Become a Writer Today

How to Write Personal Essays with Pam Munter

October 21, 2021 Bryan Collins Season 2
How to Write Personal Essays with Pam Munter
Become a Writer Today
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Become a Writer Today
How to Write Personal Essays with Pam Munter
Oct 21, 2021 Season 2
Bryan Collins

My guest this week is retired clinical psychologist Pam Munter.

Pam's written four books and had more than 150 personal essays published over the years. Her latest book is Fading Fame: Women of a Certain Age in Hollywood, a collection of ten short stories and two plays about the troubled lives of strong and talented women who survived #MeToo. Pam also writes a lot of non-fiction and memoirs.

In our interview, she talks about her approach to writing short stories, plays, and personal essays and talks about her life as a stage performer and a clinical psychologist.

Pam also has a fascinating insight into the creative process, which is worth listening to in the middle of the interview. 

If you feel that writing is a bit of a lonely profession, this is a conversation you want to hear.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • How to balance writing with a professional career
  • Dealing with feedback 
  • Outlining stories in advance vs free writing
  • Should writers attach value to their work?
  • How long Pam spends writing each day
  • Tips on getting published in journals


Support the Show.

If you enjoyed the show please leave a review on Apple. And if you have any questions you can find me on Twitter @BryanJCollins

Thanks for listening!

Show Notes Transcript

My guest this week is retired clinical psychologist Pam Munter.

Pam's written four books and had more than 150 personal essays published over the years. Her latest book is Fading Fame: Women of a Certain Age in Hollywood, a collection of ten short stories and two plays about the troubled lives of strong and talented women who survived #MeToo. Pam also writes a lot of non-fiction and memoirs.

In our interview, she talks about her approach to writing short stories, plays, and personal essays and talks about her life as a stage performer and a clinical psychologist.

Pam also has a fascinating insight into the creative process, which is worth listening to in the middle of the interview. 

If you feel that writing is a bit of a lonely profession, this is a conversation you want to hear.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • How to balance writing with a professional career
  • Dealing with feedback 
  • Outlining stories in advance vs free writing
  • Should writers attach value to their work?
  • How long Pam spends writing each day
  • Tips on getting published in journals


Support the Show.

If you enjoyed the show please leave a review on Apple. And if you have any questions you can find me on Twitter @BryanJCollins

Thanks for listening!

Pam: Mine your own experience. I’ve always loved the admonition to write what you know, certainly. Don’t embellish it. Your job in life is to be interesting to yourself so use everything you have and everything you know and once you can access that inner state fully, it becomes much easier to write personal essays.

Introduction: Welcome to the Become a Writer Today podcast with Bryan Collins. Here, you’ll find practical advice and interviews for all kinds of writers.

Bryan: Would you like to write more personal essays?

Hi, there. My name is Bryan Collins and welcome to the Become a Writer Today podcast. Apart from blogging, writing personal essays is probably my favorite form of writing.

I discovered the art of writing personal essays years ago when I was taking writing classes in the Irish Writers Centre in Dublin. If you’re not familiar with the genre, basically, a personal essay involves writing about an experience or something that happened in your own life as a type of essay.

But there’s a little bit more to it than that because you’re not simply writing a diary entry or a journal entry or explaining what happened, you’re writing up an essay about your experiences and what they meant to you but you’re also relating them to some type of universal experience so that your readers can get a takeaway from the essay in question. It’s not necessarily self-help or personal development, it’s simply a type of writing that explores your experiences and also relates it to experiences your readers may be having.

If you’re interested in learning more about writing personal essays, I’d recommend picking up the following anthologies: The Art of the Personal Essay, which was compiled by Phillip Lopate, and The Best American Essays of the Century, which was compiled by Joyce Carol Oates. Both compilations have dozens and dozens of personal essays that will take you months to get through but which will help you explore and understand the genre.

If you want to write a personal essay, try and write about a meaningful experience from your personal life or from your career. Write it up so it’s several hundred or even several thousand words long and try and relate it to something that the readers will understand about life.

When you finish your personal essay, it’s always good to get them edited or vetted by somebody else because it’s probably something you’re particularly close to and, of course, you’ll want to get it published, unless you’re writing just for yourself. 

