Andi Cumbo - Writer, Editor, Online Writing Courses, Classes & Lessons

January 31, 2015
by Andi

Success Doesn’t Often Equal Talent – A Writers Write Interview with Sharon Yablon

One of the things I love best about doing these interviews each week is the difference in experience, knowledge, and perspective of each of these writers.  Sharon Yablon’s words here remind me that each of us operates in a unique way in this writing world.  Enjoy.
1.  Tell me about your latest project.  I Might Be the Person You are Talking To by Padua Playwrights
I co-edited a book on underground theater in Los Angeles, with an emphasis on site specific plays. Three of my plays are in this book as well. Aside from the site specific aspect, the plays tend to be more language driven and non-linear rather than plot-oriented. The book will be available for purchase in January 2015. It’s a great resource for actors looking for scenes and monologues.

2.  What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood? 

I was always an active reader, which began in childhood. I didn’t start to think about or pursue creative writing until college, but only dabbled and did not major in it. I discovered play writing at age 30, when I moved back to Los Angeles and met the group of writers I am currently associated with (in the book above), by chance, really (lucky Kismet!). I still read constantly. Books, writing (and directing my plays), theater, and talking about writing with my peers is really what my adult life has been about.

3.  What is your writing practice, your writing routine?

I don’t really have a routine; I am lucky to only work part-time, and I write on my days off.

4. Who are you reading now?  

I am listening to the audio book of Mark Owen’s No Hero: The Evolution of a Navy SEAL in the car and reading Horror Films of the 1970s. I don’t do Kindle; I prefer actual books and independent bookstores.

5. What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?

I am not at home to look through my book case to remind me of others (I have menopause brain fog, ugh!), so I will pick three of my favorite books that come to mind this moment: Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury, and Damage by Josephine Hart. Anna Karenina is simply one of the most brilliant novels. Tolstoy weaves such a beautiful tapestry of these people and their inner lives and how the environment and period shapes them. It’s stunning and tragic. By the end of it, you get such a huge scope of these people, as in the film Boyhood. Ray Bradbury has one of the best imaginations I have ever encountered. Each story has a humanistic aspect to it while being steeped in science fiction. He’s a true wonder. Damage is a wonderfully brittle book written in excellent prose about relationships, infidelity, guilt, obsession, and identity. It’s dark and fascinating.

6.  How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?

I’m not sure what you mean by this question, sorry!

7. What is a typical day like for you? 

I work part time but am off two days a week, and those are lovely writing days. At the moment, I am balancing my writing time between finishing my new play for a reading in April and continuing to work on a short story collection of stories set in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The first story from that series is being published in March. I am also just about to begin directing a short play I wrote for a Valentine’s festival in February.

8.  Describe your dream writing space.

Perhaps a private room in the back of a house, with a view of the outdoors. A tin ceiling would be nice, to hear the rain.

9.  What is the hardest writing critique you ever received? How did you respond?

I can’t remember anything specific like that. My writing seems to divide people though, they either love it or hate it.

10.  What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers? 

Playwright Sharon Yablon

Playwright Sharon Yablon


Hmmm, wisdom…I would advise not to let ambition and the pressures of success (how society views success) pollute what you want to write. The truth is, most artists don’t make money at their craft and have to do other things. That’s okay or rather, it is what it is. Ideally our country would support the arts more, but it doesn’t. Success often doesn’t equal talent, meaning I know many talented artists who are not making money from their art but for various reasons (luck, not getting the right break, etc.) they have not had commercial success. The real gift (and challenge) is to enjoy your craft. On your death bed, this will have more meaning than how many books you sold. Don’t “sell out,” just to please others or make money. Follow your heart and your vision. I always have done that.

 Sharon Yablon has been writing, directing and sound designing plays in Los Angeles for over 20 years. She is the founder of Sharon’s Farm, which produces plays in alternative sites such as old hotels, pools, and parks. She is currently working on a short story collection set in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and her first story will be published in TAYO in March. Her work can next be seen onstage in the Lost Valentine’s Festival in February, and the One Axe Festival in June (Los Angeles).

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January 30, 2015
by Andi
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Freedom, Magic, Gardens – My Week In Books

This week has involved a lot of sitting on the floor and reading while puppies play.  This might, indeed, be my ideal way to read . . . well, aside from laying in a hammock outside a Tuscan villa where the promise of gelato lies just a short walk away.

But read I have this week, in fits and starts and all the ways that words creep into our busy days and change us, like ice cracking open pavement.

I started reading First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen this week, and like all of her books, I’m swooning over the small town she describes, the giftedness of the characters, and the strength, complexity, and very real humanness of her characters.  Each of the women in the central family – the Waverleys – has a bit of a mystical power that is grounded in very practical, traditionally female practices – like the styling of hair or the making of food.  That alone intrigues me, but Allen also writes these women with a richness that helps me think about the women in my life.  Really enjoyable reading, engaging, quick, but deep, too.

I also began Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber, and I’m smitten with her.  While I don’t relate to a great deal of her personal story – I have lived a fairly safe life in comparison – but I do understand her battle with the church of her childhood and her need to make her own way back to faith and religion.  I get that in a very deep way.  A powerful book that challenges the idea of “goodness” as it relates to Christianity. I love it.

My friend Margaret Rozga has just released a new poetry collection, Justice, Freedom, Herbs, and I am sprinkling my days with her language.

