On Writing and Publishing

We write to heal, learn, and share, to be seen or heard, to offer another way to look at the world, to impact or persuade people, to open hearts and in turn open our minds. Most of us have a compulsion to write, and because of that, sharing our written words is a topic worth exploring among peers, colleagues, and mentors who continue to have success in publishing.

As editor and writer, our mentors Robert Mooney and J. Michael Lennon are officially working together on an Etruscan Press publication and have shared the secrets of their success in collaboration. Learn more about the prolific writing careers of alums Jen McLaughlin and Nisha Sharma—they just might blow your literary mind about romance, movie deals, and James Patterson. While drafting his way through CW520, Michael Hardin shares insider information about submitting your work while you write your way through grad school. 

Updates from faculty, alumni, and students are always an inspiration—thank you for sharing your good news. 

Are you missing residency on campus, exhausted from hours of Zoom? Then read on…

Program Updates

Summer Residency in Wilkes-Barre is Back!

Our summer residency (June 18-26) will be conducted in person again, on the campus of Wilkes University, with live-streaming and Zoom links available for students and faculty who cannot, or would rather not, attend in person. Students and faculty will receive an email with details, and alumni will be emailed a schedule in May. Residency classes will begin on Saturday morning, June 19 and end on Saturday morning, June 26. Proof of a recent negative COVID test, or vaccination, will be required for in-person attendees and faculty, and outdoor seating will be available for daytime classes and evening readings.

First Annual Wilkes Lit Fest!

All of our residency readings in June will, as usual, be open to the public, but at least two of the readings will occur outdoors, under a tent, with a food truck, publishers’ booths, and book signings—with community workshops (taught by our alumni) offered in the afternoon. Stay tuned for details.

Tuition Increase/Tuition Discount

Tuition for all Creative Writing courses has been increased by 3%, from $728 per credit to $750 per credit. But the “Alumni Discount” is back. Beginning this June, all MFA classes will run at a 10% discount, with no semester-off requirement: $675 per credit for all 600-level classes. Students graduating with an MA in Creative Writing will automatically receive the discounted rate once they are registered for MFA courses.

Approved: Final MFA Residency

A new one-credit addition to the MFA curriculum, CW 650: The Professional Writer, has been approved by the Wilkes University Curriculum Committee, changing the total number of credits required of the MFA from 48 to 49. This two-day “Final MFA Residency” will be required of all MFA graduates (following CW 620: Internship in Creative Writing) beginning June 2022, but for the next two residencies, it will be offered as an optional “pilot” course, during the last two days (Thursday and Friday), and will be available to all MFA students who graduated in June 2020 or January 2021, along with those who will graduate with an MFA in June 2021 and January 2022. The course is focused on “Life After the MFA,” with instruction and roundtable conversations on improving your author website and social media presence; querying and submitting to agents and editors; being a good literary citizen; earning money as a writer; and building a “readers and writers network” that will support and enhance your writing career. 

From MA to MFA

All students currently finishing their MA studies (in CW 520, or an extension CW 530) and preparing for their capstone residency in June, who are interested in continuing on to the MFA, must submit a “letter of interest” to the program director, in which they (a) declare their interest in continuing on to the MFA program (19 additional credits), and (b) write a paragraph explaining why they are interested in doing so. They will hear of the program’s decision within two weeks. (Admission into the MFA is based on minimum 3.5 GPA for all MA courses and the approval of the faculty.) Such letters of interest are due by May 1, 2021.

Master Classes Launch

Our Master Classes in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, playwriting, and screenwriting will officially launch this fall, with three of our Master Class faculty (Lenore Hart, Kevin Oderman, and Jean Klein) currently teaching the early-bird registrants this semester. Wilkes CW Alumni receive a healthy discount on tuition—$550 per credit instead of $600. This is a great opportunity to turn your manuscript from “finished” to “polished and ready to submit.” For more information, and to share with writer friends. Learn more at wilkes.edu/masterclass

Meditation/Writing Retreat!

This fall (October 21-28), Juanita Rockwell will facilitate a meditation and writing retreat at Rehoboth Beach in Delaware, open to all faculty, students and alumni. You will receive a separate email with details and pricing.

Lennon & Mooney on Working Together

A Conversation with Unexpected Turns

Two longstanding faculty members come together for publication. J. Michael Lennon, co-founder of our creative writing program, archivist, biographer and master of non-fiction, paired with Robert Mooney, wordsmith connoisseur, fiction genius and creator of time-shifting worlds? It feels improbable.

