Answering the four questions

No, it isn’t Passover again.

It’s a Blog Hop–sort of a tag team relay in the world of blogging. My fellow blogger and friend Francie Low answered the four questions, and then tossed the baton to me. I’ll attempt to answer the questions here, and then pass the honor along to three other bloggers I’d like you to meet. It’s a paying it forward introduction to some writers I know and like. I hope you’ll enjoy checking out their blogs via the links  below. These are three amazing  writers.

But now, the Q and A:

1.  Why do I write what I do?
This reminds me of that Beach Boys song:  “God only knows . . . .” For me, writing what I like to write is my way of addressing all the things I wonder about or complain about–or find amusing or inspiring or confusing or challenging. I do it to keep from knitting myself to death. It’s the only way I know of to help sort out what’s going on in my mind and in my life. As Joan Didion says,“I don’t know what I think until I write it down.”

Nora Ephron’s mother famously told her: “Everything is copy,” and then proceeded to turn her daughter into a character in a play. I haven’t gone that far with my kids, but I agree with the premise: old boyfriends, baseball, knitting, work, school, eyebrows, writing, things I overhear or stumble upon, people I talk to, friends, parents, kids, sweaters gone wrong–you know, Life. It’s all material.

My original blog, called Zero to Sixty in One Year, turned out to be a memoir– written in one-month segments over the course of a year while I was getting my MFA not that long ago. The whole thing is here, in the archives. The blog came about because I wanted to record  my favorite stories and memories in some coherent fashion before I forget them. The urge to tell these stories must come with the grandmother territory or something. In case the grandchildren ever want to know, for example, why I was in college for half my life.

After the Year of the Blog, I kept on writing, but in a more free-form manner– because I enjoy it and you can’t stop me.

I also write about cocktails, and that, of course, is a different story. I got into the cocktail game as kind of a fluke, but I am rather fond of my position as the tongue-in-cheek authority known as Ms Barstool. I never lack for companionship on my forays into local watering holes or hipster hangouts or, on the very rare occasion, dive bars.

 Look like fun? It is!

Look like fun? It is!

2.  How does my writing differ from others in its genre?
Show me another bench-pressing empty nester/grandmother/blogger/writer who spends as much time looking over the top of a cocktail glass as I do, and we’ll figure out how  different we are. Here’s the thing:  I’m past the age for a certain genre that appeals to young moms, my kids are through college and my nest doesn’t feel that empty anymore, I’m not always looking for the humor angle (but it often creeps in anyway), and I don’t want to hop on a soapbox very often. I’ll go for snark every now and again because it’s fun, but my attitude and perspective fluctuate. And I still like to think I’m special. Thanks, Mister Rogers!


3.How does my writing process work?
In my best Elmer Fudd voice: “Vewwy, vewwy slowly.”  I do what I like to call “throat clearing” before I get started, which can look like procrastination, or laundry, or  checking email, but is actually part of the writing process. Whether I am in my car, standing in line at the grocery store, staring out the window, or looking for something down the Internet rabbit hole, it is all part of my “writing process.” Some days I’m on fire, and some days my chair isn’t comfortable, my desk is covered with paper, the birds are making a nest nearby, and the stacks of old New Yorkers around my house have become bothersome in the extreme. I love those days when my fingers fly and words come together and I get the word count I want and the pictures work. I’ll look at the clock and realize that I’ve been sitting here for several hours and I really should get up and do something else for a while. I make lists on occasion. I make notes here and there. I mumble, “I should write about that,” after almost every conversation I have. I compose in my head all the time. And here’s another part of my process: quiet. I don’t listen to music when I’m writing. I have to hear the words, and can’t do that if there is anything else competing with the sound. I try and read what I write out loud before I hit send or publish. Many days, the only sound I hear comes from my own voice, and the birds outside my window or the kids across the street. When it’s really quiet, I can hear trains in the distance–one of my all-time favorite sounds. I’ll wonder if it’s the California Zephyr  or the Coast Starlight or just a big old freight train. Hear that lonesome whistle blow?

