Episode 173, #LiteraryMagsandPopularAcademics Medicine, literature, academic writing, submitting to literary journals: we wander all over the map with guest Danielle Ofri

Funny thing—writers for popular pubs tend to see literary magazines as an unsurmountable challenge (I know I do) and vice versa. Danielle Ofri, though, straddles both worlds as the Editor-in-Chief of the Bellevue Literary Review and a regular contributor to the New York Times and Slate as well as journals like The Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine, making her the perfect person to talk to about that crossover, as well as the crossover between a career with confidentiality at its core, and one where telling the whole truth is key.

Danielle Ofri is the author of What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear; Singular Intimacies ; Incidental Findings;  Medicine in Translation; Intensive Care; What Doctors Feel;Best of the Bellevue Literary Reviewand the forthcoming When We Do Harm, a Doctor Confronts Medical Error.

She is also the Editor-in-Chief of the Bellevue Literary Review, a journal that explores issues of health and humanity. fiction and non-fiction and poetry. Find their submission guidelines here.

#AmReading

Danielle: Ragtime E.L. Doctorow and Little King, Salmon Rushdie’s short story excerpt in the New Yorker from his book, Quichotte.

KJ: Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport

#FaveIndieBookstore

The Strand again! We don’t mind repeating a good one.

Find out more about at Danielle at DanielleOfri.com, and Listen to her TEDMed Talk: Deconstructing Perfection, here. You can listen to her TEDMed talk Fear: A Necessary Emotion here.

This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work DONE. Visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwriting for details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s 2-tier outline template.

Find more about Jess here, and about KJ here.If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship.

TRANSCRIPT (We use an AI service for transcription, and while we do clean it up a bit, some errors are the price of admission here. We hope it’s still helpful.)       

KJ: I’m KJ Dell’Antonia

Jess: and I’m Jess Lahey.

KJ: And this is #AmWriting

Jess: with Jess and KJ.

KJ: #AmWriting is the every week the podcast about writing all the things that you might be writing, fiction, nonfiction, short pieces, long pieces, essays, pitches, humor, proposals. And most of all, this is the podcast about sitting down and getting the work done.

Jess:                             01:52                I’m Jess Lahey and I’m the author of the Gift of Failure and a forthcoming book on preventing childhood substance abuse. And I had to think about it for a second. What am I writing? And you can find my work. Let’s see. Pretty soon in air mail, but I generally am in the New York Times, Washington Post, places like that.

KJ:                                02:11                It must be August. I am KJ Dell’Antonia. I am the author of How To Be a Happier Parent. I’m the former editor of the Motherlode blog at the New York Times where I still contribute occasionally. I’m also the author of a novel that will be coming out next year and you can find my work most often at the New York Times. But just incidentally, just by the way, pretty soon you’ll also be able to find a little something by me and Wendy Aarons at the New Yorker.

Jess:                             02:42                I mean I did not know if you were going to announce this today, but I am like burst rocketing bursting. This is a bucket list thing. This is huge and big bucket. Oh yeah. We’ll be talking about that more because there’s, it’s cool and there’s a lot to talk about there, but we have a guest, our guest today I’m so excited to talk about because my husband came home from work and he said, Oh my gosh, there’s this woman you must talk to. I heard her speak. She’s incredible. Her name is Danielle Ofri. She is a physician. She’s at Bellevue hospital and is a writer of lots of different things. She writes for sort of traditional publishing about she has a forthcoming book on medical error.

Jess:                             03:31                She has a book that I have been enjoying very much called What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear. And she also writes for the New York Times and Slate and a bunch of other places. But she’s the co-founder and editor and chief of the Bellevue Literary Review, which coincidentally was the present you gave Tim last year, KJ. You gave Tim a subscription to the Bellevue Literary Review just last year, which was so cool. And this sound really fancy, but the truth is that I wrote for Danielle at the Bellevue, right. And they gave me a couple of subscriptions. All right, well I passed one on to Tim as someone I thought would deeply enjoy it. And that was, that’s how that came about. So, so often we have guests who have at some point been edited by me. I have been edited by Danielle, a little little flip around. It’s so cool. And actually speaking of bucket list, check this out. Her essays had been selected by Stephen Jay Gould, Oliver Sacks, Susan Orlean for best American essays, twice, best American science writing. And she, yeah, she got, she’s just all over the place with all these buckets, things that we would be honored to have on our resume and our CV. So Danielle, welcome to the show and thank you so much for joining us today.

Danielle:                       04:49                Thank you guys. It’s really fun to be here.

Jess:                             04:52                We get so many questions about academic writing and obviously at some point we want to spend some time talking about that. But really what I’d love to do is start with you and how you got started as a writer. Did the doctor part come first or did the writing part come first?

