Monday, December 19, 2011

John De Graaf and David Batker Book Tour Review

Town Hall Seattle

University Book Stores

December 13, 2011

I don’t know what exists in heaven but hell must be a cocktail party full of Economists with no booze.

Filmmaker,John De Graaf and EconomistDavid Batker showed up today to discuss their new book "What's the Economy for Anyway?"

This book is based off of the movie/info/documentary the two men made that has received a great deal of notice. It’s backwards since usually the movie comes after the book but hats off to the two authors, for this accomplishment.

The book’s basic premise is that the measure of the economy should be in question, and in fact the whole measurement economic value should be changed. These are utopian ideals based on principles and while some of their concepts are immeasurable and intangible the two men’s presentation was downright solid.

Now I am no economist and I could not be further outside my area of expertise but let me say, economics is a boring a subject but tonight it could not have been any more entertaining.

Inside Town Hall’s basement I am waiting with my friend Nick who tags along
Next door to the lecture hall, there is a raucous reception, (invite only), with about forty people in honor of the authors.

I am sitting in the front row engaged in conversation with a delightful older lady about how she believes this movie was important and the economic concepts are spot on. She is a big fan of the movie (which I have never heard of) and talks as if Nick and I both own a personal copy so we go along with the conversation. Then a man sits between us and he starts talking about the book. Another man seated behind joins in on the conversation. It’s so happy here among strangers, I thought we were all going to have to rent a house together.

Then a man stands next to me. We make eye contact and he introduces himself to me as David. Swear to God he is the friendliest man I ever met and oh yeah by the way I had no fricking idea who I am talking to now.

David: “Nice to meet you Claudio”
Me: “You too. Wow big crowd. Were you over at the reception?”

OF COURSE was at the reception: this was David Batker, he was the guest of honor. But no I’m still oblivious and we keep talking until I make a complete ass of myself asking, “Have you read this book?”

If this had been another author, say Andrew Vachss, I would have been escorted out to the back of the building and beaten until I apologized.

Mr. Batker, could not have been more gracious in telling me he was in fact the co-author. The lack of pretension was so genuine, and so refreshing that I thought more authors could use this man’s charm to connect with potential readers.

Oh yeah, the reading.

John De Graaf, the film maker of the duo starts out the evening. He is a veteran film maker and wears the same mischievous smile you saw plastered on the Caddyshack gopher.

Mr. De Graaf opens well by stating that there will be no boring PowerPoint presentations because in his words, “power corrupts and PowerPoint corrupt absolutely.” It’s a funny line which leads into Mr. De Graaf showing the first part of the documentary that staring who else but the man I didn’t recognize: David Batker.

There is a danger in showing a movie at a reading. It has all the trappings of someone inviting you to watch their wedding video. It can be boring and staid and the presenter risks losing the audience or worse, hiding behind celluloid but De Graaf shows just enough to get the conversation started and it works.

Tonight is about left wing utopian ideals. It's about how we all need more time off, how people in other countries besides the U.S. are healthier and less sick when they work less. How other countries are more productive than the U.S. with more time less stress and a greater sense of community.

They wrote a book about problems of the world and they actually offer their own solutions that support their arguments.

Tonight they fed us statistics about what Americans feel, what the world should be and how wealth should be distributed. They talk of how outdated the GDP is as a measuring tool for the economy and how it is relied upon so much that it handcuffs progress. De Graaf and Batker would like to include the Bhutan’s National Happiness Index.

They believe the economy will grow if we change accounting practices, not like Enron changed accounting practices, but a new paradigm; such as including the environmental value of wetlands protecting the Gulf Coast. Batker argues that the value of a wetland protecting the Gulf Coast from tropical storms should be included so that the inland destruction averted by wetland preservation would save millions in rebuilding cost for the future.

Regarding the authors, I must say that I appreciate the level of discourse the two men are willing to engage in with the audience. They were entertaining, open, kind men who did not waste my time as they presented their book. (Kudos to Batker, he actually asked people to buy the book. No doubt the publisher is happy as is the sponsorUniversity Book Storeas was the audience.

Tonight they were preaching to the choir but I had the feeling that De Graaf and Batker would have engaged an opposing views if there were any to be found in the crowd. In fact allow me to make a serious observation of the audience; it was so far to the left that we were in danger of going full circle and running into Fox News Corp headquarters.

This audience, resembled the crowd downtown Seattle's "occupy protest movements" and some even had police pepper scented body spray. So help me God if one person stepped up and offered a counter argument to Batker I would have called 911 for that person’s safety.

Questions like how “other” places receive Batker and De Graaf came up. De Graaf mentioned that other parts outside of Seattle had been receptive to their ideas even in the “South” Yes because we all understand that NO SOUTHERNER is concerned about environment, community, or having the desire to change the status quot regarding the economy. No, only people in Seattle have the moral fiber and acuity to understand what is best for the world. We all know there are no are no right minded conservatives here just like we all know there are no liberals in Idaho.

Of course I am being sarcastic. I encourage people to go to these things to expand their minds. I enjoy listening to conversation that moves people and love that the Tea Party and the Occupiers give a damn but to listen to people in this crowd tonight, even if I agree with some of their points it is a nice reminder that liberals too - can be bigots.

During the open mic question, OH DID THE LUNATIC FRINGE TAKE OVER. Nothing makes my Cheetos stained hands clap together faster than when the nuts come out for a book reading and tries to take over the stage. First question is this pickle head who takes five full minutes to make a speech and yell at the audience out for not being involved in government. Earlier this same nut case, handed my friend Nick a card attempting to recruit minions to his movement. I want to yell "Dude get your own lecture hall"

Another believer gets up (THIS WAS A FIRST), he read his question off a lap top computer. WOW! Then as the two authors try to answer this he was typing Batker’s answer in real time as if his blog followers could not wait for the answer in real time. Oh yeah, question was about globalization. It was so long, complex and disjointed, that he must have been working on the question for over a week. Somehow Batker and De Graaf got through it, but I swear I still don’t know what the kid wanted to know.

The whole Q & A session was a hot mess and it was great. Mr. Batker kept up his energy and showed his charm while Mr. De Graaf kept that gopher smile on his face like a drunk at a open bar enjoying the moment. Still they had to be wondering if Malcolm Gladwell or Hernando de Soto got questions like this.

Still they were worth checking out


Friday, October 28, 2011

Author Michael Ondaatje Book Tour Review

Seattle Public Library

October 24, 2011

Tonight is going to be huge and I am so sure of it I get off work early to ensure I get a prime seat. One of the true masters of prose, Michael Ondaatje has arrived to promote his newest book, “The Cat’s Table.”

Mr. Ondaatje’s appearance was advertised in the Seattle times as part of the Library author series and as expected the place was packed.
Now, I honestly believe that Mr. Ondaatje writing is some of the best prose by any living author. Too bad his author reading stunk.

Rick from Elliot Bay Bookstore gives a heartfelt introduction and Ondaatje makes a grand appearance, looking the part of a regal professor from that Ivy League school you wished you could have attended.

This is the biggest crowd I have seen in a long time. Three hundred plus fans of literature appear tonight for an evening that truly sucked. This is the kind of author who is capable of attracting a crowd that might never step out of the house.
Oh a word about the audience. This is not the regular lit crowd. Book clubs came. Groups of students arrive. This is the high snob, I read a book a week and what an intellectual I am crowd. This is the crowd that comes into town with friends for dinner and lectures, plays symphonies. They buy books get it?

Mr. Ondaatje begins with a very brief introduction, so brief in fact that I barely get the premise before he starts reading scattered long sections from his newest novel. “Cat’s Table”

The novel is the story of three eleven year old boys, on a voyage to London. The boys, strangers at first, are traveling unsupervised by adults and the novel follows their journey of discovery as they leave home for various reasons.

Mr.Ondaatje’s reading voice can best be described as hypnotic. He has a soft unique accent that is pleasant to the ear and as he begins reading you can hear a pin drop. The passages he reads tonight lead me to believe this book is of the same caliber as his previous works and his ability to command words that good together is on full display. If you have never read one of his novels, check one out and you will see what I mean.

For instance, Mr.Ondaatje’s protagonist, (ironically named Michael) describes a specific character he meets as “tentative,” “languid”, and “moving like a sick cat.” When the boys place themselves intentionally in harm's way and are discovered by the ship’s spotlight the narrator describes that he and his companions could “sense the outrage behind the light.”

