April 14, 2014

Made It Moment: Rita Plush

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 9:54 pm

Lily Steps Out
Rita Plush describes something below that I think almost any emerging writer can relate to wanting to do. Only Rita Plush did it. Worked up her nerve and…really did it. With surprising effects–ones I would never have anticipated, especially in the particular scenario you’re just about to read. And it became Rita’s path to making it. What do you think? Would you have the nerve? And in the end–what do we really have to lose, when the gain just might be a Moment?

Rita Plush

Back in the summer of 2004, after reading that Joyce Carol Oates was giving an author talk at a local library, I decided to print out the first chapter of my novel, Lily Steps Out (Penumbra Publishing 2012), enclose it in a SASE and bring it to the reading.

She’ll say NO? She’ll say NO. Nothing ventured. Nothing gained.

Off the library I went and sat through her talk, clutching my offering with sweaty hands and a pounding heart, and all the while instructing myself, DO IT! DO IT!.

Full disclosure, I was starting to chicken-out. Her presentation over, I queued up to buy her book and ask her, beg if necessary, to read my chapter. My turn came. She autographed my book. I mustered all my courage.

“Ms. Oates,” I said, “I’m a writer too and I’ve written a novel. It would mean so much to me if you would read the first chapter.”

“Oh, I can’t,” she said. “People ask me all the time. I just don’t have the time.”

“Ms. Oates,” I said. “You’re like a movie star to me.” (This is true.) “I’ve read almost all of your novels and your collections of short stories more than once.”

I could sense the impatience of the crowd behind me waiting their turn. Move it lady, someone muttered behind me, but lady didn’t move. Lady stood there citing short stories Oates had written years and years before, until finally, I heard, “Send it to me at Princeton.” Words from heaven. I flew home, called the college, got her address and ran to the post office.

About a month or so later I received this typewritten postcard:

Sept. 17. 2004
9 Honey Brook Drive
Princeton, New Jersey 08540

Dear Rita Plush,

Your story is very engagingly written. The voice is shrewd, sharp, funny, and yet tender. Perhaps the theme of the “Middle-aged housewife who becomes impatient with her life” is somewhat familiar, so it’s difficult to make such material distinction. Still this is promising, and might well make a readable and marketable novel. Good luck!

Joyce Carol Oates

I couldn’t believe it! But there it was, from her brilliant fingertips —Joyce Carol Oates, the esteemed, prolific—she has her own Book of the Month Club, and why shouldn’t she? the woman writes a book a month—the most fabulous of the fabulous, whose books I loved, whose short stories I swooned over—Joyce Carol Oates liked my chapter. She thought it PROMISING! If something could be worn out by looking at it, that postcard would be dust today.

When I knew my book was to be published, I scanned the post card onto a letter asking Ms. Oates if I could use the quote on the cover. A few weeks later I received the reply, “Of course you can. Good luck!”

And there it reads on the cover of Lily Steps Out:

“…engagingly written. The voice is shrewd, sharp, funny, and yet tender.”

My Made It Moment… brought to me by Joyce Carol Oates.

Rita Plush is an author, teacher and lecturer on the decorative arts. She is the facilitator of the Self-published Authors’ Roundtable that meets every month at the Manhasset Library in Manhasset, LI. Rita presented her talk, “Writing & Publishing in the Modern Age, or So You’ve Written a Book; Now What?” at the Limmud Conference of Jewish Learning in February, 2014. During her thirty-five years as an interior designer, Rita was the coordinator of the Interior Design/Decorating Certificate Program at Queensborough Community College and taught several courses in the program.

April 8, 2014

Made It Moment: Cathi Stoler

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 9:48 am

Keeping Secrets

In many ways, writing is a leap into the abyss, and a study in audacity. I mean, come on. What allows little old us to think that by dint of sheer slashes and dots on a page, we can entice a reader to enter a world we have completely made up? Yet it happens. Time and time again, a little bit of magic in our everyday life. The ability to do this thing is a mystery–at least to me–but what certain writers have the ability to drill down to is how we find the faith to try and do it. To think that we can write a book. Cathi Stoler knows exactly what led her to dare such a feat, and it became her Made It Moment.

Cathi Stoler

My “Made It Moment” came sitting at desk in an adult education course at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City. The course, entitled “How To Overcome Your Fear of Writing Your Novel”, had gotten my attention when I read the description in the school’s brochure and I convinced myself now was the right time to pursue a dream I’d had for many years.