Danielle:                       05:09                Well, I, you know, as a little kid, I love to write books, but that got pushed by the wayside and I was a doctor first. I did a sort of a long route. I did an MD PhD program or did research that I ended up in a lab did a residency at Bellevue fell in love with internal medicine, but I trained in the 90s during the height of the AIDS epidemic. And if you remember that time, it was a fairly brutal time, a lot of death and destruction and very exhausting. And so when I finished my decade of training there, I took a year and a half off and I just needed to get away. So I, and I must say my, all my supervisors said, that’s a terrible idea. You’ll forget all your medicine. You’ll never get back into academic medicine. You’ll lose all your connections. But someone else said, you know, I think they might be jealous. You know what, maybe so. So, off I took to just support myself. I worked for, for eight weeks in various clinics around the country. There’s a whole system for temporary doctors to fill in. And I did that. And then I would go to South America, traveled to the money, ran out, and then call, collect from Wahaca, say, what do you got next? And then ended up in New Hampshire. And so during that year and a half when I learned nothing to do in these small towns, I began to write down the stories of my medical training with no intention to, you know, write a book. I just needed to write them down because at the time I remember thinking this is singular. I will never be so up-close to such a monumental moment. I think every month I should be writing this down. But of course who has time then you’re so busy. You know, a patient would die in the bed or be filled in five minutes. But I think it was also too close to the emotional bone at the time. So I needed to really be physically away and I wrote them down, not as a way to process them or do therapy, but I just needed to give them their due cause they had to go somewhere. And so I spent a year and a half writing. I eventually came back to Bellevue, which is where I always wanted to be. At the time there was an economic crisis and a hiring freeze. And when a spot finally opened up, there was only a part time position available, 60% time, which I’d never imagined. But you know, I had student loans so I took it. And so one of my days off I picked up a writing book off the street and one of those yellow you know, Gotham writer’s workshop boxes on second Avenue degrading class. And that is how it started. And so I began working on these stories with different writing teachers and sending them out to a little, you know, literary journals was some, you know, subscriber base was smaller than my medical school class were ashore. And then eventually one running, he just said, you know she, she missed her subway. Stop reading a story to that, that needs time to get an agent. So I got an agent pulled together my first collection of essays called singular intimacies becoming a doctor a, Bellevue, which all my friends thought was about French lingerie, but it was about these relationships that doctors and patients have and that’s kind of how the writing began.

Jess:                             08:02                Well, so let me stop you for a second. So these are the nitty gritty is this is really what our listeners adore. So how did you go about getting your agent?

Danielle:                       08:11                So I looked in a book on how to find an agent and they said, look at other books that like yours. So I went to the acknowledgement section. I also got a book on agents I think was by Jeff Herman maybe, and we’ll do their personal interests and those interested in medicine. I send out sample chapters and I finally got an agent, although I will say I did not close my book, deal with the agent. My agent sent my collection out and I got turned down by 13 of New York city’s finest publishing houses. And then one day I had a piece of peer, I think in Tikun magazine and the director of Beacon Press called me and said I read your piece. And do you have any interest in writing a book. I say, Oh, do you have one? Have I got, have a book right here. And I confess, I committed my one act of theft and I borrowed, I’ll say in quotes, eight prepaid, FedEx labels from my chairman’s office because I didn’t have time to get the FedEx. I’m working all the time and sent my manuscript to Beacon Press, which they took. And so I get rid of my agent and I’ve published, now we’ll going on my sixth book with Beacon Press without an agent.

Jess:                             09:16                Okay. So that, that’s really interesting. So how did that go down with your agent? I’ve never heard of that specific situation where an agent has submitted everywhere and had no success and then you go ahead without your agent. So did you just mutually part ways with your agent at that point?

Danielle:                       09:32                I told her, you know, I have been approached and through that she hadn’t gotten it sold. And so it, you know, it was a little awkward, but I think she understood and we, you know, parted amicably and I’ve had agents approached me since then saying, well, and I say, I don’t really need an agent because I have a publisher. Oh, but we can negotiate you a better deal. But I don’t want that. I really, Beacon Press is an incredible press to work with it and it fits in that little niche. It’s not a big house, but it’s not a small indie houses having a medium size press and that feels like kind of three bears just right. So I’m fortunate that my, my editor is the director, so I feel like I have the ear of the director as well as my editor. And in my five books, I’ve have no turnover of my editor, the publicity person or the marketing person.

Jess:                             10:20                Oh wow. That is so unusual.

Danielle:                       10:23                I know, because I’ll tell you, we plan first book, we sold the paperback rights to one of the big houses, which I was really excited about. And every six months I did a letter saying, hi, my name is Jane, I’m your editor. Hi, my name is Joe, I’m an editor and I had no idea every six months it was a new person. And so the difference is so palpable and every book, my husband’s, Oh, you should really try for a bigger publishing house. And I don’t think I want to because I, I’ve had friends with, with very mixed experiences. You know, you have one big as great and you’re the prince for the, you know, six months, then your next book fails. And yet no one answers your calls.

Danielle:                       10:57                And I have no trouble with that. My team always answers my calls. We talk on the phone for an hour. I really feel like they’re interested in my career. And I remember what my editor said on the first day before I signed it. She said, we never let our books go out of print. So we only publish books that we want to keep on even in small print runs. And this was sort of pre, you know, E readers, what really mattered. And that kind of commitment meant a lot to me. And I’d much rather have a smaller print run, you know, smaller finances that if the exchanges that you know, stays in print and treated respectfully because I’ll tell you that big house, let my book go out of print the paper back and never told me. And so I had the humiliating experience of going into a, an appearance. He said, we want to get you a book, which book? I told a bunch book and they said, Oh, we called the publisher, it’s not in print. And boy with that, that was awful.

Jess:                             11:50                That would be a really embarrassing…

Danielle:                       11:51                Beacon Press took the rights back and we publish their own paper back. But that was the case. They didn’t even give me the courtesy of letting me know they’re dropping it. So that’s a difference I think between working with a medium sized press versus a big house and listen to the big houses are wonderful and they lots of great stuff. But for me I couldn’t, I think stomach is ups and downs that a big house offers.

KJ:                                12:12                So I want to come back to the question of how your professional colleagues received the idea of you as a nonacademic writer, because that feels in so many settings, and medicine is definitely one of them. It feels like that could be very fraud.

Danielle:                       12:32                Well, I would say my immediate colleagues who are largely clinical and their academic in that they’re all teaching, but most aren’t doing research and research papers.

KJ:                                12:41                Right. And I also want to note that this sort of predates the era of, you know, doctors write for the New Yorker and that makes, you know, and that’s what they do and we love them. This was, you know, you were one of the early ones.

