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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Writing Prompt: Your Lover's Pillow

By Marilyn Friedman

Here's what we have on the schedule for the next few weeks. Call 323-333-2954 to sign up or email to RSVP for these events, retreats, and classes before they are full!

One Day ClassesMulti Week Classes:
Writing Retreats:
  • Writing Pad Ojai Retreat (Mar. 25 - 27 at a gorgeous ecosanctuary with award-winning author Thaisa Frank, NPR's Alex Cohen, and Writing Pad's Marilyn Friedman)
Writing Prompt: I took this one from Judy Reeves' fantastic book, A Writer's Book of Days: "Write about your lover's pillow." Here is my adaptation: make a list of 3 lovers that you or your character has had (or lovers who you or your character has desired). Pick one and write about that lover's pillow. Make sure to include some kind of sensory detail in your piece (smell, sound, touch). Write for 10 minutes and then post the results on the comments of this blog!

Comment on this blog! Write about your lover's pillow. You could win a free class for your story or poem.

Adel's Recipe for the Perfect Chocolate Brownie

by Adel Aschenbrener and Amy Robinson

Join us in a Writing Pad workshop or retreat this spring. Your writing will become as deep and rich as Adel's Supernatural Brownies. Call 323-333-2954 to RSVP before they are full!

Writing Retreats:
  • Writing Pad Ojai Retreat (Mar. 25 - 27 at a gorgeous ecosanctuary with award-winning author Thaisa Frank, NPR's Alex Cohen, and Writing Pad's Marilyn Friedman)
One Day ClassesMulti Week Classes:
Adel says:
"As a pastry chef, I spend a lot of time testing and perfecting recipes. I often find myself making lots of adjustments, adding a little of this and that, and putting my own spin on things. This aptly titled recipe by Nick Malgieri needed absolutely no changes whatsoever. These brownies are ridiculously fudgy, slice perfectly, have that elusive shiny, crackly top, and stay moist and delicious for days. Make sure to use the best, darkest chocolate you can find for the most decadent results."

Nick Malgieri's Supernatural Brownies

16 tbsp. unsalted butter, plus more for greasing

8 oz. bittersweet chocolate chips 

4 eggs

1 cup sugar

1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1⁄2 tsp. fine salt

1 cup flour

1. Heat oven to 350°. Grease a 9" x 13" baking pan with butter and line with parchment paper; grease paper. Set pan aside.

2. Pour enough water into a 4-quart saucepan that it reaches a depth of 1". Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low. Combine butter and chocolate in a medium bowl; set bowl over saucepan. Cook, stirring, until melted and smooth, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; set aside.

3. Whisk together eggs in a large bowl. Add sugar, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt; whisk to combine. Stir in chocolate mixture; fold in flour. Pour batter into prepared pan; spread evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 30–35 minutes. Let cool on a rack. Cut and serve.

Recipe reprinted from

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Literary Cocktail Party Fundraiser

By Sophia Kercher
Writing Pad is hosting two fab events this weekend to raise funds for the Writing Pad Ojai Retreat Scholarship fund to allow a destitute but talented writer to attend Writing Pad’s Ojai Retreat. They are not to be missed. I hope to see you at one of these events!

Can't attend? Donate anyway and be entered into the raffle for a 5 week writing class series at Writing Pad. Just click on the button at the bottom of this article.

Literary Cocktail Party
Don’t over-think things on a Friday. Writing Pad will be swelling with hot artists and folks more interesting than that guy drinking his fourth Budweiser at the bar! Along with getting down for a good cause, there will be cocktails, hors d'oeuvres, the musical stylings of DJ Hyde, and raffle tickets that include a chance to win a five week class series at Writing Pad. (Shhh, we’ve been told there’s something in Marilyn’s sangria that gets the creative juices flowing.)

Fri., Feb. 25, 2011
8 p.m. - midnight
Cost: $20 donation to scholarship fund (includes drinks, hors d'oeuvres, DJ'd party, and entry into a raffle for a 5 week class series at Writing Pad)

Writing Marathon To Benefit The Ojai Retreat Scholarship Fund
Don’t worry about getting sweaty, this marathon is done Writing Pad style. Your creative muscles will get a great workout over gourmet snacks, soft music and candles. Marathon-goers will keep the pace of their pen moving fueled by six interactive writing exercises in three hours and creative camaraderie. At the end of the marathon, expect to have a chunk of your project done and a ton of new ideas to shape your writing practice.

