Friday, October 28, 2016

Crispy and Warm: Six Questions for Author Lynnette Adair

Today I interviewed author Lynnette Adair.  Lynnette just published her first novel, The Sea Sprite Inn, with Cat & Mouse Press of Lewes, Delaware.  This book release also has something to do with chocolate chip cookies!  Let's find out what....

1.  Lynnette, you just had your very first book release.  Tell us about the event.  Was it fun?  Was it everything you hoped for?

The Sea Sprite Inn launched at Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.  I suppose most new authors have self-doubts and I'm no different.  I worried that no guests would show since it was a gorgeous beach day and no one has ever heard of me!  What a thrill to hear my publisher say she had never seen such a turnout at a book signing!  I remember giggling the entire day in disbelief.  
The turnout was over fifty guests!

2.  Jillian -- your protagonist in The Sea Sprite Inn -- is in the process of reinventing herself.  Now that you're a published novelist, does it feel like you've reinvented yourself as well?

I've reinvented myself so many times that it feels frighteningly familiar.  My bio reads like a compilation from an entire neighborhood, and it truly is great fodder for stories.  Air Force veteran, professional ballroom dancer, insurance adjuster, waitress, retail saleswoman, geriatric caregiver...the list is endless.  But THIS time, it's different.  Not so much a reinvention, but the actualization of my destiny.  (Oooo...I like that line!)

3.  You and I met at a lecture sponsored by the Brandywine Valley Writers Group, where you mentioned something about chocolate chip cookies.  What was that about?

I shared my cookie story as a example of a creative way to engage readers.  On September 10th, I had an event at the Hockessin Bookshelf, which is also in Delaware.  I asked my Facebook followers what cookies they liked.  It created a LOT of energy.  People posted their cookie choices and I committed to saving one for them.

I baked the snickerdoodles, posted the pictures, and wrote a mouthwatering description.  I followed the same steps with the oatmeal raisin and ended the day with chocolate chip cookies. 

Battling the fear of no guests, I walked in very early stunned to find people already in line with copies of The Sea Sprite Inn.  They RAN OUT of books!  Super glad I had an extra case with me!  The owner was overheard saying she had never seen such a turnout! 

4.  Well done!  Now, tell us how you connected with your publisher, Cat & Mouse Press.

There's that self-doubt again.  I needed feedback from someone who I wasn't related to, so I sent a submission to the Rehoboth Beach Reads contest.

I was contacted by Nancy Sakaduski, the owner of Cat & Mouse Press.  She asked if I was interested in writing a proposal.  I remember squealing, "Is that even a question?"  I also MAY have done a little happy dance...all right, I danced like crazy while laughing out loud.

In 2016, my short story, The Magical Suit, was published in the anthology Beach Days and my novel, The Sea Sprite Inn, was also published!  Both books are available at local bookstores and can be purchased on Amazon.

5.  What's next for you?  Will we see the further adventures of Jillian, or will it be something different?

Anyone who has ever heard the line, "...but you're sisters, can't you just try to get along?" will understand the premise of the new novel I'm working on.

The story revolves around three sisters who all come home to help one of their own with a devastating diagnosis.  Hearts fill with joy, hearts break, and hears will heal in this story of love, grit and the constant evolution of the family dynamic.  As one of four sisters, I have enough material for an entire series!

Not to worry, though -- Jillian will return to the Sea Sprite Inn along with most of her friends.  I already have two more books planned.

6.  Anything else you'd like to add?

During the renovation of the Sea Sprite Inn, Jillian discovers a World War II ammo box filled with mementos.  She goes on a quest to return the box to its original owner.  The box and its contents will be on display.

Plus, I'll have home-made cookies.  You know the kind...crispy and warm on the edges.  One bite and the melty chocolate drapes between your lips forcing you to moan in delight as you chew.  Those kind of cookies.  Shall I save one for you?

Definitely!  And thank you for your time, Lynnette.  You can follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.  Her publisher is Cat & Mouse Press, and you can order The Sea Sprite Inn through them.

You can also order her book through Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Five Ways to Rock a Public Reading

Now that this guest post of mine has been up on the site for several days, I'm re-posting it on my own blog.

5OnFri: Five Ways to Rock a Public Reading

by Tony Conaway

A guest post on the website 
It’s an old observation, but an accurate one: public speaking is the #1 fear for many people. This, unfortunately, includes many writers.
Public speaking, like most things, is less scary when you’re well-prepared. I’ve been reading my work in public for many years, and here are some things I’ve learned. They may help you.

