Sunday, May 22, 2011
May 17, 2011
ELLIOT BAY BOOK STORE
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
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.