Deconstruct to Build Short Stories

by Marsha Gilbert on May 31, 2016

Kathleen Volk Miller “Crafting the Short Story” Kathleen Volk Miller, workshop leader for “Crafting the Short Story”


So you like writing short stories? Well, Kathleen Volk Miller is someone you should know. Kathleen, an English professor at Drexel University, is leading the workshop, “Crafting the Short Story,” during the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference, June 10-12. In this three-day class, you’ll create short fiction by deconstructing peer and published work and identifying essential features in each. Kathleen is the director of the graduate program in publishing and co-director of the Drexel Publishing Group, co-editor of the anthology Humor: a Reader for Writers, and co-editor of The Painted Bride Quarterly. Kathleen’s articles have been printed in the New York Times, Family Circle,, and Philadelphia Magazine. Her work also will appear soon in O, the Oprah magazine! Read more about Kathleen, other workshop leaders, and events, then register for America’s longest running writers’ conference here



A Talk with Fran Grote (“Polish Your Pitch”)

by Uriah Young on May 29, 2016

by PWC board member Gregory Frost

Fran Grote


You’re teaching a workshop about the best ways to pitch your book. Were you motivated to do this because you’re a small indie publisher and it will make your life easier, too?

Well, never let it be said I’m not a fan of making my own life easier…  But the truth is, helping people write and deliver an effective pitch is something I just feel passionate about.  Don’t forget, I was once a new writer with a book I desperately wanted to see in print and no idea what would get me successfully to the next stage.  Somebody was kind enough to give me the right pointers to get me started on my pitch.  (Well, okay, I paid for a class, but still.)  I suppose it also has something to do with the fact that my first career – I went on to become an executive in the biopharma industry – was as an instructor at Rutgers.  The joy of seeing people learn and master a new skill, being part of their “Aha!” moment, is a real motivator for me.  Once I’ve figured something out, I can’t wait to share that with others.

After giving your original question due consideration, though, a great pitch is as much a piece of art as the work it represents.  So teaching people the secret to creating their strongest pitch might not make my life easier, but it will certainly add to the enjoyment of hearing pitches.

Would you talk a little about how you became a small press publisher?

I’m not sure this answer will win me any points for strategic thinking, but I decided to become a small press publisher the same way I’ve made all my other mega-life decisions – I saw an interesting opportunity to try something that was new for me and promised to be a big challenge.  The fact that it also offered a possible means for me to move some frustrating obstacles out of my way was an added bonus.  At the time I decided to take the plunge, self-publishing was still considered a form of “outsider art”, and the traditional channels for selling books were not very interested in anything that didn’t come from well-established publishers.  But I was lucky to find a few extraordinary mentors, and I was determined never to give up, and never allow myself to feel anything but proud of doing good work.

As the marketplace for books from non-traditional sources has grown (and rapidly) over the past few years, it has actually become more of a challenge to run a small press.  That’s because there are so many more options for distributing books, and the opportunities are growing every day.  A publisher has to work hard to stay on top of things in order to do the best job for her authors and her publishing house.  It’s not enough anymore to just have a current list of who buys books at some indie bookstores – though the people who run indie bookstores remain some of my favorite people on the planet.  How can you not admire people who are willing to devote their lives to the love of books?  But that won’t make your publishing house a success the way it once might have.

What sort of work does Rule Bender Press look for? Are you open to genre fiction or are you inclined to more reality-based, (and I hate to use the term but) “literary” fiction?

It’s so funny that you have some hesitation around the term “literary” fiction.  Personally, I balk at classifying fiction at all.  I know that’s not a very sound business strategy these days, and I will grant you that it is important to know the proposed target market.  But think about this for a minute – who paid for all those Harry Potter books that made J. K. Rowling the wealthiest woman in England?  And did you read The Hunger Games?  I did.  So while it’s important to know what type of book the author is aiming to write, I firmly believe that a good book is a good book.  To answer your question, Rule Bender Press was established with the goal of…bending the rules.  I’m looking for work that grabs my attention and pins my restless butt in a chair and won’t let me go, even when I put the book down.  I’m looking for writers who love, but respect, language.  Who comb through their work over and over again, removing anything that isn’t critical to the beating heart of their story, who can draw me a picture of a reality that invites my imagination to fill in the gaps.

Boy, that was a wordy answer.  The bottom line is, I’m not particular about genre or not genre, YA vs. women’s fiction, or any of the other boundaries that are typically drawn.  I want to see a great story (or memoir).

Will you be moving the operation back to Doylestown, PA now that you’ve left Marblehead, MA?