1) Practice

I go to many readings given by authors, and I’m amazed how often they seem to be unprepared. I understand that, if you’re reading a new piece – or a work in progress – your reading might not be as polished. But you’ve got to read it – out loud – several times before you do it in public. You also need to time the piece, and make a note of that. If you only have ten minutes to read, you don’t want to pull out a work that will take twenty minutes.

2) Select the right piece for your audience

You may have a racy, R-rated piece, only to find out that some of the audience has brought children along. Another possibility is that a recent event would make your piece feel insensitive. What if you’d planned to read a story that involved an airplane crash, and, as you drove to the venue, you found out that an airplane really did just crash? Or (this happened to me) you’re scheduled to read on a Monday night during football season. Monday Night Football is on, and your audience turns out to be entirely female. Will they appreciate your planned piece on boxing as much as a mixed-gender audience would?
The best way to handle this is to have more than one piece prepared. Bring a clean piece and an R-rated piece, or a funny piece and a sad piece. Give yourself options. Even if you’re there to promote your latest book, have at least two sections (clean vs. blue, or funny vs. sad) of the book prepared.

3) Don’t read directly out of your book!

Surely you have an electronic copy of your book – print that out, double-spaced, in large type, preferably on cover stock. Why? Because the lighting where you read may be poor. (At the last Noir at the Bar event I attended, the lighting was so bad the audience could barely see the author!) If it’s double-spaced with large type, it’s easier to read – even in bad lighting. And printing it on stiff cover stock will keep the pages from crinkling as you progress, and make it less likely for them to blow away if someone opens an outside door and lets in a sudden breeze.
I’ve only ever seen one author who could justify reading out of his book. This was a fantasy author who drew over 75 fans to a bookstore reading. Some of the fans were so ardent that they actually dressed up as characters from his books! The author began by announcing, “I’m going to read the first chapter of my new book. I see many of you have purchased it already. Would one of you like to lend me your book to read from? Afterward, I’ll autograph it, noting that I read from it tonight.” 
Unfortunately, I don’t have fans like that, and you probably don’t either. So read from pages, not a bound book.

4) Prepare your script

This is another reason to read from double-spaced pages rather than your book. If you can do character voices (as I do), you can eliminate some of the “he said/she said” attributions – it will be obvious from your voice who is speaking. You also might want to cut or change some words from the book version: homonyms that might be confusing, curse words, or simply words you have difficulty pronouncing. And finally, there is much more room to make notes on a double-spaced page than in the tight confines of a bound book. I make marks and notes on the page, indicating that I should pause here, or look up at the audience here. I even differentiate the dialogue of different characters by typing in different colors. I read a noir story last night at a library event. On my pages, the narrator’s dialogue was in blue, the character of “Colin” had his dialogue in red, and the very loud thug called “Moose” was in boldface. That kept me from getting confused, and my character voices were spot-on.

5) Type your introduction

Someone invited you to speak: an organizer, a librarian, a bookstore owner, whomever. They might or might not be a good public speaker. Make things simpler by handing them your introduction before you start. Do it the same way you prepared your script: large type, double spaced, on stiff cover stock. You’re making their lives easier, and you’ve increased your chances of getting an accurate introduction immensely.
If you’re truly phobic about public speaking, following these tips might not be enough to make these events fun. But you’ll feel more confident if you’re well prepared.

tony-conawayTony Conaway is a freelance writer, ghostwriter and editor. He has co-written ten business books for such publishers as McGraw-Hill, Macmillan and Prentice Hall. His fiction has appeared in eight anthologies and many publications, including Blue Lake Review, Danse Macabre, Rind Literary Magazine, the Rusty Nail, and Typehouse Literary Magazine.
Some of his odder writing gigs included writing a script for a planetarium show, and co-writing jokes used by Jay Leno on The Tonight Show. He has blogged often about reading in public; you can find his most recent post on the subject (with links to previous posts) right here.
You can Tweet him at @tonyconaway or contact him at

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Shoplandia: An Interview with Author Jim Breslin

Jim Breslin is a writer, storyteller and a former television producer who spent seventeen years with QVC, the world's largest home shopping network.  His first collection of short stories, Elephant, includes a short story that was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  Next, he published the anthology Chester County Fiction that presented short fiction from thirteen Southeast Pennsylvania authors (including the author of this blog). 

Jim Breslin’s latest book is his first novel, Shoplandia.  It was inspired by his years as a producer at a home shopping network.

1)  Jim, I see that you’ve been accepting invitations from book clubs to talk about Shoplandia.  I’m sure that I speak for many authors when I say that the idea of talking to a book club in someone’s home is daunting (or even terrifying).  How has your book club visits gone, and do you find them worthwhile?

