Tag Archives: interviews by mary jo campbell

Tuesday with…author, Nava Atlas

Follow the tour to win this book!

Ever wonder what hurdles women writers in history had to endure? And what might we learn from them? Today I’m sharing my  interview with Nava Atlas, author of The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life, a book of first person accounts from women writers in history who broke the mold and paved the way for us.  Enjoy the interview – and please, leave a question or comment for our guest. Nava will be popping in to respond throughout the day!

Don’t forget to follow the rest of Nava’s book tour sponsored by Wow! Women on Writing, for a chance to win a free copy of The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life!

Interview by: Mary Jo Campbell

I’m so excited to read The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life! What gave you the idea for this book?

As both a writer and a visual artist, I’ve long been fascinated with the creative process and love to read artists’ and writers’ biographies. A few years ago, when my sons had hit their teens, I had the crazy notion to go back to grad school for a Master’s degree in Art Studio so I could update my rusty design skills, study theory, and learn how to make limited edition hand-made books.

One of my classes was called Printed Books and I worked on making a little book of brief passages on the writing life that I’d started to collect. The book, a rudimentary version of the one we’re discussing now was also called The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life. and how it ended up being published is a story unto itself, but it goes to show that if you believe in an idea, and are willing to persevere and go deeper with it, it can grow in surprising ways.

After researching for this book and undoubtedly learning about the struggles these ladies had to endure in their writing careers, what can the modern woman writer learn?

That’s a great question and truly the point of the book. We look at our favorite literary icons and think that with their talent and achievements, they must have burst forth from the womb fully destined for their successful outcomes. In truth, most of the twelve authors I focus on in the book (as well as other classic women authors) each had particular obstacles and struggles to overcome.

One of the great lessons learned from this book is that no one had success handed to them; all these authors worked incredibly hard and kept going despite setbacks, and life’s large or mundane problems. Even someone like Edith Wharton, a wealthy heiress, struggled with a crippling lack of self-confidence and a whopping inferiority complex. We see in these classic authors a mirror of our own experience, and that’s quite comforting.

Do you see any parallels with the writing process and life balance between the Literary Ladies and modern women writers?

Striving to find one’s voice (as well as the confidence to use it), learning to be disciplined, facing rejection, finding time to write, dealing with self-doubt—these are amazingly universal experiences. The contemporary woman writer reading the Literary Ladies’ first-person narratives on these very issues and others will take courage from the fact that she’s not the only writer struggling with them. Of course, what’s more important is to overcome issues and obstacles, which the twelve Literary Ladies did gloriously; and that’s where the inspiration kicks in!

Fewer women writers of the past were also mothers than I think is true today. Only four of the Literary Ladies had children, and that’s pretty representative of female authors of the past. Madeleine L’Engle and Harriet Beecher Stowe were two of them, and they directly addresses their balance issues in the chapter titled The Writer Mother. Stowe was burning to write what ultimately became Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and lamented, “As long as the baby sleeps with me nights, I can’t do much at anything, but I will do it at last.” Sound familiar? Others who didn’t have children, like Louisa May Alcott, still had to work to support themselves or their families. Alcott did a lot of anonymous hack writing to support her mothers and sisters. Perhaps she felt a bit compromised by it, but on the other hand, doing nothing but writing for a living helped sharpen her writing skills and voice.

Writing to me means thinking, digging, pondering, creating, shattering. It means getting at the meaning of all things; it means reaching climaxes; it means moral and spiritual and physical life all in one.

— Anais Nin

How do you think we’ve changed as a society to help or hinder women writers today?

Women authors had greater odds and prejudices to overcome in the nineteenth century; and by this I mean white women authors. Because of the way things were, women of color as well as women of other ethnic descent didn’t gain much traction until after the civil rights movement, with the exception of a small number of  pioneers like Zora Neale Hurston (who I wish I could have made one of the Literary Ladies, but couldn’t find enough in her first-person narratives about her writing life). So that has been one positive development.

