David Henry Sterry

Author, book doctor, raker of muck

David Henry Sterry

Month: August 2016

Litquake San Francisco logo, orange speech bubble

Tales of the Tenderloin Coming to Litquake

Litquake & Kismet Productions Present

Tales of the Tenderloin:

Bad Booze, Broken Dreams, Loose Loins and Tender Hearts

October 10, 8 PM

David Henry Sterry

David Henry Sterry

Alan Black & David Henry Sterry, ne’er-do-well degenerates who’ve spent decades debauching in the TL, will ride herd over an all-star cavalcade of literary luminaries who shine a light on the dark underbelly of the seedy groin of San Francisco’s dirty little secret: the Tenderloin. God-fearing evangelists and godless pimps, homeless crackheads and slumming dotcom millionaires, rogue cops and dirty dancers, fallen angels and back from the dead devils, transitioning streetwalkers and problematic hypersexualists, this is the last bastion of the adverse shrinking urban jungle that has made San Francisco San Francisco since the Gold Rush on Barbary Coast.

The Tenderloin Museum is hosting a 2016 Litquake event (https://litquake2016.sched.org/) on Monday Oct 10th. Tenderloinism: Tales from the ‘Hood features gritty tales from the city’s most misunderstood neighborhood, with Alan Black (of Edinburgh Castle), Paula Hendricks (TL apartment manager & prolific writer), Gary Kamiya (Cool Gray City of Love), David Henry Sterry & Carolyn Terry.

398 Eddy Street @ Leavenworth) San Francisco, CA 94102 415-351-1912

Alan Black
made in Glasgow. unmade in California.

Paula Hendricks
manages an 81 unit apartment building in the TL, writes poetry, and designs books. Author of September in Corrales and The Tire House Book, Paula is interested in the mystery of the everyday… things that are right in front of her eyes, that often go unseen or under-appreciated.

Gary Kamiya
is author of Cool Gray City of Love: 49 Views of San Francisco. He was a co-founder of Salon.com, with David Talbot. He is currently executive editor of San Francisco magazine and writes a weekly history column for the San Francisco Chronicle, “Portals of the Past.”

David Henry Sterry
is the best-selling author of 16 books, a performer, muckraker, producer, and activist. His memoir Chicken:Self-Portrait of a Man for Rent, has been translated into a dozen languages. His anthology Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys was featured on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. He is co-founder of The Book Doctors and has helped countless writers get successfully published. He’s appeared on, at or in London Times, National Public Radio, the Blue Man Group, Stanford, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

Free and open to the public.

Featuring 

Book Doctors Get Sweet Message from Student at UNM Summer Writers Conference

I came away from our workshop inspired, hopeful, informed, and once again in love with writing, writers, and even agents (well, some of them)!

Book Doctors David Sterry, Arielle Eckstut

University of New Mexico Summer Writers' Conference in Santa Fe logo overlaying skyline of Santa Fe

The University of New Mexico Summer Writers’ Conference: Counting Chickens

Last weekend, we presented at the University of New Mexico Summer Writers’ Conference in Santa Fe. We heard great pitches; we met fantastic writers. One of those writers blogged about the conference and pitching David. Thanks to R.A. Schneider and Beyond Belief for allowing us to share UNM 2016: Counting Chickens.

University of New Mexico Summer Writers' Conference in Santa Fe logo overlaying skyline of Santa Fe


It reads like a fairytale:   A man, afraid of pursuing his dreams, takes a leap of faith toward them.  He attends The University of New Mexico Summer Writers’ Conference in Santa Fe, on the wings of his wife’s benediction, “I just want you to be happy.”

The conference goes well; beyond his wildest dreams, in every aspect.  Keynote speaker Sandra Cisneros reaches into his chest and wrests convulsive tears. Workshop peers share trust and experience with genuine good will.

Reactions to his workshop writing sample place him in a state of shock:  “Real-Deal”  “Killer” “Reminds me of Bernard Cooper.”  “At its best, reminiscent of ‘Glass Castle’.” “Can you get a full draft ready for the Master Class next year?”  Surreal.