I’d been a voracious reader since I was a very little girl and had read every Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys story I could get my hands on. As I grew older, I graduated to Ian Fleming, Sue Grafton, Joy Fielding, James Patterson, Michael Connolly and many other mystery/suspense writers, always wondering if maybe I could write a book of my own.

In my day job, I was already a writer—an advertising copywriter with many years of experience with award winning work for well-known brands. But, I realized that writing a :30 second TV commercial was a whole lot different than writing a 70,000+ word book. I didn’t know if I had it in me or if what I’d write would be any good.

So, I got my courage up and enrolled in the course. Our instructor, Alyson Richman, a wonderful writer of historical fiction, gave us an assignment each week. She’d read the work at home and pick a few pieces to share with us at the next session and class members would critique them. When she chose the first chapter of my novel to read, I told myself this was it: if it didn’t go well–if they hated it–I’d forget about writing a mystery and stick with reading them instead.

Fortunately, my classmates liked the work very much and wanted to see more. And while I know that the class’ opinion probably shouldn’t have mattered that much, it did. It gave me the encouragement to go on and complete my first novel, and since then, several others. I look back on that class and my fellow writers, two of whom became good friends and writing group cohorts, and know I would never have gotten this far without them.

Cathi Stoler’s mysteries feature P.I. Helen McCorkendale and magazine editor, Laurel Imperiole. Her first, Telling Lies, takes on the subject of stolen Nazi art. Other books in the series include, Keeping Secrets, which delves into the subject of hidden identity and The Hard Way, a story of International diamond theft. She has also published a novella, Nick of Time, and several short stories including Magda, in Criminal Element’s Malfeasance Occasional: Girl Trouble and Out of Luck, featured in the Sisters in Crime Anthology, Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices. Her story, Fatal Flaw, published at Beat to A Pulp was a finalist for the Derringer for Best Short Story. Cathi is a member of Mystery Writers of America, as well as Sisters in Crime and posts at the womenofmystery.net blog.

March 26, 2014

Made It Moment: Julie Lindsey

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 7:50 am

Murder Comes Ashore

You know that bar? The one we keep setting for ourselves? It’s like a horizon in some ways. As soon as we believe we’ve neared it, there it goes, slipping off into the unreached trammels of our lives again. In this Moment, author Julie Lindsey talks with pain and raw honesty about how that bar can become a noose around our necks, strangling our own sense of accomplishment. It took Julie’s son to remind her, Wizard of Oz-style, that really she had made it all along. And you know what? Julie’s son reminded me of that, too.

Julie Lindsey

My made it moment came in September when my 10 year old son asked to take a copy of my new release, Deceived, to show his teacher. That book is prettier than my others. It’s a young adult suspense novel. It’s hardcover with a fancy black jacket. There’s a picture of me in the back. All the things I’d dreamed of, but none of that impressed me because I was too busy seeing all the things I hadn’t accomplished. Then, my son who has zero interest in reading the book, asked to show it to his teacher. My heart collapsed. It was a moment I’ll never forget and one I hold onto in the other, tougher times of author life. This is the moment that I realized I made it.

As an only child and dogged over-achiever, I’m driven to reach goals. All goals. When I made writing for publication a goal, I had no idea I was shooting for the impossible. I may as well have decided to move to LA and become an actress. I know that now. I didn’t then. Couple the reality with my personality and I was all set for tears and disappointment. And they came. Regularly.

In the beginning, I thought finding an agent would be when I knew I really made it. I found an agent. It wasn’t the moment I’d expected. She still had to sell my book. That made me nervous so I targeted a small press, hoping for a contract so I could learn, work with an editor and maybe gain a readership. I landed a contract with the small press soon after. Made it moment? Not really. The contract was for a novella. I wanted print. I wrote more for that press. I now have three novels in print with this press, plus three novellas. Made it? Not really. They were a small press. Meanwhile, my agent found a home for my YA and I signed a contract with Merit Press for Deceived. Made it? No. Merit Press got me invited to book events, put on panels, reviewed by the big guns. Made it? Not really. ARCs came. Made it? No. Author copies arrived! Made it? Not really. It’s on bookstore shelves! I have a theatrical-style trailer! Made it? Nah. Deceived wasn’t in most stores. Sales weren’t what I expected. Editorial reviews were lukewarm. The bar in my mind kept raising out of reach. Then, I signed a three book contract with Carina Press (a digital imprint of Harlequin) for a cozy mystery series. Made it? I didn’t know. At that point, I’d worked myself into a funk.