Actually I have found book clubs to be really fun, particularly since the wine is usually flowing! Seriously though, I love hearing from book club readers what they enjoyed about the books and what they didn't like. Sometimes those in the book club will start debating a character or what they took away from a scene and I just sit back and soak it all in. I often hear the same themes and it's helpful to hear that feedback. Everyone has been very cordial and asked insightful questions. Of course, they want to know if any of the scenes in Shoplandia really happened at QVC!

2)  You recently attended the HippoCamp Creative Non-Fiction Writer’s Conference in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  How important is it for writers to go to conventions?  What do you get out of it?

HippoCamp is a great conference geared towards writing creative nonfiction. While most of my writing is fiction, the stories I tell at Story Slams are creative nonfiction so it was fun to teach our storytelling workshop at HippoCamp. Writing is such as a solitary craft that it's important for writers to seek out community with writers conferences, retreats, writers groups, or critique groups. The classes and workshops are always insightful, but some of the most memorable moments are meeting amazing people who are working on really cool stories. I had lunch and dinner with some people who have amazing personal stories they are working on and I can't wait to see their stories in print.

3)  I’ve noticed on your website that two of the stories from Elephant are available separately for download.  That’s an interesting marketing technique.  Has it been successful?

I just put those two stories up and tested giving them away for free for a certain period of time. Of course, they were downloaded thousands of times for free. I have found that offering stuff for free will get an author downloads but it doesn't translate to sales. It would work better if it was the first chapter of a novel with a suspenseful ending but these were just two short stories.

4)  You’ve also collected stories from your Story Slams.  What’s a Story Slam and how did you come to be involved with them?

I was a fan of The Moth podcast so I tweeted out one day, in the summer of 2009, I love The Moth. Is there anything like that around West Chester? People tweeted back, joking no but that I should start something. So I started West Chester Story Slam in my living room. We had so much fun I moved it to a pub in West Chester and we're now in our seventh year. It's been really gratifying to hear people tell incredible stories. People can check out to learn more, watch videos of stories, listen to the podcast, or buy tickets for an upcoming event. We sell out of tickets every month. Beer and stories go together.

5)  Finally, what are you working on now?  Short stories or a new novel?

Both! I have a wild pre-apocalyptic novel I'm working on. Imagine if Quentin Tarantino directed a Hardy Boys movie. It's different than anything else I've writtern and I may publish it under a pen name. I also have some short stories and flash fiction I've been diligently working on. I need to get a few stories over the finish line so I can send them out to journals. It's been over a year since I've published any short fiction.

Thank you.  You can follow Jim Breslin on his website, on Twitter, and on Facebook.
You can purchase his novel, Shoplandia, and the collections Elephant and Chester County Fiction at Amazon.  

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Immaculate Deception: An Interview with Author Scott B. Pruden

Scott B. Pruden wrote his first novel after a long career as a journalist.  That novel, Immaculate Deception, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  Scott, can you give us a brief rundown of your journalism career?

I worked at eight newspapers between 1989 and 2004, starting as a writer, columnist and editor at my school paper at the University of South Carolina, then moving on to jobs after graduation as a reporter, columnist, copy editor and news editor at newspapers in South Carolina, Arizona, southcentral Pennsylvania and Philadelphia . Since 2004 I’ve freelanced for a number of Delaware Valley magazines.

Russell Lynes, the critic and editor of Harper’s Magazine, once said “Every journalist has a novel in him, which is an excellent place for it.”  You’ve beaten the odds by producing a good novel.  What’s your secret?

Lots of journalists do indeed have what would probably be a good novel in them, but I feel like many can’t get past the “making stuff up” part. As journalists, we’re so steeped in truth, verifiable fact and objectivity that creating something out of pure imagination somehow seems dirty. As a result, a lot of journalists get bogged down in the fact vs. fiction element of things rather than using their usually diverse factual experiences to inform the fiction and make it feel more genuine.

I’m not sure if there’s a secret to getting that novel out, other than the old adage of ass+chair=words. My first novel emerged from two short story ideas that fizzled, but I somehow thought would combine to make not necessarily a “great” novel, but the sort I’d enjoy reading. I was initially a little concerned that I’d be the only one, but during the 20 years I was working on it, writers like Christopher Moore and Neil Gaiman gained more popularity. That’s when I realized there was already an audience for the sort of weird-ass novel Immaculate Deception was becoming.

