Monday, October 26, 2015

Bridging Writers - An Interview with Rich Marcello

Rich Marcello is a poet, musician, and creative writing teacher, and is the author of three critically acclaimed novels. The first, The Color of Home, was published in 2013 by Langdon Street Press, and melds together honest generative dialogue, poetic sensory detail, and “unforgettable characters who seem to know the complete song catalog of Lennon or Cohen.”  The second, The Big Wide Calm, was published in 2014, also by Langdon Street Press. The US Review of Books stated, “Marcello’s novel has a lot going for it. Well-written, thought-provoking, and filled with flawed characters, it meets all of the basic requirements of best-of-show in the literary fiction category.” The third, The Beauty of the Fall, will be published in 2016. Faulkner Award Winner Mark Spencer commented, “Few novels are as intelligent and relevant as The Beauty of the Fall. Almost none is as eloquent, compelling, heartbreaking, and ultimately, uplifting.”

You came to writing after a career in high-tech.  Can you tell us a little about becoming a working writer?  What inspired the transition?  And how did you approach learning the craft?

In a way, I’ve always been a writer. I’ve written songs for over thirty years and poetry, as well.  When I was in college, I was writing short stories and even had the resident novelist at Notre Dame offer to mentor me. But I was broke and in debt at the time, so I made a decision to go into hi-tech.

About five years ago, after a lot of soul-searching, I realized I’d accomplished what I wanted to in hi-tech and decided to come back to writing.  For the first couple of years, I took as many classes as I could to help perfect my craft.  I also was fortunate to be mentored by Mark Spencer, who won the Faulkner Award a number of years ago. I’ve probably learned the most about writing a novel through my interactions with him.

You are a musician as well as a novelist.  Do the two creative impulses come from the same place? In what ways do composing and playing music compliment your work as a storyteller? How conscious are you of sound on the page?

I do think the creative impulses come from the same place though they manifest themselves in different ways.  For me, music is more of short-form medium.  Creativity in a song is about the riff, the verse, the chorus, the bridge, the clever lyric. The novel is more of a long-form medium. There, creativity is about the story, the character,  the plot turn, and the voice of the POV character or the narrator.

In general, I believe the best fiction is sensual, so I’m aware of sound on the page in addition to all of the other senses.  I try to work as many senses as I can into any given scene.

Your second novel, The Big Wide Calm, is a coming of age story about a young musician searching for both the music within and her place in the world.  What were some of your formative experiences as an artist, and how did you draw on them in creating your protagonist and her story?

When I was younger, I put out a number of albums and wrote about fifty songs.  Mostly, what carried through to TBWC was the process of creating a song. When the protagonist, Paige Plant, writes a song in the book, she uses a process similar to the one I used when I wrote my songs.

Most writers begin as avid readers.  Which authors particularly inspire you? Are there writers you consider teachers? Who are you currently reading?

I love to read and am constantly doing so.  When I was younger, I was particularly drawn to Gabriel Garcia Marquez,  Don Delillo, Milan Kundera, Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Pynchon, and Walker Percy. I consider all of them teachers.  More recently, I’ve loved novels by Lauren Groff, Jonathan Franzen, Alexandra Kleeman, Jessamyn Hope, Elena Ferrante, Jenni Fagan, Jennifer Offill, and Peter Heller.

Could you describe your typical writing day? 

I write for five or six hours in the morning.  I get up around five and go right to work. I’m one of those writers who believes in the idea of a fictive dream, so in a way I like to go immediately from one kind of dreaming (during sleep) to another (writing fiction in the morning). I also believe that it’s important to write every day, so for the most part, I write seven days a week.

You have two published novels, The Color of Home, and The Big Wide Calm, and a third novel is on the way.  How do you compare the experience of writing your third novel with writing your first? Are there things that come more easily? Does your approach change with the material?

In general, things comes easier now.  I find that my first draft of any given scene is much closer to the final product than when I started writing years ago. With that said, my third novel, The Beauty of the Fall, is longer than the first two, and it incorporates some dense technology into the narrative, so it has its own challenges. It seems that the more I learn my craft, the more I take on bigger and more difficult topics in my books. That way, each new book is a challenge in its own right.

How do you handle research?

I either travel to the location, or I research on the Internet. For example, my fourth novel, The Latecomers, is set in Sweden and Santa Fe. I’m planning trips to both locations to help me properly place the novel.

You write poetry as well as novels. Do the skills of a poet help in writing prose?  How does writing narrative inspire you as a poet?

Writing poetry helps in two ways. First, it helps me write concise sentences that do a lot of work. Second, sometimes I’ll spend an hour on a sentence to make sure it’s poetic enough. I find that placing a poetic sentence here and there in the narrative significantly enhances the reading experience.

 Writing narrative inspires me as poet mostly from the perspectives of ideas and stories. I ask myself what idea I want to get across or what story I want to tell in the poem. When I’m done with a piece, I check what I produced against what I intended to produce. I’ve found that using this process hones the emotional content of the poems down to its essence.

You teach fiction workshops and classes. How do you approach teaching creative writing?  How does teaching novel or short story writing support your own work? 

I like to combine short lectures with workshops on student’s individual pieces.  I find that combination works best. The lectures are important because they give the students the necessary tools to create good fiction. The workshops are important because so much of writing is about rewriting a piece to show a more sensual and detailed picture of what happened.                                                                                                 

What was the best advice you ever received about writing? 

To write the first pass of any scene quickly with the goal of capturing all of the critical emotions, then to rewrite the scene over and over again until you get it right.

Writing is solitary. How do you feed your creative work?  What role, if any, does community play in sustaining and nurturing you as an artist?

