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.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

My Goal Each Month

Each month, my goal is to have 25 short-story submissions out.

Understand, that doesn't mean I have 25 unsold short stories. Some are previously-published ones that I'm trying to re-sell. Others I've sent to five different magazines or anthologies; whoever responds first, gets the story. Only a few of the stories went to markets that specify "no simultaneous submissions." I don't like to send stories to those markets, but sometimes you have to -- they're the most prestigious, or they pay the most.

It's a lot of work to research 25 different potential markets. Even using Duotrope, it takes me an average of one hour to go through potential venues, find one that's appropriate, and adjust my submission to the venue's rules. Most months I don't get 25 out. But it's always my goal, and I'm glad to have accomplished it this month.