I wish I could say that women writers have made huge strides since the earlier part of the 20th century, but surprisingly that isn’t true. I compared the best-seller list of the 1930s with today’s and it was such an eye-opener. Women—including some of those in this book, like Willa Cather, Edna Ferber, and even Virginia Woolf (plus other renowned authors like Pearl Buck and Margaret Mitchell were not only topping the best-sellers lists, but reaping Pulitzers like crazy. According to a National Endowment for the Arts survey, professional women writers are making 80% of their male counterparts’ earnings, which is pretty much what it is across the board these days.

One other change that’s not so positive is that in the age of proliferating media and the internet, sources of paid writing have shrunk dramatically. While it’s great that the internet has fostered the democratization of writing, there is also a sense that everyone who writes is a provider of free content, for the glory of promotion or a link. Several of the Literary Ladies worked as journalists, others editors, and still other cut their teeth by writing sketches, articles, column-fillers—print media, after all, was all their was. This allowed them to sharpen their writing skills with the very same effort as making a living.

Which Literary Lady’s story inspired you the most and why? Which of these ladies do you most resonate with?

Though I’m no heiress like she was, I really appreciated Edith Wharton’s  honesty about her struggle to overcome lack of self-confidence. I’ve had to face that as well. And when you do experience that moment of revelation that others do appreciate and respect your creative efforts, it’s really liberating and gives you the courage to do much more than you ever imagined. I haven’t received a Pulitzer or gotten an honorary doctorate like she did, but I can dare to dream now! And I also really like Charlotte Brontë. She was self-described as “small and plain” (like her heroine, Jane Eyre) but she seemed so formidable. She was the ringleader of the trio of talented sisters which included herself, Emily (Wuthering Heights) and Anne (Agnes Grey). She seemed like the kind who wouldn’t take flak from anyone.

“At last I had groped my way through to my vocation, and thereafter I never questioned that story-telling was my job … I felt like some homeless waif who, after trying for years to take out naturalization papers, and being rejected by every country, has finally acquired a nationality. The Land of Letters was henceforth to be my country and I gloried in my new citizenship.”

— Edith Wharton, From A Backward Glance, 1934

Tell us what is next in your writing and promotion projects!

Aside from the WOW blog tour, I’m connecting with others in the vast writing community to do guest posts and interviews; this week I’ll also be doing an interview on the BlogTalk radio show Feisty Side of Fifty (http://www.blogtalkradio.com/feisty-side-of-fifty/2011/03/30/nava-atlas-on-feisty-side-of-fifty-radio), readings, library events, and I hope in the fall to speak to college classes on my travels. I hope I can participate in literary festivals and book fairs. There are so many ways to go with a book about writing and classic authors!

To keep up with events please visit the book’s site, http://www.literaryladiesguide.com and click on Events. Or connect with me on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Nava-Atlas/67621864858?ref=mf) for up-to-the-minute Literary Ladies sightings and events!

In one of my other two lives (aside from writing, there’s visual art, and vegan food), I have a vegan cookbook coming along this fall, Vegan Holiday Kitchen (late Oct., sorry, no link yet). Years ago, I tried twice to write novels but gave up when it started to feel too hard. I put it out publicly in the preface to The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life that I want to do a graphic novel. Now that I understand that even for the true giants of writing, the effort often felt arduous and lonely, I’ll be less likely to give up! Even if nothing comes of it, I’m going to see the project through. Check back with me in a couple of years on that!

Mary Jo, thanks for these thought-provoking questions, and for hosting me on your site today.

You are very welcome, Nava! Thank you for visiting Writers Inspired!

About the Book:

In this celebration of twelve remarkable “literary ladies,” Nava Atlas reveals how such pioneering authors as Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Willa Cather, Edna Ferber, Madeleine L’Engle, L.M. Montgomery, Anais Nin, George Sand, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Edith Wharton, and Virginia Woolf pursued their dreams of becoming a writer–and how the lessons of their lives can inspire today’s writers. Drawing on the personal journals, diaries, memoirs, and letters of these brilliant, unique women, Atlas explores how they balanced their own individual literary voices, dealt with rejection, struggled with their own inner demons, and basked in the triumphs of success.

