Lesson From Gun Camp


Last week, I wrote a teaser blog about some firearms training I was to receive while pulling duty as a VIP guest of 5.11 Tactical at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas.  First a few words about the SHOT Show: Holy Cow!  You have to see this thing to understand the size.  It takes up the ENTIRE Sands Convention Center, occupying all three floors.  Every conceivable manufacturer of any firearm is there, and while they cannot sell to individuals from the floor, you are perfectly welcome to handle any weapon you want, up to and including dry firing it.  (The Las Vegas Police Department checked every single one of the thousands of firearms there to verify that the firing pins had been removed.)  Never held an M4 or a Glock or a 1911?  You can play with them.  Ditto the Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifle, the M2 “Ma Deuce” .50 cal machine gun and a Dillon Gun.  It’s the mother of all gun research opportunities, and EVERYONE I spoke to was more than willing to chat about their products.  What I found most stunning was the number of firearms makers that I’d never heard of.
Last Thursday, I met Jeffery Deaver in the lobby of our hotel at 6:45 a.m.  We were driven a half hour out into the desert to a shooting range that looked like it covered twenty or thirty acres.  We were driven way to the back of the facility, where I realized for the first time that Jeff and I would be the only students for the entire day.
Our instructor was Steve Tarani.  Look him up.  Yeah, he’s qualified.  And he’s very, very funny, in that zero-bullshit kind of way.  After an extensive safety briefing, we were issued our .40 caliber Glocks, holsters and three mags of ammunition.  (A million thanks to Barry, who made sure that we always had a 12-round mag ready to go so that our pouches were never dry.)  Jeff drew a thigh rig holster, while my holster rode on my belt.  As an aside, the 5.11 Tactical pants we wore were specifically designed with an extra belt loop that keeps a belt holster from moving around.  I like that kind of attention to details.
For the next three hours, we shot hundreds of rounds of ammunition, first while standing still, but then while moving and turning.  Finally, we were shooting from the driver’s and passenger’s seats of an SUV (a late model Acura that did not belong to either student).  The day ended with a quick-draw contest and an NSR (non-standard response) drill that involves  shooting everything in the mag at short range, as quickly as possible while still hitting center of mass on the target.  As Steve made clear from the very beginning, this was a tactical shooting class, not a marksmanship class (although I did pretty well in that department, too.)
Lesson One: Tactical shooting is only a distant cousin of target shooting.  Until this lesson, my range training had consisted of picking a weapon up from a table, taking my time and concentrating on placing shots in the center ring.  I’d never drawn a pistol from a holster and just that much movement changes the game.  Throw in multiple points of impact on the target (we’d be instructed, for example, to put two in the chest, one in the pelvis and one in the forehead–not the jaw, though) and now you’ve got more to think about and more to do.  By the time you’re pivoting and turning and throwing open the car door while drawing your weapon without ever pointing it at your own leg or anywhere near your partner, it’s tough to get your rounds downrange to the target.  And very, very fun.
Lesson Two: My grip was AFU.  This one’s hard to describe without specific pictures, but my hands didn’t have enough contact with the gun.  I was also using an out-of-date and out-of-favor shooting stance called the Weaver Stance, in which my support side leg (my left, since I’m right-handed) was slightly forward.  I’ve never been entirely comfortable with that stance.  In my new Isosceles Stance (or “Tony Chin” stance), I square off at the bad guy with my toes, knees and chin touching the same vertical plane–Toe-Knee-Chin.  Tony Chin.  Get it?
Lesson Three: It’s disconcerting how much of one’s own body can become a target when drawing a weapon.  Think about your free hand, for example.  Given that one of Steve’s Four Golden Rules is that the muzzle never cover anything that you don’t want to completely destroy, that free support hand needs to be anchored somewhere when the pistol is coming out of the holster.  I learned to place it on my chest, where not only is it out of harm’s way, but it’s also ready to do its job in supporting the shooting hand.
Lesson Four: I was a “booger flipper,” Steve’s term for one who lets one’s finger off the trigger after every shot.  If you watch what that looks like, booger flipping really does come to mind.  I learned in the early part of the class to hold the trigger all the way to the back of the trigger guard after the first shot, and then let it up only to the reset click to prepare for the next shot.  It takes far less pull, and increases accuracy by a lot.  After a few hundred rounds, it was second nature.
Lesson Five: It’s stressful as hell to run out of ammo in the middle of a drill.  Running out when the target is shooting back must be really unnerving.  Steve taught us to drop the spent mag and slap in the new one while never taking our eyes off the target.  Truth be told, this was my hardest lesson to learn.  My thumbs are too short to reach the mag release without shifting my grip.  I sorta got the hang of it in the end, but it’s really hard not to look.  After a couple dozen tactical reloads in which we let the spent mags just drop to the ground, we even changed it up to replace a partially-spent mag with a full one, in which case we needed to put the old mag back into the pouch after reloading while still staying on the target.
Lesson Six:  If you own a gun, you really need to practice this stuff.  In just three hours–and about 200 bucks in ammo (Thank you again, 5.11 Tactical!)–so many of the tiny details became second nature.  Even the simple act of reholstering has its complex parts.  In Steve’s class, after the threat is cleared, you sweep left, sweep right, then return to low-ready before you put that support hand back on your chest to get it out of the way, and then slide the weapon back into the holster.  We did that every single time we reholstered, even if we hadn’t fired a shot, and by the end of the training, doing things otherwise would have just felt wrong.
As I write this, I realize how long the post is, and how few of the lessons learned I can actually document here.  My big take away was this: As a guy who’s always liked guns and has played with them a lot over the years, I in fact knew nothing.  Now, after this experience, I’m fully aware of the fact that I still know way too little, and that much of what I did learn will disappear from my muscle memory in just a day or two.  I need to find a range that will let me move and shoot.
The world is full of five-day classes on this stuff, and I’m seriously thinking about taking one.  How about a Killzone field trip for a week at Sleep-Away Gun Camp?  That could be fun.
0

