Friday, May 25, 2012


by Kathi Diamant

It’s a very ancient saying
But a true and honest thought
That if you become a teacher
By your pupils you’ll be taught.
                  --from “Getting to Know You” from The King and I by Oscar Hammerstein II

I became a full time writer in 1990, because I had discovered a story, a true story that had never been told. But first I had to learn how to write. Starting in 1985, I took classes and workshops. I did as Brenda Ueland suggested in her classic book on writing: “Write much, much, in spite of imperfections.” After two decades, I am still a student of writing. In the past few years, I’ve taken online writing courses, and spent weeks in memoir and screenwriting master classes with Honor Moore and Theresa Rebeck. Right now, I am in the midst of a 12-week playwriting workshop with Stephen Metcalfe.

Writing has allowed me to remain a student for life. Every story I write has to be researched. With each article, I learn. I discover a new perspective, an increased awareness of some aspect of life. Being a writer means I ask meaningful questions and listen to the answers, write down those answers, do more research, and then think about what it all means and then draw a conclusion, in order to incorporate that knowledge into a greater experience of the world for others.

So it’s probably not surprising that so many of the current and former San Diego Writing Women are also teachers: Judy Liu, Kathy Jones, Laurel Carona, Caitlin Rother, Marjorie Hart and Karen Kenyon. And now, me, too!

I’ve been a teacher since 2008, starting first at the Osher Institute for Lifelong Learning at San Diego State University, and this quarter in the Department of Literature atUniversity of California San Diego. For UCSD, I designed a course for upper division undergraduates that I had myself had long needed to take. So I am in the delightful position of being both teacher and student in this class. I do all the readings I’ve assigned my students before class, and I’m working on my own projects, which right now includes creating the take-home final.

I was smart enough to design the class so the students could teach me, as well as their fellow classmates, what they are discovering. The students’ reports and final projects are presented orally in class, for a total of three weeks of mutual instruction. During the presentations, I sit in wonderment and admiration at their nimble and curious minds, their energetic examinations of an idea and their surprising, often brilliant conclusions. They call me “Professor,” but in truth, I’m the one learning the most.

Kathi Diamant is the award-winning author of Kafka’s Last Love and an adjunct professor at SDSU, where she directs the Kafka Project, the official search for Franz Kafka’s lost literary treasure. Kathi has lectured internationally, and taught classes on writing, acting and on literary genius Franz Kafka. Earlier this year, she received a month-long residency at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC to continue her Kafka Project research.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Interviewing Killers For a Living

Nanette Packard
Eric Naposki

By Caitlin Rother

I interviewed my first accused killer in June 1994, when I’d been a newspaper reporter for about seven years and was covering mental illness in California jails and prisons. It was long before I knew as much as I do now about the criminal justice system, mental illness and how the criminal mind works.

It was so long ago that I’d forgotten his name and just had to look up the story I wrote about him for The San Diego Union-Tribune – it was Juan Galvan. But I still remember how he looked in the fluorescent light of the George F. Bailey Detention Center in Otay Mesa, and a few details about his case: This guy was paranoid schizophrenic, and he’d been sent home on a bus from state prison to his Spanish-speaking parents’ house in the Golden Hill area of San Diego with a vial of prescription meds, which he, not surprisingly, lost on the bus.

When I talked with him, Galvan was awaiting trial on charges that he’d attacked and murdered a number of people in his neighborhood park. Uneducated and with limited English-language skills, his parents didn’t seem to understand mental illness and didn’t know what to do when their son sat on the sofa chain-smoking through a blowhole between his pulled-down hat and turned-up collar, or why he didn’t know who they were. Or, when he locked himself in the boiler room and made it up to look like a solitary prison cell, he played sad Mexican songs, or talked to the birds in the back yard. I remember quite clearly that his skin had a green cast in the light of the county jail, and that I wasn’t sure if it was a side effect from his medication or if it was just the artificial lighting.

Galvan, who didn’t believe he was mentally ill, told me he was “confident, optimistic” about his case because he did not commit the crimes. “I know everything’s going to be all right,” he said.

