The author event II

Many times a book event is just that, an event based around what you, personally, have written. As such, you’e2’80’99re in control, and may want to tell a little about the writing of the book, or why you were interested in the topic, or something about your life, anything by way of contrast to straight reading. However, it’e2’80’99s always a good idea to ask a general question about format before you get started. Not only does this clue you in to any idiosyncrasies that particular venue might have, but it can alert you to something that might have passed you by in the planning stage: if there is an actual topic for the night.

There’e2’80’99s nothing quite like the rush of panic-induced adrenaline you feel at suddenly finding out that in five minutes you are expected to present your thoughts on something about which you know absolutely nothing. The only thing worse is finding out when you’e2’80’99re already launched on your customary shtick, that you’e2’80’99re supposed to be speaking to a topic.

Even if you have but five minute’e2’80’99s warning, snatch some thoughts together and STICK TO THE TOPIC, especially if it’e2’80’99s a panel with others who are expecting to talk about politics or dog grooming and not your chosen subject of raising canaries. If you’e2’80’99re asked to talk about historical research, it may not be a good idea to launch off with a tale about your first sexual experience (unless of course you’e2’80’99re able to tie it in to research.) If you’e2’80’99re on a panel concerning Sherlock Holmes, fair play requires that at least a part of what you say has to do with the subject of Sherlock Holmes.

And if you’e2’80’99re doing a joint event (we’e2’80’99re going to assume that you know something about the others, have read one or more of their books or at least looked at their web sites’e2’80’94good manners alone dictate that) you need to know the format and stick with it. If you are the moderator of a panel, please be aware that moderating does not mean that you first ask your questions and then you answer them. And if you have been asked to interview another writer, the only autobiographical material that should come out of your mouth is that which feeds directly into your next question.

‘e2’80’9cConversations’e2’80’9d such as the one I had the other night with Michael Chabon can be tricky. Michael is a gentleman and a scholar, the nicest person a Big Prize like the Pulitzer could ever go to. I love his wife, I love him, and I was just tickled pink at being asked to sit on a stage and talk about Sherlock Holmes with the man.

In case you’e2’80’99re behind in your reading, Michael wrote a novella called THE FINAL SOLUTION, about a mute Jewish refugee boy in southern England, his talkative parrot, and a very, very old retired-detective-turned-beekeeper who gets involved when the bird goes missing. Because Michael is such an incredibly skilled and subtle writer, it is about a lot more than that, and all I can say is, go buy the book right now, and prepare to read it twice through.

(By the way, I am SO looking forward to April, when his mystery novel about a detective in a Yiddish-speaking country whose capital is Sitka [formerly in Alaska] comes out. Ah, where to begin?)

It’e2’80’99s nice when, in a public ‘e2’80’9cconversation,’e2’80’9d both participants assume that the other is the more important writer, because it tends to keep answers brief and ensures that both speakers have come armed with questions. I have to admit that, friend though he is, it was a tad disconcerting to have a Pulitzer Prize-winning author appearing to ask me for advice about writing in front of an audience (and by the way, sorry about the typo the other day: the title of his Pulitzer winner is KAVALIER AND CLAY, not Cavalier) but so long as both of you are professional about it, a little mutual-admiration society never hurts.

That’e2’80’99s the key here: professional. A beginner can be professional. If you start a reading by confessing how nervous you are, you set your audience on edge from the get-go. If you just force yourself to pretend that you do this every day, if you act as if you’e2’80’99re comfortable with the mike in your face even though your voice and hands are shaking and there’e2’80’99s a cold sweat trickling down your spine, if you stand up there acting as if you honestly believe that everyone there thinks your book was the best thing they’e2’80’99d read all year (even if you deep-down suspect that their presence in the chairs might have more to do with the sudden thundershower outside) you’e2’80’99ll get off to a good start. If you’e2’80’99re not used to being the center of attention, try to pick a couple of friendly faces in the crowd, one on each side of the audience, and talk to them, as if all the others weren’e2’80’99t there.

Thank the booksellers when you’e2’80’99re finished, and pretend not to notice that they don’e2’80’99t want you to sign ALL of the unsigned stock (so they can send it back, sigh.) Write the events coordinator a note afterwards if you like (although she’e2’80’99ll understand if you don’e2’80’99t) and accept all compliments with a touch of self-deprecation.

And if you get into the car afterwards and burst into a case of the shakes complete with hysterical laughter, don’e2’80’99t worry: By the time you finish, the parking lot is usually dark.

If you’e2’80’99re interested in more suggestions about author events, you might take a look at the booklet offered by Sisters in Crime at their web site. I haven’e2’80’99t seen this particular publication, so I don’e2’80’99t know if it agrees with the above suggestions, but I have no doubt it’e2’80’99s worth the ten bucks. And while you’e2’80’99re there, join Sisters in Crime. It’e2’80’99s a great organization, for men and women, published and unpublished.

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  1. Anonymous on November 9, 2005 at 11:10 pm

    In college, I was quite lucky to work for a terrific English professor who was certain I was brilliant (Gee, I miss her) and determined that I should overcome my pathological shyness. She would give me a credit card and the keys to her beloved Austin Healey, and send me to the airport to act as welcome and entertainment committee for the authors she invited to speak. Some of them were exceptionally well known, which was quite a feat on her part, considering we were a tiny, State school in a tiny town in a much-maligned State. I was surprised at how nervous the pending appearance made some of the writers. I incorrectly assumed they were accustomed to speaking to audiences and it must be easy for them, but I was, of course, wrong. Some were as shy as I was. Thank God for that little car; it was a great conversation starter. As long as they didn’e2’80’99t drink too much at lunch (one or two did), I would let them drive if they wanted. I was given an incredible opportunity to meet some fascinating people, and we always returned the Austin in perfect shape. So, along with your suggestions for participating in an author event, I would add that a scenic drive through the mountains in a classic car could help alleviate a case of nerves.

  2. bani on November 18, 2005 at 9:44 am

    Michael Chabon, eh? *makes a note* Thanks for the tip! Love the blog, by the way! 🙂

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