You see, when I look back at all the moments that I thought would matter, they didn’t. They came and went in a haze of “meh.” And I did that to myself. My eyes weren’t on the real point of publishing – or life – anymore, so all the milestones I ran toward seemed insignificant once I arrived.

And then, September.

My son asked to take my book to school and show his teacher. Poof. Everything else fell away. He was proud of me.

It was a much needed moment of clarity.

I’d “made it” the moment I decided to write a novel and then saw it through. I wrote a freaking NOVEL. Who does that? How many people have lots of great ideas for a novel and never begin. Or never finish? Too many. But I did it. I set a goal and I accomplished it. And my kids were watching. They saw me chase a dream. They saw my efforts pay off. Saw that anything is possible. Learned hard work and determination can take you anywhere. My kids don’t care how much money I make or what reviewers think. All they know is their mom is an author and she loves what she does. They’re proud of me. Without even trying, I taught them a priceless life lesson. Go after your dreams. They are attainable. All the other author-life hoopla is just noise. There’s always another goal lingering just out of reach, but focusing on that meant missing what I already had.

My kid taught me that.

Julie Anne Lindsey is a multi-genre author who writes the stories that keep her up at night. She’s a self-proclaimed nerd with a penchant for words and proclivity for fun. Julie lives in rural Ohio with her husband and three small children. Today, she hopes to make someone smile. One day she plans to change the world.

Murder Comes Ashore is a sequel in her new mystery series, Patience Price, Counselor at Large, from Carina Press.

March 17, 2014

Made It Moment: Susan Sundwall

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 5:15 pm

The Red Shoelace Killer

Lately I’ve been reading the Moments with music. It makes sense, I suppose. Both artistic expressions, words telling a story. When you read Susan Sundwall’s words, I dare you not to cry. Not because it’s sad but because it’s beautiful. This run we’re all on, right? Each of us seeking to tell and share our story. Sure, the years do slip away, as Susan so poignantly notes–and Jimmy Buffet does too in this song. But look what we can achieve along the way!

Susan Sundwall

I was in the airport waiting to board a plane with my new husband. As we happily discussed our future I, full of the ridiculous confidence of youth, said, “I will be a writer.” I wanted to assure him that I would be no slouch of a wife – I had a dream.

Then forty years went by at Mach 5 and I found myself sitting at work staring at a computer screen wondering what the devil had happened. Life happened, that’s what. Kids and critters happened, jobs and houses and in-laws happened. The dream had gone underground.

Oh, there were some tattered remnants of it along the way. Classes, contests, stinky novels under the bed. And then one day I wrote a story for a family newsletter – a Christmas story about a little sparrow. It met with such rave reviews I gave it to our pastor to read during the children’s service. It met with rave reviews.

The dream glimmered in the mist. And there I sat staring at the computer screen wondering what the Sam hill I was waiting for (for those under thirty that’s really old fashioned cussing). I decided to go seeking online. I needed to know what I was up against. Turned out the world was overflowing with writer wannabes and needy me befriended some of them.

New vistas opened up for me then. I wrote and sold to small markets. Each acceptance goaded me on. I landed a lucrative assignment for a writer’s guide. I got praise for my humerous essays and children’s stories. But the book was the thing. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. The book you just know will strike a cord in a half million readers if only you could get it out there. I forged on – and on.

Landing a publishing contract is no small feat and if it takes ten years, like with my book, it can be discouraging. Suddenly you have great sympathy for Sisyphus. But then that bright, gasping, beautiful day comes when someone sees your book like you do, and you’re offered a contract. And ten months later you find yourself signing book after book at your launch where almost sixty people come to buy your book and congratulate you.

And when it was over, forty years dropped away at Mach 5, and the young girl inside whispered, “Hey, writer, I think you’ve made it.”

Thank you so much, Jenny, for letting me tell it!

Susan Sundwall and her husband live in a one hundred and fifty year old house on four lumpy bumpy acres lined with pine trees in Columbia County, New York. Her work has appeared in several anthologies including two stories in the popular Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Many of her poems, essays, and articles on writing have also been published. Her first mystery,The Red Shoelace Killer – A Minnie Markwood Mystery, was published in 2012. Her second book in the series is written and she has high hopes of hitting some bestseller list sometime, somewhere, in any country, and in this century.

February 26, 2014

Carpe Diem: Windy Lynn Harris

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 7:55 pm

For some reason, this song is in my head as I share Windy Lynn Harris’ brave and insightful post. (It might be because Windy looks a little like Kacey Musgraves, but that isn’t the only reason, I promise.) Below are some thoughts about writing and risk. When’s the last time you took a risk? Yesterday? Years ago? Five seconds before? If you fear taking risks, ask yourself why. Because in the wise words of Windy, the other side of risk is not success or failure. It’s accomplishment.