His parents believed in his innocence as well, that it was a conspiracy by law enforcement to blame their son for the murders. “If he was guilty we would know it,” his father told me. “He lived here and never did anything to us.”

Fast forward to 2012. I’m no longer a daily newspaper reporter, but a New York Times bestselling author, working on my seventh true crime book with my newest book, LOST GIRLS, coming out in July about the rape and murder of Chelsea King and Amber Dubois by sexual predator John Gardner. But some things  haven’t changed: Even the convicted killers are still telling me that they’re innocent.

Today, I’m heading up for a sentencing hearing in Orange County scheduled for Nanette Packard and Eric Naposki, two former lovers who were convicted of conspiring to kill Nanette’s multimillionaire boyfriend Bill McLaughlin back in 1994, the same year, coincidentally, that I interviewed Galvan. I’ve interviewed Naposki twice now for more than seven hours and he is a charming, friendly guy. A real talker. A former linebacker in the NFL and also the World Football League, Naposki is a really big guy, who joked with me and flexed his enormous Popeye-esque biceps to prove that he doesn’t need steroids to be big.

When he wasn’t regaling me with stories of his winning tryout for the New England Patriots, his career in security, and how much he loved the kids from his two failed marriages, he was explaining to me how Packard had hired a hit man to kill McLaughlin – and it wasn’t Naposki, who was named the shooter by police, prosecutors, and then a jury last July.

Naposki’s lawyers have spent months putting together a motion asking for a new trial, saying his first one wasn’t fair because evidence that would have proven his innocence has long been destroyed and key witnesses have died. So, he likely won’t be sentenced today, to give the prosecution time to respond to the motion.

Unlike several other convicted killers I’ve written books about, Naposki isn’t mentally ill. The case against him is murder for financial gain. And he has changed his story multiple times. But what people need to understand – and why they can learn from reading my books – is that killers, whether they’ve been convicted or not, don’t have a big sign on their forehead or a greenish hue to their skin.

But like all three of these men I’ve interviewed since April 2009 -- Eric Naposki, John Gardner and Skylar Deleon – killers can seem quite charming. They are manipulative by nature. Two of them have sung to me during our interviews. They have tried to play me and persuade me that they are good people as I ask them probing questions and try to uncover their secrets so they unknowingly reveal who they really are. My author friend Laurel Corona, a fellow SDWW member, says I’m brave, but frankly, I just find it fascinating.

My writing students at UCSD Extension asked me if I confront these men and called them on their lies, and I said no, not always. As Naposki put it, I play devil’s advocate, point out when they contradict themselves or say things that don’t make sense, but I know that if I become too confrontational they will shut down and the interview will be over. Or they just won’t let their true colors show. So I let them say what they want, then I come around and ask what I want.  

It’s a subtle exercise of psychological gamesmanship, which I always find interesting. My goal is to show readers a three-dimensional picture of these people, and I’ll let my readers decide if I come away with the winning stuff.

New York Times bestselling author Caitlin Rother, a Pulitzer-nominee who worked as a investigativer reporter for nearly 20 years, has written or co-authored eight books: Poisoned LoveDeadly Devotion/Where Hope BeginsMy Life, Deleted, Body Parts, Twisted TriangleNaked Addiction, and Dead Reckoning. Out on July 3 is Lost Girls about the murder of innocents Chelsea King and Amber Dubois by sexual predator John Gardner. For more information, please check her website,

Friday, May 11, 2012


by Laurel Corona

I can’t write about writing or the writing life today, because I am not doing any of the former, and as to the latter, I don’t have one.

Eight months ago, my beloved partner (and more recently husband) was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer. Though incurable, for most men his age (72), it’s likely to progress slowly enough that they die of something else. Jim didn’t have that kind. His was so invasive it left the doctors astonished, and took his life in less than eight months.

When he was diagnosed I was just finishing the first draft of a new book, and as the prognosis began to look grimmer, I set it aside and did not look at the file again. I couldn’t justify spending any time in a made-up world when I had my beautiful, gentle, loving, and utterly precious love still with me.