The best place to get personal essays published or to find places to publish them is the service, Duotrope. Duotrope basically compiles places that essayists and actually short story writers can find and then submit their work. It’s a place for finding markets and tracking your submissions and it only costs a couple of dollars a month. It’s definitely a service I’d recommend you check out if you’re interested in getting your personal essays or your short stories published.

Now, one writer who’s done that is this week’s interviewee. Her name is Pam Munter. She’s a retired clinical psychologist but she’s a lot more than that. She’s written four books and she’s had over 150 personal essays published over the years. Her latest book is called Fading Fame: Women of a Certain Age in Hollywood, but Pam also writes a lot of nonfiction and memoir too. In this week’s interview, she talks about her approach for writing short stories, plays, and personal essays and she also gets into her life as a stage performer and as a clinical psychologist. Pam also has a particularly interesting insight into the creative process which is worth hanging on for in about the middle of the interview. And if you find, you know, writing can sometimes be a bit of a lonely profession, this is definitely a conversation you want to hang on for.

If you do find this week’s episode helpful or useful in any way, consider leaving a short review on iTunes or you can share the show on Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, or wherever you’re listening. And for just a couple of dollars a month, you can become a Patreon supporter using the link in the show notes and I’ll give you discounts on my writing courses, software, and books.

Now, let’s go over to this week’s interview with Pam Munter.

Bryan: So, I wanted to catch up with you, Pam, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we’ll talk about your new book and your writing process. But I’m always interested in the personal essay genre so I’d love to dig into your approach to writing personal essays because it sounds like you’ve got quite an interesting background which has helped you with the writing process.

But before we get to any of that, could you give listeners a quick overview of who you are and how you balanced writing with your professional career?

Pam: Well, my professional career followed many years of amateur writing, as I suppose it does for all writers. My first publication, if we can call it that, was when I was nine years old, I wrote a “newspaper” for the neighborhood. 

In those days, I might add, there was no Xerox machine and so it was all done on carbon paper and it was about the local baseball team, which I was enamored, I’m not sure why, but I was and I would do this, you know, when the mood would strike and I distributed it among the neighbors and that’s kinda how it started. 

And then in high school, I started writing film reviews. I became editor of the high school paper and, fortunately, it was in Los Angeles so I could go to the studios and watch these films, which was very exciting for a kid. Actually, it would still be exciting for me to be in a studio —

Bryan: Yeah.

Pam: — and then I was a journalism major in college and I realized, you know, I don’t think this is enough for me so I went back to school and I got a couple more degrees, one of them was a PhD in clinical psychology, but even while I was practicing psychology, I was writing newsletters for clients on a quarterly basis.

I just couldn’t quite stay away from writing. And then, as the career started to wind down a little bit, because of health management organizations, not because I didn’t wanna do it anymore, I started to write stories about movie stars.

I had always been in love with Hollywood and this was an opportunity to learn more about people I’ve been curious about. So there were about, I don’t know, maybe two dozen or so lengthy essays about the lives and careers of performers that might be forgotten, you know, if it weren’t for essays like this, and it was in films of the Golden Age and classic images, both magazines, which appeal to people who like old Hollywood, and I just kept writing.

I became a performer, I was doing jazz and cabaret shows around the country and wrote my own shows so there was always an element of writing in my life. And, at some point, after some life issues, I went back to school again and got a master in fine arts in creative writing and writing for the performing arts and my major was non-fiction because that’s what I always read, that’s what I always wrote.

You know, I don’t read fiction, I’m sort of embarrassed to admit that, but I’m not a fan of fiction. Even though I write it, I don’t — I’m not a fan of it. But after writing a memoir, called As Alone as I Want to Be, which consisted of a series of essays, my advisor said, “You know, you need a second genre,” so I jumped into fiction, very reluctantly, and I thought, you know, I have all this trivia in my head about Hollywood, all these things I’ve learned about Hollywood. I have a history of being a clinical psychologist where I’ve jumped into people’s lives and heads. Why not mix these up into a series of short stories and plays about Hollywood?

