I met Mark Covington at Writer's Wednesday, a casual meeting for writers of all types, put together by the James River Writer's
group and held every Wednesday in Richmond, VA. At the time, Mark had recently completed his novel Homemade Sin
and it was picked up by a small publisher, and was working on 2012 Montezuma's Revenge.
Since then, we've kept in touch, and updated each other on our progress as writers. I'm excited to invite Mark to the Underground for an interview to discuss his success story, his new book, and his writing methods.AB:
You have quite a few titles under your belt at this time, but they are from different publishing companies. Tell me a little about your journey through the publishing industry.Mark:
Hi Amy, thanks for inviting me to be interviewed. So far I have written 6 books: The Church of the Path of Least Resistence, Bullfish, Heavenly Pleasure, Homemade Sin, 2012 Montezuma's Revenge
, and Khamel Towing
(coming soon). I’ve also written a play, "Shakespeare in the Trailer Park." Church of the Path
was my first book and there is an old saying,' toss your first into the trunk and come back in 10 years and re-write it' so I'm kind of holding Church of the Path
in reserve, letting it age like a good Bordeaux. I did shop Bullfish
around to agents and got requests for full reads from a few agents, the funniest response was "I love the story but I didn't like the way you told it." So I got sick of the agents and just published it myself. There are lots of pros and cons to doing that. For me it made me feel like an author, and once you see yourself as something you start becoming that, kind of a self-fulfilling prophesy. Heavenly Pleasure
got picked up by a small commercial press, Aspen Mountain press, which is now defunct so I have my rights back on that one and I'm going to re-edit it and start shopping it around. Montezuma's Revenge
was picked up by Solstice and sales are steady. Homemade Sin
was picked up in March by Rebel Press in South Africa, and it is due out in December. I met an agent at the James River Writer's
conference who took an interest in Khamel Towing,
the one I'm writing now. I plan to get that to him in the Spring. Oh, yeah, I forgot my play, "Shakespeare in the Trailer Park" took me about 15 years to write and it opened in Philly last April to great reviews. It hits the stage in Richmond at the 200 seat Gottwald Theater this April, with Billy Christopher Maupin directing. AB:
Which book has seen the most success? Did you see a difference in sales between different publishing companies?Mark:
So far my current publisher, Solstice, is selling more books but my first publisher did mostly romances so they really weren't focused on my genre. I have great hopes for the new book, Homemade Sin.
With that one I have a South African publisher that commands markets in the UK, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand and those folks read more and love a dry, cynical sense of humor. It seems like in the US, unless you have the term "glistening loins" somewhere in the book you won't sell many. AB
: Your stories are comic, wild, and yet thoughtful. What do you do to balance comedy with insight?Mark
: Thank you. I think there is a natural balance between comedy and insight, you just have to see it. I see everything as potentially funny and it is my job to point to it and laugh and show other folks. I was asked to leave a funeral once because I was 'being funny." Hey, I knew the dead guy and he would have loved the comments, oh well. The first time I was expelled from school was in 5th grade, our math teacher was also the girl's basketball coach and she "lingered" in the locker room during shower-time. One day we were doing fractions and she pointed to the board and said, "Mark, what is our common denominator?" I said, "We both like little girls." The principal stopped laughing long enough to give me three days. Anyway, the more you see the true nature of the universe the more you will find hilariously funny. Einstein had a great sense of humor, so did Churchill. Queen Victoria coined the phrase "we are not amused," so there you go.
Overview of Relativity by Kimberly Shursen Definition of RELATIVITY
the quality or state of being relative b :
something that is relative:
the state of being dependent for existence on or determined in nature, value, or quality by relation
to something else
In a breaking news report, Jack McCallin, the prominent Mayor of Boston, makes a statement that his daughter and granddaughter have been abducted. He knows the truth, however, and so does his twenty-four year old step-daughter Claire.
Claire was four when the Mayor first molested her, warning his step-daughter that if she told the 'secret,' bad things would happen. Twenty years later when Claire discovers the Mayor standing over her three year old daughter's bed, there is nothing will stop her from protecting Lizzie.
Claire has been totally dominated by the Mayor since he married Adrianna, McCallin's French born second wife, and adopted Claire at the age of two. Soon after Claire meets twenty-five year old Boston Globe reporter Matt Christenson, she enlists his help.
When McCallin orders Claire never to see Christenson again, Claire and Lizzie suddenly disappear. Claire has never told anyone, including her mother that McCallin is Lizzie's biological father. The only way Claire can prove that McCallin is a child molester and rapist is to have his DNA tested along with Lizzie's. But the evidence lies in the heavily guarded McCallin mansion and everyone in Boston is on the lookout for Claire and Matt.