Danielle:                       12:55                Yeah. So I would say my clinical colleagues actually find a lot of recognition in the writing and largely, you know are supportive because they see their own experiences reflected, which often don’t get airtime any place else. I mean, academically I see where that plays a role is, you know, do I get promotion based on that? And that’s definitely been a little bit fraud, your tenure, that kind of thing. Because that kind of running doesn’t really count.

KJ:                                13:21                No. Cause people read it. I mean, why would that, yeah. Right.

Danielle:                       13:28                And it doesn’t bring in grants and grant money. And so although lip service is paid to, you know, international recognition, yada, yada, yada. If it’s not bringing in grant money and it’s not the traditional publishing. No, I’ve published a lot in academic journals, but essays, so New England Journal of Medicine and the Lancet, all these big medical journals, but in their sort of essay perspectives in fact, the first time the New England Journal ever did it perspective, they refuse to do that sort of, you know, namby pamby you know, type of writing for the longest time. I was actually the first one they published, so it really took quite a risk with them. And so for the readership who would never seen that in those pages, that was a completely new piece I type of writing. And now that section is probably their most popular section. So I think it’s been received well clinically, academically, probably not gonna get me tenure or promoted, but that’s okay.

Jess:                             14:22                One of the things I would love to know is where, how the Bellevue Literary Review got started and how you got involved in that, how you decided to start that and how it came about.

Danielle:                       14:32                Well after I got back from my, you know, year and a half of traveling and started to write when I started back in the clinic, I really wanted to bring some of that writing in. Now what we do is as academics as, as teachers is we the students, medical students hand in their writeups about the patients, the history and physical. It’s very, very jargony. And you know, once you’ve read 10 or 20 or 50 or a hundred, they all kind of start to sound the same. So I find, send them, listen guys, you’re killing me from one of your write-ups in this semester. Just tell me the patient’s story. Ask the patient, what’s it like that emphysema, what was it like when the doctor first told you that diabetes? And I started getting these really fascinating essays that people would turn in. Really interesting and they were sort of stacking up on a file cabinet at the same time we did a new chair of medicine come in Marty blazer and he was having the students on the hospital awards write a 1000 word essay on anything. Philosophy, pathophysiology, economics along as inspired by patient, just kind of heretical for medical students writing an essay. Oh my goodness. You know, he started having his little stack of essays and the student colleagues that you guys ought to meet. He just come on. I just started working there. So we met and we had a respect of stack of essays and we thought, you know, we should make a journal. We thought about, you know, an in-house mimeograph student journal. But as we talked more, it became apparent that issues of medicine and health are really universal. And then you listen, you can get by in life and never need a plumber or an accountant or a lawyer if you’re lucky, but you’re never going to get by without interfacing with the medical system. And even if you are perfectly healthy, you care for a child, an elderly parent, you have a job visible, you will never get by without it. And I think that that also in genders a real existential fear in people that their body or their mind might betray them, you know? And they can’t control that. And when you’re in the medical system, you are, you’re powerless. Many times you don’t know often what’s going on. You can’t speak the language, you’re freezing cold in a gown, you don’t know what’s going to cost and you’re in pain or worried about your family members. So it’s very hard to sort of hold onto yourself. And so we thought maybe it makes sense to have a journal that allows you to creative way to address this because you know, the top 10 tips or that bending osteoporosis doesn’t really, I think address that kind of things. So we put out a two line call for submissions for poetry fiction, nonfiction on health and healing. And we’ve got a thousand submissions right off the bat.

Jess:                             17:02                Wow.

Danielle:                       17:03                We knew we tapped a nerve and they were not from medical people, from ordinary writers and now we get 4,000 submissions a year, all walks of life all over the world. And as our publisher likes to say, it’s hard to be published in the BLR now than in the New England Journal of Medicine because we only can print, you know, a few of them. So I think there really isn’t. And I think creativity and vulnerability really overlap and that great Venn diagram of how we write. And so it’s not surprising that brushes with mortality and death and fear and worry help ignite some kind of passion, creativity and that comes out and poetry and fiction and creative nonfiction.

Jess:                             17:40                I have a question that’s actually related to what KJ used to do, which is you’re dealing with these really grave, you know, many moments of mortality, these moments that are huge events in people’s lives. And when you write about them, it can become incredibly precious to you. It can become so important to you that when, when/if you get rejected, it’s not just a blow to your writing, it’s a blow to like this experience you had in your life. And KJ used to get, you know, submissions about, you know, the death of a child or you know, these incredibly moving experiences. But for some reason or another, they’re just not a great fit. How do you balance, you know, how do you go about communicating with your writers about the importance of an event and the way you write about it and creating sort of pieces that are not just people’s therapy but that are really great works of writing.

Danielle:                       18:41                It’s a very interesting thing in particular that comes up in the realm of nonfiction because people are ready about their real experience and it is painful to reject a piece about their mother’s Alzheimer’s disease. And you know, when I, when I talk about this on panels, there’s a difference between a moving experience and a moving piece of writing. They’re not the same thing. And also it has to be more than just the particularities of here. I went to the doctor. This is what happened. It has to be transcendent. It has to rise above what actually happened to something that can connect to others. And so I do suggest that people, you know, read other things we’ve published or other, you know people who have written about enlist in a way that brings it beyond just the nuts and bolts of what happened. I also stressed that using the techniques of fiction is very helpful in terms of, not in terms of making things up because nonfiction is truth. But in terms of developing character and voice and setting and in drama and and pacing, you know, so often in nonfiction people are very, they applaud right along the way things go, but they don’t have to be that way. It’s still truthful if we cut back and forth in time and we have flash powers and flashbacks and we stretch moments and compressed moments because that’s makes for more dramatic writing. In the actual rejections, I tried to be very gentle and we try when we can to offer feedback. Of course at that volume we can for everyone. So if you do get a fun letter, please forgive us. We’re all volunteers, but we do try, we do have some that we think could be helpful. We’ll include that in the rejection letter.