Windy Lynn Harris

Take a Risk (or lots of them!)

Writing conferences and craft classes are important for a writer’s growth, but there’s something about heading off the map with a few other writers that can boost your creativity and encourage you to bloom like no other experience can. I have three dear writing friends who feel the same way. Twice a year we head to a remote area of northern Arizona for a writing-related getaway. Last weekend we did it again.

These writing friends and I have completely different writing interests and goals, but we all love the written word. At the getaway cabin, we wear yoga gear and pajamas. We cook meals together, do writing exercises, drink wine, meditate, study short stories, practice yoga, write poems, hike, read, watch movies, trade writing magazines, share book recommendations, and push each other to take new steps on our writing journey. We get talking about this writing life and what we want from it. This time around, we talked about taking risks.

Risk. Ugh. The thought of risking myself makes my pulse pound.

Risks are scary and uncertain, and are my least favorite part of being a writer. But risks are important. Important enough to discuss at a cabin in the woods with three trusted writing friends. One of us suggested we make a list of all the risks we took in 2013, as a way of looking at our creative life and what we’ve been willing to do to honor it. I blinked a few times and bit my lip.

She said it could be anything, even something small. Something you did without knowing where it would lead.

The first few things on my list were boring and non-writerly (I cooked with kale!), but after a while I wrote these down too:

  1. I finished a new draft of my book
  2. Took a class about scene development
  3. Sat with a literary agent and told her about my book
  4. Set clear boundaries around my writing time
  5. Queried other agents about my book
  6. Wrote something sexy
  7. Embraced social media
  8. Studied poems
  9. Added meditation to my writing routine
  10. Pitched myself as a guest speaker for writers events
  11. Started a new book
  12. Wrote short fiction
  13. Met new writing friends

Finishing that book was the most time-consuming risk I took. Telling a literary agent about it was the scariest. Starting a new book project was the most interesting and making new friends was the most fun. While we shared our risks out loud, I noticed that the items we’d listed didn’t really sound like risks, now that we’d already done them. They sounded more like accomplishments.

Which, it turns out, was the point of the exercise.

We decided that risks don’t have to be big things either. They are those times when we type out a clunky first draft hoping it will become something readable, and the hours spent revising a chapter that might not make the final cut. Risk is when we chose to stay in the chair and keep going even when we think it isn’t working. Risk is when we write and write and write without any guarantee of success for our efforts.

Luckily, risk does pay off for writers. When we take ourselves seriously enough to try something new or stretch ourselves beyond our writing-comfort, amazing things happen. We become better writers. Braver writers. Writers who eventually land bylines and and book contracts.

Risk might just be the most important part of this writing life, and something that we should embrace on a regular basis (a thought that has my pulse pounding again). But I’m not feeling nervous this week. Instead, I’m excited. Time at the cabin with supportive friends has renewed my excitement for this writing life, and I’m ready to tackle a whole new list of risks this year. I hope the same for each and every one of you.

Windy Lynn Harris writes short stories, essays, and suspense-filled novels. As a former weekly entertainment columnist for Nights and Weekends, Windy earned her first awards for short humor pieces. Her work has been seen in dozens of magazines across the US and Canada, including Raising Arizona Kids, Cahoots, and 34th Parallel.

She has shared her writing experience as a guest speaker with many Arizona writing groups, including the Phoenix Writers’ Club, The Professional Writers of Prescott, the Scottsdale Society of Women Writers, and the Arizona Authors Association.

February 19, 2014

Made It Moment: Tilia Klebenov Jacobs

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 10:24 am

Wrong Place Wrong Time

We’ve heard a lot from writers on the traditional/indie fence lately. The debate to my mind should be less of a debate and more of a weighing of the pros and cons of each deserving path. That’s what author Tilia Jacobs did, and with some very good reasons for deciding, she chose a path. I won’t steal her thunder by revealing what it was. But the reason I’m featuring Tilia is not simply because she has a good story, or because her reasoning on this question is sound. It’s not because we agree on a lot of things, because we actually disagree about a fair amount. For example, I’ve found traditional publishing to be very different from her experience with it (and no, that didn’t just give the whole thing away). The reason I’m sharing this piece is because Tilia has a simply great Moment. One that takes that indie/trad fence…and knocks it all to bits.

Tilia Klebenov Jacobs

First off, I must thank Jenny for offering me this spot on her blog.  What a splendid, ongoing source of inspiration!

