tedwards's blog | Mechanics' Institute

You are here

tedwards's blog

Fall Writing Classes

Dear Writers, Thank you for your support of Mechanics’ Institute’s literary endeavors and for your participation in our writers’ groups and activities. I am proud of your efforts and eager to champion your literary achievements so please let me know when you publish something or win an award. I have had to cancel several classes lately due to lack of enrollment. If you aren’t seeing the classes you need to grow as a writer please let me know! Meanwhile, we have several upcoming classes that I would like to alert you to.

Are you ready to become adept at telling (not writing) your story? As an author there will be innumerable times when you will need to tell the story of your book (i.e., your elevator pitch), describe how you got into the writing biz, or provide your brief biography. What's Your Story? Become an Unforgettable Storyteller: How to create, frame, and tell memorable stories for every occasion; presented by author, librarian and storyteller Kate Farrell may be the perfect class for you.

In this interactive experience on September 21, you will learn basic storytelling techniques and discover your storytelling style. With step-by-step coaching you will learn how to distill your memories and experiences into useful anecdotes. All it requires is your authentic voice and a love of stories.

We are offering How to Write Stunning Sentences with Nina Schuyler again, back by popular demand! Nina Schuyler always receives RAVE reviews from her students. Get a taste of her style from her book How to Write Stunning Sentences in our Library’s collection. By the end of the class, you will have mastered the art of writing sentences that do more than move the story along.

In October we are hosting the magical Ona Russell for two classes. Back in April she offered a lite version of Writing the Past: The Truth of Historical Fiction at the Writers Lunch. She had the audience hanging on her every word (me too!). This time around she will offer more amazing literary tricks that will help make your historical fiction piece as real as possible. Snag a cheaper price by registering early!

Ona also will be offering Clues to Writing a Mystery. As a master of the genre, she will offer tips and advice to help you bang your story into shape; will discuss the attributes of a compelling sleuth and explore how to build suspense and effectively plant clues. Most importantly, she’ll examine the makings of a good crime as well as the kind of character who would commit it. Whoa! Register by September 20 for early bird pricing. Her three historical mysteries are in the Library’s collection.

With fond regards, Taryn


Posted on Sep. 5, 2019 by Taryn Edwards

San Francisco Writers Conference - a special incentive for MI members

If you are on the fence about registering for the San Francisco Writers Conference, delay no more! The conference is set for February 16-19 at the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero. The speaker list has been posted, the schedule decided, and all is in place to make this the most useful conference ever! 

The conference will be even MORE useful for members of the Mechanics' Institute this year because the SFWC is offering MI members, with their main conference registration, a free Speed Dating session (a $75 value).  Speed Dating is an add-on session where writers can meet, interview and network with literary agents from New York, the West Coast and all over the country.

To take advantage of this offer:

1) Register for the conference

2) Put your MI membership number (the short one) in the "How did you hear of the San Francisco Writers Conference?" box.

3) The SFWC will verify your MI membership number with the Mechanics' Institute and add Speed Dating to your Main Conference registration. There is no need to purchase it separately.

4) Prepare to attend the conference! See you there!





Posted on Jan. 9, 2019 by Taryn Edwards

Armistice Day Centenary

The past is behind us, the future is ahead. Let us all strive to make the future better and brighter than the past ever was - Gerrit A. Beneker 1918

Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended the fighting in World War I between the Allies and Germany. Like most organizations, the Mechanics’ Institute felt duty bound to aid in the war effort. Writing in his annual report of March 17, 1918, MI president Livingston Jenks outlined the effect of the war on the activities of the Institute over the past eight months since the nation declared war. There was the expected drop in new memberships, an 11% drop in circulation, and several popular lectures were offered on European history and military tactics. There also was as you might expect, an “increased demand for books pertaining to war, notably books of history and those that [dealt] with military and naval engineering”.

He also mentioned that as of March, 89 of our members had joined the naval or military forces. Ultimately this number would swell to some 174 known members by the war’s end. Our library was thrown open to all students of the United States military and naval schools, and active soldiers and sailors. A finding aid of the books in our collection on aviation, military and naval engineering was issued, and the various food bulletins which were sent to us by the government were cataloged. The library also sold Thrift Stamps, a means of financing the war effort, and donated books to the Red Cross Library at Mare Island and to the Soldiers and Sailors League of the San Francisco branch of the Red Cross.

