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O’Rorke’s Restaurant in Gettysburg, PA, where the Gettysburg Writers Brigade meets.

 

On any given Wednesday night, on the second floor of O’Rorke’s Restaurant in Gettysburg, you’ll find a group of men and women gathered around a long table. Some of them will be eating, some sipping a beer, many of them talking to each other. Newcomers are welcome to the group, but if you sit down, you had better be ready to hear some unusual topics of conversation. How do you make dialogue snappier? How do you use Facebook to promote your writing? How do you get your novel published? Members of the Gettysburg Writers Brigade are all likely to have an opinion on the topics and probably not the same opinion, but that diversity of ideas is what makes the group so useful.

Writing a book is on a lot of people’s bucket lists, but they don’t know how to get started. The blank page that they are expected to fill with words can be intimidating.

You don’t have to face the challenge alone or uninformed, though. The Gettysburg Writer’s Brigade has been helping writers navigate the pitfalls of writing a book for nearly seven years and at the same time offering encouragement to those writers.

Will Hutchison, an author of three novels and two non-fiction books, formed the group in 2010.

“I think writers need to talk to writers and I wanted to get together with some writers to talk,” he said.

Since January 4, 2010, the group has had 372 official meetings and numerous unofficial ones. The official meetings are about 60 percent social and 40 percent writing technique with a little bit of critiquing thrown in, according to Hutchison. It seems to be a combination that works. Group membership has grown from six to eight members to 83 members on Meetup.com and 8 to 12 people on average attending the Wednesday night sessions.

Curt Herring is one of the newest members of the group. He joined in July 2016 when he was looking for tips on how to write a book about his father. A neighbor who was a member of the group told him about it.

“I like the fellowship and I’m learning something new every week,” Herring said. “I look forward to it each week.”

Not everyone in the group is an unpublished author. When the Gettysburg Writers Brigade first began, Hutchison was the only published author, but now he estimates that a third of the group has either had articles, books, poetry or something else published.

 

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Gettysburg Writers Brigade Founder Will Hutchison

“More people are getting published and that’s the bottom line,” Hutchison said.

 

Gail Furford joined the group in 2012 and now has two books published. “I like the input I get from each member,” she said. “I like learning from each other’s styles.

Even the group’s founder learns from the meetings. He has had two of his books published since the group started meeting.

“This group has also helped me write the books. I bounce ideas off the group and get feedback from the critiques,” Hutchison said.

While most writer’s groups are critiquing sessions that can be quite brutal to an insecure author, the Gettysburg Writer’s Brigade only does readings once a month. The group critiques must be constructive to help the author and not tear down the writer’s confidence or enthusiasm for writing.

A typical meeting begins with members filtering in a half hour or more before the meeting just to talk about what is happening in their lives. Between 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. when it looks like everyone who is going to show up is in the room, Hutchison will get the group’s attention. Sometimes there are some general announcements to be made. Other times, he simply gets started on the evening’s presentation. It will be something having to do with writing, whether it’s technique, marketing, publishing or something else. Each week’s topics are decided on by the group at the end of the previous meeting.

“There’s a lot of pressure to have a presentation each week, but this is how the group likes it,” Hutchison said.

He originally thought the Gettysburg Writer’s Brigade would meet monthly, but the members enjoy the regularity of weekly meetings.

“It’s fun to sit with people who are going through exactly the same things you’ve gone through writing,” Hutchison said.

Furford agreed. “I’m getting so much more than I expected out the group learning from people’s different styles and the various topics,” she said.

Other posts that you might like:

 

 

 

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Here I am at The Book Center in Cumberland, MD, on Nov. 19. I’m the one on the left, in case you couldn’t tell.

I was doing some organizing the other week and decided to put all of my book ideas on a spreadsheet. At the time, they were written down on anything from a scrap of paper to pages. I put everything onto the spreadsheet including working title, genre, notes, and summary.

It took me quite a while to put together the spreadsheet because I kept finding scraps of paper in different folders in my filing cabinet. Eventually, I got everything transferred. At least I hope so. I haven’t found any idea scraps in a week or so.

