Author Tanya Marquardt talks to Lindsey Wojcik about what she hoped to explore in writing about her teenage years, her relationship to Shakespeare, and how her relationship with her mother changed after she finished writing Stray.
By Stephanie Schaefer
Ever since my fiancé (Writer’s Bone co-founder, Daniel Ford) and I set a wedding date, I haven’t had as much time to read or contribute to the blog as I would like to. My free moments are filled with comparing color palettes on Pinterest, emailing wedding vendors, and traveling to trunk shows in hopes to find the perfect dress.
For these reasons, I was eager to get my hands on Desiree Hartsock’s wedding planning book and was even more thrilled when the former reality television star accepted my interview proposal. Below, Hartsock talks about her process for writing her first book, what attracted her to the wedding industry, and her advice for aspiring bloggers.
Stephanie Schaefer: First off, what inspired you to create a wedding planning book and what attracted you to the wedding industry as a career?
Desiree Hartsock: I first fell in love with the wedding industry while I was in design school and discovered my love for designing wedding dresses. I then went on to work at various bridal salons where that love grew and experience formed. I was inspired to write my book to help brides plan their wedding without any distractions or stress. I would constantly see brides so stressed out during the wedding planning and it should be a special time that doesn't create anxiety or worry. Also after planning my own wedding I was able to experience it for myself and wanted to share what I learned through it all.
SS: While working on your book, did you notice any similarities between writing and dress design?
DH: I suppose they are both creative pieces of work and have to go through a similar thought process. Just as a design comes to fruition by inspiration and thought out detail the book had to be planned out like a pattern to ensure it came together as a whole.
SS: How did writing for your blog and website prepare you for your book?
DH: The blog is an outlet to help brides with all aspects of wedding planning and wedding style so it definitely prepared me to write the book. The experience of writing for my blog allowed me to condense information in an easy to read and follow format that every bride needs to prepare for her wedding.
SS: What advice can you give others who want to launch their own blog?
DH: Running a blog is extremely time consuming and requires much attention to detail so I would say to make sure you want to and have the time to cater to the blog to make it successful.
SS: Much like launching a new project, planning a wedding can be overwhelming. Are there any stress-busting tips you can offer future brides (like myself)?
DH: The best stress busting tip I can offer is to take it day by day and moment by moment and to keep the end goal in mind: marriage. At the end of the day no one will know if the color of the flowers is slightly off or if a bridesmaid wore the wrong shoes.
SS: By the way, congratulations on your first child! Do you foresee writing a baby-related book in your future?
DH: Thanks! We will see. I have learned so much already as a new mother and hope to share some of that with other new moms.
SS: We ask all of our contributors to share a fun-fact about themselves. Care to share an anecdote?
DH: Fun fact…hmmmm. I can throw a football like no other (used to be a tomboy as a child). ;)
By Daniel Ford
Meeting your personal heroes, whether on the page or in person, can be a risky proposition. Plenty of journalists find out that the men or women they look up to rarely match the personas in the headlines.
Author Larry Tye conducted exhaustive research for his new book Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon—including interviewing Kennedy’s 88-year-old widow Ethel—and walked away with even more respect for the former U.S. Attorney General and New York Senator. That’s impressive.
Tye talked to me recently about why he decided to pursue journalism and nonfiction writing, his research process for Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon, and what new discoveries he made about one of our most profiled public figures.
Daniel Ford: What made you pursue writing, specifically journalism and nonfiction writing?
Larry Tye: I love to explore issues and people in-depth. I love sharing my findings. And after 20 years of telling stories for newspapers at the length of a page or two, the luxury of doing it at 500 pages has proven irresistible.
DF: What inspired you to write your newest book, Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon?
LT: I grew up in Massachusetts, with Kennedys everywhere, including going to high school with one of Bobby’s sons. I grew up with RFK as a hero. And I saw my mentors in journalism—the hardest-headed reporters of their generation—fall in love with Bobby, the first and only time they let themselves do that with a politician.
