Seattle Writing Classes Discuss Interview

Winston Churchill interviewing in Seattle Writing Classes.
Journalist interviewing Winston Churchill discussed in Seattle Writing Classes.

In my fall Seattle writing classes, I will discuss interviewing, a vastly underappreciated skill, with application in fiction writing, nonfiction writing, poetry writing and screenplays. As a former reporter and regular magazine writer, I understand how useful it is to interview subjects for background information as well as for a full profile. Many writers are uncomfortable with interviewing, so I walk people through the steps so that they will be ready to take these skills beyond this Seattle writing class.

Interviewing is an essential skill for any writer. Almost all non-fiction articles and books require some interviewing as part of the research. Novelists, poets and others frequently need to interview people. There are several reasons for interviewing: 1) Background info; 2) Support quotes; 3) Full fledged interview for profile, story or memoir or novel background.

1) Explanation of ground rules – Tell subject about yourself and your credentials. Explain where you want to publish the interview, profile, etc. Also discuss how you’ll use their answers, whether they can review the profile before it is published.

2) Contact a magazine or newspaper to see if you can get them to agree in advance to publish the interview. This helps a lot. Famous people want to know that their time is well-spent, that the interview will be published. If you can assure them of this, they’re more likely to grant the interview.

3) Time – Plan ahead: really newsworthy people are frequently difficult to get in touch with. Contact them early, and always double check date and time right before interview.


There’s still room in the fall Seattle Writing Classes. Let me know if you’d like to sign up!

Shitty First Drafts, Writing Classes

Seattle Writing Classes uses text Bird by Bird.
Seattle Writing Classes uses text Bird by Bird.

In her book, Bird by Bird, writer Anne Lamott talks about the need to write a “shitty first draft” in order to get to a more polished draft. Giving yourself permission to write a “shitty first draft” allows you to get black on white and begin to come to terms with your story. This is not to say that the first draft is totally undirected; I will discuss how you can use a story idea to give some kind of focus and shape to your story or book chapter. The story idea gives you a sense of where the story is headed: what kind of story is it? What is the point? How are you going to structure it? With even a limited plan, you then can proceed ahead with the draft knowing that you aren’t just spinning your wheels or “spaghetti-ing” in writer Jon Franklin’s memorable term from his book Writing for Story. Allowing yourself to write this first draft is absolutely critical to getting the story out. Once it’s down on paper, you can begin to see it’s overall shape, its strengths and weaknesses, as I discuss in my Seattle writing classes. You then can move to the second draft, where you focus on blocking out the larger structure of the piece. Franklin likens this process to the framing step in building a house, making sure that the larger structure of the piece is sounds so that you can begin work on the finer details of trimming, polishing, etc. The “shitty first draft” is a necessary step in this process, not proof that you have no talent and should take up golf instead! This is part and parcel of the writing process which we’ll discuss in my fall class, Revising Your Life. There’s still room; let me know if you’d like to sign up!

Travel Writing Marketing

Nick O'Connell speaking at the Travel Writing Marketing Workshop.
Nick O’Connell speaking at the Travel Writing Marketing Workshop.

I had the pleasure of speaking at Roy Stevenson’s recent Travel Writing Marketing Workshop. I’m including below a guest blog post from Roy about how to market your travel stories, including some very helpful books and articles:

The majority of travel writers struggle with marketing and selling their articles to print publications. Most of us just want to write, but the stark reality of travel writing is that if you can’t sell your stories, you don’t get to write them.

My books address this dilemma by presenting travel writers with a suite of manuals and guides that show exactly how to go about pitching, querying, and selling your stories to travel editors.

  • The Complete Guide To Query Letters For Travel Writers

Everything you need to know to craft compelling query letters. Includes 20 sample query letters that were actually used successfully to get assignments.

  • 100 Print Magazines That Want To Publish Your Travel Articles

Save yourself hundreds of hours of time and accelerate your travel writing career with this travel magazine distribution list.

  • Fifty Websites That Want To Publish Your Travel Stories

50+ quality travel websites, along with ten pages of advice on getting published online.

  • How To Land Press Trips And Fam Tours

How to leverage travel assignments for free or discounted travel, meals, tours, accommodations, and entry to museums and tourist attractions.