Lesson From Gun Camp


Last week, I wrote a teaser blog about some firearms training I was to receive while pulling duty as a VIP guest of 5.11 Tactical at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas.  First a few words about the SHOT Show: Holy Cow!  You have to see this thing to understand the size.  It takes up the ENTIRE Sands Convention Center, occupying all three floors.  Every conceivable manufacturer of any firearm is there, and while they cannot sell to individuals from the floor, you are perfectly welcome to handle any weapon you want, up to and including dry firing it.  (The Las Vegas Police Department checked every single one of the thousands of firearms there to verify that the firing pins had been removed.)  Never held an M4 or a Glock or a 1911?  You can play with them.  Ditto the Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifle, the M2 “Ma Deuce” .50 cal machine gun and a Dillon Gun.  It’s the mother of all gun research opportunities, and EVERYONE I spoke to was more than willing to chat about their products.  What I found most stunning was the number of firearms makers that I’d never heard of.
Last Thursday, I met Jeffery Deaver in the lobby of our hotel at 6:45 a.m.  We were driven a half hour out into the desert to a shooting range that looked like it covered twenty or thirty acres.  We were driven way to the back of the facility, where I realized for the first time that Jeff and I would be the only students for the entire day.
Our instructor was Steve Tarani.  Look him up.  Yeah, he’s qualified.  And he’s very, very funny, in that zero-bullshit kind of way.  After an extensive safety briefing, we were issued our .40 caliber Glocks, holsters and three mags of ammunition.  (A million thanks to Barry, who made sure that we always had a 12-round mag ready to go so that our pouches were never dry.)  Jeff drew a thigh rig holster, while my holster rode on my belt.  As an aside, the 5.11 Tactical pants we wore were specifically designed with an extra belt loop that keeps a belt holster from moving around.  I like that kind of attention to details.
For the next three hours, we shot hundreds of rounds of ammunition, first while standing still, but then while moving and turning.  Finally, we were shooting from the driver’s and passenger’s seats of an SUV (a late model Acura that did not belong to either student).  The day ended with a quick-draw contest and an NSR (non-standard response) drill that involves  shooting everything in the mag at short range, as quickly as possible while still hitting center of mass on the target.  As Steve made clear from the very beginning, this was a tactical shooting class, not a marksmanship class (although I did pretty well in that department, too.)
Lesson One: Tactical shooting is only a distant cousin of target shooting.  Until this lesson, my range training had consisted of picking a weapon up from a table, taking my time and concentrating on placing shots in the center ring.  I’d never drawn a pistol from a holster and just that much movement changes the game.  Throw in multiple points of impact on the target (we’d be instructed, for example, to put two in the chest, one in the pelvis and one in the forehead–not the jaw, though) and now you’ve got more to think about and more to do.  By the time you’re pivoting and turning and throwing open the car door while drawing your weapon without ever pointing it at your own leg or anywhere near your partner, it’s tough to get your rounds downrange to the target.  And very, very fun.
Lesson Two: My grip was AFU.  This one’s hard to describe without specific pictures, but my hands didn’t have enough contact with the gun.  I was also using an out-of-date and out-of-favor shooting stance called the Weaver Stance, in which my support side leg (my left, since I’m right-handed) was slightly forward.  I’ve never been entirely comfortable with that stance.  In my new Isosceles Stance (or “Tony Chin” stance), I square off at the bad guy with my toes, knees and chin touching the same vertical plane–Toe-Knee-Chin.  Tony Chin.  Get it?