Jess:                             20:11                That’s incredibly generous of you given the volume, but also as you well know, incredibly helpful for a writer. I mean we, we cling to these pieces of, you know, even if it’s just a one line piece of you know, this is promising, but you might want to whatever, those are pieces of that’s feedback that we hold onto with great hope.

Danielle:                       20:34                Yeah,I stress that a lot of it’s subjective. And I have my own story. I had a piece that was ended up in the Missouri Review and went on to being the best American essays. Which was a huge honor. And so I got a letter from a professor of English in the Midwest and he’s complimented in essence that he uses it in his teaching. And I was very honored and I look at the bottom of his email and his, you know, so-and-so pH D department, English editor of their, you know, literary journal. So I went back to my nice, huge rejection folders. I kept every rejection and in fact I submitted the very same piece to that journal. No, he wasn’t then. He wasn’t the editor then, but, and it stood out because that came back with post-it stuck on the thing. This is so dull, boring. You know. Again, it wasn’t him, but it came back when someone left on those really negative projections and it was the same piece. So you know what, don’t worry, it’s not, it’s like dating. You just gotta visit the numbers and someone’s going gonna connect. And so it may not be, the is not good. It didn’t fit in for me on this day. But try other places, you know, play the numbers game. Hold on. I just have to back up for a second. You got a rejection with actual post it notes from the person who read it and rejected it with the actual notes of what they said. I don’t know if that was intentional, but there were, ah, and then the, the current editor stains are allowed to compliment me on this piece and how he uses it in his teaching. That’s all a little satisfying. Oh, that’s amazing. It didn’t work at that moment. Just keep submitting.

KJ:                                22:10                Now you’re an editor yourself. So you know, you,

Danielle:                       22:13                You got my other thing I do mention is you please do read the submission guidelines. If it says max 5,000 words, don’t send a piece of 8,000 words. Yeah. Because it will be rejected. If it says we don’t take PSI Phi, don’t submit PSI Phi, you would be amazed. You know, we now have to charge a small reading. No, I wouldn’t know. We wouldn’t have to charge it a $5 meeting fee by our higher ups. We don’t have to do, but we have to. Okay, so now you’re paying $5 a submitted. Don’t submit a piece that we rejected out of hand, you know. But it is all, all in is so common. Maximum three polling people send 10 poems and so I feel terrible. But you know, you do have to, with the submission guidelines, that’s your end of the bargain as a writer.

KJ:                                22:57                I know that our listeners are now going to be sort of madly Googling Bellevue Literary Review so talk to us about what you guys do publish, what your mission is, and how that has evolved.

Danielle:                       23:15                Yeah. So we’re looking for, to explore, you know, the issues of underlying health and illness and failty of the body and mind. We call it the journal of humanity, human experience and we interpret that loosely. So topic wise weren’t fairly wide ranging, but the writing has to be excellent. That’s our first thing. So fiction wise, we are fairly traditional. We do not do genre fiction, romance. We don’t, we rarely do flash fiction. We stay away from gimicky writing things that have lots of, you know, 20 different kinds of headings and numbers. You know, I feel like the writing should stand on its own. It has to read like a great short story and it has to be character driven. I’ve got to feel a need to want to follow this character. So our, our that’s our fiction or nonfiction has to be more than just what I did when I went to the doctor.

Danielle:                       24:10                It has to rise above that and somehow and, and be applicable to other people or it has to have the same beauty of writing a fiction does it. And it’s not academic. We don’t take things with footnotes or extensive quotes from 20 different sources and we want your thoughts and your exploration of an issue. And for poetry, we prize accessibility. So again, we do not do, while the experimental stuff, you know, as a unusual literary journal, for many people, we’re the only literal journal they’ve ever read because a lot of our readers are not English lit people. They don’t subscribe to 20 literary journals, but they have an interest in medicine and that’s how they come to us. So for this audience, we weren’t poems they can read and not be intimidated by it. So we tend to stick again a little more traditionally on the poetry that someone who’s not an English lit major can read and say, Oh, that, that connects to me.

Jess:                             24:59                What I would love to know is how you balance you obviously do your own writing, your working as a physician and so how do you balance these two things and what is your daily or weekly routine look like?

KJ:                                25:13                And she’s reading all these submissions

Jess:                             25:15                and reading all this review.

Danielle:                       25:17                That’s exactly right. And I will say we also have reviewers who help us weed through the initial slush pile because we can’t read all 4,000 ourselves.

KJ:                                25:26                That’s almost worse because then you’re left with you know, 40 things that are all good enough to be in there and the process of figuring out which eight to put together. .

Danielle:                       25:36                Exactly. But so anyway, so back when I started, as I mentioned, I ended up on a part time track because that’s all that was available. So the full time slot eventually opened up and I said that actually get married and I thought long and hard about going full time, my salary would double because part timers are prorated on the shabbier side of things as you probably know. But I’ve thought about what would I do if I had twice as much money tomorrow? Well I still couldn’t afford an apartment in New York city. You know, I couldn’t buy anything. I don’t need a car. I have clothes such as they are. And I recognize that the one thing I’d want is that one thing money really can’t buy and that’s time. So I feel like I kind of bought time by turning down the full time offer and to this day or made 60% off, not happenstance on day one.

