Disaster Preparedness

Tree damage in graveyard

Nature is boss. In case we’d forgotten, she recently blasted the Northeast with gale winds and a few tornado touch-downs. Uprooting trees and knocking out electricity and even taking off the roof of a local (unoccupied) house, she reminded us that we are kidding ourselves if we think we are in control. Heeding this kick in the ass, I am both practically and spiritually rethinking how I live.

When the whistling wind turned to a roar and our cell phones blasted a tornado warning, Molly and I descended into the dark, old-house basement with dog, water bottles and flashlights. We felt sure the house would blow down on top of us. It did not and except for a few downed branches we made it through intact. Power was out for 3 days — a minor inconvenience compared to many who are without almost 2 weeks later. We were without internet for 11 days and since I work at home these COVID days, that was tough in a first world problem way.

I have lived without electricity and water for long stretches, including in winter during the war in the Balkans. Nothing like being in the cold and dark with the rattle of machine guns and an occasional thud of mortar fire shaking the walls. But not having water is the worst. These recent days in the dark, even as I stumbled to the sink, I felt grateful as I turned on the faucet or hopped, gasping into a cold shower. Temporarily losing these conveniences I take for granted is a great exercise in gratitude. So many around the world, because of war, poverty and injustice, (thinking here about poisoned water in Flint, Michigan and Navajo Nations with no running water!) lack this basic necessity and it’s criminal.

It seems a little crazy that we are so electricity dependent and all of that can be undone in a flash. Even in my life with wood stove and clothesline, I found those few days challenging. I am, like many, addicted to the internet. My phone is never far away from me and for no particular reason. I am rarely expecting a call. But there are so many pictures to look at! News and gossip to follow! I still had phone service and while it was charged squinted at the little screen for updates on my corner-of and the rest of the currently sorry-world.

Solar light shot

Evening entertainment during electric-free days, we enjoyed light-pollution free star-gazing and reading on the front porch. Only days earlier, I’d presciently installed solar motion-sensor lights so we settled in the evening breeze with our books and took turns waving our arms every few minutes to reactivate the light. (photo above)

Have you ever read The Road by Cormac McCarthy? I wasn’t reading that on the porch– in fact, it’s a book I tried and abandoned years ago because it was so bloody bleak. I mean, I appreciate dark but I can’t do apocalypse. But I’m still haunted by what I did read. Too real? Too possible? These days, I’d say yes. But I’m a practical gal and a survivor and I’ve started to plan.

What I missed the most during the 3 day blackout was my own food and cups of tea and the electric bidet toilet seat. (you mean you don’t have one?)  I’m working on preparing solutions for next time. In my Kyoto kitchen there was a hatch door in the middle of the floor that opened into a little ground storage space perfect for keeping food cool.  Isn’t that brilliant? I won’t be digging any holes outside but I might get another cooler and lots of ice. As for cooking, I don’t have a grill but am researching little hibachis and for morning caffeine fixes, a butane burner with shelf-life milk. And there are simple bidet options that don’t require electricity. Note: all bidets online are currently sold out – no surprise after COVID scramble for toilet paper.

Now that I have internet back, I’ve been able to do a lot more research on how to weather storms and in considering other possible catastrophes, what countries in the world I could escape to. Frankly, I’d rather stay here in my country in my sweet house, but I know it’s better to be prepared. 

Any suggestions on preparing for storms, elections and other possible disasters?

 

 

Books Can Save Us

I have an abundance of riches in reading material. Stacks of both purchased and advanced reader copies of favorite or new authors stacked in towers around my house. So how to pick what to read next? What do you do? I’m a sucker for a good cover. And of course I have favorite authors who I eagerly snag from the Advanced Reader pile at work. I am always hoping to understand my beloved ghosts so am drawn to titles relating to addiction, book-love, memoirs and weird places. That’s how I picked up The Lost Chapters: Finding Renewal and Recovery One Book at a Time by Leslie Schwartz. It checks all of the above.

Leslie Schwartz is a novelist and an addict who spent 90 days in a Los Angeles County Jail for a DUI. Before starting her sentence she chose the books she wanted to read and her family sent them to her weekly. They arrived just in time – as books seem to do. Her list included a book of Mary Oliver poetry, The Woman Warrior, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Unbroken, Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart (a book that saved me more than once) and one of my all time favorites, A Tale For the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki.

