When you stay in the pool for five hours, in the sun, with sunglasses on, a bathing suit, and only one coat of sunscreen spf50, you are bound to get burned. Oh, and if you’re Polish, Hungarian, Rumanian, Ukrainian and Luthuanian, all mixed together, then you might as well forget the sun screen and go straight to the burn anyway.
I’m at that part of vacation where I am starting to think about going home. The days are starting to come back into focus. We have one more day at Universal and Harry Potter and then we’re following the hurricane north – riding in its wake.
I’ve been working on a new book. I don’t know if this will be the new book or not. I write slowly and take a while to start putting words on the page. I write some. Leave it sit. Write some more. Leave it sit. This book requires a lot of research so I’m hitting the books and starting to take notes. Usually I take notes on the margins of my books, underlining words, marking the margins to remind myself to come back to this page or that one. Then I put my notes on the computer. At least that’s what I’m doing this time.
With Open Wounds I used hard copy for all my notes and have folders upon folders of notes, timelines, articles, websites, and maps. I over did it for Cid’s story. I did. But I had so much fun doing it. My next blog post I’ll give you a treasure hunt for Open Wounds – see if you can find an un-named celebrity hidden inside it’s covers – one of the details I couldn’t let go of.
This time I’m using Scrivener instead of all those note pads. I’m going straight to the computer with my favorite word processing program, which has all kinds of gadgets and doodads to satisfy the pickiest writer. I got when it was free. Now it’s $45 but I think it’s well worth it. I don’t have stock in their product. I’m just happy with the way it works. It puts WORD to shame as a tool made just for writers. I still only know about 50% of all its uses. I’ve been getting myself tutorialized (they’re pretty good and I can’t learn just by reading or doing. I need some teaching too).
So I’m using the research page.
And creating characters.
And building a new world to put them in, one detail at a time.
The silence is on the bookstore front. We’re ensconced in Universal resort and refuse to leave. The biosphere of always playing rock music, how can I help you’s, and charging humans with Harry Potter on their minds, has us in its web. I can’t remember what day it is or what day of the week. Are they the same thing?
A fountain near Universal’s Sinbad stunt show is called Willie – Wet Willie. And it talks to you. For real. Nobody goes too close to it because it can shoot a stream of water at you if it doesn’t like what you say and it’s extremely sarcastic. Oh and it speaks in an Irish accent so it sounds funny even while he’s insulting you. Hah.
Yesterday we got up early and charged with the crowds to get to the gate at 7:45am and were one of a few hundred waiting in line already. Still we had no wait getting onto the Hogwartz ride – and it was awesome. Actually what was even more cool (because a virtual reality ride is what it is) were the details of Hogwartz that you can see as you walk through the line and wait. The talking pictures, Dumbledore’s office and study, Hermione, Ron, and Harry giving us advice from the Dark Arts classroom – all just terrific details. Having a dragon breathe fire into my face from three feet was a bit terrifying (as can be seen from the picture of the three of us at just that point that they tried to sell us (no thank you!)). Max and I went on the hippogriff coaster and that just about screwed my head on backwards – always a good thing for a small, tightly wound, low to the ground coaster (I love coasters – not one of the kind you put under cups but the kind with wheels).
Oh, and after all this we went to them movies and saw the new Spy Kids movie (not as good as the other ones but fun anyway). And that’s when I saw it.
A large poster of the John Carter of Mars movie. Since I was a kid when I read the first book from Edgar Rice Burroughs – A Princess of Mars – I was hooked on his tale and have been waiting for a movie of the book ever since. I can’t believe it’s actually coming. The opening date in March 2012. Max and I will be there. Check out this trailer for the movie John Carter of Mars. Tars Tarkas of Thark! I just love saying that also. Almost as much as Wingardium Leviosa – which by the way is hard to spell unless you look it up – which I did.
Nothing literary to report. I’m off duty of the bookstore pitching tour until we head back on Sunday. Then maybe one or two on the way home as we follow the hurricane north. I hope all on the path are taking cover and taking care.
I just love that spell. This is our third day of no driving and my bum is very happy about that.
We waited on line for wands at Olivanders in Harry Potter land and it was well worth the hour wait in the light rain. Seriously. It gave me the chills when the wand misfires. Each of us got a wand. How could we not?
No bookstore activities at all. I’m on vacation for the next two days. Then I have to plan out a trip to Vera Beach (possibly if we can make the time to visit friends of a friend who happen to own a bookstore on the coast!). Perhaps one or two Barnes & Nobles in Orlando? No indi’s to speak of as far as I know…
Did I mention that we stayed in the pool the whole day today? Now that’s a vacation.
For those who are interested I’m researching my next book. I will only say it has something to do with WWI. At least that’s what I know so far.
Okay. Harry Potter was cool for what we did but the lines were crazy. It’s 90 degrees and wall to wall people at each of the stores (oh what a merchandising heaven) and a 90 minute wait to get into Hogwartz, the ride – which wasn’t that bad – we were told. We made it 30 minutes and hit the stretch of line that was in the sun and gave up. We’ll do it another day. The butter beer was indeed excellent as was the breakfast at the 3 Broomsticks. We’ll be back again tomorrow.