But in the fall of 2022, we shall all bear witness to this brilliant duo’s efforts as Etruscan Press releases Lennon’s book, edited by Mooney. And from the Zoom conversations we’ve had, it sounds like our two mentors will not disappoint. 

Conversations with Phil Brady led to behind-the-scenes planning with Mooney, and the two founders of Etruscan Press offered to publish Lennon’s work. Isn’t that the opposite of how the publishing world works? Bravo! Lennon, well done.

Mooney and Lennon remind me that they’ve had a warm friendship for over fifteen years, and this is not the first time they’ve reviewed/edited each other’s work. Sharing writing, asking for feedback is a common practice among faculty. It is because of this writers’ community that Phil Brady played a critical role in orchestrating Mike Lennon’s book for publication and suggested Bob Mooney’s involvement.

When asked about the working title of this book, Lennon and Mooney’s answers reveal the nature of their partnership. “We haven’t nailed it down,” Lennon says. “The longest essay in the book, Mailer’s Last Days, is a working title. It’s kind of a valedictory work. The whole collection ranges through time. But a lot of pieces focus on the last five, six years of Mailer’s life. It’s the longest piece in the book. And as Mooney suggested, it’s ‘New and Selected Essays’.”

Mooney’s fidgety, with a thoughtful wrinkle on his brow, oozing sincerity when he says, “Actually, I was trying to work on something more like New and Selected Remembrances of a Life in Literature because of the fine reviews and essays and pieces on Mailer. And it’s a memoir of yours, on your life, not only in the world, but in literature as well.”

“I like that,” Lennon says, leaning back, satisfied.

Half of the book consists of essays and reviews that are in some way linked to Mailer. The other half of the book is various published and unpublished memoir pieces that provide the connective tissue that weaves the work together. 

“Mike, you call it a ragbag,” Mooney says, about the work in progress. “We just needed to find a shape, and we did that pretty quickly. It’s what brings all of these different genres together . . . these seemingly disparate moments of an interesting life, which is of course, what all memoirs need to be.”

When asked about his role as editor, Mooney, who’s editing a number of books, says his approach is different with each writer, just as it is when he teaches creative writing: “…to figure out what’s this person’s vision? What’s her voice? What’s this fiction trying to become or what is it interested in philosophically and psychologically? And then to deal with young writers and seasoned writers like Mike on their terms.”

Later, Mooney adds more on the topic of being an editor. “It’s about creating an atmosphere of trust, where writers can trust you with intimate details that they don’t know would work. The friendship has helped to open things up and your readiness, Mike, to take the challenges I’ve given you.”

And so it’s under the gaze of Mooney’s watchful eye (through Zoom) that Mike shares what it’s like to be on the receiving end of this process. “Bob said to me, ‘We want to see how these stories knit together in a larger narrative that grows out of your life. We want the memoir pieces to be foregrounded more, and we want more of them.’ I’ve always felt resistance about writing about myself. Bob really pushed me.” 

It’s apparent Mooney is thrilled to be working with Lennon. His eyes sparkle as they did during residency when he taught a lesson on transitions in fiction and when he spoke about the creation of story. Mooney refers to Lennon’s readings at Wilkes with that same magical gaze. “Mike’s memoir really moved me. I would think of scenes that Mike had read [during residency] weeks later. The way he creates the world he grew up in—Fall River. You can smell it. You can feel it. Mike and I have a lot in common with heritage, and that resonates. But he really brings you into his life. It feels substantial.”

I sense the push and pull of this collaboration will result in a finely crafted book. Mooney wants more memoir. Lennon wants more reviews and essays. Both will win, and so will we. 

“I came to agree with Mike,” Mooney says. “These reviews should be in the book. Mike’s insight into literature and the people he chooses to write about are among my favorites. He’s got the eye of what Mailer called a first-rate reader. He’s able to translate that into language that is not academic. It’s from one interested smart reader to another, going right to the heart of the issues that a work of fiction is calling forth and what that might mean to us. And how that vision might be shaped. Only a writer of Mike’s caliber can do that. And then to turn the camera on himself is what I wanted. Mike didn’t realize the extent to which his life and his eye, his pen in his hand count for something huge here. Like a conductor—I am saying, give me more Lennon!”

Mike Lennon responds with a grin underneath his mustache. He’s worked with five different publishing houses over the years and a number of editors. “Every editor has their own style. I’ve never had any issues. But the difference with Bob is that I’ve known him for years. The others I knew because of the writing.”