“…Ozeki showed me, that time in its clock-on-a-wall form, and story as linear, like a yardstick, is often the least truthful way to talk about or understand its passage. All stories can only be re-created by collapsing the past, the present, and the future. We are not what we do, like a resume. Jail, for all its insidious horror, its odious dehumanization, its dependence on the momentum of days, of counting along the agonizing progress of calendars facing ever forward, is really a place that embraces no time, for which there is no clear understanding of its movement. In jail, time moves backward and forward, It is without symmetry, a starfish with five arms and no central brain. We are not, it turns out, simply our crimes or our release dates. We are where we came from. We are how we change. We are what we remember, and what we don’t remember. We are the moments that pass, and also the moments that stand still. Time is not our enemy but our puppet. Memory is prophecy and what we think is real is just an illusion.”

This passage from the Lost Chapters is followed by one about addiction and finding recovery. It’s gutting and beautiful and everything I know from being on the other side – loving the addict. Neither of mine ever made it through the window.

“Forcing compliance doesn’t work. It inspires retaliation and usually still more relapse. This is why rehabs and jails don’t work. And yet, addiction itself keeps the addict enslaved, unable to want to stop. I am still in awe that I was granted that tiny window somewhere along the line and even more baffling that I slipped through it.”

I love this book. The author does not whine. She owns her shit and her privilege and shares her outrage and the injustice and failures of our system – particularly for women of color.

I’ve always adored books. Walking into a bookstore even after 21 years, I still feel the thrill of all those books! New titles! And I believe that books can really save us. I am not alone. My friend Nina was devastated after the early death of a beloved sister and found comfort, healing and JOY by reading a book a day for a year. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair.

And have you heard about this extraordinary man, wrongfully convicted as a teen? He spent 17 years in prison — and how reading saved him. Here’s his story and here’s the organization the remarkable John Bunn created A Voice 4 the Unheard – with the goal of bringing books and literacy to prisoners. Note the story of the corrupt and wrongful conviction doesn’t figure on his website. Is it books, is it reading that allowed this man to not be bitter after 17 years wrongfully imprisoned!?  He humbles me.

Forget the deserted island – these are tricky times. What books would you want in prison?

Enough IS Enough

Christmas tree

Today I assessed the gifts I’ll be giving for Christmas. Laid out across my bed in little piles by person – most for my daughter, a few things for siblings who will visit on Christmas day, and another  group for dear friends, it looked paltry. Especially Molly’s pile. I imagined them wrapped and under the cute little tree we bought the other other day and thought, “There’s not enough!” and off I went out into the fray to buy more stuff.

I know better. Molly doesn’t care. We’re more of a team than ever, working together on saving pennies where we can. There’s a year and a half left to get her through college. We’re scraping the bottom of the barrel of funds I’ve saved. She knows that. Still, I’m insecure about my ability to deliver on Christmas. Why? It’s ridiculous, I know. My kid is 20. She works. My family and friends work. We are all adults. It’s nice to get and receive things but none of it is necessary. Still, some mother-gene in me cannot imagine disappointing my daughter.

But then I really think about it. I think gratefully about how we all have roofs over our heads, good food to eat. How fortunate we are to flick a switch for light, turn a tap for water. How lucky we are that no one is bombing us. The little piles on my bed (slightly bigger after my outing) are enough.  We have enough and that really IS enough.

Enjoy your holiday! (and give books!) xxx

Aging with Vinegar & Honey

Olive kitteridge

What does it say about me that I love the ornery, razor tongued Olive Kitteridge? I loved her in Elizabeth Strout’s engaging book by the same title and I love her as played by the superb Frances McDormand in the HBO series. Olive, lives in a gorgeous, small seaside town in Maine. The rocky, rough setting is the perfect backdrop for Olive who is kind of awful. No, wait: she’s really awful. She’s mean to her sweet husband, to her kid, to everybody. But I love her even as she makes me flinch. I don’t really know what to say about that except maybe she reminds me a tad of me — were I not to self-censure. And she definitely reminds me of how my own mother could be.

