Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sloane Crosley Book Tour Review

University Book Store 6-23-10

Sloane Crosley

I don't care for books with collections of essays. Erma Bombeck, Andy Rooney Charles Osgood all have a place in the heart of American culture but really the entertainment value and cultural contribution is lost on me. Kind of like "Sex and the City" or "Real Wives XXX" is lost on me so perhaps I have a blind spot. Hmm?

It still didn't stop me from listening to Sloane Crosley.

A few back her book “I Was Told There'd Be Cake" was found in the hands of co-eds on college campuses and coffee shops all around the country and tonight she came to Seattle with her second book "How Did You Get This Number"

I read most of her first book (“Oh you just have to read this” a friend said) and was not overly impressed. This is not a book reiview, however, it is a review of the author reading.

University Book Store was packed with the exact demographic the witty Ms Crosley finds herself; young post graduate, struggling women in the wake of a 2nd generation post feminist era. I was one of the few males in the room not in attendance with a female companion and defiantly one of only three people born before 1970.

The woman is funny as I listened I realized that when Ms. Sloane's read's aloud the humor comes alive. She is extremely pleasant both on stage and one on one during the signing with her multitude of fans. When Andy Rooney dies, because he won’t retire, CBS could do worse than Ms Crosley as a replacement.

She read one of her essays. A LONG essay which ate up most of the time, then jump right to the Q&A portion to her young fans.

After a few empty, softball, audience questions lacking poignancy. "Sloan what do you like to read? Sloane what side of your family do you get your humor?” (DAMN IT.)

I hit her with a solid right and found out that Sloan Crosley’s wit and charm is as effective a counter punch as Roberto Duran.

Me: "As an essayist, how do you balance being honest in your writing with the fact that it might alienate the people you write about?"

SC: (Smiling and sharp) "Oooh, I like how those are the only two options that you give me to work with?"

It was funny and the crowd laughed with me.

Still she answered the tough question. Ms. Crosley spoke of once having written some unkind things about a girlfriend's man. Of course they went on to get married and as Sloane said "I didn't anticipate that friendship ending that way."
You could see it was honest if not a tender spot. She also said that she believed the responsibility was on the reader (no elaboration on that statement) and never reveals personal details of the individuals she writes about.

Actually the burden sits directly on the essayist: to be honest about family or friends, bosses, or yourself means to reveal to the world, leaving the author vulnerable to pay the private cost.

For the most part, Ms. Sloane’s essays were innocuous and respectful the same way she came across, making for an entertaining evening.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Colston Whitehead Book Tour Review

Third Place Books 6-20-10

I wish I could be as cool as Colston Whitehead. Cool like Miles Davis when he stopped a live Grammy’s appearance to tune his trumpet. Or cool like that sweaty bald Commander in “Top Gun” whose voice never cracks while Iceman and Maverick are under attack.

Colston Whitehead is cool like that. I know cause I saw it.

The self described the “fashionable, skinny, black, guy with fine hands and small wrists,” is compares himself to another famous Harvard alum now in the White House. Mr. Whitehead worked for the coolest newspaper in the land, the Village Voice. His work in the last twelve years allowed him to place his finger on a new era of the African American conscience.

Tonight he delivered a reading to remember.
Mr. Whitehead is not the first author I have seen use props or music during an author reading nor is the first to have music for accompaniment. He is, however, the first I have seen to use an IPAD and to play music (Donna Summer?) to prove a point.

The author is polished, calm, intelligent and well rehearsed: all the things I consider necessary for a successful author reading. Personally I found his routine funny and captivating but as any comedian will tell you, if the audience is flat then even Robin Williams will bomb. Mr. Whitehead’s humor and effort was wasted on an audience so flat, you could have used their affect as an ironing board.


Imagine how the cool sheen would fall off of President Obama if his teleprompter failed in the middle of a speech. Here in the middle of his reading, the author stumbled and stalled and panicked upon discovery that half his speech was missing.