Bob Mooney’s eyes appear to be searching the corners of his mind. Deep thought.

“After I finished the biography,” Lennon says. “I didn’t know what to do. So I began writing memoirs, essays, and reviews because I had to write. Most of the stuff in the book has been written in the last five years.” 

Mooney leans forward. He has contemplated the topic of their friendship. “I think it has helped the editorial process for me and the writing process for you,” he says to Lennon. “Because we chat like this and you tell me about your grandfather and your father, and I can tell you—” Mooney smiles as he points with such strength it feels like a jolt of electricity might come through the screen. “—that right there is what we need!” Did the lights just flicker? “There’s intimacy. I don’t know if you’d feel as comfortable opening up to some guy in a suit in New York City. I can see the lights going on in your head, and you’re following this thread, and I’m going ‘Yeah, that!’”

Words of Wisdom on Publishing from Bob Mooney

Robert Mooney

All writers recognize that this is part of our dream, our goal—this is what we want. But it cannot be the most important reason why you’re writing, or writing is going to be hell—and you’re going to be disappointed.

Ask yourself, why are you writing this book? If it’s because you’re trying to figure things out about being human in this world and that you see this as a powerful thought process—then get it right. Write the book you want because you want to write and then open the floodgates for that other part of your ambition.

Writers write because they have a compulsion to write. To figure things out in language to shape an understanding out of the confusions out there.

Once you get it right and it’s good, then it shouldn’t be so much I want to publish, I want to be read but I want to share this with anybody who is interested. I’m going to give this part of myself to strangers, and maybe they’ll get something out of it. Entertainment for sure, but also to give them some thoughts of a different way to look at their lives. If you see it more holistically like that then it becomes—I’m sharing part of myself. I’m giving blood here because I want to figure things out and share. After that, let the Random Houses of the world figure out how to get it into as many hands as possible.

Mike Lennon’s Wisdom and Advice:

J. Michael Lennon headshot

I didn’t know until I began working in this program sixteen years ago when we started it how important a literary community is in helping you fulfill your dreams as a writer. I did not know exactly how much I would come to rely on it, how much I would enjoy it, and how much it would help me go forward.

The books that I’ve written in the last 15 years have been connected in one way or another to my literary community, and the heart of my literary community has been at Wilkes. 

Build a community for yourself of people you know and trust and that you are also committed to helping in any way you can—by reading their manuscripts, sending them books in the mail, sending them quotes. I’ve been helped enormously by half a dozen or so people in this program to realize what I wanted to do as a writer. So build your literary community. Build it carefully.

You’ll have an inner circle of people that you rely on in a regular way, a next circle that you rely on for different things like genre or experts. The circles overlap, and you’ve got to know who to talk to about what, and to not be promiscuous about sending everything. But don’t be afraid to share at the same time and let others know if you can’t help. You’ve got to do it out of the spirit of generosity.

One Final Note

More Lennon!

Success in Romance with Jen McLaughlin & Nisha Sharma

As a teenage mother, Jen McLaughlin found inspiration from the Twilight Series and took a non-traditional path to education, after first becoming an established romance novelist. Nisha Sharma is an attorney who worked for Fortune 15 organizations. So, what do alums McLaughlin and Sharma have in common? Quite a bit, as I found out. They are prolific writers, beloved teachers, lovers of romance novels, and savvy business-women—impressive.

McLaughlin has published forty-nine books in contemporary romance and new adult genres. She’s a New York Times bestselling author who has worked with James Patterson on three books. In addition to authoring numerous novels for Entangled Publishing, a MacMillan imprint, Jen has also written for Penguin Random House (the Sons of Steel Row series earned starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly) and Little Brown. Additionally, she has produced a few indie projects with enough breakout success to garner attention from Forbes and Publishers Weekly. She’s also written YA and middle-grade books, which are currently out for consideration for publication through her agent, Louise Fury.

Sharma’s YA romance, My So-Called Bollywood Life is a RITA winner for best YA and has been made into a feature film. Nisha’s writing has been praised by NPR, Cosmopolitan, Teen Vogue, Buzzfeed, Hypable, and more. With film options, three books published, and five more scheduled for publication, Nisha’s wrapping up the Adult Romance Singh Family Trilogy. And as her website hints, her first book from the series If Shakespeare was an Aunty will be released in January 2022

McLaughlin and Sharma, passionate about writing and how the romance industry has evolved, generously took time from their writing and teaching schedules for a candid conversation that came with some “Aha!” moments.

