Throughout Greensburg and the Laurel Valley, members of a passionate group of writers are up at all hours of the night, weaving tales of intrigue, horror and fantasy.
"I get up early, about 4 a.m., so I write then," said Ed Kelemen, president of the Ligonier Valley Writers group. "We have one woman who stays up all night writing."
Mr. Kelemen described the organization as "a group of writers who want to focus on developing other writers. We don't tell people how to write, but we help them develop."
He added that a large number of writers in the area "love to write and get together to talk about it."
The 50-member group, founded in 1986, holds events throughout the year, including writing contests and a conference that features speakers and workshops. The group also publishes an annual literary magazine and sponsors two scholarships for high school students.
"The Ligonier Writers Group is not a critique group, but we want to increase awareness of writing," Mr. Kelemen said.
Mr. Kelemen, 69, of New Florence, has published six books, including "Route 30, Pennsylvania's Haunted Highway," a collection of stories about hauntings that he said have occurred from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia.
A former Allegheny County police officer, Mr. Kelemen is also an actor, playwright and newspaper columnist. He and Mary Ann Mogus have co-authored a book, "Ghost Stories," and Ms. Mogus has a new science fiction book titled "Hidden Alliances."
Mr. Kelemen is chairman of the writing group's annual fall Flash Fiction contest, which drew about 70 entries from all over the world this year.
"Anyone can enter, you don't have to be a member, as long as [the entry] is 1,000 words or less," he said. "The topics are all Halloween related. This year's theme was 'Cats, Rats and Bats.' "
Readings for the winners will be held Oct. 5 at Ligonier Beach, a tavern/restaurant on Route 30 in Ligonier Township.
The group's spring Children's Poetry Writing Contest, for students in grade school through high school, had 700 entries this year from southwestern Pennsylvania. Cash prizes were awarded, and readings for the winners were held at the Barnes & Noble bookstore on Route 30 in Greensburg. The group also publishes the winners' entries in a book.
Ligonier Valley Writers will hold its annual picnic Sunday at St. Michael's of the Valley Church on Route 381 in Rector, two miles south of Ligonier.
It held its 26th annual conference in July at the Youngwood campus of Westmoreland County Community College, giving writers an opportunity to attend workshops and to discuss character and plot development and dialogue.
The group publishes its literary magazine, Loyalhanna Review, each spring.
"It has poetry, short stories, essays and photos. It's a nice glossy magazine and we give it out for free,'' Mr. Kelemen said. Member Ruth McDonald edits the publication.
Within Ligonier Valley Writers are several small writers' groups that meet regularly, including a Delmont area group and a Latrobe group.
One of the most active is the Greensburg Writers Group, with about 15 members who meet two Sundays a month at the Greensburg campus of the University of Pittsburgh.
The group, which includes Mr. Kelemen, is a critique group, so some members bring their writing and others offer suggestions.
"Of that group, about 10 of the people have published approximately 150 books," he said.
Judith Gallagher, 59, of Stahlstown, who coordinates publicity and the summer conference for the Ligonier Valley Writers, regularly attends the Greensburg sessions.
Ms. Gallagher makes her living as an editor and has clients in Chicago and New York City. She grew up in Latrobe and said she was eager to move away. But she returned to the region after working for a book publisher in Chicago and likes working from home.
She said she loves writing fantasy stories and is working on a book about Celtic mythology.
Members of the Greensburg group contributed chapters to a series called "The Phantom Detective," stories in which mystery writers, loosely based on real writers, solve criminal cases.
"We each have characters based in Falls Bend [read Ligonier] who have to solve a crime," she said. The proceeds fund the Ligonier Valley Writers' major contests and activities.
She said she has found the Greensburg writers group to be "immensely helpful."
"I earn a living in nonfiction, but fiction writing is so personal, it's scary being personally rejected. So they have helped me get over submitting my writing and also my fear of public speaking.
"For our writers' workshop, I just finished a short story and I'll make 12 copies and hand them out. People will read it and come back to the next meeting with comments. I will read a few paragraphs out loud. I used to read very fast and in too quiet a voice. But the group has helped me with that,'' she said.
"I have friends who visit from Chicago and they say they are amazed there is such an active literary group here."
Many of the writers are associated with Seton Hill's Master of Fine Arts Program in Writing Popular Fiction, Mr. Kelemen said.
"Barb Miller teaches at Seton Hill, she's published about 40 novels, and Ms. Mogus is a graduate, as is Ms. McDonald. Professor Mike Arnzen of the master's program is a well-known horror writer, and he's had TV shows in England that are based on his writings."
The group also has members who are English teachers at the Pitt-Greensburg campus and Saint Vincent's College.
What would Mr. Kelemen advise aspiring writers?
"No. 1 is read, read, read," he said. "That way you learn what you like, or what you don't."
"No. 2 is write. Most of it may be garbage, but never throw anything away ... I have stuff from high school that I have reworked and used.
"And No. 3 is don't quit your day job," he said.
Mr. Kelemen said he started out trying to make a living at writing but soon found that was very difficult.
"I could paper a wall in those rejection letters," he said.
Debra Duncan, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.