Open Wounds

Reading

Cimmerian

File:Weird Tales August 1928.jpgCimmerian is a word straight out of Greek mythology meaning mythical people who inhabited a land of darkness. Considering Robert E. Howard wrote about Conan of Cimmeria that has its own truth to it. I love the Conan stories.

If you’ve never read Howard’s Conan stories do so. They’re dark (figures), pulpy, and filled with ideas and thoughts of the first half of the 20th century. Howard defines pulp story for me. His life was a bit of a mess if you read about him but he knew how to tell a story and his character spawned a few hundred (thousand?) spin-offs and many credit him with beginning the sword and sorcery sub-genre. Me I just liked the old Frazetta posters of Conan. Look for the out of print versions of his stories that are collected, unabridged reprints of his originals from Weird Tales. If you want to write in a genre, read the genre. Hell, for that matter if you want to write, read everything, inside and outside of your genre and put some tools in your writer tool box.

Codswullop: British word for nonsense or untruth as in that was a bunch of codswallup. It’s not Greek but its what caught my eye today for “c” also. I have to put that in a book sometime. It might not be Cimmerian but it will make you say Crom.

All right. All right. I’m stretching today. Stretching.


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…


Of Swords and Thunderstorms

I have circled this story again and again in my life.

I see it.

I try to write about it.

I fail.

I see it again.

John Carter comes out this Friday and I’m going to go see a morning or early matinee showing. I’m going to play hooky from my day job. I don’t know how I’m going to do this because I’m booked all day with meetings, but I will.

When I was 13 my best friend was hit by a train and lost his life. It was an accident but no one knows what happenned. No one – not even me. It is a mystery shrouded in a thunderstorm, black skies, and torrential rain.From that day on I picked up Edgar Rice Borroughs’ books from a local stationary store – Wientraubs – and started reading them. Before that moment I was a reader but not with the same intensity, the same desire to disappear that I had after my friend was killed. When I ran out of the titles that Wientraubs carried I went to Walden Books and BDalton. This was long before superstores had taken over the landscape. I read and read.

Reading didn’t bring my friend back, but over time it made the pain less. The first ERB I’d found was The Gods of Mars the second book in the John Carter series. At the time I didn’t know it was a series. All I saw was the incredible Frank Frazetta cover and knew I had to read it. It had been published originally in 1918 but this edition – from the 70’s – had Frazetta’s muscular artwork in line drawings all through the narrative.

The scene that captured my imagination – and captures it still – is the opening. John Carter raises his arms to the skies, looks up at the Red Planet and wishes for it to carry him across the cosmos.

And it does.

I’ve waited 37 years for a movie to come out telling this story and this Friday it appears in movie theaters near you and me.

I’ve got issues about John Carter. I circle around them, though not as much as I used to.

Issues make the writer.

They form the landscape of each of our own individual planets.

They fan the desire to help others transport to worlds they’ve never even dreamed of – even if the world is just like the one they exist in now.

Maybe I’ll see you there – in the darkness of the movie theatre.

If I do.

Bring popcorn.

No butter.


Symbiotic Stew

I travelled to Phili on Monday.

I took the day off from my job to teach a 1hr distance learning writing workshop to 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th graders at three Pennsylvania High Schools. There were about 40 kids in attendance at the three sites. I taught from the UPENN distance learning center, called MAGPI and it was a very cool thing to do. Each school shows up on a huge TV screen as a small 1 foot by 2 foot rectangle. I teach from the MAGPI studio – a small ten by ten space with three cameras, my laptop and Powerpoint, some notes, and a copy of my book to read from. The MAGPI folks don’t pay me for teaching and I cover my own traveling expenses,but I get to teach classes on writing to young writers and that makes it worth every penny.

Today I talked about first lines of novels and how they start the relationship between reader and writer. I’m into this relationship idea. Readers read and interpret and writers direct the interpretation through the words they write. I know this sounds very basic – like I should have gotten this before -but I didn’t. I just had it in my head that writers wrote and readers read – separate from each other. We’re not. We depend on each other, need each other. We’re symbiotes in a way.

The kids were great and I enjoyed speaking with them. They came up with first sentences for their own to-be-written novels that were terrific. I hope to see one in book form one day. It’s the second time I’ve done a workshop with the MAGPI folks and they’ve invited me back for a third workshop in the spring.

On my way home I stopped at a nearby public library and met Dan, their YA specialist. I gave him a copy of my book for the library. He had a big smile on his face when I gave it to him.

I love libraries.


A Good Friday Hang-out Dittie

It’s Friday. I love Fridays.

Today is an especially good Friday (no pun intended) because I’m meeting Andrew Smith this evening and hanging out with him.

I don’t really hang out much not being a real hang out kind of guy – but I thought I should say the words because they would make me sound cool. I got special dispensation from my family to have a hang-out night. I mean… it’s Andrew Smith.

So I’m going in to the city early and not working (really, I’m taking the day off). I’m going to have an hour or two of precious writing time before I meet Andrew. And I’m looking forward to it. This is after going to my son’s holiday show at school in which he will be singing with his class all kinds of christmas and holiday ditties. Now there’s a word, ditties, that doesn’t get used much these days. Maybe this post will help it make a come-back… probably not. And I’m really looking forward to hearing him sing. He’s been practicing a lot. Anyway it’s going to be a great Friday from beginning to end.

Oh yeah. I’m bringing my books to get signed too. Seriously. This chance won’t come around too often.

The Girl Next Door

Also I’m reading on Saturday in Manhattan in Gramercy.

Fellow WestSider Karen DelleCava (author of the YA debut novel A Closer Look) was invited to read at the NYC LearningSpring School Book Fair this Saturday and was kind enough to get me and another WestSider Selene Byrack-Castrovilla (author of Saved by the Music, The Girl Next Store, and Melt) invited too. All three of us will be reading from our novels and signing books this Saturday, December 10th, 247 East 20th Street NY, NY from 1-3pm. If you’re in the neighborhood, come on by.

A Closer Look