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Preview: Pen On Fire

Pen On Fire / Writers on Writing


Updated: 2016-05-12T06:03:25.670-07:00


This blog has ended.....


....but DO NOT DESPAIR....

visit for the active blog and for the website and goings on.  
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Author & activist Robert "Snorkel Bob" Wintner on Writers on Writing


Author and activist Robert "Snorkel Bob" Winter, talks with Barbara DeMarco-Barrett about his books, and about endangered tropical fish in Hawaii.

Download audio.

 (Broadcast date: Dec. 5, 2012)

Authors on self-publishing, on Writers on Writing


Authors Sonia Marsh, Mary Castillo, Nancy Klann-Moren, and Charles Leister talk about their books, and the process of self publishing. (Starts a little bit late.)

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: Jan. 2, 2013

Diana Wagman on Writers on Writing (podcast)


Novelist Diana Wagman, author of The Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets, spent the entire hour with me talking about her new novel, publishing, writing, and more.

 Download audio.

(Broadcast date: December 12, 2012)

Ancient Light Novelist John Banville on Writers on Writing


Dublin-based novelist (journalist, screenwriter, book reviewer) John Banville for an hour to about his latest novel, Ancient Light, his mystery series, writing, writers, and more, and as the show goes on, it gets downright jolly.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: 12.19.2012)



Hi gang, My website has been revamped and so you can now find my blog on the website at If you're just looking for radio shows that have been podcast, has those.

West Hollywood Book Fair...and more


If you're in Southern California this coming Sunday, come to the West Hollywood Book Fair. Lots of panels and literary company. Free parking, a free fun day in the sun. My memoir panel with Claire Bidwell Smith, Pamela Ribon, and Judith Hannan is at 11 on the Eclectic Stage. Come by!

On October 23 at the Pen on Fire Writers Salon at Scape Gallery in Corona del Mar, our guest will be Martin J. Smith, author of The Wild Duck Chase. Marty is also editor at Orange Coast magazine so he'll be talking about his book, writing narrative nonfiction and essays. More here.

A writing workshop, upcoming salon, & radio


I always forget to post here that my Gotham Writing Workshop called "Jumpstart Your Writing" begins on October 2. You can read all about it here. It's an online workshop for writers who need to, as it says, jumpstart their writing.  There's exercises, lectures, critiques.  What's also fun about it is that writers from all over the world participate.  Email me if you have questions for me.

Also, the Pen on Fire Writers Salon will host novelists Susan Straight and Tatjana Soli on Sept. 18.  You can read more about it here.

And the show (Writers on Writing) as always, broadcasts Wednesday mornings at 9 a.m. PT on KUCI-FM 88.9.  Listen at iTunes college radio or at (click on the upper right hand corner and listen on your computer or smart phone).  Podcasts of past shows are posted here and on (the dedicated show blog).   Coming up this month and next are Laura Lippman, Rex Pickett ("Sideways" author), Cheryl Strayed, Jo-Ann Mapson, Arthur PlotnikIlie Ruby, D.T. Max and Claire Johns.

Chris Bohjalian & Randy Dotinga on Writers on Writing


Chris Bohjalian, author of The Sandcastle Girls, and journalist and Christian Science Monitor book reviewer Randy Dotinga talk with me on Writers on Writing, KUCI-FM 88.9 in Orange Co, CA and online at and iTunes college radio. More at

