Here at the Writers’ Program we add new writers to our roster of instructors each quarter. They emerge from a variety of genres—fiction, non-fiction, playwriting, feature film writing, television writing (the list goes on)–and each one comes to the classroom with a unique perspective and approach to teaching. I recently chatted with three of our new instructors in Creative Writing: Megan Crane, Deirdre Shaw, and Kimberlee Auerbach. They will all be teaching courses for the Writers’ Program this spring; here’s a chance to get to know them!

Megan Crane attended Vassar College and the University of York, where she received her MA and PhD in English Literature. She wrote her first novel while she was working on her doctoral dissertation, and has since published several more novels including Names My Sisters Call Me, Everyone Else’s Girl, and Frenemies. Megan lives in Los Angeles and will be teaching Commercial Women’s Fiction in the spring.

When did you begin writing and what advice do you have for aspiring writers?

I was writing long before I had any idea that it would be my career. Long before I had any idea that people had careers at all, for that matter. It was simply what I did to amuse myself, to escape, etc. I think the best piece of advice I can give to aspiring writers is to figure out how to trust your own writing instincts–and a big part of that is finishing what you start. I believe that the only way to learn how to write novels is to write a novel. Even a truly dreadful novel will teach you a great deal about the process–and how to write a less dreadful one the next time.

What was your journey like from aspiring writer to published author?

Frankly it was surreal. I never really thought it would happen, so I was a bit emotionally distant from the whole process–something which has never been repeated! I was supposed to be working on my PhD dissertation, but instead had an idea for a novel. I wrote the first (very bad) draft in about three weeks, then put it away for a year. When I hauled it out again, I decided it was good enough and sent it to a literary agent who was known for giving remarkably detailed feedback with her rejections. And so she did, but she also said she would look at the manuscript again if I revised it. When I did, she took me on as a client. That was in December or January, and she sold the book to what was then Warner Books in April. It was really not until that book came out over a year later that it really hit me that all of that was real!

You’re teaching a commercial women’s fiction course in the spring; what can students expect from this class and what would you like them to come away with?

Students can expect to really dig into their own writing. If they come away from the course with a better understanding of not just how to write commercial women’s fiction but their own, unique voice and how it might serve them in the writing of it, I’ll feel that I’ve done a good job.

And last but not least, who are your favorite authors and/or books?

I can never answer this question. I read so many books, and very quickly, and can’t possibly pick any favorites–because there would be far too many. I’m not stuck on any particular genre, either. I just want compelling characters and a good story that I can’t bring myself to put down. Is there anything better than that?

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Deirdre Shaw worked as a journalist before moving to Los Angeles, and has published her nonfiction in The New York Times, The New York Observer, and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her fiction has been published in Folio and Swink. Deirdre will be teaching Introduction to Fiction Writing in the spring.

Your first novel, Love or Something Like It will be published in the spring of this year. Tell us a bit about this book and what your experience writing it was like.

Love or Something Like It is a coming of age story about a woman in her early 30’s. The book follows Lacey Brennan over five years as she moves from New York to Los Angeles, gets married, quickly gets divorced, and goes on to try to make a life for herself in L.A. Along the way she confronts her past, attempts to heal her fractured family, works toward career success in Hollywood, and tries to find love again.

The novel began with one short story, starring Lacey as the main character. Then I wrote another, and another. I realized that I liked Lacey, and I wanted to keep exploring her view on the world. So I kept writing stories about her, hoping that one day I could knit them into a novel. I didn’t know how or when that was going to happen; I just knew that if I kept writing, I’d have enough material to create a strong narrative–and finally, about five years later, I did. It didn’t feel like five years. It didn’t feel like a long time. It just felt like the amount of time that it took to write the novel.

When did you begin writing and what advice do you have for aspiring writers?