Roni: My perception of romance is that it’s a genre with a specific formula that the writer must follow.

Nisha (smiles): Calling romance formulaic is actually a misconception.

Roni: So, it’s more complex. What is needed for the work to be considered a romance novel?

Jen: It has to end happy.

Nisha: Jen is right. The hallmark for a novel in the romance genre vs. a love story is that there is a happy for now or the happily forever after. The romance genre developed because it was about empowering women to push boundaries, to have agency, and to focus on the female experience. Now romance is significantly more diverse. It’s not as gendered. It’s not focused so much on the female experience, but on the experience of the characters involved and how they overcome an emotional arc in order to achieve a sense of happiness at the end of the story.

Roni: That formula of the meet-cute, the couple finds love, falls apart, and then ends up back together in the end, that’s a relic from the past?

Jen: Some romances are still made that way. Some Harlequin imprints want that pattern. But outside of that, you’ll see a much broader spectrum. There’s usually a dark moment. Every romance has a dark moment. Your job as a romance writer is to create a story where the characters push and pull and fall in love. A romance reader knows it’s going to end happy. The challenge of the writer is to make the reader doubt that certainty.

Nisha: The romance genre is so much more than it used to be. It’s an antiquated concept to think the characters’ only focus is love. A lot of these stories have incredibly rich world building. It’s often a journey to overcome trauma, psychological or physical. That’s why I hesitate to even call romance a genre anymore. It’s more like a category because there are so many genres within romance. Thriller, fantasy, horror, inspirational, you name it.

Roni: About your writing career, Jen, tell us about your pen name Diane Alberts and the transition to using Jen McLaughlin? 

Jen: Okay, so when I had my youngest daughter and didn’t sleep during the night, I read my way through the Twilight Series. At the end of the book, the author’s bio mentioned she was a stay-at-home mom. And I thought, I always wanted to be a writer, why don’t I do that? 

My first book, Reclaimed, I sent out and got rejections with words of advice. It’s called a revise and resubmit. If you get those, it’s quite the compliment because they aren’t buying the book, but they care enough to write to you. I kept revising and resending. Two years later, Reclaimed was accepted by a small online publisher. That kickstarted my career writing as Diane Alberts. After my fifth book was published, I acquired an agent.

Later, I self-published my new adult series—hired an editor, a book cover graphic artist, and a publicist with my agent’s full support. I wrote the book in a month, and had it out a few weeks after that. I chose to release the book under Jen McLaughlin because I thought it was going to bomb. I didn’t want to ruin the Diane Alberts name, which I had already established. 

But the new adult book hit the New York Times best seller list and the Out of Line series became the bestselling series I’ve ever written—it’s also the highest earning series I’ve ever written, and still continues to be optioned for foreign rights in countries around the world.

Nisha: I loved that series.

Roni: I’m curious about the If Shakespeare was an Aunty series mentioned on your website, Nisha. But I also want to know about your experience as a student at Wilkes.

Nisha: I had sold a book to Harlequin, but the deal fell through when the person that started the acquisition process got laid off. So I started at Wilkes during this weird crossroad in my career when I wasn’t sure what to do. I never intended to go to Wilkes to learn how to write. I already knew how to write. I’d had some success with small novellas. I knew I’d continue that journey, and I already had an agent. I enrolled in Wilkes to expand my network and explore teaching opportunities, and to challenge myself in the process. Wilkes definitely challenged me.

(Laughing). I was incredibly pompous about romance, and I still believe that Romance is the best. It’s a billion-dollar industry. But the way that I approach romance has drastically changed because of the great influence of the faculty at Wilkes. The way that I approach my craft is significantly different after my time at Wilkes. 

Jen: I want to jump in and say, me too. I joined the program knowing how to write. My romance writing has absolutely deepened and become so much better after the program, which I did not expect because I’d already had forty-five books published. I entered this program to teach, something every faculty member at Wilkes knows by now, and I hope to one day be a mentor in this very program. I have a lot of lessons learned in publishing, marketing, writing, plotting, revising and so much more to pass on.

Nisha: In the program I wrote My So-Called Bollywood Life. Susan Cartsonis, a producer on the faculty, acquired the film rights before I sold the book to Random House. 

Then because of my success with Bollywood, Avon, an imprint of HarperCollins (another publisher) wanted a contemporary trilogy, The Singh Family trilogy, and then later acquired a romcom trilogy. If Shakespeare was an Aunty is a trilogy in answer to that. Each of the books is a reimagination of a Shakespeare comedy. The first book is Taming of the Shrew reimagined. 