Third Place employees run to look in the green room, is emptying his bag in frantic frustration. The flat perfunctory crowd waited as silent, hell there was hardly a nervous giggle while Mr. Whitehead looked for his notes. Then, Mr. Whitehead did something I had never seen at any kind: he stopped and ran out to his car.
I hoped he would return though there are some authors I wish to God would leave in the middle of the reading and in the future just might suggest that but Mr. Whitehead bravely returned. (Then again Third Place can sell any books unless he signs them)

When he did return without his notes, I witnessed a man, embarrassed and apologetic finish his commentary with grace and dignity from memory. After all the show must go on, but there was no need for apologies because afterward the crowd warmed up and this is what makes author readings and Mr. Whitehead so cool.

ON HIS READING: have a suspicion that Mr. Whitehead takes steps to read his work out loud before committing to publication. When author’s do this, I find the readings do not sound like writing but a story meant for the eyes and ears. Elmore Leonard says that if it sounds like writing he get rid of it and when following that rule it makes the reading portion of the presentation a pleasure to hear.


One interesting tidbit I find worth of mention was Mr. Whitehead found difficulty writing the first third of a book. Many times authors complain about the difficulty of middle and the end. When pressed as to why, Mr. Whitehead used the analogy of a car trip. “When I start out I know where I am going right?”

For Mr. Whitehead the first person or third person or narrative structure of the book is the hard part. He claims he writes in various forms trying and failing until the correct style emerges to match his tale. He averages about six to eight pages a day and can only work in the mornings taking as long as six months to establish the first outline/draft. The way the words flow out from the page through his mouth indicating a man who works hard, really hard at his art.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Lee Kravitz Book Tour Review

6-15-10 University Book Store

I am telling you more action can happen at one author reading than any crappy 3D vampire romance movie. Two things happened that I had yet to see before. More on that later

So fresh off an appearance on the "Today Show" comes the very nice and charming author Lee Kravitz, who wrote the very nice and charming book "Unfinished Business" which is his personal story of purging out all the personal demons of his life.

After running a high-powered high stress job as the executive editor of Parade Magazine, Kravitz made the mistake of allowing his career define him. (Think of the old Harry Chapin song "Cats in the Cradle") Hell, the man didn't even find time to attend his beloved Grandma's funeral.

The sand slips under he feet; the tide goes out and Mr. Kravitz is unceremoniously fired flat on his ass. (Think of "Up in the Air") The culture he once found himself so apart of has vanished into the evening of ex-coworkers no longer available for companionship and he finds himself taking into account all that he has abandoned and undo what went wrong.

On his journey, Kravitz pays money owed from over 30 years ago, he visits his aunt who has been isolated from his family, faces down his grade school bully, taking us all on the kind of personal journey that people can relate. Now he is out to encourage others not to make the same mistake/

It's "Ivan Illyich" meets "My name is Earl" with a little "Eat Pray Love” I got it.

I liked his reading style as Mr. Kravitz reads from his book in a nice loud voice but drops to living room conversation during his talk with the audience.

Then the first strange thing happened,

Mr. Kravitz is a communicator happy with the intimacy of the audience. He makes people comfortable. This author reading turns into a focus group. Intelligent, well-meaning conversation taking place among strangers as they express concerns of today's work place and world problems while Mr. Kravitz moderates with pleasure. For a moment it was really nice,


Remember this is the University district. Cutting edge, academic and post avant-garde grunge. We are four block from where "Alice and Chains" singer Layne Staley died of a heroin overdose. It’s colorful here.

Two guys arrive late. Street corner poets, freelance writer, jailhouse lawyer types who scratch out a vice by getting petitions signed and working the car washes.

One sounds like Mickey Rourke in the beginning of "Johnny Handsome" (go ahead You Tube it) and he is there promoting his buddy who has "an interesting story” So the "interesting man" begins to describe his life story to Lee Kravitz at the expense o of the audience. The crowd dynamic changes and people begin to shift in their chairs as this guy begins to take over.

To his credit, Mr. Kravitz handles the questions with class and tries to move the subject but the "interesting man" contributes more after the next question, and I really hate when I ask the speaker a question and one of the audience members feels they need to answer. DAMN IT.

Then Johnny Handsome breaks in on about another story by the "interesting man" and the crowd is now standing up to leave as if they have suddenly contracted a rectal cyst. Mr. Kravitz is calm but tries to step away from the podium announcing its time to sign books. The "interesting man" and his promoter move to his signing desk and continues to pitch Kravitz ideas of his book as the store closes.

