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Hampton’s Place


For Hampton Sides, writing compelling history meant reliving his childhood.

Paula Larocque

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When Paula was introduced recently at a speaking engagement as “America’s foremost writing coach,” she responded, “Who says?”  The guy answered, “Everybody.” As a columnist, author, educator and communications consultant, she has worked at bettering the written word for decades. Here’s some practical counsel from the woman who — literally — wrote The Book on Writing.

Selling my Story

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I got my publisher’s final, official, they-can’t-back-out-now approval for my first book, a memoir called Keeping the Feast, in June 2009. My family was getting ready to high-tail it out of Paris to take our annual summer vacation in the States, and the night we got the news, my husband, John Tagliabue, and I popped open a bottle of cheap, sparkling wine and drank a toast. Rube that I was, I thought I was pretty much done, and could go off work-free on a desperately needed vacation.

Thriving in journalism

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In 1982, at the age of 29, I found myself in Los Angeles working for a large multinational bank. I was putting in 60-hour weeks, syndicating multimillion-dollar loans in Asia, and I was deeply unhappy. I had always wanted to be a writer. In spite of the career I had fallen into, I still had very strong romantic notions of who I wanted to be, which amounted to a hybrid of Hunter Thompson, George Orwell, Wallace Stegner, Ernest Hemingway, Edward Abbey, Ken Kesey and Tom Wolfe. But here I was, nearly 30, sunk in a job that was completely at odds with that vision. As I drove to the bank in downtown L.A. in my pinstriped suit, Brooks Brothers shirt and wing-tip brogans, I would remind myself that Stegner and Orwell were not out hawking loans in their late 20s; not commuting to the financial district carrying a briefcase full of credit reports; not reading The Wall Street Journal at a large oak desk on the 38th floor of the First Interstate Tower.

My not-so-public enemy

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I started out like many of us do, an eager young journalism school graduate, in my case Missouri, then a good nine years at a strong newspaper, The Wall Street Journal. When I was 27, I took an eight-month unpaid leave of absence to try and write a book with a colleague. As luck would have it, lightning struck. The book, Barbarians at the Gate, about the bare-knuckles fight for control of RJR Nabisco, became a No. 1 bestseller. Applause, accolades and large royalty checks followed in the wake of its success.

Texas DNA Showdown

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Andrea Beleno would rather be doing most anything else than meeting at Austin’s Cherrywood Coffeehouse on President’s Day to tell how, as she sees it, the State of Texas flat-out stole her son’s DNA. With a career in nonprofit legal services, Andrea sees herself more as an advocate for others, not as an activist. Still, as her son Joaquin does his parka-toddler walk through the café courtyard with his fake Blackberry, she outlines how it all went down, blending one-part concerned mom with one-part sound-bite-savvy lawyer.

The Art of Being in the Moment

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A woman weaves between a battalion of bikes, a camera dangling from her shoulder. To talk to the man who lost his leg to war, she crouches and leans in to listen. She takes no pictures. Only when the wounded warriors prepare to ride does she shuffle among the cyclists, occasionally snapping photos.

Searching for Gary Smith

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He looks inside others for answers about life. And himself.

I See Dead People

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On the eve of hitting the road to publicize my biography of Joseph Pulitzer, I received a note from a well-known independent bookstore where I was scheduled to do an event. It contained the following instructions, “We do suggest that you talk, not read, as reading is exercised only by novelists.” Nonfiction, in the estimation of this bookseller, was defined not only by the fact that it wasn’t fiction, but also by its lack of literary merit. Ouch!

The Masquerade

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When I was a cocky young journalist, overly impressed with myself for earning my living writing for a daily newspaper, I seldom thought about ghostwriting. If I bothered to think of it at all, I didn’t think of it as writing. I put it in the same dark corner of my mind as public relations. Not prostitution exactly, but not quite honest, either.

There's Something About Mary (Karr)

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In the literary world, Mary holds the position of grande dame memoirista and has won the admiration of millions of book lovers across America.

Confessions of a Literary Wildcatter

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“I suppose you know the parasitic way an agent works,” literary agent Diarmuid Russell wrote Eudora Welty in May 1940. “He is a rather benevolent parasite because authors as a rule make more when they have an agent than they do without one.”

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