Wingardium leviosa! Sorry. I just had to say that.
Now onto the discussion of indi’s, B&N, Borders, and survival of the fittest.
So Jeff of Bound to Read Books in Atlanta gave me some insight into the real plight of indi bookstores in this age of ebooks. Now the age of ebooks seems like it’s an age that’s been here forever but it’s really only a couple of serious years old. But a lot has happened in two years. The Kindle took out the Sony Reader, and the Nook took on the Kindle and has established itself on the shelf next to it and the iPad is right behind trying to throw its apple muscle around to create some space for it. The Kobo – backed by Borders and we all know what happened to them – is far behind as are the Sony Readers and a few others.
What do the indi’s have? Nothing.
I mean bookstores are traditionally selling points for books. But that doesn’t mean they have to be hard copy books only, though, does it? Will bookstores change the way they look? How can they compete with electronic sales over the internet? Do they want to or even need to?
Amazon owns the Kindle and indi’s could sell the Kindle but what about the books that people read on the Kindle? Everybody goes to Amazon. Barnes & Noble has their own platform so they sell both the Nook and their own books, because they can too. But what about the indi’s? How do they get into the e-book market? Can they? I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of this before.
Now I’m not saying ebooks are going to take over the book reading market. But they are and will take up market share and It’s a market share that’s growing and that indi’s can’t touch.
Jeff just shook his head when I asked him what he was going to do.
When I talked to Andy at the B&N in Gainesville store I asked him how B&N was doing now that Borders has kicked the bucket. He said they were good, then added. “We invested in the Nook. And it’s paid off.”
Indeed it has. Consumers Report rated it higher than the Kindle recently which was rated pretty high all by itself. Each product is different in it’s platform but gives a segment of the population something that it wants – a way to read books electronically.
But what about the indi’s? Does anybody know?
We made it to Universal. We did nothing but check out the grounds, hit the pool and game room, eat and go to sleep. We all agreed we were very happy to be out of the car.
Some interesting things we saw on the way down were a giant confederate flag a little north of Valdosta – and I mean giant, definitely a statement being made with that – and an incredible number of billboards for right-to-lifers and medieval times. You can take that for what it’s worth.
I 75 is long and straight and endless.
We stopped in Gainesville, Florida, to hit a Barnes & Noble there. Now don’t go all indi on me – there were no indi’s in the area and B&N was the closest to the interstate and we needed to find a book that two indi’s prior did not have. So we went and I pitched my book to the merchandise manager while I was there – a nice guy named Andy who indeed had heard of Captain Blood and Errol Flynn – always a good sign – who took Open Wounds and said I could follow-up with him to see if he read it in a couple of weeks. It’s something new I’m doing – asking if they mind if I follow-up. Anything that might make a difference is worth trying. Remember, it’s all about the relationships (yeah, yeah, I heard that before – okay… I’m just saying…).
The B&N in Gainesville has been there 18 years and seems pretty entrenched in the community. Andy said it’s one of only three small B&Ns left in the country. It doesn’t have a Starbucks café. It’s only books and although it’s a pretty good size – still bigger than any indi I’ve been too so far, it was smaller than the super stores. I had an interesting conversation with him about how B&N is doing compared to Borders – who clearly has lost the race to survive. More on that tomorrow because it links well to the conversation I had with Jeff from Bound to Read Books in Atlanta.
So I went to three bookstores in Atlanta yesterday that I wanted to post about also.
A Cappella is not a YA bookstore and I missed Frank, the owner, but I talked to Chantal and pitched her the book. I think she may read the first chapter, at least, and if she reads the first chapter… It’s a funky indi in a funky part of town called East Atlanta. I’ll write to them both in two weeks to see if either one took a peek.
Eagle Eye Books was not too far down the road so I stopped there next. This is a good sized store with both used and new books. The owners, Doug and Charles were not in (I keep missing folks but that’s the nature of a drive-by – you got to visit when you have the time) so I pitched the book to Bob who smiled the whole way through and said he’d give it a read. I’ll be following up with him in two weeks also.
Bound to Read Books is a great small indi that had a great kids section in addition to a good size graphic novel section and just a beautiful interior. I got there just after a big event so the owner was in. Jeff was kind enough to listen to my pitch and we talked about while about how publishing and bookstores have changed. He said, now that Borders has been taken out Barnes and Noble and Amazon are next on the indi hit list. Hah! But what do Indi’s do about getting a piece of the ebook market? I’d never thought of that before. It’s a good question for another blog post. I’ll be following up with Jeff too, and my guess is he may well have copies of Open Wounds in his store some time soon. Just guessing.
I dropped Karen and Max off at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History and went to meet Matthew Rush, the incredible blogger who writes on writing, specializes in the query letter, is working on his first novel, and is an overall good guy. Check out his blog and post at the The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment about our lunch. I’m still laughing about what he wrote. He’s also got an interesting post about the publishing industry that’s part of a blog chain that’s worth checking out – specifically about self-publishing.