  • How To Break Into The Luxury Travel Writing Market

Break into the luxury travel market faster because you’ll know how to do it right. This 130-page book includes a listing of 55 print magazines and 21 travel websites that publish luxury articles – sales leads that will save you time and get your story ideas out to editors faster.

  • The Complete Guide To Marketing And Selling Your Travel Articles

Everything you need to know to sell your travel articles: how to select story ideas that are enticing to editors, how to pitch your ideas the right way, how to find magazines that will be interested, and much more.

Please feel free to check out these guides and manuals at:

While you’re at my website, please sign up for my free weekly freelance marketing eZine. If you haven’t signed up for it yet, you’re really missing out on solid, actionable advice about selling and marketing your travel stories and landing press trips. And you’ll get insider discounts on my eBooks, coaching, and upcoming workshops. Please sign up here:

Strangers on a Train

The Writer’s Workshop Blog highlights my adventures teaching writing classes, writing stories, articles and books, leading travel, food and wine writing classes to France and Italy, traveling the globe, promoting my books including the novel, The Storms of Denali, and other aspects of the wild and crazy world of writing and publishing. Writing and publishing are changing enormously and I hope this blog will help keep you up to date on some of the changes.

The following story is from Mary Beadles, a student in my 2013 Travel, Food and Wine Writing Class in Montalcino, Italy. I’ll be publishing a number of stories from students in my travel writing class on this blog. They provide a vivid picture of the wonderful places, people and experiences encountered on the trip.

Strangers on a Train

In principal, I have no problem traveling by myself. There’s a lot you can miss if you are constantly surrounded by people. Initial impressions are often interrupted or altered by input from others. And so much local culture and color can be missed during a conversation with a friend, not to mention the loss of freedom to see and do exactly as I choose. And yet, travelling from Florence through the hills of Tuscany alone proved to be plenty challenging, even with a sense of adventure and Fodor’s Italian for Travelers to guide me.

There is no easy way to reach Montalcino from Florence, but the destination is well worth the effort (or so I’d been promised). I was traveling to the ancient hilltop town for a writing seminar on travel, food and wine. The journey would begin with a one-hour train ride to Sienna followed by another hour winding through the hillside on a bus. I’d never traveled alone by train and the bus ride would be a totally new experience. I hated asking for directions and I knew only a smattering of Italian but I had studied the guide book carefully and memorized the bus connection in Sienna. I was confident I could navigate the Italian transportation system with few problems. But there is nothing more deceptive (or dangerous) than the confidence of a fool.

I stepped into Firenze Santa Maria Novella, the main train station in Florence, and was met by a crush of mostly-young travelers carrying massive backpacks with ease. I focused on the task ahead. Buy a ticket to Sienna. To the left was a row of windows below a large sign with a word I recognized. “Biglietti”– Tickets. This was exactly where I needed to be! I smiled with smug satisfaction and followed the line of people until I reached the end which was somewhere along the back wall. It was just now noon—plenty of time. The trains left frequently and, as long as I was on the train before 2P.M. I would have no problem catching the bus from Sienna to Montalcino.

At 1P.M., the line had moved at least ten feet. Now there were only about fifty people ahead of me. I began to worry just a little. If I missed the 1:59 train, I wouldn’t be able to leave Sienna until after five. It would be evening before I reached Montalcino. Time for a new plan. I turned to a friendly-looking young man behind me. “Excuse me. Do you speak English?” I asked.
He smiled, “Yes, I do.”

“Is this the only place I can buy a ticket?”

The boy shook his head. “You can use a machine. Would you like me to help you?”

Problem solved. Soon I had a ticket in hand and was boarding my train. The first row of seats provided space for my bags and a seat for me. Perfect! It was a relief to know that any worries about making this leg of my trip alone were groundless. I settled back as the train pulled away from the station.

It was two or three stops before we cleared Florence. Some passengers had gotten off and others had boarded. At the last stop, a young woman dragging a large suitcase took the seat across from mine. We exchanged smiles before she pulled out a magazine and I turned to watch through the window as the city view gave way to a rural vista.

