Tag Archives: Catherine Jordan

The Write Stuff: Putting pen to paper in central PA.

As a writer, I’m often asked the question: “How can I get my work published?”

I actually believe that there are other, more important questions for would-be writers to explore.

How do I continuously improve my writing skills? Where are the best venues to network? How do I professionally position myself with editors and publishers? Consider these activities critical to building your professional brand and getting published.


Improve Your Skills 

Like in any professional field, writers need to keep themselves informed about industry trends while honing their own skills. As local thriller author and travel writer Don Helin said, “Writing is an art, but publishing is a business.”

Check out local college-level writing classes through HACC or four-year universities. Karen Hendricks, owner of Hendricks Communications, recommended pursuing a degree in communications or journalism.

“Communications is an important and underrated skill,” she said. “It’s an excellent investment, no matter your field.”

Explore the resources at your local library. Locally, Camp Hill’s Fredericksen Library is a programming powerhouse for writing courses. Local publisher/author Bill Peschel, who broke into writing through newspapers, found free Gale courses at the Hershey Public Library. He cited a particularly eye-opening class by author Steve Alcorn on how the three-act structure works with the scene-and-sequel method.

Horror writer and Sunbury Press editor Cathy Jordan has facilitated classes at both libraries. She also recommended “A Novel Idea,” a monthly series of workshops through Perry County Council of the Arts. Published authors and other industry professionals facilitate the sessions.

You’ll also find concentrated workshops and lectures on writing, publishing and pitching your work at writers’ conferences. Ayleen Gontz helps organize the annual, statewide Pennwriters conference, which covers all genres and skill levels.

“The conference features New York City agents and editors, so it’s worth investing your weekend,” she said. “If you volunteer to help, you can spend extra time networking with them.”



Through networking at literary events, you will make valuable connections that can help further your goals. Hendricks, who writes for several area publications, stays in touch by attending publications’ staff meetings and social events.

“You have to be intentional about networking with other writers,” she said. “The energy from other writers connects you with opportunities and nurtures your career.”

Jordan recommended joining the writing association focused on your genre and attending their conventions.

“A writers’ convention is the perfect venue to learn something new,” she said. “They have great classes, and the new friends and contacts you make can point you in the right direction for your genre.”

Critique groups meet regularly to review each other’s works in progress and offer feedback and mentoring.

Novelist Dennis Royer has been active in critique groups for almost two decades. He cited three considerations for getting the most out of the experience. Find a group that has a variety of experience levels and genres, that has members who give genuine and honest feedback, and that runs like a business meeting.

“You’re attending to learn how to write better, so you want honest feedback from attendees who are there to learn,” he said. “It shouldn’t just be a social gathering where you’re looking for pats on the back.”

If no local network resonates with your style and schedule, find one online.

“You don’t have to be an extravert, but you do have to find your network,” Jordan said.


Getting Started

Although there is no one path for writing careers, writers tend to be more collaborative and supportive rather than competitive.

“It’s not only about selling books, but building a community,” Helin said.

Popular ways to establish yourself are through your career, professional associations and volunteer work.

“My advice is to just write,” Royer said. “Don’t worry about how bad your writing might be. Everyone starts somewhere. Join a critique group, and attend conferences and workshops.”

The more you absorb feedback while you network, the better your writing—and the better you’ll be able to tell your story in a way that only you can tell it.

“There isn’t one perfect way of telling a story,” Peschel said. “How you best tell it is your own voice. There’s nothing magical about it.”

Finding a mentor is another part of a good start, and that relationship will help you grow your writing. Through the local PA Horror Writers Association chapter, Jordan found her mentor—a Bram Stoker Award winner!

Susan Ryder, a feature writer and communications professional for two local churches, advised beginning writers to “talk to people, ask questions, and introduce yourself to people.”

At first, you may not have your own ideas about writing topics, but that’s OK.

“Be willing to write what an editor needs, even if it may not interest you,” Ryder said. “It will give you practice and offer opportunities to pitch stories.”

Once you feel confident, try pitching to local venues. Make sure you’re aligning with the “flavor” of the publication. Ryder suggested studying a few back issues to help tailor your pitch.

Try entering contests. It’s an excellent way to garner a title.

Janet Cincotta maintains a weekly blog to keep her memoir-writing on track. In 2015, she won the Central PA Magazine short story contest. Conferences also hold writing contests.

Listening to critiques and working with editors requires a thick skin.

“Expect feedback and story edits, and listen to your editor,” Ryder said.

And, if your work is turned down, don’t take it too hard, Jordan advised.

“Although rejection sucks, don’t take it personally,” she said. “Sometimes, those letters have good advice.”

And don’t let all this intimidate you.

“If you have a story to tell, don’t let it go untold,” Royer said.