I wanted to know more about this enigmatic political figure, and Random House gave me the chance. I also wanted to know more about what America was like in my formative years in the 1950s and ‘60s, and nobody reflected that better—including the ways the country was changing from the era of Eisenhower to the tumultuous 1960s—than Bobby Kennedy.
DF: What was your research like? How many interviews did you conduct, and what kinds of documents did you comb through during the process?
LT: I interviewed more than 400 people and combed through endless documents, including newly-released ones. I read unpublished memoirs and sifted through more than 500 books. My research was both relentless and a blast.
DF: The Kennedy brothers have been the subjects of myriad biographies and historical narratives since their rise to power in the 1960s. Did you discover anything new that truly surprised you?
LT: Lots new: From probing in ways nobody had Bobby’s relationship with Senator Joe McCarthy, to understanding his real role in the Cuban Missile Crisis, to talking to people who hadn’t talked before about his times as attorney general, senator, and presidential candidate. I could cite endless specifics, but would prefer your readers read my book and decide for themselves.
DF: When you finally sat down to write the book, what was your process like? Would you say your process would differ than a fiction author?
LT: I have never written fiction, so wouldn’t know. What I can say is that nonfiction is an ongoing back-and-forth between writing, rechecking old facts, researching new questions, and trying to get back to sleep every time you wake in the middle of the night, remembering something you’d forgotten.
DF: Like his brother, Bobby Kennedy is a captivating figure because of his flaws as well as the better angels of his nature. In writing a biography about a well-known figure like Bobby Kennedy, how do you go about balancing the details of his life to give readers an accurate portrait of who he was?
LT: You try and tell it all, the bad and the good, and hope that the figure that emerges is the real one. That’s harder than it seems, but also what a journalist tries to do every day in every story she or he tells. Again, my readers will have to decide whether I was balanced.
DF: As a Superman fanatic, I can’t let you go without asking one question about your book Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero. How cool was it writing about the Man of Steel?
LT: As cool as it gets. What could be better than calling it work when you spend your days reading old comic books and watching old episodes of Superman movies and television shows.
DF: You’ve written about Satchel Paige, the aforementioned Superman, civil rights, Jewish identity, and, now, Bobby Kennedy. What’s next on the agenda for you?
LT: Stay tuned.
DF: What’s your advice to aspiring nonfiction authors?
LT: Know that writing books is the hardest work anyone could ever do, since it’s never done until it’s done. It’s also the most fun. Test whether it’s for you by writing your story first at newspaper- or magazine-length, then, if you and your publisher think there’s more to tell, try a book.
DF: Can you name one random fact about yourself?
LT: After seeing all the good and bad in him, I remain a bigger fan than ever of Bobby Kennedy. Nothing better than your hero being flesh-and-blood, with the balance of faults and goodness all of us have.
By Daniel Ford
From Martha Washington and Abigail Adams to Laura Bush and Michelle Obama, the nation’s First Ladies have not only provided insights into the Presidents they were married to, but also reveal much about our country’s tastes, styles, and character.
Author Louisa Thomas’s new book, Louisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams, shines a spotlight on Louisa Adams, the wife of John Quincy Adams and our only foreign-born First Lady. Based on letters, diaries, and a plethora of secondary sources, Thomas’s work paints a vivid portrait of one of the most overlooked figures in the early republic.
The author talked to me recently about how reading eventually led her to writing, her research process, and what compelled her to tell Louisa Adams’s story.
Daniel Ford: Did you grow up wanting to become a writer or did the desire to write grow organically over time?
Louisa Thomas: When I was a kid, I wanted to be President of the International Olympic Committee (not a joke!). As I grew older, my ambitions were constantly changing: doctor, English professor, lawyer...never a writer. I wasn't one of those kids who wrote stories all the time (or ever). But I was a great reader—and that is probably why, in the end, I became a writer.