My final list totals 92 book ideas!

I’m pretty prolific. I average about three books a years. That means that I have 33 years worth of books yet to do, and that’s only if I don’t add any more ideas to list. That won’t be happening. I’ve already added a new idea this month. My list also includes some books that are parts of series. The list might include an idea or two for additional books in the series, but what happens after that?

Now not all of those books will get written (obviously) because I won’t be able to flesh out the story enough to make it work. Still, when I look at the list, about a third of the titles already have a significant amount of writing done.

This is one of the reasons that I’ll never retire. I’ve got too much writing that I want to do.

The other reason that I won’t retire is that I enjoy what I’m doing. I still get frustrated at times from trying to figure something out or stressed out over deadlines, but overall, I love my job. I get to meet fascinating people and do fun activities (all in the name of research, of course!).

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was in elementary school, and now that I am, I’m going to make the most of it. That means I’ll be writing and writing and writing.

Here are some other posts that you might enjoy:

untitledI got a chance to go on television again the other week. The first time was last year when my co-author and I went on PCN’s PA Books to talk about The Last to Fall: The 1922 March, Battles & Deaths of U.S. Marines at Gettysburg. I’m not sure how much it boosted my book sales, but at least I got a chance to put it out there. I also heard back from some people who saw the show.

I was on the WHAG Sunday Newsmaker program on October 16. I got to talk about freelance writing and three of my books (although only two books made it into the clips on the web site). Here are the different clips if you’d like to take a peek. Enjoy!

Here are some other posts that you might like:

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Here’s an infrared photo believed to be of the Poe Toaster that appeared in Life Magazine. This haunting image is what I based Alexander Reynolds on in The Man Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe. I even gave him a limp to explain the need for what appears to be a walking stick in the photo.

When I was in high school in the 1980s, I heard about the tradition of the Poe Toaster and it stuck with me. Who was the mysterious man who came in the dead of night in the early hours of January 19 to leave roses and cognac on the grave of Edgar Allan Poe?

I think what really caught my attention was that it was an unbroken tradition that dated back to the 1940s and it continued until 2009 the bicentennial of Poe’s birth. Then the Poe Toaster disappeared just as mysteriously as he had appeared. Had the man died? Was it a group of men who decided to end their tradition on a big anniversary? Had the man who been the Toaster simply lost interest?

Those questions will probably remain unanswered and, in my opinion, should stay that way. What more fitting a tribute to the master of the horror and father of the detective novel than to have such a dark, unsolved mystery associated with him.

Luckily, so many others appreciated the tradition of the Poe Toaster that the Maryland Historical Society and Poe Baltimore chose a new Poe Toaster to continue the tradition. I think that’s wonderful, but I wish the Poe Toaster was still trying to be anonymous in his visit to the grave.

I believe that for such a tradition to continue for so long, and if the Toaster was a single man, that Edgar Allan Poe’s writing meant something deeply personal to him. That was the reason he kept his visit private.

It was also the reason I decided to write my novel, The Man Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe. I wanted to hypothesize just what could have happened to make Edgar Allan Poe such an important part of a person’s life that he would visit his grave for 65 years on bitterly cold January nights.

Now, because the Poe Toaster has become a tourist attraction, the visit is done during the day. However, at least his identity remains a secret for now.

The Poe Toaster is not the only unsolved mystery associated with Edgar Allan Poe. The reasons for his death also remain clouded in mystery. He was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore and wearing clothes that were not his own. Poe was admitted to Washington Medical Center where he died without explaining what had happened to himself. Even his medical records and death certificate have been lost to history.

Here’s a news clip about the return of the Poe Toaster in 2016 and a Baltimore Sun article here.

thI write a lot. I know I write a lot, but when I actually count the words I’m writing, it doesn’t seem like a lot.

I write 16-20 newspaper columns and magazine articles a month and probably average two books a year. That seems like a lot to me, but there’s so much more that I want to do, I wonder if I couldn’t push myself more to help clear that log jam of ideas that I have.

