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What Writers Can Learn from Authors’ Readings

09 May

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford's mystery short story collection

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford’s mystery short story collection

I loved words. I love to sing them and speak them and even now, I must admit, I have fallen into the joy of writing them.

          Anne Rice

The emcee introduced me and I headed up to the podium with my book, Beyond the Tripping Point, opened the page to read, looked at the page. And the lighting was dismal – a dim way overhead light. I struggled to see what I was reading. Apparently I did okay – at least the audience heard me or so I was told.

We writers can learn a few things from attending readings by other authors or in my case from my own reading. Here I learned to always carry a printout in 14 pt. to read from in case the lights fail. To date, since then, the lights have been bright enough to read from the book.

A good writer does not necessarily make a good reader. How often have we attended a reading when the author seemed to be in a race against time (understandable as reading time limits can be as little as four minutes), the reading voice was so low we wished they used a mic or the reading was so wooden we dozed off. The latter may be combined with the author reading way too long.

Those are the negatives but they can teach authors how not to read in public.

On the positive side, I’ve learned how to do a book marketing summary, how to pick the interesting bits to read, but the most rewarding is when interaction occurs between the audience and the reader – when the audience starts asking questions about my stories’ plots and characters and when they talk about their stories.

Some of those questions have been a little disconcerting. For example, the driver trainer who asked about the car that lost its brakes in “No Breaks.” He wanted to know if it was a standard or automatic car. Duh. I hadn’t given it any thought. As the story was triggered by a ride to Ontario’s cottage country I had years ago with a friend, I just used the type of car she had – automatic. And yes, what my friend did – used the parking brakes – worked with an automatic car but even I know that there would be problems with a standard car.

But it was a wake-up call to make sure I do all my research even when the proof seems to be in the pudding.

A favourite with many audiences is how much of your stories come from real life and if you can run into trouble with that. I sometimes use a bit from life as incentive for stories and often will bend the “rules” a little. For example, in one story in Beyond the Tripping Point (and I’m not saying which story) I developed an unfriendly character loosely based on someone in my family (not a close relative) who upset me with comments about what should or shouldn’t go in my memoir. But the character wasn’t really her. You could say she inspired the one character. Ditto the nasty father in “Porcelain Doll” whose only connection to my late father was his penchant for being on time and working for the railway. My dad otherwise was entirely different – more gentle, and he certainly didn’t gamble or verbally abuse his wife and daughter. But many of my characters just show up in my head – like the fraternal twins Dana Bowman and Bast Overture – with a mixture of what I see in the world and what I would like to see. As I’ve told other writers – you do have to be careful what you put in, but also be aware that readers sometimes see themselves or people they know in your stories’ plots and characters even when they are not the character source.

And that’s a good thing because it shows you connect with your readers.

So, besides reading your own writing (published or unpublished) in public, why not go to author readings. You might not only enjoy yourself but learn something, too.

Next week I will be expanding my reading experience as I’m adapting my presentation for a grade 7 group at one of the Toronto Public Library branches. And I’m sure I’ll learn something from this younger audience. I will also be reading for adults and moderating a panel of a couple of crime novel authors. Here’s the info on the latter two.

Tuesday, May 14, 7 p.m. to 8.30 p.m.

Crime Writers of Canada Books ‘n’ Beveragesreading with nine other CWC authors at:

Turner Park Branch of the Hamilton Public Library, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada http://www.hpl.ca/events/books-and-beverages-crime-writers-canada

Thursday, May 16, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Crime & Mystery Writing Panel

Moderating a panel of mystery novelists on plot and characters especially when police enter the picture. Presented by the Canadian Authors Association Toronto Branch and featuring Crime Writers of Canada authors, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Panelists:

  • Brent Pilkey, author of the Rage novels who, as a police constable with Toronto Police Services, has an inside view of police procedure; and
  • Rick Blechta, whose novels aren’t exactly cozies — all have main characters involved in the music industry and when murder enters their lives, come into contact with the police.

More info http://www.canauthorstoronto.org/events.html

Check out more May readings, etc. at http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

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