DF: Who were some of your early influences?
LT: Virginia Woolf. Emily Dickinson. Don DeLillo. Wallace Stevens. Homer. Before that, Susan Cooper. And I was obsessed with this semi-trashy YA fantasy series, the Alanna series—The Song of the Lioness quartet. Also, my seventh and twelfth grade math teacher, Mr. Harding, and my Latin teacher, Mr. Cox. They were brilliant, funny, world-expanding. They cared about the right things.
DF: You formerly wrote for Grantland (RIP, sad emoticon), and your work has appeared in The New York Times, Vogue, and The Paris Review. Why did you jump into journalism in the first place? How has it changed from when you first started out and what do you think the future holds for the craft?
LT: I was lucky. I didn’t know what I wanted to do after college, and so I got an internship at Slate, which was, then, tiny and still pretty experimental. From there I became a fact checker at The New Yorker and then assistant to the editor, which was basically my journalism school. There was always some new subject to learn about. And I loved words—loved the way they sounded, the way the felt in my mouth. I was lucky to find myself at a place where every word mattered. Journalism has changed a lot since then—The New Yorker didn’t even really have a website when I was there. I think, for the most part, it’s changed for the better. There are fewer barriers to inclusion. There’s more weird and interesting stuff. There’s a lot of trash, but there was always a lot of trash. And The New Yorker is still The New Yorker. I feel very lucky to have come along when I did. The looming threat is economic. No one has figured out the model. When Grantland closed, I lost my job. I worry about how to make a living. But compensation comes in different forms.
DF: What is your research process like? Were there any hidden gems that didn’t make it into Louisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams?
LT: It’s long! I read thousands of letters. I read secondary sources—books, articles, monographs, biographies, dissertations, you name it. I read novels, which was more helpful than you’d think. It wasn’t until I reread all of Jane Austen, for instance, that I really understood why Louisa’s father’s bankruptcy had the effect that it did. We treat Austen’s books as if they’re romantic comedies. But they’re so much about money!
DF: When you finally sit down to write, do you listen to music, outline, or aim for a set number of pages? Does your voice come out naturally when writing something like Louisa, or do you find it more in the editing process?
LT: Some days, I wrote thousands of words; some days I only erased. It was pretty feast or famine for stretches. I am a huge reviser. I rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite. In fact, I don’t think I’m a writer. I’m a rewriter.
DF: Early American history produced a plethora of colorful characters. Why did you decide to focus on Louisa Adams?
LT: She had a totally original voice. And because she wrote so much, and so openly, she was accessible in a way that few historical figures are. She made history human.
DF: John Quincy Adams wasn’t exactly the easiest fellow to like or get along with. What qualities did Louisa possess to not only match her husband, but also to carve out her own identity?
LT: She was warm where he was cold, social where he was silent, emotional where he was rational. She would have added: she was a woman where he was a man. Her gender was restrictive in so many ways—even that list of attributes indicates how much of the gendered conventions she internalized—but it was also liberating. So was being not entirely an Adams. She didn’t have to speak for the ages. She could speak for herself.
DF: Louisa has garnered some pretty high praise from the likes of Jon Meacham, Megan Marshall, and Joseph J. Ellis. What has that experience been like, and what’s next for you?
LT: I’m honored and grateful to have had such generous and insightful readers. When you work on for something for so long, and especially when you do it about someone rather obscure, you sometimes doubt yourself. No one was clamoring for a biography of Louisa Catherine Adams. So to feel as if maybe you’ve made a little contribution, it’s wonderful. And a relief. As for what’s next? I don’t think I’m done with the early republic. But we’ll see.
DF: What’s your advice to aspiring authors and historians?
LT: Revise. Revise. Revise.
DF: Can you please tell us one random fact about yourself?
LT: I have no idea how I pronounce my own name. Is it LouiSSa or LouiZa? I have no idea.
