Five weeks ago, I celebrated the “birth day” of my first grandchild (Maggie), born to my son and daughter-in-law in Chicago. That’s where I’m writing from now, as I spend this month learning to be a grandmother.
There’s a part of me that also wants to be in Seattle tonight to celebrate another “birth day” – the launch of the memoir, Guts, by Janet Buttenwieser. For the past seven years or so, Janet and I have written together, critiqued each other’s work, and boosted each other’s spirits while seeking publishers. She helped me discern that the Whidbey Writers Workshop MFA program would be a good fit for me, and more than once she’s bolstered me when doubts about my writing overcome me. And through the years, we’ve also become friends. Seeing her story in print is a great joy.
Guts is a memoir about family, friendship, illness, loss, and hope. Janet was working on it when author Brian Doyle came to teach in our writing program. Here’s what he thought of it: “Can you read a book about pain while grinning and trying not to cry and not being able to think of a single book that’s anything like it? Yup. This one. Guts.”
If you can’t make it to the release party tonight, check Janet’s website for future events. I know I’ll be getting to at least one of them. In the meantime, Maggie and I will be cheering her on.
It’s finally here: the publication day for GUTS!! I’m over the moon that this long-awaited day has finally arrived. Tonight is the first of many celebrations and events: a launch party hosted by the wonderful Hugo House. For the past few weeks, as people have received and read advance copies of GUTS, I’ve been sent […]
In the past five months since the release of my memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, I’ve organized nearly twenty events to promote the book. I learned with my first book, Hands at Work, the importance of book readings and signings to introduce readers to my work. As I wrote in Afterthought #67, I took seriously guidance I received about author events, particularly regarding my “costume.”
The more I give readings, I gain stronger appreciation for the advice to think of it as a “performance.” I learned that at the first workshop I attended on the art of the author reading, and again at a workshop by former Washington State Poet Laureate, Elizabeth Austen. Her poetry (Every Dress a Decision, The Girl Who Goes Alone, and Where Currents Meet) is exquisite, and Elizabeth’s work in theater and radio is evident when she “performs” her own poems and those of others. Here’s some of her advice that I believe applies to readings of all genres:
Select what you’ll read with attention to breaking the ice, developing an arc, and leaving the audience with what you want them to remember.
Let the audience have a moment or two to breathe between parts you read, especially if you’re making a big transition or you’ve just finished an emotional section [I’ve found this is the perfect time to take a drink of water; it gives me a break, too].
Practice and time yourself so you can be respectful of the audience and fellow readers.
Wear shoes that allow you to feel the ground and stay balanced.
Performing gets easier with practice—read for an audience as often as you can.
Remind yourself that nervousness is simply the energy required to do this special thing, and that the performance requires you, but it’s not about you.
I’ve found that the Question and Answer segment is always rich, and although I never know what people will ask, I follow Elizabeth’s advice here, too, about how to prepare:
Think about what I’d do for an interview.
Ponder what I want to leave someone with.
Consider the stories I want to tell about the book and my process.
I’ve had some surprises at readings, and so far, they’ve all been a delight. For example, an entire book club came to a recent reading and sat in the front row.
At another event, a woman in the audience told me she’d seen advertising for my memoir at a bookstore where she’d just read. I was thrilled to learn that her book (Crown Jewel Wilderness, conveniently displayed on the shelf behind me), is a history of North Cascades National Park. In March I’ll host Lauren Danner for a reading at Lopez Bookshop.
Another time, a young man around my son’s age claimed a front row seat and jotted notes in a spiral notebook throughout the reading. He asked a thoughtful question about relying on memory when writing memoir, so when he came up for me to sign the book, I asked if he’s a writer. Turns out he’s studying writing, and his instructor assigned students to attend a reading (I LOVE this teacher) and write a report about it. At the same reading, an audience member brought her journal, along with my book, to the table where I was signing. After she had a friend take a photo of her with me, she told me she has journals devoted to author events and asked me to write a note on the page she dedicated to my reading. I’ve also been moved by health care providers telling their own stories of burnout and questions about their work.
I now have my own list of author event do’s and don’ts:
Always take extra books.
Always have water.
Don’t worry about silence when you ask who has a question. As a Quaker, I’m quite comfortable with waiting for people to be ready to speak.
Remember—if people close their eyes at readings, they’re probably not asleep. That’s just how some people listen.
Be prepared to learn something about your own journey through the questions from the audience.
Send a thank you note to the event host.
Perhaps the greatest joy is when I receive comments about my book from people far away. Recently, a friend emailed that while she was on vacation in Mexico and reading Hiking Naked, she met another American from Seattle who knows me but didn’t know about the book—so my friend filled her in. Another email came from a woman I met in Stehekin when she was a teen. Now a midwife, she resonated with my experience of burnout and is planning a sabbatical from that role.
