Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What I Learned from Kent Wascom

By Steve Weddle

Lately, I've been trying to think about what Joelle would do. I think, you know, Joelle would send a thank-you card or note to that person. Joelle would do this nice thing, because that's what a nice person and professional author does. So I've been trying to be more like Joelle. I even got myself a WWJD bracelet to remind myself.

So I'm at Fountain Bookstore Monday night for Kent Wascom's BLOOD OF HEAVEN tour. Here's a great review of the book. You can get signed copies from Fountain, by the way.

Kent did a few things really well, which I thought I'd share with you.

Keep in mind, I'm not a big fan of readings. I'd rather sit in a lecture hall while an author and an interviewer sit onstage in comfy chairs, discussing the book. I don't need the author to read a chapter of the book to me, as I'm rather adept at reading the book myself, especially if it is in English. Which is often is.

Kent gets up, talks about the book for a few minutes, then reads a quite small section, then talks a little more, then opens for questions.

I've seen some authors relish the reading, the performance. Which is great, if that's what you enjoy as an author and what you're good at. My take is that Kent Wascom is not an actor.

He did his undergrad at LSU, where I did my MFA work. He did his MFA in Florida, where I vomited eleven times during Spring Break '87.

During the Q&A, I asked about Louisiana, and he took the opportunity to connect with me, as a reader and human. The way good politicians do. The way decent human beings do.

Then after the reading, we chatted for a few minutes, and I told him about the rumor that I was an exotic dancer while at LSU came about. He took that information and used it when he signed my book. I mean, you're talking to the reader, you want to put something personal in there, right? Something real?Another connection.

Don't just sign "Best Wishes, Dick Author." Put a real thing there on the page in your own hand.

My guess is that Kent made these connections with all his readers that night and, more importantly, that they left thinking so.

We write our books, our stories pretty much in solitude. I mean, we might post a few #amwriting tweets or updates in an attempt to beg for attention or acknowledge our writerly-ness or whatever. And we may blog about this part of the process or share event news. But, for the most part, the actual creation of the book is done in solitude.

I've been sending COUNTRY HARDBALL back and forth with the folks at Tyrus/F+W Media, making sure the commas are in the right place, the names spelled consistently. I've sent stories to friends for their thoughts. I've sent stuff to editors, to my agent, to all kinds of folks. But this is all done while I'm tucked away in the downstairs toilet like most writers, typing away on my laptop.

The connecting with readers thing is key. That's what the reading is about, I think. The readers. Sure, you want to sell a book. But you want to see the people you're doing this for. You want to talk to the people who want to read your stories, see what they're about, what they're interested in.

When someone asks how you write or why such and such happened in your last book or where your ideas come from, this may be the ninth time in that week you've answered that question. But it's the first time that reader has asked you. Maybe it's the first time that reader has cared enough to ask any writer any damn thing.

So it's important that each reader is seen as a potential friend, isn't it? Someone who is going to share your book with you? Someone who cares about what you're writing? Isn't it essentially that you can connect with that reader? That one reader?

And then you can go across the street with a few people from the reading and drink and talk about Bill Cheng's book and murders in Baton Rouge and making charcoal from human bones.

Because if you make those connections, then that doofus at your reading run home and blog about your book. And he'll read your book. And he'll dig your book. And he'll pre-order the next one.

Also, it's why you're a writer, isn't it? To tell stories to people?

Kent Wascom showed how it's done, so connect with your readers when you can.

After all, it's what Joelle would do.


Dana King said...

When I was a musician, the first and last gigs on a tour of any length were often iffy. First stop because we hadn't got settled into being on the road yet, and the last because all we really wanted to do was get home. A lot of guys accepted this and went about their business. I actively fought against it, at least with myself. My thought was, the people who gave up their time to come and see us that night didn't know, and shouldn't need to care, what our issues are. They deserve the best show we can give them, no matter were it falls on the schedule.

It looks like Wascom gets that.

Books aren't so expensive that people can read them in less time than it took to earn the oney to buy them. It's their time I'm most appreciative of, and an event is the best place to repay that, wherethe writer can give a little time and attention back to them.

Chris Tusa said...

I've known Kent for almost ten years. He's both highly intelligent and genuinely kind--a rare combination.