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Here I am with Sue LittleÂ at the Jabberwocky Bookshop in Newburyport, Massachusetts
I’m home for a quick laundry change before I head out on the road again.Â Â It’s beenÂ lovely meeting booksellers and readers, and my one regret is that I haven’t been traveling with a camera, so I have very few photos to share.Â Â So far I’ve had bookstore events in Lexington KY, Dayton and Cincinnati, as well as stores in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Maine.Â Â
Authors who’ve never been on tour probably wonder what’s expected of them when they appear at an event.Â Do you talk?Â Do you read?Â Do you just sign books?Â The answer is… it’s up to you.Â Â Â One best-selling fantasy writer told me that he avoids doing a plannedÂ talk or reading.Â Instead, he simply greets readers and signs books.Â He thinks that readers are leery of getting “trapped” for an hour, listening to an author talk.Â “They just want to drop in and getÂ their book signed,” he said.Â “They don’t want to wait around for the autograph.”Â Â
Other authors believe that a reading is the best way to please their audience.Â If you let readersÂ have aÂ taste of the book, they’ll be more inclined to buy it.Â
I tend to avoid doing readings, because I thinkÂ readers areÂ interested in what they can’tÂ learn from the book, and that’s the background of the story.Â Where didÂ I getÂ my idea?Â What interesting facts did I turn up while writing it?Â Â How did I get into writing in the first place?Â But every so often, a reader will express disappointment that I didn’t read.Â “I wanted to hearÂ the story told in your voice,” one woman said.Â SoÂ maybe it makes sense to read a short passage or two.Â I’m still not certain.
What I’ve been doing this time on tour isÂ talk about the historical background for MEPHISTO CLUB.Â I’ve talked about demons in the Bible, about the Book of Enoch, andÂ the Nephilim.Â I’ve talked about beliefs in Armageddon andÂ about my own childhood brushes with the paranormal.Â I share some of the truly spooky stories I’ve heard over the past few weeks. Â A few nights ago, IÂ debated the nature of evil with one of my audience members, a passionately opinionated young man who disagreed with me about whetherÂ evil actually exists.Â (He didn’t think it did.) Â It was an interesting dialogue, and even though the rest of the audience lost patience with him , I enjoyed the debate.Â (And to my surprise, despite the fact he clearly disagreed with me, he bought the book!)Â
I don’t use notes.Â I just stand up and start talking.Â Of course I do have a pretty good idea of what I’ll be presenting ahead of time, and I know which punchlines invariably get the strongest reactions — the collective gasp or the predictable outburst of laughter.Â But every presentation is just a little bit different, and that’s the fun of it.Â You never know if someone will take offense and walk off in a huff.Â A startling question can send your talk veering off into new directions.Â I love the back-and-forth of it all, and I always hope that SOMEONE will ask a question.Â Because there’s nothing worse than an audienceÂ that just sits there and doesn’t ask you anything.Â
Over the years, asÂ I’ve gainedÂ experience on the road, I’ve addedÂ bits and pieces to my repertoire so that I can expand the talk at an instant’s notice.Â If someone asks about my research process, I can talk for ten or fifteen minutes about how I worked with NASA to write my book GRAVITY.Â If asked about the premise for VANISH, I can talk at length about real cases of corpses waking up in morgues.Â Â I can give off-the-cuff lectures on leprosy, or famous families who killed for a living, or mad cow disease, because these are all topics thatÂ I’ve used in my thrillers.Â Stand me up at a podium, and I can talk till I’m hoarse.Â
That’s what writing ten thrillers has done for me.Â It’s given me a wealth of topics to talk about.Â
But of course I also know when to shut up, and I try to wrap it up after half an hour, max.Â BecauseÂ by then, the bookseller wants to go home,Â people want their books signed, and I’m ready for my martini.
If you’re an author about to goÂ on your first tour, you’ll discover what works for you.Â While you’re speaking,Â pay attention to your audience.Â If you see someone nodding off, pick up the pace of your talk.Â Switch subjects or throw in a never-fail anecdote.Â You’ll acquire themÂ over time, the little stories that you know will always get a reaction.Â
We’re writers, and we’re expected to entertain.Â We already know how to do it on the page, but while standing up in front of an audience?Â That takes practice.