Monthly Archives: August 2013

New To Book Readings? No Worries!

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New To Book Readings? No Worries!

Lecture

I’ve been to countless readings, starting in high school: fiction writers, non-fiction writers, poets, playwrights, and screenwriters.  I keep attending readings because I’m a book nerd and, as a writer, I always learn something.  If you’ve never been to one before but have an interest, do it!

Here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Writers are people just like you and 99% of them will be thrilled you’re there to hear them talk about their books.  I remember seeing crime writer Mark Billingham on his first book tour of the U.S. at a  Borders in Northern Virginia on the night of the next Harry Potter release.   In his British accent and wire-rimmed glasses, he made jokes about hopefully not being mistaken for Harry.  He acted, as I would imagine, most of us would act when our life’s dream comes to fruition and you are making it public – like a normal human being.  He was proud, excited and a little nervous.  Don’t be intimidated!

2. There’s usually a predictable format.  You can count on someone from the bookstore, library, college or sponsoring organization welcoming you and introducing the writer. Then the writer will  thank you for coming, and read for anywhere from 10-30 minutes.  Usually, the author will take some questions afterward and will sign books. If there are multiple writers, expect separate introductions for each.

3.  Question time!  Ask away!  Most writers love questions.  They help us understand our audience, find out about misconceptions and consider ideas for future pieces.  Just don’t get too personal and keep it about the book;  but if the book is a memoir, than you can of course get personal.   Also, the writer is probably reading from her most recent work, but don’t be shy about asking burning questions about her other books, too.

4. Don’t be the shusher. One time, my husband and I saw Hampton Sides read from Ghost Soldiers in Washington, D.C.  It’s a book about the Bataan Death March, which happened in WWII.  My husband asked a question related to the ending – which is a well-known historical fact – and someone in the audience shushed him!  We still laugh about it.   He wasn’t spoiling the end of a novel, folks  – which is ALWAYS unacceptable, by the way.  When you’re at a non-fiction reading, especially about historical events, expect some spoilers.

5. Dress casually. You don’t need to dress up for a reading, especially since most authors dress casually themselves.  Leave the yoga pants, pajama bottoms and sweats at home, though. Remember – this is a public event and you don’t want to look like you were cleaning the bathroom.

6.  Relax and listen. Its’ really fun to hear an author read in his/her own voice.  It’s fun to see how they answer questions.  Mostly, I have always loved seeing how human writers are.  I put writers on a pedestal because I admire them so much.  It was so amazing to see they are like you and me – they rock back and forth when they talk, they stumble over words, and they forgot to tuck in their shirt all the way, too.

7.  Say hi. 

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Jonathan Maberry and I at the Moravian Bookstore. He is waaay tall and waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay friendly.

A few months ago, I had to joy of meeting  Jonathan Maberry at the Moravian Book Shop in Bethlehem, PA. My friend  was hilariously star-struck and froze in place when she saw him. I went right up to him and introduced ourselves.  That started a twenty minute conversation that ended in him offering to Skype with my students, us telling him about our own books and getting photos. I’m so glad I went right up to him – and so was he.

So shake hands. Introduce yourself.  Tell them you enjoyed the reading. That you’re a fan.  That you haven’t read his book yet but you’re looking forward it. That you loved a particular series they wrote a few years ago.  That you had a good time.  That you like their shirt. Ask for a photo. You will make the writer’s day, I assure you.

Finally, yes, there will be writers who are aloof and obnoxious and not at all interested in chatting as they sign your book, but whatever.  A friend who works for a bookstore told me a reality tv star was a total diva and wasn’t particularly nice to her, her colleagues and even the customers.  This woman’s television or writing career didn’t have much longevity.  Not a surprise. Thankfully,  this is the exception rather than the rule.

So get on a writer’s website, follow them on Twitter, like them on Facebook and look for announcements in your local newspaper about readings.  I hope you have fun!

Show Us, Don’t Tell Us: Writing Dialogue

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Dialogue Exchange #1

“Leave me alone!” Jodie screamed loudly.

“Fine!” yelled Manny.

“Whatever! I hate you!” Jodie hissed.

“Good!”  Manny bellowed intensely.

Dialogue Exchange #2

“Leave me alone!”  Jodie said as she grabbed her keys from the end table and yanked her purse over her shoulder.  She was sure Mrs. Lenitsky could hear them through the walls and she wondered if there would be another note in their mailbox.

Manny’s face flushed as he crossed his arms over his chest and anchored himself in the recliner. “Fine!”  Their cat twitched her ears and opened her eyes as her nap was interrupted again by another fight. 

“Whatever! I hate you!”  Jodie’s voice was a hiss.  She heard her brother say “Good!” as she slammed the front door.

***

Many teachers use Exchange #1 – screamed, yelled. hissed, bellowed.   I teach middle school and start teaching dialogue by instructing  my students to use attributes like that when writing dialogue. They’re beginning writers, so that’s OK.  I’m thrilled they know what verbs are in the first place, to be honest.

Strong verb attributions are a good place to start, but then it’s time to extend that skill.  I’m a fan of Exchange #2.

I try to always use said as an attribute.  In her fabulous guide to the craft of writing called HOW I WRITE: SECRETS OF A BEST-SELLING AUTHOR Janet Evanovich writes, “Said is preferable to words like remarkeduttereddeclaredarticulatedmurmured, or chortled. Descriptive words such as these can stop the flow of a sentence. Don’t be concerned that there will be too many saids in your book. Readers never really notice it. ”

The information supporting a piece of dialogue is called a tag or a beat.  This is where you should get creative.  So what can you do?  Like Exchange #2, paint a picture of what’s going on while the characters are speaking. SHOW instead of tell:

  • What does the person look like? (“Manny’s face flushed…”)
  • What is the person doing? (“She grabbed her keys from the end table and yanked her purse over her shoulder”)
  • How does another character respond? (“Their cat twitched her ears and opened her eyes as her nap was interrupted again by another fight.”)
  • Gestures? (“…he crossed his arms over his chest and anchored himself in the recliner.”)
  • Reactions? (“She heard her brother say “Good!” as she slammed the front door.”)

The combination of these elements show anger and discord rather than simply telling it.  Don’t slow your writing by using all of these all of the time; this was just to show you the gist.

Finally,  there are scenes that will require fast dialogue.  Roddy Doyle is an example of a writer who can pack a punch with using just pure dialogue with out a single attribution or tag. He’s one of my all-time favorite writers and instilled in me a love of using conversations to create characters and conflict. Don’t get caught up in showing and telling when the pace of the scene matters more.

So, take a piece of your writing, change those flowery attributions to said and try some showing instead of telling.  Please post your before and after below, because sharing is caring.