Instructor: Marilyn Friedman
Saturday, February 26, 2011
2:00 - 5:00 p.m.
Cost: $55

Friday, February 18, 2011

Writing Pad Ojai Retreat Scholarship Fund

How would you like to give up your hard earned cash to nurture someone else’s creativity? He or she will go to the Writing Pad Ojai Retreat, finish a book, win a Pulitzer prize, get a movie deal, and you’ll have helped to make it all happen. Yay, you!

But seriously, help us help a writer in need. We want to give a talented but broke writer the chance to realize his potential regardless of financial status. Writing Pad will take care of the tuition. We need you to make up the difference!

To show our appreciation for your generosity of $20 or more, we will enter you into a raffle to win a five week Writing Pad class series ($275 value). Thanks so much! Click below to donate.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Writing Prompt: Imaginary Worlds

By Amy Robinson and Thaisa Frank

Thaisa Frank, award-winning author of the critically acclaimed novel
Heidegger’s Glasses, will be teaching at our upcoming Ojai retreat. This week, she's agreed to share a writing prompt with all of you! But before we get to her prompt, don't forget to check out our February classes. Call 323-333-2954 to sign up before they're full!

One Day Classes Coming Up Soon:

Multi Week Classes:
Writing Retreats:
  • Writing Pad Ojai Retreat (Mar. 25 - 27 at a gorgeous ecosanctuary with award-winning author Thaisa Frank, NPR's Alex Cohen, and Writing Pad's Marilyn Friedman)
Thaisa's Writing Prompt:
To write is not just to tell a story, but also to create a world--a context in which your characters live their lives in spite of the plot and not because of it. These worlds can be fantastic (like the world of The Castle, by Kafka), ordinary (the world of Remains of the Day, by Ishiguro) or be a blurred landscape in between (Remainder by Tom McCarthy). All good writers allow his or her readers to travel in a different country. A well developed world includes qualities of weather and sky, cityscapes, landscapes, and sensate objects, ranging from furniture to fruit to velvet.

Think about a story that you are trying to write. Make a list of five things that are distinct about your character's world. Where does he or she live? What does he or she eat and wear? What is the weather like and how do people speak? If you do not have a fictional world to write about, write about your current neighborhood or the place that you grew up and list five things that are distinct about that world. Write for 10 minutes, including at least 2 of the items from your list, then post the results in the comments of this blog!

Comment on this blog. Write for 10 minutes about the world you or your character inhabits. Post your 10 minute write in the comments, and you could win a free class!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

NPR's Alex Cohen: Journalist, Author, and Derby Doll Extraordinaire

by Lorinda Toledo

This Sunday, Feb. 20 at 6 p.m., Alex Cohen of NPR will join Jeffrey Kaye of PBS Newshour and Deborah Vankin of LA Times to talk about building a career in journalism at Writing Pad. Best known as the host of "All Things Considered" and "Marketplace" on KPCC, Alex has been a host and reporter of the national radio programs "Day to Day," "Morning Edition" and "Weekend America" and was the LA Bureau Chief for NPR member station KQED. She also co-wrote the nonfiction hit, Down and Derby: The Insider's Guide to Roller Derby, with Jennifer Barbee.

You can study with Alex at the upcoming Writing Pad Ojai Retreat on March 25-27. Reserve a spot by calling 323-333-2954 before it is full!

I had the chance to ask Alex a few questions about her path to success. Here's what she has to say.

1) Why did you decide to become a journalist? Did you always know that you wanted radio to be your primary medium?
I first started listening to public radio in my senior year of college. I thought to myself it would be amazing to work in NPR, but at the time I was an Eastern religions major with no broadcast experience whatsoever, so I chalked it up to a pipe dream. A few years later, I was teaching English in a remote region of Japan where I was cut off from the news. I began to realize how important the news was to me and decided to apply to journalism school. From there, I attended UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism That's where I took my first class in radio. It was love at first listen, and I've been doing it every since.