And now for that moment.

I wrote my book because I had a story stuck in my head and characters I took to bed with me every night.  I wrote it because I loved it.  Happily, I still do.

Even more happily, I am not the only one who feels this way.  When it was still a manuscript I sent it out to a flock of Beta readers who said lovely things like, “This was the only thing I could read for three days,” and “I called my mom in the middle to tell her how great it was,” and “I couldn’t put it down—my wife was yelling at me to do the things I usually do, like sleep.”

Then it won an award, and more people told me how exciting it was, and how the characters drew them in.  I basked; I beamed.

So when the twenty-sixth agent turned it down, I got a little cranky.

“This is stupid!” I fumed.  “By the time I get published, half my characters will be dead.”

My nine-year-old, always my biggest cheerleader, agreed with me.   He knows my secondary characters are old.

My “Aha!” moment came when I gave myself permission to indie pub.  Some might call it a “Duh” moment.  I won’t argue.

It took a while.  I had, alas, drunk freely of the traditional-publish Kool-Aid.  “Don’t do it,” people said.  “It’s the last refuge of the unpublishable writer.  You’ll torpedo your career.”

But.  William Blake, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Rudyard Kipling, Edgar Allen Poe, Mark Twain, Gertrude Stein, and many others self-published.

This, I thought, is not a bad club to be in.

Then I met several writers who had indie pubbed.  Not one regretted it.

“Aha!” I cried.  (Or perhaps, “Duh!”)  “I can do this too.”

The real joy set in when I realized that in the absence of an agent, an editor, and a traditional publisher, I was the last word on quality.  Being a Type A who doesn’t really want to turn her work over to a team of people who can edit mistakes into it (wish I were kidding about that), I embraced each moment of the indie pub process.  Formatting the book for print.  Working with an artist on the cover, and then the trailer.  Re-formatting for Kindle.  I was shocked at how much fun this was.  Getting my much-loved story ready for its publication date felt like helping a firstborn daughter dress for her debutante ball.

My proof copy arrived one evening just before dinner.  I opened the box and—

—and it was my book.  It wasn’t pages from my printer or a bound copy I had made up at Staples.  It wasn’t an image on my computer.  It was My Book, and it was in my hands and it was solid and real.  It was my work and love for the past several years.

I screamed.  My kids screamed.  Literary euphoria took over the house.

That night after dinner my nine-year-old said, “Mommy, I want to make dessert.”  Giggling, he retired to the kitchen where he very carefully spelled out the word “Author” on a plate with chocolate-covered raisins.

And that was the sweetest Moment of all.

Tilia Klebenov Jacobs has won numerous awards for her fiction and nonfiction writing. She is a judge in the Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition, and teaches writing in two prisons in Massachusetts. Tilia lives near Boston with her husband, two children, and two standard poodles. Tilia is the author of Wrong Place, Wrong Time, available at Amazon and select indie bookstores.

February 14, 2014

Guest Post: Jane Risdon

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 9:17 am

In A Word: Murder

There turns out to be a pairing of literary losses and angels here on the blog right now. Jane Risdon is both. She’s part of an anthology whose proceeds benefit a lost light from the crime writing world. But Jane has also suffered herself during her life, and if you read her blog (or her moment from last year) you’ll see that if you point to a world catastrophe, well, there’s a good chance Jane was nearby for it. And writing while she was at it. That’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, but only a bit, and in a way, it’s what’s going on on the blog right now, I think. A celebration of the writing spirit, of the sense that if you love and labor over words, that will help you survive a lot. For proof, just meet Jane.

Jane Risdon

In 2012 I was fortunate enough to meet (online) an inspirational and talented mystery author who is also a prolific blogger and a professor at a California university, who has shown a great interest in my work and is a wonderful source of support for me as a crime/mystery writer.

She has always read my stories and pieces of flash fiction and commented favourably upon them and so when she accepted two of my short stories for her anthology, In A Word: Murder, I was over the moon.

Margot Kinberg decided to put together an anthology in memory of her good friend and prolific blogger, crime writer, and editor, Maxine Clarke, who died last year.  The anthology is in aid of The Princess Alice Hospice where Maxine passed away and all funds raised go to them.

But in 2012, my own hard time hit. On Boxing Day, I fell down the stairs. I broke my shoulder and collar bone and so any movement using my left shoulder has been agony and typing was especially painful. But, I had those two pieces for the anthology to write, and was determined to get them completed so they could be included.

