way to feel freedom to create (37:40)
  • The creative process as its own reward (38:10) Mentioned: Bone of Song by Josh Ritter, Cave of Forgotten Dreams by Werner Herzog
  • On not wanting this book to be optioned (41:20)
  • The reality of Hollywood (42:30)

This episode sponsored by Scrivener

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How to write a sex scene | Tasha Harrison | Secret Library Podcast

Tasha Harrison knows how to make a sex scene, well – sexy.


Up to this point in the show we have stayed in the “safe for work” territory. But if you’re writing for adults, eventually you’re going to want to dive into adult topics. Like sex scenes. If you’ve been intimidated by writing sex scenes in your books but feel like you’ve got some chemistry that warrants one, let Tasha walk you through the process without having to commit the cardinal sin of closing the door on your reader.

This episode is full of juicy details, and is in no way safe for work. There is adult language and steamy subject matter. It was a blast to dive into a somewhat taboo topic and really explore what makes a sex scene work. I know you’ll have ideas running through your mind after this episode… I know I wanted to start playing matchmaker with my characters after this recording session. Can’t wait to see what happens in your stories after this.

Listen up on iTunes | Tasha’s website | Books | Twitter

Show notes for Episode 39 with Tasha Harrison:

  • Talking about sex (1:40)
  • What makes a good sex scene (2:00)
  • Creating tension (2:30)
  • Don’t close the door on the reader (3:00)
  • Sex, literature, & human experience (3:30)
  • Dirty Chekov’s gun rule (4:00)
  • Mistakes you can avoid when writing sex scenes (4:45)
  • Avoiding cliche and vulgarity (5:40)
  • Setting the scene and the step by step progression (6:10)
  • Including the senses (7:45)
  • The danger of implied sex (9:15)
  • Don’t write like the 40-year-old virgin or Beavis & Butthead (10:30)
  • 50 Shades of Grey & the politics of language about women’s bodies and enjoyment (11:00)
  • The power of the c-word & other naughty words (12:30)
  • Writing outside the norm and growing with the character (13:45)
  • The role of rough drafts in sex scenes (14:30)
  • On loving plotting and editing, but the hard parts of writing (15:00)
  • The role of discomfort (15:00)
  • Tasha’s plotting system & character development (15:40) Mentioned: Proust Questionnaire | Tarot for Writers | Story Arcana
  • When characters do the unexpected (20:20)
  • Slotting sex scenes in to the outline (21:15)
  • The formula in genre fiction (22:45)
  • Keeping the sex fresh as a writer (26:00)
  • Tension around desire and consent (28:00)
  • The role of the alpha hero and ravishing (28:45)
  • Self-publishing’s role in erotica (30:24)
  • The timeline for writing a book (31:45)
  • The stages of revision (33:15)
  • The submission process (34:30)
  • The necessity of a writers group & community (36:00)
  • On loving getting a critique (37:30)
  • Genre-specific groups as a positive for writing about sex (39:00)
  • Knowing where you are as a reader before you write (40:00)
  • Fear of contaminating your writing by reading (41:15)
  • On continuing to grow as long as you write (44:00)
  • Throw in a sex scene! (46:00)

This episode sponsored by Scrivener.

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V.E. Schwab | Shades of Magic | Secret Library Podcast

V. E.  Schwab is a professional novelist.

What I mean by this is, V.E. Schwab has had exactly one career: novelist. New York Times-bestselling novelist at that. She is that special thing we all dream of: a writing unicorn, if you will. But don’t let this fact think that her story is one you won’t relate to. Does she write full time? Yes. Was it easy to get to that place? Hell, no. She’s spoken quite openly about how demoralizing the myth of the overnight success is. She is one of the most inspiring people I have had the privilege of interviewing so far. One example? As I was preparing the show notes for this episode, I came up with 37 quotations that would rock as the Instagram post for this episode. 37.

One reason Victoria is such an inspiration is this: she’s able to simultaneously prove that it’s possible to survive as a professional writer while also being honest and vulnerable enough to share what it’s like inside that life. She’s afraid of the work drying up, that the draft isn’t going to work out- all the things we feel, too. But she’s published eleven books before turning 30 and she’s got a system that is working. She’s the real thing. I dare you to listen to this and not feel inspired. I triple dog dare you.

