Showing and Telling and Reading and Signing

This past Thursday evening, September 12, I met fellow TKZ blogger Joe Moore for the first time at a reading and signing in Baton Rouge. The event was held at the Shaw Center for the Arts, a beautiful facility a block away from the Mississippi River. The event was a gallery exhibit for a new short fiction collection entitled Show & Tell. Photographer William Greiner commissioned short stories from twenty-eight authors, including Joe and myself (and Julie Compton, the rose between the two thorns pictured above) (photograph by Andre Chapoy; all rights reserved) by sending each author a different set of three photographs and asking each of us to write a story based upon one of them.  The photographs and accompanying stories now constitute a traveling exhibit, and also have been published in hardcover. Joe, Julie, Pat Piper, and I read our stories as part of the exhibit’s opening reception and then signed copies of the book afterward. Show & Tell in hardcover book form is available for purchase at:
A wonderful time was had by all. I decided after participating that it might be time to review (for those of us fortunate enough to be in the position that Joe M. and I were in the Thursday last) what we as authors need to do to make such an event a success. Let me hasten to tell you that I simply followed Joe M.’s lead: he is as genuinely a courteous a person as you are ever likely to encounter.
1) Show up on time. Woody Allen has famously stated that ninety percent of everything is showing up. How true. If you’re early, you’re on time; if you’re on time, you’re late; and if you’re late, you’re too late. You don’t want to disappoint people who are coming to see you. How fortunate we are, that we can do something that people will actually come to bear witness to. The least we can do is show our appreciation by appearing early.
2) Stay later. If the program/signing/reading has an end time, plan to stay at least five minutes later than that. You can visit with people who came to see you, or, if nothing else, engage in Number 5, below.
3) Be expressive. If you’re doing a reading, practice it a few times before the time appointed. Be expressive. Change your tone of voice and your facial expression while you read to reflect what is going on at the point in your story that you are reading. Reading by rote in a monotone can ruin even the best passage. An expressive reading, by contrast, can make good work better. Harlan Ellison is terrific at this, by the way. He can hold a room full of fans spellbound, making them roar with laughter at one point and silencing them the next. Which brings me to
4) Adapt. Nothing goes as planned. Jack Rea…er, Helmuth von Moltke famously said that “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” Just so. There were significant problems with the microphones at Show & Tell; a portion of the audience, well-lubricated by the top shelf libations which William provided, was a bit loud during the readings. What to do? Keep reading, with a smile. Some people were actually listening, and those are the folks you are reading for. Things will go wrong. Plan on it. Go around, over, under, or through the difficulty and do whatever you need to do. It’ll work out.
5) Thank everyone individually. You cannot thank too many people. Thank your friends who attended (O’Neil & Debb De Noux; Carl & Toni McGee Causey; Doug Wollfolk; Jason Furrate; and Andre Chapoy: thank you again, one and all); each person who buys a book; each person who asks you to sign a book; and the folks that got you there and propped you up (thank you again, William, and you as well, John Miller). I particularly include in the latter group the seemingly invisible people who restock the refreshments and run the cash registers. I thanked one of them last night and she told me that I was the first person attending any of the center’s events who had thanked her for being there. That’s plain wrong. It only takes a second.  They’ll remember you, particularly if you’re ever asked back.

I am sure that there are things I have forgotten. John Gilstrap has hilarious stories about things going wrong at signings (his visual accompaniments are priceless) so John, if you’re lurking out there please chime in, and I would ask each and all of you to do the same. And if you’ve attended a signing or a reading as an audience member what happened that you liked? Or that you didn’t?

36 thoughts on “Showing and Telling and Reading and Signing

  1. I sure wish I could’ve been there, Joe. I want to hear about the after party too.

    I’ve got William posting more about the book this Thursday. I ordered 10 as Christmas gifts and can’t wait to read everyone’s stories. With so many TKZers contributing, it will be suitable for coffee table reading and sharing, like a family album.

    Thanks for your post of the signing release.

    • I really REALLY thought about it. I love doing readings, but I have a new agent and we are pushing to get a new thriller series proposal out. The timing wasn’t good. I would’ve enjoyed an adventure with you.

    • Congratulations on that new agent, Jordan 🙂 and I’ll look forward to your new series. Please don’t wait too long to write it…I’m officially an old guy!

  2. That sounds like it was a blast. One of these days I’d love to do something like it…must find a way to get my TKZ family to Alaska.

    Great tips too, esp. #4.