The other day ran into someone who worked with my mother in the real estate business more than 30 years ago. She said, “Cathy was a nice woman.” this former colleague said. I responded incredulously, “Really?” And she answered, “Well, you know…”

Don’t get me wrong, the woman clearly appreciated Cathy, probably got a kick out of her since she was smart as a whip, had integrity and wit and I know for a fact, shared the same leftist social consciousness as this former colleague. But nice? Not an adjective I would use to describe my mother. Nor myself.

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But, I’m trying. I’ve learned to curb my tongue in order to keep jobs, avoid fisticuffs in the subway, road rage incidents on the highway and just because – life is better without meanness. Our’s is not a home of fights – we are mostly kind to each other and when we’re not, we call each other out on it and quickly make amends. I am proud of how kind and empathetic my daughter is and she always help keep my nasty, devil-side in check. And frankly, it’s just easier to go to sleep at night without the guilt and regret of some verbal dagger thoughtlessly delivered during the day.

Olive has a soft spot for the broken ones – the drug addicted mother and her son. And she grows, eventually recognizing – at least within herself, the mistakes she’s made, the time she’s squandered. And in the end, she learns to love a little better (though still in her prickly Olive way). Now that’s inspiring. As we age, it seems we just become more of what we are. Late-life transformations, even slight, are rare. So there’s the challenge to pay attention to who we are now, decide if that’s who we want to be, and if not — get on with the work of changing.

Have you read Olive Kitteridge or watched the HBO series? Do you hate or love her?

Stuff

Rob with Stuff 1

Here’s my handsome fellow at a flea market last summer. He left the album and hat behind after our photo shoot, but I’m sure we walked away with other goodies purchased that day. I can’t recall what. Nor can I remember the gifts I received last Christmas although there was plenty under the tree for me. Do you remember what you got?

We’ve agreed that this is the year we will rein things. College bills are daunting, cars need new tires and it’s really time for us to buy a new bed. Besides, we’re all grown-ups now. If we want it, we can figure out how to buy it for ourselves. The point is, in our house, we do not need more “stuff”.

But it’s Christmas so that’s what we do. It seems, impossible to ignore tradition and not get a tree, not put presents under it, not get up in the morning and cover each other’s laps in wrapped goodies. Not quite yet. But Molly, now a worker-bee as well as a student, gets that it’s tough to both pay bills and buy stuff (or eat out) willy-nilly. She has also discovered the joys of thrift shopping. We’ve agreed this year, to only buy each other second-hand gifts.

I’ve already scored some real gems.

glovesI haven’t quite decided who will get these wooly gloves ($4) but I’m thinking my sister will appreciate them. (you can let me know, A)

Although I appreciate how Goodwill Stores sort clothing by color (easy to pass by those salmon colored slacks) the amount of stuff is just too overwhelming — a bit like going to Kohls. I prefer smaller, church thrift shops usually tucked into basement rooms and run by women whose average age is 75 who lovingly price and merchandise the fantastic goodies donated by surrounding communities. In this neck of the woods, often very wealthy residents – resulting in some great finds.

For $4 I bought these cool lights I’ll hopefully get around to hanging from the porch before January. I can be a crank about a lot of holiday-hoopla but love Christmas lights – brightening up the long winter nights. R suggested these look like meatballs but I think they’re funky.

lights

In that same shop I also found this beautiful frame for $2 – a keeper. I turned it over to R who will fill it with just right (probably zany) photographs. Not bad, right?

frame

Of course, I do work in a bookstore and receive a lovely, extra employee discount during the holiday season so I will be buying new books for presents. But books don’t count as ‘stuff’, do they? We can never have enough of them.

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Where will you be shopping this year?

Vertigo: Slow Down You Move Too Fast

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My default speed out in the world is FAST. Customers marvel at how quickly I answer their emails and process quotes and orders. Out on the book floor, I’m zippy at the cash register and wrap gifts in a flash. If I perceive a customer is not inclined or able to trot after me, I offer to retrieve what they need while they wait. I walk at a clipped pace through the store and sometimes lose customers who have tried to follow me. I’ll apologize saying I’m a New Yorker and still walk like one.