Listen up on iTunes | V.E. Schwab’s Blog | Books | A Conjuring of Light | Book Tour

Show notes for Episode 38 with V.E. Schwab:

  • On having time vs. making time for writing (2:00)
  • Starting her first novel as a college student (2:40)
  • Victoria’s relationship to fear (3:00)
  • The first experience shopping a book to publishers (4:00)
  • Quite well-versed in rejection (4:20)
  • The divergent point (5:15)
  • Making time to write every single day (5:40) Mentioned: The Near Witch
  • Selling her first book (6:15)
  • Debunking the overnight success myth (7:20)
  • The cult of the new (8:00)
  • Why you don’t want a big advance the first time around (9:00)
  • Hitting bumps and feeling like a failure (10:45)
  • The transformation process (11:45)
  • Balancing between genres and age brackets (12:30)
  • On being a kitchen writer & how books are like soup (13:40)
  • Managing multiple books at the same time (15:00)
  • Balancing creation and promotion & refilling the well (17:00)
  • The phobia of the work drying up (18:15)
  • Royalties and the uphill trajectory (19:00)
  • The first draft struggle as an experienced writer (19:45)
  • Balancing doubt with the need to create (20:10)
  • Why you should write to yourself first (21:00)
  • The toxicity of trying to write to trends (22:00)
  • What your job is as a writer (& what it isn’t) (22:40)
  • Surviving the first draft bite by bite (24:00)
  • Her daily writing schedule (24:40)
  • Recognizing the madness of the cycle & the siren call of the delete key (25:15)
  • Reconciling the story in your head with the story on paper (26:10)
  • Deciding between 3 or 4 books for Shades of Magic (27:00)
  • Playing with format & structure (28:00) Mentioned: Vicious | Savage Song
  • Why she loves to write series (29:45)
  • The world-building process (31:30)
  • Writing about outsiders & insiders (32:15)
  • On language in a world (33:00)
  • The story bible for Shades of Magic (34:00)
  • The role of language in the book (34:45)
  • Wanderlust and its role in writing (36:10)
  • Where stories & ideas come from (37:15)
  • The importance of taverns (38:45)
  • Making time for reading & the Story Monster (39:15) Mentioned: The Paying Guest
  • Having a series optioned and writing the screenplay (43:30)
  • Needing the series to be a gift to the readers (46:50)
  • Saying goodbye to the Shades of Magic world (49:00)

This episode sponsored by Scrivener

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Alexandra Franzen | Getting through Tough Times | Secret Library Podcast

Alexandra Franzen’s daily mantra is “Today isn’t over yet.”

I wanted to talk to Alexandra because I was so impressed when, a couple of months ago, she celebrated her birthday by giving her latest novel  to her mailing list for free. It was so refreshing. It’s such a great book and she had just given it away. Seriously baller. Today on the show we talk about how she wrote that book, what made her want to put it out in the world as a gift, and what she’s cooking up for creative people now.

It’s such an inspiring conversation about why writing matters so much, why life is short and special, and how much a response from a reader can make a writer’s day. We also explore the possibility that some books are meant to go wide and some feel safer when shared in a smaller way. Whether you’re just get started in writing or you’ve been at it for a long time, this is an episode that will keep you motivated and sparkly, at a time when you need both of those feelings very badly.

Listen up on iTunes | Alex’s Website | So This is the End | Blog | Newsletter | Books

Show notes for Episode 37 with Alexandra Franzen:

  • Giving So This is the End away (2:45)
  • Fiction as a personal side project (3:15)
  • The dream that launched the novel (3:40)
  • The birthday soft launch of the novel (5:00)
  • The incredible response from readers (5:30)
  • The actual writing process & fiction as vacation (7:00)
  • Clarity of concept creating a fun writing experience (7:45)
  • Where it got trickier to finish (8:45)
  • Taking a break for other work (9:10)
  • The timeline of Alex’s writing process (10:00)
  • Editing the book (10:20)
  • The decision to sell the book on Gumroad (12:00) Mentioned: Alex’s web shop
  • To Amazon or not to Amazon and self-publishing for the nervous (14:00)
  • Building a troll fence (15:30)
  • Different projects have different destinies (15:45)
  • Opening a brunch restaurant and Yelp reviews (16:40)
  • Interviewing people about getting through discouraging awful moments for You’re Going to Survive (17:00)
  • Being a creative in tough times (19:00)
  • Coping with fear, criticism & bullying (20:30)
  • Why we write (21:45)
  • Daymakers (22:30) Mentioned: David Wagner
  • The impact of the Q+A Couple’s Journal (24:00) Mentioned: Alex’s Q+A journal
  • The story of how Alex got the Q+A Couple’s Journal Project (24:30)
  • The role of ghostwriting in her career & the desire to do just one thing (27:00)
  • Intention and giving up control upon publication (29:15)
  • Having surprising impact on readers & meaningful responses (30:40)
  • The frustration of not getting responses & the truth about responses (32:00)
  • On choosing to step away from social media (33:45)
  • How Alexandra promotes her work now (38:00)
  • Ronda Roussey’s autobiography (39:00)
  • Searching for levity with N’Sync (40:30) Mentioned: Out of Sync: A Memoir by Lance Bass
  • What I’m reading (42:00) Mentioned: V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series
  • The impressiveness of world building (44:50)
  • A-has from creating You Will Get Through This (46:00)

This Episode sponsored by Scrivener.

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