Blog Archives

David Henry Hwang, Nick Flynn, Rosary O’Neill: Writers Giving Back to Writers

Writing I worked on during a workshop at Omega Institute.

Writing I worked on during a workshop at Omega Institute.

The Paradigm Shift

The long needed paradigm shift for authors is here. Like never before, successful writers of all genres are available to their fans and others as many discard traditional publishing routes that were profitable to everyone but the writer.  Self-publishing and direct to the source return the profits back to authors. As social media, blogs and e-zines trump traditional media, and streaming (House of Cards) Youtube (plays and shows) and Google Hangouts (live music shows) become widespread, TV venues that formerly preyed upon the division between the creator and the passive audience are dying. It’s about interactivity.  As a result writers are relying on interactions with followers on Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, etc., to promote and sell their work, engage their readers and update them on their latest triumphs. To remain current, they must stir the pot and trouble the waters of innovation and artistry. How else can they benefit from the currents of cultural resplendence? If they don’t connect, they will eventually be choked off as is happening to old line venues for the cultural arts.

Authors Stay Juiced Through Workshops and Master Classes

Nick Flynn at work during the workshop at Omega Institute.

Nick Flynn at work during the workshop at Omega Institute.

Another way noted writers are connecting is by giving back in workshops, conferences and master classes.  It is particularly rewarding when brilliant authors are sure footed guides who can shepherd their fellow writers up the mountain of difficulties regarding word-craft to unlock inspiration. Fluid workshops are settings which inspire writers to share their work without fear. They encourage spontaneous, authentic writing. They help authors learn new techniques and allow them to bathe in the creative flow of juiced writing.

Three noted writers and authors whose workshops and classes I took in the last months were particularly helpful and each was extremely generous. David Henry Hwang, successful Pulitzer Prize nominated playwright, Nick Flynn, poet and memoirist, and Rosary O’Neill, playwright, screenwriter and diverse author reached into their bounty of spirit and shared liberally. Reflecting back on the process with these exceptional writers, I now see that the exchanges and connections offered unique experiences that are helping me hone my craft and provide direction for my writing projects.


David Henry Hwang graciously speaking with us and staying for pictures after the class at the Cherry Lane Theatre.

David Henry Hwang graciously speaking with us and staying for pictures after the class at the Cherry Lane Theatre.

I absolutely adore this man, this stunning screenwriter, librettist and multiple award-winning playwright best known for M Butterfly, Yellow Face and Chinglish. I have seen much of his work on Broadway and Off Broadway. The first time I saw M Butterfly (I saw it twice.) starring John Lithgow and B.D. Wong, I remember telling my cousins after the performance that it was a happening.  Thrilling and alive, it was like seeing Venice for the first time or tasting my first sip of vintage wine from a bottle that cost more than $150. Poor similes, I grant you, but I was gobsmacked. Taking this class with him I was anxious to understand his technique. I had seen his development and knew early works like Dance in the Railroad. I and was looking forward to seeing his Kung Fu at the Signature Theatre in March of 2014. What would he share?

The writers/students in the master class with David Henry Hwang were at various stages in their writing careers; their backgrounds were motley. Wang enjoys people and he interacted with us after getting a general feel for this large group who was there to breathe the same air as this multiple award winner and Pulitzer Prize nominee. He of course, is unassuming, disarming and a sponge of humility you could just hug and squeeze. Despite the large  numbers in the group, David Henry Hwang put us at ease and somehow created an intensity and intimacy during the session, a talent in itself.

David Henry Hwang and me.

David Henry Hwang and Carole Di Tosti.

Move toward the unconscious.

The master playwright encouraged us to continually transcend the conscious mind and write frequently, overriding our conscious censor. For example, when thinking “I’m not good enough,” or “Why should anyone care about what I’m writing,” that is the nihilistic self-critic. Inspire yourself and unblock using various techniques; some suggestions are below.

  • Silence the censor by writing as fast as you can. You can always go back and edit.
  • Cut out phrases from a magazine article and shuffle them into various sequences. Copy a phrase or two priming the pump until it’s flowing. Don’t stop until there is a natural pause.
  • Write out words in free association. Put them in a hat and choose various ones that continue the associations. Write continually and automatically. Follow where the writing leads you; don’t lead it.
  • Of course, David Henry Want suggested to always write what inspires and keeps your interest. The more you have fallen in love with what you are writing about the better.
  • Allow yourself to give your characters free reign. They will lead you to amazing places that you never new were possible on the journey.

NICK FLYNN’S MEMOIR AS BEWILDERMENT at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY

Nick Flynn chatting with writers before class.

Nick Flynn chatting with writers before the workshop begins at the Omega Institute.