In person I was lucky enough to hear him speak about his work-in-progress novel – which sounds terrific – and to talk shop about writing with someone who quickly felt like an old friend. I’ve been a fan of his website and his writing for a while so it was great to get a chance to meet him in person. There’s still nothing quite like a face-to-face.
Now with Atlanta behind us and sitting in our room in Valdosta, just within the border of Georgia and not quite in Florida, I’m about ready for Universal on the morrow.
Autozone said there were five different problems with the engine. We checked the oil, the transmission fluid, the gas cap, and the water. All four were good. Our mechanic in Queens, Steve, who takes phone calls from South Carolina, said get back on the road and don’t worry about it. Just keep driving. He’ll check it out when we get back but he’s not worried. Okay.
Green iced tea from Starbucks.
Karen’s driving. We’re off to Atlanta. I’ve got plans for three stores to visit. Karen and Max are going to hit the pool. I’m going to try and meet Amy from Lady Reader and Matt from the QQQE – two bloggers I”ve corresponded with and whose blogs I follow. It’ll be cool putting faces to words. It’s all about the relationships.
But before I forget here’s my report from yesterday on the two bookstores I hit in North Carolina.
Fly Leaf bookstore in Chapel Hill is the absolute most beautiful bookstore I’ve seen in a while. Some independent stores are quirky, some small, some big and overfilled, some sparse on the shelves and heavy on the muffins, but Fly Leaf, oh this is a beautifully laid out store. There’s a great kids space. The shelves have staff picks marked and easily read all over the place – very colorful and eye appealing. The color of the store just says come in, sit down, gaze at books, read, read, read, ahhhhhh. Seriously this is a good-looking store. The owner Jamie was very nice considering I had no appointment and she was on her own while the others were on break. Still I threw Kelly Justice’s name in the mix (thanks again Kelly) and yes, Jamie took a moment from the register to bring my book back to her store partner and kid’s buyer for review. Max bought two books there and I wanted to buy one also but I’m banned from hardcovers for a while as we’re out of space back home. Behemoth is calling to me though.
Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh was also a great looking bookstore, filled with books and music. They were busy but Sally, a very helpful and busy bookseller, did see if the kids buyer was in to speak to me. She was in the middle of an order. I asked Sally if she’d listen to my pitch. She looked at me and then at the register. I could see the “no” without it even being said.
“You’ve got a lot to do right now, don’t you?” I said.
“And you get a lot of people coming in pitching books and products?”
She nodded again and glanced a second time at the register where her colleague was busy.
“But I bet you don’t get many people coming all the way from New York City, do you?” I gave her my biggest shit-eating grin.
This made her smile and she nodded at me. “You have three minutes,” she said. After doing the pitch under three minutes a dozen times at ALA last month I could do this in my sleep.
“Get back to us in two weeks,” she said when I was done. “I’d like to read it myself.” Then she gave me the buyer’s name and email, her email, ideas for where to go in Atlanta, and another smile to take me out the front door.
Charlotte’s was harder to hit yesterday. Bookmark is downtown and parking is terrible. Karen dropped me off. I rolled out of the car and went to the back of the mall where they were situated, pitched one of the owners while a customer came in and ordered other books. I waited oh so patiently. Karen called me on the phone. “There’s no parking.”
The owner said, ‘You got to go?”
I nodded. “I’ll make this quick.”
He took the book and said he’d take a look. Kelly Justice’s name got some attention again. (Thanks’ Kelly.)
It’s 2pm on day four and the engine light went off. Steve, the mechanic, was right again. The stress level has eased out of the car in one big exhale.
Atlanta here we come.
We did a bit too much today.
Two bookstores in Chapel Hill and Raleigh, two in Charlotte, horrible traffic on I-85 heading out of Charlotte, and a warning engine light in the wilds of Kings Mountain Park Road – in the dark – just outside of Blacksburg. Tensions were high. Tears were shed.
Atlanta, our target for the evening, was taken off the agenda and we’re in Greenville.
We’ll call our mechanic tomorrow morning – get some advice. One thing I know little about is cars. I just drive ’em. My wife will handle the call – she at least knows her way around an engine.
There may be some changes to the travel plans. We’ll have to see. More tomorrow morning.
Two stops today. In the morning we hit the Red Canoe Bookstore and Café in Baltimore. It’s a beautiful store with a great YA selection and incredible muffins (really, I tried three different types, the apple/mango, the peach cobbler, and the mixed berry) and good coffee. It was a wonderful way to start the day. Max picked up a graphic novel and I we each got a t-shirt. The owner, Nicole, said these days they make more money from the café than the books and that she’d be specializing in YA and kids books to hone in on that market. It’s the kind of place you park yourself with a good book (purchased of course) or your computer, and read – only getting up every half hour or so to get another muffin or a refill on your coffee. Ahhhh.