At the beginning of the war James Spiers, a trustee since 1904, volunteered his services in the Ordnance Department and at the time of Jenk’s report, was serving “somewhere in France“ with the rank of Captain. Mr. A. Law Voge, who had charge of our reference department since 1914, resigned his position in January 1918 to accept a commission as Captain of Engineers in the Chemical Division. The Institute also subscribed $10,000 to the first issue of Liberty Bonds, $5000 to the second, and at the time of the report, was preparing to subscribe to the third issue.  Mr. Jenks was very proud of the Institute’s efforts and wrote in closing that the Institute showed “loyalty and patriotism [in] its constant endeavor to assist the government in every possible way”.

The war’s end however was bittersweet for the Mechanics’ Institute. On the same day the armistice was announced, Livingston Jenks committed suicide in his home in Forest Hill (Placer County). The reason behind this action is unknown but he was rumored to have been ill.

November 11, 1918, was largely considered the end of “the war to end all wars”. Sadly, as the United States is now involved in seven official wars and conflicts, we see that is not the case. Nevertheless, today, I salute our veterans and the regular folks, like that at MI, who did what they could to aid the war effort; and I charge all of you reading this to remember the human cost of war and do more to prevent the next one.







Posted on Nov. 9, 2018 by Taryn Edwards

L.I.F.E = Writing Success

When the leaves start turning my mind turns towards starting a new writing project. Tell me I'm wrong, but when the idea for a new project seizes you it consumes you – right?  My advice to you is don't forget about your L.I.F.E. Yes I'm using an acronym – L.I.F.E. refers to all the things that go with the call to write, outside of writing itself. Paying attention to these (see below) can improve your project's flow, build your career, and provide a sense of balance when you’re working too hard on a project.

Learn – Take classes, read books outside of your genre – aim to expose yourself to all kinds of inspiration.

Interact – Network and actively seek other writers, professionals, and creative types to keep your creative juices flowing.

Feedback – Give and solicit feedback and critique for your own work and that of others. Doing both is so helpful for identifying the good, the bad, and the terrible in your writing and leaving yourself open to insight from other muses.

Employ – Employ all the above into your writing practice and leverage your new found skills and relationships to further your writing career. Apply for scholarships and contests. They are an underutilized path to gaining recognition for your work, growing your career as a writer and (dare I say it?) publication.

Some announcements from our community.

The Indie Publishers Working Group is moving to a quarterly meeting schedule. Dates for 2019 are being chosen and will shortly be up on our website.

Rick Homan, the facilitator of two of our critique groups, has just published the first two volumes of his Nicole Tang Noonan mystery series. Find it soon in our collection.

Mary Jo McConahay, also a veteran of one of our groups, has recently birthed a powerful series of essays in her non-fiction work The Tango War: the Struggle for the Hearts and Minds and Riches of Latin American During World War II. Find out more at www.tangowar.com.

Monika Trobits has announced that her book, Bay Area Coffee: A Stimulating History, will be published in February by Arcadia Publishing/History Press. I can smell it already! Monika is an historian, tour leader, and regular participant in our writing and historically inclined activities.


We have several classes lined up to help you write your best:

To get you pumped about being a writer attend “You Can Be A Winning Writer” with Joan Gelfund on 10/12.

To help you transform your poetry into a book meet with Diane Frank on 10/13.

Prepare to soak up the marketing secrets that will be spilled at the Writers Lunch on 10/19

Learn how to Find and Work with a Literary Agent and write query letters with Andy Ross on 10/20

Nail and Workshop the Four Essential Pillars of Novel Construction with C.S. Lakin on 10/27

And Jess Ponce will teach you how to make your writer persona SHINE on 11/2.


I feel the earth shaking already! October means Litquake in the City! Starting October 11, we're hosting several events with our friends and tenants, and look forward to rubbing shoulders with those who love local literature. Check our calendar for the complete listings.

Remember, to L.I.F.E. a little this fall and if you have any news to share please let me know!

With best wishes,


Posted on Oct. 3, 2018 by Taryn Edwards

Driving Cattle in September

I just read a book that rocked my world, Blazing Guns on the Chisholm Trail. This is the pulp Western by Borden Chase that was the basis for the film Red River, starring John Wayne and a young, chiseled Montgomery Clift.  I am not a fan of the genre, but the cover grabbed my attention and the first paragraph was stunning. With terse yet vivid prose, I was instantly transported to the wide seat of a Conestoga wagon as it "lurched along the flatlands" of the Texas frontier.  

Borden Chase is long dead but if you want to learn how to spirit readers into your fictional world, Litquake is offering a Master Class on Fictional Time and Place with Natalie Baszile here in our Board Room on September 8. Brasile's novel Queen Sugar was a runaway best seller and so acclaimed for its evocative depiction of the world of modern-day sugar cane farmers in Louisiana that it caught the eye of Oprah Winfrey. The story is now a celebrated television show in its 3rd season – every author's dream come true, right? Come and learn her tricks of the trade – I am sure they are sweet!

