I have never had a full-time job, except writing. I grew up in Colorado, where a friend of my mom’s worked at home writing stories, with no boss, which I thought was marvelous, so from the age of five I decided to become a freelance writer. I wrote for school newspapers, a column for the local paper in high school, and was co-editor of the Wesleyan Argus. I published my first piece in the Jerusalem Post while volunteering on an Israeli kibbutz, which made me think I could make a career of traveling and writing. Over the years, I’ve written on a wide range of topics, particularly focusing on women’s health issues, medicine, travel, social justice, personal essays, and food as a way in to the hearts of other cultures. I am probably too much of a generalist, but my curiosity has led me to some interesting places and people.
After college and traveling around the Mediterranean, I moved to San Francisco, where I still live. I started at local alternative newspapers–as a columnist for the San Francisco Bay Guardian and SF Weekly– and then started pitching national magazines. I’ve been a contributing editor at San Francisco Magazine, Sunset, Health, Glamour, More, and Good Housekeeping. I’ve published hundreds of articles in many other magazines and newspapers, including The New York Times, Gourmet, Afar, Craftsmanship Quarterly, Tricycle Buddhist Review, Martha Stewart Living, Vogue, Self, Mother Jones, Eating Well, Food & Wine, Town & Country Travel, Marie Claire, Elle, Cooking Light, Redbook, Wired, Salon.com, and O, the Oprah Magazine. My work has been frequently anthologized, including in Best Food Writing and Best Women’s Travel Writing collections. High school and college students all over the country have to read my essay, “Why I Stopped Being a Vegetarian,” because it’s included in so many readers (if you’re one of those students, please don’t email me and ask me to help you with your homework).Now that it’s
In 1995, I wrote my first book, Losing It: America’s Obsession with Weight and the Industry that Feeds on It (Dutton, 1995), a ground-breaking and award-winning exposé of the diet industry that continues to be cited in academic papers on the topic. In 2001, I wrote An Italian Affair (Pantheon), a travel memoir that was a New York Times best-seller. After that, I spent a period writing more about food, travel, and relationships in personal essays. In 2010, I published All Over the Map (Harmony Books), which Booklist called “a winning coming-of-middle-age memoir.”
In 2013, I co-founded a publishing company, Shebooks, with my friend and former editor, Peggy Northrop, and publishing industry business whiz Rachel Greenfield. We published 75 short e-books by and for women (I was Editorial Director), and then sold the company in 2017 to SheWrites Press (no relation). That experience gave me more editing and business chops.
Along the way, I’ve taught for many years. I focus on creativity and craft, giving students permission to write what they’re passionate about, then offering tools to make it clear, well-researched, thoughtfully ordered, and irresistible to the reader. My former mentor and inspiration was my late uncle William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well, who believed in clarity, simplicity, and cutting clutter. I’ve taught writing at the University of California at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, San Francisco State University, Harvard’s Nieman Conference on Narrative Journalism, Esalen, Aspen Summer Words, the A Room of Her Own conference, the San Miguel de Allende Writers’ Workshop, my own Laura’s Mexican Writing Fiesta, and at the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto, among other venues. I also do personal coaching for experienced non-fiction writers, and I’m a volunteer mentor for the Op-Ed Project. I’m also on the board of the San Francisco Progressive Media Center because I believe in local reporting.
I write content for a handful of clients, mainly focusing on science and medicine (my content company is Narrative Solutions). I’ve done custom workshops for companies and institutions to help their employees write better, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Roche Pharmaceuticals. I’ve also ghostwritten a couple of books.
I’ve given speeches and appearances at numerous universities and media outlets. In connection with my book on the diet industry, I appeared on the Today Show, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, MTV, CNN, and many other national TV shows. I’ve been a frequent panelist at writing conferences and have told stories at San Francisco’s Porchlight series and on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition. I’ve moderated panels at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco and at Berkeley Arts & Letters. I was awarded the Bert Greene Award for Essay Writing by the International Association of Culinary Professionals and recognized by the Women’s Science Research Foundation for my reporting on women’s health issues.
A longtime Haight Ashbury resident in San Francisco, I spend part of my time in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where I rent out Casita Laurita when I’m not there. I speak Spanish and Italian pretty fluently. I’m lucky to be married to a sweet, funny guy I knew in college and re-met 30 years later. I love to sing jazz, dance salsa, and make minestrone soup and listen to the opera Carmen when it’s raining out. I’m forever grateful to be a member of the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto, a community of generous, smart writers.
I’ve kept a list of all the books I’ve read since I was 13.