The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life is a lively and incisive look at what it takes to be a writer and to hold onto belief in one’s own talent, sometimes despite enormous obstacles. Sumptuously illustrated, this book brings to life these twelve classic authors in their own vividly compelling words. Nava Atlas accompanies their quotations with fascinating biographical details and her own insightful reflections on the writing life. As she says in her introduction, this book is “a treasury of intimate glimpses into the unfolding creative process across twelve brilliant careers.” Atlas includes the voices of other female writers as well, ranging from Zora Neale Hurston to Colette to Anne Lamott, to capture a spectrum of literary wisdom. For all who dream of living the writing life, this is a book to treasure.

About the Author:

Nava Atlas Nava Atlas is the author and illustrator of many well-known vegetarian and vegan cookbooks, including Vegan Express, Vegan Soups and Hearty Stews for All Seasons, The Vegetarian Family Cookbook, and The Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet. Her first book was Vegetariana, now considered a classic in its field. In addition, she has published two books on humor, Expect the Unexpected When You’re Expecting! (A parody), and Secret Recipes for the Modern Wife.

Nava is also a visual artist, specializing in limited edition artist’s books and text-driven objects and installations. Her work has been shown nationally in museums, galleries, and alternative art spaces. Her limited edition books are housed in numerous collections of artist’s books, including the special collections libraries of The Museum of Modern Art (NY), National Museum of Women in the Arts (Washington, DC), National Library of Fine Arts, and dozens of academic collections.

Learn more about Nava’s work at VegKitchen.com and NavaAtlasArt.com, in addition to LiteraryLadiesGuide.com, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.


Want to be one of the first to read an author interview, guest post or hear about a book giveaway? SUBSCRIBE to this blog and voila’! an email covered in pixie dust will appear in your inbox ; )

1 Comment

Filed under Advice, Author Interviews, books, Inspiration

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Margo Candela

photo by: Alex Ben Parks


Please join me in welcoming author Margo Candela as she discusses her journey as a writer, making the leap to full-time novelist and how she developed boundaries to protect her writing time.  

About the Author:  


Margo Candela’s husband owes her six months…preferably on a tropical island sipping margaritas. The deal was, she had three years to write her first novel Underneath It All and find a publisher. She signed the book contract at 2 ½ years so she still has that six months coming to her. She’s been musing over a few brochures for Fuji.  

Of course, Underneath It All wasn’t her first novel. Her first was a romance novel spoof she wrote at age 15 on an antique typewriter she paid $20 for—actually her mom paid $20. Sadly, Wenchhead and the Isle of Evil Men was never published. Do you think it was the title?  

In between Wenchhead and the Isle of Evil Men and Goodbye to All That, Margo enjoyed a trip to magazine land where she wrote articles on everything from extreme sports to computer hardware to plushies(people who are sexually into stuffed animals). Shhh, don’t tell Margo’s mom about that last one. She might want the $20 or the antique typewriter back!  

When not writing, Margo vacuums. It’s her secret solution to writer’s block and when she hits the Times bestseller list Margo dreams of buying a Dyson DC 25 Animal. And shoes. Ask her the about the black heels on the cover of Goodbye to All That.  



Win This Book!


Enter to Win!  

leave a comment or question for Margo before day’s end and you may be the randomly selected winner of GOODBYE To ALL THAT (US addresses only, pls)  


Raquel Azorian is Hollywood’s invisible woman. She stands in the shining light of young starlets giving their careers nudges, her memos help boss Bert create money-making productions, and her practicality keeps her quirky family co-existing peacefully. Amazingly, no one notices. But then Raquel decides she deserves a chance to be the star. Why can’t she have the gorgeous boyfriend? Why can’t she tell the VPs to deal with their own snafus and grab a little power for herself? Why can’t she stop being the middleman in countless family dramas? When Raquel takes off her invisibility cloak everyone in Hollywood notices! Don’t miss it.  

