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How to Write 'the Hook'

A TV veteran shows would-be authors the way to make their books entertaining.


If you're having trouble with your magnum opus, local author Mary Embree may have just what you're looking for. "The Author's Toolkit: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Book" (Seaview Publishing-$15.95) is designed by the literary consultant with her clients in mind.

Embree, a Ventura resident and founder of Small Publishers, Artists & Writers Network, known as SPAWN, worked in the entertainment industry for more than 20 years before forming her consulting business. The experience, she said, gave her a unique perspective on writing.

She will present a mini-seminar based on her book at Borders in Thousands Oaks on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at her organization's monthly meeting. A book-signing and a question-and-answer session will follow the meeting, which is free and open to the public.

Most writers, particularly of nonfiction, don't think their work has to be interesting--just factual, she said. A typical problem with books Embree has ghost written for professionals--including doctors and a meteorologist--is the tendency to be too technical.

"I'm coming from an entirely different place than anyone else writing books about writing--the world of television--where programs rise and fall on ratings and you have to be interesting," she said. "You have to write the hook. The hook is No. 1. Entertainment value has to be in everything you write or people aren't going to read it."

Embree was a researcher and writer for the 1980s revival of the 1950s TV favorite "This is Your Life." She also was assistant to the producer on several sitcoms, including "Good Times," "One Day at a Time" and "Three's Company."

As a result of her television experience, Embree said she decided to devote a chapter to how writers should present themselves, mostly for those in their early 20s. A youthful scribe, she said, might go to an interview barefoot and wearing cutoffs because, they say, "That's who I am." She has seen that and more.


Another impetus for writing a how-to manual was her experience in editing more than 100 books in the last 10 years. From the writers who came to her for help, Embree learned their most common questions and saw their most common mistakes, including a lack of basic editing and writing principles.

Embree researched other books on writing but found most were too general, didn't tell a novice how to actually write a book or were too long, she said. So she wrote her own guide.

Now when she meets with first-time clients, she sends them home with her book and instructions for working on their manuscript before returning.

Embree's book is available through Seaview Publishing, P.O. Box 2625, Ventura, CA 93002-2625, and is on the shelves at Borders in Thousand Oaks and Barnes & Noble in Ventura.

For more information about SPAWN, which offers education, resources and networking opportunities for people interested in publishing, check out the group's Web site at or e-mail her at SPAWN is a nonprofit corporation with annual membership dues of $45.

Embree will repeat her mini-seminar next month. She will be at the Ventura Barnes & Noble on Oct. 4, speaking at 8 p.m., after the bookstore's regular writers workshop at 7 p.m.


Literary Wanderings is the title of a new weekly book group forming Thursdays at 1 p.m. at Thousand Oaks Barnes & Noble, 160 S. Westlake Blvd. 446-2820. Roseanne Savo, who will run the meetings, said she plans to explore nonfiction, fiction and poetry. Core books will be "Jump Start Your Brain" by Doug Hall and "How to Read a Book" by Mortimer Adler. Future meetings will be based on the interests of the members.


Savo, whose efforts are sponsored by Adult Education in Simi Valley, facilitates other groups as well. She just completed one at Borders in Thousand Oaks, centering on the book "How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci" by Michael J. Gelb, and will start a similar group at the Cultural Connection, 3050 Los Angeles Ave., Simi Valley on Tuesday at 1:10 p.m. All weekly sessions are free and open to the public. For more information, call Savo at 491-3387.


* Today, 7 p.m. Annual celebration for kindergarten to 12th-grade teachers. Prizes will be given out and teachers can use their 2000-2001 Educator Discount Card to save on classroom materials. A valid teacher's ID is needed. Ventura Barnes & Noble, 4360 E. Main St., 339-9170.

* Tuesday, 7 p.m. First Tuesday Contemporary Book Group. The book will be "Work" by Louisa May Alcott. Borders, 125 W. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks, 497-8159.

* Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. Poetry reading. Abednego Bookstore, 2160 Thompson Blvd., Ventura, 643-9350.

* Wednesday, 9:30 a.m. Story time. All about bunny rabbits. Ventura Barnes & Noble, 339-9170.

* Wednesday, 7 p.m. SPAWN will feature its executive director and founder, Mary Embree, who will hold a mini-seminar based on her book, "The Author's Toolkit: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Book." Borders, 497-8159.

* Wednesday, 7 p.m. Writers' workshop. All genres welcome. Ventura Barnes & Noble, 339-9170.

* Thursday, 1 p.m. New weekly book discussion group called Literary Wanderings, facilitated by Roseanne Savo. Thousand Oaks Barnes & Noble, 446-2820.

* Thursday, 7 p.m. First Thursday Reading Group. Selection is "In a Dry Season" by Peter Robinson. The selection for the Oct. 5 meeting is "Dead Cat Bounce" by Sarah Graves. Mysteries to Die For, 2940 Thousand Oaks Blvd., 374-0084.

* Friday, 7 p.m. Story time. All about family members. Ventura Barnes & Noble, 339-9170.

Information about book-signings, writers groups and publishing events can be e-mailed to or faxed to (805) 647-5649.

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