As far as the journalist aspect is concerned, I think one of the things that makes me good at journalism is a skill that also makes a good novelist, and that’s the ability to closely observe, internalize and then regurgitate elements of what goes on around us. Unrelated to journalism, I’ve also been an amateur actor since my high school days, and that’s helped me both with crafting dialogue that sounds natural and digging up emotions to convey them accurately on the page. I always encourage aspiring writers to be both their own Sherlock Holmes, noticing tiny little details that others wouldn’t, and a method actor, digging into their own pasts to mine emotions to make character relationships and interactions in their work feel true.

You and Wayne Lockwood are now micro-publishers.  Tell us about Codorus Press.

Not to sound like a complete boozer, but Codorus Press is a great example of the amazing things that can happen when journalists get together to drink. The initial idea came from Wayne when we worked together at the York Daily Record in York, Pa., in the late 1990s. One night during after-deadline beers I was bemoaning the fact that I couldn’t get traction from traditional agents or publishers on an earlier draft of Immaculate Deception, and he noted how easy it would be for a room full of writers, editors and designers to start our own indie publishing house. Ten years later, with a much-improved draft of my novel, we did just that. Since then we’ve been gradually building up our stable of writers, focusing on keeping things small and among friends. It might not be the most capitalist of business models, but our focus is really on helping each other get our work out there rather than becoming rich and famous.

Finally, what’s next?  A new novel?

Yes. In addition to working on some short stories and getting those submitted to different markets, I’m hammering away at the follow-up to Immaculate Deception. This time around, the weirdness is more paranormal than metaphysical and set in the present day. In it, a fresh-out-of-college newspaper reporter struggles to deal with a rash of ghost sightings that seem to lead to a broader conspiracy among the living. I’m describing it as The X Files meets Ghostbusters meets Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Thank you.  You can follow Scott B. Pruden on social media, at his website, on Facebook, on Twitter, or on Goodreads

You can purchase his novel, Immaculate Deception, through the Codorus Press web site or or via Amazon.

And here's a link to a recent podcast on The Indy Author, in which Matty Dalrymple interviews Scott Pruden.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

All It Took Was a Change of Title

All writers produce stories they like more than others.  One of my favorites has just been "reprinted" on the Literally Stories site.  It originally appeared two years ago in the Rind Literary Magazine.

I knew this was a successful short story, because I presented it several times at public readings.  It always got laughs in the right places.  Nevertheless, I couldn't seem to sell the story to a magazine.  It kept getting rejected, over and over.

Eventually, I decided that the original title was the problem.  The story is about a drunk writer who shows up at the house of his ex-girlfriend late one winter night.  I called it "Reunion at 3 a.m."  That title didn't pop -- it didn't make an editor want to publish it.

I decided to change the title and submit it to literary magazines.  So I gave it the oh-so-pretentious title of "The 3 a.m. Litterateur."

That's all it took.  The Rind Literary Magazine picked it up immediately.  And now it's up again, on a new site.

Sometimes it pays to be pretentious.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Women and Wine

In my youth, I once went out with three different women in the span of two weeks.  That's three first dates, all over dinner.

In the course of the meal, all three women drank wine.  (I prefer beer.)  I got all three women to talk about themselves.

And in the course of that conversation, all three women wept.

Now, before you suggest that they were crying because it was a bad date, let me say that I subsequently saw all three of these young women again.  I recall taking one of them to a party.  Another I took to an entertainment venue.  The third I saw for months -- I remember that she later broke up with me on my birthday.

The experience creeped me out, a little.  Three dates, all of whom I reduced to tears?

Later, however, I decided that there was something about talking about one's life that makes many women cry...especially under the influence of alcohol.

Am I wrong?

Friday, June 3, 2016

Susanna Reilly: From Fan Writer to Pro


I met the delightful Susanna Reilly at the Main Line WritersGroup, a club for authors of all skill levels, which meets in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.  We both had stories in the group’s first anthology, Unclaimed Baggage: Voices of the Main Line Writers.

Susanna had two stories published in the anthology Somewhere in the Middle of Eternity The second volume in that series, Elsewhere in the Middle of Eternity, is in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign to raise funding.  If that campaign meets its fundraising goal, she will have a story in that anthology as well.

Ladies and gentlemen, Susanna Reilly:

1)  Susanna, I understand that, like many writers, you started writing fan fiction for an annual fanzine.  Is that correct?