By Daniel Ford
Lee Eisenberg’s new book The Point Is: Making Sense of Birth, Death, and Everything in Between tackles big honking life questions such as, “Why are we so afraid of death,” “Do mid-life crises exist,” and, of course, “What’s the point?”
You’d think the book would be a heavy springtime read, however, Eisenberg’s crackling, engaging writing style, which naturally weaves quotes from philosophers and other brainy humans of all sorts, makes it seem like he’s telling you all this over a spiked iced tea on the front porch.
Writers will also be happy to note that Eisenberg’s answers to these questions are based on the idea that we have an internal writer-in-residence, which he names “the scribbler,” that’s hard at work crafting our life story. At this point, I imagine my own scribbler as a scruffy, Hawaiian shirt-wearing, beach bum who has been tinkering with a novel at the same time as trying to keep up with my shenanigans (with varying success at both).
Naturally, while reading The Point Is, I tweeted the author in the most Millennial way possible:
Eisenberg, best-selling author and former editor-in-chief of Esquire, recently answered some of my much less brow-furrowing questions about his writing career, his research process, and how his scribbler helped him write The Point Is.
Daniel Ford: When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
Lee Eisenberg: There was no particular moment. My parents didn’t think much of my plan to be a cowboy or a fireman, and I didn’t think much of their plan that I be a doctor or a lawyer. In college, I started writing movie and theater reviews for a weekly underground paper (it got me in free), and sketches for a satirical revue that ran on campus (it brought minor celebrity). Thus motivated by noble principles, I began to take myself seriously as a writer —maybe good enough to write the great American novel but more likely (I was a realist) to wind up on Madison Avenue, where I’d write jingles and drink myself to death.
DF: You spent a considerable amount of time at Esquire and Time, so I have to ask why you jumped into journalism in the first place? How has it changed from when you first started out and what do you think the future holds for the craft?
LE: I didn’t jump in, exactly. I won a contest. Esquire’s great editor Harold Hayes decided the magazine needed a "junior editor" who could make sense of the counterculture. So he wrote a column that offered a job to anyone who was (a) under 25 and (b) thought he/she had a sense of humor. The assignment was to rewrite the titles and subtitles in that particular issue of the magazine. To make a long story short, I won the contest. Luckily, I got to work in magazines at a time when you didn’t have to put a celebrity on the cover every issue and there was still a firm wall between advertising and editorial. Not to mention that you could commission and publish nonfiction pieces that ran, on average, 4,000-words—or in the case of writers like Tom Wolfe or Richard Ben Cramer, two or three times longer than that. Inspired long-form journalism isn’t dead. But its future lies between the covers of books, not magazines.
DF: What’s your writing process like? Do you outline, listen to music, etc.?
LE: I’m a classic “How can I know that I think until I see what I say?” kind of guy. The quote’s been attributed to E.M. Forster but a great many other writers have said the same thing. Work from an outline? I lecture myself on how important it is to know for sure where you're going—in my new book, I talk about the perilous mid-section of a story. But until I hear the sound of my own voice, I’m not confident that I can know where I’m going, or whether it’s worth going there. As a result, even in the early research stage I find myself writing and rewriting the beginning of the book— to assure myself that what I’m doing plays well on the page.
DF: Your first book, Shoptimism, came out while America was still grappling with the Great Recession. The Point Is arrives in yet another compelling time, one in which we’re having this national discussion about health, death, and the like. What inspired the book and where can we shop for your sense of timing?
LE: Thank you for the compliment. But we’ve been having a "discussion” about health, death, and the like since the dawn of human history. If it seems particularly intense at the moment, it’s probably because 78-million baby boomers are contemplating the abyss and asking themselves what their life stories were all about. Myself included. Four or five years ago, having worked for so long and lived all over the place, I decided it was time to take stock.
DF: What was your research process like for The Point Is? How did you go about using your findings to illuminate the themes you were exploring?
LE: There were three parallel paths.