Roni: I love the conversations about the speed to completion. I’ve read your works—to write well and do that so expeditiously is another spectacular feat that you’ve both accomplished. How long does it take to produce a polished manuscript?

Nisha: I’m a slow writer. I take six months to write and polish a romance novel.

Jen: When I was writing full time, when I wasn’t teaching, or in grad school, I would write a book in a month. I would aim for six to ten thousand words a day. And I could do that. Now, I usually get about six pages a week written—and I workshop those pages with some of my cohort members from the program, even though we’ve been out of the program for quite some time. Those friendships we talk about in the program, they really last.

Nisha: I think why Jen and I are so prolific, compared to literary fiction authors in the program, is because we focus on story, where a lot of literary fiction focuses on language as well, or the vehicle to story. Our sentences are important, they’re strong, and they’re clean, but we’re writing with a wide screen lens and that’s because we’re incredibly aware of what our readers expect from us.

The majority of romance readers fall between the ages of 25 to 64 with more than half with college degrees or higher, and employed in professional positions. We want to be able to connect with them quickly because their lives are so engaged in other areas. They are not coming to us so they can enjoy every sentence, every moment, and every word. They want to fall in love and quickly engage or disengage in an experience. We’re in the market of creating an experience. 

Roni: Talk to us about connecting quickly with the reader and getting the first pages right. What are your words of wisdom?

Jen: Have a really killer first line. Introduce your main character first. Give the reader insight into what your character wants. Show us who your character is, not just what they look like, but who they are.

Nisha: On beginnings, I always rewrite after I get to the end, because by then I know my characters and how they react. 

Jen: I fast draft and go back and add internal reactions because you do know your character better once you’ve gotten to the end.

Roni: Can you share your experience with the Bollywood movie?

Nisha: Before Susan Cartsonis bought the film rights, I remember her calling me and telling me she had notes for me. I was so surprised because she is so busy. She was always on location for shooting, and she took the time to give me notes. I felt really blessed. She gave me specific notes on how the story would appear on screen, and how she envisioned it. That helped my pacing significantly. The way that I now approach my revisions to any of my projects is the way that Susan had given me guidance on how the story unfolds on screen. Whenever I approach a project, I approach it like screenwriting versus drafting a novel.

Jen: I agree. One of the most beneficial courses I took in my Foundations [semester] was screenwriting. I look at my writing differently. It taught me how to compress things and to make the story more immediate. I highly recommend learning screenwriting while you’re in the program.

Roni: What was it like working with James Patterson?

Jen: Amazing. He’s brilliant and nice. He’s got great methods. I still outline the way I did for him. I use his format all the time, and am very grateful for the opportunity to have worked with him. 

Roni: You both have prolific writing careers and yet you’re equally as passionate about teaching the craft of writing. Why are you called to teach?

Jen: I always wanted to be a teacher and a writer. Being a young single teenage mother, I had a lot of things to overcome. But I got there. I teach at Wilkes in the Honors Program, 100- and 300-level creative writing courses, and I also teach workshops. Helping people understand writing is a huge passion of mine, because as much as it is an art…it’s also a science. There are things you need to know and understand to do it properly. It’s about showing what you need to show when you need to show it, and not showing things when it’s needed, as well.

Nisha: I’m similar. I always wanted to teach and write. Writing is a solitary venture. Teaching gives me the opportunity to connect with other people who may be as passionate about the written word like I am. I like to help students develop their ability to connect with others through story. I teach YA fiction at Muhlenberg, and I am a faculty mentor in the creative writing program at Wilkes. Teaching experiences help reinforce the foundational elements in my writing as well.

Advice from Nisha Sharma

Nisha Sharma

I have two pieces of advice. My first one is important for the Wilkes community. You are your own best advocate. In order to be a professional writer, you have to consider yourself a businessperson as well. You can write and focus on your craft, but you must also develop your professional presence as well. Focus on developing yourself as a brand in order to push through publishing opportunities—whether indie or traditional.

My second piece of advice is don’t write the story that you think others are going to buy. Write the story that feels authentic and true to you, because people are going to be able to tell if your heart is not there. 

Advice from Jen McLaughlin

Jen McLaughlin

Talk to everybody. Don’t be shy. Get to know everybody. Email people. Talk to them at the residency. Writers are introverts. We’re shy. I’m shy. Get outside of your book. Especially when you’re at the residencies. Pretend like you’re a character in your book and don’t be shy.