I-95 was a mess. We lost an hour at least alternately sitting and creeping south to Richmond. We finally got to Richmond near 5pm and found Fountain Bookstore, where Kelly Justice and Doc filled me in on the doings of SIBA (Southern Independent Booksellers Association) and the city of Richmond’s authors. Kelly gave me some tips on which bookstores to go along the way south and told me she would carry Open Wounds – any author who stopped by in person was on her good side. Like I said. It’s all about relationships.
Made it to Raleigh/Durham about 9:30pm – exhausted. The La Quinta hotel near the Research Triangle in Chapel Hill is nice – the wood floor section especially good for yoga. Hey… after two days in the car I need some extra pigeon/eka pada raja ka potasana.
We’re on our way to Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. It’s 17 plus hours by car.
We must be out of our minds.
Harry Potter here we come. My son is very, very excited. Karen and I are too. We’re stopping in Baltimore, Raleigh, and Atlanta on the way down with short stops in Richmond, Greensboro, and Charlotte for bookstores too.
We’re going to hit as many independent bookstores as we can.
It’s old fashion, door to door, at stores that probably don’t carry Open Wounds but which I’ll pitch the book too and try to build up some interest in through face to face contact – in other words building relationships. I think it’ll work. Even if it doesn’t I’ll meet some great booksellers and see some great stores in different parts of the country that I’ve never been to before and that will be cool.
It will be. Even if my butt is sore from the 4-7 hour days in the saddle, I mean car, and I’m hopped up on too much caffeine, way past my coffee limit (watch out for the Tazo Awake tea latte – it’s deadly too). That’s what vacation is for.
Today we left Jackson Heights four hours later than we thought we would. Basically we were right on schedule… for us.
We hit an hour’s traffic on the BQE in Brooklyn. It was sixty road workers, most carrying “slow” signs, a few with machines of some sort, maybe replacing the pavement, many standing around. It was like watching a battalion on parade in yellow and orange wearing hard hats. It was six lanes condensed down to one. It took an hour to go maybe a mile, maybe two. My hair was standing on end and I had a silent scream locked in my throat. My son’s face was pressed against the side window. My wife took mental pictures to use on twitter and Facebook later. No, really, we got through okay but it was an hour! We soared through to Baltimore from there.
In Maryland we saw one guy working on the road, a dust cloud surrounding him from some machinery he was using. One guy. In yellow and orange. No sign-holders. No traffic jam. Thank you.
I’m writing from a Day’s Inn with an Indian Restaurant attached to it. I love Indian food so I wish we’d known ahead of time and ate here rather than the diner we hit along the way.
It is so good to be on vacation.
Two and a half weeks.
I had no idea where Silver Springs was and how far it was from the conference center I was staying at. But I made it to the evening open épée fencing at the DC Fencer’s Club with a half hour to spare. It always pays to leave early (and take a cab).
The head coach, Janusz Smolenski, sat down with me in between students and let me pitch him the book. He was very
interested in the fencing but even more so in my last name, recognizing both the Lithuanian and Polish influences. Then he invited me to fence. I told him I had not brought my gear and before I could say any more he suited me up with gear from the salle and paired me up with my first opponent. I fenced for two hours with a short break to talk to the whole group that Janusz organized when some twenty students had filled the room. Now I thought the room was filled but he told me their six strips (it is a big salle!) are packed with sixty plus students in the fall when everyone is back from vacation. I had way too much fun fencing – getting beaten by a young man and finding some equal matches against others my age and younger. Soaked from my workout I got a ride to the metro from a fencer named Jay, who also happens to be a journalist and a budding novelist.
I left them two copies of Open Wounds and a lot of perspiration. The only problem was that I had so much fun fencing I forgot to take any photos. I had the camera but it never made it out of the bag. The photos are curtesy of their website!
Thank you Jay and Janusz. I hope to be back in the fall for other events. Only next time I’ll have my own equipment.
Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington DC is one of the best independent bookstores I’ve ever seen. It had three characteristics that, for me, make a bookstore rock.
- The inside is well laid out, with a unique look that makes it different from the chain stores and specific to the architecture of the store and space. I love it when the store has its own look and character. The three Tattered Cover Bookstores in Denver each utilize their space so well, some with hidden rooms and desk space, others with wide open space and a good use of floor displays and tables. P&P has books everywhere but doesn’t feel crowded. The books are well-organized. The shelves are neat. There is a coffee shop downstairs along with another room with a long table for important life or death meetings, book club events, or reading. The YA section is well stocked and clearly laid out. There’s a space upstairs for readings with folding chairs and a podium. This place is great. Did I mention the purple awning over the front and the purple lettering?
- The staff is friendly, helpful, and knowledgable about their subject areas. I came twice to the store, walking the fifteen minutes from the metro in 100 degree heat. I was soaked each time. The first time the people I needed to see weren’t there – I missed them by a couple of hours, ugh – the staff at the front desk took down all the pertinent information and promised to pass it on to the individuals I needed to see and helped me to make an appointment for the next day. When I returned I spoke to Heide the children’s book section manager. She took twenty minutes out of her day to listen to my pitch about Open Wounds, asked questions, and really seemed enthusiastic about the book. Mostly what I liked was the attention she paid to what I said. She was present and interested. I then heard one of her staff Silas, talking to a customer about fantasy novels and he really seemed to know what he was talking about. When he finished with them I asked him for some suggestions for my son, Max, who loves fantasy novels. I gave him the lowdown on what he’d read, his age, and what he liked so far and without blinking he pulled out from three different sections of the shelves books I’d never heard of or seen before. Max has read one of the books and loved it,while I’ve started another… This guy knows his stuff.
- The place has to have a certain feeling to it – like I’ll want to stay there, hang out, and look at books all day. Maybe 1 and 2 above lead into three. I don’t know – but this quality a book store either has or doesn’t. P&P does.
It took me all this time to download them after I got back late last night. Met some great librarians, great writers and had a blast with Allison, Jonathan, and Irv at the New Orleans Fencer’s Club tournament!
Here’s my list. In no particular order:
- Stick, by Andrew Smith (for me of course!)
- Kid Beowulf and the Blood-Bound Oath, by Alexis Fajardo (for my son but I’m reading it too! Signed by Alexis. How could I resist – it’s a graphic novel.)
- Kid Beowulf and the Song of Roland, by Alexis Fajardo (for my son but I’m reading it too! book two in the series.)
- The White Assassin, By Hilary Wagner (for my son a fantasy series – it’s the second book in a series but I couldn’t find the first so I picked it up anyway – nice cover.)
- Almost Perfect, By Brian Katcher (for me – met the author at coffee klatch speed dating and he signed the book for me!)
- Bronxwood, by Coe Booth (urban YA looks gritty – for me)
So here’s what happened at University of Penn, at ten in the morning on Wednesday last week. Well… I have to back up. After putting together my Powerpoint for the workshop, going over it with my actor/choreographer friend Dave, reading lines of my book, and getting everything ready to be able to leave at 4:15 am – I got into the car and… the battery was dead. So… after wracking my tired brain for ten minutes and trying everything I could think of (turn the key on and off, open the hood and shut the hood, try turning the lights on again and again and again) I gave up and went back upstairs to tell my wife I would have to take the other car. Of course that meant, 1) I woke up the dogs (Spike and Gracie) and 2) I woke up my wife (I didn’t know where the other car was parked and this is Queens so it could be anywhere so… I had to wake her up) – neither of which were happy. Okay the dogs were happy because they thought they were going out but that’s another story.
Fifteen minutes later and I was off to the Verrazano Bridge and Staten Island where Dave was now checking his watch and waiting for me. Behind me were an unhappy, awake wife and two smiling dogs.
We spent an hour on the Jersey Turnpike heading south and west.
We made it to the MAGPI studio, after breakfast at COSI (not bad – didn’t know they had breakfast) by 9am, as required, to check in and go over the distance learning machinery. Michael Knight, the technician arrived and showed us around, then set us up. It was a small TV studio with four cameras and two big plasma screens on the wall that we could see the remote sites on. The cover of my book which I’d embedded on four slides, had disappeared. They needed the originals to show up. I didn’t understand what happened to the images but they were gone. Michael found the pics on my website and after twenty minutes of transfer attempts and switching laptops, and statements like, “you used a mac didn’t you?” and “Sometimes this happens,” he made the presentation whole. with fifteen minutes to spare we were ready to go.
Three schools checked in from Ohio, all high school English classes. One large picture and two small pictures appeared of the classes on the plasma screen. A picture of me and Dave appeared on the other screen. My Powerpoint appeared behind us and our picture got smaller. I taught a writing workshop on “How to Write Action Scenes,” presumably because Open Wounds has a lot of action scenes in it and I therefore had some expertise in this area. Dave (a real actor as opposed to me who is an amateur) was terrific as all the characters, especially Lefty (my crippled, English, WWI vet) and I played Cid and narrated. Dave’s a good director so he dragged some semblance of character and pace out of me while providing four different voices for the various other characters. We demonstrated some physicalization of fencing moves – ie: here’s how I worked out the fight we just read before I wrote it. The kids did a writing exercise and one student from each school read their piece out loud. They asked questions like, “Why do you like to write fight scenes? How do you write realistic dialog?” and “Why do you write?” Sixty minutes came and went.
What I learned about distance learning systems:
- It’s very hard to call on kids when they raise their hands. “The boy in the black shirt (they’re all wearing black shirts) in the top screen (they don’t know which screen they’re on), yes that one over there (I point ridiculously at one screen or the other). I finally figured out to say things like, “The boy next to the teacher wearing a yellow shirt (so glad the teachers were wearing something other than black).” What I’ll need to do next time (will there be a next time?) is write down which school is in which frame and call out the school and a description of location (boy in the middle at Ohio High). It will be better than my automatic response of pointing which, of course they could not figure out at all because of the perspective they had of me … well… pointing.
- Michael Knight, the technician, used to be a stage, sound, lighting, expert on the road for all kinds of entertainers and bands and easily gets points for telling the best stories about the stars he’s worked with. He’s tops in Dave and my book.
- I’ve got a shiny forehead. Yes, I do.
- Powerpoint is good and always helps. It creates structure for any presentation and is a nice counterpoint to my shiny forehead.
- There’s no instant feedback on jokes because of the distance and lack of mikes being on at each site. They are all mute and have to un-mute to speak. So it was like talking to a silent audience – always a tough performance and difficult to get a read on how you’re doing.
Twelve days till Open Wounds hits its publication. It’s going to be a close run thing. I say this knowing my publisher at WestSide is busting her bum to reach that day so we can have copies for the BEA Bloggers Convention on the 26th. I may end up picking up the books for the event myself. WestSide is out in Lodi, New Jersey – not too far from New York City.
Also, I’m hoping that my son, my wife and I can see the first books roll off the press. Evelyn Fazio, the publisher, said it’s about the coolest thing to see and because WestSide is a subsidiary of EverBind (a binding company) they bind their own books right there in Lodi. I can’t wait. But I’m nervous about timelines.
I did the MAGPI workshop in Phili on Wednesday for three Ohio high schools but more about that later. My friend Dave and I fenced a little. I talked a bit. And the students wrote a bit. An hour goes fast when the lighting is on.
Back to the timeline.
- Kids Reach Out skype interview is on Monday evening the 16th.
- Sunday Big Blend radio interview sometime in the afternoon on the 22nd (2.5 million listeners!).
- Book Expo of American at the Javitts Center in NYC on the 24 and 25 (with a trip to Lodi on the 25th?).
- BEA Bloggers convention on the 26th and 27th – yours truly at the reception on Thursday and speed dating on Friday (after my son’s 3rd grade play!).
- Book launch party in the planning for early June – more details to come…
- ALA national conference in New Orleans at the WestSide booth – I’m there!
This is one of the reasons why people fence.
Coming on to the strip, you bring much imagination with you (including hundreds of movie images) in addition to a calculating, contact-chess like mind, and the instincts to survive (even with a blunt tip there is something, well… dangerous about the whole thing).
This is such a cool video. I found it on the New Orleans Fencer’s Club website homepage and it deserves to be seen. It is more hollywood than real foil but it is cool – especially the part where one fencer uses his weapon to slide down the side of a building – an image first used by Douglas Fairbanks in the 1926 movie, The Black Pirate only he slides down a billowing sail with his knife ripping the center as he holds on. This scene gets a mention in Open Wounds and is one of the main character’s (Cid Wymann’s) favorite movies.
MAGPI (the Mid-Atlantic Gigapop in Philadelphia for Internet2) is on the calendar for May 11 in Philadelphia.
May is heating up with pre-publication day gigs. I’m looking forward to each of them, even if I’m a bit nervous. Events are performances and performances carry their own load of anxiety – some more than others. In my day job as a trainer I teach people, amongst other courses, how to do public speaking and deal with their anxiety (it’s the number one fear people have – even more than death or marriage or child-birth). So you’d think it would be easy for me, right? Well… public performance (radio, face to face, even blogging) has its weight of anxiety for everyone – me included.
I have things in place to deal with anxiety – specifically yoga practices I’ve cultivated and studied over the last twenty years (they do work if you use them – especially breathing practices or pranayama), preparation (I never go in cold), being in touch with and knowing my process for being anxious (if I know my process I can deal with it better at each stage before I hit PANIC.), self-talk (hey… it works, I talk to myself – don’t you?), and practice. There are others but those are my go-tos.
Back to MAGPI.
My most excellent publicist, Marissa DeCuir at JKScommunications has set me up with this wonderful gig teaching an hour long workshop on writing action-scenes for 10-12th graders. There’s a lot of fight scenes in Open Wounds so I have something to say about how I like to write them and what kinds I like to read.
Digression: Favorite fight scene from when I was younger – The Fellowship of the Ring, by JRR Tolkien, the chamber of Balin’s tomb in the mines of Moria right through to the balrog on the bridge. Wow. It captured my imagination at 12-years old like no other book at the time.
Okay, MAGPI. Here’s the link. The workshop is called, “They Fight!” It’s not open to the public. It’s a distance learning gig from University of Penn out of Phili with up to ten classes involved remotely from ten different schools. But I wanted you to know about it.
I’m really excited – and anxious – the best combo to have because one without the other would either be impossible (just excited?) or miserable (just anxious?).
Here’s another piece. My friend, David Brown, actor, fight choreographer, teacher of stage combat, and all around excellent human being, will be helping me out with some swordplay demos and readings. He’s the best and I love to work with him so it’s a real bonus for the students and of course, him and I get to hang out all day on the drive down and back. I’ve promised him lunch. It’s great what friends will do for you.
Anyway… MAGPI. I’ll let you know how it goes.
I talked to my wonderful and excellent publicist, Julie Schoerke from JKScommunications, and she gave me the following advice about visiting bookstores. I thought others might benefit from her experience. Although it’s specific to my book, the six areas to talk about should be relevant to all.
First, remember 5 Things I learned from Denver. Use those lessons as a frame for these.
- Introduce yourself and be nice.