I tell my students that writers write so despite everything else that they may need to do as a freelance writer or independent author, they need to write each day. That’s easier said than done. For instance, yesterday I didn’t do any writing. I did a lot of research, interviewing, transcribing older interviews and marketing, but I didn’t do any writing.

That was discouraging, especially when I listened to a podcast interview in the evening and the author being interviewed was saying how at a minimum he writes about 500 words an hour and usually it’s closer to 2,000 words.

Wow. I shoot for 1,500 words a day. At that guy’s pace, I could have my daily writing done in 45 minutes.

One way that I’ve tried to combat this day-to-day variation in my schedule is to set a weekly total rather than a daily total. So my goal is to do 9,000 words a week (six days a weeks with Sundays off). I was making strong progress to meeting this and then October came along. Into my normal daily writing work, I had to add six classes I had to teach, four presentations, two festivals, and a weekend of required Boy Scout training. That much extra stuff send my weekly totals tumbling.

So I’m trying to build back up again. I’m doing well today. I’ve written about 1800-1900 words, but I’ve still got to make up for doing nothing yesterday. I should be able to, though. At least that’s what I’ll keep telling myself.

Do you set writing goals for yourself? What are they? How well do you do at keeping them? Does having a goal give you something to strive for or something to feel guilty about if you miss it?

Yes, I do feel guilty when I miss a target, but that doesn’t stop me from trying again. I know that having a goal makes me push myself a bit more. Maybe not enough sometimes, but I do know there have been times, where I’ve felt like stopping my writing and then looked at how close my goal was. “Just a few hundred more words!”

So get writing! Put your butt in your chair and start typing whether it’s an article or short story, first draft or final edit, get something on paper that wasn’t there yesterday. You’re a writer!

thomas-f-monteleoneI was going through my files today and I came across this article from 1996. It ran in a magazine called The Nightmare Express. Not only does it have some good information in it, it seems appropriate for the season. It also saw how my writing has improved from 19 years ago. I cleaned up the worst problems, I didn’t want to change it too much.

Not all writers can edit and not all editors can write. Finding someone who successfully wears both hats is an oddity. Thomas F. Monteleone is just such a person.

Monteleone’s last novel, The Blood of the Lamb, the story of a man cloned from the genetic material found on the Shroud of Turin, sold nearly 10,000 copies in hardcover and more than 175,000 paperback copies. The novel won him the 1993 Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel from the Horror Writers Association. His newest novel, The Resurrectionist, came out in October with a first hardcover printing of 50,000 copies. In the novel, Monteleone again looks at the darker side of religion with a U.S. Senator who discovers he has the power to raise people from the dead.

In between his first short story and his latest novel, Monteleone has written 20 novels, more than 100 stories, and more than 70 articles. He’s managed that great amount of material by sticking with his writing schedule.

“I try to make sure I do three or four hours of dedicated writing a day. That’s about all I can deal with. Any more than 10-12 pages a day and it’s garbage. I usually write five to six pages so three to four hours is all the time I need to write at a good level,” he said.

On the editing side of the business, Monteleone edits the critically acclaimed Borderlands anthologies, now in its fifth year. The other day when I was talking with him, Monteleone took a phone call from White Wolf Press, the publisher of the paperback editions of Borderlands. He had just been told that Borderlands 2 and Borderlands 3 were among White Wolf’s top five bestselling books.

Monteleone admits that editing Borderlands has been more work than he imagined. With a successful writing career, he certainly doesn’t need the headaches editing an anthology causes. So why does he do it?

“I didn’t like the direction of horror fiction in the late 1980’s. The boom was playing to serial killers with steaming organs. I was getting tired of it. The sub-genre of vampire fiction was getting stale. I wanted to do an original anthology to explore new directions in the field,” Monteleone said.

Borderlands the anthology was so successful (15 of the stories in Borderlands received nominations for Bram Stoker Awards, two stories won, and the anthology itself won rave reviews) that it allowed Monteleone to create Borderlands Press, a small-press that continues the direction of its namesake. After a rocky start (Monteleone’s partner mismanaged the company, not paying royalties and spending too much), Borderlands Press found its pace.

