Friday, September 30, 2011

Four Tips for the Performance Author

Part One of Two Parts

By Ramona DeFelice Long

A first novel. A writing fellowship. A conference panel. A contest win. Author day at a school. A book festival. These are events a writer daydreams about—unless public speaking is involved. Then, for some authors, the daydream becomes a nightmare.

Not long ago, I followed a conversation on the Sisters in Crime members-only listserv about shy authors. Writing is a solitary occupation, someone wrote, and being a good writer does not automatically make you a good public speaker. Someone else pointed out that reading work aloud in front of a group, or discussing work in a panel, is awkward, unnatural and terrifying.

If you feel this way, you are not alone. Many people fear giving a speech more than flying, heights, terminal illness, old age or being mauled by a bear.

Public speaking is a regular gig for me. In 2011, I’ve been on stage, so to speak, as a writing teacher, a workshop leader, a featured reader, an emcee, a free write facilitator and a guest author. I am not shy, and I am (mostly) comfortable in front of a crowd because I do it often.

But what if you don’t? What if the prospect of reading in public fills you with dread?

Reading to an audience is an art—a performance art. It’s also a skill that can be developed. I’d like to offer four Ps
Purpose, Plan, Practice and Psyche Yourself—to help shy authors overcome their trepidation.

Purpose – Think of a public reading as an opportunity, both for you and the audience. You have the chance to present your written work verbally or to talk about your creative process. The audience gets to experience that, live.

To make the most of this opportunity, answer the following:

What is your goal? To promote your work—that’s a given. More specifically, is your appearance to promote a particular work? Or is it to promote yourself as an author? If your purpose is to promote a specific or newly-published work, read from it. If your purpose is to promote yourself as an author, share a piece that best represents your body of work.

Plan – First, consider time. Most people read at a rate of one minute per page. 15 minutes = 15 pages. Take into account time for someone to introduce you and for questions at the end. If you’re doing a book talk as opposed to a straight reading, include time for story background.

If you are slated with other authors, be considerate. Don’t eat into someone else’s performance minutes. When you are solo, fill up the time allotted. If you are scheduled for 30 minutes and your reading peters out after 15, this is not good. Always give the impression that there’s never enough time to share your writing with the wonderful people who’ve come to hear you.

Next, the audience. Who will be there? What’s appropriate to read to them? At a senior citizen facility, for instance, avoid racy sex scenes and don’t drop any f-bombs. Likewise, a quiet mother-baby scene might not fly at a middle school.

And now, what to read? From a novel or short story, choose a beginning or full scene that is active. It doesn’t have to be high action, but choose a scene with a clear event or important exchange at its center. Your selection should stand alone without a lot of explanation. If you are given five minutes to read, and you need two of those minutes to set up the scene, identify characters or share back-story, you’ve made a poor choice. If you must set it up, keep it short: “Jane is the main character. John is her husband. Their son Tommy has gone missing while biking with friends in Spain.”

How the story came to you is always interesting—but keep that brief as well. “I got this idea after visiting a B&B in Massachusetts. The hill behind the garden was the sight of a massacre during King Philip’s War and is supposedly haunted. This story grew out of that.”

Finally, if possible, inquire about the venue and set. Will you be behind a podium? Standing before a free-standing microphone? Sitting at a table? A reading is a physical performance, and you want to be physically comfortable. If you need to sit, or a podium makes you nervous, relay that to the coordinator.

To be continued tomorrow...

Ramona DeFelice Long writes fiction and non-fiction for children and adults and everyone in between. She works as an independent editor, specializing in mystery novels and short stories, and teaches workshops on all aspects of writing. Ramona is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Delaware Literary Connection, the Hillendale Farm Critique Group and is an honorary member of The Written Remains writing group.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Talking About Banned Books

By Anne Perry

We all want the freedom to make our own choices, and to do so without penalty or coercion. But with freedom comes responsibility to live with the results. A civilized society tries to create a balance between protecting the vulnerable and stifling the explorers of the mind, the innovators and the creators in the imagination, without whom there would be no invention and no art.