Friday night holds one last opportunity to extend the enchantment: “Pitchapalooza.”   Billed as the American Idol of the literary world, lucky writers’ (names drawn from a hat) have one minute to pitch their book idea to an expert panel. The winner receives, along with a critique of their pitch, a package of prizes including introduction to an agent; a gateway to book deals.

“Why not,” he thinks?  Then he remembers Mary.   She flies in to Albuquerque Friday at 6:45 PM, in the heart of Pitchapalooza’s time slot.

An epic dilemma.  Conflict in act two?

There has to be a way to pitch and pick her up.  Think!  Ask Mary to sit in the Albuquerque airport for three hours while he pitches?   She would not be happy.  Wasting her night would be bad enough, but there’s no guarantee his name will be drawn from the hat.  Worst and best case scenarios both fail. An airport shuttle? $145 one-way.  That’s out.  Light Rail?   Last train leaves for Santa Fe before her touch-down.  Damocles laughs.

Forced to choose priorities, the pitch must wait.  “Besides,” he tells himself, “my writing’s not that good; delusions of grandeur.” He sleeps, resigned to missing Pitchapalooza, while preserving the happiness of she who makes him happiest.

Friday. The man shuffles to the hotel breakfast bar, with its promise of self-made waffles, over-ripe fruit, and guests in Crocs, or worse — bare feet.   What kind of people come to a breakfast bar in bare feet?   He scans up from the man’s wiggling toes, past ragged shorts and sleeveless faux-frat T-shirt with a mock coat of arms: “Reed College:  “Atheism. Communism.Free Love.”  Barefootie is writing in a composition book, making a public show like all the wannabe’s; like the man himself has done.  His eyes come to rest on the face, the wild shock of gray hair.  He has to say something.

Carpe mother-fucking Diem.

“Excuse me, but Could I e-mail a pitch to you?   I can’t make it to Pitchapalooza tonight. I have to pick up my wife in Albuquerque at the same time, and marriage comes before art.”

David Sterry, co-inventor of Pitchapalooza and one half of “The Book Doctors,”image puts his pen down and looks at the man. “Wow…sometimes the universe conspires against you, eh? But sure. Here’s my card.”  The man begins to thank Sterry for the opportunity, turning to leave.

“So what’s your book about,” Sterry asks? The man stops dead, along with his heart, turning back.

“Seriously?  You’ll let me pitch you?”  He sits and pitches. It’s a flawed pitch. It’s a spiked change-up, a slider in the dirt, but he completes it in the allotted minute.

Sterry sits back, rakes his fingers through his electric mane, and exhales, eyes bugging…”Whoooo!  That’s a hell of a story!  That’s something one of the major houses would be interested in, if you can get it right.  That’s got a lot of ‘Running With Scissors’ to it.”

Always an if. A huge if. Twenty-five years of “What if?”

But this is the second time this week published memoirists have looked him in the eye and said this:  Potential for major publishing-house interest.  If.  Twice more the man tries to rise and thank the Book Doctor, attempting to minimize the breakfast imposition.

“No, wait…let me tell you how to fix the pitch.”  Sterry spends 10 minutes teaching, more than the five minutes promised at Pitchapalooza, finishing with this:  “…and when you’ve perfected the pitch, get it to me.  Memoirs are our specialty… we have a huge network of agents, and it’s in our best interests to make you as successful as we can.”

The shock has returned.   The man stands, shakes Sterry’s hand, and walks away to prepare for the last day of workshop. The magical, the enchanting  University of New Mexico Summer Writers’ Conference.  He warms to the thought of meeting his wife at the gate.

Sometimes the universe conspires with you. He is happy, and he will return. No “if.”


This post first appeared on Beyond Belief by R.A. Schneider. R.A. Schneider, author, blogger at Beyond Belief

book cover of "Beer Money: A Memoir of Privilege and Loss" by Frances Stroh

Frances Stroh on Writing, Getting Published, Beer, and Beer Money

David first met Frances Stroh when he read on the same bill as her during a Litquake event in a bar in San Francisco’s North Beach that stank of beer. When he found out who she was and what the book was about, it seemed weirdly appropriate. Besides being a wonderful artist and writer, Frances is also part of a family that made wildly successful and popular beer for many decades. And then all the beer money dried up. And so she became yet another version of the American Dream: family dreams of making a fortune in the beer business, family makes a fortune in the beer business, family loses a fortune in the beer business. And now she’s written a memoir to prove it. Since her book, Beer Money, just came out, we thought we’d pick her brain about alcohol, money, family and writing it all down.