Lesson Three: It’s disconcerting how much of one’s own body can become a target when drawing a weapon.  Think about your free hand, for example.  Given that one of Steve’s Four Golden Rules is that the muzzle never cover anything that you don’t want to completely destroy, that free support hand needs to be anchored somewhere when the pistol is coming out of the holster.  I learned to place it on my chest, where not only is it out of harm’s way, but it’s also ready to do its job in supporting the shooting hand.
Lesson Four: I was a “booger flipper,” Steve’s term for one who lets one’s finger off the trigger after every shot.  If you watch what that looks like, booger flipping really does come to mind.  I learned in the early part of the class to hold the trigger all the way to the back of the trigger guard after the first shot, and then let it up only to the reset click to prepare for the next shot.  It takes far less pull, and increases accuracy by a lot.  After a few hundred rounds, it was second nature.
Lesson Five: It’s stressful as hell to run out of ammo in the middle of a drill.  Running out when the target is shooting back must be really unnerving.  Steve taught us to drop the spent mag and slap in the new one while never taking our eyes off the target.  Truth be told, this was my hardest lesson to learn.  My thumbs are too short to reach the mag release without shifting my grip.  I sorta got the hang of it in the end, but it’s really hard not to look.  After a couple dozen tactical reloads in which we let the spent mags just drop to the ground, we even changed it up to replace a partially-spent mag with a full one, in which case we needed to put the old mag back into the pouch after reloading while still staying on the target.
Lesson Six:  If you own a gun, you really need to practice this stuff.  In just three hours–and about 200 bucks in ammo (Thank you again, 5.11 Tactical!)–so many of the tiny details became second nature.  Even the simple act of reholstering has its complex parts.  In Steve’s class, after the threat is cleared, you sweep left, sweep right, then return to low-ready before you put that support hand back on your chest to get it out of the way, and then slide the weapon back into the holster.  We did that every single time we reholstered, even if we hadn’t fired a shot, and by the end of the training, doing things otherwise would have just felt wrong.
As I write this, I realize how long the post is, and how few of the lessons learned I can actually document here.  My big take away was this: As a guy who’s always liked guns and has played with them a lot over the years, I in fact knew nothing.  Now, after this experience, I’m fully aware of the fact that I still know way too little, and that much of what I did learn will disappear from my muscle memory in just a day or two.  I need to find a range that will let me move and shoot.
The world is full of five-day classes on this stuff, and I’m seriously thinking about taking one.  How about a Killzone field trip for a week at Sleep-Away Gun Camp?  That could be fun.
0

Pure Coolness

By John Gilstrap


I’m writing this blog post on Sunday, January 15 knowing that when you read it, I will be in the middle of a very, very cool day.  Actually, a warm day, I hope.  In Las Vegas, where I’ll be signing books this morning at the 2012 SHOT Show.  According to the show’s website, www.shotshow.org, “The Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show (SHOT Show) and Conference is the largest and most comprehensive trade show for all professionals involved with the shooting sports, hunting and law enforcement industries.  It is the world’s premier exposition of combined firearms, ammunition, law enforcement, cutlery, outdoor apparel, optics and related products and services.”  Last year, over 50,000 people attended.


I was invited to the show months ago by the nice people at 5.11 Tactical, a well-respected manufacturer of tactical apparel–the very kind of geat that Jonathan Grave wears as he charges through my imagination.  In fact, in preparation for the show, 5.11 tactical sent me a carton of gear, including shirt, pants, jacket and the best pair of boots I’ve ever worn.  I’ll be wearing the attire for the book signings and the press conference.