Danielle:                       26:21                If they sit here and go sign up for the full time as everyone else does, this wouldn’t have happened. So I’m 60% of my time in the hospital the equivalent of of six half days, you know, strangely abortion. And then my other time is writing legal. Of course I had three kids in there. So, you know, taking them to the dock, doing everything else in life ends up in that time. So often, you know, your writing time gets eaten away cause you don’t leave work to do these things. You take it out of your own time. But I try to, if I can get one or two snippets of writing for an hour or so a week, I’m happy that that’s success. And then, you know, the BLR and, and everything else. I took up cello lessons about 13 years ago and that’s my will.

Danielle:                       27:06                The one thing that I pursue outside of all of this, you know, because I just, I can’t, I’m too embarrassed show up to my teacher without having practice. So I’m the goody two shoes, medical student and I practice every night, but I’ll go to the gym. I don’t see anything else. And I don’t watch, I haven’t watched a TV show since ER you know, all of that. So I leave pop culture, I leave up to my kids, but so that’s, that’s kind of how I do it. And then, you know I get rid of everything else. Like my goal in life is to never set foot in a store unless voluntarily. So I ordered it line. I don’t want to spend any time shopping unless I want to. So I don’t spend my weekends ever going to, you know, stores. I don’t really care about my clothes are 20 years old. That’s fine, you know, unless I feel like doing it, but not for for necessities.

KJ:                                27:56                But you’re writing what feel like these densely researched they’re interview intense books where you really both telling your own story and telling a thoughtful story about what’s happening in the medical profession and wrapping that within the, you know, the story often of a particular case or a particular doctor, one to two hours a week. My mind is boggling, does that include the research?

Danielle:                       28:28                Yeah. Everything that, it also depends. I mean I do a lot of traveling, so airplane time is writing time, airport time. You know, often I’ll get more writing time in there. But my goal was to have like at least choose two to three sessions where I gets a, you know, a little time of writing. And hopefully more than that, it can be two or three hours, but sometimes it’s not. I also did two years that I took off from work. So I took off a year, let’s see, my daughter, youngest is 13, so 13 years ago we went to Costa Rica for a year. I quit my job. We took our two kids at the time. I actually had my baby there and we’ve done a novel, which then turned into a book instead of a novel. And then six years ago we took a year and went to Israel and I worked on what doctors feel and that was really wonderful. I’m gonna talk about a luxury of having, you know, be able to write five days in a row and keep a train of thought. That was, I would love to do it again, but I think I would lose my job.

Jess:                             29:28                That’s actually what I was gonna mention when KJ said the thing about two hours for me. If I don’t have more time than that, I find it very difficult for them to pick up where I left off to continue a train of thought to, you know, continue forward knowing where I’m headed next. So huge respect for being able to pull this stuff together cause your writing is so lovely and your narrative is so seamless. It doesn’t, it feels like you’re fully immersed in your writing. So I don’t know. I’m so impressed.

Danielle:                       29:56                Thank you. It’s short pieces for that very reason. You know, to write the larger thing takes a chunk of time. Sometimes I will try to block out, you know, for the next month, try to schedule nothing on my writing time so I can write for four hours, you know, several times a week.

KJ:                                30:11                Well that’s what I was going to ask you. Do you schedule the writing time? Like do you know when your next sessions are going to be? Do you sit down at the beginning of the week or the end of the week and figure out when that’s going to fit in?

Danielle:                       30:21                No, I mean I know when I’m not in the hospital so that’s my starting point. But then things, you know, things fill in. But I try to, each of my time, not in the hospital, at least have some time toward writing. But of course writing also involved, you know, social media and publicity that you have to do a lot on your own and a lot of that, you know, work these days is on, on the writer. So there’s that part as well.

KJ:                                30:43                Well, and you have a, I mean, you have a new book coming out this spring that you did not get to take a break to write. And I’ll just, we’ll, we’ll put it on our website of course, and talk about it more, but it’s called When We Do No Harm, a Doctor Confronts Medical Error. And I’m just taking, you know, a wild swing at the idea that that was not easy to research or write, it’s not something people want to talk about.

Danielle:                       31:06                Yeah. That is true. That, that it’s been several sorts, taken several years to, to write. But people were also remarkably generous, you know, once you find someone who likes to talk and just get on those interviews, you know, am I a non-hospital afternoons or mornings or days? Yeah. and then I try not to do it on weekends, but really when I do a lot of travel, I catch up a lot on writing it, you know, even five hours on a plane, I couldn’t ask for anything more. Now some people hate it. I think it’s the most ideal luxury.

KJ:                                31:39                Yeah, that’s, that’s the way it works for me too. I have to agree. I just spent intentionally seven hours on a train on Monday and Tuesday for exactly that reason. I mean, I was going somewhere that I wanted to go, but I wouldn’t have gone if it wasn’t also for that seven hours.

Danielle:                       31:54                I’ve gone there and back to California in two days and I don’t give, it isn’t all, I’m like, I don’t mind that all, man. I have two days in a row to have all this time, you know, with no one bothering you. It’s wonderful. So I would fly back and forth across the country if someone would would fund me on that.

KJ:                                32:07                There’s a story in Deep Work about someone who took a flight to Japan, drank a cup of coffee, got back on the flight and then flew back because he had like, you know, a massive deadline to complete an entire book. And I felt such sympathy. I was like, yeah, yeah, I could do that. That would be a good way to do it.

Danielle:                       32:35                Yeah, I do really, I would say Amtrak up and down the East coast. Yes.

KJ:                                32:40                I want that Amtrak residency. There you go. That’s exactly, yeah. That’s exactly where I was for my seven and a half hours. DSLR Boston, New York, New York to Boston.

Jess:                             32:52                Alright. You’re all helping me reorient my thinking about all the travel and how I’m going to get all the work done. So now, now that it’s clear that my,

KJ:                                32:59                Well, you’re getting ready for what you do when you get there, it is different.