When things get busy, I may get annoyed by colleagues who don’t seem to know how to move more quickly and cut their conversations short. As if they are tourists from Boise and lumbering down 42nd Street, I want them to step up the pace. But the fact is, some of them are our best salespeople, engaging customers, taking their time as if that person is the only one. They do not rush through their transactions, they make contact.

When I get home after work, I try to slow down. I attempt to recover myself. Not my high functioning, efficient employee, A-type personality, self — rather, the self I aspire to become all the time. I get better practice on the weekends – taking my time, doing my best to pay attention to each moment, to the world around and within me.

Last week, a bout of vertigo required I shift gears. In the wee hours of the morning I turned in bed and felt something in my head become unhinged, a weird little shifting in my ears. The world began to spin from my pillow. By morning this sensation had passed enough so I was able to get up and go to work but I’ve yet to completely shake a slight vertigo. I have had to slow down. Rather than barreling on at my usual breakneck speed, I’ve been moving more consciously, carefully stepping through the day, lest I start the spinning again. I feel as if I’m carefully balancing something inside of me.

And I am: life. I am balancing my life. And what’s the rush? Where do I hope to get to? I am here now and if you are here with me too, for whatever our transaction or pleasure, I will try and be completely present. I have to because otherwise I may spiral off. Don’t worry, I will still answer my emails efficiently, I’ll just walk a little slower through the book stacks. Along the way, I may recommend my favorite reads and learn what yours are. I will remember, as I keep my head steady and avoid jerky movements, that our time together, like the end of the day, will come fast enough without me rushing towards it.

Book-love: A Chronic Condition

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It’s getting worse. Piles everywhere.  I may gaze with lust at pictures of gorgeous and clever bookshelves but in my house, books live in chaos. Paperbacks, hardcovers are not organized by subject, nor author, nor color (egads) or most recently acquired.  Advanced Readers Copies are piled in with purchased titles. Anywhere I sit in the house there is a book within grabbing distance. Teetering on the table beside my corner of the couch (next to the reading light, of course) is a stack of mostly memoirs. Sometimes I’ll pull a title off a shelf because I forgot I owned it and have yet to read it.  For that same reason, I also have multiples of the same title like Truth and Beauty that I own both in paperback and hardcover. (how have I not read this yet?) Thus grows another pile – as if by cluttering up a table with them increases the odds I’ll read them sooner.

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And when I’ve finished a book I’ve loved I still need to keep it around me at least a little longer, my new friend. I can’t simply shelve it – how inhospitable that would feel! Coincidentally, one recent ‘friend’ hanging around is by a friend: Nina Sankovitch‘s new memoir Signed, Sealed, Delivered was inspired by letters she found years ago in a rotting trunk in her backyard in NYC. Nina’s engaging voice and smart storytelling is a delight even if she’s not your buddy and of course after you’ve read it she will be your bud because – that’s what happens. And like her last book Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, you’ll finish with an appetite to read the same books and letters she writes of so compellingly.  Another recent favorite is The Steady Running, Justin Go‘s beautifully wrought novel of love, adventure, obsession, told through time and across the globe. (I do want to discuss the ending with someone else who read it – let me know when you have.)

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Bed-side, of course I have more books. These are what I am reading now and what I intend to read next before sleeping. My stack includes collected essays providing me with inspiration as I find my own writerly way. Currently in that camp are Ann Patchett‘s This is the Story of a Happy Marriage and Dani Shapiro‘s Still Writing – both warm and encouraging writers who reach out across the pages to say it is possible, be brave.

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Not even my kitchen is a book-free zone. Of course, I love cookbooks. While the lesser-used ones have been relegated to a cupboard with some pots and pans, the shelf holding the tomes with my go-to recipes threatens to collapse. My favorite continues to be Super Natural Everyday by Heidi Swanson whose food blog, 101 Cookbooks I suggest you subscribe to.

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Even at work, where reading consists of stolen minutes while eating lunch, I keep a pile of appealing ARCs I’ve snagged under my desk. Peter Heller‘s The Painter is what’s on the menu these days, pages getting dappled with salad dressing daily.