Writer Resources

Critique Groups

Pennwriters Area 5 Critique Group
4th Wednesday, 6 p.m.
Foundation Hall
1 Benjamin Plaza, New Cumberland
Contact: Carrie Jacobs at carrieinpa@gmail.com

Gettysburg Writing Brigade
Every Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.
O’Rourke’s Eatery
44 Steinwehr Ave., Gettysburg
Contact Jim Rada at jimrada@yahoo.com

Children’s Book Writers Critique Group
3rd Wednesday, 2 p.m.
New Cumberland Area Public Library
1 Benjamin Plaza, New Cumberland

Write On
2nd Saturday of every month, 10:30 a.m.
New Cumberland Area Public Library
1 Benjamin Plaza, New Cumberland
Contact Sue Kerr at 717-802-2594

Midtown Writers Group
3rd Sunday of every month, 1 p.m.
Midtown Scholar Bookstore
1302 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg

Mechanicsburg Creative Writing
3rd Saturday, 7 p.m.
212 E. Locust St., Mechanicsburg

Non-Fiction Authors Association Central PA Chapter
2nd Tuesday, 6 p.m.
Spire AVL Studios
99 Garden Parkway, Carlisle

The Genuine Writer
2nd and 4th Thursday, 6 p.m.
Whole Foods Market
1563 Fruitville Pike, Lancaster

Central PA Writers Workshop TM
2nd and 3rd Sunday
Check meetup app for roving location

Lancaster Christian Writers
3rd Wednesday, 9:30 a.m.
Lancaster Alliance Church
210 Pitney Rd., Lancaster


Literary Meetings

Nathaniel Gadsden’s Spoken Word Café
Most Fridays, 7 p.m.
Midtown Scholar Bookstore
1302 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg

Almost Uptown Poetry Cartel
Thursdays, 7 p.m.
Midtown Scholar Bookstore
1302 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg

Central PA Romance Writers
1st Saturday, 10:30 a.m.
Simpson Public Library, Mechanicsburg



Pennwriters Conference (all genres)
Annual conference in May

Hippocamp Conference (creative non-fiction)
Annual conference in August

Lancaster Christian Writers
Annual conference 1st Saturday in April

Catholic Writers Guild Conference
Annual conference in summer

The Write Stuff
Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group
Annual conference in March


Adult Ed Classes (non-university)

Perry County Council of the Arts
A Novel Idea
1st Saturday starting in March
Landis House
67 N. 4th St., Newport

Gale writing courses at the Hershey Public Library

Writing classes at the Fredericksen Library

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Parting Words: A local tale, told piecefully.

The serial novel has a distinguished pedigree.

No less a writer than Charles Dickens published many of his novels in serial form, with a section or chapter appearing in a periodical from issue to issue. In fact, many magazines in the 19th century published novels serially.

The format never disappeared, but rather went out of fashion.

The internet, it may be said, has helped revive the form by priming readers to read differently—micro tales suit the text-byte attitude. And—surprise—there’s an app for that. Serial fiction apps are available for Android and IOS devices.

The Perry County Council of the Arts (PCCA) is restarting the tradition locally, with plans to publish a novella, “The Blue, the Gray and the Red,” in five monthly installments as an insert in the News-Sun, Perry County Times and Duncannon Record starting this month.

The novella (defined as a short novel, about 40,000 words) is set in Perry County in 1863, at the height of the Civil War. It places fictional characters in historical events and interweaves elements of family drama, romance, loss and the supernatural.

Right now, Perry County citizens are actively engaged in historically related initiatives as the county’s bicentennial is in 2020. So, according to former PCCA Executive Director Roger Smith, the novella project is timely.

Loose Ends

The novella is a product of PCCA’s “A Novel Idea,” a yearlong writing program for aspiring authors. The goals behind the writing course are to teach participants how to avoid writing pitfalls, rouse inspiration and benefit from the wisdom of published authors. Participants stoke ideas through writing exercises and group critiques.

The writing program also offers students publication opportunities. For instance, in December 2016, Sunbury Press published a collection from the program titled, “Strange Magic.” That anthology caught the attention of Wade Fowler, editor of the Perry County Times and chairman of the Robert H. and Beverly U. Fowler Foundation.

Fowler presented PCCA with a grant to publish the novella in his three newspapers as a practical way to honor his late father, who loved to encourage and support writers.

“I am excited that the Arts Council has developed this novel way to recognize and promote local literary talent,” Fowler said.

Carrie Jacobs, a third-year student writer, wrote the first installment. Her guidelines were simple—set the project during the Civil War somewhere in Perry County and include a supernatural element.

“The most challenging part has been writing without ending the story, leaving enough conflict and loose ends for the next writers to pick up where I left off,” Jacobs said.

Angela Binner, also a student writer, followed with the second installment.

“My job was to build the tension through additional conflicts,” she said.

Book Format

For Binner, the project combined two subjects of fascination—the Civil War and Pennsylvania Dutch magic. As a bonus, it allowed Binner to work one-on-one with Christian/Amish/romance writer Laurie Edwards (who also writes under the pen name Rachel J Good), whom Binner admires.

“One of our goals as teachers is to pass along our hard-earned knowledge and make it easier for beginning writers to learn the craft and avoid many of the pitfalls in the industry,” Edwards said. “As their skills improved, we hoped to provide opportunities for them to experience publication.”

Cindy Simmons, a second year student with the PCCA writing workshop, and contemporary romance author Heather Heyford partnered for the third installment.

Sandra Bush, a student in the “A Novel Idea 102” program, and writing program founder/author Don Helin, will pen the fourth installment.

Brenda Tadych, a participant in the charter “A Novel Idea” writing workshop, and yours truly (Catherine Jordan), will tackle the fifth and final piece.

Lawrence Knorr, founder and CEO of Sunbury Press, has agreed to publish the complete story as a novella in book format. Look for the completed novella in May.

“I think that ‘The Blue, the Gray and the Red’ will engage the readers of our newspapers in a uniquely Perry County story,” Fowler said.

For more information about the Perry County Council of the Arts, visit www.perrycountyarts.org. The next installment of “A Novel Idea” begins in March 2018.

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