Open Wounds

Public Speaking

NOLA Beignets and Genitalia

Mardi Gras in New OrleansI’m sitting in New Orleans Louis Armstrong Airport with Max and Karen waiting for Jetlbue flight 576 to arrive to head back to New York. It’s a long story and I’ve only got the energy for a short version.

Drug Court conference for the state of Louisiana. I did a plenary for the whole association (some 400 practitioners) on Cultural Competency and LGBT clients – a workshop for about 100 on Young Adult Developmental Issues. I said the words penis and vagina out loud. You had to be there to get the context but it was a moment I’m proud of.

Karen and Max came down here with me. It was their first time here. We did Mardi Gras, and a swamp tour, and Max held a baby alligator, and we ate beignets (Max laughed and made the powdered sugar go all over the place), and we caught beads thrown from parade floats, and walked the French Quarter.

Grant proposals are due. My work as Ex Dir is giving me constant brain freeze. I’m running out of steam.

I haven’t posted since December but I’ve been writing. That’s good.

Half of one book (Cid prequel) and half of another (modern-day). I’ve been marking new pages on a note app and am up to 42 this year on the modern-day newbie. That puts the total for modern-day up to about 135. Writing is good.

Finishing is better.

I’ll work some on the plane ride home. I’ve promised myself that. That and a movie  – perhaps a comedy. We could all use a good laugh. We’re heading into the cold and a coming snowstorm.

I read The Bully Pulpit – by Doris Kearns Goodwin – a massive tome about Taft and Roosevelt. It was a long long tough read but totally worth it – even if Teddy R comes out looking like an ass at the end. Small print and many hours reading later…

Taft was an introvert. Long live the introverts. They are different kinds of leaders and good ones too.

It’s 2014. Two months in. 42 pages. Have to catch up.

Advertisements

Pissing Contest

I’ve got some things to say about panels.

I had good experiences last week at the Virginia Festival of Books but it doesn’t always go that way. I’ve also moderated and facilitated panels, workshops, interviews, small and large groups discussions and there’s a few things I think it would be helpful to have said about the experience right from the beginning about the challenges of moderating and participating as an author panelist.

Also, Meredith Cole, the moderator for one of my panels last week was just so good at moderating that I thought using her process as a frame would be useful for all to see.

How to run a panel of authors in 12 challenging, agonizing, jaw-breaking (only kidding) steps:

  1. Give the authors a theme and then try to make that the focus of the discussion. This will make the event different from the usual interview/author questions that come up over and over for authors and will keep them on their toes.
  2. As the moderator, come up with your questions ahead of time and send them to the authors a good week before the event. This will help steady author nerves and give them something constructive to obsess about other than what they will wear to the event.
  3. On the day of the event have all panelists meet half an hour before the event. This will do several things: 1) get introductions out-of-the-way, let everyone size each other up (like gunfighters) and get the authors talking (verbal calisthenics); 2) lets the moderator meet everyone and the authors meet the moderator; 3) helps steady nerves if they need to be steadied; 4) gives the moderator a chance to remind everyone how she will organize the questions, who she will go to first – those kinds of things (especially helpful if authors have not read the questions the moderator gave them ahead of time – hey… I’m a realist); and 5) it will get everyone at the event on time – hopefully – even those who are chronically late will have a 30 minute cushion.
  4. As the moderator, read the authors books so you can tailor the questions to the authors. And… it makes the author feel really good because someone else has read their book.
  5. As the moderator, if you introduce each panelist don’t read their intro from their website: but give just a few bits of information about each that spurs interest in the author but also lets the author still have something to say about himself.
  6. As the author, follow the guideline you are given when you are asked to introduce yourself. If the moderator says take only two minutes then only take two – otherwise you’ll piss everyone off something fierce. A four person panel for 60 minutes can’t have long intros. Even at five minutes each that’s 1/3rd of the time on intros. Short and specific is the way to go.
  7. As the moderator, if you want the authors to read from their book, tell them ahead of time so they can prepare and tell them how long they’ll have – and be firm about the time. Firm. Give them a number of pages (1-2 minutes a page depending on font size and speed of the reader) if you have to as a guide.
  8. As an author, if you are asked to read you should do the following: 1) choose a piece to read that stays within the time limit you’re given or you’ll piss your co-panelists off something fierce; 2) practice reading your piece out loud and with (as my son would say) fluency. Practice reading it through 3x and time yourself. Use tone of voice, body language (eye contact and facial expressions as needed) to give added meaning to your words (fluency). 3) choose something to read that reflects the theme, has sense of completeness in and of itself, and makes them want to go out and buy your book immediately creating a stampede to the cash register.
  9. As the moderator, make sure everyone gets equal time speaking to the audience. If someone dominates and they are not taken down the others will get pissed off something fierce.
  10. As an author, know when to finish and hand the mike over to your co-panelists or you’ll piss them off something fierce.
  11. Listen to what your co-panelists say and refer to what they say, when you can when you speak. For example, “I agree with what Elizabeth said about process and I’ll take it one step further…” It will feel like a conversation to the audience and your co-panelists will respond in kind because you did them a solid and actually listened to what they said.
  12. When you’re finished with the panel, thank your moderator for all the work they put into moderating (so they’ll do it the same way next time – called positive reinforcement – they made you look good so they deserve it) and your co-panelists because you never know when you’ll work together again and a panel is about synergy not independence – you make each other look good.