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Last week’s great treat was attending a presentation of new books by Independent Publishers organized by B&N and the Association of American Publishers. It was intoxicating to listen to these publishers and bask in their obvious passion and love for the new titles they described so eloquently. How can I not love my job, this crazy business of books? As I harbor publishing hopes of my own, what an inspiring peek into the kitchen where the cooking gets done. These professionals with their smarts, passion are one of the major of a myriad of reasons I will not self-publish. I want some of that love! So yes, there were freebies. Yet, when it was time for a break and 100 plus of my fellow booksellers lined up to grab them, I went for a cup of tea. I hate lines and didn’t fancy shlepping books through the streets of Manhattan back to Connecticut. And as you can see from these photos, I have enough to read. I was very proud of my self-control.

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But then the last publisher took the mic.

Publisher Judith Gurewich, introduced 2 new titles her press, Other Press will be releasing: I’ll Be Right There by Kyung Sook Shin who also wrote Please Look after Mom and The Goddess of Small Victories by Yannick Grannec. Her description of both of these books was so enthralling and passionate, I beat 100 booksellers out of the room and cornered Judith to tell her so. She insisted on giving me her last ARCs. I’ll be reading them.

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My book lust feels almost greedy, my cravings never sated. Am I being a hoarder, nervously anticipating that day when I can no longer main-line books before they’ve even hit the shelves? My question to myself and anyone else who’d care to answer, am I becoming a bit of a crazy person? Do I have a problem?

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The book I’m reading before I fall asleep each night is An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine. Even more book-mad than me, Nina Sankovitch knew I’d love this book and of course, she is right. A brilliant, aging woman in Beirut lives contentedly, alone with her books. Her apartment is crammed with them. Reading this beautiful portrait of this literature lover makes me feel a little less wacko. Or at least that I’m in good company.

P.S. I also own a NOOK. It’s somewhere… probably under a pile of books.

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

Have you noticed how much harder we work these days? Whether you’re grinding away at a company, school system, government, non-profit, retail, construction, I bet you’re working harder than ever. Regardless of reports from the financial experts about the economy being in recovery, we are all working our asses off.  The accepted mantra is still: “I’m lucky to have a job” code for: “shut-up, don’t complain”.

Authors are not immune. I know very few who can live solely off book sales. Even when the economy was booming, making a life in any of the arts was challenging whether an artist, musician, actor or writer. But publishing has been particularly crazy these last years. With self-publishing, e-books, and the internet – the playing field for writers has been completely transformed. (Journalist? What’s that?)

Mid-list authors (in other words, most authors) have always complained that publishers were not doing enough to promote their book – even when  times were flush and publishers were helping- at least more than now. In the late 90s, I hosted a few local author mingling events and they all bitched about a perceived lack of support from their publishers. But times have changed. These days most authors are footing the bill themselves when it comes to hawking their books and not blaming their publishers as much. They’ve witnessed the bloodletting, the shrinking and disappearances of publishing houses – it’s understood that the industry is tough, that the book world has turned into the wild-west so they better just saddle up and get on with it.

From my front row seat, I’ve vicariously experienced the journeys of many author friends as they’ve launched their books. From the thrilling first days when the book hits the shelves, watching sales (hopefully) skyrocket, holding events, getting reviewed. (who knew how hard that is!) For perhaps a year or so, (if you’re lucky) the excitement continues. Okay, I’m exaggerating – maybe not a year. Sadly, their baby may well be stacked in the remainders section by then.  The harsh news is that rarely does life change much when your book is published. Not from what I’ve seen. Think – buying a lottery ticket.

I’ve internalized all of this over the years, yet still plug away at my own book simply because I can’t help it. Of course I will work my ass off to make my book successful but I also know the odds. My expectations are tempered by years on the other side of the desk/counter. I won’t expect to buy a bigger house, or even to pay off my (used) car. I expect I’ll still be getting up at 5:30 in the morning to write before going off to my job.

Many years ago, author Robert Stone came to the store to promote Damascus Gate (great book) and a young man asked for some words of wisdom because he wanted to be a writer. “Don’t quit your day job!” Stone answered. I never forgot that. And I won’t. At least not until the movie rights sell. Or I win the lottery.

What about you? How’s work?

