Saturday, November 20, 2010

Brandon Sanderson Book Tour Review

This was an oversight on my part not posting this earlier. Reading date was Sep 14 2010

The Short Version: The fantasy community turns out in force to hear a great reading by an author I admit to knowing nothing about. The author demonstrated a rare display of humanity not seen before at any author reading and joined the cause to support small book stores.

Never been personally attracted to Fantasy literature but this blog is not about the genre. It’s about the author, how they present their product and are they worth going to see.

With Jonathan Franzen in town tonight charging $50 bucks a ticket I decided to give “some guy” named Brandon Sanderson a listen. I don’t have time to check out Mr. Sanderson prior to attending and I admit know nothing about him or his work. I decide to show up believing that it is going to be a quiet reading with few people attending.

Sometimes I’m not so bright.

This “some guy” turned out to draw the biggest crowd I have yet to see at the University Book store. It was to the point that staff were moving back shelves of books and squeezing in every chair they could and it still wasn’t enough room. If the fire marshal walked inside his teeth would have fallen out of his mouth.

The size of the crowd wasn’t the only first to this reading. I was shocked to find out how many had read a book after only three weeks post release. By my count nearly twelve people were reading the book while they waited for Mr. Sanderson to appear.

Mr. Sanderson new novel “The Way of Kings” is the first of a ten part series. At a thousand pages and nearly $30 a copy this novel had all the makings of a marketing nightmare not to mention the publishers risk involved if this series doesn’t take off.

But Fantasy readers are committed fans. No they didn’t come to the reading, dressed up waving swords and wands the way they do at Comic-con. They came to listen and learn. From my point of view this crowd asked some of the most engaging questions I have heard during an audience Q + A.

The Reading:

The second this round face icon walked in the room there was a huge burst of applause few authors receive.

Even the introduction by University Book Store buyer, Duane Wilkins, was entertaining as he fed raw meat of inside Fantasy lit jokes to the crowd that went right over my balding head.

Now I am not a fan who drinks his Kool-aid but I liked Sanderson as a presenter. You could tell he loved his craft and was so comfortable in front of the crowd that he had that special ability to shrink the room down to an intimate feel. He is young (34) and yet his body of work is profound. He explained how he can work on multiple projects at the same time.

For Sanderson the process of editing is different than writing. The compartmentalization of the two disciplines allows him to work on the various projects simultaneously. The author claims he maxes out at 6 hours writing new material but often edits and revises up to fourteen hours a day.

Another interesting point was his admission that Mr. Sanderson wrote 13 novels before the first one was accepted.

Nothing earth shattering at this reading. It was a classic well done presentation UNTILL…

In the middle of a question Sanderson stopped talking. A man from the audience, holding a book in one hand and a small child in the other, got up to leave the reading.

Most authors would have let this pass but Sanderson, realizing the man had his priorities with his child first, STOPPED EVERTHING and offered to sign the book right then so the man could leave with a sighed copy. It was so human and cool that I began to applaud along with the others. This is what any author reading should be about, the fans first.

Then Sanderson went an extra step that should be required of every author in the Galaxy. He finished his Q & A session early so that the store could ring up last minute sales and then Sanderson actually implored the crowd to buy something, if not his book, any book or anything from the University Book Store. His was a battle cry to support the independent book sellers was as loud and as passionate as his fans were for his work.

That is a Fantasy we all can share in.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Jess Walter Writing Class at Hugo House

Jess Walter held a writing work shop focused on the beginning of the novel and how to find the voice of the book. So this was not an author reading. It does answer the kind of questions audiences ask at these readings so I felt it worth posting.

Here are some of Mr. Walter's pearls of wisdom worth mentioning that I found interesting on the craft of novel writing.

“I never like the question ‘Do you outline?’ because it often comes from other writers and what they are asking is this: Am I normal? Am I doing this right? So whether you outline or not, the answer is that whatever you are doing is the correct way to write.”

“I associate writing with things I love. I begin each day with a large latte, and one of my wife’s special cookies and I begin to write about 6 am. The closer I get to being finished the earlier I get up 5:30, 4:40. I answer no e-mail and no internet. Just focus on the writing with the things in life I associate with pleasure.”