I was due to have an operation on my injuries in January 2014 but when I was actually about to have my anaesthetic, the surgeon decided my shoulder still needed time to stabilise – he described my injuries as being similar to those suffered by a twenty something biker coming off his machine at high speed, or the injuries he had encountered on soldiers returning from a war-zone.

This is not the first time I’ve encountered obstacles that almost prevented me from achieving my goals. I finished recording an album in 1992 in Los Angeles during the riots there and later in 1994 – again recording an album – was there during the Northridge Earthquake.

Most of my plans for 2013 and so far 2014 have been on hold or have been progressing very slowly due to my injuries.  It has been a very disappointing time for me but the one bright light in the whole year has been my contributions to this anthology.  It has kept me writing and determined to carry on whatever happens.

Jane Risdon is a writer of Fiction working on a Crime Novel called ‘Ms Birdsong Investigates’, about a 40 something ex MI5 agent who has retired (under a cloud) to a rural village where she hopes to lose herself and anyone who might be seeking her. She is thrilled to be contributing to an Anthology of Crime Stories set in the world of Publishing alongside award winning authors from all over the world.

February 13, 2014

Guest Post: Mark Stevens

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 10:38 am

The Asphalt Warrior

There have been literary angels in my life, as many of you know. One of them made my writing dream come true. This is a post by a writer who’s serving as someone else’s literary angel. Someone who isn’t with us anymore. It’s a post about talent, it’s a post about words. It’s also a post about regret—Mark’s. Yes, even though Mark served as this angel, bringing books to life that never otherwise would’ve been read, he has some pretty intense regrets. Most of all, though, this is a post about never giving up. Words we all need a literary angel to remind us of from time to time.

By the way, if you come to admire this writer as much as I do, you can also read his 2012 Made It Moment. And of course, you can buy the books Mark is making into a legacy. No regrets, I want to tell him. Just pure poetry.

Mark Stevens

Regrets? I’ve had a few.

One bothers me more than most.

I knew it at the time, when I first read Gary Reilly’s stuff.

We’d meet in coffee shops, frequently the Europa Café on South Pennsylvania Street in Denver. Hip joint. Cool vibe.

Gary would pluck a stack of things from his satchel—offbeat fiction he’d found in the used bookstores along Broadway. He’d pull out cheap paperbacks, maybe a manuscript of mine that he had edited for the fifth or sixth time. He’d tell me the story of some B-movie he’d stayed up to watch. The guy loved movies.

And, over the years, he’d hand me one of the novels he had written.

About 25 of them.

This was years ago, when he was healthy and hearty and could talk for hours. Two rounds of large iced lattes, no problem.

I’d take the novels home—one at a time.

I was astounded at the sheer range of voices the guy produced—the comic adventures of his erstwhile cab driver Murph (the star of 11 novels), two dark psychological thrillers, some sci-fi, some fantasy, some straight-up, multi-generational all-American fiction and two of the best Vietnam-era novels I’ve ever read.

During our years of coffees, I went from “unpublished” status to “published.” Yes, a small indie publisher but I got an advance; it was a regular deal. Nobody could have been happier for me than Gary Reilly.

Here’s where the regret comes in.

I just re-read the first of the Vietnam-era books again: The Enlisted Men’s Club.

Gary ReillyPoetry on every poetry. We’re in the Presidio, in San Francisco, and Private Palmer is waiting orders to ship out to Vietnam. All he wants to do is drink beer and avoid “shit details.” Nearly 100,000 words of raw honesty. Gary drew on his own experiences (he served as an MP in Qui Nhon) and The Enlisted Men’s Club takes you smack back to the mood and the feeling of that messy political era.

Here are the opening two paragraphs (following a brief prologue):

The ground is damp where Private Palmer is standing, sandy, with some sort of small-leafed green vine which wraps itself around everything planted in the earth—the white wooden legs of the NCOIC tower, a picket line of telephone poles, even the rows of smooth white rocks as large as footballs which border the sides of the dirt drive leading into the rifle range.

The sky is overcast and the wind is blowing hard, making Palmer’s fingertips ache each time he pinches a brass-jacketed round of ammunition and tries to stuff it into a spring-loaded magazine. His gloves are in the pockets of his field-jacket because this isn’t the kind of work you can do wearing gloves, you have to do it bare handed. Colorado raised, he’s used to the stale dry mile-high bite of lifeless Rocky winters, not these damp, heat-sapping, muggy mists blown inland from the coastal waters at dawn. San Francisco Bay is hidden by barren brown hills which border the rifle range, but he can still smell the odor of beached fish in the air.

