Saturday, October 03, 2015

Want to Take a Writing Class from James Patterson? Now You Can...

David Rogier and Aaron Rasmussen Photo Credit: MasterClass
Celebrities and public figures are often thought of as "untouchable." If you're lucky, you'll run into one at the airport or a restaurant and get an autograph or selfie with them. So, imagine having the opportunity to have Dustin Hoffman better your acting skills or James Patterson hone your manuscript or Serena Williams enhance your backhand? Need a voice coach without trying out for the television show The Voice? Take voice lessons from Christina Aguilera and performance coaching from Usher. Annie Leibovitz explains light, shutter speeds, apertures and more in her photography class.

Photo Credit: MasterClass
Yes, thanks to a new platform for educating niche genres by the best in their fields, all of those scenarios are possible. MasterClass founders David Rogier and Aaron Rasmussen took time out from their hectic schedules to answer some questions.

HH: Explain how was this idea born, let alone executed?

"Aaron and I knew we wanted to work together since we first met.. We both shared a passion for learning and neither of us had a great school experience growing up. I was always getting in trouble for being so inquisitive, and Aaron kept running out of classes to take in the tiny town he grew up in. We decided our mission was to make the kind of classes we wish we had growing up -- classes with riveting and engaging lessons taught by the world's best. When we reached out to our ideal potential instructors, we were thrilled they were excited to be a part of MasterClass!" - David

Photo Credit: MasterClass
HH: How did you get all of these experts/talents on board with the idea?

"When we started reaching out to potential instructors, we found that that many of them were excited to teach. All of our instructors really want to share what they've learned along the way, and most of the time they'd come to our first meeting with exciting and brilliant ideas for their classes." - Aaron

Photo Credit: MasterClass
"One funny story from when we were first starting out...we knew we wanted James Patterson to teach, but didn't have any connection to him. So, we sent a few cold emails to his representatives. We didn't hear anything back, then a few weeks later I'm walking down the street and my phone rings, and I hear, "Hi, this is James Patterson." I almost fell over with shock. Before I could process what was happening I blurted out, "The author?" Luckily, James laughed and we had a great conversation. He had seen our email, loved the idea, and just called us up to find out more." - David

HH: Is there anyone you wanted that you couldn't get?

"We have been very fortunate to work with some really great and well respected instructors for the launch of MasterClass. We also have many more instructors on board that we have yet to announce. David and I each have people that we would personally love to learn from. For me, it would be amazing to have James Cameron and Christopher Nolan as instructors. Both are fantastic storytellers and visionaries." - Aaron

Photo Credit: MasterClass
HH: How do you see this concept expanding as technology advances?

"All of our classes include opportunities for instructors to connect with students and for students to connect with one another. We're constantly testing new ways to forge these connections to enhance the learning experience, and technology plays a huge role in this process. We recently hosted an office hours session with Dustin Hoffman in LA where he Skyped with a student in Sweden and critiqued his performance in real-time. This wouldn't have been possible several years ago." - David
Photo Credit: MasterClass
Photo Credit: MasterClass
"Each class has interactive assignments to encourage students to practice the skills they learn. For example, James Patterson's class includes a tool we call the "delete-o-matic" which enables students to make edits to several lines of text then compare how their edits differ from those of James himself. We're excited to create more technologies that help our students learn." - Aaron

Photo Credit: MasterClass
HH: What kind of response are students having to your classes? 

"The response has been amazing. Our students are learning and improving their skills every day. As an example, we got an email from the mother of a young student in Dustin Hoffman's class. The tips Dustin gave in his class helped her daughter get cast in her first big role! We had a mini-celebration for her in our office when we heard the news. Similarly, we have students who are beating the best players in their tennis leagues and having their writing published for the first time. It's amazing to see the impact our instructors are having on the lives of their students! Our ultimate wish is to have one of our current students come back to teach their own MasterClass someday." - Aaron

Thank you, David and Aaron.