Blazing Guns was about a cattle drive, about love, and what it means to be a man in the post-Civil War frontier. The emotions portrayed in the story were tautly concealed but sharp enough to drive the story.  This skill too will be offered by the prolific Eric Witchey when he hosts Mastering the Emotion Driven Story on September 15.  Witchey will explain his narrative development technique: ED ACE (Emotion drives Decision drives Action drives Conflict drives new Emotion). Held in partnership with the San Francisco Writers Conference, this will be a high-energy seminar and you will walk away with the skills to touch every reader’s heart.

Speaking of conferences, don’t miss your chance to register for the Writing for Change Conference held locally on September 8 at the First Unitarian Church. This daylong event is great for first time conference goers and those itching to make a difference in the world. Whistleblower and change agent Daniel Ellsberg will be the keynote speaker.

Lyzette Wanzer discussion tools for writers who aim to go pro.Rustling cattle and building a writing career have a lot in common. As you all know, being a writer is not only about getting words onto the page – that’s actually the fun part! It’s the hustle that’s exhausting: the platform development, the networking, the stealing about at night.... thankfully there are tools to make the hustling easier. On September 22, MI's own Writer Career Development Guru Lyzette Wanzer will teach you how to harness the power of LinkedIn to facilitate networking with literary influencers and grow your career. You owe it yourself to take this class and know Lyzette.

Much like a round up, the Writers Lunch aims to help our member writers get to know each other and celebrate each other’s achievements. September’s meeting on the 21st will feature freelance foreign correspondent turned author Brigitte Schulze Piliboisan. Brigitte will describe in detail her journalistic adventures in Eastern Europe, her travails in starting her publishing house, and publishing her latest book in English Sasha, pour one more! With love and vodka through 25 years in Ukraine. Join us for slightly better coffee then you’d find on the trail and dessert. Lunch and vodka will not be served but you are welcome to bring your own!

Last but not least – a great way to introduce your writer friends is to bring them on a tour of the Institute. Every Wednesday at Noon or on Monday, September 17 join me for the Night Tour and a glass of wine.

See you on the drive,


P.S. Share your content with me so I can announce it to our community! If you are presenting somewhere or have something to announce or celebrate, please let me know!


Posted on Aug. 28, 2018 by Taryn Edwards

Who says August is a quiet month? T'ain't so at the Mechanics' Institute!

This August I want you to do more than lie in the sun. Now before you tell me that August is the foggiest month in the city, let me ask you something personal: are you ready to get serious about your writing career? You wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t, right?  So let’s get to it.

Jane Friedman is coming to speak about How to Become a Competitive Creative: Building a Full-Time Career as a Writer in the Digital Age. This all day seminar will train you to build a career and platform that uniquely befits your strengths and long-term career goals. The themes she will present dovetail nicely with her new book that's already in our collection The Business of Being a Writer. I recommend you check this book out to see if you like her style. If you're blown away by page 10, reserve your ticket and see her in person on August 10.

Understanding your reader (and their brains!) is a crucial step to a successful writing career. Mechanics' members have been invited to take part in the Intellectual Semi-Circle; a private group led by Ted Gioia on August 16 @ 6:30. The theme of the discussion is THE BRAIN & THE INTERNET and will feature 2 speakers: Neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf (author of Reader, Come Home ) who will discuss the evolution of the reading brain in the digital age; and forensic psychiatrist Amar Mehta will present about social media algorithms changing the brain's hardware limitations. This is a private event with separate ticketing so please see this link to register. No walk ups will be allowed.

The 3rd Friday of the month will bring us the Writers Lunch – this time the Women’s National Book Association San Francisco Chapter will be presenting speakers who have authored highly successful historical novels. Learn what role research plays and how to make your scenes, settings, and characters realistic and compulsively readable. Bring your lunch and we'll provide the coffee and dessert. How can you resist learning how to be COMPULSIVELY readable? See you @ Noon!

For those of you with non-fiction projects, Litquake is offering Writing Non-Fiction Like a Novel with two-time Pulitzer winner T.J. Stiles. I took this class a few years ago and it was a stunner. Wine and apps after with Mr. Stiles will put what you learned in perspective and take the edge off enough so you can ask him what you really want to know about writing.