Jess:                             33:03                At the same time, I do tend to think of airplane time as, Ooh, I get to listen to an audio book for two whole hours, but now I’m going to reorient and think of it as two hours that I can be spending writing.

Danielle:                       33:15                I don’t have as much time to read novels. I mean that, that I do have to say between writing manuscripts and writing and listening to audio books, I have to, you know, shelve a few things and unfortunate that often gets shelved. Yeah.

Jess:                             33:29                Yeah. Well actually speaking of which we love to spend some time at the end of each podcast talking about what we’ve been reading. Do you have something you’ve been enjoying recently?

Danielle:                       33:38                So we did have a weekend away and I was in a thrift store and I saw for $1 an EL doctor’s book, Ragtime, which I had never read it. You know, I should really read that and I paid my dollar and read it cover to cover in a weekend and just loved it. What am I, I know he’s a master, but to sort of be in the clutches of someone who just puts you through that story, no holds barred, it’s an amazing experience

Jess:                             34:02                That’s going to have to go on my list because I have to admit I haven’t read that one either. It’s one of those books that sort of sits around on the periphery of my consciousness and I’ve never picked it up so I will have to read that one too.

Danielle:                       34:13                Yeah, it goes by very quickly.

Jess:                             34:14                KJ, what have you been reading?

KJ:                                34:17                I also haven’t had, I’ve been doing pretty intense writing so I haven’t had a lot of reading time and I have spent what I have rereading Deep Work by Cal Newport, not Rivkin, although I’m sure he’s written something maybe. And you know, it’s just, it’s one of those books that keeps it, you know 10 minutes in there keeps me focused when I’m you know, when I put the book aside. So I’ve been rereading it, we’ve recommended it a zillion times and here I am shouting it out again.

Jess:                             34:51                I talked about Deep Work on a podcast with someone else yesterday. It, it comes up all the time for me. I love that book. I am reading, I’m reading two very interesting things. I I was, did an interview in which I punted a question back to the host who asked it of me because I was not up on all of the research on marijuana use and mental illness. And there is now a new book. It just came out by Alex Berenson who writes for the New York Times and various other outlets and it is a book called Tell Your Children the Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness and Violence. And I’m sure there is going to be a lot to argue about with this book, but it’s a really interesting perspective on Alex Berenson had a conversation with his spouse about the, of marijuana use and said, you know, sort of led him down the rabbit hole as it so often does and he decided to write an entire book about it. So now I at least don’t have to punt that question. Next time I get asked about marijuana use and mental illness on a podcast because I’ve now read an entire book about it and it’s really interesting and in the same vein, I’m just starting and it’s great. Ben Westhoff’s new book, Fentanyl, Inc and that one I believe is just about to come out. It should be out by the time this podcast airs. And it’s for those people who don’t know what fentanyl is, it’s the drug that’s causing so many drug overdoses because it’s sneaking in to so many other drugs, usually heroin. And it’s the story of how fentanyl ended up in the drug supply. And it’s a fascinating story. I highly recommend it.

Danielle:                       36:28                Yeah, just add, I read the recent a New Yorker story by Salman Rushdie calls Little King and he has a new book coming out. This is an excerpt, but fentanyl and the opioid crisis are woven into his story in a remote essay. And so I can’t wait for that book to come out.

Jess:                             36:45                Oh, I’ll have to check that out. Absolutely. do you have an independent bookstore that you love and would love to give a shout out to?

Danielle:                       36:53                Oh, I just love The Strand.

Jess:                             36:55                You and me and KJ, all of us, we love The Strand. What do you love about it?

Danielle:                       37:00                Well, as a student I would pass by there my bike on the way to medical school all the time and pick up those $1 books, you know, all the time. So I just love being able to afford the books. But then I as an author experience the effect of independent bookstore when for what doctors feel my book once death, never put it out as a staff pit and left it out for a year. And we sold copies in that one bookstore than any bookstore in the entire country. It was more than a thousand copies in one store because one staff member put it out there. And I so appreciated that personal touch was all it took. And so I did the opening of my next book at strand. Because I was so happy to be part of that kind of community.

Jess:                             37:45                It makes such a huge difference. Our local bookstore did the same thing for the Gift of Failure. It was on a book, you know, it was sort of on the, it wasn’t like, Oh, here, here’s a little charity for our local author. It was like, we love this book. Here it is. You should read it. And that makes such a huge difference in book sales because the, you know, independent booksellers really have power to move books. It’s amazing.

Danielle:                       38:06                Oh yeah, absolutely. And so in a BLR, we try to also give shout outs to our authors who have published books. So anyone who’s been in the BLR, and that includes you, KJ, if you have, you know, new book coming out, let us know. We will not run on social media and send it around, including on newsletter because we, we know how much those little, you know, boosts help and every little bit helps in today’s publishing world.

Jess:                             38:28                That’s incredibly generous of you. And it means so much to writers to get a shout ou like that. All right. If people would like to find your work. And I do have to mention, you have a wonderful Ted med talk on sort of deconstructing our perceptions of perfection that I think could also be really helpful for writers. I really enjoyed it from the perspective as a writer and thinking about perfection. But if people want to find out about your books, about your Ted, talk about the articles you write, where can they find you?

Danielle:                       38:59                My website is just Danielleofri.com. I keep all my writings there on my Ted talks and various things. I also send out a newsletter once a month with new articles. I have a new piece coming out in a week or so, kind of writing about the experience of doctors and nurses in the hospital and, and their perception of their own profession and how it may have not upheld its ideals. So I send that out to non-commercial. And I also talk a little about the Bellevue Literary Review. So if you want to hear that, you know, give me a shout.