I read The Enlisted Men’s Club and knew Simon & Schuster would need only tweak four or five typos to turn it into a book today. Flawless, perfectly paced and beautifully structured. The ending is a piece of work—a fine insight into humanity that gives a ray of hope to what is otherwise a fairly bleak tale.

And, now that Gary is gone (he died nearly three years ago), I was near tears as I read The Enlisted Men’s Club.

I’m angry that I didn’t stand him up, march him out of the coffee shop, drive him to a place where I could really give him a piece of my mind—that he needed to do more to get his damn books published.

I was frustrated at the time that Gary wouldn’t send out more queries.

But I didn’t really do anything about it.

I was frustrated at the time that Gary wouldn’t come to RMFW events, to network and find a path to publication.

But I didn’t really do anything about it.

When I’d ask him if he wanted a list of agents to contact, he said would think about it. He’d give me a little shrug of the shoulders. Self-promotion and marketing weren’t part of his DNA.

But I didn’t insist.

I should have made an issue out of it.

Gary would go back home—and write. We’d meet again in six weeks or so and he would have polished up another manuscript.

The guy was born to write and tell stories. He wrote (obviously) for the sheer joy of it. He was fascinated about the process. He loved words like nobody I have ever met.

Twenty-five novels and most (in my mind) could go straight to print.

Five Murph (The Asphalt Warrior) novels have been published so far and the response has been terrific. One Colorado Book Award finalist, two number one Denver Post best-sellers, and reviews coming in from all over the country—and around the world. Murph has followers on Facebook and Twitter.

Because Gary was a vet, the Vietnam Veterans of America website just reviewed all five of Gary’s books—and raved.

The VVA is waiting on his Vietnam novels, of course. If all goes well, The Enlisted Men’s Club will be out late this spring or early summer. Readers will not be disappointed. I guarantee it.

When readers start to see Gary Reilly’s range and his storytelling ability, I have a feeling my case of regret will only get worse.

What’s the lesson for the rest of us? Sure, write up a storm. Sit in that coffee shop. But get out there and network—knock on every door, query everyone in sight, never give up.





This article was originally published by the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and is reprinted with permission.

Mark Stevens is the monthly programs coordinator for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan. Book three in the series, Trapline, will be published by Midnight Ink in November 2014. Mark is also a partner in Running Meter Press, the company publishing Gary’s works. All proceeds from the company are going to Gary’s longtime girlfriend.

February 11, 2014

Made It Moment II: Judy Mollen Walters

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 12:21 pm

The Opposite of Normal

It’s not every day that I get to do two very special things. One, feature the Moment of a dear friend. And two, celebrate her release day right here on the blog! I met Judy Walters when we were both struggling to get published (Judy’s first Moment can be read here). Our dinners and lunches often included much head-scratching (and even hair-tearing) and yet they became some of the most pleasurable times for me along this writing road. In the end, or the beginning, as it may be more accurate to say, Judy and I wound up walking two very different paths. Yet our goals are the same. To tell stories that mean something to us, and that reach readers. I hope that you will become, as I am, a fan of Judy’s work. Her new book just out today should definitely set that in motion!

Judy Mollen Walters

This is going to sound strange, but my Made it Moment is the day I fired my agent, about seven months ago.

This is not going to be a post about hating on traditional publishing. I have lots of traditionally published friends, like Jenny. They’ve found their way in this big, bad world of publishing, and they’re happy.

This is about finding my own way.

I was with my agent for four years.  She was with one of the biggest, most well-known literary agencies in New York.  She had a solid name herself – had worked in publishing, and then in movies, for years.  She was friends with some of the biggest editors in the industry. A simple phone call put my manuscript in their hands.

Yet she couldn’t sell my first manuscript.

My second manuscript was a lot stronger. This time we’d used a developmental editor.  My agent tried to sell it, but this time…let’s say her enthusiasm waned earlier in the process.  She wanted me to e-book it with her agency, in a new program they’d started for writers like me. After a while, I agreed to this.  And six months later, my book came out.

During that time, I was writing another book. I’d titled it The Opposite of Normal.  Again, I used a developmental editor, and I was really proud of this book. Felt really good about it.

My agent and I had never communicated very well, and at long last, with this special book, I realized I would not get what I wanted from her.  She didn’t have the same vision for this book as I did, or frankly, for my publishing career in general.  I was tired of spinning my wheels with her. So after four years of trying to work together, I let her go.

I thought about going to another agent. There are so many reputable, wonderful, solid agents out there. But the book was ready. It was ready now.   And I had already given up so much to try to publish traditionally. I wanted the control back.