Read the interview on the Huffington Post.

2016-08-01-1470078331-5177199-FrancesStrohBeerMoneycover.jpg 2016-08-01-1470078379-1419378-FrancesStrohAuthorBEERMONEY.jpg

The Book Doctors: First of all, why in the name of all that is good and holy did you decide to write a memoir?

Frances Stroh: I’d been working on a novel set in the late nineties New York art world about an artist protagonist whose family had lost their wealth. It was a true work of fiction but echoed some of the themes in my own life. Deep down I knew the real book I needed to write was my own coming of age story as an artist as it related to my family’s tragic decline, and the door to do this opened in 2009 when the family company announced that dividends would end because the company was broke, followed a few months later my father’s sudden death. My father had appointed me as the executor of his estate and as I combed through his many collections of antique firearms, vintage cameras and guitars, and stacks of artwork, preparing them for auction, a maelstrom of memories was triggered. These memories of the complex dynamics behind the painful events in my family eventually became the book.

TBD: What books did you love when you were growing up?

FS: I devoured everything by Hemingway and Fitzgerald in high school, as well Tom Wolfe and all the Beat writers. Around that time I read a biography of Edie Sedgwick by George Plimpton that was as much about Andy Warhol and the Factory as it was about Edie, and this book hugely impacted my view of art and what it could be.

TBD: How did you learn to be a writer?

FS: In the very beginning, I studied with writers whose work I deeply respected–Tom Barbash and Julie Orringer. Their influence on my development was immense. Then it was time to just do the work, one early morning writing session at a time, followed by a late morning session, and an afternoon session. I kept reminding myself of Woody Allen’s famous line, “Eighty percent of success is just showing up.” In my case, this meant showing up at my desk physically and emotionally–being present.

TBD: What was your road to publication like?

FS: Surprisingly smooth. I had put in a good deal of work on the book to get it in shape, working with an excellent freelance editor–Zoë Rosenfeld–before sending out to agents. I signed on with the amazing Rob McQuilkin one week after I mailed him the manuscript. A month later we sold the book to HarperCollins at auction. I was extremely fortunate. At Harper I worked with Jennifer Barth, for whose keen eye and sensitivity I have a deep respect. From beginning to end, the publication experience has been very positive, down to all the renowned authors with whom I did my “in conversation” events on my book tour.

TBD: Did your work as a visual artist influence your writing?

FS: I explore issues of identity, point of view, and the mythologies that define us across all media, and the family video installation piece I describe in the prologue of the book was really the genesis for the memoir. The seeds for the memoir were also present in the high school application essay I describe in the book, where, as a thirteen-year-old, I write about my brother’s drug bust and how it affected my family. I think the writing and the visual work influenced each other in the sense that the same themes kept coming up, no matter the medium. Writing the memoir was a way to deepen my exploration of these themes.

TBD: How did being a member of the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto help you in your development as a writer?

FS: I waited to join the Grotto until I was finished with the book, and yet the support I have felt as a member of that community while bringing the book into the world has been huge. There’s truly no replacement for working among and socializing with seasoned writers who have been down the road one is about to embark on. I am very grateful for the friends I have made at the Grotto and the immeasurable impact they’ve had on my path as a writer.

TBD: When David’s first memoir, Chicken, came out, his family basically didn’t speak to him for five years. Have there been any repercussions from your family about writing a story in which many of them are characters?

FS: I published a chapter of the memoir two years ago with Shebooks, a publisher of short ebooks by women writers based in San Francisco, to the applause of everyone in my immediate family. My brother told me it read like a “modern day version of The Catcher in the Rye.” Since then, my mother has been a huge champion of the memoir, rallying her friends with galleys and attending many of my book tour events. The extended Stroh family, most of which are not in the book, have been quieter on the subject, but some have sent letters of praise and support and attended events as well. Overall, I feel the reception of the book has been positive.

TBD: Between the two of us, we’ve written, agented, publicized, and performed more memoirs than we care to remember. What were some of the joys and difficulties of taking the seemingly random events of your life and turning them into a plot with a beginning, middle and an end?