If this were J.K. Rowling her security detail would have put these guys in Lake Washington but Mr. Kravitz handles it with aplomb, obviously not wishing to create another situation he may have to atone for in his next book.

I hope Lee Kravitz sells 100,000 copies and inspires the world to change. I wonder if he will ever come back.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Hilary Thayer Hamann's Book Tour Review

Hilary Thayer Hamann 6-12-10 Elliot Bay Books

Big Author reading night in Seattle. Jonathan Alter from Newsweek is reading to standing room only the Downtown Library while Jeffrey "The Bone Collector" Deaver is up at Third Place Books scaring the hell out of everyone, so where do I spend my evening? Listening to Chic Lit of course. Give the new gal a chance I say. Wow what an eye opener.

The spacious basement of the new Elliot Bay Books is quiet. I am one of eleven souls. No surprise. I only found out about Hilary Thayer Hamann’s reading from her debut novel “Anthology of an American Girl while surfing the web site Rat Reader.
I Google her.

The book has been getting nice press. Her personal story of getting her novel to print is compelling. She is one of the great self publishing stories in the modern era having self promoted her novel forcing the publishing world to notice her talent. Sounds good so far.

I read the first two chapters. It is a coming of age tale about a girl growing up in same time as the author her relationships, and explores the points in which she “shuts down” as the author later described in her talk. The writing is stream of conscious style with flowing poetic vocabulary deserving of the kudos she has gotten in the press. Her descriptions are rich and vivid and I am looking forward to this reading.

Ms. Hamann arrives and greets an obvious old friend with warmth that does not translate to the icy profile photo in the book jacket. Maybe the photographer needs fired I think. As she looks over the small crowd I overhear Ms. Hamann ask the lady from Elliot Bay Books, “Did you guys promote this event?”

OH SNAP! Did she just insult one of the best known book stores on the West Coast? The Elliot Bay employee was polite, said that they had promoted her appearance and apologized. Then Ms. Hamann suggested they wait ten minutes in hopes that three hundred people will walk in at the last minute.

On to her reading. Ms. Hamann is a decent presence but for someone who trained in theater she looked uncomfortable on stage. Granted she had just flown in to the city this afternoon but still show some heart.

Her novel is more of a tome going nearly six hundred pages for a first time author. Her reading selection continued the full elegant descriptions from the chapters I read, as she uses every word in the dictionary. She does write beautiful yet blind spots occur when an author falls in love with their own prose.

The question and answer session was revealing. She answered questions the way she writes, never missing the opportunity to use the plethora of polysyllabic words from her prodigious vocabulary as she transitioned into the tangents she required to express herself. So imagine my surprise when Ms. Hamann answered a question and used the word “retarded” in its political incorrect form.

Blind spot. Ms. Hamann made the comment that she didn’t understand why her novel didn’t translate over to more men. I asked her if she thought that the title had anything to do with being a barrier to attracting the wider male audience she desired. Her answer was defensive going on about how she loves men and that yes there is a pink cover of the book but there were “enough novels out there with fishnet stockings and stiletto’s on the cover and if they (the male reader) can’t get past that then I don’t think they will get the novel.”

At the end Ms. Hamann complimented the audience and the city of Seattle. by saying that she has only been here this afternoon but informed the audience that she was “surprised” by her first visit that Seattle had so much going on.

“You got Amazon and Starbucks and Microsoft and… and what else big is here?”

“Uh, Boeing?” says a man in front of me.

It was embarressing admission. Someone please tell her that the that there is life beyond the Hamptons and Manhattan.

Should have seen Jeffrey Deaver.

Neil Landau's Author Book Tour Review

6-8-10 University Book Store

One of Claudio’s rules for a successful author reading is to have the appropriate setting for the type of reading. This was not the right place to hear Screen writer Neil Landau speak about his new book “101 Things I learned in Film School”

The University Book Store closes its doors by 8:00pm and so the author’s only have fifteen minutes to talk beginning at a7:00pm leaving time for questions and signing books. There are times when the author is so lousy that I wish they were subjected to these conditions. As far as having Neil Landau talk under these conditions: Boo, Hiss! I haven’t felt this cheated since my prom date dumped me for another guy; not that I am bitter of course.