I started writing short stories in high school where I had a very encouraging English teacher, then studied creative writing at Duke, where I had some wonderful and encouraging professors. I went on to graduate school in journalism, and became a newspaper journalist for several years, but the writing wasn’t creative enough for me. When I came to Los Angeles, I got a job as a writers’ assistant on a TV show, and I learned a lot about dialogue and how to create a compelling scene just by sitting in the writers’ room, watching the writers create a show. But I really started writing fiction again when I took a fiction class at UCLA Extension in 2002.

My advice to aspiring writers is of course to write every day, and to stick with it. It’s all about perseverance. Also, read a lot and find a writer or several writers who influence you. My biggest influence is Joan Didion, and I go back to her essays as touchstones when I have trouble writing. Also, find a community of writers who will support your work. And, finally, keep your day job. Interaction with people and the world gives you endless inspiration and endless stories.

What appeals to you about teaching in a continuing education environment?

Having been a student at UCLA myself, I know that the students are there because they are dedicated and want to change their lives. Studying at UCLA changed my life, and I am excited to try to help others change their own.

You’re teaching Introduction to Fiction Writing in the spring; what can students expect from this class and what would you like them to come away with?

We’ll do a lot of writing in class and a lot of reading outside of class. The only way to succeed is to work hard, so we’re going to do that. We’ll become a supportive community for the ten weeks we’re together. We’ll instill good writing habits that students can take with them when they leave the class. By the end, I hope students will feel more confident about their own writing, and invigorated to keep writing.

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Kimberlee Auerbach lives in New York City where she has performed her comedic monologues at The Original Improv, The Bitter End, and Comix. She has also competed in Moth GrandSLAM Storytelling Championships and has been featured on several radio shows nationwide including Sex, Success and Sensibility with Candace Bushnell and Wake-Up with Cosmo. She will be teaching Humorous Memoir online in the spring.

Your memoir, The Devil, The Lovers, and Me: My Life in Tarot was published in 2007. Tell us a bit about this book. What was it like to write?

Well, it’s based on a one-woman show I wrote and performed in the New York International Fringe Festival in 2005 about my circuitous journey toward self-acceptance. I use a classic 11-card tarot spread as a launching pad for my stories. Each card flashes back to another chapter from my life. In the end, I realize it’s not about looking to the future, but instead about letting go of the past and being present.

I had always regarded myself as a storyteller, not a “writer,” so when I got my book deal and found out I only had six months to write it, I felt as though I had been dropped off in a remote countryside village in Japan without a map or dictionary or palette for raw fish. I had to figure out what to do FAST! Thank God, I wasn’t shy about asking for help. I needed all the help I could get. And I totally stepped up! I felt like the rapper Eminem: “You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow!”

It was really one of the most challenging experiences of my life. I was able to transform one genre into another rather successfully, which filled me with such a sense of accomplishment. If fact, I think my book is much better than my show. I really found the writer in me.

What was your journey like from aspiring writer to published author?

Well, I was never really an aspiring writer. I had a story tell, a story I needed to tell. I think people should do what they do, not in pursuit of a label or role, but because they need to do it, whether that’s write a book or screenplay or tell a story on stage or sculpt or sing. It’s good to have ambition and goals, yes, but if you’re doing anything for acclaim or fame or money, I think you’re missing the point. I personally find the most joy in the doing. It gets me out of my head and lets life move through me.

You’re teaching a humorous memoir class online in the spring; what can students expect from this class and what would you like them to come away with?

They can expect to feel safe and celebrated and to find pleasure in the process. I also think I’m really good at creating a non-judgmental environment, which helps people risk more. So many writers don’t write because they’re afraid of being bad. I believe you can’t get good unless you’re bad first, or at least risk being bad.

At what point in your life did you begin writing?

I recently found a personal essay I published in my school’s 8th grade literary magazine. The piece was called “Cantor Weiss” about a very mean and “broken man.” Yes, that’s how I referred to him in the piece. It was super dark and depressing and crazy! I had no recollection of writing it all. I guess I’ve been writing for longer than I thought.

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Spring 2009 course listings are now available online. To enroll, please visit uclaextension.edu.

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Katy Flaherty is the Adminstrative Assistant for the Writers’ Program. Write to her at kflahert@uclaextension.edu.

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