    Last week I was MC’ing the Alaska Writer’s Guild Awards Dinner in front of an audience of well over a hundred AK writers and sundry assorted writing pros/agents/publishers when your tip #4 entered play. The speaker I’d just announced had a major technical issue with her laptop/powerpoint/youtube video and I had to spontaneously fill more than fifteen minutes of unscripted dead air.
    Said air was promptly filled with me alternately singing the “I’m too sexy for my shirt” song with a Russian accent, then ad-libbing a talk about the importance of story and how each of us as authors can tell the same story without boring the reader because we each tell it in such a different way they will see it as a new thing each time.

    At any rate, yesterday I signed with a major NYC agent I met at the conference. The deal was based in part on one of my previously self-published books and the other part on the impression they had of me after adapting and overcoming in the face of adversity … and hundred twenty people staring me down as they waited for the show they paid for.

  3. Great post, Joe. The tips are great. Ah, for the days when the projectionist could dump your carousel of 35 mm slides at the start of your talk. Way to go, Basil.

    • Great to meet you as well, Joe! You’re exactly as you write, which is a compliment of the highest order. Hope to see you again soon. My friend Doug, btw, read the stories and tells me that it’s a great collection. I just got home so I’m going to start in on them tonight.

  4. I get so pissed when anyone in the audience talks during a reading. I’ve never done a reading, I’m speaking as one trying to do the listening. I will shush them with the most evil look and if they’re too drunk to be scared, I’ll get up and move but will most certainly sabotage them later.

    I hope, if I ever get the chance to actually participate as a reader, I’ll handle a rude audience with more grace.

    Great idea for a book. I had a story published in “With Painted Words”, a U.K. on-line magazine. They post a picture, you write a story and submit.

    Think I’ll go buy the book right now, and a few more for Christmas,as well. Cheers!

    • Amanda, someone did at one point shush the folks assembled, in a voice that sounded like it was attached to the hand that wrote on the wall in the Book of Daniel. Heck, even I shut up at that point. And I was reading!

      Thank you, Jordan. I was told by someone — maybe one of our TKZ people — some time ago that I needed to spell out “dot” rather than to just use “.” in a url as it could cause spamming. True? Or is someone funning me?

    • Joe, I’m not sure whether to laugh or bash my forehead against a brick wall. I feel so stupid, of course I should have picked out the “dots”. LOL, I’m so thick sometimes.

      All is well, in the end. My copy should arrive in a couple of weeks and then I’ll decide if they would make good Christmas presents.

    • It’s a good idea to use ‘dot’ and ‘at’ for @ when you’re listing an email address for privacy but a link to a site should be the correct hyperlink so anyone can click on it and go to the right page.

  5. 6. Don’t get upset when some one falls asleep.

    This happens at almost every event. You can’t stop it. It’s not you. Just hope they don’t snore too loud.

    • Kris, I station people with long sticks, Cotton Mather style, around the room to smack those who are nodding off. Works every time.

      Seriously, thanks for the add of #6. I had forgotten about that. My dad had a verse about that which he used at a banquet where he introduced a clergyman:

      “I’ve never seen my bishop’s eyes, although I’m sure they shine;
      for when he prays, he closes his;
      and when he preaches, mine.”

  6. I’ve clicked on that link three times, all three times I’m told Google Chrome couldn’t find it. So I tried to Google it. Seems there are lots of books called “Show and Tell”. Is it Dotul Press?

  7. It always amazes me. “Thank you.” Two words, so easy to say and so powerful. I’m always surprised when I say them and get a startled reply, “You’re the first person to ever say that.” It doesn’t even take a full breath to get them out, and they mean so much. They transform someone who is going through the motions of a “trivial” job into someone who remembers you, appreciates the recognition and is usually willing to go an extra mile for you.

  8. Joe thank you for your kind, thoughtful and insightful words here! You are the real deal and a trooper for sure! And as I said the night of the show/reading, when we were in the throws of getting the stories done and I received a brilliant 18 page short story from you. I was taken aback by the quality but also the length. I had asked for a 1-8 page short story. Unfortunately, your email system dropped the “-” so it read an 1 8 page story. So after informing you of the problem with the length, like a trooper, you delivered a quality 8 pager! You went above and beyond, farther than some friends would have. So I am forever indebted and grateful to you Joe Hartlaub!

  9. William, to quote fellow Show & Tell contributor and TKZ alumnus John Gilstrap, “When failure is not an option, success is guaranteed.” I wanted very much to be a part of this wonderful project and I’m glad my contribution was acceptable. Thank you again for including me.

  10. I have just slightly modified the above post in order that the url might be utilized to purchase SHOW & TELL. It is a limited pressing and copies are going fast, as they say, so please don’t wait until Christmas to buy one. And if you do buy one, for yourself or someone else, thank you so much.

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