Screenwriters are interesting in that they have the ability to compact the story that might take the novelist four hundred pages.

Mr. Landau is a writer’s writer. He has written screenplays, television, plays, along with serving on the faculty of UCLA’s film school. Given the short period of time given to the author he spoke in the same compact manner of screen writer made the most of his short time allotted by the book store.
Highlights of his speech on screen writing can be summed up by quoting one rule: Don’t be boring. Well as a present he's not.

So engaging is Neil Landau speaking in public that I couldn’t keep up taking notes. He says plots are usually forgettable but the secret to a good screen play is to have the audience build interest in the character so that they are emotionally invested with what the character is going through.

The character should be “uniquely flawed” in that his or her real issues lie beneath acts that are to express on the screen. He points to movie characters like Sergeant William James in “The Hurt Locker” or Robert De Niro in “Taxi Driver” as characters who are flawed and even repulsive but the audience has an investment to the point of caring that people care what happens to them at the end of the film.

Mr. Landau explained that good movies have characters that make the audience uncomfortable. The audience should be invested in a character to the point where they can’t watch as they destroy or humiliate themselves on screen. Think of how Jon Favreau in “Swingers” continues to make an ass of himself by leaving message after message on a woman’s answering machine, trying to get it right, until Favreau’s character ultimately blows it. The writer succeeds as they, the viewers want to reach through the screen and hang up the phone for Favreau.

He also talked of the difficulty in how concise the scripts today must be compared to when he first started in the business. Movies scripts are now cut down from 120 minutes to no more than 110.

With the little time allowed for his reading, Mr. Landau read a small passage from his book and read clear and quick. His intelligence and passion for his craft and his work made it understandable why he is on faculty for one of the premier Film School’s in the world.

One last thing nugget worth mentioning...Oops, sorry ran out of time, so buy the book to find out.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Dave Boling's Book Tour Review

4-29-10 Seattle Library SW Branch

There are three kinds of historical event writing. Those who were there, those who were personally affected by the event, and those unaffected and able to take an objective look at the situation.

Dave Boling was not not in Guernica in April of 1937 nor does he claim Basque heritage. In fact the only connection he had to the slaughter of the Basque village by the German Nazi's was hearing the story from his in-laws who were Basque immigrants.

The idea of a Chicago born sports columnist in the Seattle area having the gall to write the historical novel on the history of Basque suppression was not well received in the Basque regions, of Spain. Once the books success took over and the people and critics embraced the novel as a respectful actuate work, Boling became an international sensation. That would be enough for most author's but the historical events had a profound impact on Boling personally. Still for a man who grew up knowing nothing about the Basque people the novel connected him them in a way that changed his life.

Much of that comes from Boling's engaging warm personality as he reads this night to a small audience, from a book written in 2007.

He tells the audience that he is willing to speak to anyone from small book clubs or large venues; willing to share with anyone the story that has come to mean so much to him.

An hour with Boling talking about his novel and experiences make you realize that this was a man who took an objective look at a tragedy and became personally affected by the experience of his world wide acclaim. Once Boling begins reading from the novel, the audience becomes immersed into the characters and the plights they faced after the Nazi war machine practiced their Blitzkrieg before invading Poland.

Rare have I seen an author moved by his own words as he read from his own book. It was even more rare considering the time since the book has been published for three yeasr. It wasn't the words that bring Boling to a near misty eyed state but I got the feeling that Boling still feels the responsibility he took on to bring this tragic tale.

It is a powerful thing to witness.

James Patterson never accomplished that.

Walter Mosley Book Tour Review

Walter Mosley April 2 2010 Seattle Public Library

Never had I been so excited to see an author reading when I heard that Walter Mosley was coming to town and he couldn’t have been more disappointing.

So many fans attended the sold out event (three hundred plus) that they were standing in the stair way breaking every fire code in Seattle.

Mosley has written many novels including the suburb debut novel “Devil in a Blue Dress” not to mention an underrated how to book called “This year you write your novel” and yet as the time goes having read more of his I could not help but feel his writing had changed for the worse as he moved away from his earlier works with the Easy Rawlins novels. Still I remained a fan.