It is an appallingly difficult course to steer. My freedom of religion might be your blasphemy. My questions might be disturbing to you – your art might be obscene to me. One man's political protest might be another's treason, and so on.

Who has the right or the duty to decide what we may or may not read? And upon what grounds?

Which brings me to the question how on earth anyone decided that "The Chronicles of Narnia" were dangerous and should be banned. Am I hopelessly naïve and missing some dark evil in a children's story which is blazingly obviously Christian, written by a man famous for his faith and his inspiring wartime broadcasts to Britain?

"Narnia" is not among my favourites of his works. I greatly prefer The Great Divorce, and The Screwtape Letters with their brilliant philosophical insights. They were not mentioned as banned, but seem to me far more provocative of thought, self-questioning and possible growth. Are they allowed? May we know what C. S. Lewis thought to be the smallness of mind, the sins clung onto which will keep us out of heaven?

I am more than surprised that "Narnia" was banned. I am astounded, and I admit I do not understand.

Which banned book is my favourite? I don't even have to think about that. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll. I grew up with it in my hand. Even now, listening to others read it to their children, I find I can follow almost word for word.

Its wit and imagination still please me. The smile of the Cheshire Cat is part of the furniture of my mind, as is the Mad Hatter with the price ticket on his hat, the March Hare (they do go crazy in March here in the fields and are a joy to see), the Gryphon, the dance on the seashore; all of it.

To me, Alice was a reflection of myself; inquisitive, articulate and frequently argumentative and, like most children, with a keen sense of what is fair. I also had vivid dreams, and toy animals I talked to (They never talked back! That would be cause for concern). I knew all the poetry and loved the play on words. I can still smile at "reading, writing and painting in oils" ending up as "reeling, writhing and fainting in coils."

And Through the Looking Glass, the Red Queen – "jam every other day – yesterday and tomorrow!" Life can seem like that. "Don't waken the Red King or we shall all disappear – we are only figments of his dream."

And the poetry in "Through the Looking Glass": The Walrus and the Carpenter. I could quote screeds of it. Even better, the White Knight, forever slipping off his horse, and the old man a-sitting on a gate that summer evening long ago.

It seemed to be innocent, funny and very dear. What did I miss in it that was so dangerous it must be banned? Dangerous to what? My imagination, my laughter, my love of reading, my ability to "think outside the box"?

Who decides these things? What slander, blasphemy or sedition is hidden in these stories? What monster do they see that I missed? Is it possible it isn't there, and they brought it with them?

Anne Perry is an award-winning New York Times bestselling author. Her two Victorian mystery series have more than 25 million copies in print worldwide. A docu-style video on Perry and more about her books can be found here.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Greetings from Bouchercon!

[Originally published at Literary Lunchbox,]

By Karen Burgess

I’m on a four-day literary extravaganza! Bouchercon is the annual fest for fans and writers of mystery, crime, thriller, suspense and related subgenres (graphic novels, anyone?). This is mostly a fan event. The numbers are not yet in for this year, but attendance in 2010 topped 1,600.

Although I know more writers than I did in the past, I’m still bowled over to be in the room with luminaries such as Val McDermid, Jan Burke, Parnell Hall, Jeremiah Healy, Charlaine Harris… the list goes on. And on.

Yesterday began with a 6 a.m. pickup from my friend Addy, chauffeur and roommate extraordinaire. (For which I am eternally grateful – she had to get up at 4:30 to make this happen!) We drove to St. Louis, checked in to the super-lovely Renaissance Grand Hotel, and then walked over to the ever-so-opposite Holiday Inn Select, where Sisters in Crime was holding its pre-conference workshop for writers. It was the only event specifically for writers, so I was pumped to go.