Revelations from My Stat-High

For the past year or so, the record number of views of my blog stood at 176.  Watching the climbing digits that day was thrilling. And from all over the world! The little flag icons on my stats page looked like 1st Avenue outside the United Nations and included unlikely spots like Turkey, Romania, Saudi Arabia. Initially I was thrilled since my usual readership is an average of 20 or so devoted friends. Alas! These global citizens had only stumbled upon my blog in pursuit of a scantily clad gal by the name of Tierney who is identified as one of the ‘Suicide Girls’.  I wrote about it here, but in short, if you search ‘Tierney’ and ‘suicide’, you also find me because I sometimes write about my husband’s suicide. I suspect none of those 176 visitors stuck around for very long.

So imagine my delight last week when that mockery, that in-search-of-nudie-shot number disappeared into my blogging history. On Sunday night, the hits climbed to over 200 and they were legit. But where were all my new readers coming from? Had my just posted Author Events:  been “Freshly Pressed” – a coveted and seemingly unattainable shout-out from Word Press editors? Nope. This is how it happened: readers shared. The first share came from a Tweet by cyber friend and fellow book fanatic on the West Coast, the lovely and obviously well connected Diane Prokop. Soon other bookish-readers Tweeted. Thus, by the time I went to sleep with a smile here on the East Coast, my numbers had climbed to well over 200 and I was satisfied.

The next morning as I rolled out of bed to get ready for work, I checked again — over a  THOUSAND hits! Cheryl Strayed had shared my post saying she agreed with everything I said! (pinch me still) And later, more hits came in thanks to a share by Nathan Bransford, author and blogger full of wise and generous advice for writers. For 3 days my stats climbed.

Then, a weird thing happened. As the numbers got higher on my stat bar-chart, my perception of success changed. What, only 2,000 hits today? I thought. The baseline shifts, the bar gets raised higher. When does that stop? What number will be enough? Insert many words before ‘what is enough’ – starting with money. Examples of disasters caused by that kind of thinking abound. Of course with writing, as in any of the arts, the bar should be raised higher and higher still. But not as measured by ‘stats’ on a blog or Amazon (ugh) sales of my (future) book, but rather, internally. Over the course of those days of watching the increasing readership, I was beside myself with excitement. But aside from the comments, a real connection with so many great writers and people, it all became a little unreal. I learned to, at least (a little bit) to let go of those numbers. And to appreciate the thrill of a single reader.

I write out of a longing to connect not only with readers but to some kind of magic, bigger than but within myself – a quest I discovered and honed first as an art student. “Great things have no monetary value” my guru-type sculpture teacher once told me. Substitute ‘numerical’ for monetary in this case. Better I check my work against an internal compass and remain in pursuit of that unnameable something that makes a painting, a book, an essay – sing. Numbers can be very distracting.

Another insight I garnered from all this blog-excitement, is to be confident. I hesitated to write my first sentence of last week’s post that says “… I can claim to be an expert…” How dare I?  I suspect many women can relate to this. Journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman have written a soon-to-be-released book The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance addressing just this phenomenon. Why don’t we believe in ourselves?  I regularly downplay my skills and expertise both professionally and personally. But last week my timid declaration was affirmed by so many, including publishing professionals and authors like Masha HamiltonKristin Ohlson and of course my new BFF, Cheryl Strayed that I could not help but feel and believe, I am an expert. And I’ll be reading Katty Kay and Claire Shipman’s book for answers and encouragement on this front.

I loved last week’s ride. Writing is a solitary pursuit but an amazing and accessible community of support exists. And I while I know I just wrote about writing-to-write, art and all that – and do believe it all – ultimately: who doesn’t want readers? Otherwise, what’s the point?  I want my writing to move and inspire and perhaps, to comfort. My recent glimpse of reaching a larger audience, was amazing. Thank you to all my new cyber-friends who helped to get me there. Now back to making the donuts.

Author Events: Notes to Myself and a Rant

After 17 years of running author events at a bookstore, I think I can claim to be something of an expert on the subject. Having learned from some of the best authors who have graced the store, (you know who you are) I know what to do when it’s my turn to be the star.