Rule Bender Press has physically relocated to Doylestown along with me.  But I’m working to keep my contacts in Massachusetts active.  There is a very vibrant and supportive indie bookstore scene up there, as well as a strong writers’ community based in and around Boston.

Beyond getting their pitch right, what advice would you give writers of fiction?

Ah, one of my favorite soapboxes – the most important piece of advice I can give, which I’m sure many of the people reading this have heard ad nauseum, is be open to changing your work.  I have had to turn away two books I was interested in publishing because their authors did not want to make changes.  In the first instance, the author had already done what he felt were a sufficient number of rewrites, and was eager to get his book in print.  With the other book, the author had a very specific format she wanted to follow, and did not feel that my requested changes were consistent with her vision for her book.

Were either of those authors wrong to feel the way they did?  Absolutely not.  And I would be delighted for them if their books get published by someone else.  But the critical thing to understand about getting published is that writers are both artists AND artisans.  They have to create something beautiful, but it also has to be something that will sell.  And every publisher you approach is going to have her own specific idea of what will sell.  She’s going to believe in that idea so strongly that she’s willing to put a lot of time and a fair bit of money into producing the books that fit her vision.  It says a great deal about the quality of your work if someone is interested in investing that time and money in it. But what it doesn’t say is, okay, you’re all done now.  Instead, it says, I’d like to form a partnership with you to produce something wonderful.  So don’t feel frustrated when an editor or agent or publisher asks you to revise your work.  Feel proud that they think highly enough of you to ask.



Convince Audiences to Buy Your Books

by Marsha Gilbert on May 27, 2016

Keith Strunk workshop leader of “From Page to Stage: the Author as the Storyteller” Keith Strunk – “From Page to Stage: the Author as the Storyteller”


You’re proud of your creation, but can you convey how mesmerizing your work is to potential readers? It turns out that to increase the number of people buying your handiwork, it’s best to employ the actor’s craft when engaging the public with a verbal presentation of your art. Keith Strunk is leading the master workshop, “From Page to Stage: the Author as the Storyteller,” Saturday, June 11, at the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference, in the Wyndham Hotel, at 400 Arch Street. Keith is an actor, author, producer, co-founder of the River Union Stage theater, and an award-winning scriptwriter with a MFA in Theater from Rutgers University. Register for this class and learn tools to entice larger audiences into buying your books.



Learn How to Write Freelance Articles

by Marsha Gilbert on May 27, 2016


Sarah Maiellano Sarah Maiellano


If you’ve ever thought about writing freelance articles for newspapers, magazines, or websites, you’ll want to reserve a seat in the Travel Writing workshop led by Sarah Maiellano on Saturday, June 11, at the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference, in the Wyndham Hotel, at 400 Arch Street. Sarah will teach you tips, tricks, and resources on developing travel, food, and lifestyle articles and how to find and pitch editors. She’s a Philadelphia-based freelance writer who works full time as the senior manager of communications at The Philly POPS. Sarah also is the digital freelance correspondent for Philadelphia’s Travel + Leisure and she’s written for USA Today, the Washington Post, the Washingtonian, and Salon. Find out about all the workshops and activities happenig at this event from June 10-12 and register to be part of America’s Longest Running Writers’ Conference here 



2016 Asimov Award Winners

by Uriah Young on May 26, 2016

Greg Frost and Michael Swanwick share their journey into the realm of storytelling and how their novelette, Lock Up Your Chickens and Daughters – H’ard and Andy Are Come to Town, won this year’s Asimov Award.



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Q & A with Anna Kashina

by Uriah Young on May 24, 2016

Greg Frost provided us with this great interview with one of this year’s workshop instructors, Anna Kashina. Enjoy her responses to several great questions related to fantasy writing.


You’re a fantasy writer. What draws you to the genre?

I think the biggest appeal of fantasy for me is the idea that everything is possible. I enjoy strong character-driven stories, and there is no better way to challenge your characters than to put them into situations that far exceed the constraints of what can realistically occur in our world. The way they act in such situations opens up new dimensions in human nature and drives these characters to take on the lives of their own. I really enjoy putting this all into play and then – literally – watch the story unravel in front of my eyes.

Another appeal of fantasy for me is purely visual. I love creating unusual and exotic worlds – or submerging into them when I read. There is just something extra special about it, when you let go of the boundaries and see these new open dimensions of the realities we could never see otherwise.

You’ve worked a fair bit with Russian folk-tale material and fairy tales. What appeals to you about folk- and fairy tales?