Interview by: Mary Jo Campbell  

  • Tell us about your love of writing! Your blog says you wrote a novel when you were fifteen. (Love the tongue-in-cheek title, BTW!) What types of writing outlets and inspiration did you have as a teen? Is there anything parents and teachers can do today to encourage their young writers?


When I was in grade school, our TV broke and my parents, for whatever reason, didn’t replace it right away. With nothing to do after coming in from playing outside, we turned to books and it stuck. Books and reading became a part of daily life and somewhere along the way, the idea that I could work with word and information took hold in my mind.  


Nowadays, kids have so much competing for their attention it takes strong willpower to just focus on one thing. When I was growing up, I had the choice between TV or books, that was pretty much it. What I remember from those years are the great books I read and some really funny Three’s Company reruns.  

As a parent myself, I don’t nag my kid to read. He reads as much as he does because I invested the time in effort in reading to him when he was little. He also knows how much I value books and reading time. Now it’s something we now have in common. As for teachers and parents, the trick is to find the right book for the right reader. It’s no small task, but when it pays off there’s no better feeling.  

  • Please share with us your writing process: do you begin with a character, or as Stephen King says “with a situation” i.e. I want to write a story about a woman getting revenge on her chauvinistic boss? Do you write straight through your first draft or do you research and revise as you go?

I start with the seed of an idea and hope it sprouts into full-fledged novel. If I’m excited about an idea, I write an outline. That’s where I can tell if there’s enough for a novel or if it’s just a fun idea that I need to file away. I write and research as I go and I write to the end before I even think about revising. If I do need to make changes while I’m writing, I make them in the outline so I don’t get caught up in revising the same chapter endlessly. For me the whole point in writing a novel is to finish it and an outline helps me get there.  

  • How did you make the leap from magazine writing to novelist? At what point were able to “quick the day job” and write books full-time?

When I was in journalism school, I always knew feature writing was my strong point. I enjoyed using humor and anecdotes to convey information. The straight who, what, when, where and how of journalism 101 gave me the framework to be able to tell a story without wasting words or getting off track. I still use what I learned in class as a basis for my novels. I tend to write 2,500 word chapters or sections and I write toward a daily word count goal. It’s an ingrained habit and one I’ve made work for me.  

As far as quitting my day job to write fulltime, I didn’t quit it, it quit me. I had my son just around the time that the dotcom bust happened and was careful with the small nest egg I’d managed to build. I did some freelancing while I was at home with him and once he went to preschool, I started working on my first novel full-time. I set a goals and dates for myself and treated what I was doing like a job (writing and polishing my manuscript, finding an agent) and expected results. After a lot of work and a little luck, I signed my first publishing contract 6 months ahead of my do or die date.  

  • Do you have any advice for working women who are trying to balance day jobs, family (kids/spouse) and their writing projects? Any “deals” you’ve made with your family in exchange for uninterrupted, un-guilted writing time?

The hard truth is it’s impossible to balance everything; something is going to have to be set aside. I keep my life very simple, no unnecessary drama or commitments, and I stick to a schedule. I had to make it clear to my son and husband that what I do isn’t a hobby, it’s my job and just because I work from home, I’m not a housekeeper or 24-hour cook. I don’t interrupt them at work or school and I expect the same respect for my writing time. I don’t feel guilty for taking time to write or do something just for myself. It takes an effort to maintain balance and boundaries but helps me be a happier person which means I’m a better wife and mother even if I am a lousy housekeeper and cook.  

  • I’m intrigued by how other writers organize their space. Can you describe your work area for us?

