Happy eclipse!

How to watch an eclipse.

Happy eclipse, everybody!  The celestial event has come and gone, and I managed to waste a perfectly good afternoon that I could have spent writing.  At least, I slacked off in style.  Note to all concerned: the cooler in the photo contains the Coke and ice; I am NOT drinking straight rum.  Also, you’ll notice the evidence of a just-mowed lawn all over my driveway…a testament that I wasn’t a complete slacker.

For what it’s worth, I more than made up for it today, hitting the 65,000-word mark on my latest novel. Not that that’s an important milestone or anything, but it happened, so I thought I’d mention it.  I’ll get around to talking about the book one of these days, but I think I may be slightly afraid that talking about it will make it not happen, somehow.  Not that I’m a superstitious person or anything, but everyone’s allowed to be a little incongruous, now and again.

Hard to tell from the photo, but I’m armed with a homemade pinhole projector for safe eclipse-viewing, and also a book to pass the time and the Cuba Libres.  At the moment, I’m halfway through The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden, which I still have mixed feelings about.

I really am a little beat from a serious writing session today, but I want to give a quick shout-out to my fellow Liar’s Club member, Kelly Simmons.  Her new novel, The Fifth of July, launches tomorrow, and you can meet the author at my favorite bookstore, Main Point Books.  The shindig starts at 6:30, tomorrow (Wednesday).  I imagine a reading might be involved, followed by fisticuffs and ugly comments about historical events that never actually occurred.  Come join the fun!

I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention that the 2017 Barrymore Award nominations were released yesterday.  I’ll refrain from commenting too much, since I didn’t see a lot of theater last year, but I’m happy to see that EgoPo Theater’s The Seagull got a bunch of nominations.  If you missed it, I had a lot to say about the production here.

Hope all is going well for my gentle readers, and hopefully, I’ll come up for air more often to give you guys more current updates about my latest endeavor.  It’s a hoot!

Meeting a bunch of liars

Bartending for the Liars.

About eight weeks ago, I was hitting up my favorite bookstore (Main Point Books in Wayne!), chatting up the proprietor, Cathy, when she asked me if I was meeting with the Liars on Sunday.  Naturally, I questioned whether she had me under surveillance.

Nick Wardigo and novelist Merry Jones, toasting the opening of the Liar’s meeting.

But it turns out, no, she was talking about the writers group that invades her bookstore on the third Sunday of every month.  They call themselves the Liar’s Club, and I hope that, having attended three of their meetings, and having shown up with a portable martini bar this past Sunday, that they will count me among their number.  Or, at least, consider me a mascot.  Or something.

The Liars, breaking up their meeting.

To be brief, these guys are pros.  Between ten and twelve members show up every week, most are published novelists, and the ones that aren’t are swinging for the fences with ferocity (much like myself).  I’ve met up with various writing groups in the past, mostly playwrights, and I rarely meet up with them a second time, because it always devolves into a bellyaching duel of who’s been futzed by which theater worse.  Also, more than once, I’ve turned out to be the most successful person in the room, which is very very sad.

This is what happens when a writers’ group meets in a bookstore.

During the two hours we chewed the fat, I learned about a writers’ conference that one of them is helping to run, a book that one of them is launching next month, a tricky-to-meet agent that one of them met (Donald Maas, who I’ve actually heard of, but only because his agency was one of many who rejected my manuscript), and a gentlemen speaking of his campaign to get his new book picked up by submitting to fifty agents and publishers.  Fwew!  That’s a lot.  A real, honking lot.

Sure, I question a bunch of writers meeting in a bookstore.  Seems a little like an AA meeting in a speakeasy.  Lucky we got anything done at all, what with all the glancing at the bookcases the whole damn time.  But if you’re a writer who wants to get serious, and you’re in the neighborhood of Wayne, PA at noon on Sunday, August 20, you’d be doing yourself a major disservice by not stopping in.  Chances are, I won’t have my martini kit again, but I’m sure we can work something out.

