As part of the third annual Montclair Literary Festival, novelist Thomas Pluck (“Bad Boy Boogie”) will moderate a panel titled “Writing New Jersey: Unique Challenges, Unique Stories.” He and writers Jen Conley “Cannibals and Other Stories From the Edge of the Pine Barrens”), Wallace Stroby (“Some Die Nameless”), Dave White (the Jackson Donne series) and Marina Cramer (“Roads”) will talk about being from, and writing about, the Garden State.
Pluck, who has lived in Montclair for eight years, volunteered at the festival last year, and came up with the idea for the panel himself.
“I love the festival,” he said. “I think they do a great job of getting a great variety of people from all over. But I noticed there wasn’t a lot of New Jersey writers that I recognized. So I wanted to try to bring more people into the fold, to say, ‘Hey, we have this great resource that they do every year, and you should be a part of it.’ ”
The panelists, he said, “are people I knew who both lived here and wrote about here, who may not have been as well known as others. Obviously, I could have asked for Joyce Carol Oates and Harlan Coben — you know, big names — to be on our panel, too. But great writers like Wallace Stroby and Jen Conley … she’s in Ocean County, she lives in Brick, she’s a teacher, and she writes a lot about the cities around the Pine Barrens, which don’t get a lot of press. And Dave White, he writes a crime series that’s really set in the heart of New Jersey.”
The panel “does skew a little towards the genre of mystery or thriller,” he said, “but I think a lot of regional stories get written in genre fiction … if you want to read about the area that you grew up in or live in, a lot of times, the mystery and thriller genre are a good way to find that. But they’re not always advertised that way.”
He said they will talk about “writing in New Jersey: The specific challenges that there are, being in New York’s shadow, both writing stories that way and feeling that stories that don’t happen in New York … do they matter?”
He laughed, then continued: “In a lot of ways, sometimes, it doesn’t feel like they do.”
Still, Pluck — who grew up in Nutley and has worked at the docks in Newark, among other places — says that for him, it has been more of a benefit than a drawback to be from New Jersey.
“There’s so many stories here; that’s definitely a benefit,” he said. “Getting them published can be challenging, because you’re not what some people call ‘Real America’ in the fly-over states, to use that insult, and you’re not in a big city, either. So sometimes you have trouble selling it.”
Yet New Jersey does, of course, have a rich literary tradition. “Yeah, there’s plenty there. Except a lot of times, they don’t get called ‘A New Jersey writer,’ except when we’re trying to sell our own state.”
He feels that an event such as the Montclair Literary Festival is a way “to bring everyone together. It’s more than just writers living in this area. There’s a lot of publicists, agents, people in publishing, editors. There’s a pitch fest in the festival where writers can talk to industry pros and get some help in getting their book together, or getting their query together, which can sometimes be more challenging.”
Even though the festival is only in its third year, he said, “one thing I have noticed is that is has brought a lot of us together. There’s writers who I had no idea were New Jersey writers, or even lived in my hometown, and getting to meet them has been great.”
The panel will take place at Montclair’s First Congregational Church, March 23 at 4 p.m. Also, at 2:45 p.m., Stroby will interview his fellow crime fiction author (and fellow former Star-Ledger employee) Brad Parks, in the church.
Both events are free, though some other offerings of the festival — whose participants include Joyce Carol Oates, Richard Thompson, Alan Sepinwall, Sam Lipsyte, Sigrid Nunez and Nina Khrushcheva — are ticketed.
For information, visit succeed2gether.org/montclair-literary-festival.