Join the Writing Pad community!

Monday, October 31, 2011

In Conversation with Short Story Scribe/Novelist Melissa Clark

By Sophia Kercher

Melissa Clark
Novelist and published short story writer Melissa Clark likes to dive into the extraordinary. Her book "Swimming Upstream, Slowly"  features a character named Sasha Salter who discovers that she is pregnant, even though she hasn't had sex in years. It turns out that Sasha's body has been hosting a "lazy sperm," and she must figure out which of her exes is the father of her unborn child. Melissa's imaginative and convincing story-telling (don't worry--she made up the science behind a lazy sperm) makes her novel a page-turner that we couldn't put down! She advises other writers to try incorporating fantastical elements into their stories to make them more exciting.

This November, Melissa will pass on her secrets for crafting a compelling narrative in the Writing Pad class "Short and Sweet: The Art of the Short Story." By the end of this class, you will have written one amazing short story, and Melissa will help you get it published.  In the meantime, we asked Melissa to share her experience and tips on writing with all of you.

How did you get started as a professional writer?
My dad is a writer so I grew up watching him and then mimicking him on my own typewriter. I used to write tons of short stories as a little kid. I majored in writing in college and then went to a writing program for graduate school. I was all about the short story. I lived, breathed, embodied it. It always felt so magical - not only reading them, but writing them. Further down the line I veered off into television writing, mostly kids' shows. I learned quickly that a good story is a good story, no matter what the genre. . . If you'd told me in graduate school that I'd be writing television and novels in the future, I wouldn't have believed you. I was that obsessed with the short story.

What are some tips you have for people who are sitting down to write a short story?
Before you write, read tons of short stories.  When you're done writing for the day (whether it's a couple of hours or 10 minutes), stop when it's really flowing - or during a scene that you're excited about. That way, when you pick up your writing the next day, you will tap into that excitement and your story will continue to flow.

Can you tell me what some of the key elements of structure that you utilize to write a short story?
The only three words you need when talking about short story structure are: Conflict, Crisis, Resolution.

You have a screenwriting and TV writing background, how does this shape your storytelling?
Both helped me write stronger dialogue my stories and novels. Writing for TV helped me with speed. There is a quick script turnover in television, and this helped me begin and finish other writing projects swiftly.

Where do you draw inspiration for your own stories?
My first novel, "Swimming Upstream, Slowly" - about a woman who becomes pregnant from a lazy sperm - was born because I was having lunch with a friend and I overate. When I showed him my bloated belly he said, "Are you sure you're not pregnant?" and I said, "Yeah, right, from a lazy sperm." I decided right then and there to write a movie based on that idea, but after a few weeks I decided to write it as a novel instead.

My second novel, "Imperfect" was born because I have a cat with asthma and her purr is so frigging loud. One night while she was on my lap doing her kneeding thing, I wondered, what if people purred? And it wasn't a sexy thing, but more of an embarrassing thing? I started the novel the next day.

You recently finished another novel.  Tell me more about that.
My writing is usually on the lighter side, but my latest novel, "Bear Witness" explores the aftermath of a kidnapping in a small town. It is told by the victim's best friend, and we see how she's coping after the tragedy. Last year I traveled to Utah to observe the Elizabeth Smart case which had finally gone to trial. The experience was harrowing but important for the book.

Every artist/writer has an inner critic that lives inside them, how do you battle this inner critic?

I think the biggest issue for most people is negative self talk. If you're hearing, "I can't.  I'll never. . ." chances are that you won't be very productive. Catching this and then converting it to positive talk is an effective method. You just have to be able to do this. Rubberbands on the wrists helps!

Thanks so much for sharing these helpful tips on writing, Melissa, and we can't wait for your class which starts next Sunday!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Writing Prompt: Your Very Own Tall Tale

 by Marilyn Friedman
It's almost Halloween--yay!  It's time to let your imagination run wild and dress up like a character from one of your favorite stories or movies. Fun! 

Once you've settled down from your candy corn high, Writing Pad has a terrrific new class to help you write an amazing short story AND get it published. Successful writer, Melissa Clark, will be teaching Short and Sweet: The Art of The Short Story starting Nov. 4! Click "Buy Now" at the bottom of the class description, call 323-333-2954, OR email to sign up before it's full!

November Classes
Short and Sweet: The Art of The Short Story
In honor of our new short story class, here's a writing prompt to inspire your very own story classic.  Make a list of your 5 favorite fairy tales or short stories.  Pick one.  Now write down five specific details of that story (e.g. For Little Red Riding Hood I'd write down: 1. red cloak, 2. big fangs, 3. cherry pies in a basket, 4. granny nightgown, and 5. "What big eyes you have!").  Set the timer for 10 min.  Write a modern version of this tale, including at least 2 of the 5 specific details that you wrote down.  Maybe apply this story to something that happened to you recently.  Start your story with "Once upon a time" and then post the results in the comments of this blog!