Nick Flynn is a poet and  best-selling memoirist. He wrote The Reenactments, The Ticking Is the Bomb, and the haunting and beautiful best seller, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City which was published as Being Flynn, the title of the independent film based on the book. The film stars Robert DiNero and Paul Dano. Flynn’s three books of poetry are The Captain Asks For a Show of Hands, Some Ether, and Blind Huber. I was familiar with his memoir Another Bullshit Night... and liked his style of writing.  During the two day workshop, Nick Flynn was generous answering questions about the making of the film (it took seven years) and his writing life. He challenged us, attempting to jar our sensibilities into the unusual because only then could the chaffing break us into the realm of the unexpected to authenticity. As we wrote and shared our writings, elements he uses in his own writing resonated deeply. His wonderful humor carried us through any nervousness.

Use image and object chains from various sources.

  • Flynn encouraged us toward selecting images and objects threading them in our work. Images carry emotional power and weight. These are tied to associations from our unconscious that have meaning beyond what we may not recognize consciously.
  • Write down dreams and the images will more naturally appear to us. Incorporate images or objects in automatic writing which should be spontaneous and  unedited.
  • The writing muscle should be exercised each day, a minimum of seven minutes. Write ceaselessly allowing the flow and trusting it to take you wherever. Dare to risk the journey, the more bewildered the better. Eventually rationality through the concrete image emerges.
  • Create moments of surprise and use them in writing. Look for a science article (NY Times, perhaps) that is filled with images or objects and write about one that has energy and interest. Look through old pictures. List three questions about the people or objects in the photos. Write on each for 7 minutes. Incorporate the results in your work then edit later what doesn’t sing. You’re practicing powerful description and your technique will be enhanced overall with your writing projects.


Deborah Temple, Dr. Rosary O'Neill, and Mary at the Omega Institute.

Deborah Temple, Dr. Rosary O’Neill, and Mary Anderson at the Omega Institute.

Rosary O’Neill, Ph.D. is a playwright, director, screenwriter, writer of narrative nonfiction and a scholar who hails from New Orleans. She was the founding artistic director at Southern Rep Theatre where her plays about family with Southern Gothic themes were produced for many years. A prolific writer and virtual dynamo who has received 7 Fullbrights, and fellowships to the Norman Mailer House, Tyrone Guthrie Centre and other venues, she has studied abroad where she has completed research for a play about John Singer Sargent and a book and play about Degas, to name a few works. With extensive experience in acting and theatre production, she has written The Actor’s Checklist, is currently working on a soon to be published book with new information never before revealed about the Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  Rosary O’Neill has written 22 plays. Most have been published by Samuel French. Many of them have been performed at the Southern Rep and many have garnered readings at the National Arts Club, the Rattlestick Theatre, The Players Club and in regional theaters like The Westchester Collaborative Theatre and Bard College. Her latest work, an uplifting musical entitled Broadway or Bust with lyrics/music by David Temple, directed by Deborah Temple will be performed at Bard College Black Box Theatre, November 13th and 15th. She has written a TV series entitled Heirs that that is currently being shop optioned. An experienced college professor, Rosary’s class was a joy and steered folks in a different direction, toward writing characters that live and are breathing and vital. This is playwriting/screenwriting at its best.

Deborah Temple, Dr. Rosary O'Neill, Mary, Carole Di Tosti at the Omega Institute.

Deborah Temple, Dr. Rosary O’Neill, Mary Anderson, Carole Di Tosti at the Omega Institute.

Sound character when creating dialogue.

  • When writing characters, think of individuals you know, their high points and dramatic episodes. Ask yourself why you remember them; what strikes you about them? Give yourself a prompt that you think might help you distill who they are in an image, then write about them. Eventually, this can be worked into creating character.
  • Read all dialogue aloud. Make sure it sings. If you are bored and don’t wish to read it, have someone else read it aloud. If it doesn’t resonate to you or the other individual, then drop it and move your inspiration elsewhere.
  • Select a scene where there have been family get-togethers. Dialogue should reveal differences in character, cadences, phrases, accents, content. How are you revealing tonal messages through speech? Act out the lines. What doesn’t fit, jettison.
  • Remain upbeat at all times. Shun negative thoughts. Do you have anything better to do with your life than to create life, through characters, dialogue and plays/films? All dialogue has run through you at one point or another. You are recalling it to your remembrance and shifting it around for greater use. Above all, enjoy the experience.

PARTING SHOTS: David Henry Hwang, Nick Flynn, Rosary O’Neill

DHH- Find a way to have your plays read aloud, even if you are getting actors in your living room. It’s the only way to find out if the characters cohere, if the whole thing works.

NF-Only submit your finest work, your best, work, the stuff you’ve edited and crafted and you still find vibrant after reading it 100 or more times. If you don’t want to read what you’ve written, then put a red line through it and circle it. Cut it out. You’re bored with it, others will be too.