And if you're ready to start blogging Linda Lee is back with her popular WordPress double header. Enjoy a lecture on the fundamentals of Author Websites in the morning followed by an intensive hands-on workshop demonstrating the power of WordPress as a blogging platform. By the end of the day you will be ready to embark on your blogging journey. These classes sell out quickly so reserve your seats early.

While we're speaking candidly - do you struggle to depict scenes of violence, gunfire and general mayhem? Me too but we are in luck! The Sisters in Crime (and their brothers) are hosting a potluck and "Firearms Briefing" on Saturday, September 1. This is a free event but bring a treat to share because as you might know, good writing and the scent of gunpowder whets the appetite.

Last but not least, the San Francisco Writers Conference is for the 10th year hosting the Writing For Change mini-conference on Saturday, September 8. There you will discover how what you write can change the world. The theme this year is “Writing to Make a Difference,” with topics ranging from spirituality, politics, technology, social issues, the environment, the law, and much more. The keynote speaker will be award winning author Daniel Ellsberg - an activist on the dangers of the nuclear era and the urgent need for patriotic whistleblowing. He is the author of The Doomsday Machine:Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner.  I can smell the change already!

Lastly, I am so proud of our member writers especially those with new books, awards, public appearances and instances of being awesome @ MI - Helen, Jeanne, Lyzette, Lee, David, Rick, Randy, Monika, and Michael I'm looking at you!


Taryn and the team at the Mechanics' Institute






Posted on Jul. 25, 2018 by Taryn Edwards

MI - a Place of Literary Action

Hello writers! A member recently gushed to me that Mechanics' Institute is the place where people actually write, that MI is the place of literary action in real time and that it’s a place where we don't just "talk" about writing, but where it really happens. Quite honestly that conversation made my day and it inspired me to write more about what goes on at the Library that may be of interest to our community of writers.

If you're a contest lover, our partner, the San Francisco Writers Conference has announced the Catherine Coulter Scholarship for the 2019 San Francisco Writers Conference to be held over President’s Day Weekend in February. Bestselling thriller novelist, Catherine Coulter, has agreed to be a keynote speaker in 2019 and is also sponsoring a scholarship so that one lucky winner can attend the Conference for free! To apply for the scholarship, write a 1200 word (maximum) story based on Catherine's writing prompt: You wake up in a strange room, all alone, and you have no recollection of how you got there. Someone knocks on the door.

Your entry must be Fiction…but can be in any genre.  The winner will receive a full registration to the conference PLUS a tête-à-tête with Catherine at the event! (See details HERE.) Entry must be received by November 1, 2018 at 5 pm. There is no fee to enter this scholarship competition…or any of the scholarships SFWC offers each year.


We have a new Mystery Writing Group forming. If you are eager to join a critique group that focuses on mystery, as well as suspense, and thrillers please contact Rick Homan, Rick@RickHoman.com.


The next Writers Lunch is with Rudi Raab and Julie Freestone who will be presenting: Stumbling Stone: Writing and Publishing a Novel Based on Real Life on July 20 at Noon. If you've never attended a Writers Lunch BRING YOUR LUNCH and I will provide the dessert, coffee, and tea. See you there!


Only at MI can you draft your book proposal, improve your grammar, and grow your writer persona all within the month of July. Check out these outstanding classes!

Elements of the Book Proposal with Andy Ross

Making Your Writing Unforgettable: Finding the Literary Voice That Makes Your Readers Keep Turning the Pages with Connie Hale

“Everyday Celebrity”: a Personal Branding Workshop with Jess Ponce


Thank you so much for participating in our Writers Community.


Happy scribbling!


Posted on Jul. 5, 2018 by Taryn Edwards

Set your compass – your writing journey starts here

On June 9 MI is hosting a writing class taught by novelist, teacher, and mentor of mine Sandra Scofield. I use the term "mentor" loosely since I've never met her, but I've pored over her two books on craft (both in our collection) so I feel like she sits on my shoulder as I wail away on my manuscript.

Scofield's recent book, The Last Draft: a novelist's guide to revision has a heartfelt and rich introduction full of tough love, admonishing hopeful writers that you have to know how it ends, you have to know what it means and in light of the class she's offering next month, you have to know what it is about.

Both Scofield's books are excellent for writers at any stage, being comfortingly proscriptive with out being restrictive. If you are struggling with a draft of your story and are looking for a map to show you the way, read The last draft : a novelist's guide to revision.

If you are struggling to write your first draft, try The scene book : a primer for the fiction writer.

To be able to articulate your idea coherently – both to yourself and to the reader - is the most important part of one's process according to Scofield's method, whether you are on draft one or the last. Having the ability to capture the essence of a story in a few clear sentences will provide a guiding force for your character and plot development.