As said earlier, Mr.Ondaatje has a soothing voice, it lacks inflection, but is a gorgeous voice causing the crowd to sway like the rocking of the ship his characters travel. There is however a danger to listening to this kind of author read and that is the danger of falling asleep.

The first twenty minutes go well. Rarely did Mr.Ondaatje take a break from reading to explain anything and when doing so, the author offered little background to the audience. What little bit of the novel’s back story he did expound upon lacked humor or antidotes.

This reading was analogous to a long slow steady love making session; after the initial magic wears off the constant rhythm becomes irritating and then you just hope it ends soon.

Finally when he stopped reading, the author closed the book and said softly, “I will now take your questions.”

Questions about what? He hardly said anything, read for forty minutes and now the crowd was expected to ask questions? I got some questions, Hey Mike why don’t you talk to us about the book's plot, or your motivation for writing or your writing process or you what you had for dinner? Something so the audience has a starting point for a conversation.

So now unfold the worst thing that can happen during an author reading. The audience provides all subject material; the author is forced to deal with the result thus turning a nice evening into a staid, insipid mess.

So what do you get when an author steps on the stage, reads for forty minutes then goes straight into Q&A?

Here are some pearls:

Which of your novels is your favorite? (Ondaatje dismisses the question.)
What are you reading now? (He can’t remember off the top of his head)
Who was your first publisher? (Relevance please)

By now, Mr. Ondaatje looks bored. I’m bored. That is because there is no focus of his reading. The excitement of the audience is reduced to a band of adults checking their smart phones. Give us a conversation starter Ondaatje. Tell us where you lived how you started where you came to love the craft? My God it was more awkward than a junior high dance.

Here is some more questions:

“What novels were your inspiration?” (The author says too many to mention)
“What is your method of writing?” (Long hand then three or four drafts before the finished product.)

Okay, maybe I am being too harsh. To be fair Mr. Ondaatje has been on a huge tour and Seattle was the tail end. He is and older man now; he successful but he is tired. I doubt there are few questions he has never been asked.

I don’t care. People made sacrifices to come here tonight. Seattle is in the midst of one of the biggest paralyzing road projects in its history. It was a testament to Mr. Ondaatje and the city’s literary fans that came out tonight in such impressive numbers most authors will never experience.

At least Mr. Ondaatje could have made an effort to be interesting.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Author Scott Westfeld Book Tour Review

Seattle Public Library
Sponsored by Secret Garden Books

October 10, 2011

Short Version: "Scott Westerfeld is not the adult who tries to relate to younger fans by acting their age. Westerfeld succeeds by being an adult who holds a youth’s attention by being interesting. He certainly had mine tonight."

Here is something adults complain about, not enough adolescents read these days. Well they should have been here this night

A few years back I attended a writer’s conference in Canada and Scott Westerfeld's novel "Leviathan" was hailed by this particular literary agent as the premier novel on the Steampunk genre. Well goodness me anytime the premiere anything is in town it is time to make an appearance. I confess this was an eye opener.

By the time I got in the door to the Seattle Downtown library I didn’t know what the hell to think. Kids. Loads of them, showing up on a Friday night with books to be autographed and dressed in costumes resembling the characters Westerfeld had created.

As a lone adult I had neither a costume nor was I escorting a teenage fan and so I stuck out like a sore thumb as the crowd lined up.

One group of young ladies (Age 13-15 )were dressed up in outfits straight out a scene from a Monte painting. Actually they didn’t look so out of place as they did, well, cute. They were clean cute clean polite proper girls who read books and are into the characters. Moms stayed an appropriate distance away of course but it was heartwarming.

Then there was the smallish prepubescent boy (13?) sporting the Duran Duran Haircut who wore a shirt that said “Step into the Dork Side” What was funny about him was every time another adult appeared his dad would look around with that expression of ‘Please God don’t let anyone I know see me.’

Steam punk is hard to define. Think of alternative universe where automation and technology have no bounds but everything is new and takes place around the turn of the last century. Confused? Think "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" as an early Steampunk adventure novel.

Inside the library I get a good seat when a young man fired up on what seems a lethal combination of Red Bull and hyper-enthusiasm jumps the seat next to right and asks me “Are you pulling a Malone?” Huh?

Malone it turns out is a reporter in the Westerfeld novels and this kid thinks my note pad and tape recorder are part of my costume. I am just playing a character. The young man is old by the crowds standards, (19) and he is fully decked out in military surplus gear (complete with Aviator Goggles of course) and explains to me that he is dressed as a “Clanker” from the novel.

I don’t know what a Clanker is but as the kid prattles on (Let’s call him Wes) I now realize I have a Sherpa to take me inside the world of the Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy.


According to Wes, Charles Darwin discovers DNA. This allows counties known as Darwinist, (Britain, France, Russia,) use their advanced technology to create an advanced weapon system dominated by gene splicing. This means their weapons are hybrid animals with special powers to be used in warfare.

The Darwinist nations are opposed to the “Clanker Nations” (Germany, Austria-Hungary) who have developed high powered creative War machines operated by Steam and other fuels existing before the age of Nuclear power. The Clankers are at philosophical and technological differences with the Darwinist. The Arch Duke Ferdinand gets assassinated, World War I has breaks out and it is up to the two sides to settle things once and for all.

Get it? I don’t either because IT’S STEAMPUNK but I am hoping Scott Westerfeld will explain as his author reading is about to start. “Wes” is done with me and finds costume company on the auditorium floor.


It’s hard to hold the attention of someone across the room but holding the attention of one hundred fifty kids? The atmosphere is that of a high school pep rally and I am dying to see how this middle aged author is going to pull it off.

Westerfeld is tall and comes across gentle even shy, as if he has never yelled at anyone in his life. Rather than stand off stage waiting for the big entrance, Westerfeld sits calmly at the front of the stage taking pictures of the crowd and playing with his telephone. For a man who is here to speak to adoring fans I am shocked how the crowd streams in past him not giving him a second glance. I wonder if these kids know who he is because they ignore him like a substitute teacher.

Westerfeld looks bored, and if he reads like he looks this is going to be a wasted reading. What is the old saying about judging a book and its cover?

After he is introduced by the library staff Westerfeld a portable microphone where the author turns into part history professor and part game show host complete with a PowerPoint presentation.

Unlike the adult who is scared of children, Westerfeld refuses to hide behind a podium. He prefers the portable microphone for mobility and like any good novel, Westerfeld challenges the audience to not only follow what he says but to physically follow his movements on stage.

Now I understand his secret. Scott Westerfeld is not the adult who tries to relate to younger fans by acting their age. Westerfeld succeeds by being an adult who holds a youth’s attention by being interesting. He certainly had mine tonight.

What was so great about tonight? I complain that authors should talk about their novels and read from their books for the purpose of increasing book sales. Westerfeld is one of those rare birds who can sell books without uttering a word from his novel.
He did this through the visual images of his novel’s illustrations.

You see, tonight this was not a reading but a history lesson about illustrations in novels. The author spoke of the power of the illustrator and how they can shape and increase the pleasure of the written word. He talked about how the legendary image of Sherlock Holmes, complete with Deerstalking hat, was not created by the author, but rather an illustrator. Nowhere in the Sherlock Holmes books does it say Holmes even wears a hat of any kind; let alone a Londoner wearing a hat used when hunting in the woods but that first illustrator gave Holmes an iconic image for history.

With this background, Westerfeld began to explain to the audience how his illustrator, Keith Thompson, helped shape the world of the Leviathan series. Westerfeld heaped praise on Thompson’s work as a key component to the success of the series.
Westerfeld said that he would write a few chapters then Thompson would send back the drawings that came to his imagination from Westerfeld’s words. Often times Thompson’s illustrations shaped and changed the novels so that the two fit hand in hand.

Toward the end, Westerfeld, encouraged the young audience, or anyone who dared to write a novel to stretch their imaginations beyond what they think others will accept as normal.

It was an inspiring night even for an adult.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Author Juliet Eilperin's Book Tour Review

University Book Store


The problem with journalist writing a book is that they go on book promotions and that can be painful. Once on stage reporters treat these junkets as if they were at a press conference and on the wrong side of the podium. Journalist are used to being in the safety of the press core asking the questions not answering them. At the podium, they often squirm and produce canned guarded boring responses. I understand. It’s the reporter’s nature to swim around with their kind, waiting for a sign of distress before they attack. Kind of like, well… a shark.

