Article · Interview · Stories · Writing Craft

Debra Eve and other later-blooming writers

Debra Eve, always wanted to write but started her career as a technical engineer, training lawyers in technology. She tired of the corporate milieu and returned to school to become an archeologist only to discover that she didn’t have deep enough pockets to finance any digs. Disappointed, she attended writing workshops, martial arts classes, and traveled. She was learning, exploring, taking mental notes, but not writing. One day, when she was fifty, she asked herself when she’d get around to it. There was never a good time. She’d have to make the decision to write.

So she did. Not knowing where to start, she researched any other writers that got off to a late start. Contrary to the myth of gifted “born” writers, many successful authors “got around” to writing well after the age of forty. Eve wrote mini biographies about these well-known writers and posted their stories on her blog, She had created one of the first repositories that listed “re-invented” writers. In 2012, she published these biographies as an anthology and it is still a high-ranking seller on Amazon.

What do these late blooming writers have in common? They are people with too many disparate interests. Often, they are unusually industrious and responsible people, working and slaving away even if they feel stuck in unsatisfying careers until there is a change in their jobs, routine or personal life. They take this opportunity to reflect and release themselves from their duties to explore new directions. Like writing.

Hmmm, I wonder what percentage of bloggers are later bloomers?

This article was compiled from a presentation Debra Eve gave at the California Writers Club – Inland Empire Branch in October 2014.

Article · Interview · Writing Craft

David Congalton: tips from a screenwriter

David Congalton once sat behind a fellow writer, Catherine Ryan Hyde. She had unexpected, sudden success when her book Pay It Forward was adapted to film in 2000. She even received an invitation to a White House reception. Congalton spent the evening consumed by feelings of intense envy, instead of being happy for the author’s success. He grumbled to his wife, “Why is she successful, but not me?” His wife’s response was matter of fact. Ms Hyde had done the work, paid her dues, and she deserved her success.

David had moved to Los Angeles in 1987 to become a professional writer. He spent a decade dreaming up crazy concepts to break into the commercial market and writing bad screenplays and unpublished novels. After a house fire and the death of five pets, he developed a niche as a pet writer. He got married and became a popular radio show host but it was not the best-selling success he’d imagined. His brother constantly asked when he’d go back to his real job as a teacher. Eventually, Congalton agreed but when he announced his decision to stop writing to his friends they challenged him to try one more time, with the caveat that he write about something he knew well.

Well, Congalton had twenty-seven years of participation in writer critique workshops. His earliest endeavors were filled with amateur writing mistakes. He had real life examples of obnoxious and humorous attitudes from aspiring writers. Mostly, he could parody himself.

He wrote a screenplay about a writing critique group. The group has an encouraging “All for One, One for All” attitude—until the least seasoned, least educated member experiences sudden success and the rest of the group becomes envious. The movie was released as Authors Anonymous. Now David Congalton can say he’s done the work and paid his dues. He treasured the thrill of the movie premier, seated beside his once skeptical brother in an auditorium filled with actors, producers and directors. But that was one evening over many years of writing. For all the other evenings, David Congalton can say for sure:

  • Don’t give up on your dreams
  • Don’t let anyone else define your dream
  • Write what you know
  • Be happy when others are successful

This article was compiled from a presentation David Congalton gave at the California Writers Club – Inland Empire Branch in April 2014.

Article · Interview · Writing Craft

Amy Friedman: Writer’s advice

Amy Friedman was a guest speaker at my local writing club in Ontario Library. I was curious about her knowledge about prisoners because I help out at Claremont’s Prison Library Project, mailing books to prisoners. Amy offered advice for writers, an entertaining series of short stories based on personal experiences. This is how she explained the benefits of joining a critique workshop:

“When I tell people that I married a man who was serving a life sentence for murder, the most common response is negative—comments like ‘What were you thinking? Why?’ Well, I got married because I fell in love, and I fell in love with a prisoner because he was a person, and everyone is complex.

As a writer, you cannot predict people’s reactions but hearing their perspective gives you new eyes and feedback will improve your writing. When I was looking for a new critique group for my memoir ‘Desperado’s Wife,’ someone in a prospective workshop group said, ‘you married a man who was in prison. Yuck, how could you do that?’ and I decided this was the right team of people to critique my book. When my chapter about falling in love with a prisoner elicited positive reactions, it successfully moved people to think differently.”

Friedman teaches memoir and personal essay at the UCLA Extension Writers Studio, and is a journalist by training. Top on her list of advice was to write, and write often. Years of deadlines with a local newspaper kept her on task, writing two thousand words every week.  Amy said this column was hard work,  and a “gift” because these personal essay assignments made her writing authentic, and encouraged her to “helicopter” into new worlds for inspiration. The more she wrote, “the more clear what I was trying to say came on the page.”

It also fostered a column, “The Bedtime Story,” her idea for a newspaper story for children. Which lead to her second recommendation—pursue all chances to get your writing out into the world. Writing and discovering publishing opportunities will lead to publication, however writing for the sake of becoming published will not. Don’t write for others. Write because it has to be written, even if it were for one person.

The craft of writing is making one mess of a draft and re-writing it into a story. Once the book is written, an author is still not done. “It takes staying power, more than you’d ever imagine to finish a book project.”  Agents come and go, bestselling topics come and go, and these cycles are out of your control. No one can predict what book will hit the mark. All a writer can do is write with an authentic voice and be attentive to their projects.

While working on this list, Amy had collaborated with her husband who is also a writer. His comments focused on expectations, specifically the formula of time and money—and return on investment. Few writers, even successful ones, live off the money made from selling books. Most writers have side jobs to pay the bills; her income is from teaching, editing and ghostwriting. It takes time to write a book, years to market, to publish, and a writer might not see a paycheck from a book for as long as four years. If you want to be a writer, choose to write as a career, not for the experience of a one time writing project.

Writing is a combination of negative and positive experiences. When Amy was ghostwriting a book, One Soufflé at a Time, she found herself travelling to Yorkshire, England and even had meals prepared for her by a private chef in a castle in Burgundy! A definite perk.

When you are a writer, you never know what world, fictitious or real, will open up to you.