For Montclair Local

For some writers, no matter what’s going on, pen has to be put to paper, fingers have to grace a keyboard’s keys.

That was the case for both Carl Selinger and Valerie Wilson Wesley, even amid the difficulties of the pandemic. Like all of us, they adapted and adjusted. But they never stopped writing. 

Montclair Local spoke to several Montclair-area authors who described how the pandemic changed their lives. This is the final of four installments of a series, each telling the stories of two of those writers. 

Wheeler Antabanez and Nancy Burke

Gabrielle Glaser and Mark Lance

Benilde Little and Anthony DePalma

Carl Selinger

Selinger published “Stuff You Don’t Learn in Engineering School: Skills for Success in the Real World” in 2005. He’s currently working on a series of personal essays.

“Think David Sedaris. I write essays about my life and work,” he said.

Selinger, a Bloomfield resident, is one of the leaders (though there are no officers) of the celebrated Montclair Write Group.

“We’ve been doing the Write Group for 22 years. We have an amazing assembly of writers. About 50 to 60 writers are involved in our activities,” he said.

The group hosts about 30 events every month, and there are no membership fees. 

One of Selinger’s main objectives during the pandemic, he said, was “keeping our Writer Support Group, and other events, robust.”

“The way we see it, if you write, you’re a writer,” he said. “You’re welcome to join us.”

The Write Group and many other writing groups met in the Montclair Public Library before it closed due to the pandemic in 2020. The Write Group now holds virtual meetings for writers of memoirs, novels, prose, children’s literature and more. It has Saturday morning “free write” events as well.

Selinger is a civil engineer who retired from the Port Authority in 1999. He joined The Write Group in Montclair in 2002. 

“One of the things I learned when I was running committees at the Port Authority is how to deal with people,” Selinger said. “My experience with my colleagues helps me a lot during writers’ meetings.”

Selinger knows something about surviving in difficult situations. 

He was trapped in an elevator at the World Trade Center for 5½ hours after the 1993 bombing. An explosion in a below-ground garage killed six people and injured more than 1,000 nearly nine years before the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.

He wrote a succinct, moving letter on loose-leaf paper expressing his love for his wife and children during his ordeal. That letter is often on display in a room dedicated to the 1993 bombing in the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. 

“That’s when I became a writer,” he said. “Family members asked me to write about my experience so that future generations would know what happened that day.”

Selinger’s story, “A Day at the Office,” was published. He was interviewed by countless newspapers and featured in Forbes and The Boston Globe. He was interviewed on the “TODAY” show. Most recently, he was featured in a New York Times article that appeared on the 25th anniversary of the bombing.  

The experience taught him something about resilience and gratitude.

“Every day is a gift,” Selinger said. “It’s great to be alive.” 

Valerie Wilson Wesley

Wesley is a former executive editor of Essence magazine. She is the author of nine books in the Tamara Hayle mystery series. She has also written three novels, two paranormal romances and the “Willimena Rules!” children’s book series. 

“My husband and I are in our early 70s. My daughter and my grandson live with us in a multifamily house. So there was concern about the virus spreading in our own household,” the Montclair resident said. 

Recently, she and her husband, screenwriter and playwright Richard Wesley, were vaccinated. They’re going back to the Y.

“I’ve missed swimming,” she said.

Wesley’s most recent book, “A Glimmer of Death,” was published in January. The book is the first of the Odessa Jones mystery series, set in New Jersey. As it has done for many Montclair authors, Watchung Booksellers hosted Wesley’s virtual book launch. She was featured in conversation with mystery writer V.M. Burns via the crowdcast platform.

“For much of 2020 I was writing the second book in my cozy mystery series. I submitted that manuscript this past February,” Wesley said.

“A Glimmer of Grief,” the second book in her Odessa Jones series, is slated for a February 2022 release and is written in a subgenre called “cozy mysteries.” 

“I spent the last year working on plot and characterization. There is a certain formula, and I had to master that. The focus is more on character and plot and the puzzle of figuring out the mystery,” Wesley said. “There’s less emphasis on violence than in a typical mystery.”

Did the pandemic change the way Wesley writes?

“Sometimes writers get writer’s block, but I’m going to write no matter what is happening,” she said. “If you’re a writer, you write. It’s that simple.”

Still, she had some thoughts to share regarding the challenges of the past year. 

“We don’t have any control over what happens next. Having ideas is important. Staying the course is important. I was a magazine editor, and writers sent me extraordinary queries. I would have loved to have published their work, but it wasn’t a fit for that particular issue of the magazine,” Wesley said.

“I had to say no to some wonderful writing. Those writers had to find another way. They had to keep imagining, keep writing. Keep believing.”

Wesley has some advice for just-starting-out writers, too: “Have your eye on what’s doing. Look around you. Pay attention.”   

Next on her horizon: a young adult novel. She previously published a YA novel titled “Where Do I Go From Here.” 

“My next book will be a historical novel,” she said. I’m researching it right now. I’m focused on writing.”

Writing and paying attention to the world around her has helped her cope with the pandemic. 

“I pray. I meditate, and I do yoga. I’m relying on that part of it. I’m trying to be a better person,” Wesley said. “I’m asking for those I love to be blessed and for those who are suffering to find hope, and to get well. Friends have passed away and a family member passed away. My family has been blessed, but we are always aware of all the others who have lost loved ones or who have been impacted by this crisis.”