A Fantastic Conference

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At the beginning of August of this year, I attended the Writer’s Digest Conference in Manhattan. While I had attended writers’ conferences before, I had never experienced any on the scale of this one. It was a three day event, from Friday the 1st to Sunday the 3rd at the very upscale Roosevelt Hotel near Grand Central Terminal.

This beautiful hotel, while a luxurious environment, was far too expensive for me, so I stayed with my in-laws, whom I love as if they were my parents, on Staten Island and made the commute those three days. One nice detail of the daily trip was that I was able to travel by the Staten Island Ferry, and I love being on boats or ships of any kind! And as always seems to happen whenever I am in Manhattan, I am mistaken for a native. A gentleman from Iceland, who had three children with him, asked me for directions for the ferry to the Statue of Liberty. I have been in Manhattan so often in the course of my life it seems like I have lived there.

The conference featured a multitude of sessions including talks by authors, agents, editors and a variety of panels covering a myriad of elements of the publishing business. I learned something about writing and the business of publishing in every session I attended. The culminating session gave much information which writers should know about the inside world of publishing.

I have been working for several years on a paranormal thriller Evil Lives After, and my main goal for the conference was to utilize the agent pitch session to my fullest advantage. The pitch slams, as they were called, were organized so that 200 or so writers in the space of one hour would have the opportunity to pitch his/her book to as many agents as could be seen but with only a total of 3 minutes per agent. In essence, it was like speed dating, but with literary agents. There were even time keepers and a bell to signal when to change and get in another line.

We had been advised to make a list of the agents who represented the kind of work we were writing. For example, it would have been futile to pitch a paranormal thriller to an agent who works exclusively with children’s books. The night before I compiled my list of the 5 most important agents for me and stood in line early—for an hour, which was a good choice because it was a line of about 200 people. I felt a little bit like when I was younger waiting for tickets to a show or concert.

During the pitch slam I did manage to see the agents I had planned on and had much greater success than I had expected. With only 90 seconds for the pitch and 90 seconds for the agent to ask questions about the work, the experience was heightened. Four of the five agents requested to see 25-50 pages of the book, and one requested the entire manuscript! Since then, I have been editing the manuscript intensely, tightening it and trying to get it into as good a shape as I can.

I hope to send it out this week or next. I will post about that.

As a final thought on the conference, I advise all writers to attend gatherings like this one. It was extraordinarily valuable and informative.

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Grounds For Thought Literary Group

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Approximately, once a month, a group of like-minded people, interested in reading and writing, gathers at the Taylor Roasted Coffeehouse in Northampton, PA. This establishment is a perfect locale for our meetings; it has a welcoming atmosphere, with examples of drawings and paintings adorning the walls, musical instruments on display, and bookshelves with volumes for sharing and reading. I love coffee, and I love coffee shops and have been in many in a myriad of places during my life, and I say without any reservations, that this is the best and my favorite coffee shop. The owner John Weber roasts his coffee beans, and the result is the best coffee I have ever tasted. Jackie Livermon is the manager and keeps the place humming. These two lovely people, both of whom I now consider myself fortunate to call friends, have given this small town a wonderful place to gather and drink extraordinary coffee.

In the meetings of the Grounds For Thought Literary Group, we read pieces of our own work or from writings we like. Some sessions have been small with only 5-6 people, but this Saturday’s—the 23rd, was the largest yet. If my head count was correct, 25 people participated. What makes this ongoing gathering so distinctive is the combination of those who meet. We had a wide range from youngsters just in college—forgive me for the age comment, but I am much older—to a retired accountant. I mention these people because they all read poetry they were working on.

It has become customary for me to begin the event with a reading of a chapter from—Evil Lives After—a paranormal thriller that I am presently putting on what I hope is a final edit before sending it out to several agents who are interested. I will talk more about that in a future post. I read a chapter which deals with the grief my protagonist carries with him always, and the audience was, I believe, moved by it.

We had readings from short stories and essays as well as several Civil War letters, one of which was the most extraordinary expression of condolence I had ever heard or read. Two people who were there are historians, one a Ph.D. candidate, and another an adult college student. I was happy to see several of my present and former students in attendance as well.

It was a wonderful evening, and I hope that this group continues to draw a representation of our local literary community together for talk and enjoyment of literature and writing.

Finally finished!

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One of the best feelings I have known is finishing a piece of writing, and I do not mean simply drafting it.  No, I am referring to the final submission of the work, when it is out of my hands.  In May of 2014, I completed my dissertation and earned my Ph.D. in English Literature at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA.

I had taken a longer time than normal to do this work, because I had a hiatus, entirely of my own doing, from my graduate studies, and I had to reapply under special circumstances to be readmitted into the program.  I am thankful that I was permitted to do so, and this time, with dedication and discipline, I finished my work.  I had previously been in the swelling ranks of those with A.B.D. or all but dissertation, and I decided it was time to correct this mistake.  In being readmitted, I had to take a few more graduate courses in addition to writing the dissertation, but I did it!  And with my wife, my in-laws, and my cousin in attendance, I was hooded in May and graduated!!! Yay!

The title of the dissertation is typically academic and unwieldy:

From the Political to the Personal:

Interrogation, Imprisonment, and Sanction

In the Prison Drama of Seamus Byrne and Brendan Behan.

This work is finished, but I am not done with it.  It will be the basis for one of the writing projects I am currently engaged with.  (In this blog, I will discuss both academic and fiction writing–the two very different sides of my literary endeavors).  I am currently setting out plans to turn part of this dissertation into an academic book.   I will give more on that as I progress.

And, I will continue to discuss what I am working on in both realms of writing.  All comments are welcome.

introduction

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“Why don’t you simply commit to being a writer?” My wife asked me that question several years ago, and I had no answer for her.

I have been an educator, in the roles of substitute teacher, high school English teacher, and college English instructor since 1988. Teaching has been a driving passion for me most of my adult life, but I had always felt another tug to express my love of words and reading in another direction. For many years, I had merely dipped a foot into the churning river of writing, but I had never decided to jump into those turbulent waters and immerse myself.

“You can be both a teacher and a writer,” Liz said to me, and she was correct.

My life has been intrinsically and intricately interwoven with books. I cannot remember a time when I could not read. I was an active and happy child, but much of that happiness came from my absorption into books. I consider reading to be one of life’s great pleasures, along with romance, travel, and cooking and eating. Even though I have started later than most writers, I am now a reader of books, a teacher of literature, and a writer of books.
Most writers begin their creative journeys in their teens or twenties. My beginning, however, like most of the rest of the paths in my life, has not followed the typical course. I was an adult student, earning My Bachelor’s degree in my mid-thirties, and now, in my fifties, I have just earned my Ph.D. in English Literature from Lehigh University. Just like my career as a student, my career as a writer has begun at its own pace.

I do not, however, consider the relatively late start to be an impediment; rather, it is a strength. I can say, with complete certainty, that in addition to being a college professor, I am also now a writer. Regardless of the outcome of my writing, of the level of success I achieve, I will continue to write for the rest of my life.