You know, just fictionalize it. So that brought me to Fading Fame, sort of circuitously, and all the essays happened, really, since the MFA program kind of forced my hand. Once that cap was off the genie, it just started to flow.

Bryan: Did it take you long to write Fading Fame?

Pam: Well, it’s a series of short stories and plays and so it was done incrementally, over a period of about I’d say three years. The first story is about Mary Pickford and that was the first story I wrote in my MFA program, which was required, but after that, I thought, you know, Mary Pickford was a really interesting person but there are a lot of women in her situation whose fame and identity was stripped away by age so let’s think about the people who have interested you over your life and do a little digging and out popped these stories, one at a time, over this period of time.

Bryan: Did you write the stories with bundling together in a compilation in mind or was that something you did at the end?

Pam: No, I think after the first couple, I thought, and they were published, I thought, well, maybe you know, there are other people I could write about, how can I put this together somehow? And, you know, I would go to workshops and they would ask for some piece of writing and so I would write a story for the workshop because, you know, we all do better when we’re under a little pressure, certainly I do, and then the plays just kind of happened too and I thought, you know, some of the plays I’ve written have the same feminist sexism theme, women struggling in midlife, so let’s put them together with this theme and it’s all discussed in the foreword to the book which talks about, you know, why these people are in the situation they’re in.

Bryan: You mentioned that the stories were published before you put them in the compilation. Where did you publish them?

Pam: You know, I don’t have a list in front of me, Bryan, but they were published in literary magazines, for the most part —

Bryan: Yeah.

Pam: — and certainly many, I think all of them have been reprinted in different literary magazines. People love to hear about old Hollywood. I just am so delighted to know that because I thought, for a long time, I was the only one who was obsessed with all of the, you know, the nature of celebrity and fame, you know? That just people —

Bryan: Yeah.

Pam: — just don’t care, but they do care. I’m pleased to hear that.

Bryan: Yeah, I guess it’s a time that people would romanticize. The reason why I asked about where you published them is I spent a lot of time writing short stories years ago and I didn’t have as much success as you because I sent them off to literary journals but they weren’t published. Did you use your deadlines for literary journals? Because I know they have, you know, quarterly or monthly deadlines when you have to send something in. Did you use those as a writing deadline or did you finish the story and then say to yourself, “You know, this would make a great fit for such and such journal”?

Pam: You know, I didn’t know what their deadlines were, really, so I was pretty much on my own wavelength. I would get an idea in my head for a story, really, a person who interested me or a situation and I would write it and I’d think to myself, “Where can I send this?” and I do a lot of research on the nature of literary journals and who takes what and what they published in the past. You know, there are tools now to be able to do that kind of research, which there weren’t maybe 10 years ago. They’re widely accessible to writers now and you can discover who wants to read what you write. It’s easier. 

Bryan: Any tools that come to mind that you could share?

Pam: Let me think. The Matador Review —

Bryan: Yeah.

Pam: — published a personal essay of mine. You got me. The Manifest-Station published a couple.

Bryan: Was it a case of Googling personal essays and then journals?

Pam: Yes.

Bryan: Yeah, that was your approach? Okay.

Pam: There’s a — have you heard of Duotrope?

Bryan: I have, yes, that’s a fantastic resource for anybody who wants to submit.

Pam: I searched for literary magazines that way, by genre, by whether or not they accept electronic submissions, which is a requirement for me, I don’t wanna do paper stuff.

Bryan: Yeah, so, yeah, that’s — I think it’s D-U-O-T-R-O-P-E for anybody who’s listening. That’s only a couple of dollars for a monthly subscription. I recommend checking it out if you’re unsure where to submit your work. When you submitted your work and it got published, what did that do for, I suppose for you as a writer of personal essays and short stories?

Pam: Well, it makes the resume look good.

Bryan: Writers don’t need resumes.

Pam: I suspect that when I would submit to another journal and I would mention my list of publications, they’d be — it didn’t do anything for me personally as a writer, you know? Frankly, I don’t need the glory. I’m not interested so much in that. But it’s nice when I get the feedback that people enjoy what I have written, both fiction and non-fiction.

