Meet Award-Winning Journalist, Essayist, Blogger, and Aspiring Author, Paula Ganzi McGloin
Paula Ganzi McGloin (formerly Paula Ganzi Licata) is an award-winning journalist and essayist whose work has appeared in The New York Times (including the Modern Love column), Newsday, AARP and other publications. She blogs about surviving life with an alcoholic, navigating widowhood, and dating after 50, at paulalicata.com. Most recently, she completed a manuscript, Bottles in the Basement: How I Lost My Husband to Alcoholism and Found Myself.
When did you realize you had aspirations to write and was there an experience in your life that set you on that path?
I loved writing since I was a little girl and was encouraged by many teachers, but one incident stands out in high school when an English teacher singled out a short story of mine, read it to the class, and told me it was amazing.
You’re a busy writer with contributions to major publications like The New York Times and Long Island’s own Newsday. How do you motivate yourself to keep your articles and essays current and where does your inspiration for new content come from?
Inspiration is everywhere, but mostly I find it in everyday life. Embarrassing situations like the time I got caught re-gifting at Christmas; or funny scenarios, when I rented a dumpster for my late husband (a messy saver) as a Valentine's Day gift; and the tragedy of death, widowhood, losing my parents. All of these experiences triggered essays and articles. Currently I'm writing a lot about Baby Boomers and retirement and am inspired by the feedback from readers.
Writers have different methods and styles when it comes to the actual process of penning their work. Can you describe your writing process from idea to published article?
I jot down the idea immediately--or it's lost. There are notepads in every room of the house. Depending on where I am (out to dinner with friends, taking a walk, or in my office) dictates when I'll start working on the idea. But I find the most important element is getting the germ of the idea down quickly, and anything that comes to mind at that moment. Then, when I have a chance to flesh out the idea, I have material to work with. Once I get that first messy draft, comes my favorite part--editing and revising, cutting it up, moving pieces around, paring it down. I love it! When it's almost there, I like to leave it for a day or more, then come back to it fresh for final revisions. Dotting the i's and crossing the t's can take forever, sometimes it's difficult to let it go, but let it go we must.
Tell us about your most memorable article, essay, or blog post and why you are proud of it.
My most memorable piece was "Surviving an Alcoholic" published in The New York Times about living with an alcoholic, walking that impossible line between caring spouse and enabler, the devastation of widowhood and the gift of a second chance at love. The essay received over 700 comments on the Times' website and was the third most shared article of the day. I was overwhelmed by the enormous response, receiving hundreds of emails from people around the world: women like me (“I felt like I was reading about my own life.”); directors of recovery programs (“You’ve taken a good whack at the stigma and saved lives.”); and those still drinking (“You helped my whole family today.”). Mostly, though, it’s wives and widows who reach out—and still do. A widow from Belgium, whose alcoholic husband died eight years prior, wrote me a three-page note: “I apologize for this very long email but this is the first time I can actually tell my story to someone who understands.” She later dedicated a painting to me called 'Surviving an Alcoholic.' To know that I've helped people is an amazing feeling and speaks volumes about the power of the written word.
Along with creating a social media presence through Facebook, Instagram, etc., aspiring authors are often told to start a blog to help get their name/brand out there and attract an agent or publisher. Is creating a blog difficult? How does a newbie go about starting a blog? How long have you been blogging and what prompted you to begin?
Identify your niche, something you're passionate and knowledgeable about or willing to investigate through your blog. The technical part can be a challenge for some, finding the right platform. Make it as easy as possible for yourself or hire someone to set you up if the technical aspects are holding you back.
A few things to consider:
1) Have a plan, how often will you post?
2) Have blog posts in reserve
3) Be succinct
4) Your blog should be inviting, the content as well as the visuals, post related images and make sure they're not licensable or you may be sued
5) Will you have guest bloggers?
6) Will you allow comments, both negative and positive?
I've been blogging for a few years. I started when my haircutter told me he stopped drinking because of my story about losing my husband to alcohol so young. When I realized the impact my story had on him, I thought I could help others.
What do you enjoy most about blogging?
Blogging provides a forum to communicate with people I might not have the opportunity to know. Since my blog is about surviving an alcoholic, I'm able to reach those who are going through or recovering from the trauma and tragedy of life with an alcoholic and surviving that ordeal. The blog brings the demographic together and gives them a voice, as well, since their comments are posted.
You recently completed a manuscript, Bottles in the Basement: How I Lost My Husband to Alcoholism and Found Myself. Can you give us a brief synopsis of the manuscript?
My husband was a high-functioning alcoholic, which is a clinical-sounding way of saying practically no one knew he had Scotch for breakfast. He’d been a social drinker, until he started drinking in secret, relying on alcohol to get him through his days.
I became a detective, kissing for the sake of sniffing, discovering trash bags full of empty bottles, unopened bottles hidden in his trunk, flasks in his briefcase, receipts from liquor-runs. After I confronted Robert with the evidence, he simply changed his hiding places.
I resented every minute I spent at Al-Anon meetings for his drinking problem, hating all the confrontations and pleading with him to get help, forever on the verge of an ultimatum. Alcoholism wasn’t Robert’s only secret. I discovered thousands of dollars in credit card debt, and my husband’s imminent termination from the university due to his tenure track crash and burn. As our lives were spiraling out of control, I kept up appearances.
Then one day an ER doctor was telling me my husband had a 90% chance of dying in the next two weeks. All the frustration and anger transformed into devastating heartbreak. The underlying story of why I stayed mirrors what so many women experience, finding themselves in unbearable circumstances—infidelity, bankruptcy, addiction—wondering: “What happened to my life?”
No longer living with an alcoholic ushered in a newfound era of calm and introspection. Overcoming abandonment and teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, I eventually stopped surviving and started living. Two years after becoming a widow, I found myself on my last 'first date,’ heading into an incredible relationship. Robert may not have survived alcoholism, but I did.
Some writers use outlines or other methods to organize their story. What strategies, if any, did you use when you sat down to write your book?
An outline is a great organizational tool, especially if you play with chronology, as I did. Some authors choose not to tell their story from start to finish, but to jump around for dramatic effect. Once you have your outline, be mindful of connective tissue between chapters and narrative arc. A typical mistake of first-time authors is producing a choppy narrative, chapters feeling independent of each other.
How long did it take to write, then ready your book for possible publication?
Does your book have traditional representation or are you planning to self-publish and why?
I'm in the process of finding a publisher.
What advice can you give to potential writers, authors, and bloggers?
Be patient. Believe in yourself. Be organized. Write every day. There will be days you need inspiration, find what inspires you. It could be reading others' work, rereading your work, taking a walk or a swim or a shower, looking at art, being outdoors, brushing your teeth, changing your work space - pack up your laptop and head to the beach, the park, a coffee shop, your backyard, a different room.
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