“We were on a treadmill the first three years and wound up in debt,” admitted Monteleone. “However, we’ve spent the last years getting out of debt. I like the company where it’s at now. It’s a small company that can’t get much bigger. We average about four titles a year.”

As with many small-press publishers, Monteleone feels the small press fills a need that large commercial publishers aren’t interesting in filling. “When the small press is good, it’s very good. It’s a good venue for people who otherwise wouldn’t get much exposure. It has a small audience. The publishers have scaled down budgets, publications numbers, and expectations of acceptable profit. It’s a specialized market.”

Monteleone estimates that he reads about 500-600 short stories a year, of which, 80 percent are for Borderlands. He also said of that amount 50-60 are publishable and only 20 go into Borderlands.

“I want to see stories that examine the genre in a new way that hasn’t been done before. I want a unique take. I don’t want to see the traditional horror elements. I want to go beyond that. I have no interest in reading my 85th vampire story,” he explained.

Other than lacking an original idea, why does he reject a story as unpublishable?

Monteleone said, “A lot of people don’t understand the basic story structure and how to unfold it dramatically. They speechify and lecture without letting the story carry. They don’t have a natural ear for dialogue. At least 50 percent of the stories I reject are because the dialogue is so tinny that a sardine factory wouldn’t use it to make cans. The writers can’t recreate how people talk. They don’t even realize it unless they are made aware and work at it. They need to talk out their dialogue. I can’t see any other way around it.”

Monteleone lists his should read horror as TED Klein (especially The Ceremonies), basic Stephen King (The Shining, The Dead Zone, Salem’s Lot), H.P. Lovecraft (not for style, but his uniqueness), Edgar Allan Poe, Henry Kutner, John Collier, Ray Bradbury, Peter Straub, and Joe Lansdale. In addition, according to Monteleone, some of horror’s most underrated authors who are definitely worth reading are Chet Williamson, David Silva, Bradley Denton, Nancy Holder, and Kim Antieau.

Monteleone’s advice to new writers: Keep writing and keep submitting your stories.

“Editor’s start to recognize your name. It means something to them. It means that you’re dedicated, prolific, and you’ll be around. They start feeling they’ll know who you are. It’s almost as important as what you say,” he said.

Which hat does Monteleone prefer wearing: Writer or editor?

Writer definitely.

“If you can write a good short story, you can write anything. It makes you a better writer by learning how to write a good story. It doesn’t make a lot of money, though. Novels allow you to develop characters, which is important. You can invest time and emotion in a character and make him live,” he said.

To see what Monteleone has been doing since this article, check out this page.

collage-2015I’ve been putting the finishing touches on my workshop for the Mid-Atlantic Fiction Writers Institute Writers Conference. It’s going to be a PowerPoint presentation. I sure hope I don’t run into some of the problems I’ve have giving PowerPoint presentations this year, such as having no way to project the presentation, having the project die on me during the presentation, and having the host computer mess up my formatting. Maybe fate is telling me not to do PowerPoint presentations!

I’ll be talking about writing historical fiction on Sunday, Aug. 9 from 9:15 a.m. to 11 a.m. I think I’ll be able to offer some useful insights not only about the fiction writing side of things, but also the historical side. I’m coming at the topic from the viewpoint of someone who write both non-fiction history as well as historical fiction.

I’m also sitting on a panel discussion with Tess Gerritsen, Robert Bidinotto, Merry Bond, Harrison Demchick, Leigh-Anne Lawrence, J.P. Sloan, Desiree Smith-Daughety, Mark Stevanus, and Jason Tinney about marketing, branding, and social media. We’ll be sharing tips and techniques to define, build, and get the word out about your books. I think I’ll record this session since I probably won’t be able to take notes while I’m participating in the discussion. This session is also on Sunday from 11:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

I’m excited for the conference not only as a presenter but also as an attendee. I plan on attending as many different workshops as I can. There’s a lot of talented writers who will be sharing their knowledge and I’m going to learn as much as I can.

I am definitely looking forward to Tess Gerritsen’s keynote address, “I’ve Got a Great Idea for a Book…Or Do I?”