One person found brutally murdered, Claire left for dead when McCallin's lackeys run her off the road after locating McCallin's biological daughter to testify against him, Matt and Claire don't know who to trust. The one thing they do
know is that Mayor Jack McCallin wants them dead before his empire comes tumbling down.
In the vein of such thrillers as Alafair Burke’s 212
and John Grisham's gripping A Time To Kill
this edgy political thriller is a page turner until the final twist.
Please welcome Tom Kepler, author of The Stone Dragon, to the Underground. Tom is an avid writer, also penning a book of poetry and a YA novel, Love Ya Like a Sister. Tom is an educator by day and an avid blogger and writer. He practices consciousness-based writing and transcendental meditation. Below he offers insights in the world of young adult fantasy, self-publishing and promotion.
Katie: The world your novel inhabits in is very lush and inviting. Where do you draw your inspiration from when you are world building? Any advice for those wanting to improve their fantasy world building?
Tom: To be honest, I started out with a vague idea one Thanksgiving vacation. I was thinking that dragons were embodiments of the fabric of creation, and I was also thinking that gnomes had an undeserved reputation--pudgy, long beards, and those pointy hats. I wanted to write a more real story. Suddenly, I was seven thousand words into the novel, and the whole idea was just there. My advice is open the doors of possibility--you can always close them later.
Katie: Tell us more about Glimmer, the main character. Where did he originate from? What did you do to get into a young dream mage's head?
Tom: I have no idea where Glimmer came from. Honest! He has some aspects of my son, some aspects of me, but mostly, he's just himself. I'm also not sure how I came up with the idea of a dream mage. I think Glimmer is a kind of Everyman for me. He is brave yet vulnerable, insightful yet impulsive. He's a lot like all of us, if we're honest about it. As a career classroom teacher, I am surrounded by inspiration daily for the heroic task that we call "growing up."
Katie: One of my favorite characters is Cabbage-pants, the cabbage gnome. He is funny, wise and charming. How do you keep characters original when so many of the fantasy characters have been done before?
Tom: I had a very clear vision of Cabbage-pants from the start. I'm an avid gardener and find the garden to be a magical, spiritual place. I really wanted to create a sense of the gnomes being spiritual extensions of the plants. It helped, too, that he provided humor for the story.
Katie: Who are your contemporaries in literature? To which authors would you compare your work?
Tom: Well, I have to approach this with honesty about who inspired me for The Stone Dragon. Science fiction/fantasy writer Roger Zelazny was an incredible writer who didn't let the genre limit his style. He was a very creative stylist. Also, for this particular novel, William Faulkner poked me with a stick. I needed something to move me to take chances with the dream sequences, and Faulkner's style provided me with a place to start.
Katie: Tell us about your path to self-publishing. What made you decide on that route versus traipsing around to all the publishers in New York?
Self-published novels are often wrought with sloppy editing, dry characters and clichéd plot lines. Tom Kelper’s The Stone Dragon
luckily has none of these. Though lacking in page-turning conflict, I appreciated his poetic style and world-building depth.
Set in a magical world, where dragons fly and gnomes supply a quality cup of tea, The Stone Dragon
introduces us to Glimmer, the apprentice to Alma-Ata, a mage who brews more cider than spells. In the beginning Glimmer laments that he has “not a glimmer of magic,” hence his name. And, as in any great hero’s story, he longs to be more than an orphan, servant and all around disappointment. Then he sneaks a book on dream magic and everything changes.
After reading the book, Glimmer dreams of a powerful dragon who seems more real than imagined. Before the animal can wreak havoc, Glimmer encases him in stone. Waking and disoriented, he comes to realize that he has imprisoned the dragon inside the stone of the inn where he resides. After a series of mental talks with the dragon, who answers in ways our young apprentice has trouble understanding, Glimmer goes on a quest with his friend the Cabbage gnome. He explores the countryside and comes across marauding thieves, healing sisters and a wise sage, all the while learning life lessons and trying to perfect the dream magic within him.
Kelper is a poet and it shows through his eloquent language and beautiful descriptions. He also describes himself as a consciousness-based writer. Though I found his style though-provoking and insightful, the technique seems to overshadow the plot, which meandered. With no real antagonist to speak of, there wasn’t enough conflict to hold my attention. With Glimmer going in and out of dream, I found myself unsure of what reality was and what was in his head. That being said, I’d love to see Kelper’s sequel. With a little more practice under his belt, this author could turn into a real powerhouse.