Maybe it was the vast size of the audience that allowed Mosely to act the way he did or perhaps it was fatigue of a long book tour or maybe he didn't feel well. Give me an excuse: any excuse. Mosley lectured the audience rather than talked to them and the thing that really put me over the edge was his commandment to the audience “I like answering questions. I may not answer your question. I may instead answer a question that I would rather answer”

I can appreciate that feeling having cringed deeply with the amount of inane audience questions over the years but these were his people, his base and to talk down to them did not serve Mr. Mosley in selling more books or winning any new fans. I may have been in the minority among those who worship this man’s work and were willing to accept anything he had to say as nothing less than brilliant.

At the end of the lecture (let’s not call it a reading) a representative from Elliot Bay books jumped out of her seat and gushed over Mosley to the degree that I thought I might offer him a towel to wipe the praise off his ego.

There were good things. Mr. Mosley's humor was dry and at times he was humorous but as an honest fan of a author who made hero's of flawed men I wish had never seen Mr. Mosley’s flaws.

Megan Chance Book Tour Review

Megan Chance 1-5-10 Third Place Books

I have a soft spot in my heart for author Megan Chance from the moment I walked by a writers conference meeting room and overheard her say something memorable. There she sat on a panel for Romance writers and yelled at the audience, "For God's sake people be professional."

Now that is a woman who knows how to get a message across. I had to sit in on the discussion being one of three men who engulfed her knowledge and spirit.

I decided to include this post after reviewing notes I took six months ago.

If you see her at an author reading, Chance is as comfortable in front of a audience as she is behind the computer. This is no surprise since she once fronted a band as the lead singer in her youth. It's also not hard to imagine her twenty five years ago belting out Pretender's songs to a bunch of mullet headed boys dancing with girls sporting big hair, giant hooped earrings and over sized belts. (My God we need to get Miami Vice back on the air.)

The clarity of Chance's voice and the ability to project her ideas across the room make the microphone obsolete and her ability to tell a story moved the hour along quickly despite the subject of her book "Prima Donna."

After listenting to her reading I only had one thought "Who the hell thought 19Th century opera could be so compelling?"

Historical Romance is not my thing but the post Reconstruction era in the U.S. presents some rich opportunity for an author to tell the story of America. Being an expert in that era, Chance wanted to write of the most famous woman in the U.S. who must go into hiding after committing murder. Think what Madonna would do if she commited murder.

In the 19th century, Chance explains the most famous of women were the opera singers leading the author to recount her journey into learning opera especially the 19th century singers known as Prima Donna's.

Chance's reading this evening made the world of opera and 1880 Seattle as dangerous as any world James Cameron could create and in that sense, the author may have done the impossible by writing a suspence/romance about opera, that could even appeal to men. Now if she could just work in a helicopter gunship...

Martha Grimes Book Tour Review

Martha Grimes 4-6-10 Third Place Books

Out of respect for Martha Grimes and her long career I will not reveiw her Author Event.

As I was leaving there was a woman with not one but two shopping bags full of Ms. Grimes novels. It must have been a complete collection and then some. It was really nice to see such devotion to a long time author still producing.

Phillip Margolin Book Tour Review

Phillip Margolin 6-03-10

The audience who went to listen to Philip Margolin read from his newest novel "Supreme Justice", were in for a surprise. He didn’t read and it wasn't missed.
Time and time again I have listened to authors who have talent and drive to put pen to paper and yet deliver readings that are pedantic, condescending or even sophomoric. (Yes I got a new thesaurus) I had always heard from author Robert Dugoni that Margolin was great to see in person and he was spot on.

The trouble is with some authors that they come across scared of readers who actually want to hear them speak. Margolin, a defense attorney has argued death penalty cases and once in front of the US Supreme Court so this veteren writer not only wasn’t afraid the thirty people wait for him at Third Place Books he was estatic to present that night.

Margolin arrived late after talking with the previous author moved the microphone away so that the echo of his booming voice would not distract from the message. With the energy of a new writer Margolin laid it all out that evening as if he were the featured speaker at Thrill Fest.