I redid my office in what I call a French sanitarium style. It’s all white, gray with dark wood furniture that isn’t the least bit fussy. It’s the one room in my house that’s totally me and mine. I also have a separate desk in front of a window where I do my editing while my working desk faces the wall so I don’t look at anything besides my monitor. I’m lucky to have such a nice writing space and it inspires me by letting me focus on my writing and not what’s in it.  

  • Tell us what’s next in your writing and promotion projects!

I’ve adapted my second novel, Life Over Easy (Kensington, Oct. ’07) into a screenplay and am working on finishing an adaptation of More Than This (Touchstone, Aug. ’08). I’ve met a producer who likes my writing and I’m working with her to see it through the process. I’ve recently pitched a novel to an editor and hoping she bites. It’s an exciting time and I can’t wait to see what happens.  

Author’s Websites:                                                     

Margo’s website: http://www.margocandela.com/  

Margo’s blog:     http://margocandela.blogspot.com/  

Check back tomorrow to see if you’ve won GOODBYE To ALL THAT…  


Books, Interviews, Contests, oh, my! Don’t miss any, SUBSCRIBE to this blog today and be notified via email of each new post!  



Filed under Author Interviews, books, Give Aways

Interview (and book GIVEAWAY) with Melissa Hart, author of Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood

Melissa Hart

Please welcome author, Melissa Hart, as she shares her experience as a journalism teacher, finding that balance in life and the writing process of her memoir, Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood.

One lucky reader will be selected to receive a copy of Gringa – but you must post a comment or question before end of day Jan. 22 !

Interview by  Mary Jo Campbell

Tell us about your writing process: do you start with an image? a conversation? an idea for a theme?

I generally begin with an image.  For instance, I just wrote a piece of social commentary about quitting my C.S.A. (Community Supported Agriculture) program in favor of buying local produce at farmer’s markets.  In my head, I had an image of my husband holding up a bag of moldy greens from the refrigerator, and I wanted to explore my inadequacies as a domestic goddess and my inability to deal with a box of fresh produce every week.

Other times, especially in the case of social commentary, I begin with an issue that I want to explore.  I wrote a piece a while back for The Chicago Tribune, in which I wanted to examine my feelings about adopting a child and wanting, irrationally, to be seen as the “only” mother.  In that case, the issue came before the images in the essay.

Your website showcases a lengthy list of published articles and essays. Can you tell us how you know when the seed of an essay has the potential to grow into a full memoir?

I knew when I wrote “Wanting What I Have,” an essay which appeared in both Brain, Child and Mothering Magazine (online), that it had potential as a full-length memoir.  The essay examines the two and a half years I spent waiting to adopt a child; the wait was excruciating, and I distracted myself by learning to train permanently injured owls at Eugene’s Cascades Raptor Center.

I shy away from writing pure “mommy lit,” but the very real presence of owls in my daily life during this period is unusual and I’d like to offer it to readers along with stories of my own angst and amusement at the process of international and domestic adoption.

Your latest memoir, Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood, has a list of questions for book club discussions. How cool is that! How does it feel to relate/connect with your readers? Have you ever been invited to book club discussion on your book (in person or via phone?)?

I’m attending my first book club discussion for Gringa this Thursday in Seattle, and I’m honored to think that I’ll be sitting in a room full of people who have taken the time to read this book.  I’ll be attending similar discussions in February.  It’s one of the most gratifying aspects of being a writer—to get to meet and talk with readers, whether in person or online.

Still, I’m a bit nervous.  I’ve just reviewed Cindy Hudson’s fine “Book by Book: The Complete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs,” in which she suggests to  readers who didn’t like a particular book that they might want to refrain from noting this to the author.  I worry that people won’t like Gringa, of course, and that they’ll refrain from telling me why.

I tell my journalism students that they’re free to dislike a piece of writing that I assign, but they must explain why they disliked it as eloquently as possible.  To me, this is sometimes even more interesting than hearing why someone enjoyed a book!