FS: I view the memoir as a love letter to my past, and a book I needed to write in order to reconcile with that past. Throughout my life the tension of one challenging event had built upon the next one with no outlet. From an early age, I was told that it wasn’t okay to talk about money, family difficulties, or anything of any import. And all the while these idealized photos of the perfect American family were piling up all over our house. My father’s photographs now seem haunting in the context of my truth-telling narrative, a juxtaposition in the book I view as a wonderful collaboration between my father and me. By reconstructing the past through the writing of the book I was able to reclaim many of the feelings that I’d had to push aside through the years, feelings I hadn’t been able to feel at the time because the events that triggered them were too taboo to talk about, such as my brother Charlie’s decline into drugs and eventual death. As I wrote the book, patterns began to form, links that connected events that had never before seemed connected–such as the simultaneous unraveling of my family, our business, and Detroit. A new kind of understanding took hold within me. I call it “strange alchemy.” Only through the writing of the book did I come to see how these links were all there, all along, on a somewhat epic scale, making the story of the family, our livelihood, our hometown, and our shared destinies a kind of American story. It became something bigger than my own personal story, while at the same time it’s told in a very personal voice.

TBD: Do you have any advice for writers?

FS: Find the voice that wants to tell your story. Once your narrator is there, the book will essentially write itself. All you have to do is show up at your desk, every day, and give that voice free reign. And don’t think about any kind of an end goal. Following that voice, and the writing itself, is the real reward.

Frances Stroh was born in Detroit and raised in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. She received her B.A. from Duke University and her M.A. from Chelsea College of Art in London as a Fulbright Scholar. She practiced as an installation artist, exhibiting in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and London, before turning to writing. Frances is a member of the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto, and her work across all media explores issues of identity, point of view, and the mythologies that define us.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2015). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.

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Lin Oliver, children's book, Fantastic Frame series, "Danger! Tiger Crossing" book cover

Lin Oliver on Books, Publishing and How to Write for Kids

We first became aware of Lin Oliver when we presented at the annual New England Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference. We learned she had co-founded SCBWI, and we kept hearing what a wonderful writer, great businessperson and generous human she was. So now that she’s launched her new book series, The Fantastic Frame, we thought we would pick her brain about books, publishing, writers groups and how to get successfully published.

Lin Oliver author Lin Oliver, Danger Tiger Crossing jacket art

The Book Doctors: We often coach writers in marketing their work. As a writer, film producer and executive, when do you begin to think about marketing? When do you start thinking about the audience, who’s going to read and love this idea?

Lin Oliver: The traditional view of the author is that we’re somehow sequestered in a cabin by the lake expressing our deepest truths. There’s still that general view when you talk to publishers. The advice is, “Write your best book and the audience will come to you.” But that’s actually a very Ivory Tower kind of view. We’re all writing to express ourselves and also to reach an audience, so you have to think about who the audience is.

It helps me to imagine an actual classroom of kids or myself at that age. Because I’m writing for children, I do want to know in whose hands this is going to wind up. It’s almost a creative question, but it turns into marketing real fast. When I’m conceiving a book or series, it is important for me to know, “Who am I trying to reach?” I have very specific goals in mind.

TBD: Do you feel that being in the world of Hollywood and working very closely with combining image and word has helped you as an author?

LO: Oh, a 1,000%. My training was writing television. It’s not only combining images and words; it’s looking at pace. You can’t assume that your audience is staying with you, so you have to create a pace that is lively, moves along quickly, and has cliffhangers built in. I was writing television before people started binge-watching HBO and Netflix, so you had to actually bring people back after a commercial. You’re trained to keep a good pace going and to keep them wondering. The question is, “Well, then what happens?”

The other thing that came from television is dialogue. I had to learn how to write narrative when I started writing novels because I was trained in writing dialogue. A lot of great picture books have come from people who’ve worked in television or animation because they’ve been trained that the image tells the story as much as words.

TBD: We often hear, “My book really picks up after page 25.” What advice would you give to writers with this syndrome?