Bryan: Yeah, so you sound like the kind of writer who’s not doing it necessarily to earn an income, you’re doing it more to share your stories and find readers, basically.

Pam: I feel very sorry for people who write for a living.

Bryan: That’s me.

Pam: Oh. I talk to so many people who are in that situation and it’s very hand to mouth and —

Bryan: Yeah.

Pam: — the whims of an editor 2,000 miles away and that’s just, oh, I don’t think I could do that.

Bryan: Yeah, well, what I would say to anybody who writes for a living is you need to build something that you own, like a website or an e-mail list so you’re not dependent on an editor but we still need to work with editors so did you get feedback from editors for literary journals about your personal essays and short stories?

Pam: You know, it was almost always positive. I think of all the essays particularly that I have written, and there have been a ton, there have been maybe two or three editorial changes that had been required. That’s very nice. I mean, I appreciate that. I don’t know what people experienced in that way. But I do a lot of editing, I’m an incubator, I think about what I’m gonna write for a long time before I sit down with the computer to do it so that by the time I do sit down, it just flows out of me and once that’s down and it has a beginning and a middle and an end, I’ll go back and, you know, edit, edit, edit, edit,

Bryan: What does your editing process look like? Could you describe it?

Pam: I read it out loud and see how it flows. You know, I have been a musician long enough to feel that writing is a little like music. You can feel the syncopation, you can hear the change and bass and treble and where you’re going and how it feels, how it flows and, sometimes, I trash the whole thing and start over, you know? 

It’s just too dystonic, I can’t do it, but for the most part, I read it out loud and then I’ll go back and I’ll wake up in the middle of the night sometimes, I think, “Ah, wait a minute, I need to put this in here,” you wouldn’t do that and, you know, how can I tell people about my life, you know? Things with being a memoirist is inevitably —

Bryan: Had you outlined your stories and essays in advance or do you just sit down and start writing?

Pam: Well, as I say, I think about it for a long time —

Bryan: Yeah.

Pam: — something triggers it, usually. Something within me or something or it’ll come up in conversation with someone or something on television or film or something and I’ll think, you know, I have never written about that particular thing in my life and people might find it interesting because there’s a story here. I’m very disclosive in my personal writings and so people know exactly the joys and the pains of, you know, going through life experimentally, as we all do.

Bryan: If you had to pick fiction or non-fiction, what would be your choice?

Pam: Well, it would be more politically correct for me to say fiction because we’re talking about a book I’ve written in fiction, but it probably is — non-fiction is my native soil. That’s where I spent most of my life and where I feel the most comfortable, writing about other people, mostly, but I also found in the course of writing the memoir that I’m an interesting person. I’ve had some fascinating experiences growing up in Los Angeles, knowing a lot of interesting people and living a life that most women don’t live of my generation.

Bryan: Yeah, so you’ve written four books. The other books were non-fiction.

Pam: Yes, yes. Two of them are — one was an early, too early, autobiography called Almost Famous, and I wrote that when I was 40, in fact, which is pretty icky. The second book was a work of fiction. When I was a kid, I would every once in a while come across a film on television that starred the same group of people and I was young, I didn’t know about credits so I didn’t know how to look people up, you couldn’t in those days, and so I became so enamored with this series that when I saw on the TV guide one of those movies was playing, I would pretend to be sick, I’d have a headache or a cough or something that I’d have to stay home and watch that movie.

Well, decades passed and I started writing about people I was interested in and I kept thinking, “Who were those people? And why was it so intriguing to me?” and so I went back, they had — the star was a man named Freddie Stewart, who will — no one’s ever heard of but he had an absolutely angelic voice and there were four other characters in the same series. Only one was still alive and that was Noel Neill who was best known as the original Lois Lane of the Superman series. She did the radio serial and some of the early film series and best known as Lois Lane on the Superman television show in the 50s.

Bryan: Yeah.

Pam: I spent many hours with her asking about her memories of this series, there were eight films, and it was so interesting to me that whole era of B movies, cranking out films in three weeks, you know, and pretty good movies, I might add, that a publisher came to me and said, “Why don’t you write a book about this series and explore who these actors were?” Well, this was right up my alley because these were pretty obscure actors. You’ve seen them all and you would recognize them all but you wouldn’t know who they were. And so the book came out, it was called When Teens Were Keen: Teen Agers of Monogram

Bryan: Could you give listeners a timeline? Like when did the book come out?