2) You have become an expert on roller derby and co-authored the book, Down and Derby: The Insider's Guide to Roller Derby. How did you become a Derby Doll and what inspired you to write the book?
I was planning a trip to Austin, Texas and, being a frugal traveler, wanted to find a story to do there so I could write off the trip as a tax expense. A friend of mine had just joined the newly formed Texas roller derby league. I spent a good chunk of my trip interviewing roller girls and going to their practices. I quickly became smitten with the sport. A few months later, my husband spotted a flyer for the LA Derby Dolls who were recruiting for their newly formed league. I went to a practice in November of 2003 and instantly became a derby junkie.

Fast forward to 2008 when I had the amazing opportunity to work as a choreographer and consultant on the Drew Barrymore film "Whip It!" The moreI told non-derby people about the sport, the more I realized that most people really didn't have a clue about it. Also, my co-author and I felt that the sport was evolving so quickly that it was important to chronicle what had been happening and how 21st century women revitalized the sport. Once "Whip It!" wrapped up, we put together a book proposal and the rest is history!

3) Whether at KPCC or on your blog, you are adept at picking out major trends and presenting them with a fresh perspective. Do you have any tips for aspiring journalists on how to do this in a world saturated with information?
The most important advice I can give is look out for topics and trends that interest YOU. If you aren't truly excited about the topic, chances are it will be impossible for you to fake enthusiasm when you are writing about it. Always keep your ears and eyes open. You never know where or when you'll hear about the next big thing. To me, the most interesting stories are the ones that come from simple human observation. My friend and fellow radio reporter, Sean Cole, noticed a few years back that the size of food containers was getting smaller while the prices remained the same. It lead to a great piece that aired on "Marketplace."

4) Do you have any stories that you are particularly proud of? And how do you maintain the journalistic integrity of a topic you are passionate about?
I think that I'm mostly proud of moments in story. . . I once got the chief editor of EBONY magazine to admit that he sometimes uses the n-word. I got Ed Harris to sing acapella at the end of an interview. I once did a story about Guitar Hero, and there was a great moment at a contest for the video game where I described the reigning champion. I think listeners pictured some long-haired white guy in his thirties. Then they heard the voice - it was an 8 year-old Asian kid. Those are the sorts of moments I love.

It's tough to maintain journalistic integrity when it comes to topics you feel strongly about - especially when they're controversial ones like gay marriage, abortion, or the death penalty. But I think that the role of journalism is to give people the information they need and then let them decide for themselves. I once had a great teacher who said the best job she could do is if parties from both sides of the issue thank her for representing them well That's always my goal.

5) What are the challenges of being a journalist?
Sadly, right now the toughest challenge is finding a job. With cutbacks in newsrooms, it's definitely a tough time to be a journalist, especially a newer one trying to break into the business. But I do think opportunities are out there. The other big challenge I think is getting an audience in an era where there are so many things competing for your attention. The amount of media out there now is overwhelming to many and sometimes it's hard to get people to notice you and your work.

6)What advice do you want to impart on fledgling journalists (and maybe those going through a tough time) in this uncertain age of media?
Don't give up hope!! Though there may be fewer spots open in "traditional" newsrooms, this is an exciting era for new journalists. There are so many ways to get your story out now, be it tweets or podcasts or youtube videos. Look at the recent pay scandals in the city of Bell. . . or the uprising in Egypt. . . good journalism still plays a crucial role in our society and I believe it always will.

Thanks for granting us an interview, Alex! I can't wait to study with you at the Ojai Retreat! I hope to see you there and at the Journalism 2011 talk on Sunday.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Writing Prompt: Get In Touch With Nature

By Marilyn Friedman

Join us at the Nature Walk class on March 6th! You'll get some exercise and inspiration to write your best work in the beautiful surroundings of Temescal. Here are the fantastic classes that we have left for February. Call 323-333-2954 to sign up before they are full!