The event was an incredible value for the $50 registration fee. The speakers included:
  • David Wilk, CEO, Booktrix, on the state of publishing
  • Libby Fischer Hellmann, author (most recent book, Set the Night on Fire, a standalone thriller), on comparing traditional and e-publishing
  • Cathy Pickens and Jim Huang (author and bookseller, respectively) on getting your book into print
  • Marcia Talley and Ellen Hart, popular mystery authors with long backlists, on do-it-yourself publishing on Kindle
The most useful session for me? Do-it-yourself publishing on Kindle. Marcia and Ellen talked very knowledgeably about what to do, step by step. For published authors with a backlist of out-of-print books, this means new life – and new money – with this new channel that can introduce your fiction to new audiences. (Get your rights back!)

Personally, I have a super-fun book that I have given up on pitching – it’s not a mystery. I came away convinced that I can freshen this up (wrote it so many years ago that my popular references are sure to be dated), format it myself, get an ISBN number, get my ever-so-talented graphic designer husband to do me a cover, price it at $2.99 or $3.99, upload it to Amazon and let my employer know I’m about to retire. (Just kidding on that last one.)

The Sisters in Crime event included a banquet with a very amusing after-dinner speech by author Meg Gardiner. Meg writes the Evan Delaney series about a Santa Barbara attorney and the Jo Beckett series about a forensic psychiatrist. Her books were published worldwide, but not in the U.S., until Stephen King wrote an article about them in Entertainment Weekly. Fourteen publishers called the next day. I was drinking coffee and paper-and-penless during her speech, but I sent myself a series of emails so I could remember some key points.

Email #1: Meg’s blog is called Lying for a Living. She’s also on WordPress. Sister!

Email #2: Meg's first published book was China Lake. I bought it – and several others she authored – today in the Bouchercon book room because when she talked about China Lake, she commented that “a big, big story will expand your readership.” Now I want to see a big, big story. I fear mine are tiny, itsy-bitsy stories.

Email #3: ”Left Behind in the E-book Rapture.” Or at least that’s what my email was supposed to say. iPhone corrected it to “Left Behind in the Snook Rapture.” I love the phrase and the point she’s making – e-books are not going away. Not there? It’s not too late. And if you can focus on a big career, this is going to all come naturally.

So that’s it. I have a giant list of cool blogs, web sites, resources, and more – a bulging book bag full of new purchases and a Bouchercon tote bag full of books that I got FOR FREE repeat FOR FREE, several new friends and a few days to go. More later.

Karen Burgess writes fiction (novels and short stories), is a published author and is searching for an agent. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. You can keep up with her online at her blog, Literary Lunchbox.

Photos courtesy of Karen Burgess.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ready for the Big Screen?

Screenwriter Wayne Beach, now in his 20th year as a working screenwriter, will lead two workshops in October from his home base in Phippsburg, Maine.

Screenwriting: The Foundation is a five-day workshop for beginners that provides an intensive introduction to concept, story, structure, building characters, visual storytelling and the way the screenwriting business works. The workshop, limited to six participants, takes place Oct. 25 -29. The registration fee is $850.

Building the Script is a five-day workshop for intermediate and advanced writers. The session is designed for writers who have a story and are trying to build the structure into an effective outline or for those who have a finished draft screenplay and are about to work on a revision. The sessions will help writers shape and sharpen their work. The workshop, open to six participants, takes place Oct. 11 – 15. The cost is $950.

Beach has written screenplays for Warner Brothers, Twentieth Century Fox, Disney, TNT, Fox 2000 Pictures and Village Roadshow Pictures. He has developed projects for the makers of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Law & Order,” “The Fugitive,” “Ocean’s Eleven,” “Platoon” and “The Perfect Storm.” His filmed writing credits include “Murder at 1600,” “The Art of War” and “Slow Burn.”

In addition to having completed writing “Ten Good Men,” a feature film in development by Wolfgang Petersen’s Radiant Films, Beach is currently on assignment adapting “The Garden of Betrayal,” a new novel by Lee Vance published by Knopf.

Beach is a respected teacher of the screenwriting craft. He is on the faculty of Maine Media College and is teaching screenwriting at Bates College this fall. Previously, he taught screenwriting at Northwestern University for several years. Many of his former students have become successful writers, directors and producers in film and television.

Additional information on the upcoming workshops is available by calling (207) 389-1770 or emailing .