LO: My strategy is to write the first pages and then cut them all. Bruce Coville, who’s a wonderful children’s book writer, always refers to “literary throat clearing.” You spend the first few chapters gearing up. The rule that we all follow is to start as close to the action as possible. The old rule is to begin on the day it’s different. My rule is to begin most of the way through the day it’s different. We don’t have long with kids, only a few pages. They need to be engaged.

Exposition is a killer. You feel like your readers need all the information on everything, but they don’t. It’s so much more effective when it’s natural to the scene. If you look at movies, you don’t really know what’s going on during the first ten minutes. You’re not quite sure how it’s all going to fit together, but you’re willing to go with it because it’s exciting.

TBD: Lots of people who are trying to get their kids’ book published write books that are didactic in nature; they misunderstand what kids want to read and what publishers are looking for. They pitch their book by saying, “Here’s a lesson for all you kids to learn.”

LO: That never works. Anyone who’s ever been a parent knows there are two surefire ways to clear a room: one is try to teach them something weighty, and the other is to reminisce. Both of those are problems with beginning writers, and neither one is the right frame of mind. This isn’t about sentimentality and nostalgia, and it’s not about teaching a lesson. It’s about entertaining and telling a story.

Take, for example, the series I’m working on now, The Fantastic Frame. I love art history. It’s enriched my life in every possible way, and it’s not taught in schools. Part of my motivation was to introduce the idea that art is going to make you happy. It’s going to make you richer and deeper, and it’ll give you pleasure. That’s not really didactic, but it’s a value that I hold. And that, I think, is the difference. These stories are all adventures. The old lady next door has a frame that sucks you into a great painting. You have an adventure inside a Rousseau, a Seurat, or a Edward Hopper, but I’m not there to teach you about color theory, art history, or the role of Edward Hopper in American Realism. We’re inside the painting so you can feel what it’s like to be in shadow and in light. You’re learning things, but you’re having an adventure first. If it’s not exciting and edge-of-your-seat adventuresome, then it’s not going in there, regardless of how much it might have to do with art history.

Lin Oliver, Splat! Another Messy Sunday jacket art
There are so many writers who focus on craft, and they actually get pretty good. They can write a good dialogue scene, or they can structure a plot so it doesn’t sag in the middle, but first, they must have something to write about that they care about passionately. That’s what I see is missing from a lot of people who are polishing their writing. They lose the beating heart of it. What motivated you to spend this amount of time writing those words and learning to write those words? That’s not a didactic lesson, but it is a heartfelt something, a remnant of you that you want out in the world.

TBD: When we first published our book, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, ten years ago, we called it Putting Your Passion Into Print because we feel exactly like you do. You can write the most beautiful sentence, paragraph, chapter in the world, but if there’s not a passion underneath it, why bother? Readers, viewers, and human beings respond to passion. They just do. So what’s next for you?

LO: The Hank Zipzer books, which I write with Henry Winkler, are now a series on the BBC. Henry and I also wrote four books in the Ghost Buddy series, and Amazon optioned them and had us write a pilot. They didn’t buy it, so it goes in the list of developed but not produced. We’re just going back into that, getting the notes from 27 different people, the ‘German Markets’ or whatever. It’s really nice to sit at your screen and write something you think is going into the hands of the right people.

Lin Oliver is a children’s book author and writer-producer of television series and movies for children. With Henry Winkler, she writes the New York Times best-selling book series, Hank Zipzer: World’s Best Underachiever, which has sold over 4 million copies and is a hit television series on the BBC. Their new chapter book series, Here’s Hank, is also a New York Times best-seller. She is also the author of the Who Shrunk Daniel Funk quartet, Sound Bender and The Shadow Mask, adventure/science fiction middle grade novels she coauthored with Theo Baker. Her collection of poetry, the highly praised Little Poems for Tiny Ears, illustrated by Tomie dePaola, is being followed with another poetry collection, Steppin’ Out: Playful Rhymes for Toddler Times. Her new chapter book series, The Fantastic Frame, debuted in April of this year from Grosset. Lin is the co-founder and Executive Director of SCBWI. Learn more at www.linoliver.com or follow Lin on Twitter (@linoliver).

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2015). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.

JOIN OUR NEWSLETTER TO RECEIVE MORE INTERVIEWS AND TIPS ON HOW TO GET PUBLISHED. 

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