I’ve never enjoyed this kind of VIP treatment before, so I confess to being a little giddy.  Take a look at my official itinerary from yesterday:


6:30am — Firearms instructor will pick you up at the hotel
7:00am — arrive at range, setup/meet with range staff, gear check, etc.
7:00am-7:30am — Orientation, area familiarization, safety briefing, etc.
8:00am-11:00am — Firearms training
11:00am-12:00pm — Knife training
12:00 — depart back to hotel for lunch and classroom training
12:30-1:30 — Prefense Technologies — lecture, PowerPoint presentation, student interactive, etc.
1:30-2:15 — Prep for author panel
2:30-3:30 — Author Panel Press Conference, Venetian Murano Room 3306.

Really, how cool is that?  As I write this, I’m hoping that the knife training comes complete with either thick padding or fake knives.  You’ll know the answer, I suppose, if you see a post here next week.


Tally ho!

0

Choosing the Best Point of View

By John Gilstrap
Stories are collections of moments the propel the plot through the eyes of characters.  One of the critical decisions that an author has to make dozens of times over the course of a book-length manuscript is to determine which character each moment belongs to.  I don’t think this issue applies to first-person narration because the POV is forever locked in the head of the protagonist.  For third-person storytelling, though, the decision is paramount.


It’s also a key element of the overall strategy of a book.  For example, in my Jonathan Grave books, Jonathan’s is almost always the primary POV for scenes in which he is involved.  The exceptions are limited to moments where I want to reveal other characters’ impressions of Jonathan.  I never write a scene from the point of view of Boxers, however–Jonathan’s best friend and protector–because his character works better through the eyes of others.


Because these books are a series, I have the luxury of developing my primary characters over a multi-book arc.  That’s not the case for the secondary characters–the guest stars, if you will, the people who are the focus of Jonathan’s current adventures.  I have to bring these focus-characters to life, make the reader love them (or hate them) and resolve their entire story arc within the confines of the current book.  Plus, I have to do all of that without letting the story sag under the weight of obvious characterization.  If I don’t plan well, it can become a nightmare.


As an example, whose POV is more compelling during a hostage rescue scene, the hostage or the rescuer?  If the bad guy is going to be killed in the shootout, should some of the action be from his point of view, too?  If so, then that means I needed to give him some scenes earlier in the story so that I don’t have to introduce his worldview to the reader in the middle of an action scene.  (As far as I’m concerned, an action sequence combined with exposition isn’t an action sequence at all–it’s a muddled mess.)


These choices aren’t just limited to chases and shootouts, either.  If male and female characters we both care about are meeting for the first time, whose POV is more compelling?  If the meeting doesn’t go well, is it better to see the rejection from the point of view of the rejectee or the rejector?


There are of course no right or wrong answers because this writing game has no rules.  There’s only what works and what doesn’t, and even that decision is bound only by artistic choice.  In my heart of hearts, I think that we all know the difference, but there are few among us who haven’t on occasions stuck with the wrong choice for fifty pages too long.

0

Lots Of Opportunity in 2012

By John Gilstrap
Fair warning: What follows might be categorized as shameless self-promotion.  I prefer to think of it as seeing pretty lights on the horizon.  Either way . . .


If 2012 lives up to its potential, it could be a terrific year for me, career-wise.  It’s the kind of potential that I hesitate to talk about for fear of jinxing things, but among my resolutions for this year is to be less locked-down about things in general.



Let’s start with book news.  Nathan’s Run, my first novel (released in 1996), is now available in all eBook formats, with a paper version to follow sometime in the future.  As an added bonus, the eBook contains a link to my original ending to the story, which should answer the single most-asked question about Nathan’s Run.



On the Jonathan Grave front, Kensington is yet again stepping up to give the series as big a push as the market can sustain.  Damage Control (June, 2012) is featured in a two-page spread for the catalog, and will be released in a premium mass market format–not quite trade paper, but taller than the standard MMPB, which, if nothing else, allows for a more readable font size.  This is what happens when a professional sales force truly gets 100 percent behind an author and his books.  I couldn’t ask for more.



Hopefully, there’ll be movie news in 2012, as well.  New Year’s resolutions notwithstanding, I have to be a little circumspect here, but we seem to have taken a giant step closer to seeing a version of Six Minutes to Freedom on the big screen.  The rules of the movie game dictate that official announcements come not from me but from the producers.  Suffice to say that meetings are going very well, and that all the players seem to truly get the story.