Sharing thoughts with Colin Wolfe


I’ve been enjoying a cool email exchange with fellow local struggling author, Colin Wolfe.  I know Colin from the Brick Playhouse days, when he was a fellow local struggling playwright.  He checked out the three-part post I did a couple of months ago, regarding the perils of self-publishing, and had a few interesting comments to make.  I, in turn, responded (like I do) and accidentally wrote a couple of things that approach eloquent.  With Colin’s permission, I’d like to share excerpts of our exchange:


Colin’s email:

“I liked Nick’s blog post about the merits of self-publishing vs holding out for a conventional publisher. And I pretty much agree with you, Nick. For what it’s worth. I’ve been following a third route: it’s called The Filing Cabinet publishing system. Write a novel, tell a few people, maybe even have a few, less than a half dozen, read it. And then file it. Because everything is hopeless.

Now that’s a ridiculous thing to say! But it feels that way. For myself, every route seems too onerous. Oh well. I will “try” again and who knows, right? While it is a longer shot than winning the lottery, someone does win that, right?

Years ago I met an editor at a party when I lived in NY and sent her a chapter of a then-uncompleted novel. She was an editor at Warner books, then a publisher of commercial trade fiction. She liked it and said I should take to a literary imprint like … wow, I’ve forgotten. Washington Square Press was one. And I had her name to use. But the book wasn’t ready and so I didn’t. I have since looked her up online. She went from editing to being an agent and now is retired from that. She blogs that her job was to say “no”  — more than 99% of the time.

So the problem is — we don’t live in New York and go to the right parties (anymore.) I’m too old to be of interest now but you guys look good. But who knows! I’m proud of what I’ve written and don’t feel the time wasted. And if I can’t find a publisher, eventually I’ll self-publish.”


My response:

“I’m slightly astounded that anybody reads my blog, so thank you for that, Colin.

Is everything hopeless?  Perhaps.  I wrote a trilogy of books, submitted to a bunch of agents, and attended three conferences to meet even more (including the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC).  As I said in my blog, after 42 rejections, I’ve stopped actively selling the books and am focusing my efforts on my next one.  Does that mean I failed?

Sort of.  I’m reminded of something Michael Hollinger told me a long time ago.  He told me to keep all the plays I couldn’t sell in a drawer, because when I finally hit it big with something, everyone would want to know what else I have.  So, I guess my advice is, keep your novels in that filing system of yours, but don’t stop pounding the pavement, either.

As a side-benefit, I have the names of maybe five or six agents that showed some interest in my books before turning them down.  As in, we exchanged some back-and-forth emails and got a little casual and even a little jokey.  So, when my next book is ready, I’ve got some primary targets ready to go.  That may not seem like a lot of payoff for all the time, money, and travel I invested in selling the other books, but it ain’t nothing, either.”



The successful miscreants that I call, “friends”

I really thought I was going to start talking about my novel this week.  I feel like I’ve been teasing my readers with hints about The Lost City of the Metal Men and my new heroine, Nifty Branderburger, without saying anything substantive.  But then the Tony’s happened.  And my buddy’s book dropped.  And I found out about a reading.  So, kindly allow me to put off talking about Nifty for a bit longer so I can tout the achievements of my friends.

First off, the big news…congrats to PlayPenn and Paul Meshejian and Michele Volansky for Oslo, which won the Tony for Best New Play last Sunday.  PlayPenn is responsible for developing many many many plays over the years (including one of mine!), and developing a Tony-winner is a big feather in their cap.  I guess I should also congratulate playwright J.T. Rogers as well, but the truth is, I’ve never met the guy (at least, as far as I recall).  So, open invitation, J.T…if we ever run into each other at a PlayPenn event, I’ll buy you a drink.  And then we’ll work out what your nickname should be, because I have trouble calling anyone “J.T.”  How about “Slam Dunk?”  Slam Dunk Rogers.

Anywho, Paul gave a great five-minute interview on the June 13 episode of NewsWorks, last week.  You can listen to it on the podcast, starting at 8:03.