Folklore represents centuries of wisdom and imagination mixed together for a whole nation. These stories are told over centuries, perfected into the form that encompasses people’s beliefs and is accessible enough for many to enjoy. Only the best stories survive this scrutiny and become timeless. So, from a writer’s standpoint, by drawing on the folklore elements you can really draw on all this wealth and create stories unlike anything else, both in their magic and in their appeal.

I enjoyed folklore for as long as I remember myself. I have always been fascinated by both the common and the different in the folk tales when they come from different cultures. And, I feel fortunate when I come upon the tales that blend these cultures into something truly unique. Russia is a country which is half-East, half-West, and its folklore reflects this blend to the full.

When you began the Majat Code books, how much of the world did you know? How much did you feel you had to know in order to begin?

I conceived the idea of the Majat Code world as a blend of East and West – perhaps drawing on my Russian origin. So, from the start I knew that all these different elements need to be present in the books — starting with the Majat warriors themselves, who bring the Eastern martial arts fighting style into the Western European-like setting.

While I started playing with the characters and situations right from the start, before writing any of what I considered to be “final” text (i.e., a full first draft), I realized right away that some groundbreaking work needed to be done first. So, I had to stop so that I could draw a map with names, for people in the story to refer to when they talk. I also sketched some of the key historical events that shaped the kingdom the way it was, and defined the major cultures populating different regions – down to the unique aspects of their languages and customs. And, importantly, I defined deities and curses, which tend to shape our speech whether or not we realize it.

It seems ironic to think that very little of this work ever ended up on the pages of the book, but I felt this level of detail was essential to lend authenticity to the story. In the workshop I will be teaching at PWC, I plan to show some of the ways these details are drawn on in different books to generate authenticity without making them overwhelming.

Unquestionably world-building is critical for both SF and fantasy authors. But what would you say any writer should know about worldbuilding?

Two things. First, you should know your world inside and out, whether this world is real, partially real, or fully imagined. Second, you should show the reader only the absolute bare minimum of what you know, and avoid the temptation of going into any excessive details. This is often a hard balance to strike, but it is essential for good storytelling. 

I think it would be easy to go down the rabbit hole of research and never come out. How do you keep the research from consuming you?

My trick is to put the story first. I always start by thinking up a story and characters I cannot wait to write about. So, when I do my research, I always cannot wait to come back to it. As a result, research, while often extensive, always feel secondary to the book itself and it becomes easier to limit. Others could think of it as keeping my eyes on the goal – which is, in this case, to create a compelling book, not to increase my overall knowledge.

In terms of the process, once I lay down the basics – like the maps and some of the language essentials — I try to write down as much of the story as I can, in outlines or actual scenes. At that point, I usually leave gaps when I realize that I need to do more research in that area. I then come back to fill these gaps and “comb” the rest of the story to fit.

There are points in this process where I still have to stop writing and go back to research, but if the story is good it always beckons me to come back. And, if I don’t feel this beckoning, I go back and rethink the story, to make it compelling enough to drive me.

Of course, this works well in fantasy – since in the end I, as the author, set all the rules – but it may not work as well, say, in historical fiction, which has to be absolutely true to the facts. So, I can only speak from the fantasy author perspective.

What would you say are you most passionate about in your fiction?

The characters. Each of my books has to have at least one character so compelling that I simply cannot bear to part with him/her for any considerable amount of time. When this happens, writing a book feels like being in love – even better, since the object of your love is always with you and you are the one who gets to decide what happens to him/ her. With luck, all the other characters and the entire story blend in so seamlessly around this character that at times it feels more real to me than my everyday life – or very nearly so.

In the Majat Code series, a character like this emerged unexpectedly in book 1 and drove the entire series for me and, as I heard, for many of my fans. It made working on the series one of the most enjoyable experiences in my life.

What can someone considering your workshop at PWC expect to take away from it?

My workshop will focus on the genres of speculative fiction, and on the worldbuilding essential for authors writing in these genres. These topics are interconnected, since worldbuilding in speculative fiction has certain unique aspects that are also genre-specific and thus effective worldbuiling is at least as important as the story in writing a good book.

I expect that the workshop participants will acquire the necessary foundation on setting up a story in their chosen genre, and will learn how to approach their worldbuilding without getting overwhelmed themselves, or overwhelming their readers. We will talk about rules and conventions in these genres, as well as about breaking them when needed. I hope it would be both useful and fun – I really look forward to it.

Finally, if readers want to investigate your work, where would you recommend they begin?

With the Majat Code series, of course! Incidentally, the third and concluding book in the series, “Assassin Queen” is being released in the US on June 7, only 3 days before the conference, which means those who don’t like to wait for a year to read the next book can now get all the story at once.