Comment on this blog!  Write a modern fairy tale.  If you post your story in the comments of this blog, you could win a free class!

Writing Pad Recipe: Creamy Spinach

by Andrea Ruth and Amy Robinson

Shorter days mean more time at night to write. Writing Pad has so many different classes to fit your writing goals, you'll be more excited than a trick-or-treating Ninja Turtle!  Click "Buy Now" at the bottom of each class description, call 323-333-2954, OR email to sign up before the classes are full! 

November Classes:
Mini Writing Pad Bootcamp . . . With Dessert (ONLINE)
Short and Sweet: The Art of The Short Story

Andrea says:
"Yay! It's Fall! My favorite season of eating. Thanksgiving is my all-time favorite holiday! It is the only holiday where I will not try any new foods that anyone brings over because as I told one of my Mom's friends last year, 'The real estate in my stomach is just too valuable on this day.'

This is a recipe that I created for the Step-Up Women's Network Healthy Holiday Class. I wanted a recipe that would not suffer even a tiny bit from being made "healthy". And Creamed Spinach is it! Because it is made using a béchamel sauce, it is up to you whether you use 1%, 2% or whole milk.  If you don't mind the calories, you can even use half and half or cream. But go easy on the milk or cream--what you want to taste is the spinach."

Creamed Spinach
3-4 natural bunched spinach (greatly preferred- it really makes a difference) or two 10 oz bags pre washed.
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp whole wheat pastry flour
or white flour (plus more if needed)
one shallot minced
2 gloves garlic
1/2 cup whole milk
whole nutmeg
for grating

Wash spinach in one or two changes of water. Shake out or spin dry. Heat a large dry skillet. Add spinach and wilt quickly, turning frequently to avoid sticking or burning. Set aside to cool in a colander or strainer and press to release extra liquid. When cooled, chop roughly.

Wipe out skillet. Melt butter over medium heat, add shallot and sweat gently until translucent. Do not brown. Add garlic and cook about 1 minute. Add flour and cook until soft bubbles form. Add milk and whisk quickly to incorporate. Simmer about 3 minutes until thickened. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.

Remove from heat and stir in spinach to coat evenly with sauce. Taste and adjust salt pepper and nutmeg.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Writing Prompt - Scandalous Acts

By Sophia Kercher

With Halloween swiftly approaching, I am reminded of scandalous costumes and October debauchery!  For instance, once in college, I dressed up in a très sexy French maid costume and drank such potent vodka-laced cocktails that I passed out at my apartment and didn't even make it to the Halloween party. I bet that you have some great tales to tell. Unlock your wildest stories at our upcoming Taboo Tales Workshop. Published writer and Taboo Tales co-producer Laurenne Sala will teach you how to mix dirty secrets with hilarious details to create an irresistible piece for one of LA's hottest storytelling shows (or any other literary variety show).
Let us help you spill your zany tales at our exciting line-up of October and November classes:

Start 10/23 - 10/31:
From Snoozeville to Sizzletown: Crafting A Page Turner
I Would Never Do That: A Taboo Tales Workshop

Short and Sweet: The Art of The Short Story

Writing Prompt: Here's a writing prompt inspired by our upcoming Taboo Tales Workshop.  Make a list 5 things that you've done (or a fictional character has done) that are scandalous or embarassing.  Pick one and and write a scene in which you (or your) character are caught doing that scandalous thing.

For example, I'm going to write about my character Grace who at the age of 13, gets caught smoking cigarettes that she stole from her Uncle.

Comment on this blog! Write about getting caught in a a scandalous act! Post your juicy 10 minute write in the comments, and you could win a free class!

Friday, October 14, 2011

August/September Comment Contest Winner!

By Amy Robinson and Marilyn Friedman

There is so much going on at Writing Pad this fall! We have classes for every writer. Let us help you chase down your muse and finish your stories and writing projects.  Classes have been filling up fast, so reserve your spot today on our website!

Start This Weekend Thru 10/23:

Start 10/24 - 10/31:

Short and Sweet: The Art of The Short Story (4 Wk)

Now, the news you've been waiting for: the August/September comment contest winner is  Lorinda Toledo!  

We asked Lorinda what inspires her to write.  She said, "I get inspired to write by all the fascinating people I meet everyday, by my crazy family and by flaky pastries!"

Well, we are glad for the flaky pastries and crazy family because it inspired Lorinda to write a sumptuous story here. Congrats, Lorinda--you win a free class at Writing Pad!

Please keep commenting on the writing prompts.  So many of you posted terrific stories so keep them coming!  The best comment of October/November will win a free class.  We hope to see your entertaining tales on the blog this month.  Have a great Friday!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Joshua Tree Retreat Scholarship Winner! (And More Fall Classes!)