Second, John DiFelice’s new book dropped this week.  You might recall me talking about his novel, American Zeroes, last year, and he’s followed it up with a collection of short stories and poetry.  Order it now!

Playwright Robin Rodriguez

And last, I see that my friend and fellow playwright Robin Rodriguez has a reading this Tuesday, June 20, courtesy of the good people at PlayPenn.  It’s at the Drake (1512 Spruce Street, Philadelphia) and runs from 7 to 9 pm, though I’m sure there will be carousing, afterward.  As always, if you’re in the Philly area and love new plays, you should check it out.

Playwrights rock!

Playwrights are sexy!

Playwrights are dangerous, if you don’t pay attention to us!  Pay attention to us!  Do it!  DO IT!!!!!

Murder mysteries and hidden beds

The venue for a murder.

Last weekend, we were infested by a pod of Fritzes.  And, I enjoy saying that, because I happen to know that Fritz the Elder, aka Bob, aka Fritzy, is a fan of this blog.  Their infestation is relevant to this blog for two reasons:

First, we attended a murder mystery dinner theater.  Yeah, yeah, I know; it’s not usually my thing, either.  But this was being performed by the good people of Colonial Playhouse, and a few of the actors were my friends, to wit, Sam Barrett, Mark Knight, and Erin Marie Friel.  Also, the Fritz pod includes two Fritzes in chrysalis form, and this seemed like good, all-ages entertainment.  Also, also, it was performed in a tiki bar.  Everybody likes tiki bars, and not ironically, either.  If someone says to you that they ironically like a tiki bar, you should punch them in the mouth.

Captain Mark Knight, doing his thing.

Second, the two eldest Fritzes (a mated pair, no less) served as the daring test pilots of my new Murphy bed.  As you may have noticed in earlier posts, I dabble in woodworking, and I decided to build a Murphy bed in my study.  We’re all getting a little older, and the cots I keep in my attic don’t always cut it.  Also, for some strange reason, physical activity seems to allay my headaches, so I’ve been trying to break up my writing sessions with constructing stealthy furniture.  Anyway, I don’t think I’m finished with the decorative part of my latest creation, but it’s certainly functional.  I’m still deciding how to properly adorn it, but there’s no rush.

Murphy bed in stealth mode, not unlike an autobot.

There’s precious little about writing in this post, so let me wind it up by saying that I’ve spent the last two weeks plotting the next five chapters of my novel (roughly, 25,000 words or, even more roughly, 100 pages), and I’m finally diving into it tomorrow.  I’m very much looking forward to continuing the adventures of Miss Nifty Brandenburger.

Murphy bed…TRANSFORM!

Return of the blog!

Playwright Nick Wardigo and his family, enjoying the view of Salzburg from atop the fortress.

Okay.  Blog-wise, I’ve been dormant for nearly three months, and there are all sorts of reasons for that.  Some are medical, which I won’t go into too much except to say that I’ve been experiencing quirky headaches for about a year, now, and with the help of a couple of doctors, I’m slowly improving.  These aren’t crippling, rush-to-the-hospital headaches, either.  If they were, that might be easier in some ways.  On the zero-to-ten pain meter, I’ve been experiencing a level two headache for several months, which, it turns out, is enough to make you feel crazy.

But there are happy reasons for being dormant, as well.  Aurora and I spent two weeks in Austria with my folks, and we just ate our way through the whole damn country.  Also, a crap-ton of museums.  And, oh yeah, the drinking.  Beer in Salzburg; wine in Vienna.  So.  Much.  Fun.

And, while I’ve been invisible, blog-wise, I’ve been busy, writing-wise.  True, my headaches have prevented me from catching as much theater as I would like, but the new novel is proceeding apace.  I hit 50,000 words before we left on vacation, and yesterday, I finished going through all my handwritten edits and printed out my third draft, which is the draft I generally allow my wife to read.  If my outline is correct, this is the half-way point, which means I’m more-or-less on track to competing a solid draft by the end of the summer.  The Lost City of the Metal Men will be a physical entity!