First, I started talking to people—men and women, from twenty-somethings to those who were even older than I am. I asked everyone to tell me their life stories: the best and worst chapters, the turning points, describe the major and minor characters, etc. Eventually, I dropped the $64,000 bomb: Do you know what the point is?
Second, I read books by ancient and modern philosophers, finding inspiration in the work of Victor Frankl, among others, who argued that we are all born with a drive to find meaning in our lives. Failing that, we face years of frustration and boredom.
Finally, I went back and thought hard about my own life, which got me thinking about why certain memories endure and others don't. And how memories are rewritten as the years go by. The death of my father, for example, and the birth of my children. An aha-moment came when I realized that every one of us walks around with a tiny little writer in our brain, whose assignment is to write and rewrite a private life story that can make sense of life and ultimately explains ourselves to ourselves.
DF: If you were a fiction author I’d ask how you develop your characters, however, the major players in your book are actual people! What did you discover about great thinkers, such as Tolstoy, Freud, Joseph Campbell, and Virginia Woolf, and how did they influence your own thinking as you wrote the book?
LE: They have all taken whacks at what constitutes a meaningful life. The writing challenge was to draw on these insights yet not turn the book into Bartlett’s Quotations. The trick was to reference philosophers and great writers in a non-academic or overly pompous way. The solution was to use their insights to illuminate events and relationships in my own past, which allowed me to keep a narrative going.
DF: You employ a rather charming writing style that makes these heavy topics infinitely approachable. First of all, how did you develop your voice over the course of your career? Secondly, are you able to slip into it during the writing process or is it something you find while you’re editing?
LE: My voice is my voice. It pretty much comes out the way it sounds on the page. I then go back and hunt down and ruthlessly remove a lot of unnecessary words.
DF: Now that all the research and writing is done for this project, what do you answer when someone asks you, “Who are we?” or “Why are we?”
LE: I think I make it clear in the book that the aim isn't to tell every man, woman, and child as yet unborn what the meaning of life is. The aim is to give readers a fresh way to think about the story they're carrying around inside. And to keep open the possibility that your life may be a lot more meaningful than you're giving it credit for.
DF: What’s your advice for up-and-coming writers of all kinds?
LE: Read like crazy. And write as much as you can. Keep a diary, which is useful for a great many reasons that I outline in the book. The two most important: daily writing keeps the wheels greased, as P.D. James, the great mystery novelist, put it. But it's also a way to preserve insights for later use. Joan Didion compared keeping a journal to putting loose change into a savings account, where it accumulates interest. Keeping a journal is a "thrifty virtue," she said.
DF: Can you please name one random fact about yourself?
LE: I have a tattoo. I got it decades before tattoos became fashionable. All I’ll say is that it’s on my left shoulder, it’s small and discreet, and it has something to do with a course I took in graduate school. But the precise why it's there, and the details of the night in question, and what it had to do with my personal myth at the time, well, that's between me and the little writer living upstairs.
Authors, poets, and screenwriters, oh my!
Our interviews this year ranged from new literary voices to journalists and from comedians to woodworkers (who are also comedians).
Here are our five most popular interviews from 2015. Look for many, many more in 2016!
Author Joe Hill talks to Sean Tuohy about his writing style, his next book, and what books are currently cluttering his nightstand table.
Offerman Woodshop, located in Los Angeles and helmed by comedian and “Parks and Recreation” star Nick Offerman, has been described as “kick-ass” and is filled with extremely talented and skilled artists. With the help of RH Lee, Sean Tuohy learned more about what it takes to design an original piece of art from a slab of wood.
Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train, talks to Daniel Ford about her love of creativity, her early influences, and how the idea for her popular thriller originated.
Literary agent Christopher Rhodes talks to Daniel Ford about how aspiring authors can sensibly chase their publishing dreams.
Best-selling author talks to Stephanie Schaefer about writing, royalty, and those rumors about a “Princess Diaries 3” movie.