Friday May 2nd, fifty or so people gathered for the launch of Lockdown my debut novel. The weather was kind, the assistants from the Young Writers' Club were helpful and enthusiastic, and the mc's were wonderful.
Certain thank you's are in order -
- to my two wonderful mc’s at Friday night’s book launch, Lisa Voisin and Lynn Crymble.
- to the members of the Young Writers’ Club who helped set up the room and worked on the draw for the door prizes.
- to my family who have encouraged me every step of the way.
- to all of you who showed up to support my launch.
- to those who could not make it but sent congratulations and encouragement.
- to my publisher, Great Plains Publications, without whom there would have been nothing to launch.
In early February this year, three of us North Vancouver writers drove halfway to the US to see Ivan Coyote at the Semiahoo Library. “The stage is a sacred place,” she said in her presentation Talking the Talk. Ivan emphasized that writers who are invited to participate in public readings or launches should treat the event with respect. They should work as hard preparing for public readings as they did writing the material in the first place.
Word count 425 Reading time: 2 minutes
This spring my novel Lockdown will be launched. That means for the first time, I’m going to have to read this work in public. That thought terrifies and excites me. Pain is so closely linked to pleasure after all.
Thank you, Ivan, for the wisdom, humour, and experience you shared that night. For those of you who may never have the opportunity to hear this wonderful speaker, here are some of her points:
- Foundation rule: who are you on stage for? Choose material with your audience in mind.
- Listen to other performers who are sharing your stage—and reference them.
- Watch other authors reading and learn from them. (Hint: google spoken word artists and open mic events).
- If you are reading from a book, let the audience see it.
- If you are reading from your own copy, print the material in a large enough font that is easy to read.
- Read the material aloud before you stand in front of the crowd. And practice practice practice it—at least twenty times beforehand.
- Think of your piece as ascending a 15 story building. Pace your reading so there are landings—pauses that allow your listener to absorb the material.
- The length of your pieces should be timed to fill about 85% of your time slot. See previous comment about landings.
- Arrive early and check the facility out. Introduce yourself to the sound people and event managers. Try to remember names.
- Don’t go on stage starving, after drinking carbonated beverages, dehydrated, or after a big meal.
- Most importantly, bring your best self to the stage. Don’t trash anyone or complain.
Still, I think the book launch will be a challenge for someone like me who avoids the spotlight. But it’s an essential part of the writing caper so I’ll set a date, put on my extrovert disguise, and take the leap.
What are your experiences with public readings? Is there something else that prepares a person for the first time (or the tenth) that they read their work in public?
Photo from Wikimedia Commons: Sarah Bernhardt performs as Sorceress, Library of Congress
In The Canterbury Tales the Wife of Bath lectures on gentility: “To do the gentil dedes that he kan; taak hym for the grettest gentil man.” (Gentility in Middle English meant nobility of character, refinement.) Over the centuries this morphed into the homily handsome is as handsome does, which first appeared in Oliver Goldsmith’s novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1776).
Word count: 386 Reading time: 1-2 minutes
Stephen King says Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader's. It’s the writer’s job to make the reader feel the heat of attraction. Flat adjectives like handsome, beautiful, sexy, lovely mean the writer is making the reader do his job.
The day my husband and I met, I carried my own scuba gear – all eighty pounds of it – to and from the beach. It never occurred to me to ask for help because my usual dive buddies didn’t offer it. My husband had only dived with women who thought he was there to make their experiences easier. Then he met me: I drove myself to the dive site, unloaded my own gear, and dived in the frigid water of the Pacific Northwest in a forty-pound dry suit. Where other men might have seen someone unappealingly independent, my husband saw the most attractive woman he’d met in months. How lucky we found each other.
So if a character finds another sexy and attractive, I want to know why. The reasons say as much about the attractee as they do the attractor. Does the hair on his neck stand up when he hears her low throaty voice? Does she have a foot fetish and adores him in Blundstones?
Like so many rules of craft, it’s simple in principle and much, much harder in execution. Here are some points that I try to remember:
- If food is delicious, will the reader’s mouth water?
- If the character is crying, is the reader’s heart breaking?
- If the character is beautiful, is the reader captivated?
- If a fire is burning, can the reader smell the smoke?
- If someone is singing, can the reader hear the tone of the voice?
- If a character picks up a cold drink does the reader feel the sweat of the glass?
How do you draw a reader into your world?
Pictures from Wikimedia Commons: Four Great Beauties by Xi Shi, Wang Zhaojun, Diaochan, Yang Guifei
I wrote my first thank you letter in either grade one or two. An aunt in England used to send me a book every Christmas, wrapped in brown paper and tied with thin cotton string. We didn’t have a lot of relatives and she was the only one who sent presents, so my gratitude was heartfelt.