Those more interested in folklore can also look up my stand-alone novel, “Mistress of the Solstice”, set in the world of Russian fairy tales.




The Return of Bruce Graham

by Uriah Young on May 24, 2016

Bruce Graham is the author of thirteen published full length plays and has won numerous awards for several. His hilarious rendering of the ever-suffering Philly sports fanatic is brought to life in The Philly Fan and staged semi-continuously throughout the Philadelphia region. His film credits include Dunston Checks In, Anastasia, and Steal This Movie. He has penned TV movies, Hunt for the Unicorn Killer, The Christmas Secret, Ring of Endless Light, Right on Track, Tiger Cruise, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, Trading Christmas, and Cedar Cove. He wrote for Roseanne, and as a staff writer for Hallmark’s Cedar Cove, and The Good Witch.




Graham began his career as a playwright at the Philadelphia Festival Theatre for New Plays (PFT) in 1984 with Burkie, became playwright-in-residence at PFT, and later served two years as Artistic Director. A graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, he is an ex-high school teacher, and teaches playwriting and film courses at Drexel University.


Along with Michele Volansky, Graham wrote the book, The Collaborative Playwright: Practical Advice for Getting Your Play Written.


The interaction between the ideas of the playwright and the know-how of the dramaturg is vital to the success of any production. But not every writer is accustomed to thinking like a dramaturg. The Collaborative Playwright changes that by offering a lively dialogue between a highly successful playwright, Bruce Graham, and an equally accomplished dramaturg, Michele Volansky, supported by hands-on exercises to get you thinking and writing in new ways.


Bruce Graham joins the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference again this year to share his expertise. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to know his secret. So, I asked. As expected, he had me laughing…


You have been successful in writing for the stage, film and television, what’s your secret?

I have no moral backbone whatsoever.  Anything for a buck.


Why Philly? Can it be done from here? Again… the secret?!?!?

Yes, it can be done from here. But it’s a helluva lot easier from New York or LA. I always tell students to observe my career…then do the opposite.  


What would you tell your younger self? 

Never punch out a critic when there are witnesses. And never, repeat never, walk into a producer’s office and then make fun of the posters on his wall.


I’m always curious about other writers’ process and wondered about a story I’d read during the run of Graham’s play, Something Intangible. Theatre lore being what it is, I thought I’d remembered a description of Graham in quiet repose listening carefully for dialogue cadence for last minute script tweaks before opening night.  


He explained, “That was probably the Philly Inquirer article written by Howie Shapiro for Something Intangible. He had a whole paragraph about me napping on the cot. Terry Nolen said I was “listening to the rhythms of the play. Actually I was sound asleep.”


I think it’s safe to say it’s going to be a fun workshop!


Carol Sabik-Jaffe



Cindy Callaghan Discusses the Magic of Writing

by Uriah Young on May 20, 2016



The Bibliophiles of Doylestown

by Uriah Young on May 16, 2016

Recently, the Doylestown Bookshop provided the PWC with some interesting information about how they operate, what they offer to the writing community, and why they’re so unique compared to other book stores. Check out our Q & A with the good people from the Doylestown Bookshop.



What does the Doylestown Bookshop do to maximize an authors book launch experience?

Krisy Paredes is the full time event planner, who is also the publicity and marketing manager. We put all of those skills to use for every event we have. We host over 100 unique signings, book clubs, out of store events, and special events each year. Every author is special to us, and we work to create a personal experience so it is special for the author as well. We use every tool in our marketing arsenal to promote the events. Press releases are sent out, and the authors often will receive print media coverage, and, in some instances, Television coverage, depending on the event. We are also very active on five social media platforms with Facebook being the most effective and currently holding over 12,000 likes. We have in-store flyers and bag stuffers creating colorful monthly event calendars. the-doylestown-bookshopWe send out email newsletters in promotion of the event and will boost our facebook posts or create facebook ads to give the event an extra push. We feel that we have built those special relationships with names such as Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary and Newt & Callista Gingrich, who have come back to the store a second time because of the experience they had here during their first event. We have the privilege of calling hundreds of authors friends and receive large events from publisher driven tours based on that same high bar of results we try to achieve for everyone, no matter who they are.


What role does the bookshop play in the writing community? Why is this important to your operation there?

It is part of our mission statement to be a support and resource to the community, especially the writing community. We are so lucky to be in such a culturally rich area and have writing classes for teens, special events for self-published authors. We’re instrumental in creating The Main Street Voices Poetry Contest, which is in its second year in 2016. The awards ceremony recently took place. We had more entries this year, just over 260 from grade school to adult level writing. The Main Street Voices Poetry Contest is open to all residents of Bucks County, with monetary awards given to entries in the adult and student categories. The contest was judged by four award-winning poets, including three former Bucks County Poets Laureate; two of whom are college professors, one at Bucks County Community College and one at Delaware Valley University.


