Angie Azur is a YA Sci-fi Writer.
Writer for PALEO Magazine.
Former Intern at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
SCBWI & COWG Member.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Interview with Lewis Buzbee: Author, Teacher & Writing Coach

Wow, what can I say about Lewis. Well, he's awesome for one. And I mean awesome, like they used to use the word. He is the grand canyon to me….awesome! 

I met Lewis over a year ago at Big Sur at the Andrea Brown Writer's Retreat. I happened to sit next to him for one of the dinners. There were also 3 other ladies at the table. He looked at all of us and then said, "Do you know you are all from the San Francisco area?"

That started a friendship and a mentorship that has changed my writing for the better in every way possible. When my book does snag that agent, I will have Lewis Buzbee to thank tremendously….along with the other 3 ladies, Jennifer, Victoria and Deborah for all of their critique help.

Lewis is an awesome coach! Yes….AWSOME! And below are the questions I asked him.

You have lived in California all your life, but for those of us who don’t know, what is a Dust Bowl Okie?

My father and his family left Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl, among the first “Okies” to arrive in California.  For decades, Okie was a horrible slur; we now wear it with pride.  

If you didn’t become a writer, what would you have been?

Oh, a rock star, for sure.  Well, that was my hope, at least.  I’d been playing in bands and had set my sights on that, but then, in my sophomore year of high school, I got ambushed by literature. 

Describe your style of writing in 5 words:

Driven by rhythm and sound.

What time do you get up and what do you eat for breakfast?

We wake up at 6:30, to get my daughter ready for school.  Grape Nuts with fruit, and lots of coffee.

Why write? Why teach?

I write because I have to, because these stories live in my head, and if I don’t get them out, I’m a bear to live with.  I think of writing as a public service; I’m much nicer to be around when I’m writing.  

I teach because I love working with writers, helping them, when I do it correctly, to discover the stories they carry around all day.

What’s it like to be on the faculty of the MFA program at the University of San Francisco?

It’s great to teach writers who’ve made this huge commitment to their work and their lives.  Their seriousness forces me to amp up my own commitment.  

I used to teach at UC Extension, though, where anyone could take a class, and I miss that a bit, the student who just shows up with a wacky idea.

Where do you go to get a great cup of Joe/tea in the city?

My daily place is The Beanery, on the corner of Irving and 7th Avenue; they roast their own coffee, and it’s brilliant.   But I can frequently be found at Four Barrel on Valencia in the Mission, where, among the hipsters, I’m the old guy.

You recently started privately coaching writers. Why?

Oh, it’s not that recent.  As well as teaching in the classroom, I’ve worked one-on-one with writers for twenty years now.  I began because some of my classroom students asked me to work with them, and I found that during one-on-one, both myself and the writer can dive much deeper into the subject matter, from the use of a specific punctuation to much deeper issues—why we write, what we write about, etc.

How has coaching writers helped your writing?

It makes me a smarter writer; to describe something to someone, you have to know for yourself what it is.  It helps me to ask myself better questions.

Why do you think you are the best coach for the job?

I’m not sure I’m the best.  However, I do have a great respect for every writer I work with.  I’m not trying to make them write MY book, but truly want them to write the best version of the book THEY want to write.  I leave my ego at the door. 

If a writer wanted to hire you for private coaching, how would they go about doing that?

Go to my website,, and drop me a line.

Who are you reading right now?

I’m always reading everything, but I just finished, last night, J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, and I have to tell you, it’s an impressive and completely pleasure-inducing novel, a brilliant mix of the comic and the serious.  I couldn’t put it down.  But today I’m in that sad place, in between books.  I can’t wait to pick up what’s next. 

How has living close to Golden Gate Park influenced your writing?

I’m decidedly a city person, so having this grand swath of green right here, it’s just enough of a relief—fresh air, enormous trees, hawks and herons and egrets. 

What do you think about self-publishing vs. traditional publishing?

Listen, I think self-publishing is great.  I agree with Don Delillo: writing is a democratic art; everyone has a book in them.  So, why not?  

But traditional publishing is still, in the main, where a writer will find his or her biggest audience.  And me, I write for readers, for that connection between one mind and another. 

Why should newbie writers go traditional?

Because traditional publishing creates better books.  If you’re lucky as a writer, you’ll get an editor who both loves your book and is willing to put pressure on it to make it even better.  Editors do so much more than correct typos.  

A good editor makes a manuscript into a book.  It’s almost impossible for the writer—or the writer’s friends—to be editors.  It’s takes a cold and diligent eye to do that.  We need editors.  Publishing is so much more than copy-save-print.

Who is your biggest cheerleader?

My wife, Julie, certainly.  Julie and I were writer pals for several years before we connected romantically.  She’s a very sharp reader, and, of course, she wants my books to thrive.  It’s great to have that support built into the house.

What are you working on right now?

I’m writing my first true YA—my other kids’ books have been MG.  It’s called Garbage Hill, about a one-day music festival of the same name, and it’s all sex, drugs, and rock and roll.  So much fun; I get to act my true age, which is about fifteen.

Who in your past influenced you to become the writer you are today?

Every one of my teachers, high school through grad school.  And I was fortunate, truly so, to meet the two Rays, Ray Bradbury and Ray Carver, when I was a young writer.  They both offered invaluable insights into the writing life, and into my own writing.  Both very generous human beings.

For every book you’ve written how many books have you read?

Well, let’s do some math.  I’ve read—I recently figured out—something like 5,000 books, that’s a whole bunch.  I’ve written 13, with two in progress, but only published 8 so far.  We’ll go with written.  5,000 divided by 15, then, that’s...333 or so books for each one written.  Yikes!

How can my blog readers help you to become an even bigger success?

It’s easy, buy my books.  If you like a writer—not just me, any writer—the most you can ever do is buy their books, full-price and brand-new and not from Amazon.  

Going to readings, reading blogs, blah, blah.  It’s books that count.  So, since you asked: buy my books, give them to everyone you know.  They make wonderful gifts.

What one word best describes you?


Any big news?

I’ve got a new adult book coming out in August from Graywolf, Blackboard: A Personal History of the Classroom.  It’s a memoir and history of the classroom, and in the end, a strident demand that, as a society, we start putting our money, real money, back into public education.


  1. Great interview! Lewis Buzbee is one of my favorite authors. Not surprisingly (reading the interview) so were Ray Bradbury and Ramond Carver. You are very lucky that you got to attend a conference with Buzbee!

    1. I know - he is amazing!!! Thanks for stopping by the blog :-)