Today, I’m excited to welcome Lani Diane Rich and Alastair Stephens to the blog. They are the creators of StoryWonk— a daily podcast for people who are passionate about writing and storytelling. Introductions are their own words:
Lani is an award-winning, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of nine novels. Currently, she’s writing romantic fantasy for St. Martin’s Press as Lucy March; her first novel, A Little Night Magic, will be released in February 2012. She has been teaching writing workshops across the country since 2004, and has been an adjunct professor at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School for Public Communications, teaching introductory television writing and production.
Alastair is a writer and web designer who recently left behind the untamed wilds of Scotland to embrace the pleasures of southern Ohio and married life. Passionate about the craft and philosophy of story-telling, he’s most likely to be found using the word “metatextual,” referencing Aristotle, or trying to persuade anyone who will listen that superhero comics are an art-form worth taking seriously. In the past, he has won contests with his one-act plays, completed NaNoWriMo, and thrown away four-fifths of a perfectly mediocre manuscript. Since November 2010, he has co-hosted the StoryWonk Daily with Lani, and has learned more about etymology than he ever thought possible.
Together, they also began the Bettyverse, an online community formed from the followers of Lucy March’s blog.
Nan: Lani and Alastair, welcome to nanreinhardt.com—I’m so pleased to have you here. As most people who follow my blog know, I’m a devoted Betty—I’m DragonflyBetty. I found your blog about a year before you moved from Lucy March.com to create the Bettyverse and felt an immediate affinity to you and the other Betties. From there, I discovered StoryWonk, which has been invaluable to me as a writer, plus you two together always make me smile. Your chemistry is a joy.
Lani: Thanks so much, Nan! It’s great to be here; thanks for having us.
Alastair: It’s a pleasure to be here. With two kids, we don’t get to go out together very often!
Nan: First, NANOWRIMO 2011 is more than a month over. You both participated in it this year, which impresses the hell out of me because I didn’t. So how’d it work doing NaNo together? I know that you, Lani, stopped counting, but you were still writing while Alastair was counting. Is it easier or harder when you’re both writing like crazy at the same time?
Lani: Nano is one of the few community experiences a writer gets. Usually, you’re born alone, you die alone, and you write alone, but Nano is an exception to that. Community is a huge part of the Nano experience. So, having written with friends during Nano before, it was natural to do Nano with Alastair. We were very supportive of each other, which was fun. It’s one of the great benefits of being married to someone who writes; they get the crazy. You don’t have to explain it.
Alastair: On the other hand, doubling-down on Nano means that there’s no one to take care of the laundry, or feed the cats. Writing together is a lot of fun, particularly when we set up camp in Starbucks or Panera on a cold Ohio morning, but it doesn’t make the domestic side of things any easier. We’ve talked about staggering our writing, so that only one of us is working on a book at a time, but the best laid plans of mice and writers…
Nan: Lani, you wrote your first book, Time Off for Good Behavior during NaNoWriMo 2003, and you have the distinction of being the first previously unpublished author to publish a NaNoWriMo manuscript. How many of your other published books have been born during this event?
Lani: Both Maybe Baby and Wish You Were Here were written during Nano. The one I wrote this year, The Island of Misfit Magic (working title) will be my fourth Nano novel to get published. I’ve seen where Chris Baty has claimed that I have the most published Nano novels; I don’t know if that’s still true, because there have been a lot of success stories coming from Nano, but for now, I’ll take the title!
Nan: Let’s talk about StoryWonk. You recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of the StoryWonk Daily podcasts, so congratulations on that. That’s terrific! You actually began the podcasts before Alastair moved to the U.S. How did you come up with the idea to do this together?
Lani: It was all Alastair’s idea. He was still living in Scotland, and he knew I was trying to get more promotion out for my classes. He first found me through Will Write for Wine, a podcast I did some years ago with CJ Barry/Samantha Graves, and we were both big fans of podcasts. We were on Skype one day and he said, “Hey, I have this idea,” and I said, “Absolutely!” and we did it. It still seems crazy that that was more than a year ago. At the same time, it feels like we’ve been doing SWD forever. I mean that in a good way, of course.
Alastair: Mostly in a good way, at least. I’ve loved podcasts for years, and it seemed like the perfect way of indulging our shared passion for storytelling and opening up the discussion to the community. It’s fun to pour some coffee, fire up the microphones, and share the things that excite us about the craft—and as the community has grown, the new perspectives have challenged us to develop our ideas. We receive tweets and emails all the time from people who tell us that the show has improved their writing, but I don’t think anyone has benefited more than we have. We’re better writers because of the show—and we’re happier, too!
Nan: I’m a devoted listener, and you’ve added a lot of elements since I first discovered you. So tell us what’s new at StoryWonk—it seems as if you’re adding new classes, seminars, and services almost every day.
