Skip to content

Novel-in-Progress Bookcamp, West Bend, WI (May 18-24, 2014)

Are you an emerging novelists with a work in progress?

Check out this week-long program: Novel-in-Progress Bookcamp.

I’ll be teaching at this program for novelists at the Cedar Valley Center in West Bend, Wis. (May 18-24). I’m coordinating the teaching program and leading a number of sessions. I’ll also be there round-the-clock to work one-on-one with writers on their novels’ specific needs and challenges, not only to develop the work itself but also to discuss viable strategies to see it published in the best way.

SJ Rozan, Author-in-Residence, Novel-in-Progress BookcampThe best part: SJ Rozan (Edgar, Shamus, Anthony, Nero, & Macavity awards) will be author-in-residence! It’s a fantastic chance to work closely with a master of the craft. Got a novel in progress? Want to make it better and truly increase its chances for publication and success with readers?

WHEN: May 18 to 24, 2014.
WHERE: Cedar Valley Center & Spa (35 miles northwest of Milwaukee, near West Bend, Wisconsin. It’s about 2 hours from Chicago.)
WHO: We expect the 2014 camp to have about 15–20 participants.
COST:  Around $1,300 for room & board & all sessions.

It’s a chance for serious writers to work hard on their novel, in a working retreat, with the kind of mentors who will make a real impact in your writing career.

It’s not cheap; it’s an investment in your literary career.

If you’re interested, contact me personally (I might be able to get you in at a discounted rate, since I’m on the staff). . . .

A War of Her Own – Perfect Novel for Women’s History Month

A War of Her Own, by Sylvia Dickey Smith

I wanted to give a shout-out to a historical novel I edited for Crickhollow Books a couple of years ago.

A War of Her Own, by Sylvia Dickey Smith, is an ideal novel to recommend for Women’s History Month. It’s the story of a young mother who goes to work in the shipyards of Orange, Texas, during World War II.

The historical novel won won nice accolades following its release in 2010.

“A well-written book.” – Dallas Morning News

Best Novel of the Year – Press Women of Texas

Best Novel of the Year, 2nd Place Award  – National Federation of Press Women

The book is based in part on Smith’s own family heritage, as her mother indeed went to work during World War II in the shipyards of Orange, Texas, in a remarkable era in our nation’s history when many men were called into service abroad and women stepped up to fill essential jobs at factories, albeit often in the face of ongoing prejudice, harassment, and discrimination.

As a book editor, it’s a true delight to edit a novel that is so rich in its sense of place and storytelling panache . . . and that stands up for women’s dignity and respect, addressing fairness in the workplace and family and childcare issues at home.

Sylvia also writes a blog, Writing Strong Women, found on her website.

Odin’s Promise – A Middle-Grade Novel by Sandy Brehl

Odin's Promise, A Middle-Grade Novel by Sandy Brehl

What am I working on?

I’ve just finished editing and doing the page layout for Odin’s Promise, a middle-grade historical novel by Wisconsin author Sandy Brehl.

Odin’s Promise is set in Norway in the early years of World War II, as neighbors in a small village in western Norway begin to organize their quiet resistance against the German occupying soldiers.

Odin is young Mari’s elkhound. Mari is eleven as the story open, and the Germans have recently invaded the country under the pretense of having been invited in (by a puppet government), ostensibly to “protect” the citizens of Norway against imagined threats from the Allied forces. The Nazi Germans saw the blond, blue-eyed Norwegians as part of the anointed Nordic/Aryan race, and probably expected the Norwegians to welcome their invasion.

In political reality, however, the Germans were just inventing excuses to invade so they could secure access to the ice-free North Sea harbors of Norway, key to the Third Reich’s desire to control the North Atlantic and possibly mount an invasion of England.

Sound familiar? As I write this post, Russians troops under Putin have moved into the Crimean region of Ukraine, to protect their Black Sea naval ports and disrupt the Ukrainian government, all under the guise of having been “invited” into the country to protect the interests of the local citizens.

On the contrary, when the Germans invaded Norway in the spring of 1940, the Norwegians began a long, war-long effort of resistance. Some of it was military in nature, with small bands of Norwegians hiding in the mountains and striking at German installations. The most famous operation was the late-winter strike against the “heavy water” factory at Rjukan in March 1943; heavy water was vital to the atomic energy program Germany was attempting to develop. The dramatic destruction of the factory by Norwegian commandoes on skis helped to scuttle German efforts to build atomic bombs.

But most of the resistance by average Norwegians, who proved to be soundly patriotic, was of a more quiet nature. Citizens in small villages collected and passed on information about German activities, they shared with each other BBC radio reports of the war’s progress, and they opposed the German forces, who tried to insinuate themselves into local good favor, with a pervasive lack of help, shunning, chicanery and small obstructions, and often with humor, making fun of the Germans and making it clear that they were not welcome in Norway.

Odin’s Promise tells the story from the point of view of a young girl, who gradually come to learn that her neighbors and family are involved in this low-key but courageous resistance. It has some scenes especially significant to Norwegians and Norwegian-Americans, such as the subversive role of wearing red knit caps, singing the national anthem, and looking for excuses to wear traditional garb, and to celebrate Norwegian independence day (Constitution Day, on May 17, also known as Syttende Mai).

As always, I get involved in the stories I edit, doing as much independent research and fact-checking as I can to find ways to enhance the story. I love historical fiction, especially for young readers, because of its special ability to bring history to life in stories that will inspire readers emotionally as well as intellectually. Such stories, celebrating the resistance of democratic, free-spirited people to all who would try to suppress that spirit, are important to write, publish, and share. Especially with young readers.

This year’s May 17 is the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Norwegian constitution.

It’s also the official pub date for Sandy Brehl’s Odin’s Promise. She’ll celebrate with a book signing – Saturday, May 17, at the Nordic Nook Gift Shop in Stoughton, home of a big annual Norwegian-American Syttende Mai festival that weekend.

For details, visit Sandy Brehl’s website.

Brehl’s book is a lovely story, invoking the historical setting of the war and the local resistance of Norwegians, without turning it into a war novel. It’s ultimately a story about friendship and family, faith and courage, and dealing with hardships and losses by drawing on our best human traits: enduring love and quiet convictions.

D’Mok Revival: Awakening – A Novel by Michael Zummo

D'Mok Revival: Awakening, by Michael Zummo

Congratulations to Milwaukee novelist Michael Zummo, who self-published his science-fiction novel, D’Mok Revival: Awakening, in Fall 2013.

As a reader on Amazon said: “It has all elements of a great sci-fi saga: epic span of multiple locations in the universe, creative locations and creatures, the mysterious evil threat, interesting well-developed characters, and of course suspense and action.”

He’s also done an impressive job with the cover and website, a place where a lot of authors fall short when tackling self-publishing. If everyone did as good a job as Michael has done, self-publishing would have a far better reputation! The D’mok novel (the first installment in a promised series) is a great example of setting the bar high and delivering a great package and good read.

I was involved as a freelance editor on the project. All projects should be so enjoyable! Too many emerging writers, especially in speculative fiction, get mired in plot twists and gimmicks. Zummo’s work is strong in character development; he puts together a cast of engaging, likable, quirky characters that we quickly come to care about, and so we want to see things so well for them. This is at the heart of good storytelling, especially in genre fiction categories like science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, etc.

I met Michael at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Spring Writers Conference in 2012 where I was presenting (on storytelling) and doing manuscript critiques.

Glad to see one of the manuscripts I was about to work with turn out well. Here’s to a great blast-off of a classic space saga . . . with best hopes for success across the literary universe!

Thomas Biel’s New Book – Badlands

Badlands, Short Stories by Thomas Biel

Congratulations to Tom Biel, an award-winning Milwaukee author and public school teacher, on the release of his collection of linked short stories, Badlands.

I’m pleased to have been hired by Tom to give the work a bit of editorial polishing. It’s always a delight to work with great, well-worked material that only needs a bit of tweaking to make it a little better.

The collection has already earned some very nice praise from an author I respect highly, Larry Watson:

Badlands is full of vivid images, striking turns of phrase, original metaphors, and funny, touching moments.”
– Larry Watson, author of Montana 1948 and American Boy

Biel’s linked collection of short stories presents the coming-of-age tales of two teen boys, young Matthew Davis and his best friend, Idaho Wells, and their friends, set in a small town in Montana in the 1960s.

The stories are gently humorous and at the same time very touching. I first heard the stories at a reading at Redbird, a local writers’ studio, and laughed out loud with the rest of the crowd as Tom read an excerpt from one of the stories about a first date with a beautiful girl, gone awry. These are familiar, funny stories. I think maybe I was there too in my own youth, hanging out with these kids in that small town.

The overhanging pall of the Vietnam War and the impact on young people in the 1960s and early ’70s also brought back memories of my own teenage days, wondering if I’d get swept up in the draft, whether to go for CO (conscientious objector) status before seeing what my draft number was – or to wait it out and then apply for the CO exemption if need be.

Badlands made me remember why I love to read short stories: how they can capture moments of innocence, growth, awkwardness, adolescence, humor and surprise, all wrapped in the remarkable thing we call a story.

If you like to read good short stories, check out Badlands by Thomas Biel.

Appearance at Oklahoma Writers’ Federation 2013 Conference

I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve been invited as a guest to the 2013 OWFI Conference in Oklahoma City, May 2–4.

The Oklahoma Writers’ Federation Inc. runs one of the best-run and friendliest conferences in the country, bringing together hundreds of writers with experienced editors, agents and authors. For me, it’s a return visit; I’ve been a speaker there a number of times (2003, ’04, 06, and ’07), presenting on topics from developing a sense of place and story techniques in fiction to tips on working with publishers or self-publishing.

It’s a talented group of writers that organize this big annual get-together, and they take good care of the guest presenters. I’d recommend the conference to anyone.

This year’s speakers include bestselling fantasy novelist Patrick Rothfuss, a fellow Wisconsinite, and Jane Friedman, a leading expert on best practices for authors using new media and technology, from blogs and websites to e-books.

I’ll be there wearing my editorial hat, fielding pitches as Editorial Director of Crickhollow Books (, publishing diverse fiction and nonfiction, and Crispin Books (, an imprint for genre fiction, professional handbooks, and literary memoirs.

Besides taking pitches for Crickhollow and Crispin, I’ll also be talking with writers about improving the quality of their manuscripts and pitches, even if the projects are headed to other presses large or small (or destined for self-publishing approaches).

I’m looking forward to seeing old friends from the region (Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Kansas) and making new ones. If you’re attending OWFI, be sure to find me and say hi!

New Website Design

The Great Lakes Literary website is undergoing a major design change, powered by WordPress software, along with a move to a new web host. The site will be fully functional by Monday morning, February 25. Thanks for your patience!

The New Writer’s Handbook 2007

The New Writer’s Handbook 2007:
A Practical Anthology of Best Advice for Your Craft & Career
Edited by Philip Martin • Scarletta Press, 2007
288 pp. • over 60 contributors • ISBN 978-0-9765201-6-0 • $16.95

Winner, Book of the Year Award (careers category)
National competition sponsored by ForeWord Magazine “representing the best work from independent publishers”


“From the preface by Erica Jong to the closing piece by Mary Pipher, it surprises and satisfies.”
– Library Journal (Starred Review)

“The most evident indication of the quality of Philip Martin’s book is its wide and various array of authoritative contributors . . . Their individual voices invigorate the work as a whole, making it more appealing than most how-to books.”
ForeWord Magazine

“It’s an impressive debut.”
– Erika Dreifus, The Writer magazine

The New Writer’s Handbook inspires writers to brush up and branch out, explore and think differently about their work, their skills and abilities.”
Amy Brozio-Andrews, Absolute Write

“Expertly compiled and deftly edited. . . a critically important and strongly recommended addition to personal, professional, academic, and community library reference collections.”
– Midwest Book Review

How To Write Your Best Story

How To Write Your Best Story, by Philip Martin
How To Write Your Best Story:
Advice for Writers on Spinning an Enchanting Tale

by Philip Martin

Crickhollow Books • June 2011
Writing / Reference / Instructional Guides
$14.95 • softcover

“An inspiring, captivating gem of book on the storyteller’s art. I loved it.”
– Douglas Clegg, author of Neverland, Isis, Afterlife, and other acclaimed & bestselling novels

“What he succeeds in doing, admirably, is not only describing some of the elements of good storytelling, but describing them in such a way as to model good storytelling in the very act of explaining it. In short, this book is wonderfully readable.”
– Moira Allen,

Beginning writers often wonder what it takes to get published. This book looks at what really makes fiction work: good storytelling!

Unfortunately, storytelling skills, despite their immense value to all writers, are seldom emphasized in writing courses.

How To Write Your Best Story focuses on three key elements that fuel the magic of story: intriguing eccentricity, delightful details, and satisfying surprises.

The storytelling techniques are time-tested and used by the best authors, including winners of the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer, and National Book Award, as well as by commercially successful authors whose books appear on bestseller lists.

This guide draws on the author’s decades of experience in the book trade, studying what really works for emerging writers and editing many books of advice on literary craft and career development.

The practical tips, techniques, and examples of best practices here draw on the work of great storytellers – from Shakespeare, Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Mark Twain to Willa Cather, E.B. White, and James Thurber to Neil Gaiman, Ivan Doig, and Patrick Rothfuss.

How To Write Your Best Story will help you understand how to craft better fiction (or narrative nonfiction) and get your best work published.

Philip Martin is an experienced editor of many books of advice for authors. Previously acquisitions editor for The Writer Books, he has also written A Guide to Fantasy Literature and award-winning books on traditional culture. He lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

A Guide to Fantasy Literature

A Guide to Fantasy Literature, by Philip Martin
A Guide to Fantasy Literature:
Thoughts on Stories of Wonder & Enchantment

by Philip Martin

Crickhollow Books • 2009
$16.95 • Softcover
Literary Studies / Fantasy

“Interesting, learned and accessible thoughts on all aspects of fantasy fiction . . . A Guide to Fantasy Literature is a very good book. Anyone with a strong interest in fantasy literature will come away from Martin’s guide knowing more than what they arrived with.”
January Magazine

A Guide to Fantasy Literature is a must for literary collections or those fascinated with the fantasy genre as a whole.”
Midwest Book Review

Note: This is a substantially revised edition based on my earlier work, A Writer’s Guide to Fantasy Literature (ISBN 0-87116-195-8), published by The Writer Books (2002, now out of print). The new edition is oriented more broadly to a general audience of readers and writers of fantasy.

A Guide to Fantasy Literature is a wide-ranging look at the magic of fantasy storytelling and why it enchants readers of all ages. The book discusses the nature of the best writing, from tales of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Narnia to other diverse examples of classic high fantasy, dark fantasy, fairy-tale, magic realism, and adventure-fantasy tales.

Chapters examine the major building blocks of fantasy fiction and discuss its purpose and popularity today. The book includes material from interviews and many samples of exemplary passages from the writings of the best fantasists, drawing an inclusive picture of a vibrant literary community.

The book looks to bridge any perceived gap between literary and genre approaches, focusing on the roots of fantasy in imaginative stories of faith and belief, wonder and awe (in ways that distinguish the field from science fiction).