“I never show anyone what I have written until it is done. I write it till I am finished with it and it makes séance to me. Then I let my wife and friends and publisher look at it for feedback.”

“’Citizen Vince’ (Edgar Award Winner Best Mystery Novel) is about three things: Politics, Doughnuts and the Witness Protection Program. Those three things made sense to me and what every subjects makes sense to you that is the way you should write your book. Find things that connect in a manner that make sense to you.”

Ed Skoog Nancy Rawles Jess Walter

Tonight, the Richard Hugo House presented the opening of its Literary Series “Under the Influence.” In its commitment to bring to the stage established authors presenting new works, Under the Influence has been a growing success in the Seattle art scene since its inception in 2007. Tonight featured Poet Ed Skoog, author Nancy Rawles and author Jess Walter.

Ed Skoog

As a rule I don’t care for poetry readings but I respect the craft and the ability of the poet to manipulate the language in a way that is not a part of common vernacular. Ed Skoog, himself, admits many people don’t like poetry readings but then again, Ed Skoog is not your normal poet.

First of all, the man is physically huge. Shake his hand and your whole appendagedisappears behind a fist of flesh. If he squeezed tight it would be hard to guess what would be louder, the sound of my bones cracking or the scream I would generate.

After Mr. Skoog’s introduction he takes the stage behind a far too small sized podium. He has the dignified manner of an Ivy league History teacher but his jokes are working on the the enthusiastic audience. It is his voice that concerns me. It is soft smooth and soothing as yoga studio. In the dim dark auditorium of Hugo House I am sure Mr. Skoog’s voice is going to cause me to drift asleep and plop my head into the lap of author Dave Boling, sitting next to me.

That was until Mr. Skoog began with a poem about drinking in a dive bar. YES! This is the way to start a poetry reading. Open up by channeling Charles Bukowski and I don’t care if the rest of the poems are so sappy I will require an insulin injection. You have won my heart.

Nancy Rawles

Next up is novelist and playwright Nancy Rawlings. Among her work, Rawles is the author of “My Jim” which expands the character of the runaway slave in “Huckleberry Finn” by telling what happened to the wife and children he left behind for freedom.
She is an amazing reader and could make a James Patterson novel palatable.

Her original piece tonight, was inspired by youth and the internal conversations one has when attraction takes over reason. It was a stream of conscious piece with each section covered the range of emotion from jealousy and rage to being silly to embarrassment to physical and intellectual attractions; all things that pass through the range of human emotion.

I am doing a lousy job of describing this piece. It was so complex and so intricate that my pitiful description cannot do this justice. It would be like trying to explain a Picasso painting to a blind man. I hope this story gets published or better yet I hope that if she ever reads at a literary event people go to listen to her talk. The lady is that good.

Jess Walter

Finally there was the headliner Jess Walter. Mr. Walter is the kind of versatile author most college students dream about becoming.

He is the ONLY author in history, to received the Edger Award for Mystery and has been a National Book Award finalist for literary fiction. In an age where every author is shoved into a certain genre so that the publishing houses can slot them, Walter has the freedom and talent to drive a publishing house, marketing department nuts.

Putting Walter’s reading style in context is not difficult. He reads clear and straight forward with little stage drama but an amazing amount of inflection that he draws out of his baritone voice and it is understandable why Mr. Walter does his own reading for the audio version.

So what does the man with this kind of pedigree present to the audience? A zombie story of course. Why not it was near Halloween.

Personally I am over Zombies, I am Zombied out. I understand the social analogies and the appeal to society eating one another but damn it I have had it with Zombies. Of course many said the same thing about Vampires so what do I know?
Walter story was creepy and humorous and strange and by Walter’s own admission unfinished. What as fascinating is that Mr. Walter did something I have never seen before at a reading. He presented an unfinished work.

As my old college professor tried to instill in me years ago, each sentence must stand alone. Each chapter must stand alone from the beginning to the end. Mr. Walter took an opening of a story, found a plausible ending for the reading and like the cliff hangers of old television left the door open for more.