Lani: Well, when Alastair came for a visit last February, we didn’t exactly intend to get married. We knew that someday we’d get married, but it wasn’t really planned out. So once we did, we started thinking seriously about what our life together would look like, and we both realized that it was the work at StoryWonk that inspired us, so we decided to put all our efforts into building that as a real business. Plus, the economy’s in the toilet. I’ve been applying for jobs here for the last three years, and nothing has really panned out. So, it’s sink or swim—build your own business, or starve. Given those choices, I looked at StoryWonk and thought, “What do I really want to do?” I love teaching, I love helping people with their stories, and I love podcasting, so that’s what we do!
Alastair: The space in which StoryWonk exists is still the Wild West, in a lot of ways. Technology is changing everything on a week-by-week basis: how the classes work, how we offer supporting material, how we put out the podcasts and attract new listeners, how we approach publishing and marketing in the digital age. We’re experimenting, and discovering what works, and we get to be honest and passionate about it. I don’t think that you can fake that, and I think that it matters a great deal.
Nan: Lani, you’ve taught writing in other forums such as in a university setting, how do like teaching online classes? How is it different? In what ways, better or worse?
Lani: The online teaching took a little getting used to. In an in-person setting, like at Syracuse University or in the workshops I’ve given around the country, I can see the response. I can hear the laughter when I make a joke. With online teaching, I’m talking to a computer screen and a webcam, which doesn’t give much feedback. I’ve learned to just go with it; be myself, share what I know, and if the jokes are falling flat, I don’t need to know about it. It took one or two classes before I really got comfortable with it, but now, I love it. I love teaching, it’s one of my favorite things to do, and sharing what I’ve learned about writing is so much fun. It’s incredibly rewarding work.
Nan: Alastair, tell us about the WordWonk part of the podcasts. You guys know I’m a total vocabulary addict, so the new word each day is a ton of fun for me. How do you pick your words?
Alastair: I’m glad you enjoy them! The WordWonks are really an excuse to indulge my lexophilia and passion for etymology. When we began the podcast, it was easy to find interesting new words; now, I have to look a little harder for new discoveries. Sometimes, I’ll leaf through a book of obscure words, or search online repositories, but the best WordWonks arise organically in conversation. Someone will use an odd word or phrase, and I’ll begin thinking about its origins; before you know it, I’ll be neck-deep in etymological dictionaries, and I’ll have a week’s worth of quirky WordWonks ready to go.
Nan: I loved the two seminars that I’ve done so far. Lani, I bought, your “Fully Fueled Romance” and Alastair, your “Narrative Espresso.” How are folks responding to the 90-minute seminars?
Lani: The response has been fantastic! The big classes, Revision and Discovery, are big commitments, time-wise and money-wise. The seminars are packed with great information, and they take an afternoon. Plus, for the recorded seminars, it’s only $10, which is really affordable. We expect to add some new ones this year, which will give people a nice variety of topics to choose from, without having to commit six weeks of their life to one specific class.
Nan: The Editorial Services are also something new since StoryWonk began, and what a great idea. A writer I know had you critique a chapter for her and she really appreciated what you had to say. How’s that service working out?
Lani: It’s working out really well! I was putting together my covers and back cover copy and whatnot for A Little Ray of Sunshine and The Fortune Quilt, two of my past novels that I had the rights back for. I had such a great time doing those, that I thought, “Why not add this to StoryWonk?” See above re: sink or swim. So we added the services, everything from cover design to copyediting, but what I find I’m doing most is critiquing for writers. I enjoy that work, the story doctoring, because story is really what I’m excited about.
Nan: Finally, tell me about the Revision class coming up in January. What happens and how can we get in on it? And when will you be offering the Discovery class again?
Lani: Revision is probably my most popular class. I teach it every January, and it’s a great time. It’s a grueling six weeks, in which I teach students about the value of structure in their storytelling. I work with them on the big picture, on making sure that their story is accessible to potential readers. Discovery (which I teach every fall, right before Nano) is all about finding the magic, fueling the writing; Revision is about applying craft and making that magic accessible to other writers. It’s a great class, and I love teaching it.
Alastair: We talk a lot on the show about passion, magic, inspiration, and all those strange, elusive things. Revision is where the rubber hits the road, and there’s something enormously rewarding about that. Besides, writers are generally a mercurial bunch; when we’re in the midst of revision, we long for the free-wheeling days of discovery and the first draft — so after spending the last part of 2011 deep in discovery and NaNoWriMo, it’s good to get back to some crunchy craft. Or perhaps that’s just me!
Nan: Lani and Alastair, thanks so much for talking to us today. I’m looking forward to a whole new year of StoryWonk podcasts and seminars.