The place to learn how to do this is at the Mechanics' Institute on June 9 with Sandra Scofield herself. Register for "Aboutness" today and set your compass – your writing journey starts here.


Posted on May. 22, 2018 by Taryn Edwards

A biography well done - Richard Potter: America's First Black Celebrity

by John A. Hodgson

Because I am a stalled biographer I have become a voracious reader of biographies. I read and read and read - to learn about the lives of the subjects but mainly to glean writing technique. I want to learn how to present history when the chronology isn't perfect, when the facts don't line up, and when the subject seems to have deliberately obfuscated the part of his life most tantalizing.

One recent book has astounded me, John A. Hodgson's masterpiece, Richard Potter: America's First Black Celebrity. This affectionate work details the shadowy life of Richard Potter (1783-1835), a celebrated magician, ventriloquist, and extraordinarily popular performer who dazzled audiences young and old, and just happened to be black.

The son of Guinea born slave Dinah Swain and a white father, Potter grew up in the Boston area on the estate of a British colonial official. As a teenager he traveled to Europe with a gentleman and became entranced by magic and tightrope walking. Upon his return to America he apprenticed himself to the celebrated Scottish brother magicians and ventriloquists, John and James Rannie, who taught Potter their secrets. Potter would eventually describe himself as the “Emperor of Conjurors,” and for many years he was the foremost ventriloquist and magician in America.

Hodgson brings Potter's fascinating life to light, using a variety of source material including Masonic Lodge records (Potter was an active Mason in the "first Lodge of blacks in America") and an impressive collection of broadsides that advertised Potter's numerous performances. As Potter lived a public, chaotic, and mythical life, Hodgson helps the reader make sense of it all by providing a meticulous chronology, notes on the illustrations, and extensive discussion about Potter anecdotes and claims that have flourished since his death 183 years ago.

While the book is dense, the prose moves swiftly. In the introduction, Hodgson declared his mission "to discover, as far as I possibly could the essential facts of Richard Potter's life… and my deepest scholarly obligation is to do this right and get it right and ideally to tell Richard Potter's compelling and moving life story in a compelling and engaging way."  I found Hodgson's style to be very readable and his skill at weaving his suppositions unobtrusively within the narrative to be revelatory.

Richard Potter: America's First Black Celebrity will please scholars of black history and that of the mystic arts and performance in America. Tortured historians like me who are seeking guidance on how to present material cogently when there are gaps in the historical record will find the book a welcome gift; one full of lessons on writing and on honoring one's subject. Hodgson clearly admires Richard Potter and provides a clear discussion of a lost chapter of American history and a distinct portrait of "the most wonderful man in the world".

Posted on Apr. 14, 2018 by Taryn Edwards

Making the Monster: The Science Behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

March 11, 2018 marked the two hundredth anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s ground breaking novel Frankenstein: Or, Modern Prometheus. Described as the first and arguably most influential science-fiction story ever written, Shelley’s protagonist, Victor Frankenstein and his monster, has permeated “our everyday culture from cartoons to Halloween costumes. Even the name ‘Frankenstein’ has become a byword for evil scientists and dangerous experiments.”

Written in a jaunty style that is hard to put down, Kathryn Harkup’s Making the Monster: The Science Behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a curious and successful amalgam of literary criticism, biography, and exploration of post-Enlightenment scientific history. It attempts to explain how the teenaged, home-schooled Mary Shelley could write a story that has terrified generations of readers but also tortured their minds with worrying questions such as what it means to be human, what are the origins of life, can or should humans play “God”, what if the pursuit of knowledge goes wrong?  

Harkup organizes her text into parts that represent the “life cycle” of Victor Frankenstein’s monster (Conception, Creation, Birth) with chapters delineating the individual steps that resulted in his “existence”. These chapters are peppered with fascinating tidbits of Mary Shelley’s life and the people and modes of thinking that influenced her intellect; and biographical sketches of scientific pioneers such as Humphrey Davy, Allesandro Volta, Luigi Galvani, and Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles) who gave their lives to the pursuit of scientific knowledge. These superstars of science created, discovered, and pursued the technologies such as organ and skin transplants, artificial life, and the act of bringing people back from the dead; that sparked Mary Shelley’s creativity and enabled Victor Frankenstein to give life to his monster.  What’s remarkable is that two hundred years later we still striving to understand and master these technologies and are still not confident that their pursuit is for the greater good.

All in all I was monstrously pleased with Making the Monster and I look forward to more by Kathryn Harkup. We also have her first book, A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie in our collection.

Posted on Mar. 27, 2018 by Taryn Edwards