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: http://www.ulpress.org/catalog.php?item=142
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?
0

Area Code 504.1

I love New Orleans on the installment plan. A week is plenty; more than that, and I would no doubt find myself permanently seduced by the city’s many temptations, ending up bivouacked in a fly-blown room in a no-name hotel along the Chef Menteur Highway, a shotgun across my knees and an army of urchins by my side while I stared at the door and whispered “the horror…the horror…”  Then of course, the culinary temptations of the city are such that, should I stay much longer, I will be involuntarily assigned my own area code, 504.1, or some such.
I am presently in New Orleans for a legal seminar and a couple of film role auditions, but as always I come away from New Orleans with extraneous stories. I have two I will share. The first took place on Tuesday, when I introduced two friends of mine who had never previously met, despite living with five miles or so of each other in Baton Rouge for most of their lives. Doug Wolfolk is a former deputy secretary of state of Louisiana; Carl Causey is a builder, contractor, inventor, and the husband of author extraordinaire Toni McGee Causey. Carl is proof that a “ten” marries a “ten.” It is impossible to spend more than five minutes in Carl’s presence without 1) making a friend for life and 2) coming to the realization that he is one of the most brilliant minds on the planet. Carl’s company has been busy with a huge project in New Orleans at Southern Scrap. Southern Scrap is tucked into a far corner of the lower ninth ward. To call Southern Scrap a junkyard would be an over-simplification, erroneous, and all sorts of words to that effect. With Carl expertly behind the wheel, Doug and I bounced around in  Carl’s jeep for well over an hour between and around mountains of cars, buses, and objects unknown, as they were crunched and bunched and then separated by metal class to be recycled and reused. I am not a tree hugger by any stretch of the imagination but I have hated to see things wasted since I was five years old; it was amazing to watch that which was old take the first steps to becoming new again. Any heavy duty product that you purchase in the next six to eight months made out of recycled materials will almost certainly contain something from Southern Scrap and have been in close proximity to Carl or his crew. While all of the reclamation was impressive, the author in me was also busy imagining climactic gun battles taking place as a protagonist and antagonist chased each other and dodged bullets until one or the other was fed into a grinder some fifty feet over the facility. 

That wasn’t the end of the day, however. After lunch at a treasure of a diner named “Sammy’s” on Elysian Fields Avenue, where we tucked into shrimp po’boys (a po’boy is a sub sandwich big enough for three people) and gumbo, Carl drove us to Wilkinson Street in the French Quarter. Wilkinson is a short, two block stretch just above Jackson Square, an all-but-forgotten part of the Quarter which at this point is the wallflower to its more famous and attractive sisters with names like Bourbon and Royal. That state of affairs may change. Carl and Toni are in the process of transforming a long-vacant warehouse into their new home. Where Doug and I saw an abandoned building, Carl several months ago had seen a stunning three story residence which is on its way to becoming a masterpiece. I hope to give you an updated report next time I was there.
The other high point of the week took place on Wednesday when I had the privilege of meeting and having dinner with author Victoria Allman, a loyal Kill Zone reader and frequent commenter to this blog. Victoria very graciously drove from Biloxi to New Orleans to join me at my favorite establishment in New Orleans, a proud dive named The Saint Charles Tavern. Victoria, who is yacht chef renowned throughout the world has published two books — Sea Fare: A Chef’s Journey Across the Ocean and SEAsoned: A Chef’s Journey with Her Captain, detailing her exploits of a life as a chef and a captain’s wife at sea, as well as dozens of her recipes — has not let her culinary talents transform her into food snob. She gamely ate the house specialty — a boudin ball po’boy — as a sat amazed at her ability to do so without spilling a drop. I cannot eat a meal in New Orleans without wearing some portion of it; Victoria finished hers without the trace of a mishap, all the while brightening the dim and dingy bar with her smile and presence while she listened to my interminable stories while actually convincing me that she was interested. Her tales are much more fascinating than mine, but you will have to buy and read her books (a third will be published next year) to discover that for yourself. The evening ended all too quickly but we will hopefully meet again soon, next time with Captain and husband Patrick present as well.
I have another thirty-six or so hours to go in town (assuming I don’t go all Colonel Kurtz, and my wife sends John Miller down here after me) at which point I will return home for a few days before leaving for Bouchercon! More later. In the meantime: would you each and all please share a travel story?
0

Paint Me Blue and Call Me Stupid, But I Want One

Paint Me Blue and Call Me Stupid, But I Want One

I was in New Orleans and Baton Rouge for several days. The high points of the trip included hanging with my new friend Doug Woolfolk, who very kindly took time out of his extremely busy schedule to give me a tour of the state capitol building, including the hallway where Governor Huey Long was assassinated (or accidentally shot by his own bodyguards, depending on which story you care to believe) in 1935, and to visit Spanish Town, a revitalized neighborhood on the edge of downtown. When I reached New Orleans, I was able to visit with my dear friends Toni McGee Causey, author extraordinaire, and her husband Carl Causey, who may well be among the five most brilliant minds on the planet. Seriously. I also attended a legal seminar, had lunch with video and film director Jason Furrate to discuss a new project, and made some new friends. Oh, and I discovered that Louisiana sells Barq’s root beer by the glass bottle, and it’s different from what they ship in cans to Yankees up north. All in all, not a bad ten days. The downside was that my computer’s motherboard fried on the second night of the trip so that I was reduced to operating my practice and writing by swipe-typing on my smart phone. This is not recommended for those of us on the wrong side of middle age; I am hoping that at some point very soon my left hand comes out of the claw configuration in which it seems to be frozen.

My computer is replaced (it was actually cheaper to buy a new one than to have the old one repaired) and I am busily uploading dis, dat, and de udda to it so this is going to be a short offering this week. So, I’ll take the easy way out and just ask a question: are you going to buy a Kindle Fire, the soon-to-be-released multi-media tablet? Do you want it? Do you need it? To answer my own questions: I am not going to buy one. I might when a 3G version comes out but it really doesn’t do much more than my phone does, from an application standpoint. Do I want one? Yes. Do I need one? No, and hell no. How about you?

0