Then there’s the television series I’m developing.  This, too, seems to have real legs with intense interest from all the right people.  We’ll actually be doing some shooting later in the month.  If it goes well, y’all will be among the first to hear.  If it doesn’t, well, I probably won’t say much because I think it’s a very good, very stealable idea.  (Is stealable a word?)


Finally, I would love to make this my first two-book year.  I’ve had an idea knocking around in my head for years, and if I don’t get it on paper, it’s going to make me crazy.  For that to happen, though, I need to write the next Grave book in six months instead of a year.  If all the other stuff comes to pass, this one might not be doable, but for now, in the first week of a brand new year, anything and everything is possible.


Here’s hoping that everyone’s dreams are realized in 2012!

0

Thank You All

By John Gilstrap

I’m taking the occasion of this final Killzone post before our Holiday Hiatus to say some thank-yous.

To the readers of Suspense Magazine for naming my novel Threat Warning the Best Book of 2011.

To my colleagues here at TKZ for enriching my life–in some cases with their friendship, but in all cases with well-considered insights into a craft that is always worthwhile, and a business that makes less and less sense.  The quality of discussion in this corner of cyberspace is second to none.

To my wife, Joy, for making every day special.  Her boundless patience allows me to pursue two full-time careers.

To my son, Chris, for his wisdom, his knowledge of all things electronic (and a never-grudging willingness to train his untrainable dad on such things), his love of books and music and movies, and his unfailingly good character.

To my publishing team, who together make Joy’s boundless patience seem like a reasonably good idea.  My agent, Anne Hawkins, makes everything else happen.  Because of her, I get to work with Micheala Hamilton, the single best editor I’ve ever encountered (and I’ve worked with quite a few).  But she doesn’t toil alone.  The rest of the team–Adeola Saul, Alexandra Nicolajsen, Laurie Parkin, Steve Zacharius and the entire sales team–show old school commitment to embracing new developments in the industry.

To the authors in my monthly critique group–Donna Andrews, Ellen Crosby, Alan Orloff and Art Taylor–for at last making it easy for me to share my works in progress with others.

To my friends and colleagues at the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries–my Big Boy job–for granting me a venue to allow me to exercise a completely different part of my brain.  Special thanks go to Robin Wiener, Anne Marie Horvath, Joe Bateman, Commodor Hall, Kent Kiser, Joe Pickard, Chuck Carr and Ed Szrom.

To dear friends because they’re dear friends.  Lists are dangerous because they can’t possibly be all-inclusive, but I offer a special nod to Bob and Bert Garino, Pat Barney and Sam Shockley, John and Susan Miller, and Jeff Deaver.

Finally, and most importantly, to readers everywhere.  I love that you read and respond to my posts here on TKZ, and I love that you read my books and provide me feedback.  That ability to communicate directly with readers is one of the great pleasures of the 21st Century.

I wish all of you–all of us–a wonderful Holiday Season, and a terrific 2012.  May none of us gain more than ten pounds in the next two weeks.

Seeya next year!

0

Please. No whining.

I have an overarching theory on life that I believe I might have mentioned here on TKZ before: Failure cannot be inflicted upon anyone; it must be declared by the individual.  No matter how hard an artist is knocked down, or how often, as long as he gets to his feet and stays true to his obligations as a professional and a craftsman, the game is still on.  

To quit, however, is to guarantee failure. I respect those who grow too tired of the fight and walk away, just as I respect anybody’s well-reasoned choice to do anything.  To chase the choice to quit with a lot of whining, though, is unseemly.  No one forces another person to give up writing or to seek publication, and since the decision was not inflicted, it makes no sense for an artist to blame anyone who’s not staring back at him from the mirror every morning.

There’s a corrollary: Success must be earned.

It’s worth noting, I think, that with very few exceptions, every person who has found success in any endeavor in any industry shares the single attribute of having worked hard.  They brushed away rejection and tried again.  And again.  When success didn’t come as quickly as they wanted, the real achievers took a look at their own skill sets and identified what needed adjusting in order to improve their marketability. Actors learned to sing, singers learned to act.  Literary writers learned how to write more commercial stuff.  English Lit majors went back to school to learn about cyber security—or to get the PhD that would allow them to teach what they love at the collegiate level.

