20 July, 2014

Public vs Private

I gave a presentation to the Two Rivers Romance Authors group on Saturday and it went really great. They'd contacted me months ago to set up the visit and told me I could talk about anything I wanted. Any. Thing.

This obviously opened up a staggering amount of possibilities and I've given talks on lots of writerly subjects, usually to newbies. These women, though, are published or damn near it and I decided they'd probably heard all about creating characters and story structure and pacing and revising and all the nuts-and-bolts writing topics that so often get presented. I didn't want to be repetitive or boring.

So, what to do?!?

I pondered a while (months, actually) and a few days ago it hit me. I could talk about the public nature of being a writer, specifically meeting readers, fans, other writers, etc. I thought it would be a different kind of presentation from the standard 'this is how you write shit' kinds of talks, which is good. I prefer to be 'different'. As I pondered some more, the scope of the talk took place in my head and I decided how to go about making it work.

It did, however take some preparation. At Dunkin' Donuts, to be precise, across the parking lot from where we were meeting.

I am, by nature, a rather introverted individual and I don't get out much. I'm usually home and, frankly, unless I feel exceptionally comfortable with a person, I rarely speak at all. Everything's internalized. I'd much rather type in a chat window than, well, actually talk. I'm better than I used to be, but it's still an issue for me, especially when I'm in 'pro author mode' which is EXHAUSTING.

Anyway. Dunkin Donuts.

I grabbed my fabric tote bag - the one I take to quilt days and classes because it's really big - out of the back of my car and headed into the bathroom. I stripped from my comfy driving clothes (I drove about 2 hours to get there and I'll be damned if I'll wear uncomfy dressy stuff during a long car trip). I completely re-dressed. Twice.

It'll all make sense soon, I promise.

Off to the meeting.

I went in, as me. Well, the 'me' in new situations. Closed up. Hiding. Hair back in a ponytail. My funky reading glasses on. Gray zip-up hoodie, ratty comfy t-shirt, saggy-baggy 'at home' pants. Me. I was greeted, and I was meek. I sat huddled in a corner and quietly fiddled with my note cards and watched the strangers and was polite but mostly silent. Everyone was exceptionally nice and friendly and welcoming, by the way, but a few seemed perplexed as to why this pitiful creature was there to talk to them.

Meeting stuff happened and it was time to talk. I introduced myself - very softly - and said I slaughter people on paper for money (my standard line of describing my job, ha ha). I showed all three of my actual books, gave a short description of each and how they did sales and award wise, tossing each aside afterward because, as I told them, I'm not here to sell books. I'm here to talk to you about, well, giving talks.

There was much obvious confusion in the audience.

I explained some of my issues, upbringing, etc, and how one of the toughest hurdles for me, after turning pro, was public events. How I had to learn to take off my outer shell and get out there.

I then unzipped my hoodie, peeled it off, and set it aside. My voice got a teensy bit louder and I lifted my eyes a little more.

They started to pay attention.

I told them I soon found that wasn't good enough, I had to actually meet and talk to - omg! - strangers and I had to start feeling exposed.

Off with the t-shirt (I'm sitting through all of this, by the way) to show the blouse underneath and the nice necklace.

EVERYONE gasped. My voice got a little stronger. Folks laughed when I mentioned I actually own two blouses. Just two.

I talked about how in book signings I had to cheerfully greet people but it, and panels, meant I could still hide behind the table, behind the table cloth. I talked about how panels were terrifying at first, because I was afraid to speak up, but I soon learned to be assertive (hand motions begin, head up consistently, voice steady) but never aggressive. Everyone wants to talk over you in a panel, most want to scream 'BUY MY BOOK!' (My voice got loud and I brandished a book at them) whenever they get a chance, but humor (they'd already laughed a few times at this point) seems to work better for me than being forceful. But be prepared. Men, especially, will want to talk over you. Don't let them. Be kind, be yourself, but engage the panel and the audience.

By this time, everyone's nodding and taking notes.

Then, I sighed, you have readings.  A lot of writers sit down behind the safety of the table and read and read and read until the time's done. I did this once. ONCE. Then Gay Haldeman, wife of Joe Haldeman and a really good friend, explained that a good reading is actually performance art. And the first step is to get your ass out of the chair.

I stand up - everyone's pretty much shocked at this point - and I grab a book, open it, and confidently say, Instead of basically, again, telling everyone to BUY MY BOOK! what you're really doing is engaging the audience, selling yourself and the story at the same time. So you pick a few short bits, a page or so printed, maybe two pages if you're reading off manuscript pages. NO MORE. Never more.  And you tell a bit about yourself and why you wrote this. You tell about what it shows or does in the scope of the book - character, plot, whatever. Talk a little, read a little, be open to questions. Always friendly and welcoming, never pushy. It's a conversation. Maybe move away from the podium once in a while. Engage.

But then there's more than readings. Sometimes you have to present things. Talks like this, classes, that sort of stuff. Sometimes for a few people, sometimes for a lot. Fifty. Five hundred. More. You're on a stage. And there's nowhere to hide.