When it is me behind that podium talking about my book, the number of chairs (set up by someone else for a change!) will be conservative since it looks better to be adding chairs then have rows of empty seats. But worry not: at my event, those chairs will be full because I will only appear where I am pretty damn sure of an audience. That means, my proud mother (not in my case, since she’s no longer alive – but you get my drift) lives in town or I have a lot of friends nearby. I’ve contacted an existing group interested in the subject I write about.

Yes, authors, the onus is largely on you. Unless you are a ‘name’ or are a psychic willing to do readings at your event (seriously – this always gets a crowd) do not go down a list randomly calling bookstores hoping to set up an event. And even if my publisher provided publicist (still dreaming) sets up my events for me, I will still personally reach out to the organizers to discuss the date. Maybe they always have a core group audience – and more likely, not. I’ll know in advance what kind of hustling I need to do to entice my supporters out and will do it. I will not delude myself that an audience will just be there – I know how hard it is to get people to come out so I’ll help rather than talk only to 3 homeless people asleep in the chairs.

At my book events, here’s what I will not do: I will not read from my book. I know, that’s what everyone’s instinct is — to share your glorious book with everyone by reading your favorite passages. Okay, maybe I would read a very little bit. Trust me, even 10 minutes at a shot is a wee bit too much. Really. The fact is, most people, including authors, are not good readers – not good enough to have that be the feature of the show. Record yourself and you’ll understand. See how your voice changes into a ‘readerly’ voice? Maybe this sounds good to you, but it’s unnatural sounding and in most cases, is terribly soporific.

Have you noticed that very few authors read their own audio books? The publishers are not dumb. You can write, but chances are you can’t read. I don’t need you to read to me. Don’t read. Talk to your audience and tell them about why you had to tell the story that is your book. Tell us what you ate for breakfast – whatever. If someone has traveled in the rain or snow or come in from a beautiful day to sit in an uncomfortable chair for an hour (and it should never be more than that!)  it is because they are interested in YOU. Don’t disappoint them.

Pretend you’re a standup comic and work out a routine. Even if it’s not funny. Or imagine you are a motivational speaker and getting paid $10,000 for this event. (Hey, this may lead to something!) Or just be your quiet self but tell us your story. We will then want to read your book. And then you can read us a passage or two, if you must.

Just be natural. Don’t come with a script – but know your lines so it flows. And if you’re doing lots of venues in the area or are appearing at the same place, even years later, don’t tell the same story. Your groupies are there and have heard it – tell them a new one.

Here’s my suggested program: following the brief but charming introduction your host makes for you, greet your audience – calling out any local connections, the one’s you love, etc. and perhaps, their significance to you and/or your book. Connecting like this make everyone feel a little cozier – most of all you. These are your peeps after all so taking these minutes to reach out – it will relax you enough to enjoy this time. And then, so will your audience.

Now, tell us a good anecdote or two to draw us closer to you and your work. Okay, you can read a brief passage to illustrate some point you just mentioned. Now stop reading. Stop. I said stop… and tell us something else. Talk to us. Make us laugh and cry. You do it in your book, you can do it here. Readers want to know more about you or they would not have shown up. You know what I mean. Why do you think your picture and a blurb are on the back jacket of the cover? Who are you? It’s sometimes what readers look at even before the blurb. Flesh out that blurb.

This should fill about 20-30 minutes. We really love you now and want to know more and now feel okay asking. So ask for questions. You’ll panic because no one raises their hand right away. Wait a few seconds but don’t make it awkward. People are shy and no one wants to be first. So ask your own question to the audience – that will give someone courage to raise their hand. Sometimes if authors have a friend or relative in attendance, they’ll plant a question – a good idea. You’ve just got to get the ball rolling, that’s all.

You’ve now been at this for about 45 to 50 minutes. Unless you’ve got a really scintillating discussion going, stop. Thank everyone for coming and tell them you’ll be happy to sign books for them. Enjoy this one-on-one with your readers but don’t linger too long with any one of them – share contact info if you must catch up or ask them to wait and join you for a drink later,  but don’t keep others waiting. You want everyone to buy your book and people are busy. You are a salesperson here to sell your book: sell it! Help keep books and bookstores alive by doing it right. We’ll all live happily ever after.

Oh yeah, this was advice to myself, wasn’t it?

Maybe you disagree. Do you want to hear authors read their books?