For more information or to take a class on MasterClass, visit their website.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Q&A with Best-Selling Author Renee Carlino

If you love a good New York City love story, you will fall in love with Matt and Grace. Before We Were Strangers  (Atria Books, August 18, 2015) by Renee Carlino is a complicated love story of missed opportunities and the influence that outside factors have on a couple’s journey…or is it all really just part of their journey? I pulled Renee away from her writing desk to answer a few questions for her ever-growing fan base.

HH: What was your inspiration in using New York City as the backdrop to Grace and Matt's story?

RC: When people normally ask me what BEFORE WE WERE STRANGERS is about, I  say it's about a guy who sees "the girl who got away" on a New York subway fifteen years after they last saw each other. But I think BWWS is really about how people, rather than places or things, can color our experiences. I thought Matt and Grace would fall in love with New York together. Through their exploration of the city, they got to know each other, so NYC made for a great backdrop. There is an undeniable energy there, but I also thought it could be a place where one might feel extremely isolated among the masses, which is how we find an older Matt at the beginning of the book. I've been to a lot of cities in the US, but every time I visit New York, I get a sense of vitality and togetherness, yet at the same time I feel extremely small. I see New York City as a versatile character that I can use in many different ways to help tell a story.

HH: Both Grace and Matt are complex, deep you spend a lot of time character sketching before writing? 
RC: I usually know the big pieces before I start the book. Through the writing process other characteristics will develop, like the way Grace smells her food or swings a door open wider than the average person to accommodate her cello case, even when she's not carrying it. They are alive in my head and not based on a real person, so I suppose I am sketching them but not necessarily on paper. I do flesh the characters out much more in revisions so I enjoy the editorial process and find it extremely beneficial and rewarding.

HH: On a Saturday night would you rather be home in sweats or out in a LBD and heels? 
RC: I love my sweats and being a writer allows me to be in them an awful lot. I don't know any writers who get ready, do their hair and put on make-up to sit at the computer for six hours, so on a Saturday night I enjoy getting dressed up and going out when I can.

HH: Explain the muse of music as a prominent theme in your novels. 
RC: I just cannot live without music, so it finds its way into all of my books and it is the best food for my imagination. For BBWS, I remembered watching Nirvana Unplugged on MTV and thinking about the cello player. I wished that I could play like her. When I started researching this book, I found a more recent youtube video of Lori Goldston, the same cellist. She was playing in a station in Seattle. As soon as the music began, I got chills. The way she describes her instrument in the video is inspiring.

HH: If you could meet one of your characters in person, which one would it be? 
RC: I would want to meet Matt from BEFORE WE WERE STRANGERS. He's closer to my age, he and I share a passion for photography and I think I would have a lot of questions about his work for National Geographic. He seems like he would be a great conversationalist, which is high on my list of good qualities.
Thank you, Renee!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Q&A with Best-Selling Author K.A. Tucker

With over a dozen novels under her pen, K.A. Tucker recently added a new novel, Chasing River: A Novel (The Burying Water Series), to her Burying Water series.

I caught up with K.A. just before its release to chase down some answers about her fascination with Ireland, the depth of her characters, and her dream automobile.   

HH: Your passion for Ireland is palpable in Chasing River: A Novel; what is your connection to it?
KA: I dreamed of visiting Ireland long before I ever set foot there. I have Irish roots (as so many people do, it seems.) I finally made the trip last summer and, though I was there for less than a week, I fell in love with the people, the culture, and the countryside. I plan on visiting again, and braving the “wrong side of the road” driving in order to see the rest of the countryside.
HH: Amber’s character is complex in a common theme—torn between striving for independence and living up to her father’s standards; was it a conscious choice to downplay the role of her mother?
KA: I don’t know that it’s so much about downplaying the role of her mother as it is that Gabe Welles has always been such a strong and authoritative figure in his children’s lives. We first see this in Burying Water, with the situation that Amber’s brother, Jesse, finds himself in. Gabe Welles is the sheriff, after all. It felt only natural that it would be Sheriff Welles who would come running to Amber’s rescue in Ireland, just as he did for his son. Plus, Amber is still very much daddy’s little girl.
HH: Chasing River: A Novel has so many layers—love, friendship, family—and yet the landscape around these relationships is painted with great historic detail; how much research did it take versus innate knowledge?
KA: Before beginning this book, I spent weeks delving into both Ireland’s history and its current political situation. I knew that I wanted to weave the IRA into the story, but I didn’t have a good grasp of what that would entail. So I began digging… and digging… and digging… and so many dots in my knowledge base began connecting—the religious strife between Protestant and Catholic, the political strife between England and Ireland, the mass exodus of Irish to North America. Ireland has a rich history (much richer than I anticipated) and having a handle on it made spinning an authentic story much easier.
HH: What is your dream automobile?
KA: A Hummer (deer have a tendency to jump out in front of me on the road and tanks are illegal.)