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: July 29, 2012

Robin Hemley interview


This is a Voices on Writing feature I wrote for the June issue of The ASJA Monthly, which I edit.  This is the unedited version. More Voices on Writing Q&As at; click on The ASJA Monthly. Voices on Writing: Robin HemleyRobin Hemley is the author of ten books of nonfiction and fiction and the winner of many awards including a 2008 Guggenheim Fellowship, The Nelson Algren Award for Fiction from The Chicago Tribune, The Story Magazine Humor Prize, an Independent Press Book Award, two Pushcart Prizes and many others.  His fiction, nonfiction, and poetry has been published in the U.S., Great Britain, Germany, Japan, the Philippines, and Hong Kong, and he teaches creative writing workshops around the world.  He has been widely anthologized and has published his work in such places as The New York Times, The Believer, The Huffington Post, Orion, The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, New York Magazine, and literary magazines.  The BBC is currently developing a feature film based on his book Invented Edenthat tells the story of a purported anthropological hoax in the Philippines. His third collection of short stories, Reply All, is forthcoming in 2012 from Indiana University Press (Break Away Books) and The University of Georgia Press recently published his book A Field Guide For Immersion Writing: Memoir, Journalism, And Travel (reviewed by Steve Weinberg in this month’s What’s in Store column). He is a senior editor of The Iowa Review as well as the editor of a popular online journal, Defunct ( that features short essays on everything that’s had its day.  He currently directs the Nonfiction Writing Program at The University of Iowa and is the founder and organizer of NonfictioNow, a biennal conference that will convene in November 2012 in Melbourne, Australia.   Your CV is intimidating. Have you always been a writer?I’ve always written, but I haven’t always identified myself as a writer.  I come from a literary family: My mother was a short story writer, translator, and novelist, and my father was a publisher, novelist, poet, and translator. So, from an early age, part of my life included writing and reading.  Your focus, for the most part, has been short stories, essays, and memoir.  What is it about these genres that grabs you?It’s true I like the short form—essays and stories—though I’ve gone long several times, as well.  My novel, The Last Studebaker, was well-received and reviewed, and I’m only now working on a second novel.  I love the novel form, too, but I tend to write in whatever form interests me at the time.              Workshops tend to focus on the short story. When I went to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop as a young writer, I wrote a lot of stories, some of which made it into my first book of stories. I loved short stories well before that.  I used to love to peruse my family library and pull short story collections from the shelves.  That’s how I discovered Kafka, Borges, and Isaac Babel, among others.             After graduate school, for a couple of years I taught part-time at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and there I taught “Essay Writing.”  This was a basic composition course, but here, I fell in love with the essay, too, largely through an anthology that the poet Donald Hall edited.  At the time, hardly anyone in the academy thought of the essay as an art form that held its own against the short story and the poem.  That’s all changed now, and I’m glad of it.  I think the short form interests me so much because these forms tend to focus on what’s not writt[...]



Every so often I rant about how everyone should read poetry if they want their writing to move to the next level. So here's a poem for you, one I just ran into today on Melanie's blog, by Theodore Roethke.  I've loved this poem ever since I studied poetry in college. Do you read poetry--ever?  Favorite poem? Post a link if there is one.

The Waking

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.
Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.
This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

Ken Ballen & Tim Harford


Ken Ballen, author of Terrorists in Love: The Real Lives of Islamic Radicals talks to Marrie Stone about why and how some of the world's most dangerous terrorists opened up and shared their stories, America's misconceptions about terrorism, and what we should really fear.  Tim Harford, author of Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure, chats about how this book has helped with his own approach to writing and life.  

(Broadcast date: July 4, 2012)