Overall, those interested in world-building fantasy and scaly, flying friends should give Kelper a try. As an ebook, the price is right.
Want to buy it? Get it on Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Also, as a blogger, Kelper is making waves, winning the Versitile Blogger award twice in one week. Check out his blog here
. If you enjoyed this post, you can subscribe to the Underground or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
Do you like the new logo? So do we! The design was created by Lisa Patrick from BitWizards
, and she was truly a joy to work with. She listened to our input in order to create a personalized icon that embodies the spirit of the website while at the same time being simple and easily recognizable. It was a wonderful experience to see our words turned into art. We at the Underground would recommend BitWizards
to anyone looking for a professional way to represent their website or business.
It’s over and we’ve all returned home to reality and our normal lives. After a day of brutal traveling and a decent night’s sleep, here are my lessons learned from the NYC Pitch Conference. This is the down and dirty from anyone thinking about attending this event. Was it worth it? That is a resounding yes, and here is why:
I think a trait shared by all aspiring writers is they labor alone in a vacuum, struggling for years in front of their keyboards, unsure if their work is any good. Is my story is marketable? What chance does it have of getting published? They may have never met another writer and their friends and loved ones, albeit supportive, often don’t truly understand. I can confidently say now that I am no longer in that vacuum. I met dozens of writers like me, who share my aspirations, frustrations, dreams, fears and struggles. Although we come from varied backgrounds, our stories and passions are similar. You will leave this conference knowing you are not alone.
What was this conference about? First, I’ll tell you what it’s not about. It’s not about your novel and how cool it is. It’s not about your creativity or how long you’ve struggled to be a writer. It’s about the cold and hard facts of selling ideas. It’s about setting a course to becoming a disciplined, professional writer. Read and heed, brothers and sisters! This is plain-language advice I wished I had before I showed up.
If you want to come to the New York Pitch Conference, be warned. It’s not for the thin skinned or faint of heart. Everything you think you know about writing, publishing, and your book will be challenged. The facilitators are professionals who’ve already met someone like you a thousand times. They know all the mistakes and want nothing more than to help you avoid them. They are on your side, but you will not be served by getting frustrated or angry when they tell you the ugly truth. Leave your ego at the door and be ready to shut up, sit down, listen and learn. They will start not necessarily with the quality of your pitch, but with the concept behind your book.
by Amy R. Biddle
Nancy Johnston is the author of Disentangle: When You’ve Lost Yourself in Someone Else, a self-help book aimed towards people who easily become tangled up in relationships. Nancy is a professional counselor, with 35 years of experience in the world of dysfunctional relationships. Her publishing story, from inspiration to publication, is both unique and inspiring.
Disentangle emphasizes the need to face unhealthy delusions and set healthy boundaries. While Nancy’s advice is aimed towards romantic relationships, it could be applied to many situations. Her book reminds us that it is easy for to become entangled in many different aspects of our life, whether the entanglement involves romantic relationships, co-workers, family or addiction.
I arranged to meet Nancy in her office, just outside the historic town of Lexington, VA. Nancy’s office is orderly and peaceful. Her window looks into a patch of woods, where a small deer is grazing. Nancy tells me that she tries to be quiet so as not to scare the deer away, but this proves to be a difficult task. Every time she laughs, the deer looks up at us, and we sit in silence for a moment, hoping it won’t run off.
Nancy is full of energy and enthusiastic about explaining her book, her practice, and her passions. I came with a fixed set of questions, but the conversation flowed freely.
Nancy’s career was always psychology oriented. She studied psychology at an undergraduate level at William and Mary, then went on to graduate school knowing that what she wanted to do was work directly with people. That dream has come true.
“Even after all these years I’m still really interested in psychology. Everybody’s got a different story, so actually that’s part of it: that I’m with people and their stories all day, all the time. Stories that are mysteries to us in some cases.”
After finishing graduate school, Nancy went into the field of juvenile corrections, and realized that a majority of the legal charges she encountered in her clients’ histories were drug or alcohol related. This led her to explore the field of addictions further. However, in the professional world at the time, “addictions were always a step child to mental health.” Over time, though, more people began working towards integrating the two concepts. “Until we can help a person stop their addictive behaviors I can’t psychologically see what else is going on with them. I don’t know what their sleep problems are about or what their mood shifts are about.”