Friday, September 2, 2011

The First SinC25 Blogging Challenge Roundup

By Barbara Fister

Jose Ignacio Escribano, who blogs from Spain at The Game’s Afoot, was the very first blogger to pick up the SinC 25th anniversary book blogging challenge, and has already posted twice. His posts are helping to remind me of several Spanish women whose work I keep meaning to read.

Bernadette in Oz, who writes insightful reviews at Reactions to Reading, has also started the challenge, focusing her first post on women writing in the PI tradition - Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton having been her original ticket to the genre. I’m looking forward to post #2, but since the deadline is “whenever,” I’ll be patient.

Also from Australia (or “Paradise,” as she prefers to call it), Kerrie Smith of Mysteries in Paradise completes the challenge with a roundup of women writers she has enjoyed reviewing recently, starting with Asa Larsson’s new book, which I am eager to read.

The director of the Goshen Public Library has also taken the challenge and posted about a library-related mystery. Scan her blog to read reviews of more women writers – and male writers, too.

Fictionista Katherine Tomlinson (Kat Parrish) has two posts about women authors at Kattomic Energy – love that name! – featuring Sharyn McCrumb’s Ballad mysteries, Kelli Stanley, Carol O’Connell, and more.

If you want to play along, the rules (such as they are – I’m an anarchist at heart) are here. If you tag your posts with SinC25, I will be able to add them to the list.

Sisters in Crime is a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote the professional development and the advancement of women crime writers to achieve equality in the industry. And it’s 25 years old this year.

Barbara Fister is the author of the Anni Koskinen mysteries. The most recent title in the series is Through the Cracks. She is an academic librarian and serves on the SinC board as Secretary.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Summer Reading

by Sandra Parshall

Sometimes I look at my list of recently read books and realize many of them made little impression on me, but this summer’s list is filled with memorable novels.

Karin Slaughter’s new book is always a highlight of summer, and I think this year’s Fallen is the best novel she’s ever written. I’ve been a happy reader since Karin brought Sara Linton and Will Trent together, and their relationship advances in Fallen, but the focus is on Faith Mitchell, Will’s partner in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and her mother, a retired cop who has been kidnapped. Old secrets surface in the course of a riveting crime story.

For something completely different, I turned to Julia Spencer-Fleming’s long-awaited new mystery, One Was a Soldier. Claire Ferguson’s return from active duty in the Middle East lands her and Police Chief Russ Van Alstine in the middle of a murder investigation and gives Julia the opportunity to explore the aftermath of war duty in the lives of veterans.

I read Chevy Stevens' first and second novels, Still Missing and Never Knowing, close together and found both absorbing in different ways. The author uses the same device to tell each story, a first person protagonist talking to her therapist, but there’s nothing similar in the plots. Still Missing is about a woman who is kidnapped and held prisoner for a year (giving birth to the kidnapper’s baby during that time) and suffers another life-altering jolt when she learns the truth behind what happened to her. Never Knowing is about a woman who was adopted as a baby and searches for her real parents as an adult, with disastrous consequences.

I “discovered” Michael Koryta with So Cold the River, and although I’m not usually a fan of supernatural elements in mysteries, I’m now hopelessly hooked on his writing. I read The Cypress House and The Ridge this summer, enjoying his larger-than-life characters and his fearless storytelling.

Again, for something totally different, I finally got around to Leonie Swann’s Three Bags Full, a marvelously droll tale of a flock of sheep solving the murder of their shepherd. The sheep were as real to me as any human characters I’ve met in novels.

These are just a few of the entertaining books on my summer list, which also includes Iron House by John Hart, Fatal Error by J.A. Jance, Misery Bay by Steve Hamilton, The Ice Princess and The Preacher by Camilla Lackberg, and the astonishing Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson. Next up, another new book by a favorite writer: Laura Lippman’s The Most Dangerous Thing.

What have you been reading this summer?

Sandra Parshall is the author of the award-winning Rachel Goddard mysteries. The fourth book in the series, Under the Dog Star, has just been published.