Thursday, July 23, 2009

An Interview with Adair Lara

An Interview with Adair Lara by Jennie Frost Butler

Adair Lara's October 2009 workshop, First Person Writing that Sells, could as appropriately be entitled First Person Writing that Sells, from One Who Knows. Her writing style, like her advice to writers, is both witty and gritty. The wide appeal of her work is attested to by the many readers who wrote in about her newspaper columns, as well as by a whopping 413,000 online entries under her name.

Adair's career began in local magazines, first at San Francisco Focus and then SF. She also contributed freelance humor pieces for San Francisco Chronicle's Sunday section, and was a great fan of columnist Jon Carroll, who "could write a column about anything."

In 1989, her turn came. "The Chronicle offered me my own column, which I wrote twice a week for 12 years, winning a wide range of awards, including `Best Columnist in California,' from Associated Press."

Adair's work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Reader's Digest, Parenting, Glamour, Redbook, Ladies' Home Journal, Good Housekeeping and many other magazines and newspapers. Her essays have often been anthologized.

Her books include: The Granny Diaries; The Bigger the Sign, the Worse the Garage Sale; Normal is Just a Setting on the Dryer; and Naked, Drunk, and Writing: Writing Essays and Memoirs for Love and for Money. Lara also founded <> where aspiring writers can connect. The site has been endorsed by such prominent authors as Anne Lamott, Amy Tan, and Isabel Allende.

Some of Adair Lara's wit and wisdom for writers appeared during the interview:

Q: Why must I keep sending out manuscripts?

Lara: Because no one will break into your living room, demanding to publish them.

Q: Two, three, four drafts? Why so many?

Lara: So you'll dig deeper until you say something we don't expect, that even you didn't expect to say. Write until you get tired of being nice.

Q: What if I want to write something new and universally meaningful?

Lara: You aren't required to do the impossible. Instead, share your personal, eccentric struggle with a weighty topic, and tell how it changed you.

Q: What do you mean by "Flip the script?"

Lara: The story is not about what happened, but what you did about what happened.

Q: You say writers have maybe a minute to grab readers' attention. How do I do that?

Lara: Start where the trouble starts. Don't give your opinion. Give us the experience that gave you that opinion. (It isn't as if your views will not creep in anyway).

Q: What about feedback during the writing process?

Lara: It helps having someone who's in your corner, but who'll make retching noises if you get sentimental, yawn if you're boring. Read aloud. If no one else is around, read to the cat.

One suspects that, in Adair Lara's case, retching noises and yawns seldom occur, while the cat might even be inspired to claw out its own first person pieces.

Editor's Notes:

[1] For more information, go to

[2] Adair Lara's workshop, First Person Writing that Sells, is part of the `Craft of Writing' track of the October 24th Redwood Writers 2009 Conference. Her session is currently scheduled to run from 2:00 to 3:00 pm. More conference details:

No comments: