Perfecting Our Author Presentations

class

Photo by Dale Phillips

A word of advice. If Hank Phillippi Ryan is offering a workshop in your area, run don’t walk to sign up. Readers of this blog know Hank as a wonderful writer of two different series. She launched her career with the Charlotte McNally series. Her Jane Ryland series followed, with the fifth (Say No More) coming out November 1. She is a lovely and generous person. She is also a terrific teacher.

 

One note, Hank is also an Emmy winning investigative reporter. Those of us in New England have watched pound away in interviews, and try to right some wrongs, for a long time. She is fierce. I greatly admire that she is juggling two careers with grace and aplomb.

Last Saturday Hank held a workshop for the New England chapter of Sisters in Crime which was entitled “Perfecting Your Author Presentation”. The first part of the day was about doing an author presentation. The second part of the day was about being interviewed. Today I’m going to talk about the morning session–perfecting your presentation. Hank’s advice for a good reading included preparation, practice, performance, and the pitch. I’ve mashed her information up with my editorial comments, so if she ever offers this workshop again, take it. I’ve left parts out.

Preparation: Think about what you are going to read. Don’t necessarily choose the first chapter of your book. Choose a section that gives listeners a flavor of the novel. Plan on two minutes worth of material, maybe three or four pages.

Create a script out of your reading. Print out pages with large type. Number your pages. Edit out parts that don’t make sense out of context. Get rid of long passages of description. Make it exciting. Add a little bit of context to the beginning–let folks know what the book is about, and a little bit about the characters they are going to meet. Just a little bit.

Practice: Practice your reading. Read your section aloud, time it, adjust it as needed. Then practice it again.

Performance: Like it or not, this is a performance. Charles Dickens used to travel around and do dramatic readings of his work. While no one is expecting this of you, they are hoping to be entertained. For many (most?) of us, this is terror inducing. Yesterday I talked about Hank’s “Be A Puffy Cat” advice. Make yourself big, own the space you are taking up. An actor friend of mine says that fear is excitement without oxygen, so remember to breathe.

hank_julie

Hank and I. Photo by Dale Phillips

 

If you are doing dialogue, turn your body when you read different parts, or add “he saids” or “she saids” to help the audience keep track. Practice it.

 

Slow down, and look up at your audience. See them. They want you to succeed, so looking at them is critical. If you can’t bear that, look just over their heads.

Remember to introduce yourself and mention the name of your book at the beginning of your presentation. This is really important, and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Always have a copy of your book with you. You can use it as a prop, or put it up in front of you.

The Pirch: Before you start your reading, you should introduction yourself, and mention the name of your book. Practice that, and don’t forget to do it.

Also, create a good one or two sentence “pitch” that folks will remember about your book. Make sure you use it.

Hank had us each do a reading (if we wanted to) and then gave us notes. It was a terrific exercise.

Now, back to my script…

Author friends, do you do all these steps? Readers, what do you like best about author readings?

 

The Detective’s Daughter – The Summer Reading List

 

kimspolicehat

Kim in Baltimore surviving the heat.

What do Jaws, The Eye of the Needle, Where Are the Children, and Valley of the Dolls have in common? They are a few of the books I remember my mom reading when I was a child. Every day, whether she was sitting on the front steps or in the car waiting for Dad to come out of work, Mom was always reading a book.

Last summer, as I was moseying about in the East Village, I picked up a well-worn copy of Rosemary’s Baby in The Strand. By the next day I’d read it cover to cover. Rosemary’s Baby is one of my favorite movies and I remembered Mom reading the book years ago.image
Each week we took a trip to the Enoch Pratt library where Mom would walk out with an armful of novels she’d have read long before our next visit. By the time I was fourteen we were both reading Mary Higgens Clark, Phyllis Whitney and Barbara Michaels.

Throughout the years I’ve read Gone With the Wind more times than I can count. I have Mom’s battered copy locked on the shelves of my desk. I take it out just to hold sometimes, remembering Mom sitting in her folding chair, with her cigarettes and iced tea at her side, flipping the pages of the latest book she’d borrowed.

Dad was not much of a reader other than the morning and Sunday editions of The Baltimore Sun. However, one week Mom checked out The Godfather from the library and before she had her iced tea poured and her cigarette lit, Dad was absorbed in the novel. It’s the only book Mom and I ever recall seeing Dad read.

I’ve thought often about the books Mom has read and decided this summer to make them my reading list. I could cross off Rosemary’s Baby and Gone With the Wind; they are books I will read time and again. It wasn’t hard to come up with titles, but I needed to keep it compact. There’s only so many weeks in summer! Here’s what I came up with:image

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
Jaws by Peter Benchley
The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
The Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett
Neither Five Nor Three by Helen MacInnes
Window on the Square by Phyllis A. Whitney
The Godfather by Mario Puzo
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John le Carre

I’ve finished reading Valley of the Dolls and am well into the Phyllis Whitney book. I unfortunately began watching Mad Men the same time I was reading Dolls. It was depressing reading and seeing how little freedom and respect women were given. I don’t think I can bring myself to watch another episode of Mad Men!

As I’ve compiled these books and read through them I’ve thought about what these titles say about my mom. Why do we select the titles that we do? Why are some inclined to read only mystery while others enjoy the classics? Is the genre you prefer inherited or learned?
I spoke to Mom this morning and asked her why she chose certain books. “They seemed interesting,” she said. She wasn’t particularly aware if they were best sellers or if a movie deal was in the works, she just enjoyed reading. I think that’s the part I inherited.
Hope you’re enjoying your summer reading.

Readers: Please share with us the titles of books you have read more than once and why.

Some Book News

Jane/Susannah/Sadie here, just back from a lovely weekend in Maine, where I taught a class and hung out with the Maine Romance Writers…

Yarned and Dangerous Cover(And no, I don’t feel like I got enough Maine, so I’ll have to schedule a trip back there soon. For sure I didn’t eat my quota of lobster, which warrants a return in itself!)

For the first time in my relatively short career as a published author (Feta Attraction came out in January, 2015, followed by Olive and Let Die and Yarned and Dangerous last fall), one of my books has been deeply discounted! I love a bargain as much as anyone (I don’t believe I’ve ever paid full sticker price for any pair of shoes or article of clothing in my entire shopping life), so I got all tingly when I found out the ebook of Yarned and Dangerous was going on sale. It’s now $2.99 (regular price $9.99), so that’s 70% off. But it’s only for another ten days, so if you’ve been wanting to try out this new series, or if you need an ebook to take with you when you sneak away for a tiny respite from the family picnic this Memorial Day weekend, now’s a great time to pick this one up.

A Killer Kebab CoverAnd while we’re talking about books, the third installment of my Greek to Me series, A Killer Kebab, is now available for preorder. Here’s the blurb:

The Bonaparte House is closed for the season, and Georgie Nikolopatos looks forward to fixing up the Greek restaurant and historic landmark—until her renovation plans hit a fatal snag.
 
With her divorce underway, her mother-in-law returning to Greece, and the tourists gone, Georgie finally has life under control—and the Bonaparte House to herself. She quickly hires a contractor for some much-needed renovations to reopen in time for a special Greek-style Thanksgiving meal. Georgie is suspicious though when former dishwasher Russ Riley arrives with the construction crew. He still has an ax to grind with the Nikolopatos family—but is it sharp enough to kill?
 
When Georgie finds the body of her divorce lawyer amid the construction debris and Russ is quickly arrested for murder, something about the case doesn’t add up. While Georgie is no fan of Russ, even a bad egg deserves a crack at justice.

I had such fun writing this book and introducing some new characters as well as bringing back some from the first two. Georgie’s divorce lawyer is found skewered by the restaurant’s gyro spit on the floor of the gutted (ew, sorry!) ladies’ room of the Bonaparte House restaurant. But lots of people had access to the spit and to the restaurant, and lots of people had reasons to want James MacNamara, Esq., dead. And, if you’ve ever wondered about the true origins of Thousand Island dressing–if you’re anything like me, this sort of thing keeps you up at night–look no further than A Killer Kebab, which contains what I believe to be the original recipe.

Now, I’m off to prepare for my family Memorial Day celebration–I have quite a bit of food prep to do, and no commercial kitchen to do it in, like my heroine Georgie does! Hope you all have a wonderful weekend filled with great weather, friends, family, barbeque, and just the right number of potato salads.

I Don’t Have Time to Read

I don’t have time to read any more. Ironic, isn’t it?

All my life I’ve been a reader, starting with Winnie the Pooh, then graduating to Nancy Drew, and moving on to a broader world of books as I grew older. And when I was in my twenties, I thought I had all the time in the world. Since I wasn’t dating a heck of a lot (like, uh, never?) I had plenty of quiet time on Saturday nights to read—classic science fiction, contemporary novels, and of course, mysteries.

TBR pile 1

The pile next to the bed

I watch Jeopardy now, and I’m amazed by how many older books I read and still remember. After college I did have a life—friends, marriage, a child, travel, home improvement, community activities. When did I read all those books? But I know I did, because I kept almost all of them.

And then after a long time I started writing in 2001. I figured by then I had collected enough knowledge of styles and themes and genres and whatever to try my hand at it, and I was stubborn enough to stick to it until I got it right (it took a while, and (unsolicited endorsement) it would not have been possible if I hadn’t had a working spouse with an income).

I’ve heard many of my writer friends say that they can’t read within their own genre while they’re writing because they’re afraid of imitating what they’re reading. That’s never been a problem for me (maybe because I can’t analyze styles all that well). I love to read cozies. I try to read the new ones that my friends publish—but there are just too darn many of them (the new books, not the friends!), and they keep coming. I applaud their productivity, and their creativity, not to mention their energy. But when do I get to read them?

TBR pile 2

The stack in the hallway

Then there are the books I know I won’t have time to read any time soon—mostly non-fiction—because if I don’t buy it when I see it or read an intriguing review, I’ll forget and never find it again. That stack is about five feet high. Every now and then I actually manage to read (and finish!) one. And I won’t even talk about the books I plan to use for research (such as The History of Underclothes, that might come in handy someday).

There are a few writers whose books I will read as soon as I can. There are a lot more writers whose books I want to read if I can ever find the time. On the flip side, there are writers whose books I reject for purely arbitrary reasons (and I apologize, because I’m sure they’re well-written and interesting, but I have to chop something). For example, I find it hard to read historical fiction, in part because I was an academic and I keep questioning the accuracy of the facts presented. I don’t read science fiction any more. I’ve never gone near YA or new adult or any of the “new” genres—no time. I used to read women’s fiction, and thank goodness it’s kind of disappeared (what? That author is still alive and writing?)

What about you? How do you as readers decide what to read? By genre? Based on past books by an author that you’ve enjoyed, or because someone has recommended it to you?