February One Day Classes With Spaces Available:

Multi Week Classes:Writing Retreats:
  • Writing Pad Ojai Retreat (Mar. 25 - 27 at a gorgeous ecosanctuary with award-winning author Thaisa Frank, NPR's Alex Cohen, and Writing Pad's Marilyn Friedman)

Writing Prompt: Make a list of 5 natural places you have visited. Include places that you have been camping and hiking. Pick one and add a specific detail that you remember about that trip (e.g. the beef jerky that you ate while backpacking that almost pulled out your molars, the tent kept collapsing on your head). Write for 10 minutes and post the results in this blog!

Comment on this blog. Write about a memorable excursion into nature. Post your 10 minute write in the comments, and you could win a free class!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

An Interview with Acclaimed Writer, Thaisa Frank

by Lorinda Toledo

Thaisa Frank is a critically acclaimed writer with a gift for surrealist prose and poetry. Her recent novel, Heidegger’s Glasses, has been called "a tour de force whose imagery haunts the reader long after the final page is turned,” by Jim Moret of the Huffington Post. Thaisa also co-authored the celebrated book, Finding Your Writer's Voice with Dorothy Wall.

Her short stories have garnered numerous awards and landed on the Bestseller List of the San Francisco Chronicle. She also teaches in the MFA programs at San Francisco State, the University of San Francisco and UC
Berkeley. You can study with her at the Writing Pad Ojai Retreat on March 25-27! You can also watch a videotaped interview of Thaisa here.

We had asked Thaisa a few questions about writing craft, her books, and teaching style:

1. Why did you want to write the book, Heidegger’s Glasses? Were you drawn to the material in some way?

What sparked me to write Heidegger's Glasses was somebody telling me at a party that Heidegger had had a revelation about his eyeglasses. So I thought 'Wow, Heidegger's Glasses, that's a great title!' I'm pretty title-driven. I often just know something is going to be a story or a book by its title. And then the title is like a pinata made of iron and I just beat it and beat it and beat it until something comes out.

2. You have traveled extensively throughout Europe. How have your travels influenced your writing?
I think traveling in France probably had something to do with my interest in imaginary countries, which I have written about because France is an amazing country. France is very little, but it has all these provinces and every single one of them is different. There's a different dialect, different architecture, different weather, different cheeses and different wines. And it is like an imaginary sort of journey because you plop into a different world. You can be in Alsace, which is very much like Normandy and slightly Germanic, but then you can be in Provence, which is sort of like Ancient Rome. So I think that sense of variety has really had an influence.

3. How would you describe your teaching style?
It really depends on how seasoned the writer is, what they're working on, and how far along their piece is. With a really polished story, it's fine to do line edits. But a lot of my teaching style is encouraging people to forget about what they should write and just write. I try to get people to leap into imagination and stay away from literality. I have various writing exercises to get my students excited about the imagination. Lastly, I try to teach them the difference between between an anecdote and a story. I could tell you an anecdote about my crazy family of origin. But a story manages to find a universal element in that anecdote so people who didn't come from a crazy family can relate, so the story elevates. The difference between anecdote and story is perhaps one of the most important things that a writer can know. Just because I feel terrible that my dog died when I was twelve, it doesn't mean that people who don't know me will feel terrible. I have to get them to feel.

4. You co-wrote a book that focuses on helping a writer find one’s own voice. Why is it important to find one’s voice?
Everyone has a voice. Everyone has had a moment at a party, for example, when you're "on" in a certain way: when suddenly you have worked the room, everyone in the room is looking at you, and you're interesting to people. That's the beginning of your voice. Usually when a writer finds their voice, there's an element of surprise and mystery. Getting voice on a page is often really hard. The only thing that you can do is find the kind of writing exercises that work for you, that help you write the kinds of things you want to write. And if you do that and keep the lengths short, I promise that you will write something whole.

5. Your book, Finding Your Writer's Voice, has a chapter called “Making The Journal Dangerous.” How do you make a journal “dangerous?”
Most of us think of a journal as writing about what we know rather than discovering what we don't know. If I were to tell you about my day today, I could tell you that I got up this morning at my publicist's house, we had a coffee, we waited for Marilyn to pick me up -- and it could go on and on like that. But if I just sort of drift and let my mind go back to the day, what I remember literally is Julia saying, 'Which coffee cup would you like?' and looking in a cabinet and seeing so many coffee cups, differently shaped, different objects, some from Germany (where she was born) and choosing one that said 'chocolat.' If I write all those details down, I'll begin to have a lexicon of things that interest me and things that bring me close to myself.