Not so tonight. As a speaker on the subject Ms.Juliet Eilperin's is fantastic and right before Shark Week beings she is in Seattle pumping up her new book "Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks"

It was a remarkable evening. Concise and direct, her speech flows without hesitation or remarkably without refereeing to notes. It’s a shame that due to the time restrictions at University Books she did not use her power point presentation for visual emphasis.

The best part of Ms. Eilperin's speech tonight may have occurred before the Author Event began. I arrive early, sit in the front row and chat with the Book store employees. To my shock, Ms. Eilperin's arrives early as well and introduces herself to the staff with a brilliant smile that would send a dentist into the poor house. I’m now ease dropping.

She is a gracious lady, unpretentious and without entourage perfect manners and speaks to the book store staff with respect. An audience member approaches her sounding like an academic or a researcher. She humbles herself to him by admitting her concern to get things correct. The man compliments her work, saying that she did a fine job at pulling together a vast subject like sharks and Ms. Eilperin seems appreciative. It’s such a sweet exchange I almost need an insulin shot.

As I sit in the front, she makes eye contact and I mention the excellent preview of her book in theSeattle Times by authorDavid B. Williams and again the woman’s face lights up.

“I just saw that today. I don’t know that person, do you?” Actually I don’t but with my note pad and tape recorder out, I guess I look like a media member. I mention write about author tours on this little blog.
“Oh she says. I will look forward to reading what you said about this.”
Maybe she was being polite but by now I found the woman so gracious I think I would paint her house if she asked.
Ms. Eilperin is not a Shark fanatic but admits that her work for the Washington Post led her to this book. The book is a tribute the environmental challenges that sharks fight for survival.

The subject of her talk is the current threat of sharks by man, specifically the Chinese cultural prestige to eat Shark Fin Soup. The author sites estimates of 35million -70 million sharks a years being killed for their fins only. The book, “Demon Fish” is not just political since it covers a wide variety of shark information but her talk tonight focuses on the shark fin trade

Once discouraged by a Communist system as a delicacy, Shark Fin Soup has gone into greater demand by the prosperous Chinese economy, and with China’s prospering, the taste for that prestige is growing. As the author points out Shark Fin Soup is a staple of Chinese wedding receptions and business is booming.

Things seem to be changing according to the author. Several countries are banning Shark fishing and some countries realize that the tourism from sharks may make them more valuable live than dead. It is akin to the fight by African locals to preserve the Elephant as a tourist draw, instead of killing them for their ivory tusks.

One young Chinese-American girl in the audience defends her culture (respectful not hostile) by saying that it is hard for young Chinese environmentalist to go against the grandparents and parent’s desire for Shark Fin Soup to be served. This was a perfectly reasoned statement and one that could invite all kinds of controversy depending on how it is answered or if the author is caught up in her own fanaticism. But Ms. Eilperin is skilled in her response and focuses on the environmental impact of the custom and not a damning of the Chinese people.

This served as one of the better audience commentaries of the evening because it was during the Q & A I wanted to stand up kiss Juliet Eilperin right on her big beautiful smile.

The hijackers were lurking in the audience. These kinds of people don’t ask questions. They look for affirmation of their personal opinions by asking leading questions and disregarding the speaker if the hijacker opinion is not validated. They try (and God do they try) to take over the speakers talk by making statements instead of questions, interrupting the author’s answer and acting like this public forum is taking place in the hijacker’s living room. Too often this happens and I hate it.

When these questions occurred, Juliet Eilperin would simply nod her head in agreement and motioning her hands saying “Uh-huh, uh-huh.” It was like watching a jump roper preparing to enter double-dutch. As the audience member blabbed on and on, Ms. Eilperin revved up her momentum, until that blessed moment when the audience member forced to take half a breath, and BAM, she breaks the hijacker’s speech by jumping in with some amazing fact and then continues on to the next question without appearing to offend anyone. It was brilliant.

I wish I could take that, bottle it up, and spray it around the room before every author reading. It would save a lot of unfortunate author readings.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sapphire Book Tour Review

July 17, 2011

Sapphireis no joke. That’s the first thing that goes through my mind as she takes the stage to read from her newest novel, “The Kid.” Prior to that, I sit mystified. Yes it’s a warm perfect summer night but who the heck would not want to be inside the cement tinderbox basement of Elliot Bay’s dungeon to listen to an author whose previous work produced an Academy Award winning movie?

I am shocked the crowd is small. Fifteen minutes before the program is to start, I count twenty seven people but I expected over a hundred. I see the faces of the regulars who like myself, attend author readings regularly. Some Sapphire fans are reading her newest novel but many of the audience are engaged in political discussions. (More later) At exactly 7pm, the basement fills faster than a Nordstrom’s half off sale and the staff sets up another thirty chairs. Why do people decide to show up late to these things? And why did the two gay men next to me reek of onions? Damn it, I got a good seat too. It’s not the smell that irritates me it’s the audience.

Putting it blunt, where are the black people? Famous African American authors are few and far between on the speaking circuit. The Seattle African American community, show up in force when Toni Morrison, Terry McMillian, or Walter Mosley came to town but not tonight. Why? What is it about Sapphire that causes such a low turnout from the very community she comes from?

The room is not void of the African American community but the house is filling up faster and faster with that demographic I find highly entertaining/irritating: ex-hippies.

These are mainly female, white middle class AARP eligible folks, who attend lectures like this as a means of connecting to the kind of people they never grew up around. They are an intellectual know-it-all, crowd of elite snobs and prior to the author’s arrival I listen to the opinions of white people speaking up about the problems in poor black communities. Now, I have no problem with people having a point of view, (heck I write a blog) but what makes this gaggle of Subaru driving, left wing Glen Becks experts on the world of Sapphire?

Conversation volume is turned up as they shout their opinions over one another
to promote their personal causes; while trying to tell anyone in earshot that only they understand what the clueless masses don’t understand.Their sentences usually start with “I don’t understand people who…” or end sentences with “these guys don’t get it.”

I love it. Can’t wait to see how the speaker handles the Q & A session because I know some of these people are going to try to hijack the evening. This is why author readings can be so entertaining and here I continue to wait among the stench of onion on strangers.

Of course, Sapphire is not a pretender like these sycophants. She understands the plight of her novels subjects and the demons that fail those in social service organizations. She is a political voice of intelligent activism and when hearing her speak tonight there is little doubt she knows what she is talking about.

Anybody who has ever read Sapphire’s debut the novel “Push” which turned into the academy award winning movie “Precious” are aware of the novels harsh subjects covering incest, rape, illiteracy, domestic abuse and AIDS among the African American community. I’ve never read the book, but when flipping through sections of “Push” but I know someone has talent when their writing makes me physically ill.

Her newest novel “The Kid” is the tragic follow up to “Push” The book begins with Precious, having died of AIDS leaving her nine year old son, Abdul to the government social service system. This is Abdul’s story. A tale of abuse and choice that leaves him with a crack of hope in a world that has damned him to life in institutions.

Tonight, despite a hectic day of interviews, Sapphire finds the energy to read sections from the book as if she is trying to impress the audience: it works.

The author’s background (a veteran of the Slampoet circuit) serves both she and the audience well. It wasn’t a reading but a performance.

She has complete command of the stage. Maybe I shouldn’t be impressed given Sapphire’s background. Maybe I should have expected this magnificent reading tonight but night after night of hearing bad readings performed by unrehearsed authors has made me numb. I don’t write about all of them. So when I see an author on stage, remarkable as Sapphire was this evening, I appreciate the effort and I wish to God others were here as well.

“The Kid” is a collection of hard words describing a hard world and Sapphire’s talent makes these words palatable. She reads prepared comments off hand written notes, then reads sections of the novel as we follow Abdul’s journey.
She explains a lot of the novel. In fact she reads almost too much to entice the reader into buying the book. Thankfully, Sapphire doesn’t give away the ending, but she doesn’t leave much for the audience to discover about Abdul either.

The audience follows Abdul at his mother’s death bed to the bureaucratic nightmare of Foster homes, disconnected family relationships, self-awakening and graphic sexual abuse (both as victim and perpetrator)

Oh and sidebar about Sapphire. I loved her fearless nature. I loved how she called Andrew Sullivan a racist for his insensitive comments. It really frosted my cake, however, when during the Q & A session, she said Abdul should not be considered a pedophile because he himself is only a child.
So when fourteen year old Abdul sexually molests another boy in the orphanage what does that make him? A pedophile or a rapist of minors?

