A few weeks ago, I debuted as an author. Just me, no one else. I’d read in public many times, but I had always read alongside other fellow writers, never on my own. This was the first time I would give a talk and read from The Forgetting Flower, solo. People were coming, if any came at all, to see me and no one else. I was the sole entertainment for about an hour. And it scared the sh*t out of me.
Don’t Panic, Yes, Panic
To stave off the panic beforehand, I focused on being as prepared as possible. I emailed the Third Place Books contact and made sure all was ready and that they would order the books in time, I politely asked for a promo poster when every author’s in June and July was made except mine. I registered the talk with all of the local newspapers and blogs, and lastly, I figured out what I would talk about.
That last task was more difficult than I expected. The store had asked me to give a short talk and do a reading. I figured I could do that but how to make it not boring? How to break the ice? I wrestled with my brain in an effort to figure out a joke to start off the speech. While eating lunch with my husband, I’d say, “How about this,” and then lay a joke on him. Silence. Or he’d say, “I don’t know. If you want.” I’d frown. Nothing impressed him. So, I kept working on it.
A couple of days before the reading, I nailed down what I wanted to talk about. Three things the book covered: plants, Paris, and Poland. I had a little story to share about each, so I wrote out what I wanted to say word for word. I told myself I could read from it or just use it as a guide. Then I decided I’d read a few pages from The Forgetting Flower, enough to hopefully get people interested in the book. I was done.
My Other Angst
During the days leading up to the reading, I worried no one would show. Yes, I had close friends in Seattle but more were scattered across the U.S. and Europe. They weren’t able to make a global trek for my one evening. At the last minute my sister, thrilled at my publishing my novel, asked if I’d feel better if she came from Chicago. I said yes. So she did. Just like that. And I thought, okay, that makes an audience of seven people.
On the night before the reading, in a fit of desperation, I lay in bed and told my husband my last idea for a joke. He laughed. Thank God.
And a Party?
I have trouble managing my calendar sometimes. I doublebook myself and forget about appointments. Sometimes I literally don’t know where one of my three kids is at any given moment. So, in my pre-reading launch haze, I thought it would be a good idea to throw a party at my house, which was two minutes by car from the bookstore. Really? Well, guess what? That adds a layer of tidying and cleaning and window washing and cat box scooping and lawn mowing that I hadn’t thought about! How dense am I?
Well, thanks to my family and friends, I got all of that part done. And by the time the reading came around, I knew some of my neighbors were coming so I knew I’d have more in the audience than seven people. But I didn’t know how many would actually show. I mean, people get busy, right? Well, a lot showed. They and my outer circle of friends and fellow writers and even some folks I didn’t know! I was delighted to see the bookstore add chairs. The total was 40 plus people. Whew.
All Eyes on Me
It’s strange for everyone from your sister who’s known you since you were kids to your newest fellow author friends to be waiting for your words. So before launching into my stories, I gave them my most honest feelings about the whole thing. I told everyone that I had tried to get on top of this event by writing out an agenda. I showed them the paper. But I told them that for some reason the first item I’d put at the very top was: “hide in bathroom and wait until everyone leaves.”
It got a laugh. I felt relieved. Then I realized that I hadn’t brought my glasses to the podium and couldn’t see a spec of what I’d written, unless of course I crammed the paper at my face. So I launched into the story of plants and fragrance, then searched for the highlighted, bolded sentences. Those bolded sentences saved me. I got through the talk, I read the first pages. I even got through the book signing. And before I knew it, I was at home drinking a cocktail and laughing with friends. Turns out I could handle being a temporary book “star” after all.
This last week I’ve been hammering out how I can bring my literary offerings to the forefront of my website. So I’ve been studying other author sites. Some I like, some I don’t. I won’t mention which ones are barely useful or clunky but they are sadly by some writers I love. A few strong highlights are Neil Gaiman’s whose site is as alluring, mysterious and witty as he is; Gary Shteyngart’s, which is wacky and ironic; Paula McClain’s is full of dreamy Parisian history. The website I recommend checking out the most, whether you’re a writer or reader, is Chuck Wendig’s. It’s entertaining, snarky, and engaging, just like him.
Chuck Wendig Stuff For Readers
Chuck Wendig, for those who don’t know, wrote the Miriam Black series. It’s a trilogy of books about a woman who can foresee people’s deaths. They are hip, dark stories that are utterly magnetic. You want to follow this woman around, a lot. He also wrote the latest Star Wars movie tie-in books and the post-apocalyptic Heartland series. Plus, a whole bunch of other stuff. He even offers free short stories. The man is a novel-writing robot.
Chuck Wendig Stuff for Writers
Anyway, in addition to having a suite of products for readers, Chuck also writes a blog. This is sometimes aimed at aspiring writers. It’s incredibly useful. In fact, my Might and Main Monday post was distantly inspired by his Macro Monday posts: a piece about what’s on his mind while inspiring people for the week. One of my all-time favorite posts of his is called “25 Reasons Why I Stopped Reading Your Book,” a how-to write piece masked by a critic’s viewpoint.
So, as I lurk on author sites and take notes, I prepare to streamline my own site. Keep an eye out for changes. I’ll be making clearer what I offer readers and even releasing a book. Hopefully, I can inspire a few writers too.
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I’ve been thinking about why fictional books matter. Do they? Why read? What would happen if we could no longer read stories? Fiction readers would live like people who choose not to read. A world of the here and now only, a world where one doesn’t join the dreams of others. There are a lot of people in the world who do this, a few who I know well. They are often happy. So if a person experiences the real world in the now, what have they given up? I’ve wondered a long time about this.
What they’ve given up is, simply put, the ability to grow. In a bookless world, a person’s life includes less wonder and awe. It includes less insight, less adventure, less knowledge, and less relaxation. Before I get too high on a horse, I’ll share children’s writer Katherine Paterson’s take on reading books. It makes me even more dedicated to being not only a writer, but a reader.
[Books] “allow us to enter imaginatively into someone else’s life. And when we do that, we learn to sympathize with other people. But the real surprise is that we also learn truths about ourselves, about our own lives, that somehow we hadn’t been able to see before.”
Why Read: Children
You can see how this implies why it’s important for children to read, so they can learn empathy, so they can grow into better human beings, so they can connect their experiences with others’ experiences. Books help children grow their conversational skills and vocabulary. It expands their worldview.
So this week I hope you will take time to enjoy your life by reading a story. If a boss is being mean to you or a spouse isn’t being supportive, you can turn to a book. A book is always a friend that’s waiting to connect.
What are your favorite books? Let me know in the comments below.
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