Sadly, we’re approaching the end of the theater season, and there were a number of plays by local playwrights that I really wanted to see and write about, but it simply wasn’t in the cards.  But why dwell on missed opportunities?  My buddy John DiFelice’s new book, Lures, drops next month, and you can preorder it here.  And, I’ll be talking more about Lost City, which is some of my wackiest writing, yet.  I appreciate everybody who checks out my blog, and I hope to keep you guys thoroughly entertained for a long time to come.

Seagulls and Godot

The amazing set of EgoPo’s THE SEAGULL. Yes, that’s real water around the “island,” and branches in the ceiling.

Here’s the thing…it’s difficult to maintain a blogging schedule when your writing is going well.  Which is a terrific problem to have, as far as problems go.

First things first, I didn’t see Godot like I planned; I went to see Seagull at EgoPo Theatre and loved it.  The show closed last week, so this doesn’t help any potential theatergoers, but I wanted to mention how fabulous the set was.  And I mean “fabulous” in the classic sense, as in, “The fabulous Roc of Arabia.”  As you can see in the pic, it employed a lot of water, which must be a bitch.  I’ve never had to deal with such a thing in any of my productions, but I can’t imagine it being anything less than a bitch.  And because it’s a bitch, they used it to its full potential.  Actors played in it, and floated in it, and crossed it on stepping stones.  See that square “island” in the center?  For the final act, they lifted it up to the ceiling with ropes.  No foolin’.  They lifted it up, and put furniture directly in the water, and the actors played the final part of the play in knee-deep water.  I can’t say enough how gobsmacked I am.  Had to be a total bitch, and I loved it.  Can’t wait to see more of EgoPo’s stuff.

For what it’s worth, I am seeing Waiting for Godot at Curio Theatre tomorrow night, if anyone wants to say hi.  It’s closing night, so I’m anticipating lots of drinking and high-fiving afterward.

Lots of other random life stuff happened over the past weeks, which I won’t bother getting into, but one of the nicer things was Aurora’s birthday.  To celebrate, I thought I’d post this particularly fun photo of her.  Enjoy!

Aurora’s birthday morning: a homemade egg burrito, cup of joe, and mutt.

The first 25,000 words

The director and cast of INFORMED CONSENT at InterAct Theatre.

Let’s start with some local theater reporting.  The winter season has kicked off, and I’m pleased to report about some wonderful things happening right now in the Philadelphia area.  I saw two intriguing shows in the past couple of weeks: Informed Consent at the Lantern Theater and Marcus/Emma at InterAct Theatre.  Neither was perfect, but both kept me on my toes.  I saw a reading of Informed Consent at PlayPenn in 2013, so it was fascinating to see what was done with it, particularly in light of its recent popularity nationwide.  Marcus/Emma was written by local playwright (and Orbiter 3 member) Mary Tuomanen, and a day without supporting a local playwright is a day wasted, which is something nobody says.  We think it, though!  We think it.

I’m considering seeing Waiting for Godot, which opens this weekend at Curio Theatre and is directed by recent Martinis with Nick interviewee Dan Hodge.  But if Chekhov is more your thing, my buddy Mark Knight is in a production of The Seagull that opened at EgoPo Theater last week.  Choices galore!

Playwrights Nicholas Wardigo and Joy Cutler, hanging out in the lobby of the Drake.

Happy to report that my new novel, The Lost City of the Metal Men, is progressing nicely.  Two weeks ago, I finished the first 25,000 (about 100 pages or one-quarter of the book).  It took me about nine weeks; I don’t know if that’s slow or fast, but it sounds like it should be normal for your average novelist.  It might be a little fast for me, but like anything else, all the practice from the first three novels is paying off.  Funnily enough, I often say that if I can’t write a solid draft of a play in six weeks, I don’t have it.  That’s how I knew I was in trouble with my last play which took nearly a year.  Writing a play isn’t the same as writing a novel, but I’m hoping the faster pace with Lost City is a good sign.