As I said it is a hard world that Sapphire writes about.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Author Jim Shepard's Author Reading

May 17, 2011


Short version: University Professor fails.

He was once nominated for the National Book Award in 2007. AuthorJim Shepard made an appearance tonight to promote his new collection of short stories “You Think That’s Bad”

After the introduction the author took the stage leaving only one question: Was this guy serious? Really? This is how an esteemed English Professor acts?

Worse of all, the good professor’s reading was the kind of performance that makes it tough to get excited about promoting these events. That is not to say that the reading was a complete loss but the good things too few and far between.

Maybe he was trying to channel Northwest Short story master Raymond Carver. Most authors are inclined to dress at least a little like a professional for an author reading. It can only be imagined that Mr. Shepard figured that the best way to blend into Seattle was to dig out the ancient grunge rocker,flannel shirt his wife has tried several times to throw away.

Professor Shepard started the reading with the standard formula “I’m going to read a little, answer a few questions and then sign some books okay?” Which is fine but then most authors will set the stage by providing some kind of background for the audience to hear. Instead he jumps right into a section from the story, “Boys Town.” Now often times, jumping into a story with no introduction is a great technique for setting the evenings tone.

It did not, however, work tonight.

Even in this modern era, it is still bad manners for an author, at least an author reading in a public business, to not give his audience the common courtesy of announcing that tonight’s reading selection will contain as many F-Bombs as a Martin Scorsese movie. He could have even offered a radio edit, or have chosen a less colorful selection. Instead Mr. Shepard selection was a potty mouthed display of immaturity that came across like a school boy sneaking cigarettes from his stepdad.

The reading selection is written from the point of view of a thirty nine year old man, still living at home, mentally still craving Gerber food and treating his mother as if she were his trailer park bride resulting from a shot gun wedding.

The story’s narrator is a disturbing dysfunctional character with little hope and little depth but before the audience can get into the story or begin to get a feeling for the story’s purpose Wham! Mr. Shepard shuts the book and starts taking questions.

This made the Q & A and the rest of the evening difficult. With such a short reading and the author’s failure to introduce the story, the audience has so little information it was impossible to gain traction on what topics might make for an interesting questions.

There were few audience members familiar with his work and this created an awkward evening full of general questions to an unfamiliar author. In this instance, some authors will frame an evening into a theme that guides the audience questions. This would have saved Mr. Shepard from answering such questions as “What do you see college kids reading on campus these days: Twilight?” Thank God we were in the basement or I might have jumped a window. It does however bring up another point.

Williams College, one the highest ranking liberal art colleges in America, and to have such and esteemed faculty member in town was special. It was inspiring to hear Mr. Shepard express his love of books and for teaching. He was honest about his position in the lexicon of literature and how freeing it is to work on the short story form compared to the novel. He spoke of how the much time and research was still required to produce one short story. He also made the valid point that all stories/novels should be read aloud by the writer before publication. These were the enjoyable parts of the evening,

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Neil Low's Author Reading Tour


Third Place Books

But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid…. He has a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to him by right, because it belongs to the world he lives in.Raymond Chandler “The Simple Art of Murder”

The Short version: Seattle Police Captain reads from his newest novel set in Pre-WWII Seattle and gets a little lost in the night.

Police Captain, author, and story teller Neil Low arrived to Third Place Books with his new crime novel, “Unreasonable Persuasion.”

The story is based on true events that happened in late 1930’s Seattle. Before WWII, two Canadians; sympathetic to the Chinese war against Imperial Japan, once tried to blow up a ship in Seattle. The boat was full of scrap metal from the trolley tracks torn in headed to the land of the rising sun, just before WWII. Take that Home Land Security.

Anyway this tale provides the backdrop for “Unreasonable Persuasion,” is the third book in Captain Low’ crime series featuring Private Detective, Allen Stewart. Captain Low’s knowledge of Seattle history and Seattle police corruption during the prohibition era is second only to his expertise as a peace officer and an author.

It has been said that policeman and doctors are great story tellers but make lousy writers. Usually this is said by writers who are not doctors or cops but there is some merit to this claim. What often captivates people over a few beers can bog down in print when a person tries their hand at being an author so it speaks well of Captain Low’s writing success.

It is sage advice to never get in the way of a good story, and Neil Low is the kind of author that can keep a dinner party entertained for an entire evening with his intriguing tales.


The author is an engaging man. As people arrive the Captain greets them with a warm smile while handing out promotional cards as easy as a church user hands out the choir’s song list.

As pleasant as Captain Low comes across his presentation style is analogous to a CSI investigator specializing in the pattern of blood splatters: the guy is all over the place.
After the introduction, Captain Low was going to start with Q& A. This is before he said anything. (Huh?) Then he changed his mind. Then he was going to read something from his first book. Then he stopped and began with his background which gave both he and the audience a starting spot but it didn’t stop there.

He moved from stories to segue to another segue until he returned to his first point which got swallowed up by a vignette. A cloud of dysordre fell upon the room and Third Place Books was swallowed whole.

Soon he started reading from his newest book. Half a page into the chapter the Captain stopped mid sentence and jumped further ahead into a separate section of novel. The author restarts his reading, with no set up or explanation to the audience. He just starts reading another section.

By now the night is now in spin cycle and there is forty five minutes left. This is going to be a long night destined to only turn into something really tragic or really funny.


Once he focuses, the Captain reads well in public. Really well in fact the words from the books section he finally settles on is great. Years of standing in front of a roll call can make a man comfortable in front of crowds. Captain Low is reading the description of the crime scene that is not especially long, but is best describe as Eeeach!

The words and voice of this writer are vivid and scary as hell yet he showed enough class to avoided appealing to the sick and twisted populace who think “Saw IV” was a comedy. It is the kind of scene that can only be written by someone who as actually bore witness to events that would haunt many people.

The rest of the evening is a few questions and more and audience questions and more stories and segues that distract and confuse.

With so much material to draw upon and a warm outgoing personality, if Captain Low ever gets his presentations organized, this will be a can’t miss show.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Cara Black vs Jacqueline Winspear a contradiction in Author Reading

Short version: Two authors come to Seattle with much in common, but one had the better author reading.

In novel writing there are few things the author has control over but one of them is the author reading. It is the one opportunity where an author can connect with the reading public in a way that is both personal and professional.

What makes a good author reading is the question. So many things can happen. So many things are unforeseen. Some are boring, but if done properly it can leave a lasting impression. This brings us to the show down between two ladies of literature.Cara Blackand Jacqueline Winspear

On the surface the two authors have a tremendous amount in common. They are mature, polite, educated and worldly women. It is not hard to imagine them being neighbors and visiting while trimming roses or drinking tea.

Both women write an established mystery series with character’s set overseas in the 20th century. Ms.Winspear’s character Maisie Dobbs is set in England after the end of World War I while Ms. Black’s private detective Aimee Leduc lives in 1990’s Paris.

Why compare these two female authors? Because both recently appeared in Seattle and demonstrated how, despite the similarities, there are differences in each author reading.

Start with atmosphere, which is important. The French organization, I’Alliance Francaise and University Books sponsored Ms. Black to read and discuss her newest novel “Murder in Passy”. Her reading took place in one of the rooms at Seattle’s Good Sheppard Home. This is a unique setting inside a beautiful one hundred year old building now used for various events. It is also worth mentioning that the Good Sheppard Home is centered in a quiet neighborhood with few distractions. No car horns or sirens or heavy traffic as the room window opens up to the large grounds surrounded by an old stone fence and heavy foliage.

Tonight the biggest distraction was I’Alliance Francaise selling French wine by the glass. (an excellent idea)

The spacious classrooms large enough that the soft spoken Ms. Black was concerned about being heard as no microphone was available. Her anxiety was unwarranted as the crowd remained attentive and cell phones silenced without being asked.

They came to hear her speak of Parisian culture and her how her years of research lead her to the inner workings of a French private detective agency. It was a simple straight forward uneventful presentation. Nothing spectacular would happen tonight and the audience was comprised of mainly people from I’Alliance Francaise some fans and other writers.

Still Ms. Black had a large challenge ahead of her. She was presenting her novel to a group whose interest lay not in her books but that of French culture. This was her eleventh book. The question is how does an author present a new novel, (and not a standalone novel but one from an established series, no less) to a crowd unfamiliar with her work.

More later.

The reading for Jacqueline Winspear presenting her novel "A Lesson in Secrets" was the exact opposite of Ms. Black. Her novels have a strong following in this region and the impressive crowd size placed a strain on the Lake Forest Park branch of Third Place Books.

She read on the main stage is known as the Third Place “Commons” where it is located in the center of a large food court and multitudes of long tables are used by the public for personal meetings. The chairs are set and the curtains are drawn, but only the biggies read here.

It is impossible to close off the noise of the conversations in the Commons. On a busy night such as this, the conditions were reminiscent of the days when European Opera singers sang for the wealthy in their boxes while the proletariat were milling around the floors selling chickens, gambling and throwing the occasional tomato at a bad actor.

Even so, Ms. Winspear has a formidable presence, on stage. She has a gorgeous English accent that marries to a rich gentle voice. From the very moment she takes the stage she is prepared and more focused than Cara Black or several authors for that matter. If you hear her speak there is little doubt she is an expert in her subject.

Ms. Winspear also avoids one of the great blunders that author’s make on tour. She is here to sell books. Early on she tells the audience that she will divulge little information about her new novel and politely encouraged the crowd to buy the books. This is an admirable trait, but one that can be taken too far.

Ms. Winspear’s talk was more of a history lecture than an author reading. Her intention was to leave the crowd with hints about her newest novel which was strange for a woman who desires to sell books. Tonight she spoke on the subjects of secrets, unappreciated contributions by British women during WWI and of all things “Winnie the Poo.”

Neither woman was a particularly entertaining reader but this is not a damnable sin. Not every author has the talent to sound like they perform at the Globe Theater and to their credit neither woman read more than a couple of pages.

So what was the difference?

Here lies the lesson. Ms. Winspear assumed her audience knew her work where Ms. Black did not.

By her own admission, Ms. Winspear had been to Seattle on many occasions which might explain why she addressed the audience about her main protagonist, Maisie Dobbs, with such familiarity.

Ms. Winspear’s intended, on this evening to create interest in her new novel but her “clues” were so abstract and so cryptic that she failed to leave any understanding about what Maisie Dobbs will do to warrant investing twenty five dollars to find out.

By the time the Q&A session came about she left no room for the audience to ask questions about the new novel and the All the questions were regarding past novels and the standard, “What are you reading now?”and “Will we see Maisie Dobbs in a movie?”

In defense of Ms. Winspear, it is appreciated when authors try to bring something new to their base core of readers. A tired old speech given repeatedly to fans is a big turn off but tonight people learned a great deal about Winnie the Poo and nothing of “A Lesson in Secrets"

The majority of Cara Black’s talk was about her characters development, history and plot lines. She brought the crowd of unfamiliar fans into the world of private investigator Aimee Leduc. Granted this took time, (she spoke longer than Ms. Winspear) and thank God for French wine, but by taking these steps in an intimate setting, Ms. Black was able to draw the crowd into both her newest novel and the entire series. Proof of her success this evening was demonstrated as Ms. Black was peppered with questions about her entire catalogue of novels and the amount of books bought by the more modest crowd.

Both women are deserving of their success but putting aside writing talent, prose and plot, it seems that to gain new fans in these hard economic times, it pays for a mystery novelist to be less mysterious.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

T.C. Boyle's Book Tour Review


Seattle Public Library
University Books Sponsor

The short version: A reading of a short story that turned into a long evening

The main branch of the Downtown public library. It stands as a monument to the city of Seattle’s voracious appetite for books. University Books is there so things run smooth. In comes short story master T.C. Boyle to promote his newest novel "When the Killing's Done "and this should be a fine evening. Sort of.

The reading stage is a vertical wall of chairs; high enough to remind one of Mount Rainer. The chairs were designed by an architect who thought only people five foot four and weighing a 120 pounds would be sitting inside them. The audience packs in with rain soaked winter coats, and umbrellas shoved in cramp leg spaces that it looks like a grade school coat closet, ten minutes after recess.

The reading is supposed to start at 7pm. Five minutes before hand Mr. Boyle is visible off to the side. He stands in the wings early while the ushers clear people sitting on the stairs in search of more leg room.

Then T.C. Boyle disappears. The audience is left waiting while the evening hostess from the Library, (an obnoxious woman we find out later) comes on and announces that we start late because TC would like to tour the library. What a blatant admission. The crowd groans as parking cost more than Mr. Boyle’s new book. This is the kind of thing you usually do before you’re supposed to take the stage. It’s a packed house for God’s sake and it would have been more acceptable had she announced the author was across the street and trade shots of Wild Turkey with Tom Sizemore and Randy Quaid.

Anyway, TC Boyle is a brilliant short story artist. He comes, complete with Kenny Logan’s style hair cut (Top Gun Kenny Logins, not the Caddy Shack years) yellow jacket and orange shoes. The look works for a middle age man. He greets the crowd with love and they show it in return.

The Reading

Actually T.C. Boyle reads great, the selection from his new novel, however, lays an egg. He tries to explain the plot and discusses the books plot about a man and a woman and conflict and ecology and there are feral animals like sheep and pigs and eagles and the whole damn thing is lost by the time he is done.

He reads a selection of the novel. The crowd is shifting uncomfortably in their narrow chairs with wet coats soaking their laps. Then something so routine occurs that it actually spices up things.

An overhead announcement stating that the library will be closing in twenty minutes.

It is not a big deal but for a moment annoying. The announcement is not as annoying as Mr. Boyle’s dramatic reaction as he stops the reading and asking the hostess if overhead announcements can cease while he is reading. Then the hostess jumps up out of the audience and takes over the microphone and goes on a long obnoxious explination about how these are automated messages timed to come on and there is nothing she can do to stop them.

Again not a big deal to most but Mr. Boyle’s face resembled a man who won a chili eating contest only to find out they ran out of toilet paper.

As he finishes with the reading from his new book the room’s energy is flat. At this point the reading is lost. Wrap it up, and go to your signing desk. The overhead announcements and his reaction have sucked the air out.


This is the difference between a first time romance novelist and an experienced pro: he keeps going. This was a thing of beauty to watch as T.C. Boyle recovers the evening. He selects out a short story for reading tonight called “The Lie.”

Where was this energy before? It was theatrical and practiced and he barely looked down as if there was a teleprompter in the audience. He was changing speed, hitting accents at the back of polysyllabic words, pausing for comedy bits to sink in but not long enough to drag the reading.

The Liar was a good story. T.C. Boyle’s reading made it a great story.

Then to top it off Mr. Boyle was open to questions from the audience and handled it with grace and class.

Highlights of the questions:

-He would never work on a script because he hates to collaborate on anything so why would he work on a script.

-He actually liked the movie Road to Wellville (an adaption of his novel) even though it was panned by critics and different from his book. He had a lot of nice things to say about the director and crew.

-He handled what may be the STUPIDEST QUESTION of the year so far with tremendous savvy. “Mr. Boyle. Do you know if you have EVER won a Pulitzer Prize?” As if they keep that a secret. If a surly author like Andrew Vachss had been asked that question, people would have been dialing 911 and ducking for cover.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Connie Willis Book Tour Review


University Book Store

The short version: The good, the bad and the ugly was all seen tonight.

Author Connie Willis graced University Books with her presence this evening to promote her newest book "All Clear." When someone enshrined in the Science Fiction Writing Hall of Fame comes to town it is best to arrive early. The audience packed in one hour before Ms. Willis is to take the stage. Strangers start conversations asking what books they have read or if they have seen Ms. Willis speak before. This seems promising.

Ms. Willis arrives on time and chats with some audience members. The large crowd arriving is causing a delay and University Books, Sci-Fi book buyer, Duane, is doing his best imitation of Sampson by moving whole bookshelves and setting up more chairs for the growing crowd.

Normally an author on book tour would speak about the book; say a little something about what is was about and even read a selection or two.


The Good

Ms. Willis is an interesting lady and it is easy to see why the audience is expecting great things. She comes across as an experienced speaker deep, irreverent, funny, satirical and for the most part thoughtful. I like the fact that she is still involved with the writing community by virtue of her willingness to teach writing courses and seminars. (Check Richard Hugo House in June)

Tonight she talks about tabloid politics, watching cable news, Astronomy, quotes Chekov on books, the academic work of Donald Norman, the trouble with the Kindle and all e-book readers and her love of the television show Prime Evil. The best parts might have been about the e-book readers.
She espoused a love for the physical book in a beautiful romantic manner. She spoke of how paper bound books create an attachment in a way that electronic books cannot.