Yes, it is solitary. I feed my work by connecting with other writers, by teaching, and by spending time with loved ones, including my two Newfoundlands, Ani and Shaman. One of the things I would recommend to every writer is to get a dog or two. They really help with being alone all the time. 

Overall, community is very important to me. In fact, the main theme of The Beauty of the Fall is how to create and sustain community in our world.  There are many ways to connect in a given community, but I’m mostly trying to connect through the arts these days.

Can you talk a little about any upcoming projects?

I hope to have The Beauty of the Fall out in 2016.  I’ve also started work on my fourth novel, The Latecomers.  If all goes well, that will be out in 2018.

What encouragement or direction would you give aspiring writers?

First, to learn their craft fully. Many writers I work with have good ideas, but they haven’t put in the time to learn how to write a novel well. Second, to be patient. It takes years to learn how to write a good story. Third, to define success not by financial gain, but by creating a piece of art that makes a difference to at least one other person in the world. 

Please join SBWC and Rich Marcello
for a reading and discussion 
at our upcoming 

 Bridging Writers Series

 Monday, November 2, 2015,
  6:30 - 8:30 p.m. 
 Thayer Memorial Library, Lancaster, MA. 

For more information contact us at

Friday, October 16, 2015

Seven Bridge Sessions

Going Public: Words of Wisdom from a Publisher/Editor
With Joe Ross

Saturday, October 17, 2015
10:30 a.m.  – 12:30 p.m.
Thayer Memorial Library, Dexter Thayer Room

With advancing technologies and the reinterpretation of traditional editor/publisher roles, the world of publishing continues to evolve. As an author, editor, and publisher, Joe Ross has seen all sides of this complex and ever changing industry. Please join him for a discussion about his own experiences and the larger questions about publishing, in general.

Joe Ross is the editor/publisher at Rosstrum Publishing, a micropublisher specializing in emerging authors and short runs. The company was founded in 2008, by Joe Ross, on the heels of publishing his first book with his wife, Ester. Joe and his wife are the authors of Fast Track For Caregivers, a must read for anyone caring for an elderly parent, a disabled person, or a child.

Please join us for this free event.

For more information on this program, or on SBWC, please contact us at

Doing the Hard Work of a Novel - Part II

I am halfway through Rich Marcello's 10-week course on novel writing at the Seven Bridge Writers Collaborative. It's been amazing. Already, I'm in better control of my work. Yes, there may be a few months' more work to do, but I don't begrudge whatever time it may take.

This isn't my favorite outcome; it just is what it is. After working so long on my novel, I wanted to find easy fixes, make it perfect and submit it to potential agents.

That's not going to be the first result of this course, however. And that's alright.

"Emilee's Song" is more than a first novel, and certainly it's not the first fiction I've written. A short story, "Samaritan," won honors in 2010 as the best fiction published during 2009 in Weber: The Contemporary West—a lit journal out of Utah. Call that one beginner's luck, cause none of my other stories have had any success. I get attached to these stories as I'm creating their characters and plots, so when they languish in my computer, unloved and unpublished, I feel bad. But I also realize (1) I can keep learning, and keep improving them, and (2) there is a bit of magical serendipity to finding the right outlet for one's work. I'm not the most persistent of submitters, so if they're eventually published, it will be in spite of me, not because of me. (Rejections hurt, and continuing to submit is critical.)

Anyway, Rich has me working more deeply on the book's strengths and its weaknesses.
Scene structure is the latest biggie. Do each of my scenes, and chapters, add up to movement that advances the story? Do they keep readers interested or entertained? Do they strengthen a character and bring that character more into focus for the reader?
I am using index cards to outline each chapter (not for the first time, but with a different purpose). Which character is relating the scene (my omniscient narrator is deep inside each POV character's mind)? What is the action/change/need for the scene? What's the key idea the reader will take away? Is the scene needed?

To help explore this, I'm reading further (see suggested reading in Part I). I'm using Jack Bickham's "Scene & Structure," Donald Maass's "Writing 21st Century Fiction," Alicia Rasley's "The Power of Point of View" and Janet Burroway's "Writing Fiction." Not word for word, which takes more time than I have, but with a yellow felt pen and an eye toward what's most relevant to my own work.

I'm looking at the quality of the writing. Where it should be rich and fluid, I'm making sure that it is. Dialogue is not my problem; narrative beauty takes more time. Those are the sections a reader will just skip over if they're not written well enough. My job is to keep that from happening.

And, over and over, I look at the book's intro. Is Chapter One good enough? Honestly now: is it? I don't know that yet. I've re-written that muthah countless times—and agents have given me many different reactions to it. I'm still seeking the perfect opening. At some point, my gut will dictate how "Emilee's Song" starts. But that decision awaits a lot of thought.

Lastly, is the drama really there? Is the antagonist big and bad enough? Is she worth redeeming—or should I kill her off? Each little chunk of story that's changed is painful; every time I let go of something I consider if very hard first, unwilling to "kill" my so-called darlings before it's definitely needed.

Point of View, my nemesis last month, is bending to my will. I've limited the number of characters who have a POV (giving the reader access to their thoughts), and rewritten some scenes to transfer that "voice" to a major character's experience.

This is a long process, but I believe I'm in good hands with Rich, for his insights, as well as his willingness to recognize that the final decisions are always up to the author. Our conversations about writing are as insightful as they are instructive, and our debates help me recognize the strengths and weaknesses of my work.

Maybe some people bat their books out in hours and days, but I'm not one of them. It's a process, and a long one, for me. You have to be willing to stick it out.

Ann Connery Frantz spent years in newspaper journalism before switching to freelance writing and editing. Her short story, "Samaritan," won the 2010 Dr. Neila C. Seshachari Award for Fiction. She writes about book clubs and authors for the Worcester, Mass., Telegram & Gazette. Contact her at