Monday, December 14, 2009

Readin, Bleedin, and Nod

By Steve Weddle

You could see it by the way he swallowed too much. The way he let everyone at the reading get in line ahead of him. The way he mumbled to himself, practicing what he was going to say.

There was going to be trouble.

I was over to the side by the shelves, hanging out, waiting to see if he needed to be tackled – like this was how I wanted to spend my Thursday night.

“To Rodney,” he said when he handed the book to the author. “I’m really your biggest fan.”

“Thanks, Rodney,” the author said, signing, then handing the book back.

“I mean, you probably get that a lot.”

“Always nice to hear. Glad you like the books.” He capped his pen, slid it into his pocket. Started to push away from the table.

“Oh, yes," Rodney said. "You’re what got me into writing.”

Yeah. I cracked my neck, bent my legs to keep loose. This might not end well. I hadn’t put an elbow into anyone’s temple in months, but I wanted to be ready.

The author looked around for his helper. She’d gone to the coffee bar to get him a chai latte. He couldn’t decide whether to stand up.

“Maybe you’ve heard of me,” Rodney said. “I run a Web site called The [something mumbled]-cy.” Prophecy. Contingency. Something like that. The Moon Fart Prophecy, for all I knew. I guess I don’t pay attention.

“Oh, well,” the author said. “Good. That’s good.”

“I thought maybe you might like to read some of my stories. I printed a book. Sold out, too. My teacher said it’s a cross between Harlan Ellison and Jerry Seinfeld.”

“Well, good luck with that.”

“I thought maybe you might like to look at it. I mention you in the acknowledgements.”

“Oh, uh,” the author took the coffee from his helper who’d just gotten back to the card table. “Sure, if you can leave it with,” he leaned over to look, “Marcie here, she can mail it to me.”

“That’s great. I thought you might like to look at it.” Yeah, we got that, Rodney.

The author turned, knocked over a couple of stacks of his books and a poster of himself on the edge of a dragon’s fire, and sloshed his coffee all the way to the back of the store.

Rodney harrumphed at having to give the manuscript to Marcie, who took it, stacked it on about ten more just like it, and walked to the back.

Rodney turned to walk out of the store. “Think he’ll ever look at it?”

“I don’t know, man,” I said. “But you have to take a shot. C’mon. I’ll buy you a drink on the way home. We gotta be at Mom’s in an hour.”

So I was thinking about the different kinds of folks who come to readings.

The writer: Has written something and wants help with it. Or help promoting it. Just the name of an editor. Or agent. One of those publishing people. Or wonders why your crap gets published while hers is too good for an agent.

The reader: Has read all the books and wonders why in your first book the narrator’s mother was called “Nancy” and in the second book she’s “Nanci.” Or wonders why in this new book that people are just buying now for the first time but that she’s read because her aunt works in publishing, well, why did you make the school teacher be the murderer? That was a completely unexpected twist on page 300.

The wanderer: Heard there was something going on and thought there might be crackers with that soft cheese covered in nut bits.

I was at the Jeff VanderMeer reading in Richmond, VA last week. Most everyone was really nice, though I’ll admit it was touch and go there for a second or two. There was no one there like Rodney. I'd have TwitPic-ed the heck out of that.

Mr. VanderMeer talked about his book tour, gave some insights into writing. Charming. Bright-eyed. He couldn't have been more entertaining if he'd have been juggling drunk armadillos.

Ever since Dave posted here about the folks who come to his readings saying they could stuff write better than his if only they had time, I was thinking about all the other types of folks who come to readings. And why. They’ve spent 400 pages with you and want to see what you’re like in person? They heard your book was cool and wanted to give you a shot? Are you looking for your community? Other fans of Jay Stringer or whomever? What's the point of a reading? The jibber-jabber on the InnerWebs is that readings are dead because they cost too much (thousands) to sell too few books (5-ish).

I've been star-struck at readings of favorite writers and completely dorked it up. No, seriously. I have. No, really. Oh, I see. You're making fun. Oh, haha.

Anyway, why do you got to readings?

If you give readings, what kind of audience do you want?


John McFetridge said...

Look at you and Mike with the O Henry endings - great stuff.

When Dirty Sweet first came out I gave it to Michael Connelly while he was signing books at Sleuth of Baker Street store in Toronto. Not a good idea.

I like to go to readings, though, I like to hear the words in the author's voice. I've heard Elmore Leonard read a few times and his laid back, easy-going voice fits the writing perfectly.

The readings actually got me to slow doen when I read his novels myself. More of a blues beat, triplets, than the rock'n'roll I had in my head.

Dana King said...

I don't go to a lot of readings, but when i do I'm looking for an insight or two, maybe the answer to a question about the books or author that's been on mind. I'm sometimes curious about how personable the author is, though I only go to readings where I'm already pretty sure the author is going to be.

Mostly I go to be entertained, to get my battery changed a little. This person is doing what I want to do and is living proof people do rise above the slush pile and become successful, some more successful than others.

What kind of audience would I want if I ever got to do a reading? Breathing.

Chris said...

I'd actually never thought about why I got to readings. I think there are a couple reasons. I like to support the venue that sponsors them (usually one of a couple indie bookshops in town). I like to support the "industry" of book tours. And I also like to meet the authors and see how good they are at delivering their words. I'm cool with authors who don't want to do book tours and such, but for those who do, I like to see how they present their work. I find that enjoyable. It can be inspirational, and also a good opportunity to meet other people with similar interests.

Steve Weddle said...

John, Speaking of OHenry, 'The only thing we knew for sure about Henry Porter is that his name wasn't Henry Porter.' And, yeah. Readings teaching timing. Hadn't considered that. Nice.

Dana, Agreed. Sometimes it's worth it just to see the 'living proof.' And gimme some warning when you're reading. I can promise I'll be breathing.

Chris, Venue support. Another good reason I hadn't mentioned. The bookstore goes to the trouble to promote an author you like, the least you can do is offer your support to the store and the author. Right

Scott D. Parker said...

I go to readings, mainly at Houston's Murder by the Book, to support the store.

I do want to be entertained. Charles Ardai had a talk/signing almost a year ago. He brought slides, giveaways, and took questions. Wonderful time. Other authors I've met disappointed me. Shan't name them here b/c I enjoy the books.

Here's what I dislike, personally: as an avid fan of Author A, I know a lot of details. The Q&A at the talk involves people not as up-to-date with the details as I am. Thus questions are asked of Author A that *I* could answer b/c I read Author A's website. Irritation.