RO-Spend a lot of time editing and revising. The work must pop, the dialogue must sing. If it doesn’t, you’ve overwritten. It’s too long. Cut, cut, cut, but still be logical and make sense. You can always add. The editing is hard, but vital to great writing.

All of them:  Keep on writing!

Writers! Regardless of Where You Stand in the Publishing Game, Enhance Your Social Media Presence.

dim sum, writing article, spiegleman 011

A Spiegelman fan,I purchased this copy at a used bookstore.

Brilliant best selling graphic artist and Pulitzer prizewinner Art Spiegelman of Maus I and Maus II fame struggled to get his work out there in the early 1970s. It was a process and there was even rejection of his incredible, iconic work. (Words cannot describe the graphic artistry and meaning of what he has done with Maus I and Maus II. You just have to check it out for yourself or not.) When he was attempting to get his book Breakdowns  published (before he created Maus I) it didn’t go swimmingly. Decades later, after his many awards, global recognition and other publications, his editor at Pantheon was all for re-issuing Breakdowns and this time, Spiegelman was surprised and hesitant. But things had changed by 2007. You mean publishing and the cultu1re had galactically shifted from the days that Art Spiegelman was first establishing his career? Duh!

In those days, for Spiegelman, getting published was not unimportant. To many today, it is golden. It is the dream of established writers who may have faced writer’s block after years of success. It is the dream of those who have fallen off the charts and out of the hearts of former readers. It is the dream of the published whose first, second and third books have middling sales that  tapered to .001% so that literary agents and editors won’t go near them. (Low percentages? Nil profit margins? Are you insane? How can the media  CEOs sustain tremendous salaries and bonuses with such schlocky sales numbers?) It is the dream of the working writer who has written and published one book and is working on another in the hope of changing publishers/ agents and getting a better deal, though the first book sales were abysmal. The variables of situation are endless, unless of course, one is a hot name with an extensive platform, i.e. Bill O’Reilly (in which case the greatness of the work is immaterial, as long as there is name recognition and a ready mega platform).

The irony has been that for the last century, concepts and particular literati who have been favored by elites, the wealthy or politicos have been highly publicized. This creates an inherent censorship. The gatekeepers, the literary agents, the large presses have kept it that way to fuel ideas that elitists wanted the public to believe and be bound in by. So traditional media has worked in concert with the very wealthy. (Perhaps it is why Spiegelman was rejected for publication until he found an intelligent, prescient SMALL publisher who took a chance on him.) In many instances the middle class and general public’s reading tastes have been tailored to what elites have deemed, “great,” though their standards are merely opinions and predominately skewed to their agendas. Their concepts of great craft, writing and artistry often beggar the imagination.

Salman Rushdie 001

Salman Rushdie tweets with his fans on Twitter and actually did battle last year with Facebook, winning with his great humor, irony and wit. Social media is one of the best ways to connect and keep in touch with your readers.

Needless to say, European publishers, more intellectual, knowledgeable in breadth and scope, courageous and less censoring, have allowed titles in that NEVER WOULD HAVE BEEN ACCEPTED IN THE US. And yet, we think we are a free and open democracy?  (We are told that by traditional media hirelings though many medical books and controversial political content find publishing friends overseas or in Canada.) Well…traditional publishing has relied on TV to gather its stable of often un-meritorious but profitable properties.  Writers, unfortunately, have been at the mercy of these “experts” in the field who often consider the art and craft of a work last, and consider the saleability first.

apple 003

Apple was one of the companies sued by the DOJ for price collusion.

This former “state of the art” for the industrial media complex has been upended by Google. It has been overturned by Amazon, undercut by Facebook and thwarted by Twitter and other social media platforms and growing spheres like Storylane.  How? Subtly and not so surreptitiously. When traditional media realized it had lost its edge and destroyed the bee hives producing their honey, their fear and greed and inability to ADAPT or wrap their brains around what was happening spurred them into old paradigm interventions that worked before: lobbying and price collusion.

Mistake.  They’ve been held accountable and have been sued by the DOJ and a few have had to settle while others collude with the government for the best deal which may not be forthcoming since their profitability is much lower than Google’s and Amazon’s. You see traditional media became so comfy with their century long oligolopoly that they were caught up short without a chamber pot when Amazon undersold them. That’s all they could come up with to compete? While they were riding out the waves of the past, their navigation misdirected by the old paradigm, the innovators, like a huge roller, a mammoth tidal wave, a mega tsunami, capsized their hopes and dreams of profits. Now, they are paddling slowly while growing social media networks and companies like Google continue their innovations, investing money in R & D to create better product and to entice readers, writers and developers to improve.