If you read my first post of the year, I’ve dubbed 2010 The Year of Clarity.  Tell us how you balance all that is on your plate: wife, mom, teacher, essayist, memoirist, and journalist, to name a few!  While writing longer projects (books) do you still write and submit articles and essays? Do you write only during school breaks? Or do you streamline your energy and focus only on one large project: writing, revising and marketing one piece at a time?

I admit that it’s difficult to balance it all, and I have chronic insomnia.  But I’ve dubbed 2010 The Year of Letting Things Go.  I have a few unfulfilling paid obligations that I need to quit, so that I have more time with my daughter.  I’ve almost got my work to a point now that allows me to write one short essay a week and work on one chapter of my new memoir.   look forward to breaks between university semesters as weeks which offer a great deal of clarity—this last break, I wrote four essays and three travel articles and spent wonderful time with  my daughter.

You asked about my process; I’m a slow writer.  I love to scribble down a rough draft by hand, and then type it up and let it sit for a few weeks.  I pull it out again and revise, then let it sit once more for a while.  Finally, I look at the piece again and revise, read it out loud, and then, when I think it’s perfect, I give it to my husband.  He’s a professional photographer with a background in philosophy, and he’s my most trusted critic.  He inevitably reminds me that when I feel something’s polished, it usually needs a bit more work.

Speaking of teaching, you are a Journalism and Intro to Memoir Writing teacher for at the college level and teach creative writing to H.S. students.  What is your biggest challenge? What is your best advice for helping young writers find their true “voice” and bypass those nagging editors (especially their own parents!)?

My biggest challenge is finding enough time to devote to each of my students.  Some terms, I have 50, and I want to give them so much individual attention and support.  At times, though, that’s just not possible.  We keep in touch via e-mail, and on Facebook once they’re no longer my students.  That’s immensely gratifying.

My advice to young writers is to get a notebook and write every day.  I’d also use the notebook as a repository for photos, compelling quotes, lists, sketches, movie ticket-stubs—whatever has energy and helps to recall an event or era.

I remember meeting the novelist E.L. Doctorow when I was eighteen.  I went up to him and timidly asked him for advice.  He told me to write every day.  At the time, I thought that was awfully simplistic advice, but now I see that it’s the only practice which will train a young writer to develop and trust his/her voice.

Can you share with us your favorite collection of essays, favorite memoir or best book on writing in either of these genres?

I adore Sue William Silverman’s “Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir,” as well as the “Best American Essays” series and “Creative Nonfiction Journal.”  Anyone writing memoir will want to check out all three for inspiration and practical advice.

What’s next on the horizon for Melissa Hart?

I’m working on a memoir tentatively titled “Learning to Triangulate: A Pregnancy, an Adoption, and a Baby Barred Owl,” as well as honing my skills as a travel writer.  I really love quirky natural history and unusual places around the world, and I’m having a good time writing short travel essays and selling them to magazines and newspapers.

I’m also hoping to get a job as a teacher in a low-residency M.F.A. program.  I graduated from this type of program (Goddard College, class of 1996) and I’m excited to work with writing students and guide them toward publication.
Read more about Melissa Hart and purchase her books here: http://www.melissahart.com/

You can view the book trailer at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YrQKInQRMis

Melissa Hart grew up in Southern California. She teaches Journalism at the University of Oregon, and Introduction to Memoir for U.C. Berkeley’s online extension program.She’s the author of The Assault of Laughter, a memoir.  Her essays have appeared in The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Advocate, High Country News, Horizon Air Magazine, Hemispheres, Orion, and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

She lives in Eugene with her husband, photographer Jonathan B. Smith, and their daughter Maia.

Melissa Hart grew up in Southern California. She teaches Journalism at the University of Oregon, and Introduction to Memoir for U.C. Berkeley’s online extension program.

She’s the author of The Assault of Laughter, a memoir.  Her essays have appeared in The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Advocate, High Country News, Horizon Air Magazine, Hemispheres, Orion, and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

She lives in Eugene with her husband, photographer Jonathan B. Smith, and their daughter Maia.


Filed under Author Interviews, books, Non Fiction