She draws comparisons of e-book readers to Netflix. She states that although the Kindle holds several works. . Much the same way people forget why they ordered a movie on Netflix, E-readers, can forget the book and by the time a person gets around to reading a particular book they might forget why they downloaded it in the first place and dump the novel off into cyberspace rendering the book meaningless unlike a cherished copy of a book once owned by a family member or given as a gift.

She addresses the complaints by her fans, who have told her they can’t finish books on Kindle because saying the lose interest in the novel. With a physical novel, the reader’s progress and finale is visually clear. In the opinion of Ms. Willis, the Kindle falls short in this regard, and detaches the reader further from the novel. She gives the examples based on the work of Donald Norman. It’s an interesting anecdote. She is not preaching, rather just addressing the differences/challenges with the new media.

The Bad.

This was supposed to be a reading. Not one moment did she promote her book, read her book or talk about her book. The audience was full of fans happy to be in the same room with her on a Friday evening. They laughed, smiled and went along with everything that Ms. Wills discussed. For them it was pure entertainment; the opportunity to be in the same room with a hero and lacking of expectations.

This bothers me in general and not specifically to just Ms. Willis. Sometimes the author can become so large and has been on reading tour so much that they change subjects just to keep from getting bored. Maybe writers assume their audience has heard it all before. Perhaps they have become complacent in their thoughts and work. It’s hard to say that is what Ms. Willis was thinking, but it felt like she wanted to speak of anything but her newest work.

If tonight’s reading would have been advertised, Author Connie Willis Talks about Whatever is on Her Mind and Not Her Newest Book. It would have been more honest.

The Ugly.

This is difficult. I took time and thought about this. Let’s be clear, Ms. Willis believed she was talking to her deep devoted fans. I realize she thought she was joking or at least making an attempt at humor to a room full of her base but it wasn’t funny. This night Ms. Willis said something so outrageous that it would have shocked and even angered the average person.

I won’t repeat the comment. It only adds fuel to a conflagration of American politics.

Even more appalling Ms. Willis followed her “joke” by threatening the audience “and if this comment shows up on your websites I’m going to be really mad.”

Well then don’t say it and if you do then don’t threaten to your fans. In light of the public anger being carried over to congresswomen getting a mature woman like Ms. Willis should know words have power; they also have consequences. The “joke” or wry comment said in the living room among friends does not work at a public reading where mixed company could be offended and can kill a book sale, hurt the store and most of all, incite violence.

Drunk, stoned or sober (she was very sober) public figures and authors especially, should know that you own your words when spoken in public. An intelligent deep thinking woman like Ms. Willis, who teaches the craft of writing, should know the power of words and know how to edit herself.

Tonight there was at least one fan recording the whole reading and it could end up on You Tube. Trust me I know it was meant to be a wry comment but it was very poor taste. Repeating it here, might even endanger Ms. Willis by some deranged idiot unable to separate truth from purely insensitive comment. It was one comment, stated early in her talk but it ruined a decent evening. I came to hear an author talk about her book. I left with ten minutes left before the Q & A started, because I had enough.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Jonathan Evison Book Tour Review



Short version: Interesting author but a bookseller’s nightmare. This novel needed explanation and tonight the author failed to give this book a boost.

Jonathan Evison arrives to read about his newest book “West of Here.”
There is a great deal of buzz in the book industry about this novel. The short blurb about the book is weak. It is vague and uninteresting so hope abounds that the author can explain what this book is about to generate the excitement felt by the booksellers.

One look at Mr.Evison’s background and it is evident that he is the kind of author desperately needed in America.

He has no Ph.D. in U.S. History (no college degree at all), he is not a Pulitzer Prize winner or even a newspaper hack for the Village Voice. So you can kiss the elitist snob resume right out the window.

Mr. Evison is of that special breed of writer that is dangerous and more often than not this kind of man produces the best kind of literature. Hemingway drove ambulance in Italy, Steinbeck followed the migration to California, and Faulkner scrapped by on job after job while writing on his lunch breaks. The point it best American writers are those that have done something in their lives to merit being labeled a misfit or loser or were willing to explore the subjects about which they write. They work in bars, coal mines, fight wars, and ruin themselves to the point where they only have one thing left: a story to tell.

Mr. Evison is an affable man, combining an Ivy League vocabulary and the street smarts of a Jim Thompson character.

So, this should have been a memorable evening, but his reading tonight was in a word: confusing.

The Reading.

This is the beginning of a major book tour. Evison has packed the basement of Elliot Bay with fans, friends and college students. Cookies and water are available as tonight’s reading is sponsored by Seattle University’s creative writing program. T-shirts are for sale promoting the book, oh and someone should have reminded the author that his book was for sale.

The reading starts slow. Evison is late making his entrance to basement of Elliot Bay, despite having arrived to the store over an hour earlier. He looks nervous, and gives a brief but gracious opening and thanks to the bookstore. He announces he will read then talk and read a few more experts and some more lecture. Fine.

He is dressed like an extra from an 80’s RUN DMC video. Complete with black sports coats, black slacks, V-neck sweater topped by a black porkpie hat and just for an added touch: black and white Chuck Taylor sneakers. The look works well for him.

The quality of his voice is flat, graveled but intriguing. It is the voice of a man who has spent his adult years sucking in second hand smoke and yelling over loud music in bars.

He reads bad as if he were unrehearsed, which may account for nerves, but did not account for the scattered reading selections he presents with little to no introduction, and fails to connect how his specific reading selections are related to either the books theme or how they interplay with the previous section.

Then there was the language factor. Shocking for a man with such a large vast vocabulary to choose reading selections containing F-bomb after F-bomb. Noun, verb, pronoun, adjective, there had not been this much cussing in Seattle since President Bush was last in town.

He explains the book is 40 points of view and spans over a hundred years of history, making continuity of the novel challenge and this might explain why the continuity of tonights reading goes along the same path. The novel takes place in a mythical town on the Washington State Peninsula, near the real town of Port Angeles. The book seems to deal with the exploration and settlement of the Olympic Mountain range, which one hundred years ago, was the last uncharted territory of the lower 48 states. The author describes the book dealing with such things as the damning of the Elwha River and how the sins of the past affect the present day.

He writes of modern disillusionment, fractured marriage, logging, fishing, local Indian tribes and of all things Bigfoot. Mr. Evison calls it an attempt to produce a “kaleidoscope of history,” but his reading presentation was more akin to trying to playing marbles on the deck of a crab boat fishing in the Bering Sea.

The Q & A session is really this author’s strong suit. Mr. Evison has the ability to connect with an audience. He rambles on, tangent after tangent, revealing much of himself, his failing in the school system, knocking around the Pacific Northwest and giving particularly wild dissertation on the possible existence of Bigfoot. None of these subjects are clear as to how it fits in the book but Mr. Evison is at these moments hysterically funny.

The challenge will be to see how Mr. Evison does author readings in other regions of the country; presenting to rooms full of strangers in places who have never heard of the Olympic Peninsula (Outside of Bella and Edward) or why they should care to read this book.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Brothers Amidon Book Tour Review.

Third Place Books 2-17-11

Buy the book here

The short version: Two brothers, writer and a cardiologist, combine their talent and diverse background to produce a wonderful book reading. It is must read for anyone who has had cardiac issues and desires to understand more about the “mysterious organ.”

It’s not hard to imagine what Steven and Tom Amidon were like in college. They must have arrived on campus, shook hands good luck and went into separate buildings. Tom went to the science department eventually becoming a respected Cardiologist, while Steven found his way to the Liberal Arts side to become a renowned writer, novelist and critic. It is only now that the brothers Amidon have combined their specific discipline to produce “The Sublime Engine”

There have been other books telling the story of the pioneers of Cardiology and methods brought about to the modern medical treatments. Mankind has come a long way since Hippocrates.

This book, however, is a noble attempt to explain the “mystery organ,” and how its power has shaped the views of Western Civilization. From the Greeks, to the Catholic Church, to the romantic poets of the 19th century the heart has held a special meaning for various civilizations. It has also created some wild but true tales of modern medicine and the treatment of heart disease.