- Start with a short (one or two sentence) synopsis of your book. Here’s mine: “Open Wounds is the story of Cid Wymann, a tough kid from Queens who fights to survives a harsh upbringing in 1930s/1940s New York City. Cid succeeds and comes of age through the help of two father figures, both cripples – one emotionally and one physically – who teach him about the discipline, art, and science of fighting with the sword.” Okay… it’s a work in progress. But it needs to be something you feel comfortable saying out loud and it’s probably best if you just memorize it. As they say in acting school, say it like you just thought of it at that moment.
- Give them an idea of how to market your book – especially if it appeals to a specific niche or target population. But remember… your book can appeal to everybody, just some folks might be more likely to pick it up than others. For Open Wounds I need to point out that it is a book for boys and young men in order to let YA booksellers and buyers know that it is not a girl targeted book. Boy books are out there but few and far between so that’s a way to get the attention of the bookseller and differentiate my book from the deluge of others coming through the door alongside it.
- Differentiate further if you have comparisons to other books from blurbs or reviews. For Open Wounds I have two. “It’s a cross between The Book Thief and Gangs of New York.” And… “It’s part Oliver Twist and part Captain Blood.” The first I’ll use for the younger generation of booksellers and the other for more “experienced” (read my age) booksellers who might actually have seen the movie Captain Blood or read the Sabatini book from which it came – which, by the way, if you haven’t you should. It a great story.
- Let them know you want to help them part 1: Say you’d love to do book fairs, books clubs, and school night special events. Remember you’re doing it for the exposure.
- Let them know you want to help them part 2: Say you’d love to sign any books they have on the shelf (remember a signed book is a sold book – or so they tell me) and that you’d be happy to put the stickers that say “author autographed” on the cover for them. Also let them know that you’d be happy to do any requests for signed books that will be mailed out – if they get them – it’s a great advertising point for gifts.
- It’s hard to describe your book to someone without a physical copy of the book there for them to hold on to. Holding your book also gives them something to do (ie: look at it). Solution: bring a book everywhere with you – which means next book I need to order a lot more ARCs – live and learn.
- Booksellers are busy people and just because you make an appointment doesn’t mean they’ll be ready for you, or even remember that you’re coming. Solution: be prepared to make it a cold call and sell your stuff!
- Blurbs are important. One of the first things people looked at were the cover and the blurbs listed there. A blurb by Robert Lipsyte on the cover made at least one buyer stop what she was doing and really listen to me. “You got a blurb from Robert Lipsyte?” was my entre to ten minutes of talk rather than two minutes and the door. Solution: get good blurbs. Thankfully I worked my butt off, wrote a lot of emails/letters to writers and got eight good ones from very gifted and known writers. I did this because my brilliant publisher E. Fazio told me to. Thank you, E. Fazio.
- Some booksellers don’t know anything about the publisher. Solution: bring catalogs and know the other books on the list. Fortunately I’ve read three other novels by my publisher. (Scars, by Cheryl Rainfield, Orphans, by John R. Weber, and Something Terrible Happened on Kenmore, by Marci Stillerman)
- Booksellers like to have a hook by which they can place and sell your book on their shelves. Solution: practice your pitch/have a pitch. For example some people liked “it’s a cross between Book Thief and Gangs of New York,” and others liked “it’s part Oliver Twist and part Captain Blood.” By the way I hate this part. Which means I have to practice it even more in order to be good at it. Can you describe you book in two sentences or less?
I went to two Barnes and Nobles in Denver – back in the trenches. The two managers were really nice people but one had no idea I was coming and the other thought I was coming the following week. I had contacts at each so I knew they had been called. But I guess they either get a lot of calls like this or they don’t take them seriously, or the writers usually don’t show up so they don’t take them seriously.
Jana, at the Glendale store, was especially nice, did remember my name (yeah!) but thought I was coming next week. She found an empty table and let me give her my spiel. She sounded interested and promised to read the book – I gave her one of my precious few ARCs – and she said she’d pass it on to other staff at the store. She told me she would put it with the rest of the ARCs they have.
I smiled at that and pictured a cavernous room filled with overflowing ARCs, signed by the authors, gathering dust.
“The process,” Jana told me, “Is I can send a note to the buyer and say I liked the book, in the hopes of getting it into the store, but that’s it..” I told her that would be wonderful. Every voice in the wilderness of book-land shouting out my name is a good thing. Thanks, Jana. Five minutes in Glendale and I’m out the door. I’m realizing at this point that I should have tried to go to more stores. I’d somehow thought I’d be at each store at least 20 minutes. What was I thinking? Well, if I’d really been thinking I’d have known it would be me pitching and them nodding and then moving on. No one had read my book yet. What else could they do?
At the Down Town store I met Manny, who spoke to me for ten minutes – ten minutes. He seemed genuinely interested. When I gave him the gift he smiled and said, “Chuck Palahniuk (of Fight Club fame) brought us handmade jewelry as a gift. It was really cool so thanks for bringing this.”
“I brought a mug,” I said. “It has a quote from the book on it.”