6. Who are your favorite writers? Who inspires you?
I've always loved poetry. Wallace Stevens, Yates, William Stafford, Celan. I was also very influenced by As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, which I read when I was about 13. I didn't know he was a white male supremacist. I was just sitting on my bed, and it reached my soul. I think that might have been the moment when I thought, 'I want to do this for other people.' Kafka was probably the writer that made me realize that I could trust surrealism the most. Recently, I have loved Remainder by Tom McCarthy. I tend to like writers with strong voices.

I can't wait to learn more from Thaisa at the Writing Pad Ojai Retreat! What could be better than a whole weekend studying with Thaisa at a beautiful ecosanctuary? If you are interested in reserving a coveted space before it's full, contact or call 323-333-2954.

Writing Prompt - Believe It!

By Amy Robinson and Julie Brister

Julie Brister, teacher of the Writing Pad class It’s All About You: A One-Person Show Workshop
, has created a great writing prompt for you today! Julie is a successful writer/director/performer for stage, screen and TV and an experienced teacher. Spaces in Julie's classes are limited and filling up quick! Call 323-333-2954 to RSVP and save your spot today!

By the way, we are running a Valentine's Day special this month. For any Feb. one day classes, if you sign up with a friend, a sweetie, or a lover, 2 people can attend for $80 (normally $110). What a deal!

Julie's Classes:More One Day Classes this Winter with Spaces Available:
Multi Week Classes:Writing Retreats:
  • Writing Pad Ojai Retreat (Mar. 25 - 27 at a gorgeous ecosanctuary with award-winning author Thaisa Frank, NPR's Alex Cohen, and Writing Pad's Marilyn Friedman)
Julie's Writing Prompt:
An opinion is a great way to start a character monologue or a story. When a character strongly asserts his opinion in the opening line, the audience or reader gets to know him right away. Make a list of three things that you believe strongly. For example: I believe that people should always use their turn signals.

Now write the belief as though it’s something you do not believe in. For example: I don’t believe it’s necessary that people always use their turn signals, because. . . Use the second statement as the opening sentence to a character monologue or story. Tell us why the character believes what they believe. What else do they believe or not believe? Write for 10 minutes.

Comment on this blog! What is a strong opinion that your character holds?
Post your 10 minute write in the comments, and you could win a free class!

About Julie Brister:
Julie Brister is a performer, director and a long time teacher at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre both in NYC and LA. As an actor, she has appeared on Rules of Engagement, Children’s Hospital, The Tonight Show, Reno 911, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Little Britain USA, Spike TV, MTV, FUSE, and she can be seen regularly as Lauralee Hickock on the Onion News Network show In the Know with Clifford Banes. Julie enjoyed a long run of her solo-show, Fatparts, at UCB and performed it as part of SF Sketchfest 2010, one of the country’s top comedy festivals. She’s directed numerous solo-shows in both NYC and LA including Crush, Past Her Prime, and Collections. She has a BFA in Theatre from Southwestern University.

Writers on Writing: Video Interviews with Thaisa Frank

By Marilyn Friedman

What kind of writer are you? Are you a sprinter or a marathon runner? How do you make your journal dangerous?
Check out this video interview with award-winning author, Thaisa Frank and find out!

You can also watch this second short video on Writing Pad's Youtube channel to find out how Thaisa came up with the concept for her fascinating novel, Heidegger's Glasses. Her book has been called “a tour de force whose imagery haunts the reader long after the final page is turned,” by Jim Moret of the Huffington Post.

On March 25-27, 2011, you can study with Thaisa at our Ojai Retreat. Normally, you would have to attend an MFA program in the Bay Area to have access to this seasoned teacher and talented writer. I hope that you'll join us for a weekend of one-on-one consultations, amazing writing classes, and gourmet food at a breathtakingly beautiful ecosanctuary in Ojai.

Call 323-333-2954 or email to sign up for the retreat before it is full!