As an occasional speaker on medical issues, Dr. Tom Amidon is often sought because of his unique talent to remove the mystery and confusion out of medical studies. He can breaks down a complex drug studies or medical situations into a non-threatening simple base that can be understood by people who have never opened an anatomy textbook.

As a man of letters, Stephen Amidon comes across with that same common man approach to his craft. He speaks of his craft with enthusiasm but without the stereotypical haute pretension of a writer with his experience. He is that approachable and open type that truly believes Chekhov, Melville, or even Proust belong in the hands of the common people; not just the Bourgeoisie.

The Reading

The reading takes place at the Ravenna Third Place Books which is a challenge. (See the blog entry Ode to Third Place Books Ravenna)It’s a respectable crowd for the small space. On stage it is not hard to guess who is the writer, (Stephen wearing a casual sports jacket and sweater) and who is the Physician (Tom, black suite crisp white shirt, and a tie)

They are funny in a dry way. Stephen markets the book. “For small medical co-pay to my brother Tom of only 24.99, I’ll throw in a free book.” Brilliant!

Stephen begins by reading the story of the poet Percy Shelly’s sudden death in Italy. Italian authorizes ordered his body burned and a funeral pyre was constructed. Afterward, officials removed the remains for burial only to discover the poet’s heart still intact, untouched by the fire’s heat.

Stephen reading is remarkable as every single distraction takes place in the store. His voice is steady, enthusiastic and unwavering as he marches through the tale of poor Shelly. He is pleasant and practiced and short. There are plans for more reading later but the brothers never read again. The event has now turned into a press conference as the audience takes over, peppering the brothers with more questions than Charlie Sheen’s publicist while Tom and Steve skillfully weave the book’s theme into their answers.

Dr. Tom Amidon opens about the mechanics of the heart leading to more questions about diet, medicine, and pacemakers. Stephen addresses the theme which he describes as “a book of imagination and how the heart has been sculpted.” This leads to so many audience questions that the event went over an hour.

Random store shoppers stop, listen, and more copies were purchased.

When asked about antidotes left out of the book, the brothers entertain the crowd with some jaw dropping tales about War time surgeons and accidental cardiology discoveries.

Dr. Amidon tells the audience tale of a naive man who opened up an entire field of corporate medical research. When the nameless man’s father collapsed from a heart attack; the man used a toilet plunger to perform CPR and miraculously saved his dad’s life. (Not recommended by the way)

This is one of many tales that didn’t make the book, but serves as a clear example of why people should attend live readings by authors. Reality television can’t get any more real than this but if then again who would believe it.


Third Place Books in Seattle’s Ravenna neighborhood is one of those hidden treasures that should be found by visitors who are book nuts if only for its unusual amenities. This single building houses a bookstore, a restaurant and an amazing pub in the basement.

It is also, the hardest place in Seattle for an author to read but is the most rewarding as well.

Seattle is a reading city. Downtown has the legendary Elliot Bay, the Richard Hugo House writing center and Seattle Mystery Books. University Books on the colorful streets of the University District may have the largest inventory, while Ravenna’s sister store, Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, has the largest space, with not one but two author reading areas and six restaurants. Lording over all of them at the top of Beacon Hill at the intersection of I-90 and I-5 is’s corporate headquarters standing peerless, like an army preparing to swoop down and pillage the defenseless villagers.

Yet lost among all these well known stores is Third Place Books,nestled in the charming neighborhood called Ravenna at the corner of 65th and 20th Ave.

The building is surrounded by large old trees it is easy for the car passenger to miss.The parking lot is small and by now, out of city code. The neighborhood residents don’t mind store patrons parking in front of their houses at all hours. They understand the importance of this business being nearby as it keeps up home prices and unites the community. As one resident once told me, “I would just die if that place closed its doors.”

When Authors read here they are in the top floor corner thirty feet from the main entrance where people enter talking loud and twenty feet from the cashier talking to customers and ringing up sales. As an audience member it is sometime difficult to separate the sounds of the store’s business transaction mixed in with a novel being discussed. This is not for the timid author but then again selling books is tough work.

Authors are squashed into the game section of the store. Sixteen chairs are laid out so close that no one can cross their legs without kicking three people. Anyone else must stand in the isles or find other chairs to block shoppers.

Two years ago, and I swear this is true, a packed house was there for a local author and I heard a man seated on the other side of a book shelf, into the History section no less, shout at a shopper; “Lady get your butt out of my face.”

The author speaks into a microphone that has volume set with ample projection when the store is quiet. On busy nights things change.

The children’s book section is separated from the make shift stage by a book shelf. There is a fantastic Greek restaurant Vios, that shares space with this books store and on busy nights, the noise reflecting off the ceiling can tell you what kind of wine table six just ordered.

Oh let this not go on without a mentioning the occasional noise from toddle play area This too is in the back of the store near the restaurant where small toddlers can roam around in a confined safe area while parents can watch them, eating dinner or relaxing with a book without wondering where junior has disappeared. It is actually really cool, unless you are a writer easily distracted while reading aloud.

This is not for the pretentious who like their space or fear fans. The smart writer realizes this is an opportunity and that it is at places like Third Place in Ravenna, that the author and reader become one. How great would it be for a reader to say they sat next to Stephanie Meyer when she was first promoting Twilight?

After all, sympathy is a great compound to bond people. The two entities share an experience and in a strange way they work together. The author is working harder to reach the fan with their words and the fans understand working hard to hear more. This is how small upcoming authors can sell books and develop a following.

Of course even if the author has a tough night where no one shows or the book is not selling, they can take comfort knowing that the pub is just downstairs.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Susan Vreeland Book Tour Review

Elliot Bay Book Company 2-09-11

The short version: An author reading not to be missed.

Author Susan Vreeland came to Seattle to promote her fifth book, “Clara and Mr. Tiffany.”

Based on historical facts, “Clara and Mr. Tiffany is the story of the woman who designed and created the legendary Tiffany Lamps, which until recently have been credited to the company owner, Lewis Comfort Tiffany.

Ms. Vreeland’s story of Clara is a profile into the life of a ground breaking individual whose thoughts and lifestyle were years ahead of her time. Until the last few years, little to nothing has been known about Clara Driscoll, nor the group of designing women she supervised, known as the “Tiffany Girls.”

Before her reading begins Ms. Vreeland, is quick to acknowledge the recent academic work of Professor Martin Eidelberg, who is credited with the discovery that Clara Driscoll and not Lewis Tiffany had been responsible for design and construction of the famed lamps. This research combined with Ms. Vreeland’s own detective work, provide the accurate depictions of the Gilded Age when this story takes place.

The Reading

The basement of Elliot Bay is arranged with the stage set for a slide presentation on a large projected screen which does not bode well for an eventful evening. Often times the slide presentation is a mask to cover the inability of the author to present the book on its own merit. Here it proved to be an integral part of the evening’s success.

A former school teacher, Ms. Vreeland understands what it takes to hold a class’s attention. She is that rare combination of grace and intellect that illuminates the room the moment she arrives. She looks smashing in her outfit that contradicts the dank boiler room decor of Elliot Bay Books. She emits the aura of a lady holding court at a charity function.

She is the perfect hostess. She arrives early, and soon the audience is no longer in Elliot Bay Books but in Ms. Vreeland’s room. She owns the place. Before her introduction, she glides through the crowd, introducing herself to people, thanking them for attending on a winter evening and then (AND THIS IS A CLAUDIO FIRST) proceeds to pass out her business card to the audience so that she may be contacted with further questions or comments afterwords.

She is the perfect guest. This is Ms. Vreeland’s fourth time to Elliot Bay and before beginning her reading she encourages the ample crowd to make all their future purchases at this store.
She is a publishing house dream. Author readings are about selling books. She presents a fascinating synopsis, giving the audience enough details to leave them wanting; then saying with an unequivocal frankness, “If you want to know more then please buy the book.” She elicited this polite response to a few members in the audience asking in depth questions, showing a deft grace of salesmanship that would have sent the most petulant used car salesman into therapy.

In regards to the last comment; it is so rare that an author actually helps sell the product for the book store and themselves that other writers should take note.

At first glance, the books subject seems dry begging the question how could anyone take the creation of glass lampshades and spin it into an intriguing tale?