There’s also sessions on worldbuilding, creating characters with psychological conditions, and thriller writing. I can see a usefulness of the topics not only with my current writing but also with stories I want to do in the future.

Even though Nora Roberts name is no longer in the conference title, she still supports the group and is hosting a book signing at the end of the conference for all of the presenters who have published books.

All in all, this is a great regional conference. Any authors who live within an hour or two of Hagerstown shouldn’t miss it. Check out the web site here.

collage-2015Looking for a way to jump start your writing? I’ve always found writer’s conferences give my enthusiasm a recharge. I mean, let’s face it, writing can be lonely work, and that isolation can lead to a waning of enthusiasm. A writer’s conference will put you amid a group of writers who will be talking about writing. Add to that workshops and talks and you’ll put your creativity on steroids.

I have never failed to leave a writer’s conference without some new ideas whether it on how to write, how to market, or some new contact that I want to pursue. I’m also anxious to start putting the things I’ve learned to use.

This year, I’ve discovered the Mid-Atlantic Fiction Writers Institute Conference in Hagerstown, Md., or rather, I rediscovered it. It used to be called the Nora Roberts Writers Institute Conference. I had seen that conference listed last year, but I thought it was a conference for romance writers so I had passed on it.

Now in its third year, the name has been changed to the Mid-Atlantic Fiction Writers Institute to make it clear that it has something to offer for writers of all genres. In fact, I’ll be teaching a session this year about writing historical fiction. Looking through the schedule for this year, I see sessions on science fiction, writing in general, thrillers, social media, independent publishing, fantasy, and more. I definitely see plenty of sessions that I’ll be attending to learn rather than simply teach.

Check out the web site for yourself and maybe I’ll see you there!

girl_writing_outsideNow that the weather has gotten very nice, I find myself spending some of my days in the sun room of my house. It’s bright and pleasant, but most importantly, it inspires me.

Not directly inspire me, but it improves my mood. I find that the attitude change helps me focus on my work.

It doesn’t have to be the sunroom that inspires me. Many times, all I need is change a change of place that gives my work a jumpstart. The other day simply taking my work into the living room and sitting in the sun started my creative juices flowing. I sat in a chair with my face in the sun reading and suddenly I was writing out the draft for the beginning of a chapter on a book that I’m writing.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that sometimes it is just a change of position that gets me moving forward. Sometimes, I’ll take a notebook and lay down on the floor and start writing.

On gorgeous days when it’s hard to stay inside, I will even go outside and sit in a hammock swing or take a trip to a local park.

So does a change of location or position give your writing a jumpstart? Where is your favorite spot to write?

BooksAlive-LinkedInI attended the Books Alive! Washington Writers Conference the other week as a panelist, but I also listened to different panels and picked up some good information. The panel that I enjoyed the most was the agents panel. Three agents spoke about what they want to see in a submission or hear in a pitch that can be made in about five minutes. Here are some of the things that I gleaned.

  • Start you pitch with a hook. Give them one or two sentences that will entice the agent to want to know more about the project (this works equally well for articles and books).
  • Move into a short description of the project. Again, keep it short. Imagine you are writing the jacket copy for your book.
  • A short bio about yourself. Why are you the person who should be writing this?
  • What’s your platform? Do you use Twitter and Facebook? Do you have a web site? Maybe you are a columnist or magazine editor who has a following? What are the ways that your name is already getting out to the public.
  • Where does your book fit into the market and how large is the market? What shelf in a bookstore would someone find your book?
  • What’s your next project? You can’t rest on your laurels. Build on the success of your previous projects.
  • What are some comparable titles to your book? Be realistic here. Don’t just go for the big name books. List books that have similar content and scope. If you try to pass yourself off as the next J. K. Rowling or James Patterson, it will come across as hype.

So that’s what I took away from that panel. Someone else might have gotten something different from it. I’ve heard a lot of these things before so it is a pretty good bet that it’s what most agents want to see, but you should always check the agent’s web site just to be sure that you are sending what that person wants.

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