Jess:                             39:28                Well, and that was what I was going to ask next. If someone wants to find the Bellevue Literary Review either to read or subscribe or to submit, where would, where would we send people for that?

Danielle:                       39:38                The blreview.org. Although in the past, a new website coming. So if you get on there now, you might your old one, but the new one is coming soon. So but if you’re on my newsletter, you’ll hear, you’ll hear about it also.

Jess:                             39:52                Fantastic. All right, well thank you. This has been incredibly enlightening. This is also been a big hole in our knowledge of the whole, you know, academic and I’m just so grateful to you for all of your knowledge and for the writing that you do, so thank you.

Danielle:                       40:06                Well, thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

Jess:                             40:08                All right, all of our listeners, until next week, keep your button, the chair and your head in the game.

KJ:                                40:21                This episode of #AmWriting with Jess and KJ was produced by Andrew Perella. Our music aptly titled Unemployed Monday was written and performed by Max Cohen. Andrew and Max were paid for their services because everyone, even creatives, should be paid for their work.

Episode 172: #BucketGoals Big dreams, and how to achieve them. (Jess likes to be told she can do it. KJ prefers to be told she can’t.)

#AmReading (and watching)

Other People’s Houses, Abbi Waxman

Jess: The Butterfly Girl: A Novel, Rene Denfeld

A Discovery of Witches (book one of the All Souls Trilogy), Deborah Harkness

(and the miniseries)

#FaveIndieBookstore

Northshire Books, Manchester VT and Saratoga Springs

This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work DONE. Visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwriting for details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s 2-tier outline template.

Find more about Jess here, and about KJ here.

If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship.

Episode 171: #WritingWithandAboutFaith The risks and benefits of writing about religion in any genre, with author Phoebe Farag Mikhail

Phoebe’s publisher: Paraclete Press

A few other notes from the episode:

Phoebe’s book: Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church https://paracletepress.com/collections/new-releases/products/putting-joy-into-practice


Phoebe’s blog: Being in Community (beingincommunity.com)


Instagram & Twitter: @pkfarag    
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/phoebefaragmikhailauthor/  andhttps://www.facebook.com/beingincommunity/


Phoeble also mentioned her essay in Talking Writing Magazine about “bridge people”:https://talkingwriting.com/agreeing-other-side-can-be-revolutionary


She chronicled her path to writing after becoming a mom in this essay as well: http://redtri.com/having-children-was-the-best-thing-i-did-for-my-career/

#AmReading

KJ: Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, Sendhil Mullainathan

Phoebe: The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction, Meghan Cox Gurdon

#FaveIndieBookstore

The Strand, New York, NY

This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work DONE. Visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwriting for details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s 2-tier outline template.

COME RETREAT WITH KJ AND SARINA! Details here

Find more about Jess here, and about KJ here.

If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship.

Episode 170: #YourFreelanceBusiness Tracking your why, your how, your money and your time with Katherine Reynolds Lewis

A few assorted links, comments and tools

Toggl time tracker

The 3Ps: Pay, Prestige and Personal Passion

Katherine’s Excel Spreadsheet:

Katherine’s Press Club slide show and her checklist for new clients.

#AmReading:

KJ: City of Girls: A Novel, Elizabeth Gilbert

Katherine: Middle School Matters: The 10 Key Skills Kids Need to Thrive in Middle School and Beyond – And How Parents Can Help, Phyllis Fagell

Code Like a Girl: Rad Tech Projects and Practical Tips, Miriam Peskowitz

Searching for Sylvie Lee: A Novel, Jean Kwok

#FaveIndieBookstore(s):

Politics and Prose Bookstore, Washington, D.C.

East City Bookshop, Washington, D.C.

Solid State Books, Washington, D.C.

Bard’s Alley, Vienna, VA

Katherine:

KatherineRLewis.com

Twitter

Instagram

Facebook

This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work DONE. Visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwriting for details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s 2-tier outline template.

Find more about Jess here, and about KJ here.

If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship.

Episode 169: #SummerReading Writers better read, and this is the season to indulge: Jess and KJ’s picks for Summer 2019

#AmReading

KJ:

Rules for Visiting: A Novel, Jessica Francis Kane

Honestly We Meant Well: A Novel, Grant Ginder

What You Don’t Know About Charlie Outlaw, Leah Stewart

The Gifted School: A Novel, Bruce Holsinger

City of Girls: A Novel, Elizabeth Gilbert

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, David Epstein

The Sentence is Death: A Novel, Anthony Horowitz

Bowling Avenue, Ann Shayne

The Library of Lost and Found, Phaedra Patrick

Jeeves and the King of Clubs: A Novel in Homage to P.G. Wodehouse, Ben Schott

There’s a Word for That, Sloane Tanen

Mostly Dead Things, Kristen Arnett

The Bride Test, Helen Hoang

Everything Is Just Fine, Brett Paesel

The Late Bloomers’ Club: A Novel, Louise Miller

After the End, Clare Mackintosh

I Miss You When I Blink: Essays, Mary Laura Philpott

Happy Campers: 9 Summer Camp Secrets for Raising Kids Who Become Thriving Adults, Audrey Monke

Jess:

Top Secret, Sarina Bowen

Raising a Screen Smart Kid: Embrace the Good and Avoid the Bad in the Digital Age, Julianna Miner

Basketball Junkie: A Memoir, Chris Herren

Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Loneliest Horse Race, Lara Prior-Palmer

The Thank-You Project: Cultivating Happiness One Letter of Gratitude at a Time, Nancy Davis Kho

Stoney the Pony’s Most Inspiring Year: Teaching Children About Addiction Through Metaphor, Linda Myers

Everything Is Just Fine, Brett Paesel

How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, Michael Pollan

#FaveIndieBookstore

Brookline Booksmith, Brookline, MA

This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work DONE. Visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwriting for details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s 2-tier outline template.