Thank you for that wonderful introduction Tony.  I’ve always enjoyed writing, but it wasn’t until I got involved with a local science fiction fan club, The U.S.S. Thagard (a chapter of Starfleet: The International Star Trek Fan Association) in the late 1990’s that I believed I could actually be published.  The club put out an annual fanzine titled Norman (followed by number I – XIII depending on the year).  The title came from the first name of the astronaut the club was named after as well as a clone character in one of the iconic Star Trek original series episodes.  I wrote a few short stories in the Star Trek and Highlander universes that were included in three of the late 90s Norman issues.  All proceeds from the fanzines went to charity but it was still a lot of fun to see that “by Susanna Reilly” after the titles.  In the mid 2000’s, after the Thagard folded, I continued writing fan fiction in the Star Trek and Stargate universes (and even one in the Law and Order: Special Victims Unit universe), but I used the website as my publishing outlet.  You can still find some of my earlier work here.  

2)  The convention circuit is an increasingly important place for writers to meet and generate publicity.  I understand that you are a regular at the annual Shore Leave convention.  Is that strictly a Star Trek con?

I started going to the Shore Leave convention (in Hunt Valley, MD)  around 1999 as an attendee.  Back then its main focus was on Star Trek, but over the years it has expanded to include most science fiction/fantasy shows and movies.  Stargate was my favorite fandom for a long time and I was thrilled to meet Amanda Tapping at Shore Leave a few years ago.  The convention not only has media guests, but also discussion panels encompassing all types of fandoms, costuming/cosplaying, as well as a very popular “Meet the Authors” event on Friday evening.  It was a huge thrill to be invited to participate as an author guest two years ago when Somewhere in the Middle of Eternity launched there and I’m equally thrilled that the launch party for Elsewhere in the Middle of Eternity will be there in July. 

3)  What do you enjoy most about being a writer?  What do you enjoy the least?

I enjoy the rush I get from coming up with an interesting story idea and following the twists and turns until it becomes a full-fledged story.  I find that I often start out with an idea where the story is going to go, but then it ends up taking a few twists and turns on me before the end.  Sometimes the ending is totally different than I expected it to be, but I learned a long time ago, you can’t force the story to go where you want it to go, you have to let it take its own course.  The thing I enjoy least is trying to find the time in an already very full schedule to write.  It’s very frustrating to have a really cool idea and want to sit down and write it all out but not have an uninterrupted block of time to do so.  I’m a secretary by trade so it’s most natural for me to write at the computer since I’m a pretty fast typist.  Writing longhand or dictating don’t work as well for me.

4)  Let’s finish up with a process question: where and when do you write?  Are you a before-work writer, an after-work writer, or a weekend writer?

My most prolific writing time has always been at night.  I used to be able to start work at 10 p.m. and write straight through until 2 or 3 in the morning and still make it to work on time the next morning.  Now that I’m a bit older, I’m finding it much harder to keep those hours, so finding uninterrupted blocks of time to write has become much more challenging. 

Thanks so much for taking the time to participate in this interview, Susanna!

Thank you so much for asking me, Tony.  I greatly appreciate it.

You can follow Susanna Reilly here on Facebook or on Goodreads

Please support the Kickstarter campaign for Elsewhere in the Middle of Eternity!  If you’re considering whether to back this project, please click here to check out the various donation levels and the rewards offered on Kickstarter

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Darwyn Cooks Dies at Age 53

Longtime readers of my blog know that, once upon a time, I fancied becoming a comic book artist.  I even got to take some classes with the late, great artist Joe Kubert.

As it turned out, I didn't have the chops for the business.  I could draw something (or someone) passably well if it (or she) was posed in front of me.  But ask me to draw something out of my imagination, and the result looked like it was done by a six-year-old.

Nevertheless, I continue to have a great affection for comic book artists.

So I'm saddened today by the death of iconic Canadian artist Darwyn Cooke.  Going against the trend towards photo-realistic art, Cooke had a distinctive, iconic style that was like no one else currently in the business.  He worked primarily on DC Comic characters, and may be best known for his revamped design for Catwoman.

He died of cancer at the age of 53, far too young.  I'm saddened by his passing...but I'm also angered at our own loss.  We have missed out on another few decades of work by an exemplary talent.

Goodbye, Darwyn. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Jen Conley, Noir, and Cannibals

Jen Conley reading at a Noir at the Bar event at Shade in NYC

The delightful Jen Conley is a writer and teacher from New Jersey. I first encountered her at a Noir at the Bar event, where she was reading one of her crime stories (which she did very well). She also edited an anthology in which one of my own stories appeared: “Shotgun Honey Presents Locked and Loaded (Both Barrels, Volume III)”

Jen, congratulations on your first collection of short stories! Tell us about "Cannibals: Stories from the Edge of the Pine Barrens"

Thank you! Cannibals is a collection of loosely linked gritty/crime stories that take place in central/south Jersey, Ocean County, which encompasses some of the Pine Barrens. Not every story has a typical crime, or a crime at all, but each one is a bit gritty.