Let me know if you have any other rules to add. There’s always room for more structure. The one thing I run from as quickly as possible is the moderator who says to a group of authors, “Let’s just get there, mix it up, and see what happens.”

Run away.

Now.

As fast as you can.

Don’t look back…


Espresso, Wool Jacket, and Bad Lighting

Espresso - my son in the background!

I read at Espresso 77 last night. My son sold books for me and gave out free mugs as gifts. Four friends, ten customers, and three employees listened in. I read the opening six pages of Open Wounds and the first five pages of the second part, The Bells of Hell – where Lefty is introduced to the reader and to Cid – the protagonist.

The shop turned off the music.

The customers looked up from their conversations and laptops, took out their earphones, put away their phones.

Just about everybody tuned in for twenty minutes. It’s hard not too in such a small space.

I stood by the register with my back to the milk and condiment cart. The owner’s art-work surrounded me on both walls.

I love this place.

Espresso 77

I wore my Espresso 77 t-shirt which says, “I love espresso,” on the front and Espresso 77 on the back. The writing is in white and red. The t-shirt is black. I wore my special, thick, writer-ly, wool coat. It doesn’t have elbow patches. It is slate black. And it is cool.

I may not be cool.

But my jacket is.

Espresso 77 Reading

My son sold three books – two to friends, and one to a customer who got into the reading and decided to give it a try.

It was just about perfect.

Earlier that day my son and I went to a local pool hall and played ping-pong – 30 pool tables, 5 ping-pong tables, 2 air hockey tables, and one foosball table. I introduced my son to foosball. He liked it – a lot.

If the sun had come out and it had rained diamonds it couldn’t have been a more perfect day.


7 Years Lost and Hard Labor Found

I went to Harlem today to visit a middle school’s eighth grade – PS/MS 161M, Don Pedro Albizu Campos School on 134th and Broadway. It’s right next to City College where I spent a year taking graduate classes in their creative writing masters program. I ran out of money after one year and never went back, but it was a good experience never-the-less. My friend Leslie set it up. She’s an Assistant Principal at the school and, after reading my book, accepted my offer to come in and talk about it with her eighth grade students.

The Library/Media Center was packed with 40 eighth graders, one teacher, and the Librarian/Media Center specialist. They had a smart board ready for me. I laid out my fencing weapons – a foil, a sabre, an épée, and a stage rapier, then talked for twenty minutes, read for twenty minutes and answered questions for ten.

Q&A can be tricky with eighth graders. There can be a lot of silence. These kids were great but I was worried at first as only one girl raised her hand. A boy and another girl seemed to raise their hands but then put them down. Perhaps it was peer pressure or maybe they were just stretching.

I called on the girl with her hand still assertively raised. Thank God she had a question. She opened a notebook she had with her, gazed down what seemed like a list of questions she had prepared, and asked the first of half a dozen that she would try to get to. I don’t remember what her first question was because right after I answered it five hands sprang into the air, then another few right after that. And the questions were good and they kept coming. Here’s a sampling of them:

  • How does publishing work? How do you get a book published?
  • Did your parents support you in trying to be a writer?
  • When did you know that you wanted to be a writer and what made you come to that decision?
  • What do you think it takes to be a writer?
  • Are you working on anything new?
  • Who was helpful to you along the way – like teachers or other people?
  • Have you met famous authors since your book was published?

But this was the best. It wasn’t one of their questions. It was their answer to a question that I asked them. “Which would you rather do, take seven years to write a novel or one month? How many say seven years?”

Almost half the room raised their hands. I was in a bit of shock. I didn’t think any would.

“How many say one month?”

The other half raised their hands.

“Of those who said seven years, why did you say that?”

The girl who asked the first question raised her hand. “Because if it takes seven years then when I hand it in, it will be perfect.” Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

“And why one month?”

A boy raised his hand. “If it takes only one month then I’m writing really well, really fast.” Brilliant again.

I left three books with them – one for each class teacher and one for the library. How could I not? And whoever said middle school years were the lost years?


KLAATU and Keynote at the Historical Society

Queens Historical SocietyReading at The Queens Historical Society on Thursday evening. We were supposed to start at 6:30 and it was 7pm and no one was there. Well… there were three people there but two worked there and one was a boyfriend of one of the women who worked there. The young man and I were talking about fencing so intently neither one of us had noticed that it was after 7pm and no one had shown up for the reading. Don’t get me started talking about fencing.
I let a sigh out and said, “No one’s coming this evening.”
The young man nodded, looking down.
“Shall I present to the three of you?”
A woman appeared at the front door.
All three of my audience members smiled at me. We had a fourth and someone not related in any way to the three who were already present.
I talked for a while about how I got the idea for Open Wounds, then read from it – answered questions for even longer – took a tour of the museum, and headed home. There were only four but they were totally present. I enjoyed myself immensely. Back when I used to perform improv with KLAATU we would perform in front of one or two people all the time. Sometimes we even just performed in front of ourselves. But as Greg Sullivan, our troupe leader always used to say, “You have to perform as if the audience is full and it’s your first time doing it.”
That’s exactly what I did.
I also used my iPad to present with using Keynote for the first time. It worked very well mechanically – very efficient and it looked great. What a cool presentation tool – even better than my Macbook Air…