Then Ms. Vreeland begins to tell the story, rather her story, of Clara Driscoll. The audience is taken back in time to the Gilded Age where America began its economic ascent and began its ability to produce, not just admire, serious art.

She reads her novel without hesitation, demonstrating that she has practiced for these moments. Ms. Vreeland changes the inflection in her voice for each character, accentuates the important descriptions that place the reader in her world. Like a rehearsed actor, she changes reading speed and uses just the right amount of hand gestures on stage to draw the audience into her tale.

The presentation is informative without being condescending or pedantic, but as the evening goes on the reading turns into less about the book and more the lamps construction and design. As the screen is filled with images, the author’s knowledge fills the cavernous room to the point where even the cars from the book stores underground are drowned out.
Simply put, this portion of the program is a hypnotic presentation, convincing enough to believe that the creation of the Tiffany Lamp is on par to the construction of the Great Pyramid. This is all due to Ms. Vreeland’s skill as a storyteller. Only when she admits that she simply spent seven months of research on Tiffany does she break her spell.

Only seven months?

It would be easier to believe Ms. Vreeland has written her Masters dissertation on this subject.

Ms. Vreeland knows the history of Clara, the inner workings of the Tiffany production, how the glass was designed, who selects the glass, how it was cut, molded and placed before being sent off to be soldered into place. All of this done on a simple, even stale subject matter, but proof that the passionate author can change a perception, seal a reputation and sell books.

It may be a long time before Seattle has an author whose reading can match Susan Vreeland.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Author writing style

This is a special added blog post

At nearly all Author Readings, writers are asked the obligatory question, “How do you approach writing your novels?” or “What is your method to writing a novel?” It is the most common question asked of an author right after “What do you read?”

Best selling author Susan Vreeland’s response is worth sharing.

She claims to write the first chapter. Then she writes the second chapter and decides what is needed in the first chapter based on what was put in chapter two.

Now follow this. After reading the first two chapters Ms. Vreeland writes her next chapter and THEN goes back for a review edit of the previous written work adding and subtracting what is needed.

She does this for every single chapter until the book is finished and here is the wild part… wait for it… wait for it…

At the end of the book she considers this a FIRST DRAFT. She put her latest book “Clara and Mr. Tiffany” through that same process for 13 drafts until it was complete, writing and editing all day until in her words “Oh ten, eleven o’clock at night.”

That is what it takes to get on the New York Times Best Seller List and have your books turned into movies.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Joseph McElroy Book Tour Review

Elliot Bay Book Store 2-2-11

The short Version: Over before it began.

Tonight I show up to hear Author Joe McElroy read from his new collection of Short Stories. "Night Soul and Other Stories"

He seems like a nice man, has a great web page and the crowd is decent for a mild winter evening and there are a large amount of children with parents. This could be good.

I overhear Mr. McElroy speaking to the Elliot Bay Book staff. He is pleasant and direct even greeting some of the crowd as they file in.

Over heard conversation with Elliot Bay’s book host Casey.

Mr. McElroy: “How long to I have on stage tonight? I am very conscientious of time limits when I am reading.”

Claudio thinking: (This is fantastic! An author aware of time.)

Casey: “As long as you like. The store is open until ten.”

Mr. McElroy: “Oh good. I think I will read this first story… then go on to this one…which is a bit longer. I should be reading about (inaudible comment)”

Casey: “Fifteen minutes?”

Mr. McElroy: “No I said ‘Fifty minutes’”

Claudio thinking: (Fifty? As in 5 and 0?)

I slap my note book and leave. If an author can’t entice me into buying a book in less than twenty minutes of reading, or intertwine discussion with more reading, I’m out. Author Readings are for the entertainment of the fans. They are an opportunity to promote the author, connect with public and most of all sell books.
Fifty minutes is longer than a good State of the Union Speech fast forwarded through the applause. It does no good to entice an audience to buy a book, when they have too much of it read to them.

Too bad.

Cherie Priest Book Tour Review

Universtiy Book store 1-27-11

The short version: Steam punk/Southern Gothic author once famed for her blue hair gives a blue reading.

Author Cherie Priest came to the University book store to read from her newest novel “Bloodshot”.

Ms. Priest is the kind of writer many authors aspire to become, having avoided being pigeon holed into one particular genre and I might add her Blog is one worth reading.

The author first came to my attention when her Steam Punk novel, “Bone Shaker,” appeared in book stores a few years back. (If you need me to explain the Steam Punk genre, how about just buying her book)

Ms. Priest has now moved into the Urban Fantasy arena with her newest effort “Bloodshot.” It is about a modern day Vampire/thief/mercenary hired to a job that puts her in personal jeopardy. Along with a series of unusual characters, both living and walking dead, the book is reminiscent of a traditional hardboiled detective novel.

Sure maybe the whole world is sick to death of Vampires, but along with Swedish girls wearing Dragon Tattoos, books about Dracula’s relatives are keeping books stores open, so stop complaining. Oh there is a twist.

Here the main character, Raylene Pendle, is a paranoid, blood sucker with a big dose of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. In her research, Ms. Priest found some of the older tales of vampires had the living dead with traits of OCD which the author incorporated into the novel. Does it work? Well, this blog is supposed to be about the author’s presentation but I did arrive early to University Books, and took the opportunity to read the first part of “Bloodshot” coming away with a positive impression.

The writing is in first person and well paced. Ms. Priest sets up the ordinary
world and heads straight into the main characters call to adventure so fast that it would make Joseph Campbell proud. I paid her the highest compliment by saying that the opening of “Bloodshot” is reminiscent of the pacing found in a Raymond Chandler story. Ms. Priest replied she really didn’t like Chandler (OUCH) and was more a fan of Dashiell Hammett seeing her main character as more of a modern day Continental Op.

Author sighting: Urban fantasy author Kat Richardson, sitting in the front row tonight. When you’re done reading “Bloodshot” check out Richardson’s Greywalker series.

One more thing I really liked was found in the beginning of “Bloodshot’s” acknowledgements. The author sends a shout out to Duane, the Sci-Fi buyer at University Book Store, and the boys up at Third Place Books. Thanks for giving the Indies the credit they deserve Ms. Priest.

The Reading.

Duane, the MC, starts the introduction on time (Love it) The author talks a short time about the book, research, style and jumps right in to the reading. She seems like a nice genuine person and is endearing to the staff at U-books. Her post Q & A session demonstrated she can connect with an audience which is important if you want to sell books.

One of the pleasures listening to established authors is when they can answer questions about previous novels which might inspire the audience to purchase an
author’s earlier book. The Urban fantasy crowd is by far the most passionate, dedicated and curious of fans. It’s not enough that they want to know about the plot and the book but these fans really want to understand the Author’s world and what will happen to various characters in future novels. It makes it interesting and trust me; those questions don’t come up when Nicholas Sparks is on stage.

Not every author is a good reader. Ms. Priest admits this about herself. I find that quality in an author forgivable, understanding and even charming. It lowers
expectations and connects with people. Actually she sells herself short as, Ms. Priest has a fine stage presence.

She starts the reading by leaning far across the podium and into the crowd, like a high school track star at the starting line. There are other authors, whose body language show fear, trying to gage audience acceptance but when authors write about aggressive characters, the source of that aggression often comes out in the reading. Ms. Priest reads with an unapologetic aplomb as if to say, like it or not; these are my words and I stand behind them.

The sprinters analogy is appropriate because I thought someone in the audience must have fired a staring pistol as she began. Word after word came out at a steady fast pace that never let up. As the reading goes longer and longer (over thirty straight minutes and over 8000 words,). I try to keep up with her Vampire heroin, and the kick ass characters, but the reading is too long. At this pace, I become light headed and start to lose interest.

The other issue I have is with Ms. Priest’s choice of reading R rated language in a public place of business that left a stain upon an otherwise enjoyable presentation. I don’t mind profanity, in fact I use it often, but there are levels of profanity in the English language and though I never, repeat NEVER, want to see an author censored in print, I must admit that the use of Blue language during a free public event is troubling.

She went so far as to comment on the language before the reading as a warning but that did nothing for the public shopping in the store who might have walked by after her reading began.

I keep looking around, relieved to see no children in the immediate area and hope an offended parent or shopper listening might leave and never return to one of Seattle’s few Independent book stores.

The occasional damns and hells are fine in Author readings but the evening could have been made less uncomfortable had Ms. Priest insert edited language for the F-bombs and C-word instead of using them in their full glory