By Lizzie Vance
This month, we held a contest to offer a full scholarship (an $815 value!) to one lucky writer to our Joshua Tree High Desert Retreat. The submissions were absolutely incredible-- and we wish we could give everyone who entered a scholarship. But alas, there can only be one winner.  Before we tell you who that lucky person is, here are the fantastic classes we have coming up at Writing Pad very soon.  Sign up online or, call 323-333-2954, or email to sign up before the classes are full!

Start This Weekend Thru 10/23:

Start 10/24 - 10/31:

Start in November:
Short and Sweet: The Art of The Short Story (4 Wk)
And now . . . the winner of the Joshua Tree High Desert Writing Retreat is . . . Abby Schachner!!! 

Congratulations, Abby!  We asked Abby where her favorite place is to write.  She said,  "Oooh, my very special, lovely coffee shop.  At some point, I'll O.D. on that place and write at home or another coffee shop, but for now, it's Cafecito Organico.  Lately, I've been donating my pages as their scrap paper. Ripped in quarters, of course, to save myself any embarrassment."

You can read Abby's winning blog entry here.  Thank you so much to our fantastic judges, Antoine Wilson, Janelle Brown, Joe Donnelly, and Pamela Ribon.  Thank you also to everyone who entered. Please do not be discouraged.  Your writing was truly amazing.  You will automatically be entered into the August/September comment contest for a free class at Writing Pad.  Results of that contest will be announced very soon so stay tuned.

Writing Prompt - It's Just Like The Movies

 By Sophia Kercher and Marilyn Friedman

After watching Ryan Gosling zip around downtown L.A. in Drive, we have fallen in love all over again with cinema. Write your own Oscar-worthy film or TV show and let the successful film industry professionals who teach screenwriting at Writing Pad help you get it produced!  Sign-up before these classes are full!
Writing Prompt: Here's a movie inspired writing prompt for this week.  Make a list of 5 significant people in your life (e.g., your Mom, your Dad, your siblings, your friends, your boss).  Pick one.  Write down something specific that the person does or says (for example, Marilyn's mother starts every sentence with the word, "For."). Now, make a list of five celebrities that could play that character in a movie.  Pick one.  Now, write down something specific that the celebrity does or says (for example, Ellen Degeneres is known to break out into dance, Charlie Sheen is notorious for saying, "winning," etc.).

 Write a scene or story where the celebrity you chose meets the person from your life, be sure to include the specific things that the character and the celebrity does or says.  For example, Sophia is going to write a scene about her sassy friend Lisa meeting Kat Dennings at a party, and the two of them rolling their eyes in unison at an annoying drunk guy.

Kat Dennings pictured above 

Comment on this blog! Write about a person in your life meeting the celebrity version of themselves. If you post your 10 minute write in the comments, you could win a free class!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

October Recipe: Soup of the Day!

by Andrea Ruth and Amy Robinson

Our new fall classes will inspire you to curl up with a blank page next to our cozy fire and start writing!  At many of our classes , you even get to enjoy Executive Chef Andrea Ruth's tasty treats to rev up your writing practice!  Call 323-333-2954 or email to sign up before the classes are full!

Start This Week:

Start 10/16 - 10/23:
Start 10/24 - 10/31:
Start in November:
Andrea says:
"Hey its Fall! The days are shorter, the nights are cooler and it's finally okay to eat soup again!  This is a Mushroom Soup recipe based on one by Anthony Bourdain, but it is so incredibly simple that it's just barely a recipe at all. With 4 main ingredients (and two variable ones), it takes so little effort.  You will be amazed how delicious it is."


Easy Mushroom Soup

12 oz crimini mushrooms (equal to one and a half containers from TJ's)
4 tbsp butter
one onion, thinly sliced
4 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
a few sprigs of thyme
salt and pepper
2 oz pale dry sherry*

None of these amounts are written in stone. You don't have to
measure the mushrooms, and you can certainly use more butter, more
sherry, or another herb if you like. Just taste it as you go.

Melt three tablespoons of butter in a sauce pan and saute the onions until they are soft, add one more tbsp. of butter, and then add the mushrooms. (I chop them roughly, but you don't have to if they are
small) Cook on med-low about 8 minutes, stirring often. Add the stock and the thyme. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a low simmer for 30-40 minutes (you can even let it simmer
for an hour, if you have the time)

Remove the thyme sprigs, and blend with an immersion blender until smooth. Taste, adjust the salt and pepper.  Stir in the sherry. Taste again. Stir in a little more sherry if you like.

*Sherry is a fantastic addition to many soups and stews right before serving as well as any sauteed vegetable. A bottle of pale, dry sherry from Trader Joe's costs about $5.  You will never regret buying this ingredient. One splash goes a long way, and it lasts forever.