Writers can wear many hats throughout their careers. This is true for Writing Fellow in the Writing Wing at Elizabethtown College Richard Fellinger. He has been a journalist, short story writer and is now a novelist.
Fellinger’s writing career began in 1991 when he graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a Bachelor of Arts in English and started covering high school sports for a group of weekly newspapers outside Allentown, Pennsylvania. He was paid 15 dollars per article.
Later, Fellinger worked for “The Philadelphia Review” and other newspapers in the Philadelphia area. In 2000, he became a state capitol reporter in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for Media News Corporation.
“I was one of those kids that, going back to grade school, teachers told me that I had strong writing skills and that I should think about a career in writing,” he said.
“I’ve always been interested in politics and current events, so newspapers seemed like a natural fit,” Fellinger explained.
In 2007, Fellinger noticed that newspapers were losing circulation and advertisement revenues as more people began to use the Internet. In response, Fellinger went back to school at the age of 40 to earn a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Wilkes University. There, he won the 2009 Beverly Hiscox Scholarship for Excellence in Writing. Fellinger also took 18 extra credits to concentrate in education.
At Wilkes, Fellinger wrote short stories about people from the Western Pennsylvania Rust Belt, where he had lived for many years. Fellinger grew up in the railroad town of Altoona and often stayed in Johnstown, an old steel town where his grandparents lived at the time.
Industry was dying in these towns and it was hard to find a job. Fellinger found himself drawn to stories about the struggles of living in these places and that is what he wrote.
“I tend to write about real life and how it can be difficult and sloppy sometimes,” Fellinger said.
In 2008, Fellinger won the Flash Fiction Contest at Red Cedar Review. His collection of short stories, “They Hover Over Us,” won the 2011 Serena McDonald Kennedy Fiction Award.
His short fiction has also been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and appeared in several literary journals, including “Potomac Review,” “Epiphany,” “Willow Review,” “Westview” and “PANK.”
After the economy crashed in 2009, Fellinger was laid off. The newspapers he worked for could no longer afford to hire him. With the MFA he received from Wilkes in 2010, Fellinger was hired as a writing fellow at Etown.
“The reality is only the Stephen Kings of the world can afford to write full-time for a living,” Fellinger said.
While teaching introductory English classes and working in the Writing Wing, Fellinger worked on his novel, “Made to Break Your Heart.” Open Books, an independent publisher, published the novel this summer.
Like his short fiction, Fellinger’s novel deals with the struggles of real life. It revolves around a man in a fictitious town in Central Pennsylvania who struggles to raise his son, keep his marriage together and coach Little League baseball.
Fellinger spent eight years working on the novel. He wrote the first draft in a year and half and spent the other six and a half years revising it.
“The final product doesn’t look a whole lot like the first draft,” Fellinger said.
Fellinger originally wanted to sell his novel to a big publisher, so he sent his novel to literary agents. After nine months of working with Fellinger, his first agent quit and got a job at a law firm. For the next nine months, his second agent ignored him. Fellinger ended the contract with that company and started sending the novel directly to small, independent publishers.
In 2014, an independent publisher liked the novel and started working with Fellinger. After two years of revisions, they rejected the book, but Fellinger felt the revisions were worth it. He found Open Books in January 2017, and they published it this summer for baseball season.
Fellinger is currently working on his second novel, which is tentatively titled “Summer of ’85.” It is about a man who finds out his summer love in 1985 was murdered in a mass shooting and realizes she was the one for him. Fellinger has written over 200 pages and hopes to finish it this winter.