They didn’t sit around and blame others.  Yes, the publishing industry is changing, so adapt. No one owes success to anyone else.

Throughout the struggle, it’s important to keep your head in a positive space—a space that can be elusive, given the state of popular media.  Entertainment Weekly published a snarky article last week entitled “Stars’ Worst Movies.”  In it, they made fun of an early George Clooney movie called Red Surf.    Rather than being embarrassed about an admittedly less-than-great film, though, Clooney said in the article, “I’ve done some bad jobs along the way.  But you’ve got to do them.  The Facts of Lifes and the Baby Talks and the Red Surfs.  When you’re starting out, those are big breaks.”  He didn’t apologize for those early efforts because he was doing his best to make a living doing what he loved to do.  When the movie flopped, he went on to the next one.  I hear he makes decent coin as an actor these days.

What’s the analogy to novel writing?  Recognize your own big breaks as they happen.  Judge your path to success not just based on the long road that lies ahead, but on the accomplishments you’ve achieved.  Start with the fact that you’ve finished a book.  Or three.  That puts you in the stratosphere among those who dream of publication one day.  Got a short story pubbed in your local supermarket rag?  Shout it from the rooftops.  It’s a big deal.

Opportunity never knocks.  Opportunity lurks  out there, waiting to be discovered through hard work, dedication and risk taking.  It makes itself most visible to those who are focused on possibilities, and are open to trying new things.  Some of my greatest successes in this industry and in others can be traced to casual conversations that were struck up in the most unlikely of places.  Some might call these chance encounters, but I don’t buy that.  Sure, there’s an element of serendipity, but that would not have mattered if both parties hadn’t had their heads and their hearts in the right places.

Whenever anyone asks, “How do I get an agent?” or “How do I get a producer interested in the film project I want to do?” my answer is always the same: Go out and find them.  Introduce yourself.  Attend the meetings they attend, and introduce yourself.  Talk to them.  

Earn their attention.  If that takes you out of your comfort zone, then either expand the zone or abandon the dream.  Or invent a brand new approach that no one’s ever heard of.

But please.  No whining.

0

Averting Disaster

by John Gilstrap


Okay, Damage Control (July, 2012) is finished and submitted and the publisher is happy.  Now I can come clean:


By way of background, my Jonathan Grave books are slated as the lead titles for July in their respective years of publication.  The first week of July, to be specific, chosen to coincide with ThrillerFest.  Being lead title is a big deal because of the horsepower that get focused behind the book.  Recognizing that there’s only one (maybe a couple) lead title per genre per publisher per month, and given that there are only 12 months in a year, it’s a position worth earning, and once earned, it’s definitely worth defending.


In order to make that July 1 slot, I have to submit my manuscripts by September 15.  That might seem like a lot of lead time, but it’s really not, given all that goes into the production and marketing of a book.  If you miss the deadline, you imperil your spot on the list.


Okay, now for the living nightmare.


In mid-July (the week after I returned from ThrillerFest), I realized that I had painted myself into a corner with Damage Control.  I had too many characters, the story was rambling.  I’d lost control of the damn thing.  I’d written a little over 300 pages that just weren’t going to work, and I faced the reality that is no less daunting for a writer than it must be for a surgeon: If the patient (book) was going to live, it would need serious surgery.  Thus, on or about July 20, with less than two months to go before my deadline, I amputated over 200 pages.  I essentially took myself back to the end of the opening sequence, and rebuilt.  Understand that my manuscripts run 400-430 pages.


I told my editor that I was going to blow my deadline, but “not by that much.”  I didn’t have any idea how I could make even an extended deadline, but there was no way I was going to lose my spot in the catalog.  Too many people work too hard on my behalf to let them down that way.  I’m a professional, and professionals plow through to the end.


When failure is not an option, success is guaranteed.


Meanwhile, my Big Boy job had me on the road nonstop, and Joy’s dad’s health started declining rapidly.  When it rains, it pours, right?  Work days grew to be eighteen hours long and weekends disappeared entirely.  If I wasn’t busting my ass for my day job, I was busting my ass for the night job.  Sleep was a five- to six-hour per night luxury.


I’ve never written so hard in my life–or under such pressure.  But you know what?  I got it done.  And, if you ask me, it’s really, really good.  From mid-late July till October 17 when I submitted the manuscript, I wrote, rewrote and polished 315 manuscript pages.  I don’t know how I did it, and I pray that I’ll never have to do it again.