And PLOT. I’m a huge proponent of plotting. I have a workshop I’ve given in the past through the program. People have asked for it, and I’ll be offering it again in the future. We’re told to outline, and plot, but there’s very little focus on how to do so, and I hope to someday be able to pass my knowledge onto my future mentees in a graduate program.

Roni: Sign me up for Jen’s Plot like a Pro! workshop and Nisha’s Diverse Narrative session. Who would like to join me? 

Should You Submit During Grad School?

Why not? You’re old enough, experienced enough, and you might even be good enough. But you’ll never know unless you try. Who, what, where . . . and why would anybody want to interrupt the flow of words landing on the page of their project for a submission or two (or more)? Michael Hardin, who is currently drafting his way through CW 520, is a constant submitter—and that has captured the attention of his peers as well as the higher-ups at Wilkes. As Michael’s publishing credits grow, we took some time off from our writing duties to talk about submitting.

Roni: You tend to submit to literary journals and other venues. Can you elaborate on that—and talk about what types of pieces you submit?

Michael: I write poetry, and since I have been at Wilkes, I have started working on a memoir. Poetry is easy to submit: simply find 3-5 poems and poof, you have a submission. Memoir is more complicated; to be publishable, a piece needs to stand alone, and only a few of my chapters so far have been self-contained.

Before I came to Wilkes, I was my only reader, so I had to decide when I thought a poem was ready to send out. Now that I’ve met some fellow poets, we workshop pieces once a month, so I get a better sense of what is ready. I also have a friend read my memoir chapters, so that too is vetted before I submit.

And since submitting is anonymous (not always literally, but if an editor doesn’t know who you are, it might as well be), I don’t take rejection personally. I submit everything that I think is at least good—a poem does not have to be great for me to submit it.

Roni: Why do you feel it’s important for writers to submit their work into the world? What can a person possibly gain from actively participating in this process? 

Michael: Writing is hard work, and I don’t write for myself alone. I want to be read, and unless I get published somewhere, that is not going to happen. A lot of my writing deals with trauma, so getting published is a validation of what I went through, and maybe someone else can find something worthwhile in my experience. And I have an ego—it feels good to look at my bookshelf at all the journals, magazines, and books that have my work in them. For that reason, I prefer sending my work to print journals, but I have published online as well—online publications have the advantage of a greater readership.

Roni: How much time do you expend submitting your work each week? Are you also creating new work for submissions or regurgitating previously penned poems and essays?

Michael: Unfortunately, this semester has been slow for me. Since I have been finishing my memoir, I have not been working on poems, and have not had free time to convert individual chapters into self-contained entities. Last semester, I would spend about a couple hours of my writing time each week submitting poetry and memoir chapters. This interview is making me feel lazy now; I think I’ll spend a few hours over the weekend getting stuff sent out.

I send out new and old stuff simultaneously. If I think a piece is good, I’ll send it out until it finds a home. I’m looking forward to the summer break to work on getting some of my memoir chapters into submittable form and maybe working on some new poems.

Roni: How do you find places to submit your work? Where do you recommend us “rookie” submitters begin our journey?

Michael: Go to Poets and Writers (P&W). It’s online and has a free list of magazines and journals that are looking for submissions. That’s where I started thirty years ago, back before the internet—I had a print subscription to P&W. Starting with places that are actively advertising for submissions will give you a better chance of getting into the magazine. It means they are not already swamped with submissions. My first publications all came from the back of P&W and after I had a handful of acceptances (it took years—it’s still not easy), I began submitting to more prestigious journals.

Roni: What process do you use to track your submissions, and do you recommend multiple submissions? It’s a numbers game right?

Michael: I use Submittable. Most journals require it—they keep track of your submissions, and if something is taken, it is easy to withdraw it from the other places.

Definitely multiple submissions. I usually have everything I’ve written at five different places. Journals are okay with this as long as you withdraw immediately once your submission is accepted elsewhere. I have never kept track of how many times I submit a piece before it is taken, but I’m sure it’s at least five to twenty—more if I am submitting to top journals. After twenty submissions, I start to think maybe the piece isn’t as good as I thought it was and put it in my “Revise” file.

Roni: About how many rejections have you experienced from this process, and approximately how many publishing credits do you have? And you’ve been doing this submitting “thing” for how long?