Your stories all take place in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Most of what I know about that area comes from John McPhee’s 1968 book, The Pine Barrens, which was originally serialized in The New Yorker. There’s one thing I’ve always wanted to ask a native of the area: McPhee wrote that Pineys tend to say something three times. For example, a Piney might say, “It looks like rain, looks like rain, like rain.” I’ve never heard anyone speak like that! Is it true?
Good question. But not that I know of. I’m not a real Piney, either, so I’m not really sure. I think the Piney culture has been infiltrated by modern times so I don’t know how many old school authentic Pineys are left. And I also think the term “Piney” has changed. Now it can mean people who live near the Pine Barrens, or even in them, but not living that old rural type of existence, or even something close to that. For many people “Piney” is a person who enjoys spending time in the Pines, whether it’s hiking, fishing, hunting, four wheeling, etc.

Sadly, writing short stories doesn’t pay much. Like most writers, you alsochave a day job. I understand you teach middle school English. Many years ago, I tried doing that myself, with little success. Have any of your students ever read your crime stories?

I don’t think so. I try to keep it on the downlow. They know I write and I’ve read them a little bit of my work, things that are benign, but not the hard core stuff. However last year I was working on a YA novel geared towards middle schoolers and I read them the first six pages. They seemed to really love it --- they gave me a round of applause—but they also appeared to be a bit surprised I could actually write. 

Again, like most writers, you’ve probably had your share of rejections. Has that changed how you edit the work of others for Shotgun Honey?

We don’t edit the flash too much. We read the stories and have a discussion, and decide whether they are a go or not. Some stories are easy—yes or no. But some stories are in that middle area, that spot where a little help, suggestions, might make the story stronger. I’m more prone to give someone another chance if I see a story has potential. I hate getting rejected (as does everyone) so I do feel bad when we reject a story that seems to be on the line but ultimately just isn’t working. But Ron Earl Phillips, the head honcho, does give feedback from the editors, so I like to think if writers take our advice, then they can improve the story and try to send it somewhere else. “Home Invasion,” the first story in my collection, was rejected several times until another writer gave me a few tips so it would work better. I took her advice and it was immediately accepted at Thuglit and nominated for a Spinetingler Award.

Before they submit their work, many writers run it by either a trusted critique group or a cadre of beta readers. Do you, and how did you get them?  (It took me many years to find a critique group that I found truly helpful.)

I used to have two writing groups, one up in NYC and one in the Red Bank area. Both are disbanded, or on indefinite hold. I found my NYC group because I took a Gotham Writing Class in the Village and after it ended, I emailed my teacher and asked if she knew of a writing group. She invited me into hers. That was writer Karen Heuler and I was with her for many years. I found the other group

through an ad in a magazine. Again, I emailed them and they asked for a submission and then let me in. Now I have no one but that’s okay. I’m busy and I have to do a lot of writing this summer—working on a novel—so when I’m done with the novel, I’ll probably look for readers but not a group. I also know it’s hard to find a writing group, especially one that meets consistently, so I’m glad you have one. I think every writer at one point needs to hook up with a writing group. It really does help.

Let’s finish up with a process question: how do you write? Do you do it in the same time and place every day?

When it comes to short stories, I don’t write them until I have an idea and an arc in my head. So I spend a lot of time just thinking. For a longer project which I’m working on now, it was a loose outline and I blew through the first draft as fast as I could. I write on my laptop, either in my bedroom or downstairs in my dining room. I have a fourteen-year-old so most of my work is done when he is asleep, preoccupied or if he’s at his dad’s house. He’s pretty good about not bothering me but he’s still a teenager, so it’s never fool-proof. And I’d like to write every day but there are days after teaching that I’m just too damn exhausted, so sometimes it’s best if I sleep and save my energy for the next night.

On the flip side, because I teach, I’m off in the summer so I consider myself a lucky writer. I would work a side job in July and August but I’d rather skimp on extras and focus on my writing. It’s very important to me. It’s my Mount Everest so I need as much time as I can to climb this huge, giant, almost impossible mountain called “breaking into writing.” Actually, I think it might be easier to climb Mount Everest. 

We’ll look forward to your collection, which will be released in May. The official book launch will be at Manhattan’s Mysterious Bookshop on Friday 3 June at 6:30 pm. Thank you for your time, Jen!

Thank you. It’s been a pleasure!

You can follow Jen on her website or on twitter at @jenconley45
You can purchase her book at Amazon or Barnes & Noble or your local bookstore.  It is published by Down & Out Books.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Would You Please Get Snarky, Please?

