Writing in the smallest state

Writing in the smallest state

R.I. authors gain traction through growing association

By SANDY SEOANE

Valley Breeze Staff Writer

sandy@valleybreeze.com

Steven Porter calls it the "Rhode Island malaise."

It's the feeling or belief many in the state seem to have, he says, that if something is local, it's not good.

It extends to Rhode Island's authors, a diverse group publishing everything from historical novels to romance for young adults. And it's 100 percent wrong.

"The creative center we have here is extraordinary," said Porter. "Some of these books are amazing."

Porter founded the Association of Rhode Island Authors in 2011 and has spent the past four years uniting local writers, and helping to market and promote their work.

The idea, he says, came about while he was trying to market his first novel.

"I didn't realize that in Rhode Island there wasn't really any organization that devoted itself to authors," Porter said. "There were some writing groups to help you develop your voice and your style, but I was looking more for marketing help." After frustrating efforts of trying to market the book on his own as an unknown, Porter says he began to notice that many other writers were in the same position. He sent out an email to around a dozen local authors. Five responded, and ARIA was born.

Four years later, 80 published Rhode Island authors have joined the organization, and Porter says he's continually impressed by the quality of the work that comes out of the state.

"There's a myth that these local authors aren't very good," Porter said. "It's just the opposite."

The small crew that initially formed ARIA made their first public appearance at the Apple Festival in Johnston in 2011. While the fee to occupy a booth at the fair may have been prohibitive for an individual writer, Porter said the decision to unite made entry affordable and the group's table appear substantial.

"If we go in together and have five authors, now it looks like something, and the expenses are reasonable," he said.

ARIA's next move was to form relationships with local book stores and libraries, and members immersed themselves in the world of e-publishing.

The breakthrough, Porter says, came last summer when around 40 authors gathered for an expo at the Courthouse Center for the Arts in West Kingston, and around 400 people turned out.

"We sold a lot of books," Porter said. "That, I think, was our coming out party. My phone hasn't stopped ringing since."

Authors typically come to the group with dozens of questions about the industry, Porter said.

"They don't understand how the book store world works. They don't understand how the library universe works," he said.

Many have made mistakes, like spending large sums to advertise a book signing, only to have no one show up.

"After working alone in a room for 10 years and coming out with your product, you really need to talk to some other people about it."

The 80-member group now includes men and women of all ages and experience levels, and more than half of them are from northern Rhode Island. They include Kimberly Arcand of Greenville, a NASA scientist who wrote "Your Ticket to the Universe," a simplified guide to the cosmos accompanied by brilliant photographs. They include Julien Ayotte, a Woonsocket native who now lives in Cumberland and penned "Flowers of Heaven," a winner in the 2013 New York Book Festival.

North Providence resident Paul Caranci is a member, and recently read from his book "The Hanging and Redemption of John Gordon" at The Carter Center in Georgia.

Smithfield's Elyse Major is an ARIA member, and she's been featured in national magazines across the country for the past six months promoting her book "Tinkered Treasures," and the follow-up "Seaside Tinkered Treasures," about her do-it-yourself adventures.

Mystery writer Dee Eaton from Woonsocket, author of "Inheritance of Clues," serves as the organization's treasurer.

ARIA members also include up and coming authors like Alex Kimmell from Scituate, who's gaining traction in the horror genre.

And Blanche Marriott, a Lincoln resident and romance writer who has recently been working with a producer in England to turn one of her books into a BBC miniseries.

Porter himself lives in Harmony, and has published two novels and a short story. His most recent release, a work of historical fiction based on the legends of Block Island titled "Manisses," was the New England Book Festival Book of the Year for 2013. His wife, Dawn Porter, created a puzzle book full of facts about Rhode Island.

Together, they've also founded a publishing company, Stillwater River Publications.

The decision, Steven said, again came in response to what he found lacking in the industry.

"These people have had books written, sometimes for decades, and couldn't find a market for it," he said. "One of the truths in publishing is we're not going to let you publish a book traditionally unless you've already published a book traditionally. It's a catch-22."

He says around half of the authors in ARIA are self-published, and half are traditionally published

"That line is getting blurrier and blurrier," he said.

"What you learn is the publishing industry is a marketing industry, it is not a literary industry. They are there to make money, which is great. But they are looking for specific kinds of books that they know they can market, produce and sell. Your voice and your particular work may not have that kind of appeal, in which case they're not interested," Porter said. "It doesn't mean it's not good."

More and more often, he says, he finds conventionally published authors are looking to work on e-books.

"There is no one right way anymore. The business of publishing is in an absolute revolution because of all these new technologies. Those who have a financial interest in it often find they can do better when they're self-published."

One thing that is clear, Porter says, is that contrary to those who see everything local as inferior, in Rhode Island, there's no shortage of inspiration.

"What do you need to support either fiction or non-fiction?" he asked. "You can talk about all the corruption and the mafia, and boy, they make great stories. You've got oceans. You've got people who are very affluent. You have people who are very poor. You certainly have cultural influences here."

"You throw all these cultures and all these beliefs into one place that can be 100 degrees in the summer, and 10 below in the winter, with mansions and oceans and museums and mill villages: You've got an infinite supply of stuff to write about. We're just such a diverse place," he said. "This is a great, great place to write."