Then I unzip my comfy pants and peel them off. Beneath are nice, fitted capris. The gals in the writing group are astounded and laughing and clapping. I get out of my comfy pants, make a joke about how I love them because I don't have to take my shoes off to get out of them.

Everyone laughs.

Have you ever seen a TED talk? I ask, walking around. Gesturing. Confident. In control of the room.  Do they stand still? Are they stiff? Everyone chimes in 'No!' Of course not. And they're not up there saying 'buy my book,', they're up there saying I know my shit and I'm gonna teach you to know your shit, too. You gotta let your hair down (off with the ponytail and my wacky curly hair does its thing). You have to move around. Back and forth, approaching, welcoming, making eye contact, being open. Because that's what people respond to. Open and friendly.  But you have to look professional (I pull my tidy blue sweater out of the bag and put it on) to be taken seriously.

Everyone laughs again.

And after I was all done, I did a Q & A thing where I remained (mostly) open and moving and engaging, but I'd make a joke about my shyness every time I noticed my hands in my pockets or my back pressed against the wall. Then I made another joke about forgetting my bling as I put on my swanky watch I pretty much never wear. It finally wound down, everyone clapped and exclaimed it was just about the best author talk EVER.

I REALLY hate having my picture taken,
but Terri was nice enough to help me.
So I put  my pony tail back up (because even when I'm in control, damn it, I still want some of my protective crutches) but before I sat I asked them how many wrote down my name to look up later to purchase my books. Five hands of eight members went up. I smiled and said, Exactly. And I never once asked you to.

More clapping, and that was basically it.

Btw, I didn't use the note cards. They were merely a prop at the beginning because when folks are nervous, they fiddle with their notes. I, however, know my shit and don't need notes. :)

09 July, 2014

Holy crap buckets, Batman, it's already July!

My life is so crazy lately, I feel like a pinball banging around the 100 POINTS! bumpers with all of the dings, whistles, and pops that go with it.

I'm working on three different novels - yes, one's the next Dubric book - and have been writing daily again. ENDORPHINS is going to appear in an anthology titled BLACKBIRDS (pretty sure it comes out later this year but I'm not 100% positive). SID will be the lead fiction short in the opening of a new lit/art/music/etc webhub next year (I'll post more details when I can). I've been contacted about the possibility of doing a screenplay version of SPORE (I'm still considering the idea and need to make time to discuss the particulars with my agent once conference season settles down) even though the book hasn't sold yet. I've ALSO entered discussions with an independent small publisher about various things (yet another matter to discuss w/ my agent when we both have time). That's about it for writing, but holycrapbuckets! Nothing on my radar for years then in a less-than-48 hour span my writing life explodes. After all of that, I'm off to talk to the Two Rivers Romance Authors on the 19th. Yay!

My faithful sewing machine started acting up last October and stopped being able to straight stitch last month. My husband and friends pretty much made me buy a new one, not that I resisted. Much. I am generally, well, cheap. At least if you define 'cheap' as reluctant to spend substantial sums of money. But I narrowed my choices to two different machines and decided to open up the checkbook and buy one. It's... wow. I've been sewing for about twenty five years now, and it's quite a few steps above where I am, skill wise, but I'm learning. It's also whisper quiet (so I can sew while everyone else goes to bed) and happily sews through whatever crazy thing I try to shove through it. I'm a happy quilter.

My new machine.
I think it can calculate orbit trajectories in its spare time.
So I've been scrambling to get caught up on all of the projects and quilts that have piled up since last fall. There are a LOT. Oy. I'm staggered by the amount of work staring out from my fabric closet. One thing is a dinky dresden quilt I'd started last year, in blues, greens, and yellows.

That's a regular U.S. quarter there on the left
to give a sense of size of these teensy things.
There will be 320 itsy, bitsy wedges. I have them about half sewn and pressed, just not put together in arcs and circles yet, and still have half yet to sew and press so they're pointy. Been burning my fingers a lot, but it's MARVELOUS to sew again!

Then there are the medical issues. Nothing's exceptionally serious, but I will be having two separate elective surgeries in the near future. One to remove a troublesome cyst, the other to clear a path through a blockage in my sinuses. Whee! Doctor visits galore! Btw, getting a CT scan of my head and seeing all the internal bits was oh so cool! Plus I'm babysitting my supremely awesome 2-1/2 year old granddaughter most days while our daughter works, and trying to diet and exercise (I am failing so terribly at that!), and generally run, manage, and clean the house (insert more laughter here) and other life stuff, including our local community's festival the weekend before last (I made popcorn for two days straight) and my 50th birthday party the weekend before that, plus off to Des Moines for 4th of July last weekend, then there's the upcoming fun-run and fireman's ball (guess who's selling raffle tickets and t-shirts again this year?) and, well, LIFE.

There's nothing bad, just lots of it. :) Have a great week, everyone!