Then another miracle occurred He started from the beginning of his career and let loose a compelling journey that led him to this point. Margolin opened by telling his personal story about going from Defense attorney to block buster selling author of some fine legal thrillers. Now you would think that by this time the telling the stame story would wear on any author. Margolin comes across as a man who success has translated from a "look at me" writer to a "I did it and so can you."

I expect this from new authors trying to make a name for themselves, not from a veteran.

Two nuggets from Margolin on the craft of writing his way.

-He works from an outline anywhere from 25-60 pages. This is not the Roman numeral outline but as he puts it what he calls a “talking outline”. He talks through the story and if it doesn’t come to full circle and all the loose ends tied up, then he corrects it.
-He doesn’t write a single word until the outline is finished and the ending is complete. Period.
-Outlines can take him as long as three to five months to write for plotting.

Says Margolin, “I never get writers block because I work from an outline.”

The man has passion for being a lawyer and for being a writer came across loud and clear and anyone who gets the chance to see him speak should.

Have I ever read any of his novels? No, but I buy in the future.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Sebastian Junger's Book Tour review

Sebastian Junger Third Place Books 5-22-10

Took in Red Hot Author, Sebastian Junger, for a reading on his new book "WAR". For a Saturday evening it was standing room only. The manager at Third Place Books told me they underbooked the room. Yeah no shit.

Frankly I didn't know what to expect when I went to listen to Junger speak but in my mind I had him pictured as the second coming of Hemingway which is a common comparison by more people than just myself.

Junger doesn't look at all like the great Heminway who swashbucked his way across Italy and France for subject material and I'm not sure you will find Junger arm wresting in Key West but otherwise it is a fair comparrison.
Junger slashed and burned his way across the planet in places like Bosnia and Iran after deciding to change careers from cutting down trees to becoming a freelance writer.
He comes across a decent serious type who would not suffer fools. Its not to say Junger could not crack a joke on occasion but it is doubtful the joke would come at anyone's expense incapable of defending themselves.
He attached himself to an Army unit in Afganistan charged with facing some of the toughest fighting in that war and lived to tell stories of death and personal near death. Junger would not talk much abouth his personal event instead focusing on the men who were the subject of his book.

Junger may be a tough guy but there is a decent side to him when he presents to an audience. He does appolgize ahead of time to ladies in the audience for reading outloud some vulger selections but he does not apollogize for writing them.

It is Jungers wish to present the story of life in the Korengal Valley of Afganistan in as apolitical a fashion as possible through his writing. His book reading this night was an attempt to do the same, thus making it a comfortable evening for anyone attending. No matter what side you might be on.

Author Deanna Fei's Book Tour Review

Deanna Fei Third Place Books 5-26-10

Enough with the Amy Tan comparisons. Wait, all right Author Deanna Fei’s new novel “A Thread of Sky” sounds like Joy Luck Club meets As I Lay Dying, but give the woman a break. She lived in China for three years, taking seven years to bring her first novel to print. Besides, Tan wrote JLC twenty years ago so maybe there might be some room on the shelves for a new perspective on the Asian female experience in America.

Her book is an attempt to bond three generations of “strong women” each with different backgrounds and points of view by sending them on a trip to China. It’s an ambitious attempt at as a first time novelist presents the story from the point of view of all six women

Close your eyes while she reads selections from her novel and you might swear it is story time at the local library. Fei has lovely toned down speaking pattern that sounds more like Northern California than Flushing N.Y. where she was rasied,

She is charming, combining private school East Coast sorority politeness with the enthusiasm of a writer who had worked long and hard to arrive at this point in her life. She was engaged with the craft of writing, spoke clear with no hesitations indicating knowledge of her subject and was the kind of author you hope will hit it big.

I have a soft spot for first time novelist on their maiden voyage to the book stores for that first tour experience.

Fei’s best moments were during the Q&A sessions and did well as she fielded some pointed questions. She denied this work was autobiographical but when pressed by an audience member, Fei admitted there was a fear from her family for backlash about certain characterisics shared between them and family members.

The problem with Ms. Fei's reading was that by the end so much plot and character had been revealed that there was little left for the prospective book buyer to anticipate reading. Granted other authors have read sections from the middle and last third of the book (Nick Hornby come to mind) but it is risky when trying to inspire people to lay down $25 for a promising new author.