The train swayed in a gentle rhythm as it rolled down the track. The door at the far end of the car opened and a wild-haired man resembling a caricature of Albert Einstein entered. He was dressed in a shabby dark blue uniform with shiny brass buttons and I watched as he moved from passenger to passenger. The conductor, I realized as he came closer. When it was my turn, I handed him my ticket and waited for its return. Why was he taking so long? Finally, he handed it back, all the while speaking rapid-fire Italian. I shrugged and shook my head — the universal sign for “I have no idea what you’re talking about!” I turned to my fellow passengers. Across the aisle, a young woman looked on in apparent sympathy while the man in front of her watched the proceedings with a smirk that seemed aimed at the conductor rather than me. I assumed they didn’t speak English and would be of no help.

The conductor took back the ticket and pointed to it. “Forty Euro,” he said. I stared back. He held his hand out. “Forty Euro,” he repeated more loudly. Yes, I understood he wanted me to give him forty Euros for some reason. I shook my head. Was I being held up? Was this some kind of train scam I hadn’t heard about? The conductor turned and walked to the end of the car and I allowed myself to hope that was the end of it. But a minute later he was back. “Come with me,” he said.

“What?” Where could he possibly take me on a train? There was nowhere to go but off.

“Come with me.” His impatience with this American seemed to be growing. I stuffed my book and my iPod into my purse and stood to follow him.

“Should I take my suitcase?” I called after him as he strode down the aisle. The passengers seemed enthralled with the drama, particularly the smirker across the aisle. Through his eyes, I began to see the humor in the situation and I found myself playing to my audience. “Are you throwing me off the train?” I called after him, raising my voice and throwing my hands in the air. “Should I bring my bag?” Of course he couldn’t understand anything I was saying, but I hoped he understood that he could not intimidate me. I was also somewhat comforted by the fact there were witnesses.

He stopped in front of a poster on the back wall of the car and put his finger on a paragraph written in English. “Passengers must validate tickets before boarding. Failure to do so may result in a fine up to €40.” Having grown up in a family of lawyers, all I could see were the words “may” and “up to” and more than anything I wanted to argue my case.

“Forty Euro.” The man knew about five words in English and I knew five different words in Italian. There would be no appeal. I handed over forty Euros and took the walk of shame back to my seat. The passengers went back to their books and their music. As my adrenaline dissipated, I just felt like crying. But the young woman across the aisle who had been watching me with obvious sympathy during the entire affair, leaned over and said, “Aso’le!” gesturing toward the receding back of the conductor. I wasn’t sure what she was saying, and then it hit me.

“Asshole?” I asked.

She nodded. “Si. Aso’le!”

And with that one, crude, mispronounced American insult we bonded and I understood that, although I was traveling solo, I wasn’t alone. There were always as-yet-unknown comrades to help along the way. Those like the man with the smirk who reminded me to let humor dispel fear. And the sympathetic kindness of a young woman willing to join me in solidarity against the mini-tyrants we encounter along the way. And even the “aso’les” in this world that bring us all together. When we arrived in Sienna, I gathered my things and took my luggage outside to find the bus that would complete the final leg of my trip to Montalcino. But, along with my luggage, I carried a newly-discovered rule of the road. I might be by myself at the start of my journey, but as soon as I board a train, a bus, a plane, or even a taxi, I’m no longer alone. My traveling companions may be strangers, but for a brief moment in time, we’re all in it together.

Social Media for Writers

The Writer’s Workshop Blog highlights my adventures teaching writing classes, writing stories, articles and books, leading travel, food and wine writing classes to France and Italy, traveling the globe, promoting my books including the novel, The Storms of Denali, and other aspects of the wild and crazy world of writing and publishing. Writing and publishing are changing enormously and I hope this blog will help keep you up to date on some of the changes.


Social media are a great way to get the word out about your book and to develop a community interested in hearing about your work. There are lots of social media useful for authors, including Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and Good Reads.

You probably won’t be able to use all these media, so ideally choose one or two to concentrate on. Pick one that you like and can update regularly. Andrea Dunlop of Girl Friday Productions recently spoke to my class at The Writer’s Workshop about how authors can best use social media to promote their work.

“It’s an exciting time to be an author,” she says. “Facebook, Twitter and other social media are the main tools to promote books.”

Reviews in traditional media like the New York Times or Seattle Times are also important, but newspapers are running fewer reviews and most people are getting their recommendations from friends, a definition which has grown to include Facebook and other friends.