Authors at a signing this past weekend.  L to R: Kelly Simmons, Matty Dalrymple, Virginia Beards, Jon McGoran, Merry Jones, and Bruce Mowday

This past weekend I attended a multi-author book signing at the Levante Brewery in West Chester, PA.  One of the authors, poet Virginia Beards, had to leave early.  I asked the remaining five authors what were the best and worst things about doing a book event in a brewery.  (Although sales were light, the authors remained upbeat and refused to get snarky.)

What’s the best thing about doing a signing in a brewery?

Jon McGoran:  Beer!!

Merry Jones:  Dogs and babies among the crowd.  They’re the best!  You don’t get those in a bookstore signing.

Kelly Simmons:  Yes.  I love dogs and babies!  Notice how they always find the sunbeams to lie in.  It’s just a fun atmosphere.

Bruce Mowday:  You get to meet your readers.  It’s a chance to interact with them.  I’ve had some great discussions on Pickett’s Charge (the subject of one of his books).  Matty (Dalrymple) did a great job organizing this event.

Matty Dalrymple: It’s an exercise in community building. And it’s good that we’ve started to see some of the same faces among the attendees.

And what was the worst thing about this particular brewery signing?

Jon McGoran:  Well, you always want to sell more books.

Merry Jones:  A lot of people just walk by.  Most of them are here to drink, not buy books.

Kelly Simmons:  Yes, they didn’t come to buy books.  And I don’t want to intrude on families.

Bruce Mowday:  I wish we had more people here.  But it’s such a nice day – people don’t want to be inside.

Matty Dalrymple:  Wine drinkers are more interested in books than beer drinkers are.  I suspect you can sell more books at a winery than at a brewery.  Overall, I think we could describe this as more of a social than a sales event.

My Takeaway:  It was a fun event on a nice day.  But dogs and babies don’t buy worth a damn.  (Hey, if they won’t get snarky, I will!)

Thursday, March 17, 2016

What I've Learned About Giving Public Readings, Part Four

When you become a star, you can make people wait.

Until then, here's some advice: when giving a public reading, get to the reading area (lectern, podium, stage, whatever) BEFORE the applause stops!

Last night, I did a group reading in front of about 25 people.  The audience consisted of other writers, so they were attentive and polite.

The host had a written introduction for each person reading.  He would read the introduction, ending with the name of the writer.  The audience applauded.

And, in every single case, the writer took his or her time going to the podium.  The applause was long over by the time they began to read.

(That happened to me, too...but I had a good excuse.  The host forgot to read my introduction.  Instead, he just announced my name.  Believe me, if he had read my intro, I would've been standing next to him by the time he finished.  And if I'd known that I was going to read next, I would've been there.  However, the host elected to keep the order of readers unknown to everyone except himself.  That's unusual, but it was his show and his rules.)

Folks, in the broadcast business, this is what they call dead air.  It's a span of time in which nothing is going on.  Broadcasters hate it.  (I assume they still call it "dead air."  I haven't been in a radio or TV studio in years.)

If and when you become such a famous personality that you can make a grand entrance...and people are paying to see you...and there's a big proscenium arch with a curtain for you to step out of...then you can make people wait.

Until then, don't inflict dead air on your audience.  Get to the podium quickly, before the applause dies.  OK?

My previous posts in this series:
Part Three of What I've Learned About Giving Public Readings
Part Two of What I've Learned About Giving Public Readings
Part One of What I've Learned About Giving Public Readings

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Catherine Quillman on Writing (and Interviewing Andew Wyeth)

Catherine Quillman is a well-known writer, artist, and reporter here in West Chester, Pennsylvania. I met her when we were both writing articles on local history for the Chester County Day newspaper. The former editor inadvertently assigned both of us to write an article on the oldest African-American Social Organization in the state. I’m glad that I yielded to Catherine’s expertise and stepped back so she could write it herself!

Catherine, I’m jealous that you got to interview the late, reclusive painter Andrew Wyeth – not once, but several times. Please, tell us about that experience.

Yes, interviewing Wyeth, or any of his associates such as the biographer, the late Richard Meryman, was definitely the combined highlight of my career at the Philadelphia Inquirer. I would have gladly written a year of obituaries for every encounter or interview I had with Wyeth. I consider him one of our greatest contemporary American painters, but on a personal level, I found him to be the closest I will ever get to a 19th-century painter.