Find more about Jess here, and about KJ here.

If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship.

Episode 168 #LuckFavorsTheBold Sometimes you get to be the belle of the social media ball

When someone with 10 million followers on Instagram shares a pic of herself reading your book—things happen. And they happened for Jess. But there’s a little secret history there. Sure, lightning struck, the stars aligned and everything fell together. But if Jess hadn’t done the groundwork, it probably never would have happened.

#AmReading

Jess: Archaeology From Space: How the Future Shapes Our Past by Sarah Parcak, @indyfromspace www.sarahparcak.com

KJ: City of Girls, Elizabeth Glibert

#FaveIndieBookstore

The Vermont Bookstore in MIddlebury Vermont

Episode 167: #ChangeAndRearrange Book Coach Jennie Nash returns to tackle some effective strategies for revising; it can be a tortuous process, but it can also be where some of the fun happens!

Jennie mentioned Susan Bell’s The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself.

#AmReading

KJ: Bowling Avenue, Ann Shayne

Jess: In Pain: A Bioethicist’s Personal Struggle with Opioids, Travis Rieder and Red, White & Royal Blue Casey McQuiston

Jennie: Daisy Jones & the Six, Taylor Jenkins Reid

#FaveIndieBookstore

Chaucer’s Bookstore, Santa Barbara

This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work DONE. Visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwriting for details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s 2-tier outline template.

Find more about Jess here, and about KJ here.

If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship.

Episode 166: #SummerWriting: Tips for getting the work done when the season shifts around you.

EPISODE

Whether you’ve got little kids, big kids or no kids, things shift in the summer. Top tips from this episode for moving your writing forward while still enjoying the season: Go ahead and X out some days. Write on the plane but not on vacation, while you travel alone but not with family–but make it a choice, so you’re not feeling guilty that it’s not getting done. Lower the bar. KJ wrote 9500 words in June, but they were hard won, she’s proud of them and that’s over a tenth of a book draft, peoples. When you can, get some words in. Finally, let some things go–but not your big work or your big dream. Take the summer off social, not off your novel. Get up earlier, reply to email more slowly, eat a bag of salad for dinner every night. Figure out what matters (and it better be your writing) and let something else be the thing that slides.

#AmReading

Jess: High Achiever: The Incredible True Story of One Addict’s Double Life, Tiffany Jenkins

The Truffle Underground: A Tale of Mystery, Mayhem, and Manipulation in the Shadowy Market of the World’s Most Expensive Fungus, Ryan Jacobs

KJ: The Gifted School, Bruce Holsinger

The Library of Lost and Found, Phaedra Patrick

After the End, Clare Mackintosh

#FaveIndieBookstore

Boulder Book Store, where they curate deeply and widely and display Sarina Bowen front and center.

This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work DONE. Visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwriting for details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s 2-tier outline template.

Find more about Jess here, and about KJ here.

If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship.

Episode 165 #Twitter#@*!Storm Sometimes, the internet turns against you. What to do, what not to do, how to ride it out and remember–the loudest voices aren’t necessarily the most numerous.

Over the course of our careers, both Jess and I have endured some PR storms. We share some of the gory details, but more importantly, advice from PR pros and from our experiences on how to handle it when you go a little bit viral in the worst way.

We heard from PR experts Ophir Lehavy and Carol Blymire. Ophir pointed us to a crisis control article, and Jess called out (in the good way) a couple of books that are useful when you’re at the eye of the storm: Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate, from Sue Scheff and So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Jon Ronson.

#AmReading

KJ adored Ben Schott’s P. G. Wodehouse homage, Jeeves and the King of Clubs.

Jess is treasuring The Truffle Underground: A Tale of Mystery, Mayhem, and Manipulation in the Shadowy Market of the World’s Most Expensive Fungus, Ryan Jacobs and Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King–which she found at the dump, possibly the most indie book source of them all.

#FaveIndieBookstore

Shout out to one in Jess’s new home town, Burlington, VT: The Phoenix

This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work DONE. Visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwriting for details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s 2-tier outline template.

Find more about Jess here, and about KJ here.

If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship.

Episode 164 #WhoIsThisHelping? Subscription Services like Kindle Unlimited and Audible do make books—some books—cheaper for readers, but what do they do for authors—and what are readers missing? (with Sarina Bowen)

A few highlights from this episode:

If you take something expensive—good content—and you pay people reasonably to create it, it’s tough to make this work. What we’re often seeing as consumers are loss leaders for big media. Amazon doesn’t have to make money from Kindle Unlimited.

One you might not have heard of: Scribd. So far, it’s reasonable for authors and for readers (although their “unlimited” may really mean “unlimited unless you’re a superuser, in which case maybe not”).

The takeaway for writers: limit yourself to Kindle Unlimited with great caution.

The takeaway for readers: Unlimited is still limited–to what’s there and available. Relying on suggestions and highlights from various services is probably limiting what you see, and maybe what you read.

#AmReading

Sarina is seeking “great books with ghosts in them.” Which reminds me (KJ) of one Sarina and I both enjoyed: The Keeper of Lost Things, Ruth Hogan

Jess is listening to Nick Hornby’s Slam, and Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World from David Epstein. She added an appreciation for Stephen King’s Ur.

KJ is slowly reading Author In Progress and regretting some Kindle Unlimited downloads from an author she once enjoyed (Katie Fforde). She also read, appreciated and did not enact the advice from Newsletter Ninja!

This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work DONE. Visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwriting for details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s 2-tier outline template.

Find more about Jess here, and about KJ here.

If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship.

Want more Sarina Bowen? Go here.