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