Michael: Hundreds of rejections. I don’t count or I’d get too depressed. But the acceptances make it all worthwhile. I’ve published about fifty poems, twenty of which are in well-respected journals. I’ve published three chapters from my memoir. And I’ve published about fifty essays of literary criticism (back when I was an English professor).

I submitted my first poems when I was a senior in college, thirty years ago, but I have had dry spells in between, sometimes five to ten years where I haven’t written or submitted anything. But I always come back to writing and submitting—I can’t stop.

Roni: What is your earliest memory of submitting your writing and receiving an acceptance for publication?

Michael: I had been submitting for about a year, and then I got an acceptance. It was a small, new journal listed in the back of P&W, but I took the letter and taped it to the wall above my desk. That letter proved to me I was a poet. That became my acceptance routine. I still have the copy of the journal with my poem in it, which I don’t think remained in publication for more than a few issues.

Roni: What is your best advice for anybody who wants to begin submitting their writing?

Michael: Look at the magazine before you submit. Read a few of the pieces in it and see if your work fits the editorial style. Otherwise, you’re just submitting blindly. 

Roni: Any final words of wisdom? 

Michael: Don’t worry about rejection. Magazines get tons of good submissions and can only take a tiny fraction. I have had poems rejected by average magazines and later taken by top journals. It often is just a matter of taste on the editor’s part. 

Faculty News

  • Nancy McKinley’s novel St. Christopher on Pluto has been chosen as a finalist for the Colorado Book Award in Literary Fiction. She will read in the online Finalist Reading Series on May 19 at 7:00PM MST, accessible on FB and YouTube through Colorado Humanities & Center for the Book.
  • Mike Lennon’s well received review of Robert Stone’s best work is shared in this link: A Mistake 10,000 Miles Long.
  • Dania Ramos’s Timestorm, a middle-grade audio drama podcast, will launch its third season on Tuesday, April 27. Take Up Space, an audio short, was an On Air Fest 2021 Official Select.
  • Jan Quackenbush’s full-length play, A Touch of Frost, published by Blue Moon Plays, is scheduled for production by the Brimmer and May School in Massachusetts in May 2021.
  • Bonnie Culver:
    • Digital Disturbances, a collection of three short plays dealing with technology—”Cell,” “GPS,” and “Auto-mated,” was published by Blue Moon Plays in December, 2020. 
    • “Mailer and Feminism,” a chapter in Mailer in Context, was published by Cambridge University Press, ED. Magdalen McKinley, inApril, 2021.
    • A paper on “Mailer and Mis-Understanding Feminists” was presented at the Mailer Society Annual Conference (virtual) in November, 2020.
    • A reading of selections of “Mailer, Race, and Politics” with Matthew Hinton at the Mailer Society Annual Conference (virtual), November, 2020.
    • “GPS” was produced via Zoom at Ophelia’s Jump Theater, CA, Fall 2020.
    • A Ticket to the Circus, a one-woman show, was rescheduled for summer, 2021 at Edgemar Center for the Arts, CA. Directed by Michelle Danner and starring Anne Archer.
    • Awarded “Faculty Emerita” status by the Wilkes University Board of Trustees at their Fall 2020 meeting.

