Saturday, March 31, 2012

Owen Laukkanen Book Tour Review

Seattle's North GateBarns and Noble


So on a Friday night with little to do and the rain coming down the way it does in Seattle I decide to give a new author a chance. Someone named Owen Laukkanen, was in town to promote his new book "The Professionals"at the local Barns and Noble.

Only one problem, I arrive to find out there is no reading, only a simple book signing. Crap. Well no reason wasting a trip to the book store. I’m still inspired by Anne Lamonts’ reading of the previous night and begin searching for a new copy of “Bird by Bird”

I see Mr Laukkanen begin the process of signing copies of books for the Barns and Noble stores and decide to say hello. He looks younger than his publicity photo which is the reverse of most authors who use photo shop and dark lighting to remove the years.

Mr. Laukkanen has an amicable smile, but I'm not interested in purchasing his novel yet I still stop to congratulate him on his newest work and I tell him I am disappointed that this is not a formal reading as advertised but that I will look forward to seeing him on the next promo tour if he does a reading.

Then something happens that I swear I did not expect. Another one of the regular ARFs (Author Reading Fan) shows up also looking for a reading. The person assigned as Mr. Laukkanen’s driver introduces me to the other ARF's and before I know it, the young author offers to chat.

Now this can be awkward for an unprepared author (seeJeyn Roberts review) and Mr. Laukkanen admits that he has not done too many formal readings but would be happy to talk about what we want to hear.

I look at the ARF and she looks at me. The ARF and I are strangers so I suggest we start out with the standard staid and tried questions that every author gets over and over again. Mr. Laukkanen doesn’t mind a bit.

We ask about his background his writing method, does he outline, how he does research, why he chose this one particular genre that kind of thing.

He Canadian by birth, and started out as a writer for a poker magazine, which interesting enough gave him no help in his quest to peruse an agent. He took his life savings and treating it like a job, Mr. Laukkanen began to pound out his first novel.

It’s getting fun because, not only is Mr. Laukkanen humble and pleasant and enthusiastic to listen to but he is own story is actually interesting. I mean IF I HAD A DOLLAR FOR EVERY WRITER WHO IS BURNED OUT, BORED AND INCONVENIENCED BY BEING ON TOUR. I MEAN WOW.

You can tell the jerks in the world. There are authors who are so full of themselves they think they will be buried in Westminster Abby. They might be great writers but when they treat the public as if their writing is doing mankind a favor; I’m not reading them any longer. That is why I write this Blog in the first place.

I’m not sure how Mr. Laukkanen will come off on stage in front of three hundred people but if he can make the big stage as intimate as he did tonight this guy can be a book selling machine. I rarely buy books at author readings and I have to say I was charmed enough to buy a copy of the “Professionals.”

I know, what some readers might be thinking “Hey Claudio, what’s with the effusive review? Where is the snark, the biting criticism? All I know is that author readings are still one of the best ways to sell books and for authors to connect with an audience. Anyone interested in discovering a new author or those who like listening to author readings, should understand this guy deserves a look.

Oh yeah, about the book: “The Professionals” is the story of a bunch of broke, out of work college grads joke about making a start-up business in the kidnapping/ransom field; until talk becomes action and everything goes bad.

I asked him why he didn’t choose the seedy subculture of the poker world as material for his first book. He understandably admitted he didn’t want to be known as a "poker writer" but that background might come in handy for future stories. Right now he has a three book series featuring his protagonist police officers that will keep him busy for the foreseeable future.

The genesis for Mr. Laukkanen’s writing crime started at the family dinner table with conversations about blood splatter patters and ballistic reports. You see his parents, are both Physicians, and his mother is an honest to goodness Forensic Scientist.

That’s correct folks, Mommy is a real life CSI. What an amazing resource for writer to call upon. I mean could you imagine ease dropping on this cell phone conversation:

“Hi mom. What’s the best method for keeping a dead woman from floating to the top of a lake?”

I’m telling you right now, if that conversation was overheard in Portland or Seattle coffee shop, the 911 switchboard would be flooded with paranoid, caffeine fueled panic.

We end the evening as he has books to sign. I impart on him some unsolicited advice, (because I think I know everything) about what works and what I find does not work best at author readings. Mr. Laukkanen, listens with grace and smiles as I babble. It is the smile of a man who used to write about the poker world knowing in this world there many losers and few winners.

Poker, like publishing, is a world where talent and brains sometimes aren’t enough to come out on top but with his new novel and personality, Owen Laukkanen is holding a great hand.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Jeyn Roberts Book Tour Review


I quietly wait atThird Place Books to meet with my other author friends and exchange ideas and critique each other’s work. At 6:45 the usual call goes out announcing that an author is reading in the small stage, but I don’t go having made other plans. My friends are late so I wait: when at 7:03 I hear a sound so sickening that I can’t believe my ears.

It is a second announcement by the book store that an author reading is about to take place, promoting the book DARK INSIDE and that my dear readers is a bad sign.

It is the sound of an author getting skunked at a reading. No one has shown so I slap my computer shut and text everyone the instructions that some poor bugger is reading to an empty room.

Okay so there is a mom and a daughter, another lady (who has actually read the book) myself and the rest of the wannabe authors straggling in.

It’s young adult literature; a genre ruined for me by lousy books about Vampires on the Washington coast but I don’t care if she is writing about, Zombies or blood suckers or the Tea Party, no novelist should ever get skunked at a reading. I just can’t let this happen.

There were meet our author Jeyn Roberts standing in this barren room; nervous as a Tribute before the start of the Hunger Games. (Get it? Ha, Ha. This is a young adult author and then I made The Hunger Games analogy and it was supposed to be clever but… forget it)

Still this could be interesting. Heck this could be fun. It is one thing to watch an author wrangle a a packed house completely engaged on their every word but then there is the other side. How does one handle a crowd of the few and unaware? Let’s see how she handles this because someday we are all going to face that empty room.

Actually I have seen great readings done in rooms as small as five people and lousy ones done by people who actually paid to see an author. The best ones always give the same performance.

I have to give Ms. Roberts a lot of credit by admitting that she is uneasy talking to so few people tonight after speaking at several local high schools where her core audience is found. As we conversed she was energetic and funny and seemed like a genuine hard working author. Yeah, I liked her.

But rather than beginning the evening by reading from the book, (so that the few of us can get some kind of flavor for the novel) she starts by asking if anyone has read the book. (No)

Then she decided to just open up the talk to questions, which makes me cringe because that puts the pressure on the audience and I know what kind of questions are going to take place.

I need something to ask about, something to anchor the evening on with a writer I know nothing about. Reading from the book helps, but that is just me.

My writing friends have arrived (seven in the audience now) and we bomb her with the basic questions, “Do you use an outline when writing?” “What is your background” One of my author friends asks the inspiration question. This is a long answer which helps by leading to more questions. Ms. Roberts has a lot to offer if only it were more structured.

Finally she read sections of the novel, which was her strongest part of the evening. She was enthusiastic about the book and she read with passion, often times explaining the plot as she went along and actually clearing up the plot.

Oh yeah the book. Here is my best two sentence elevator pitch describing Dark Inside and please add the movie guy announcer voice for this:

Tremendous earthquakes have destroyed the earth’s major cities; an ancient evil emerges, turning ordinary people into hunters, killers, and insane monsters. But a small group of teens comes together in a fight for survival and safety of all mankind. Can they do it? Will they do it?”

To me it sounds like “The Stand” meets “Godzilla” but what the hell do I know, one of my friends bought the book: I’ll ask him.