Word count: 329 Reading time: 1-2 minutes
I never did meet this great aunt, this sister of someone married to someone related to my father. She was a stranger in a faraway land and I studied her neat handwriting and wondered at the magic that connected us. The annual event of her gift spurred a tradition that became a lifelong habit of letter writing.
This habit peaked when I moved to Australia in 1987. In those pre e-mail days in Melbourne and Sydney, I wrote 8 to 10 letters a week. Which leads me to wonder, why did I write so profusely? I’ll let Anne Lamott answer that: [I] was desperate to communicate, to edify or entertain, to preserve moments of grace or joy or transcendence, to make real or imagined moments come alive. (Bird by Bird)
Long before written language evolved, people sought to record their stories, first in cave paintings and then, 10,000 years later, in petroglyphs.
Laying down our stories has been a part of human psyche for a long time. Maybe we do this because of the reasons articulated by Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones, “[…] the secret ego truth is I want to live eternally and I want my people to live forever. I hurt at our impermanence, at the passing of time. […] I write out of hurt and how to make hurt okay; how to make myself strong and come home and it may be the only real home I’ll ever have.”
What are your memories of your earliest writing? What drives you to keep writing now? Do you know young people and what do you do to encourage their literacy?
Painting of a bison in the cave of Altamira photo by: Ramessos
"If I could I would always work in silence and obscurity, and let my efforts be known by their results." Emily Brontë. How would she view the cyber arena of writing?
Word count: 374 Reading time 1-2 minutes
The internet has moved the goalposts for 21st century writers. Now, among other things, we are now supposed to:
- Read a lot.
- Write a lot.
- Write a mission statement.
- Join a writers’ group (for fellowship)
- Join a critique group (for feedback).
- Take courses.
- Join a book club. At least one.
- Attend writing conferences and festivals.
- Build a platform, a brand: blog, tweet, join facebook, LinkedIn, read other blogs, comment on other blogs.
- Build a professional bio.
- Be camera friendly.
- Pitch books in live situations or, at the very least, start the bruising process of querying agents and publishers.
After the book deal:
- Teach or mentor other writers.
- Organize a book launch.
- Organize appearances and book signings.
- Visit booksellers and book buyers.
- Organize a book tour.
- Start again at the top of the list.
While these suggestions only scrape the surface of the recommendations I’ve found, this list, even in its pared-down form, triggers a breathless claustrophobia in me. It doesn’t seem to leave a lot of room for the two essentials of writing and reading. What are the choices? Few, as far as I can tell, so I pick and choose the things that I hope will build a robust writing career.
Still, that list makes me wonder how the 20th Century’s five most reclusive writers would fare if they were to publish their books today. Georgette Heyer, who sold her first book at age 17 and wrote 55 more over the next 50 years, granted only one interview in her entire life. Would she have flopped in the cyber age?
In the end, as interesting as it to compare the current writing world to days gone by, it’s best not to spend too much time thinking about it. As L.P. Hartley said, “The past is a foreign place. They do things differently there.”
What are you doing to build your writing career? Are all these things simply too much for one person? How do you choose and what do you choose?
Photo from Wikimedia commons, Dan English
Word count: 329 Reading time: 2-3 mins
Australian author P.L. Travers said, “A writer is, after all, only half his book. The other half is the reader and from the reader the writer learns.” She learned so much that her Mary Poppins book series has realized every author’s dream: it thrives long after her death.
World Read Aloud Day came and went this week and I wondered how many writers were even aware of it. [I wasn’t until today.] Its primary focus is global literacy and surely that is important to writers. Who are we without readers? Who are we without listeners?
Reading aloud lets writers pick up weasel-words that sneak in and repeat themselves monotonously. It lets us hear the flow. It’s difficult at first so when we sit down in writing groups and stumble through our stories and poems, we hope our listeners are forgiving. A reasonable expectation for emerging writers.
What about readings by professional writers? Surely they work to a higher standard. On our epic Outback adventure a few years ago, my husband and I took along Bill Bryson reading his book Down Under. His wry style enlivened hundreds of miles of long dusty roads. When Angie Abdou read at the Vancouver International Writers’ Festival last October her quarrelling characters sprang to life around her.
But I’ve also squirmed through sessions where it sounded like the writer was seeing the words for the first time. One writer in particular turned her head to the page and obscured any view of her face with a broad-brimmed hat. She didn’t lift her eyes once as she mumbled her way through pages of prose. Shouldn’t writing professionals polish their reading before they step in front of a mic? After all, a writer is only half the performance, the other half is the audience.
Have you read your work aloud recently? Did you discover things in it that you hadn’t seen before? Have you heard a writer bring their work to life with a spirited reading?