Pam: The book came out in 2005, I think, 2006, somewhere around there.

Bryan: Were you writing the book while you were working your job as a clinical psychologist?

Pam: No, I wasn’t. I had stopped by them. Actually, I was performing around the country at that time. I was in jazz cabaret shows and — that whole career switch happened very —

Bryan: That’s a big career switch.

Pam: It was. You know, I always wanted to do that and when I left the confines of the office, I thought, why not, you know? What — carpe diem here.

Bryan: Yeah.

Pam: So I took some classes and found an agent and was in about a half a dozen independent films all in the Portland, Oregon, area where I lived at the time, took singing lessons and I thought, “You know, I can do this,” so I staged a show in Portland, videotaped it, sent it out to a bunch of clubs, and, to my shock and surprise, they hired me to do this. So it was fun. It was a time in my life when I didn’t have to worry about anything, except being good on stage.

Bryan: You strike me as somebody who’s always had a big creative project on the go.

Pam: Oh, yeah, yeah. You know, if your life isn’t interesting to you, who else is gonna care, you know? I think you have to kinda use yourself up and use all aspects of yourself and, needless to say, it’s fodder for your writing career.

Bryan: It is. It is.

Pam: I’ve written excessively about the joys and woes of performing and how hard it is to walk away from it when you know you really can’t do that anymore and how it is to meet famous people and just to, you know, integrating one’s life as a writer is one of the best things about being a writer, I think. Non-fiction.

Bryan: So I have to ask, what was it that made you walk away and move towards writing?

Pam: Well, there were a couple of things. One is that I don’t think I was good enough. I mean, I was playing some really nice clubs but, you know, I — by my standards. The reviews were fine but it wasn’t about them, it was about me. And the other thing is that the nature of performing is that it’s very emotionally volatile. You’re up and down, you’re on stage or you’re off, you know?

And I understand these Fading Fame women because they went through exactly that. Once you’re off, it’s pretty lonely and my personal disposition is very even. I don’t have a lot of super highs, super lows. I don’t get angry easily, you know, I’m just not that kind of person but showbiz, the kind I was doing, demanded that kind of — you have to plug into the system and it became wearing, it was hard on relationships because you’re traveling all over the country. You know, there’s just no ground floor when you’re doing that and I —

Bryan: It sounds exhausting.

Pam: It was exhausting. Very rewarding, certainly, but the dues were high.

Bryan: Have you noticed parallels between writing and your performing career?

Pam: I feel more in control as a writer, certainly. I’m the one who determines output. I don’t always determine where it goes or if it’s published but I’m finding that the process itself is enough for me as a writer. And there are no standards against which to judge myself, which is very nice. The standards are all very internal. Is this a better story than the one I wrote six months ago? Have I [inaudible] as a writer, you know, now that I’m writing about this person? Is this any better? It’s harder to do that as a performer.

Bryan: Yeah. You mentioned an interesting idea a few minutes ago that performing, it was, in a way, a lonely profession. A lot of writers would say writing can be a lonely profession —

Pam: Yes.

Bryan: — is that something you’ve noticed as well?

Pam: I don’t feel that but I understand how that is. The MFA program that I was in for a couple of years has a very tight subculture of support on Facebook and the times when people get together. You know, one of the things that surprised me most about getting into that MFA program was I expected a lot of other introverted, quiet people like me and they weren’t. They were gregarious and social and, you know, wanted to go out for drinks and talk and, okay, I can do that. So, loneliness is, you know, as a clinical psychologist, I know that loneliness is something you can handle by creating a stronger sense of yourself. And certainly I have many decades of experience in doing that.

Bryan: Yeah, that’s an interesting idea. I was in a writing group years ago and I suppose it’s a cliché to say writers are all introverts but we did actually go out for drinks but I think it’s because we had something in common. We talked about stories we were having problems with, books that we liked. Maybe the conversations we weren’t having with other friends who weren’t as interested in, you know, creative hobbies —

Pam: Yes.

Bryan: — so it’s definitely something I found. You said something else that was really interesting, that one way to combat it or get over it is having a strong sense of self. What about the idea that writers shouldn’t attach their value to their work? Because you could get a, you know, negative review or it might not sell as many copies as you liked. That can put off new writers.

Pam: Well, I think the issue is a little bigger, Bryan. It’s internal versus external locus of control, as psychologists say. It’s whether or not you go through your life seeing yourself in the faces of others, waiting for other people’s judgment to tell you if you’re any good, if you’re worthwhile, if you’re liked, if you’re loved, or developing that strong sense of yourself, developing your own baseline and your own standards for what’s good and whether or not you’re likeable, you know, when you do things that violates your own standards, and, in a way, it insulates you. I mean, I’m not saying that rejection isn’t disappointing. It is. But it’s not a cataclysmic thing, you know? Particularly in writing. You just pick it up and you send it someplace else, you know? And I know, sooner or later, someone will like it but the important thing is that I like it and that it has reflected the best possible writing I can do at that moment. That’s all I can expect. That’s all I can control.

Bryan: Yeah, that’s all any creative person can expect once you put, you know, your heart and soul into it. When you are writing, do you spend long writing on a given day?

Pam: You know, I admire people that have that kind of discipline. Oh, was it Ernest Hemingway who claimed to write x number of words every day?

Bryan: He did. He had a whiteboard or, well, not a whiteboard but he had some sort of chart near where he wrote and he’d put his word count up on it.

Pam: I’m in awe. I just — I just can’t. I think once the incubation has been completed, and this is true for fiction or non-fiction, and I sit down and I write it, it flows. And as long as it takes, that’s where I am on the couch, with my laptop, hitting the keys. Everything else stops. It has to. Like any writer, I’m afraid it’ll go away, you know? What happens if I don’t get it down now?

Bryan: Yeah, I know, it’s good to I suppose turn up at the same time — well, I find it helpful if I turn up at the same time every day, even if I don’t have any ideas, I still have to write something because here I am.

Pam: Good for you. I admire that.

Bryan: Yeah. Well, it works for me, but every person is different, I guess. So, you’ve written four books, are you planning to write another book?

Pam: Well, I have another book of essays sort of in the oven. I’m sending it out. It’s called, forgive the narcissism, it’s called Fascinating Me.

Bryan: Good title. Is this based on your career as a clinical psychologist? It sounds like it might be.

Pam: Well, there are a couple of chapters about that but I, you know, I think my experiences have been more wide-ranging than that. As a performer, for instance, I was able to record a CD at Capitol Records in Hollywood about celebrating Doris Day, who was a big role model for me as a little girl and my producer suggested I send this CD to her in Carmel, which is where she lived. I was so reluctant. I thought, you know, I hope she isn’t angry with me, she doesn’t resent it. I hope I’m not embarrassing her. 

This was before, of course, long before she died and before all the Doris Day furor started and so I sent it to her and what came back was a personal letter from her saying how much she enjoyed it, how much she appreciated it, she loved my singing. Now, the irony here is that I spent so many hours of my childhood in my bedroom listening to Doris Day sing, and now here she was in her house, listening to me. I mean, how great is that?

Bryan: That’s brilliant.

Pam: It’s an amazing thing. So, of course, that demands a written essay about the history with Doris Day.

Bryan: Yeah, it certainly does. What would your tips be for anybody who wants to start writing personal essays?

Pam: Mine your own experience. I’ve always loved the admonition to write what you know, certainly. Don’t embellish it. Your job in life is to be interesting to yourself so use everything you have and everything you know and once you can access that inner state fully, it becomes much easier to write personal essays. The other thing I would suggest is that you consider the universality of your experience.

Now, in my life, there are things that I’ve done that I know people can’t particularly relate to, specifically, you know, I was on a network television program called 20/20 with Geraldo Rivera, we were talking about cults and all of us got sued for $100 million. You know, most people can’t remember the specifics of that but they can relate to the stress of being under that kind of pressure and so when I was writing the essay about it, I talked about how it is day to day to wonder if you’re gonna have a house to live in, if you’re gonna have an income, if you’re gonna be able to survive this.