Of course, he wasn’t born in that century but he lived a creative, close-to-nature life that many artists of that era embodied. I was sorry that Wyeth died just as I was researching my book, 100 Artists of the Brandywine Valley. He influenced so many artists - it would have been thrilling to get his opinion on the regional art scene.

On the other hand, he might have told me to call his son – that’s Jamie Wyeth, the artist. Wyeth seemed to want to give the impression that he wasn’t an authority on anything beyond his art. That was very different from the 1960s, when Wyeth actually wrote letters to the Daily Local News about historic preservation (at the time, modish buildings with lots of glass were being proposed in West Chester).

I guess this is a long way of saying that Wyeth was difficult to interview mainly because he seemed to really value the opinion of others. He certainly didn’t act like a famous artist. I remember when Bob Williams, an Inquirer photographer, was trying to get Wyeth to pose outside the Brandywine River Museum and nothing looked right. Wyeth didn’t say anything, until Bob finally said something like, “Well, you’re the artist, where do you want to stand?” Wyeth immediately pointed to a nearby sycamore (one his favorite types of trees, btw). 

You and I have both published books with several different publishers. How do the different publishing houses compare?

I have published with several regional publishers that have gone out of business – really a
sign of the times considering printing costs and the diminishing number of independent
book stores. I’m in the process of working out a contract for my second book with
Schiffer Publishing. It’s also regional publisher. In fact, the owners seem to be proud of
their local Chester County roots. (The company headquarters is part of a former dairy
farm in Atglen, Pa. )

In terms of comparing publishers, I think Schiffer publishes an amazing number of books
– I mean hundreds of each quarter. But it’s still a considered a small, regional publisher,
which I believe are more receptive to new or unknown writers. Schiffer is especially
open to a nonfiction book idea if you present the subject as something you love and know

Several of your books are collaborations. How does that process work for you?  Do you write part of
a book, and your co-writer does another? Or do you re-write each other's work?

I don’t think I could ever write a large-scale book with another writer. I have too many solitary writing habits. I also suspect that the end product would be too much like a literary mash-up or sound over edited like a textbook written by HAL 9000. I exaggerate, of course. But I should point out that my co-writer, Sarah Wesley, and I received two grants from the Leeway Foundation that actually required a collaboration.

With our first book, Walking the East End, it made sense that Sarah would come up with the content or framework since she grew up in that neighborhood and began the research years before.

With short “popular” history books, I think the book’s cover and design is very
important. I joke about the NYT’s motto and say we write “all the news that will fit.” But
some of that is sort of true: I wrote sections and used Sarah’s material when the narrative
fit the context. There were times, too, that Sarah shaped my writing, based strictly on
research, since she knew all the personal stories that only a native would know.

You have a new book on Milford Mills. Tell us about that.

Thanks so much for asking! My answers so far remind me of that statement by Alfred
Conan Doyle (I think). To paraphrase, “I would have written a shorter letter if I had more
time.” To keep this short, the book’s title (and subtitle) is revealing: The Story Of
Milford Mills and the Marsh Creek Valley, Chester County, Pennsylvania. An historic account of early milling communities and a hamlet taken by eminent domain to build the Marsh Creek State Park and Reservoir

Speaking of regional interest, the book is so local, I decided to self-publish, I also
published an earlier version back in the 1980s and I now have what could be described as
a waiting list of readers. They have been waiting for decades for the second edition.

Let’s finish up with a process question: how to you write? Do you do it in the same time and place every day?

Great. I used to love to read old copies of The Paris Review mainly because they asked
such questions. For some reason, I never thought I had a process compared to writer
friends and acquaintances (some of whom have become fairly famous) – they live by their word count. Still, I believe that system works well with fiction writing (which I’m
not doing at the moment). But to answer your question: I generally keep a journalist’s
hours - getting started in late morning and letting my writing time be interrupted by
phone calls, etc.

I also believe in having multiple desks or work areas depending on what stage the writing
is in. I may work on my netbook, for instance, in a public space when writing a first
draft. (I like the background sounds - it reminds me of a newsroom.)

My latest habit is uploading my work to Google Drive and then reading it on my tablet.
I’m also an exhibiting artist, so I think seeing the words in a nice clean context makes the
errors stand out that much more. With my tablet, I can open the document in Kindle and
highlight areas that need further work.

Thanks for the interesting questions!

We’ll look forward to your next book. Thank you for your time, Catherine!

Catherine Quillman’s books are listed on her website.

Her Wyeth feature stories can be found here.

You can follow her at Facebook at Catherine C. Quillman, Twitter at

@catquillman, and her favorite social networking site Instagram at


You can purchase her books locally at The Chester County Book Co. and the museum shop of the Chester County Historical Society.