I still haven’t opened that file, and have no desire to do so. Nothing seems quite real to me now except the actual world in the present tense, and it requires such tremendous effort that there is nothing left over to call upon. And, surprisingly, I am fine without writing--so fine it is difficult to imagine feeling driven in the same way again.

People say not to make important decisions in the throes of catastrophic events, so I will just say I don’t know what direction my writing life will go. All I know is that when I make a list of the things that are important to getting myself back on my feet and launched into the next chapter of my life, writing novels is not on the list. Perhaps that is the exact wrong thing to say on a website devoted to writers and writing, in the company of writing women whom I admire professionally and love as friends, but one thing life has shown me is that under stress, honesty is the only thing I have energy for.

So we will see.

“What was the outcome?” we often ask, as if there is some sort of linear end to matters, a convenient wrap-up that restores our faith that life is a predictable narrative, even if that predictability can only be seen after the fact.

The outcome of the last eight months, since that awful September day when we heard the dreaded “C” word, is that Jim died. But the thing about outcomes is that they really aren’t. They are thresholds. Maybe that’s what we should say instead.

I don’t know what the outcome of Jim’s death is. I know how I feel right now--or maybe I really don’t. Our culture doesn’t give us much opportunity or practice in speaking of the nuances of feeling. I am a writer, and my own vocabulary for such things is pathetic. I am sad. I am grief stricken. I am at loose ends....

Pathetic. Told you so.

I am standing in a doorway. Thinking about the past makes me sad. The future without Jim makes me sad. The only thing I can do anything about is the present, and exigencies are dictating most of that to me as well.

There are no outcomes, only thresholds. As Goethe put it, “nothing is worth more than this day.” How much will yours be worth?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Making the Muses Come

By Margaret Dilloway

When I do events, the question I get asked most often is, “How do you make time to write?” Especially because when I was writing HOUSEWIFE, I had three very young kids, including an infant, and was also doing freelance work.

Well, first I do an elaborate Muse-Calling ceremony as soon as I awaken, while I’m still in my dream-state. I go up to my Parisian garret, put on a white robe, light three candles, and begin an incantation. Then the Muses arrive, take me into their soft embrace, and I begin to write on my parchment. In blood.

Isn’t that what everyone does?

The truth is actually disappointingly plebeian. I get up in the morning, I do what needs to be done in terms of 
practicality (getting kids off to school, eating, etc.) and then I write.

And then I do it again the next day.

And the next.

Sometimes, I have a poor writing day where the sentences seem to be getting sliced out of my brain with a dull X-Acto knife. Like that week when I wrote about losing focus. That’s okay.

Some days, it goes really well and I need to write more, so after my husband gets home, I lock myself away again and put on my noise-canceling headphones. That’s okay, too.

These days are both part of the overall process. I figure on the slow days, my subconscious is cooking away at some problem that will eventually work its way out, like a splinter out of your skin. On the productive days, I can't type fast enough to accommodate my thoughts. 

Either way, one day, an entire book appears, no matter how long it takes.

It boils down to this: if you have a story important enough to you to sit your bottom in that chair and write it down, you will. If you don't, you won't. And if you do, you will make time. Even if that time consists of a teeny bit of actual writing and a whole lot of struggle to do that actual writing.

 Listen, every writing day is not going to be a perfect writing day. Just like every day in your regular life isn't  a perfect day-- your tire gets blown, your kid is really cranky, you burn the dinner. It's all about ups and downs. If your kid gets cranky, you don't give up on your kid forever, do you? If your tire's blown, you replace it. If your dinner's burned, you make a new one. You soldier on. Do the same with writing..

Divina talked a couple of weeks ago about getting over doubt. That reminded me of something—years ago, I went to a writing workshop (so many years ago neither my husband nor I can remember who the heck gave it), and the guy giving it said something like, “What the hell are you worried about when you sit down to write? I was in Vietnam. I figure if nobody’s shooting at me, I’ve got nothing to worry about.”

So don’t worry about the work. Just do the work, slow and painful though it might be. Nobody’s going to shoot you for it.

Make those muses come to you. No Parisian garret required.