Bottom line? Google is swamping the media that was!  I will not refer to the traditional publishers by name. Unless they begin to accept mid-list and beginning writers, offering them credible crumbs, the writing community will eschew them completely in favor of working with e-publishers, small publishers, Createspace, et. al, and those in the online publishing paradigm. I give these censoring publishers who will have to spend more and more on costly promotions and PR campaigns less than 20 years. Unless they begin to innovate to create the “next best thing,” or unless they merge with Amazon or Google (Why would those companies want to merge with inefficient, ineffective, archaic and intractable platforms?) they will have disappeared, become a ghost memory, a ridiculous faux nightmares of elitism from which we have awakened. What was the name of that book seller that went bankrupt because its innovations were too little too late? Innovate or perish. Big name publishers are slowly writhing in the mud as their hand maidens, the agents, the PR personnel, the editors struggle, sucked downward with them, sinking further into the shifting, miry clay soon to be swallowed up in a sinkhole of their own making.

The diminishing present trend is that,unless you are President Obama or a politico or a faux or worthy celebrity, a salable commodity, a publishing company will not market you. You have to market yourself. Even if you are President Obama, you have to market yourself, appearing on old media, TV, etc. Wasn’t it Michelle Obama I saw ripping open the envelope for the Best Picture Oscar last night, via a feed from the White House? Folks, the President is savvy enough to have his social media hordes and teams busy marketing him online. It’s why the Republicans have been doing unmentionables in the dark. They can’t get into the light of Twitter/ Facebook, et. al. and sound rational.

dim sum, writing article, spiegleman 013

Kristen Lamb, author, blogger and a member of the online writing community who inspires and nudges writers to get on with the craft and be persistent in achieving their goals.

So, writers, if it’s good enough for the Prez, it should be good enough for you. Kristen Lamb, social media maven and author, in a recent blog post discussed the hard work it takes to position yourself on social media platforms to establish a working, interactive community from which you can promote and sell your books. If you think it will take too much time, then hire a team to help you. Using hashtags, and signings and promotions and launches, you will be able to promote yourself on social media and continue to do so, long after a traditional publishing company has left you to ROT.

nina amir 001-001

Nina Amir is a motivational coach who helps writers and non writers achieve their goals and live inspired lives.

How do you do this if you have been out of the loop for some time and find Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Youtube and Reddit loathsome? GET OVER YOURSELF! SNAP OUT OF IT! Swallow, take a deep breath and sign on for social media classes online. If you are a woman writer, then check into WOW  Women on Writing. If you prefer live and hands on, there are many Continuing Ed. courses at various universities or colleges near you. Hopefully, you are not in this dire condition.

To help yourself and your writing career regardless of where you are…pick up the bullet at your current situation:

  • Read about social media and take classes to learn how to post and interact on the most powerful sites (Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.)
  • Start a few blogs and blog about subjects related to your writing, making sure to increase your readership and followership daily. Read other blogs faithfully and post comments on them, inviting them to guest on your blog.
  • Be willing to spend at least 3-4 hours a day on social media and the same on your writing. Alternate this according to a schedule you make for yourself if you can’t spend the time.
  • Once you’ve created a viable interacting platform and joined writers’ groups including those on Linked In and elsewhere, create your book pages and invite your followers.
  • Somewhere in between all of this, you are writing your book, editing it or sending it out to be edited or working with an editor or an agent you get along with; one who is a friend and one you can trust.
  • If you have done all of the above years ago and are in a slump, change it up and do something different. Shut down all online interaction for a day or a number of hours. Then review what seems to be working and what isn’t and jettison both for another day or period of hours. Go back and reassess and research. The change up will spur you on and revitalize you. If it doesn’t, seek a coach or someone to help you get out of the funk or open this up to your online writing community. Share, ask for comments and advice. Eventually the watershed moment will come. (Skip below as needed and move to the last paragraph.)

This is the beginning of a beautiful relationship with your online writing community and your team of writing friends who are intelligent, creative wordsmiths. You will keep many; you will lose many, but the journey is amazing, and eventually what was the hard work, when you look back after a year of doing this, will not appear to be so arduous after all.

dim sum, writing article, spiegleman 012

The following 2 sources might be helpful for those who are beginning, or those who have taken a hiatus and need to get back into it especially if you feel overwhelmed. I apologize for not including many more, but these should whet your appetite and they are easy.

Online writing source with classes: WOW Women on Writing.  (Men can take these classes as well. They are not maternalistic.) I took classes with WOW and found them to be what I needed. I also had to put in the time to learn by trial and error. I have writing friends who refuse to do this and their many publications languish, but they are trying to use other venues to get going. (traditional media venues)

Helpful BooksHow to Blog a Book  by Nina Amir

We are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media by Kristen Lamb

Your successful publishing career can take years, but so can publishing via the traditional way, which may never come to pass as the industry is reeling in a downward spiral toward doom. I have a friend who self-published because he said he was getting old and he wanted to see his books in print. That was his dream. What is yours? Are you using your social media presence to achieve it?

%d bloggers like this: