Nebraska authors — they’re everywhere.
So it kind of blew Neill’s mind to find out that the best-selling romance author lives in Omaha. “It didn’t occur to me that she was just another human being,” she said.
It’s a funny thing for Neill to say — because she’s also a popular novelist living in Omaha. Neill writes two paranormal romance series, the Chicagoland Vampires and the Dark Elite series for young adults.
There are a number of successful novelists living in Nebraska — writing all kinds of novels — but writing is such an odd profession, you might not even realize that your next-door neighbor writes Harlequins or that your English professor is an award winner. Many Nebraska authors don’t even know about each other.
“Writing in general is very solitary,” said Marcus Pelegrimas, another Omaha novelist. “We don’t really have normal social lives…I have to write at least 10 to 15 pages a day.”
Pelegrimas has written about 75 novels under various names, including ghostwriting. He saves his real name for his horror/fantasy books — check out his werewolf-hunter series, Skinners — and writes westerns as Marcus Galloway.
He’s a rare type of writer, one who doesn’t have to keep a day job to pay the bills. But that means a pretty isolated life. It was only recently that Pelegrimas met a few other local authors through OSFest, an annual sci-fi convention, and the Downtown Omaha Lit Festival.
“It seems like there’s this stealth community,” said suspense writer Sean Doolittle. Sean grew up in a rural area near Lincoln, and now lives in Council Bluffs. His latest book, western Iowa-set “Safer,” came out in 2009.
It’s not just that writing is a lonely business, Doolittle said. (Though in the end, it is just you and the computer screen.) Writers are also busy. (Day jobs and families and deadlines hanging over their necks). And they can be, well … bookish. Not very social. Sometimes they have to be talked out of their dens.
The person around here who does the talking is Timothy Schaffert.
Schaffert writes literary fiction (his “The Coffins of Little Hope” comes out in April) and teaches creative writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He’s also the director of the Nebraska Summer Writers Conference and the director/founder of the Downtown Omaha Lit Fest.
Sean Doolittle says of Schaffert: “In as much as we have a writing community here, he’s single-handedly created it, in my opinion.”
The Lit Fest is famously inclusive. (More inclusive than this story, which includes only novelists.) All sorts of writers take part in the annual festival. Famous writers from Nebraska. Famous writers from other places. Scholars. Poets. People who write about vampires.
Schaffert says he created the Lit Fest partly because he didn’t feel part of a larger community of writers. (Though working at the university, he’s lucky to work with other writers.) Also, he was jealous of artists. Artists work alone, just like writers, he said, but their lives are full of great parties.
“You go to an art opening, and it’s always so festive. There’s a lot of people there… wine… food…”
The Lit Fest gives writers, published or not, a festive opportunity to celebrate, socialize, commiserate and share what they know about the publishing world.
That last part is especially important for new writers. Getting published can be such an intimidating prospect, it’s encouraging to meet someone who’s already done it. It makes it seem possible.
Getting to know another Omaha writer made a huge difference for “The Grove” author John Rector.
Rector, another suspense writer, had been reading Sean Doolittle’s books and recognized Doolittle at the Baker’s supermarket on Saddle Creek Road. He introduced himself, and they ended up becoming friends.
They don’t usually talk about writing now (now they golf), but in the beginning, Rector said, it really helped to talk to someone who’d already been through the process. Doolittle even helped him approach a literary agent.
“It took away the bigness,” Rector said. “It wasn’t such a mystery anymore.”
Nebraska’s tightest-knit, most welcoming writing community has to be the romance writers. The Heartland Writers Group (the local chapter of the Romance Writers of Nebraska) meets monthly and is open to all sorts of writers, published, unpublished or just getting started.
Victoria Alexander, probably its most famous member, joined the group five years before she started writing. “I didn’t even read romances at the time.”
She just liked being around other writers — and she liked the enrichment and programming that the club offers.
Alexander has now published 32 novels. (“The Perfect Mistress” came out in February.)
When one of her more recent novels was about to come out, excited fan Chloe Neill sent Alexander a congratulatory note through her web page. Neill was shocked — and delighted — when Alexander responded with a friendly e-mail.
“Writers are people,” Neill said, “who knew?”
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