A text message showed up from a friend of my son who had spotted Hiking Naked in a bookstore he visited.
And just the other day I received a photo and Facebook message from a woman who was reading my book in a coffee shop in Great Britain and wondered why she got some funny looks!
Now I offer some suggestions to those of you who attend readings about how to support the author who has not only written the book but has prepared for this performance:
Buy a book.
Thank the author after the reading (even if you don’t buy a book).
Recommend the book to others personally, through social media, and reviews such as on Amazon and Goodreads.
Thank the venue for hosting the event.
As I plan for more events through 2018, I look forward to more performances.
If you’re an author, what advice would you give to writers preparing for readings?
If you’re a reader, what is it about readings that you enjoy?
As July comes to a close, I continue to seek rest when I can. Poetry often offers respite, even when it spurs me to act. I found such rest—and prodding—through a poem by Shannon Perry in the current issue of SHARK REEF Literary Magazine. Here’s how it begins:
On Trump’s Election
by Shannon Perry
If I encounter knife-edged voices
I will remember cool water running
in a strong stream
I will let the water be my voice.
*Afterthoughts are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, previous posts, maybe even bumper stickers.
Here’s a sentence I never imagined saying: “I’m having dinner with my publisher.” It seemed like a line I’d heard in a movie, but never expected to utter myself. But I did—or more like shouted it from rooftops, wrote it in emails, and posted it on Facebook when my publisher, Leslie Browning, invited me to dinner earlier this month.
An award-winning independent publisher ensuring the mainstream isn’t the only stream.
“It is our intention at Homebound Publications to preserve contemplative storytelling.”
prompted me to click on the link to Homebound’s website and continue reading.
Evidently I wasn’t the only visitor who wondered what the press means by “contemplative literature.”It’s explained in the company’s philosophy:
“In this throwaway-culture where we buy a book in the supermarket, read it over the weekend, and then toss it, we publish books that you will have on your nightstand for a few years and return to again and again—books that nourish your mind and soul.”
I started to feel prickles of excitement.
One of the strongest characteristics of my MFA program at Whidbey Writers Workshop was the emphasis on the profession of writing. Homebound’s view on the business of publishing was right in line with mine:
“So often in this age of commerce, entertainment supersedes growth; books of lesser integrity but higher marketability are chosen over those with much-needed truth but smaller audience. Here at Homebound Publications, we focus on the quality of the truth and insight present within a project before any other considerations.”
Discovering that the press’s books are printed on paper certified by forest sustainability programs, and it donates 1% of its annual net profits to charity, was the chocolate shavings on top of the whipped cream.
Homebound Publications justifiably claims it’s a small press with big ideas. It publishes between fifteen to twenty books each year and has almost seventy-five titles distributed worldwide. Over the years, its authors have received dozens of awards including: Foreword Reviews’ Book of the Year, Nautilus Book Awards, Benjamin Franklin Book Awards, and Saltire Literary Awards.
I didn’t lose any time checking out Homebound’s Submission Guidelines and soon sent the information and manuscript requested. That was in May 2015. I learned of the press’s desire to publish my memoir a couple of months later and soon after that, I had my first “meeting” with Leslie by phone. A month later, I signed a contract with the press with a publication date of Sept. 2017. Since then, Leslie and I have communicated regularly via email, a private Facebook page for authors, and Basecamp (an online project management tool). As promised in the contract, she’s consulted with me about important decisions (such as front and back cover design and interior design) and assisted in marketing and promotion.
Before our dinner, I’d gotten to know a good bit about Leslie through our ongoing virtual conversations and by reading her poems and novel. A proud native of New England, Leslie grew up in the small fishing village of Stonington, Connecticut. In her writing, she explores the confluence of the natural landscape and the interior landscape; her longtime study of philosophy, nature, and art is evident in the themes she explores through poetry and fiction.
In 2010, Leslie debuted with a three-title contemplative poetry series: Ruminations at Twilight, Oak Wise, and Barren Plain (here’s a sample of one of her poems, “Where the Story Left Off.”) Her most recent book, The Castoff Children, is a page-turning novel set in the wintry streets of 1850s Boston. A group of orphaned children struggles for survival in this cold world, finding their way together, with friendship, perseverance, and courage.
Leslie’s dedication to authors and readers is also evident in her service on the Board of Directors for both The Arts Café Mystic (a poetic arts venue in Mystic, CT) and Independent Book Publishers Association. And a milestone accomplishment for the press is Leslie’s recent agreement with Midpoint Trade Books to provide national distribution for all Homebound titles (you can see them all, including forthcoming books, in their 2017 catalog).
I won’t deny that I loved being “wined and dined” by my publisher at Imperial Restaurant. But the best part was spending time with someone I now consider a friend.