What was I saying? Oh, yes–my writing process. It requires a neat desk and no trains.

4.  What am I working on/writing?

I just finished writing and publishing an eBook called Zero to Sixty in One Year: An Easy Month by Month Guide to Writing Your Life Story. The book is an outgrowth of my year-long blog and I’m pretty excited that it’s done. I hope the people who read it find it helpful.

My next project (in progress) is a memoir that is centered around the 1991 Oakland/Berkeley Hills fire that destroyed my home and my neighborhood. I’ve been writing about the fire since it happened, and this book is the culmination of surviving, rebuilding, and moving on. It’s been a tremendously rewarding experience to write it, and I hope to see it published before the 25th anniversary of the fire. These things take time to do right.

I’m writing about cocktails and other things for Berkeleyside, and have just started writing articles for a new online publication called Eat Drink Films,

So that’s my story. Now read about these three talented writers.

First up, Cynthia House Nooney

Cynthia House NooneyWhen she was younger, Cynthia House Nooney thought becoming a mom at forty would be a hideous idea. She knew that she would have kids way before that. Turned out the joke was on her. Turned out she had a hard time finding someone she’d like to have kids with. When she finally did find him, she instantly (pretty much) became a stepmom to his two strapping adolescent sons. And then instantly (pretty much) became pregnant with twins. At forty, of course. Even though she’d always done things later than most, her identical twin boys showed up eighty-eight days early, turning her fortieth year into the scariest, wildest, and most beautiful year of her life. It’s also when Cynthia began writing in earnest. Since then, she’s been widely published. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, 805 Living, Twins, Preemie, Today in PT, Sherman Oaks Sun, and numerous other publications. As contributing editor at 805 Living for six years, she authored several features and a monthly column. Prior to her writing career, Cynthia worked as a marketing executive in the telecommunications industry for a span of nineteen years, including a beloved VP post at E! Entertainment Television and The Style Network.

Having just completed a memoir, Cynthia authors a blog entitled everything I wanted was on back order (


Now, meet Kate Mayer


Kate Mayer is foul-mouthed, nose-ring wearing, writer in limbo, trying desperately to find that sweet spot between writing what she loves and paying the bills. An irreverent storyteller with a bad mouth and big heart, she shares stories of life as she lives it in her beloved home of Newtown Connecticut. After the Sandy Hook shootings, she dedicated herself to storytelling in order to connect people to create a safer, kinder world. She blogs at Today In Newtown, writes and speaks often about Newtown, and was previously selected for the 2012 NYC Listen To Your Mother. Kate is a freelance copywriter, an upcoming inductee into AARP, co-creator of 2 quasi-adult children and 2 wannabes, and a dedicated advocate for gun violence prevention. You can find her on twitter and Instagram at @klmcopy.


And here’s Mandy Brasher:


Mandy Brasher is a writer living out her 30’s in suburban Utah with her two kids, one husband and their racist cat. She is a regular contributor at The Good Men Project, has written for and was the Relationship Contributor for the lifestyle blog My Thirty Spot. She also attempts to keep folks laughing on her blog, where she covers everything from parenting like a boss to her mediocre attempts at writing a book. When she’s not structuring sentences on her laptop, Mandy enjoys traveling with her family, practicing yoga, and trying new dark beers.

Find her on Twitter @BrasherMandy

Check out her irreverent rantings at

If you like stupid pictures, follow her on Instagram @MandyBrasher.

Read, share, enjoy! Thanks to these three bloggers for joining me here.

4 Responses to Answering the four questions

  1. kate says:

    Honored and humbled, oh martini-sipping-benchpressing-grandma-writer west coast friend of mine! Looking forward to reading these fine writers, and learning how they do what they do!

  2. Risa, I love your blog! I can’t believe we haven’t met. Cocktails and knitting?! — we must be kindred spirits. Great post on writing, too.

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