Alumni News

  • Jennifer Bokai is pleased to announce the publication of her 14th novel, Agent’s Wyoming Mission, an April 2021 release from Harlequin Romantic Suspense. Agent’s Wyoming Mission is the 3rd book in the Rocky Mountain Justice; Wyoming Nights miniseries. The final book in the series will be released at the end of 2021.
  • Randee Bretherick, publishing under pen name Randee Green, will release the third novel in the Carrie Shatner Mystery series on June 8, 2021. The novel will be published through Coffeetown Press.
  • Suzanne Ohlmann—the University of Nebraska Press included Suzanne’s essay, “Sustenance,” in their January, 2021 book, More in Time: A Tribute To Ted Kooser, edited by Marco Abel, Jessica Poli, and Timothy Schaffert.
  • Angela Eckhart—after serving as a writing adjunct for her local community college for two semesters and tutoring students in the writing center, Angela is currently employed with the state of Pennsylvania in the administrative field proofreading reports. She also reviews books for Hippocampus Magazine where she previously served as Book Reviews Editor, and she is an active volunteer at HippoCamp: A Conference for Creative Nonfiction Writers. Angela will participate in the 2021 Belize Writer’s Conference where she will lead a daily generative writing exercise and work on her memoir.
  • Mary Poth’s short story, “The Yolk,” was published in the February 2021 issue of antonym. The issue is titled Ambiguous and Absolute and features pieces with themes of “impermanence, ambivalence, and change.”
  • Jennifer Jenkins’ debut novel, American Bourbon, will be released on June 1, 2021, by Northampton House Press. The McKinsey family has built an empire on moonshine. From prohibition to present day, the trip to success has been full of secrets and violence. And no one, not competitors, government, or even family, will destroy their dynasty.
  • Donna Talarico presented “Literary Magazines & Literary Citizenship: Build Your Credits, Build Your Cred!” at the 2021 Belize Writers Conference in April 2021.
  • Ora Smith released her second historical novel in March 2021, White Oak River: A Story of Slavery’s Secrets, a captivating story based on astonishing but true events of her ancestors.
  • Sandee Gertz has new poems accepted and forthcoming by Cathexis Northwest Press (May with a bonus audio reading) and Northern Appalachia Review. “Steeltown Girls” from The Pattern Maker’s Daughter has been accepted into the Anniversary Edition of the Keystone Poetry Anthology coming out 2021, and it was also reprinted in March 2021 by “Every Day Poems.” Sandee also appeared on the WANA (Writers Association of Northern Appalachia) Live Podcast with a reading in March 2021. In June 2021, she will be presenting three poetry workshops for the West Virginia Writers Association. Her memoir work was featured at The Write Launch late last year. 
  • Rachel Luann Strayer—Drowning Ophelia, the play Rachel wrote for her masters at Wilkes, was published by Blue Moon Plays in 2021. Drowning Ophelia is also having a new production through the University of Indianapolis April 20-24, 2021.

In Memory of Beverly Hiscox

Shortly after the publication of our last newsletter, on February 25, 2021, our longtime supporter and generous donor, Beverly Hiscox, passed away. She was loved and cherished by all, and will be sorely missed. Following the announcement of her passing, members of the Wilkes Creative Writing community generously donated over $6,000 to continue the scholarship in her name, which is awarded to one of our Creative Writing students each year. Here is co-founder/former director Bonnie Culver’s memorial:

“Recently, we shared the sad news that Beverly Hiscox, one of our most generous and avid program supporters, passed away. Mike and I had the honor of being part of the Wilkes administration as Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean, respectively, which meant we were part of the quarterly Board of Trustees meetings. No single person on the board championed the arts and this program more than Beverly. In fact, when she heard our idea about the program, she offered to serve on our original Board of Advisors.

Not only did Bev champion the program early on when there was resistance to investing in it, she and her family also donated a generous annual scholarship in her name. The Beverly Blakeslee Hiscox scholarship was awarded annually, beginning in 2007; the recipients of that award included the following: Walter Lansberry, Richard Fellinger, Amye Barrese Archer, Laura E. J. Moran, Jason Carney, Joshua Horwitz, Thomas Simko, John Winston, Ronnie Stephens, Andre Carter, Rodney Annis, Juliette Dunn, Monique Franz, and Joshua Holycross.

She and her husband Harry rarely missed a program banquet and they never missed an opportunity to meet the recipient of the Hiscox scholarship. Bev and Harry enjoyed spending time with the faculty as well; Bev called every year to ask about what alums, faculty, and current students were doing with their writing, their lives, and their classwork. When Marlon James won the Man Booker prize, Bev called to tell us how proud she was of him and what the program had accomplished. Last week, Harry said that “of all Bev’s projects at Wilkes, she was most proud of this program and working with us to make it a reality.”

The family has requested that all gifts in Beverly’s memory be donations to the scholarship fund her family created in her honor. Mike and I have pledged to donate $1000 each in honor of our dear personal and program friend. We encourage you to donate whatever you can. No gift is too small. Our goal is to honor her friendship, dedication, good humor, and kind, supportive spirit of Beverly with these gifts. Mike and I know such outpouring will mean much to Harry and the entire Hiscox family in their time of grief.

Margaret Steele, Chief Development Officer, will accept all donations on behalf of Wilkes University. You can send Margaret a check made out to “Wilkes University—Hiscox Scholarship” and send it to: Mrs. Margaret Steele, Office of Advancement, 84 South St., Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, PA or you can donate online at: www.wilkes.edu/give. If you have any questions, you may email Margaret at margaret.steele@wilkes.edu.

Thank you, in advance, for being part of this special program and offering a token of thanks to Beverly Hiscox for helping us build this community.”

-Mike Lennon and Bonnie Culver, Program Co-founders