Bryan: Can you say what happened with the case?

Pam: Oh, yeah. So it was settled out of court, of course. I mean, it was just a blowhard thing by the cult to — actually from the court witness, an expert witness, against many of the people who died in this cult and with that, we were successful but didn’t cost me anything, which is good.

Bryan: Yeah. Yeah, no, some writers do worry about getting sued for something that they’ve published so it’s definitely a valid concern. I liked your point about it’s all material, like your life is material for your writing, that’s definitely something I found as well for non-fiction. Are there any non-fiction essayists that have influenced you or that you’d recommend people check out?

Pam: I’m a big fan of Meghan Daum, D-A-U-M. She has written, I don’t know, three or four books, maybe, of essays. I’ve never met her, I’ve never talked with her, but she has a certain agility as a writer, where she can combine something that’s really very sad and make it funny and I appreciate that’s kind of my lifestyle too. I mean, there’s always snark somewhere residing within me.

And Meghan is able to put that all into an essay and captivate you almost immediately with it. I just love what she [inaudible]. Vivian Gornick is another one who has written several books of essays about New York, for the most part, her life in New York, and she has the capacity I think to, even if you aren’t a resident of New York or maybe you’ve never even been to New York, she has the capacity to bring you along on her journey and I admire a writer who can do that so fluidly as she can, and engage you. You wanna be with her. You wanna know what’s going on.

Bryan: Yeah, that’s something any good non-fiction writer can do. Yeah, I particularly like Mary Karr. I’m not sure if you read her.

Pam: Yes, uh-huh.

Bryan: Yeah, she’s excellent. So you’ve also been published in over 150 personal essay journals and I know we mentioned Duotrope earlier on but do you have any other tips that you could offer for somebody who wants to get published in journals or get republished?

Pam: Persistence. Don’t give up, keep it going. Whenever I write a short story or an essay or even a play, I send it out to maybe five or six places at a time and as I’ll get the rejection, you know, I replace them and then just keep pushing it out the door somehow. You know, I think there’s only one essay of all the ones I’ve written that hadn’t found a publisher. I haven’t given up. I think there’s a home for this one. All the short stories have been published, most of them a couple times, which is lovely. I’m glad to hear it. And the plays have been produced so, you know, life is good. They haven’t all been produced and there’s one weird one that’s hanging out there that I’m hoping at some point. It too, by the way, infuses Hollywood into its theme which I can’t help myself, it’s just everywhere around me in my head.

Bryan: Yeah, and listeners can’t see it but on your bookshelf, it looks like you have a lot of books about Hollywood.

Pam: I do. I do. Everything about me is Hollywood, for better or for worse.

Bryan: Yeah. Sounds like it’s a theme that’s been present in all of your works.

Pam: Yes. Different aspects of it, you know? As a kid, I wanted to be a movie star but I think everybody did and I did do — I wasn’t very good at it but I did. But I ended up feeling very fortunate to be able to write about it, even if it’s in a fictional sense, and as I say, I brought my expertise with these particular people I’ve written about into a fictional context so there’s a story about Mary Pickford, who was a 1920s big movie star, America’s Sweetheart, they called her, one of the first big movie stars, and in writing about her, I dropped little nuggets for film historians everywhere who know that that part of the story is true and that’s just so much fun to do. Writing can be fun.

Bryan: Yeah, it should be fun. I mean, otherwise, what’s the point? I mean — and some people need to write to pay the bills but it’s also good to have something that’s enjoyable too because you gotta spend all day doing it.

Pam: That’s right. Indeed. It’s all of you in everything so it better suit you.

Bryan: So, Pam, where can people find more information about you, your new book, or your essays?

Pam: Well, Fading Fame is on sale at, as is everything in life, I suspect. You can find links to my stories and essays in and those are probably the best places to find me.

Bryan: Sure, I’ll be sure to put them in the show notes as well. It was very nice to talk to you today, Pam.

Pam: Thank you, Bryan. It’s been a pleasure.


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