Blueberry tarts for fella tarts


Okay, this one isn't about books or authors or the show, but about tarts. Cleanse your minds, folks; you've been looking at online porno a bit too much.  I'm talking about the tarts you make from scratch using summer fruit.  In this case, blueberries.  These tarts were a major hit and my cousin Gerry and a few friends asked for the recipe, so here it is.  The recipe hasn't been kitchen tested so don't sue me if the tarts don't come out exactly right. But the recipe is kinda basic so I'm confident your result will be delish. Blueberry tarts for fella tartsIt’s so hard to get it exactly right when you see how things are going and you add a little more of this or that. Most tart recipes can be modified. Cakes—no.  They rely more on chemistry and exactly measures but it’s hard to mess up a pie.CrustWheat…Any pie crust recipe. I used one from my Fanny Farmer cookbook and instead of a full 2 cups of unbleached flour, used ½ cup of whole wheat flour and 1 ¾ cups of unbleached.orGluten free….Also made a gluten free flour mixed that tasted heavenly and held together using 1 cup of tapioca starch, 1 cup of brown rice flour and ½ cup of almond meal that I ground using raw almonds and then sifted so it was all smooth. This with a pinch of salt and 12 tablespoons of ice cold butter and water.thenLine little tartlet metal molds (bought mine at Sur le Table) and bake in a 350 degree preheated oven for 10 minutes or until they look lightly done.In the meantime…Blueberries 4 or so cups of fresh blueberries1 cup of sugar (I used organic)3 T cornstarch1 cup water1/8 teaspoon salt(optional: a tablespoon or two of butter. I didn’t add it but for butter lovers, you might want to)Mix the sugar, cornstarch salt and water in a pot and cook over very low heat until thickened.  Add blueberries and cook a little more.  Turn off heat but allow the mixture to stay in the pot and cool.Crumb toppingMix ¼ cup of flour and ¼ cup of brown sugar, mix, then add two tablespoons of cold butter. Mix with your fingers.  You want a crumbly texture. If the mixture seems too buttery, add in some brown sugar, then flour. It’s hard to mess this up.  Complete and bake…Now, you have a couple dozen partially baked tart shells, a cooked blueberry mixture and a crumb topping. Scoop blueberries into the tart shells so they are nicely rounded and once they’re all filled, sprinkle with the crumb topping. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes. Bake a little more until the crumb topping looks a little golden and the edge of the tarts are a little golden, too. You can always use this to make one big plump pie and there’s enough pie crust to make a lattice top instead of using crumbs. And you can also use a different fruit and the same ingredients.  Up to you! Let me know how it goes. Take a picture! And enjoy.  Love, Barbara[...]

New Yorker podcast


Does anyone listen to the New Yorker magazine's podcast? I just listened to Maile Meloy read a Laurie Colwin short story here. If you've never read Laurie Colwin, or even if you had, listening to Maile read this one is, as my son would say, chill.

Steve Kemper & Bridget Hoida on Writers on Writing


Steve Kemper, author of A Labyrinth of Kingdoms and Bridget Hoida, author of So L.A. talk about their books and about writing.

 Download audio.

 (Broadcast date: July 25, 2012)

Dinah Lenney at TED


Memoirist Dinah Lenney was recently a guest author at the Pen on Fire Writers Salon here in Corona del Mar. She also just did a TED x USC talk. Here it is. I love TED. And I love Dinah. width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>

Camille Noe Pagan & Janet Groth


Camille Noe Pagan talks to Marrie Stone about her novel, "The Art of
Forgetting," how journalism feeds her fiction, the discipline of writing
 with children, and the mysteries of brain injuries.  Janet Groth joins
in the second half, talking about her years working at The New
Yorker in her memoir, "The Receptionist: An Education at The New

(Broadcast date: July 11, 2012)

Litstack & Robert Olen Butler


Have you visited Litstack? Here's a cool review of Robert Olen Butler's writing book, From Where You Dream. Robert was on the show a couple of times talking about this book and talking about his newest novel.  Play particular attention to what the reviewer has to say about writing using the senses. As he says Chekhov says, don't talk about how the moon was shining; show it glinting on a piece of glass.

This Sunday at Laguna Beach Books


This Sunday, July 22, my students from the Literary Posse and Writers Block Party and I will be reading from works in progress at Laguna Beach Books on Pacific Coast Hwy. in Laguna Beach. Join us at 4 p.m. for good words, good food, and good company, in one of the best indie bookstores anywhere, and it's free. Hope to see you then!

 Also, this just in from Sonia Marsh: Write a 1,000 word or less "My Gutsy Story" to be featured on my blog and each month the winner gets to pick a prize from our list of sponsors. The story is about something that either changed you, or made your life take a different direction. Click here for more information.