“Don’t get too obsessed with numbers,” she says. “Focus more on quality rather than quantity. You want to cultivate an interesting stream of information. Get people interested in you as a person, and then bring up the book.”

Fall Writing Retreat


Writing retreatDo you have a story you’re burning to write, but never have time to get it done? If so, this is the course for you. This intensive weekend seminar, taught by one of the Northwest’s master teachers, will help you complete a personal essay or story from start to finish.

You will utilize writing practice techniques to generate an entire rough draft of your story in several hours. By the end of the weekend (Sept. 27-29) you will have your piece finished and the polishing process well in hand.

You will learn craft techniques, including starting in the middle of the action to ensure a captivating lead, that would otherwise require weeks of coursework to assimilate.

You will learn secrets of how to prepare the piece for the market and how and where to send it.

The Friday (Sept. 27) session 4 to 6 p.m. will include an introduction to the course and dinner at the inspiring Icicle Creek Center for the Arts outside Leavenworth and a 7 p.m. reading/ slide show at the nearby Wenatchee River Institute (347 Division Street, Leavenworth, WA 98826.). The Saturday (9 to 4) and Sunday (9 to noon) sessions will be held at the center’s Canyon Wren recital hall, a peaceful, beautiful place designed to enhance our creative work together.

The course fee will be $425 per person double occupancy, $400 triple occupancy, $500 single occupancy, or $325 for meals but no lodging. The fee includes two nights lodging, four meals, and expert writing instruction.

To enroll, please contact Nick. The course is limited to 15 participants and will likely fill quickly.

Storms of Denali Slide Show/ Readings in Colorado

Please join me as I read from my novel, The Storms of Denali, this coming week in Colorado. I would love to see you there so please spread the word!

  • Barnes & Noble – Denver (Glendale), April 9, 7 p.m.
  • 960 S Colorado Blvd, Glendale (303) 691-2998
  • American Alpine Club in Golden, CO -April 10, 7 p.m.
  • Foss Auditorium, 710 10th St. – Suite 100 Golden, CO 80401 USA, 303-384-0110.

Storms of Denali Book Signing at Re-opened Queen Anne Books

Storms of DenaliThe Writer’s Workshop Blog highlights my adventures teaching writing classes, writing stories, articles and books, leading travel, food and wine writing classes to France and Italy, traveling the globe, promoting my books including the novel, The Storms of Denali, and other aspects of the wild and crazy world of writing and publishing. Writing and publishing are changing enormously and I hope this blog will help keep you up to date on some of the changes.

Please join me Saturday, March 2 from 2 to 4 p.m. at the grand opening of the new Queen Anne Books (1811 Queen Anne Ave N. ) Despite all the doom and gloom in the publishing industry, there is also hope, represented in this case by the reopening of a great community bookstore.

The Dark Side of the Moon Readings

My friend, Mike Medberry, will read from his just published memoir, The Dark Side of the Moon, the first chapter of which was published in The Writer’s Workshop Review. Reading is this Thursday at 7 p.m. at the U Bookstore in Seattle. Hope to see you there!

I’m a former MFA student at UW and am coming in from Idaho to read from my book, “On the Dark Side of the Moon” at the University Bookstore (at 4326 University Way NE, Seattle) this Thursday, Jan 10th, at 7pm. Details below. Hope to see you there!

The Dark Side of the Moon is the story of my having a serious stroke while I was leading a group of conservationists out into the wild country of Craters of the Moon area in southern Idaho. I was flown in to Pocatello. While I recovered, Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt, came out to visit the wicked lava flows in Craters of the Moon and finally recommended that the area be protected as a 750,000 acre national monument, which President Clinton did during the last days of his presidency. My story is one of recovering myself at the same time that the national monument was being designated and protected. It has a happy ending, which is why I will be there, I suppose….

Mike Medberry

Upcoming Readings

Thanks to all the folks who attended my reading for The Storms of Denali last night at the University Bookstore in Seattle. I’ll be reading tonight 7 p.m. at the Oak Hollow Gallery in Yakima and on Sunday, Dec. 9 at 4 p.m. at Le Reve Bakery on Queen Anne in Seattle. Would love to see you there!