My habit is to rewrite as I go.  A lot of writers will tell you not to do that; that you should pump out your first draft without looking at it, and then go back to the beginning with a gallon of red ink.  Speaking for myself, I can’t go more than twenty or thirty pages without itching to bang it into my trusty Mac Mini.

In case anyone cares, I write the first draft by hand, typically in coffee shops, and then on my days when I’m at home, I type it up, rewriting and researching all the stuff I left blank.  I like to think I’m going to crack up some scholar in the future as he goes through my notebooks and reads idiocy like “Look up top-ten songs of 1933,” “Research latest gramophone model,” and “What year was Bazooka Gum founded?”  By doing it that way, my typed copy is automatically a second draft.  And then, when I get a good chunk (like, say 25,000 words), I read through the whole thing and edit it to make sense.  There’s consistency stuff, sure, but it’s amazing how off-track your voice can go when you’re in the trenches.  You’ll start off sounding like a 1930s female mechanic, but a hundred pages later, you’re a 1970s soy bean farmer with a penchant for cross-dressing.  It happens.

This is the point where you’re pretty damn glad you have an outline, which is something I want to address next time.  In the meanwhile, go see some Chekhov.  Or Beckett.  Or anything.  Because theater rocks.

The pitfalls of self-publishing, part 3

Aurora and chicken...in my brand-new roaster!

Aurora and chicken…in my brand-new roaster!

In case you’re wondering, there’s no particular reason I’m attaching a photo of my wife and a chicken, other than I don’t have an image that illuminates the issue of self-publishing, and I enjoy bragging about my cooking.  My blog, my rules.

In my last post, I talked about the valid reason why an author would want to self-publish.  In this post, I want to address, briefly, the bullshit reasons to self-publish.  None of them are untrue, mind you; they’re just bullshit.

1. “You get to keep a bigger piece of the sales when you self-publish.”

This is true.  The pay rate of a publishing house is a bit complicated, but you can expect to receive 10 to 15% percent of hardcover book sales, depending upon how well it sells (less for paperback, and I don’t know what it is for e-readers).  From your cut, your agent will receive 15%.  Conversely, you get to keep around 70% of book sales if you self-publish through Amazon.  The problem is, publishing houses deal with tens and hundreds of thousands of book sales (and, yes, occasionally millions), whereas five thousand sales of a self-published book is considered a pretty good haul.  So, the math doesn’t work.

2. “Blah-blah-blah did it, and now they’re famous!”

The “blah-blah-blah” is almost certainly E.L. James (Fifty Shades of Grey), Andy Weir (The Martian), or Hugh Howey (Wool).  I’ve had this conversation at least half a dozen times:



Fellow drinker: “Why don’t you self-publish?”

Me: “It’s not for me.”

Fellow drinker: “Really?  Well, it worked for—”

Me: “Stop.”

Fellow drinker: “Why?”

Me: “Because you’re about to say either E.L. James, Andy Weir, or Hugh Howey.

Fellow drinker: (stunned silence)


And again, it’s true.  All three of these authors did some variant of self-publishing, and now they’re making bathtubs of money.  But this is what’s known as the “Outlier Fallacy.”  I don’t want to go into it too much, but suffice to say, for every E.L. James, there are thousands and thousands and thousands of self-published writers on Amazon who end up selling only a few hundred copies.  “To get rich” is simply not a sane reason to go into writing, let alone self-publishing.

3. “You get your name out there.”

Okay, this one is tricky, because “getting your name out there” is critical for an author.  So, the question is: Is self-publishing a good way to do that?

Self-publishing doesn’t bear the same stigma that it did just a few decades ago, when it was called “vanity publishing,” and I credit Youtube.  Today, musicians who can’t score a contract with a record label can still get their music heard by uploading a video.  And there’s a logic: many musicians have been discovered on Youtube by record companies, so maybe an author can be discovered on Amazon.

Do agents troll Amazon, looking for clients?  Maybe.  I know that publishing houses are loath to publish a book that’s already been downloaded a lot on Amazon (it does happen, but it’s rare), but maybe, if an agent likes your book, they might ask you what else you’re writing, and you can win a contract that way.  Seems like a longshot, but what isn’t?