HH: With over a dozen and counting novels under your pen, which character was the hardest to create?
KA: I struggled with both main characters in Surviving Ice: A Novel (Ivy and Sebastian), because they’re quite similar to each other. Ivy is not necessarily “likeable” as far as suspenseful romance characters go, and going out of my way to make her softer didn’t feel like the right thing to do. Her character does grow and change, but it’s done in a more subtle way. I hope readers see and appreciate that.
Click here to read my NewYork Journal of Books review for Chasing River.
Thank you, K.A.!

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Suicide Notes: Notable Writers Who Committed Suicide

"What do you write?" Any writer will tell you that this is the first question asked when people find out what they do for a living. It's not like identifying yourself as a doctor because most doctors will indicate their specialty, such as "I'm a cardiologist," or "I'm a chiropractor." But when writers' tell people that they are a writer, they prepare to explain what kind of writing they do.

My writing career can't be pigeon-holed because I write both nonfiction and fiction books as well as articles. "I've written two novels and am working on my third. Oh, and I'm ghostwriting four books for clients," is my current explanation-in-a-box.

It's easy to forget that authors started writing out of their known genre as well. Stephen King submitted several short stories to publications and tacked the rejection slips to his wall for several years before selling his book (and later the movie), Carrie. His book On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft, now in its 10th anniversary, intertwines his biography with advice for writers that many wannabe writers pay hundreds of dollars to learn in workshops. Very few people knew that lawyer turned author, David Baldacci, was writing a novel until he had already signed a contract with a publisher. He was a closet writer who spent much of his childhood and "free" time while in law school writing stories. Later, he penned Absolute Power late at night and on weekends. Even now his work is published in several different genres...there is no pigeon-holing David's work.


Every writer's story about their struggles, their early days, and when they broke through varies. Sadly, some became bigger than life authors after their lives ended. Sylvia Plath's work shadowed her husband's, Ted Hughes, until after the event of her suicide. Sylvia's suicide brings up an interesting reality -- Wikipedia has a link that lists hundreds of seasoned writers who committed suicide. One of them, Jean Amery, penned a book titled, On Suicide: A Discourse on Voluntary Death. In 1978 he followed his own advice and suicided. Evidently the philosophies on the pages he wrote were validated in his mind to the point of taking his own life.

In reading about the lives and deaths of the writers in this category, the reasons for suicide were evident -- medical or mental. I suppose that would be true of anyone who suicides, yet in reading the biographies of these writers, many of them felt that they set themselves free when they died. Some were unable to continue writing due to their medical or mental restraints; therefore, perhaps, they felt their lives were not worth living beyond that point, as evident in the letters they left behind. (I now wonder if any writer who has suicided did not leave a written note?)
My first novel, Whispers from the Heart, portrays a high school English teacher who copes with the suicidal death of one of her students. She uses journal writing in the classroom as a tool for the students to heal and try to understand why someone with so much life ahead of them would cut it short deliberately. This is a question rarely answered by the people left behind to grieve. It becomes about coping more than understanding.

In Sylvia Plath's case, she fought clinical depression for several years, but before ending her life, she realized and admitted to a friend that through her thoughts she created the distressing aspects of her life. In the biographical movie, Sylvia, Gwyneth Paltrow plays Sylvia and tells her friend, "You see, if you fear something enough you can make it happen." Unfortunately, she felt she learned this lesson too late.