What are some current trends in book sales in your bookshop? What are the top genres and why are they hot right now?

Well, we’ve got the adult coloring book boom; I have four at my house, and I think someone is trying to tell me something. The Indie Next picks are very popular and often are seen on the NYT bestsellers list soon after their residency on Indie Bound. I believe that the value of the Independent bookstore is looked upon with a better understanding of how the culture of the indie store affects the market place, in a positive fashion. The highest volume of sales comes from our Staff Picks Wall. Each staff member chooses the most recent, five to seven books they have read, and they are put on display with shelf talkers and an identifying name so they know who is reading what. Our regulars love it, and our customers who are traveling always find something on the wall. We have such an eclectic group of bibliophiles which provides us with a wonderful selection of titles.


How would you describe the Doylestown Bookshop staff?

There’s one word that has been used for over fifteen years to describe us: Bibliophile. Although there are core members of the staff who have been with the bookshop for over a decade, we have so many others who have come through these doors and contributed to the store over the years. We are very fortunate to have such talented, creative, driven, well-read, and all around wonderful people work here. It’s not just a job. We are a small community unto ourselves.


What makes you different from any other bookstore? 

As an Independent bookstore in a climate where bookstores are almost an endangered species, I’d say that everything about us is different. I cannot compare us to any other entity, but I can tell you that every effort invested into our community is returned tenfold, and it is with the support of independent thinkers and loyal and educated shoppers that we are able to do what we love to do. Every Indie has its own subculture within the store. From the staff to the regular customers who keep a coffee mugs here because they are here that frequently. They participate in the bookish banter and add to the colure and culture of the store.


Who are a few prominent authors who’ve signed books at your shop? What was the response of the visitors?

I mentioned Peter Yarrow and Newt & Callista Gingrich above. In 2015, we held events off-site due to the large crowds with Neil Gaiman and Judy Blume. Gretchen Rubin, Jeff Sharra, Vicrotia Kann, a few weeks ago we hosted Punk Legends NOFX and had a signing in the store with them and then sold books at the TLA in Philly at their show that same night. In October of 2016 we will be working with Anthony Bourdain, and in June we will have YouTube teen star MattyB in-store. I like to have a calendar that offers something for everyone. I am very pleased that we are doing that and look forward to bringing amazing authors & personalities to the Bucks County area.


What is something about your bookstore that some people might not expect?

People don’t expect it to be as big as it is. We are 8,000 sq. feet long. They are pleasantly surprised when they walk in and find a robust store with a large children’s room as well. We also sell hand-picked sideline items such as candles, journals, small gifts, greeting cards and stationery to complement our book displays and make this a one stop shopping destination for our customers.


Online book purchases are a reality today, as well as book apps that deliver titles directly to readers’ tablets. Why are book stores like yours so important despite the technological revolution?

There is nothing that can replace the sensory experience one has while in a bookstore. To be able to touch, smell and hold on to our books maintains their value. We do however; realize that for convenience s lot of people like reading on their devices or e readers. Kobo is a great company that works with Indie stores and we offer e books through our website that can be downloaded onto the Kobo e-reader. We also have a strong online business and are the official distributors of the Berenstain Bears book packages which we ship worldwide. We have managed to remain competitive but find that book lovers find no substitute to the actual book in theie hands.


What unique events do you have coming up for the bookshop?

In October of 2016, we will be working with Anthony Bourdain, and in June we will have YouTube teen star Matty B in-store. I like to have a calendar that offers something for everyone. I am working on booking Bobby Rydell, the teen sensation from the 60’s to appear here this summer and have The Scholastic nation reading bus tour making a top in Doylestown, Pa where we will turn the parking area behind our store into a pop-up book fair for the day.



Local author, Kerry Gans, at a Doylestown Bookshop signing



Sports, Husbands, and the PWC

by Uriah Young on May 9, 2016

At this year’s Philadelphia Writers’ Conference, an author from New Jersey will be attending with some nice momentum. Jim Hart, a licensed counselor who had a book published recently, has been speaking at churches each month, delivering spiritual messages to congregations. After each service, church members line up to meet him and to get an autographed copy of his book. Its focus? Helping men become better husbands, with a clever sports theme to intrigue potential readers. We caught up with Jim and spoke with him about his inspiration for the book, the motivation behind it, and why sports professionals are endorsing his message.