“Yes,” he said. “I see.”
A book-seller at the checkout desk, Miguel, motioned me to come over. He asked me about the book. He was curious. I gave him a mini-pitch. He wrote down my name and website address and said, “Thanks! It looks good.”
So the evening ended on a high note.
This was great.
I had Lunch yesterday with Pam Felzien, her daughter Jennifer, and her granddaughter Victoria – three generations of Felzien women – all writers – and it was definitely the highlight of my trip. Pam is also reviewing my book later in May at Life Happens While Books are Waiting her blog on books. All three are voracious readers and I love Pam’s handle at her site: joemmama.
We ate at the Landsdowne Pub across from the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Highlands Ranch, Colorado where a spit ball flew onto Jennifer’s plate from the booth next to us just as our lunches arrived. Fortunately it was dry and simply an overshot from a woman who was aiming at her boyfriend – but it gave us all a good laugh to start off our meal with.
All three read my book as a PDF (never an easy thing to do from my perspective) – Victoria finishing it at 2am that morning. They met me at 12 so I hope she got some sleep. Since Victoria is a young adult and the perfect age for my book I was especially happy to hear that she’d enjoyed it.
All three were a delight to meet and speak with. It was so nice to be in the company of three book lovers who also happened to be writers. Talking about books – including Open Wounds – movies, what each was writing, and how we came to be sitting there at that table at this particular point in our lives seemed somehow full of karmic goodness. After the uncomfortable work of selling my book to booksellers (though it definitely got easier as I went along) who knew nothing about me and who took me in as a cold call salesman (even if they were gracious about it)- it was great to relax and enjoy Denver in the company of folks who had at least some idea of who I was. The real fun for me was finding out about them and commiserating on the trials and tribulations of writing.
The kicker was as I was about to leave I took out a pen to take down their address so I could send them a real copy of the book when it comes out next month and Pam took out a pen also. We were two writing gunslingers drawn pens in hand.
“Nice pen,” she said and I noticed what she had already noticed. We both held out a Levenger True Writer – mine the Sea Glass and hers the Kyoto. If you’ve never used one of their pens you’re missing something. They are awesome writing utensils made for the writer who, when looking for something to write with, needs… just the right pen. They’re worth every penny and it was a perfect way to end the lunch.
It felt like I’d just finished lunch with a few friends and the warmth of their company was wonderful. Thank you, ladies, for making my afternoon in Denver just perfect.
So I thought I was a somebody but after my first bookstore visit, sans review copy to give but loaded with a gift of two coffee mugs with quotes from the book printed on the outside… and filled with candy and… press kits… I’m back to being a nobody. It’s good for me. I wouldn’t want to get too big an ego over this writing thing.
At the LoDo Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver, Colorado, I met Lucas, a bookseller who took me to a back area and let me talk to him about my book for ten minutes. You’d think a professional speaker such as myself would be able to chat up his book without any difficulty but here’s the thing. It’s hard to do. Lucas was a good sport and listened to me stumble through a one sentence synopsis (God how I hate those) followed by some short Q and A about who Cid Wymann was and how it should be sold. He asked about – gulp – theme and I came up with something which I won’t repeat. Didn’t I just write about theme in my author interview for the press kit and at least one interview for a blogger? If I could only link my tongue and brain together.
A couple of things I said, though, did seem to be useful to him – things which I will remember to repeat as I go to the Barnes and Noble down the block for my next ten minute humbling session.
- I told him it was both a historical novel and that it was realistic fiction. I told him there was no magic, were no vampires, and dealt with real issues boys have to deal with. He liked that and took it down as a note.
- I told him it was a boy book and showed him the old cover and new cover. The cover grabbed his attention because it was not a picture of a girl. “Swords,” he said. Now his eyes could have lit up or it could have been my imagination. He said the whole YA section is filled with girl books for girls and knowing this was a boy book would help him to sell it differently – to make it stand out from the shelves of books for girls already out there. This was a good moment for me. I’m defining my market. Whew. I have a market.
- I told him there was a lot about swords and swordplay but that it was not a fantasy novel and had to do with both competitive fencing and stage combat for the theatre. That got a note too.
I swung through the bookstore’s YA section after we finished to see what was there and yes, indeed, there are a lot of books for girls and young women. Not just them, but that certainly is the impression from the face-outs. Interesting. Very similar, of course, to what Andrew Smith has been saying on his blog. But there’s nothing like first hand experience.
So I’d planned on 20 minutes of talking to staff and got 10. Now I’ve got two hours to go before my next appointment, a twenty-minute walk to get to the bookstore, and a beautiful evening to sit outside and write before I move on. My stomachs a little less upset now that the first one’s over with. Butterflies were floating around there before but now they seem to have settled.
Thank you, Lucas at Tattered Cover LoDo. You helped me get through my first promotional gig with only minor injury to my ego. It’s an absolutely beautiful bookstore, by the way. The kind of place I could hang out in to drink coffee, read books, or write. And from what I could tell of the customers, that’s what a lot of them are doing. Now it’s off to the dinner and the next stop.