Last night's event with Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins author


Jess Walter's new novel, Beautiful Ruins, has been out for a few weeks and doing great. Does he get no bad reviews? One writer present, Pat Kersey, commented that he never saw an author with such positive reviews. Here are a few photos from last night. Thanks to C.J.Bahnsen for most of the photos, and Travis Barrett for a few others. If you were present, please share what you remember about last night. If you want to hear the radio interviews I did with Jess, go to, enter "Walter" in the search box and both should come up. [...]

Eva Gabrielsson & Carin Gerhardsen


Stieg Larsson's partner of 31 years, Eva Gabrielsson, talks with Marrie Stone about her memoir, "There Are Things I Want You To Know (About Stieg Larsson and Me)."  She shares her pain of his sudden loss, memories of their years together, and her intimate decision to share their story.  Carin Gerhardsen, author of the Hammarby Series, talks about her writing process, carrying a storyline across several novels, and her methods of sustaining a mystery and characters.  She is the author of "The Gingerbread House.  

(Broadcast date: June 27, 2012)

Joan Schenkar talks about writing biography and Patricia Highsmith


Joan Schenkar, biographer, playwright and author of The Talented Miss Highsmith, talks about writing biography and Patricia Highsmith on Writers on Writing. If you've read or seen The Talented Mr. Ripley or Strangers on a Train, then you know Highsmith's work, because she wrote both.  And Schenkar's biography is one of the best I've read.  It's a literary biography.  There's much to learn here about the form.

Download audio.

 (Broadcast date: June 20, 2012)

More on rejection


Can there ever be too much to say about rejection? I pulled a book of essays off my shelf this morning, The Writing Habit, by David Huddle. I bought this book back in 1991 and have held onto it ever since because of the gems between the covers. This morning I read the essay, "Let's Say You Wrote Badly," in which Huddle compares baseball with writing. I love baseball so I kept reading. He talks about how baseball players deal with rejection, how there is no baseball pitcher who has ever not given up a home run or a batter who has not struck out.  I like this paragraph:

"And what more than failure--the strike out, the crucial home run given up, the manuscript criticized and rejected--is more likely to produce caution or timidity? An instinctive response to painful experience is to avoid the behavior that produced the pain.  To function at the level of excellence required for survival, writers like athletes must go against instinct, must absorb their failures and become stronger, must endlessly repeat the behavior that produced the pain."

Why do I like this paragraph so much? Because that's how it is: We writers keep repeating the behavior that produced the pain and sometimes we hit a home run, but too often we strike out.  But we keep playing, we stay in the game, because there's always the chance we'll score, and after all, we love playing.

There are so many other good essays in the book.  Grab one from wherever you can.

Jess Walter, author of "Beautiful Ruins," on Writers on Writing


Jess Walter, author of the new novel, Beautiful Ruins, discusses his writing and work for the entire hour. I'm ecstatic that he will be a guest at the Pen on Fire Writers Salon on July 17, 2012. I loved his last novel, The Financial Lives of the Poets, and I'm reading The Zero now.  We have only a couple of seats left so if you're interested, act fast. More info here.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: June 13, 2012)

Ha-va-ii, not Hawaii


A few days ago we came home after spending a week on the Big Island (Hawaii).  I don't know what I expected, exactly.  I've only ever been to Hawaii  on my way to someplace else.  At the Honolulu airport I walked outside, felt the humidity, and got back on the plane.

The Big Island is a geological marvel.  Spent Tues to Weds in the rainforest on the eastern side of the island and now my favorite color is yellow green / chartreuse / lime green because it's the color of the rain forest.  We walked in the rain to Akaka falls, a 400 foot or so waterfall, and it was so worth it.  I remember every inch of that walk.  I remember the startling shades of green.  There must be a million.