How the Novel The Potter's Wheel came to be By Mark Scheel
The year was 1967 when I graduated from the University of Kansas, didn’t pass the military draft physical, ran out of money job-hunting in Denver and “crashed” on an old college chum working in a funeral home near San Francisco. When the owner of the funeral home insisted I wasn’t welcome to freeload there, I hopped a bus to LA and landed in Hollywood, securing a menial job in a low-rent hotel chain. That was the beginning of a summer of exuberant adventure amid the now historically famous “summer of love,” an experience that gifted me the grist for a novel, but also almost cost me my life.
In 1975, following my service with the American Red Cross overseas, I’d returned home to Emporia, Kansas, to assist with the care of my ailing mother, and decided then was the time to commence writing that novel. I titled it The Potter’s Wheel, taken from a shop of the same name I’d frequented on Hollywood Boulevard during that California odyssey after college. I enrolled in literature and writing classes at what is now Emporia State University, was granted a teaching assistantship and began the novel manuscript as an independent study in graduate school. The director of my project was an English professor named Green D. Wyrick, a knowledgeable fellow who had two novels himself in rough draft, but was also an incorrigible alcoholic. Thus, by happenstance, I became acquainted with some colorful members of the local AA group, one being Fr. John Kumli, an amazingly accomplished “priest poet” and master of the sonnet sequence. Over time we formed a writers’ critique group, providing helpful insight during my novel’s revision process as well as life anecdotes for my future literary material.
I had populated my manuscript with many characters drawn from actual persons I’d encountered in Hollywood’s street scene: a true femme fatale, a draft-dodging night wander, a free-living libertine pottery student, a barren “mother earth” figure. All woven into a midwestern youth’s struggles coming of age in an alien world far removed from his rural roots. And some elements of the plot were spun from actual events I’d undergone, such as barely avoiding being shot in the head when viewing a street riot from my hotel window.
Following the completion of the first draft of the novel, which had been done mostly during one college semester, Professor Wyrick and I had decided the voice needed refining and so began a four-year endeavor to virtually translate my main character’s telling into a more stylistic midwestern vernacular as well as flesh out some parts of the narrative. Fortunately I was housesitting for a journalist friend at the time, and therefore could manage living frugally, akin to the starving artist stereotype.
The first forays into marketing the novel brought encouraging responses and almost an acceptance by Bantam. But, as they say, no cigar. And over time the opportunities seem to diminish. I moved to Kansas City and secured a position as a library information specialist and began associating with other writers in the area. The novel then became shifted to a back shelf as I pursued other writing interests. It was when I claimed early retirement from the library and spent one winter “snowbirding” in Boulder City, Nevada, in 1999, that I took up the novel once more and decided to make one further major revision. It had been written from the beginning in the first-person point of view; I decided to convert the entire narrative into third-person limited. And, indeed, that seemed to snap the work into a far more pleasing aesthetic distance. So, upon my return to Kansas City, I began attempting to market the novel once more.
Years passed while I engaged in numerous activities with the writing community, but without any discernable progress in placing The Potter’s Wheel with a publisher. I had already published four other books (a scholarly monograph, a co-authored memoir, a co-op-published fiction/poetry collection and a blog series) when finally, by the grace of the angels, I obtained an agent, Stephanie Hansen of Metamorphosis Literary Agency, who brokered two more books—a novella and a poetry collection—into print. And then another miraculous circumstance came about.
I saw an announcement on LinkedIn about a blog site titled The Writers Journey Blog sponsored by Elaine Marie Carnegie-Padgett. I commented below her post, she and I connected, she accepted an essay about my career for a guest blog post. That, in turn, through her introduction, led to a sprawling new network of writers associated with a site called Sweetycat Press Facebook Group sponsored by the esteemed story writer Steven Carr. He accepted my application for membership there, and my writing began appearing in numerous anthologies and reference works he edited and produced. It soon came to my attention that a number of writers in the group had had books published by a press in the UK named Clarendon House Publications, founded by the writer and educator Grant Hudson. I researched it and queried Mr. Hudson. He invited me to submit information about my novel into the house application form, which was quite thorough and detailed, for a rigorous vetting and appraisal. I did so, and, lo and behold, it passed muster and Grant agreed to read the manuscript and thereafter offered me publication! I was nearly numb with amazement that, after over 40 years of rejections, my beloved tale of sixties Hollywood and the farm youth caught up in its frenetic life stream had found a home! I contacted Stephanie to handle the contract arrangements and it was a done deal. The Potter’s Wheel launched the end of August 2021.
Now, in conclusion, I’d like to offer an observation for any aspiring writers about the literary scene today, and how it’s changed since the advent of the internet and POD publishing. It would seem we now find a bifurcated world with books and writers and the 4,000 new titles appearing daily. Some lucky few inhabit the rarefied air of The New York Times Book Review, major New York publishing houses, New York agents and publicists and, with their MFAs and some literary award or other, are profiled in Poets & Writers Magazine. Then there are those who have studied the craft, joined critique groups, honed their efforts and persevered to produce comparable work to that found on the “best seller lists,” but never got that lucky break to hit the big time and gain national exposure. It is for them that heroes like Elaine Marie Carnegie-Padgett, Steven Carr and Grant Hudson have stepped forward to permit those struggling aspirants a deserved little taste of publication heaven. And they have more of my admiration and respect than I can put into words!
I am honored and delighted that Grant Hudson has profiled my writing career in Clarendon House Publication’s Inner Circle Writers’ Magazine and featured my photo on the cover as well as details within about The Potter’s Wheel. The links to order the magazine and the book are: