We had the good fortune of connecting with Karen Kasaba and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Karen, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
When a friend in my writers group suggested I start doing workshops, I didn’t like the idea of being stuck in a room. I wondered about a way to combine my experience as a docent tour guide at Ganna Walska Lotusland with writing. Was there a way to facilitate unconventional writing workshops in unconventional spaces?
I initially posted “Guided Writing Tours” on Meetup to test out the concept. I’d take groups to LACMA or the Hammer Museum to write inspired by emotions evoked by the art. I also experimented with bringing groups to Griffith Park to ride the miniature train, asking them to write about the experience of going on a journey and ending up in the same place — but different. Or, we’d meet at Psychic Eye Bookstore in the Valley for 15-minute psychic readings, and then go off to a nearby coffee shop to write and share.
Really great writing was coming out of these prompts. After this proof-of-concept phase, I designed Write Inspired by Art for Airbnb Experiences and began taking groups to the Hammer Museum. The Hammer exhibits cutting-edge art, has a beautiful courtyard to write in, and is free. Some wonderful writing has gotten started during these workshops that the writers have gone on to develop and publish.
When the pandemic hit, I revisioned my Airbnb Experience and was among the first 50 included in Airbnb’s online global launch. Since then, I’ve hosted writers worldwide, along with corporate teams from Yelp, Facebook, Grammarly, Wayfair and more. I began offering more immersive writing workshops on my website, and private coaching. Several writers who are working with me started their novel or book-length memoir as a response to a prompt, and are now completing their first drafts.
What’s exciting about these workshops is that writers are prompted to enter an unwritten scene in their own story, whether it’s remembered or imagined, and experience it in a vivid, emotional way. This technique may have come in part from my time as a tour guide, where I learned how to create a context for people to feel fully engaged in an experience.To achieve that level of engagement in my workshops, I offer guided visualizations, sometimes accompanied by sound.The process is intuitive and interactive. And lots of fun! I’m amazed at the way writers have been able to access deep emotions safely and express themselves so beautifully on the page.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’m originally from Los Angeles, and grew up deep in the San Fernando Valley. Somehow that setting was bleak and evocative at the same time, so writing always made sense. As a kid, I drew, made Super 8 films, wrote poems, and, with my friend, Dana, created faux Disney-type attractions in the garage. Neighborhood kids paid a nickel to get pulled around in a wagon in the dark while I conjured a haunted house or undersea adventure with narration. Then Dana jumped out and scared them!
I’ve been really fortunate to be able to do versions of the ways I liked to play as a kid — making films, giving tours, and through it all, I’ve kept writing. I’m so grateful now to have the opportunity to facilitate workshops for writers, and to have the support of my own writers group!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I’ve developed a new appreciation for LA, moving back after a few years away. The intensity that many people complain about is actually the crackle of idea-sparked entrepreneurs inventing their ventures. There’s also a significant spiritual component that is often overlooked.
I would start with breakfast on the patio at Cecconi’s in West Hollywood – then walk up Robertson to Santa Monica Blvd and wander through Koontz Hardware.
It’s always a fun bit of history to shop at the Farmer’s Market on 3rd and Fairfax, right across from the Writers Guild of America. Easy to have outdoor lunch, and take home some fresh produce or French pastries.
I like to sit by the pool where Marion Davies frolicked with other Hollywood stars, at Annenberg Community Center. It’s open to the public for a small fee. Then take a long walk along Santa Monica beach, and cool your feet in the Pacific.
Close to where Sunset Blvd meets PCH is the Self-Realization Lake Shrine – I love to stroll along the garden path, watch the turtles and swans in the lake, meditate in the chapel and exit through the gift shop.
For dinner in Hollywood – a tradition started on my 21st birthday – drinks at Yamashiro overlooking city lights, then dinner and a martini at Musso & Frank.
The Magic Castle is perfect for a haunted, magical night – you’ve got to be invited by a member, but hey, just tap into that LA ingenuity and you’ll find a way.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Sarah Dandashy @askaconcierge provided major you-can-do-this inspiration. I first learned of Airbnb Experiences in 2018 via an invitation to beta-test her three-day LA experience which included a sushi dinner at Koi, a selfie crawl along Melrose, followed by a “boozy brunch” on Sunday. Watching the way Sarah, a Clefs d’Or concierge, made a diverse group of people meeting for the first time feel welcome and excited to play tourists in our own town, was like a seminar in hospitality, inclusivity, and engagement. Right after that, I designed my first writing experience to pitch to Airbnb. Sarah was kind enough to meet me for coffee to take a look and cheer me on.
Bryan Dechart @dechartphoto