If there’s a lesson here beyond the old standby of don’t-let-this-happen-to-you, it’s that any obstacle can be overcome if you want it badly enough.  When you’re caught in a crack, the last thing to let go of is your professionalism.  Friends will wait for you, family will understand.  Employers are paying for an honest day’s labor, and you owe them that and more.  With what’s left, you turn to the next obligation in line.


On a personal level, I learned an invaluable lesson that is reflected in one other accomplishment: Here it is mid-November, facing another September 15 deadline in 2012, and I’ve already started the second chapter of the next book.  My goal (and it’s a soft goal, not a sword worth falling onto), is to have this one finished by June 15.  I think I’d like to try to enjoy a season of book conferences without staring down the maw of a deadline.


We’ll see . . .

0

The Performance Side of Writing

By John Gilstrap

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were among the hundreds in attendance when Stephen King addressed an audience at George mason University as part of Fairfax, Virginia’s Fall for the Book Festival.

By way of full disclosure, seeing Stephen King live is to me analogous to what I imagine it would be for a classical actor to see Kenneth Branaugh.  Or Laurence Olivier.  While many of King’s stories don’s appeal to me anymore (I read Pet Sematary when Joy was pregnant–‘Nuff said?), he works the English language exactly the way I wish that I could.

He also worked the audience with supreme grace and skill.  The fact that he was entirely at ease on the stage confirmed for me that his spontaneity was well-rehearsed.  If that read as snarky, please re-read. I meant it as a statement of supreme admiration.  As one whose Big Boy Job requires dozens of speeches a year–a few to standing O’s, I hasten to add–I can attest to the importance of hard work to making things easy.

Sooner or later, we all find ourselves alone on stage–or something like a stage–and I thought I’d share some of the tricks of the trade when it comes time to entertain an audience.

First, notice the E-word.  Embrace the fact that successful speakers are first and foremost entertainers.  I don’t care if you’re delivering a eulogy or a paper on astrophysics.  People will remember you if you’re entertaining.  And they will forget you if you are not.

We all work too hard to be forgotten.  So, how can we be memorable?

Step One:  If you truly hate public speaking and are not willing to work for it, turn down the public speaking gigs.  Your audience and your replacements will both be grateful.

Step Two:  Remember that ain’t none of this about you–iy’s about the audience.  Give thme a good ride, and they’ll love you forever.  Turn to navel-gazing bullshit about your muse and your struggles, and you’ll turn everybody off.

Step Three:  Have something to say.  This is where preparation and rehearsal pay dividends.  And remember that making feel good is better than making them feel bad.  Know where your laugh lines are and wait for them.  If you don’t know how to do this part, sign up with your local chapter of Toast Masters and learn how to structure and deliver a decent speech.  (See Step Two above.)  Every person in your audience gave up the sure thing entertainment option of watching a Seinfeld rerun for the ninth time.  You owe them at least as good a ride as that.

Step Four:  Talk to your audience, not at them.  Make eye contact.  Smile.  Invite input.  The fact that this is the 4,784th time you’ve delivered this speech doesnt change the reality that it’s the first time for each of your audience members.

Step Five (and this one’s a personal bugaboo):  Yes, you need a microphone.  I don’t care if you’re James Earl Jones on crack; you’re easier to hear in the back of the room if you’re amplified.  (See Step Two–again.)

Step Six (actually, it’s 5-A):  The microphone is a voice amplification device.  It is not a pointer, a magic wand, or an extension of your Italian gesticulation hand.  To work, it needs to be pointed at your mouth.  We’re talking straight-on.  Ninety degrees.  If you’re speaking from a podium, think in arcs as you look from one side of the audience to the other.  As your head moves, the mouth-to-mike distance should remain constant.

When using a lavalier microphone (always my preference), take time to hide the cord and the transmitter.  Having that black cord swinging around gets in the way and looks ugly.  Neatness matters to the audience.  If you have an audio technician working with you, trust his advice.  If you don’t, put the microphone a fist’s width from the underside of your jaw.  For guys, that will be between the second and third buttons on your shirt.  For ladies, that means that you have to dress in anticipation of a microphone.

There’s more, of course, but I think these are the basics.  What do y’all think?  What are your tricks or cardinal rules for presentations?

0