Francisco Varela was a Biologist, Philosopher and Neuroscientist who, together with his teacher Humberto Maturana, is best known for introducing the concept of Autopoiesis to Biology.

Interview with a Writer

NAME:  Sallie Tisdale

JOB TITLE:  Writer

EDUCATION:  B.S. in Nursing, University of Portland (1983)


What is your educational background, specific to your profession? 

Not really – I took one writing class in college – but I started writing when I was a kid and always have met the world through words and language. Writers and artists of all kinds can learn a few techniques, but largely you learn by making a lot of mistakes.

What was your most valuable experience, that gave you the tools and insight to working as a professional writer? 

My one writing teacher (who remains a friend today) simply told me to get out of Dodge. “You’re a writer, what are you waiting for?” But it took several more years before I was willing to start failing.

As a working professional, what changes have you seen in the publishing industry that have significantly affected how you work? 

I had the same editor for four of my seven books; for the other three books, I think I’ve probably had ten editors. Publishing houses have merged and re-merged and disappeared and reappeared in new guises. Editors no longer have loyalty to houses. Perhaps more importantly, houses no longer have loyalty to writers – or to their own editors. This all happened before the current fashion in electronic books and web publishing, by the way – it began in the 90s. This working relationship is important to me, to the extent that I am still friends with that first editor and she still reads my manuscripts, as a friend. I no longer expect to work with a person who is invested in either me or my work in the same way. On the other hand, a lot of smaller independent publishers haver appeared in the last few years and one of the positive aspects of technological change in publishing is that their books look as good as anyone else’s, and many get plenty of attention.

With regards to the new generation of writers, what are the skill sets that you are seeing? 

I do see a genuine interest in the world as a whole, rather than one’s nationality, ethnicity or race – I think young Americans are considerably more multicultural than previous generations and less concerned with strict definitions of identity. This is a very good thing.

However: good god, the grammar. The spelling. The lack thereof. The lack of understanding of basic narrative structure, layering, tension. The failure to understand the uses of tense and implication. The imitation of style. I am simply appalled a lot of the time. The lack of ability to simply pay attention over a period of time is a real problem.

What would your advice be to aspiring writers &/or to the institutions and instructors that are providing them with the education & “tools” to become professional writers?

Stop multitasking. Read more, surf less. Be patient. Listen to your elders.


Sallie Tisdale is the author of seven books, including Talk Dirty to Me (Doubleday, 1994) and The Best Thing I Ever Tasted (Riverhead, 2000), a finalist for the James Beard Award for Writing. Her memoir Stepping Westward (Henry Holt, 1992) was named one of the 100 Notable Books of the West. Her most recent book is Women of the Way (HarperCollins, 2006). Her essays have appeared in such publications as Harper’s, Antioch Review, Conjunctions, Threepenny Review, The New Yorker, Tricycle, Creative Nonfiction and Esquire.


Tisdale has received an NEA Fellowship in Belle Lettres, Pushcart Prize, the James Phelan Literary Award, the American Journal of Nursing Book of the Year award, a Pope Foundation Award, and was a Dorothy and Arthur Shoenfeldt Distinguished Writer of the Year. Tisdale’s essay Scars won the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education National Gold Medal for feature writing. Her work has been reprinted in many anthologies, including Best American Spiritual Writing, Best Buddhist Writing and Best American Science Writing. She has been a guest writer and teacher at several institutions, including the University of California-Davis, University of Montana, New York University, the Medill School of Journalism, Antioch University West, Reed College, and the Omega Institute. She was a judge for the National Book Award in 2010. She is a member of PEN.




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