So for the last six months or so, I’ve been on this great journey of doing it all by myself. I’ve loved most minutes of it – from choosing the cover to doing my own PR and marketing, from writing my own jacket copy to choosing my own conversion company for the Kindle files. (It’s coming out in both paperback and on Kindle.)  There have been minutes of despair and frustration, too – like trying to get the Kindle files to work, setting up my Amazon site, and learning how many people don’t consider an independent book a book worthy of reading.  But the deep satisfaction I have – my “other” Moment – is doing it all myself and being proud of the work I’ve done.

Judy Mollen Walters is the author of Child of Mine (2013) and The Opposite of Normal (February 11, 2014). She is the Stay-at-home mother of two teenage daughters, and lives with her family in New Jersey, where she is at work on her next novel.

February 6, 2014

Guest Post: Charles Salzberg

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 5:35 pm

Devil in the Hole

Let’s face it, this writing life can be hard. Really hard. We writers get faced with rejection from the moment we start. Sometimes before we even start, someone tries to cut us off at the knees. That’s why we need to be connected to those who have gone before–Dennis Lehane calls this “sending the elevator down”. And why we need writing mentors and supports in our lives. I’d like to welcome Charles Salzberg back to the blog. Charles has been a mentor to me as a writer, and has shared his first moment and second moment right here. Today he’s got something a little different, a story about a writer who nearly got struck down before he’d even begun. And some perspective on why the writer never should’ve listened.

Next time someone tries to cut you off at the knees? Tell ‘em Charles told you to stand tall.

Charles Salzberg

The other day I got to the class I teach a little early and one of my long-time students, a wonderful writer who has just about completed his fascinating memoir chronicling twenty years of addiction while living (and scoring) primarily in Brooklyn and the East Village, was sitting there. I asked him if there was any progress on his book—he’d just started sending it out to agents after already having some interest from editors. And rightly so. His voice is unique, even if his story isn’t. But through his tales of the trials and tribulations of being hooked on just about everything from cocaine to heroin, you not only get to see what and who an addict really is, but how one can live at least the semblance of a “normal” life.

“I got my first rejection. They said that for a book like this, you’d have to be famous. That no one’s publishing memoirs of unknown people anymore.”

“That’s ridiculous,” I said. “Lots of memoirs are written by unknowns and besides, there are famous people who run through your book.”

I gave him a pep talk and then class started. But I couldn’t get what he said out of my mind because I hear it all the time. “You can’t do this.” “No one is buying that anymore.”

My advice to writers is simple: Ignore those kinds of comments. Don’t ever let anyone tell you what you can’t do or shouldn’t do or better not do. It’s something I (and other writers) have heard throughout our careers and if we listened to it, we wouldn’t write. To me, it’s just a lazy shorthand way of dismissing work before actually reading it and judging it on its own merits, because as far as I’m concerned good writing can overcome any rules.

When I wrote my first novel, Swann’s Last Song, I broke the cardinal rule of detective/mystery writing. My protagonist, Henry Swann, follows a long trail of clues and yet, at the end, does not solve the crime. “You can’t have a detective novel where the detective doesn’t solve the crime,” I was told over and over again. Finally, after 25 years, I changed the ending and sold the book. But it doesn’t end there. When the book came out in paperback I included my original ending, and not to my surprise everyone who read both endings preferred my original.

The same thing happened to me with my latest novel, Devil in the Hole, which is told from the perspective of at least two dozen people. That means that practically every chapter is told in the first person voice of a different character. When I sent it out to agents and a few editors, I got pretty much the same reaction, “great story, great writing, but we can’t publish a book with so many characters telling the story. The reader will get confused.”

I knew they were wrong and when I sent the ms. to my present publisher, Five-Star, they loved it. It was published in August and in the almost two dozen reviews I’ve received since then, not one person has complained about being confused by the multiple narrators. Not only that, readers seem to love the way the book is structured. So much for the wisdom of professionals.

The bottom-line is, you have to trust your instincts. If you’re a good enough writer you can make anything old new and make anything unworkable work. Once you realize that, you’ll pretty much have your own “made it moment.”

Charles Salzberg is a New York-based novelist, journalist and acclaimed writing instructor.

His new novel, Devil in the Hole, a work of literary crime fiction based on the notorious John List murders, is on the shelves now. He is also the author of the Henry Swann detective series: Swann’s Last Song, which was nominated for a Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel; Swann Dives In; and the upcoming Swann’s Lake of Despair.

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