I guess I think of it as bullshit because there are, in my opinion, better ways to “get your name out there.”  Take my web series, Martinis with Nick, which is, ultimately, about me, whereas self-publishing is about the book, i.e., the product, i.e., what you’re trying to sell.  Martinis with Nick is an advertisement; a self-published book is the thing, itself.  To me, that’s not the same as “getting your name out there.”

And, what happens when your book only sells 300 copies?  You might chalk it up to a learning experience, but nothing goes away on the Internet.  What happens when an agent has some interest in your next book, and she googles you?  Will your status as a failed self-publisher affect her decision to take you on?  Maybe not, but it sure as hell won’t help.


I think the question every novelist should ask herself is, “Do I want to be a publisher?” because that’s what we’re really talking about.  For me, the answer is no.  I’m sure I can do it with some modicum of competence, but there are real, honest-to-God, full-time publishers out there who can run circles around me, if one of them ever took a chance on my book.  I don’t know if that will ever happen.  I like to think it will.  But one thing I know for sure is, my chances are better if I spend my day writing the best book I can, rather than pleading with a blogger for a review.

The pitfalls of self-publishing, part 2

Me, enjoying an after-dinner beer with my wife.

Me, enjoying an after-dinner beer with my wife.

There are a lot of reasons to self-publish, but only one that I think matters, which is, you get to control everything.  The editing, marketing, distributing, cover design…everything.  Ev-er-y-thing.  If the book succeeds, there’s no one else to credit.  If it fails, there’s no one else to blame.  Which is damn appealing to a control freak, and let’s face it, what writer isn’t?  You think normal people go around, creating universes?  No.  I’ve asked.

So, if you’re worried that your publisher might change your book title (which happens more often than you think), you marketer might insist on cover art you hate (which happens even more often), or your editor might force you to endlessly rewrite until every extraneous detail is sheered away (which WILL happen), self-publishing is for you.  Which means, if you want a prayer of your book doing anything at all, you need to hire an editor, a cover artist, and, if you have a lick of sense, a press agent or public relations wonk or all-around communications god.  It’s been a while since I’ve researched Amazon’s self-publishing rules on their website, but I seem to recall it was free (or at least inexpensive) to upload a book, and that’s true-ish, but my point is that it’s really not, unless you’re only interested in selling twenty copies to your friends and family.

In addition to money, it’s a LOT of work.  Being an author is always a lot of work, anyway, with publishing houses setting up interviews and book signings and updating your blog and getting the word out.  But now, it’s a lot MORE work, because now it’s you, calling the reviewer to convince them to read your novel.  It’s you, calling the bookstore to convince them to schedule a reading.  It’s you, looking over the proofs of the cover and sending them back to the artist with notes.  It’s all you.  All of it.

And, it needs to be said, no matter how much dough you shell out and work you do, you will NEVER have the resources of a publishing house.  You will never be widely distributed.  You will never appear in a bookstore more than twenty miles from your house.  You will never be on a shelf in Barnes and Noble.  You will never be reviewed in the New York Times.  You will never be asked to speak to the writing class in a university.  You will have an icon on a page on Amazon’s website that someone can click on, and, if you’re smart, a website and a Facebook page and a Twitter account that ties into it.

After all that work and the money you spend on your team, you might break even, but most self-published authors don’t.  Probably, the vast majority.  If it’s about money, your odds are WAY better playing blackjack at Atlantic City.  But, of course, it’s not about money.

I don’t download self-published books from Amazon, but my wife does because she’s a reading addict and self-published books are famously cheap.  In her estimation, most of the books she downloads are “enjoyable enough,” a large chunk are “awful,” and occasionally one will float to the top as “good.”  So, I don’t doubt they’re out there: good books that get overlooked by agents and publishers and end up floating in the ether, waiting for someone like my wife to relish them.  That’s the real reason to self-publish, and I think that’s valid.

There are several other reasons, which I regard as various levels of bullshit, and I’m happy to address them next time.