“In the process of doing all that I got very personally and professionally interested in the family of the addict, which is the whole field of codependence: How does the family member or other friends play into addiction?How do we enable it and what do we get out of doing that? A lot of that happened in 1990 and there was really excellent work going on with adult children of alcoholics. The topic of codependence was just emerging, and there was a great book called Women Who Love Too Much by Robin Norwood that came out in the 80’s. People were really interested in these topics so I started running groups that worked with the issues of codependence.”
They say that home is where the heart is – and, of course, our hearts are always with our families. However, there’s a piece of our hearts that is always searching for those who share our same passions, those who will drive themselves to the brink seeking what may, or may not, be the impossible dream. This is what the Algonkian conference is all about – it is for those who refuse to give up on their dream. The group eagerly awaits their turn to pitch
There are four groups that are divided into approximately 20 people. Ann Garvin, the author of On Maggie’s Watch, is a vivacious, petite, curly haired group leader for AB and I. Ann is so engrossed with helping the l7 people who are in her group that she is more nervous than we are when we get our two minutes with each editor. She is not only a gifted writer, but passionate about helping other writers.
Ann and the other three leaders of the workshop spend hours on end helping us perfect our pitch to make sure it will be clear to the editors what we have written. Word count, genre, title and comparable works of fiction are all gone over so the editor can have a clear vision of what it is we write. These are worked on both in group session and individual sessions.
Yesterday, we pitched one editor; today we pitched two. The pitch is only the beginning. The editors hear the pitch (roughly a 150 word overview of our novels) and then if they like it, they ask for the manuscript. If they like the novel, they try to convince the marketing department that the book they are sometimes putting their career on the line for will be well worth the advertising dollars spent. This is the beginning to yet another long wait.
Katie in Times Square
The Algonkian Pitch Conference has been one of the most rich and unique experiences of my life. Right now, I sit in an eclectic little Manhattan apartment. The walls are decorated with Bollywood posters and artistic sketches. The hallway smells like the most interesting mix aromas, something like a Middle Eastern market and a dumpster. Across the kitchen table from me sits A.B., a person I've only met two days ago, yet I feel like I've known for years. We're bearing our writer's souls, swapping frustrations, reading pitches. I'm awash with so much emotion I feel like a Lifetime TV movie. And it's oh so good.
Michael Neff, the organizer, ran the writer's group in which Brian and I were placed. Even though Michael denies it, he's the literary Simon Cowell. As a Cowell fan from the start, I like Michael's no frills, cut to the chase approach. He's taught me so much already and, though sometimes I feel battered by the time we're done, it was all worth it.
Sitting there stunned at the end of the day, I was reflecting on this experience and trying to compare it to something that would help people understand. Not to beat the American Idol horse, but the experience is a little like Hollywood hell week. There's no cameras or Prima Donnas, but there are wide eyed artists putting their best foot forward for good or ill. You forget to eat, you forget to pee. You leave exhausted with your head spinning. And, if you're willing to work hard on what advice you're given, you just might walk away victorious.
If I never land a book deal, I'll always look back at this experience with fondness. I've ventured out of my box, hailing a cab, riding the subway and maneuvering around pan handlers who want to exchange my dollars for bongo music. I've received invaluable feedback on my project. But, the best part of this whole thing is meeting the three great writers who've held my hand through this whole novel adventure. They're just as wonderful in person as they are online. A writer might get so lucky is to find one writing soul mate in her life. I've found three. Thanks to A.B., Brian and Kimberly for dragging me into this kicking and screaming. I'm so glad you did.
Today was the first day of the much-anticipated New York Pitch Conference. The purpose of the conference is to perfect your pitch: to condense your novel into a short description that is less than one minute long. Today, we worked on the pitch. Tomorrow, and every day after that, we will pitch to big-name publishers who are looking to publish. On the last day, we will regroup and see what needs improvement, and hopefully walk away with a few requests for our manuscript. We'll come out with a book deal, a reality check, or possibly both. Not surprisingly, I went in with a small case of the jitters.
But before I describe the day's events at the New York Pitch Conference, I should mention last night's big event- when all four of us met for the first time. If you're wondering how it went, see the happy faces below:
The first gathering of the Underground
The conference began at 9:00 this morning, and after milling about with our fellow writers we were given name tags and herded into four different rooms to begin the pitch workshop. Kimberly and I were assigned to a group of seventeen writers, all writing contemporary fiction. Our workshop was led by Ann Garvin, a published novelist and Algonkian Conference alumni. Brian and Katie were put in the group led by Michael Neff, the conference coordinator. Their group consisted of mostly of science fiction and fantasy writers.