All you need is enough green

through the mud of spring


to feel as if

as if you won’t go into the cold

without anything at all.

Plus, I am honored down to the soles of my feet to have the book end with Rozga’s blessing for God’s Whisper Farm, the poem from which the title of the book is drawn. What a beautiful gift.

I’ve also been deepening my knowledge of gardening in prep for spring by reading The Mini Farming Guide to Vegetable Gardening.  I put together my seed list last night, and I’m so excited.  Yay!

Goodness, I love reading.  Don’t you?

What’s been on your reading list this week? 

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January 29, 2015
by Andi

Am I Black?

He was black, my 9 times great-grandfather Emanuel Cambow.  So was James Henry Cumbo, my great-great-grandfather, until he crossed the color line taking on the identity of a white man.

Race is slippery.  Race is flint hard.

I walk around in my white skin every day.  I am given the privileges of that complexion every day.  I think of myself as white, as does almost every single member of my family.

And yet, I have far more than that oppressive law that claims one drop decides where a person can abide.  My family tree has an entire beautiful branch that is made of up people whose stories trace back to Angola, whose bodies have lived the reality of a slave system – outside it by the label of “free” but still very much caught in its grasp of papers and passes and the theft of their bodies, their freedom.  Whose homes have been havens – I hope – in the midst of a Jim Crow world that brought fear and anger like the morning brings the sun.  Whose experience of this world has been shaped by a perspective I do not have to take up in my white skin.

So am I black? Who determines who is who? Who determines who is not?

Friends of mine – genealogists of color – have claimed me, pulled me close, and I launch into that embrace.  Others friends – understanding – push me away, knowing that I cannot know what it is to walk in darker skin.

Race is fiction.  Race is a very real, very lived experience.

I will not take on what is not mine to own. I will not claim to understand that which I cannot begin to fathom. I will not wield my privilege like a law.

I sit here in this place – whiteness my orientation, my experience – and I celebrate the stories – both black and white – that make me who I am: a fiction, a reality, a person.  Abiding here, in the mystery of story, claimed by any who will call me family and friend, my heart wide open to pull them close.

I don’t know how to answer my own question. I don’t think I need to know because maybe, for once, it’s not mine to determine.

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January 28, 2015
by Andi
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5 Lessons on Writing from Day 3 with a Basset Hound Puppy

I’ve been up since 5:15 this morning.  And not by choice.  Mosey decided he was ready to roll full-force then, and so Meander and I got up to play with the little man.  Now, of course, at just before 7am, he’s sound asleep, and so is Meander. Alas, I must begin work and farm chores so . . . coffee here I come.

Writing and Basset Hounds

I assure you that I am not looking quite so cute this morning. I am, however, hoping to get a shower, so there’s that. :)

But this morning, as I refereed puppy wrestling, I realized a few things that are essentially the same about the writing life and the puppy-raising life.  So here, from my only as yet slightly caffeinated perspective, 5 lessons on writing as it relates to puppies:

1. A schedule helps, a lot.  If you have a schedule for when you write and do your best to keep to it, you will often find yourself doing more work than you imagined because, well, you won’t let other things take over that time.

Puppy Perspective – Eating on schedule and sleeping on schedule means that you poop on schedule.  This is not a minor thing.

2. A schedule does not always work. Sometimes, you have to do something else in your writing time. Sometimes, your washing machine spews suds all over the house 5 minutes before your writing time.  Sometimes, you have to let the schedule go.

Puppy Perspective – See this morning at God’s Whisper Farm.

3. Unexpected time can be a blessing. On occasion, you might end up at, say, a mechanic’s office with only magazines from 1989 on the coffee table and a stack of old Target receipts and a pen from some agricultural show you never attended in your pocket.  Use that time.  Fill up those receipts with observations or notes for your work in progress. Or just empty your mind of that giant to do list that you keep swirling there.  Those small moments can add up to lots of words.

Puppy Perspective – Exhibit A – this blog post and the 25 work emails I took care of before the sun came up.

4. Play matters. Sometimes, what you really NEED to do is go have a drink with your friend, or just lay in bed and read a book for fun, or put your face on the rug that really needs a vacuum and let a puppy lick your chin.  All that playtime is fuel for your soul and rest for your mind.  Your words need soul food, and your mind needs to take a break.

Puppy Perspective – Mosey and Meander recommend ropes and long ears as the best toys.

5. Discipline makes the difference. Inspiration is a bunch of hooey as far as getting writing done. What matters is that you sit down and work.  As much as you can. On the projects you care about.  Inspiration and ideas will come when you are ready for them, and ready means at the page.

Puppy Perspective – It can seem a lot of fun and simple to let a tiny puppy bite your fingers or sleep when he wants or eat on his schedule, but then, that dog gets big, and he’s drawing blood and keeping you up all night.  Discipline now means good results – and far less poop inside – later.

Writing is a glorious gift we give ourselves and, hopefully, our readers – much like a puppy. But it doesn’t come without effort, just like a well-behaved basset hound doesn’t overrun his own cuteness with bad manners as he grows up.

What are some of the ways you help yourself be disciplined about your writing?

Also, any puppy tips to share? :)


Only 4 spaces remain in the upcoming Painted Steps Writers Group that begins on February 1.  If you’ve been thinking about joining us, grab your seat now –

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