When #Writers meet #Authors ~ Lessons Learned

Writing Humour based on this tweet by Lauren DeStefano on Twitter: I’m a writer. My bliss in life is creating fictional worlds in which (mostly) fictional characters interact. My short fiction has been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies, but until that all elusive agent/publishing deal comes through for my novels, until you can find something I wrote at a book store near you, I feel like I’ll remain in limbo – a writer, but not yet an author.

Good things come to those that wait, and waiting isn’t simply down time. It’s a chance to learn, to grow, and to develop the skills you need to transform your goals into prolonged success. One of the best ways to learn how to do something right is by learning from what others do wrong. And I’m doing exactly that.

It’s probably no surprise that one of the things I enjoy doing is going to book signings. I love meeting authors. I love being in a room filled with other passionate readers. I love walking into a room full of strangers with the rare feeling of knowing that I’ll be okay – there’s comfort in knowing that the other people in the room are my kind of people. And maybe, one day, if I keeping working hard and developing my skill and talent, it might be me up there signing books. No one said it was going to be easy. You can’t expect the things you want in life to be handed to you – you have to work for them.

I try to keep this in mind while I stop myself from lying prostate at the authors’ feet, begging for the magical knowledge, the golden key, whatever secret it is that they know that I don’t that made an agent ask to rep them instead of saying, “I think it’s good, I really enjoyed it, but I’m not quite passionate enough about it.” I keep this in mind, and instead focus on what the authors are doing now that they’ve made it. How are they behaving? How are they interacting? How are they turning casual readers into die-hard fans – or not? Because that’s the real golden key. And it’s a big one.

A couple of years ago, I got the chance to meet one of my favorite authors. I was really excited. I’d read every book she’d ever written. She seemed to be the perfect balance of everything I was striving to be. I sat there in the audience among her other fans, the excitement in the room slowly dying, our collective hearts slowly breaking, while it became increasingly apparent what an inconvenience the event was to her. How annoying we, as fans simply wanting a smile and a signature, must be. It was a horrible feeling. And, although I’d been reading her series for over ten years, I haven’t read one of her books since. Not out of anger or spite – when I read the blurbs, they just don’t appeal to me. To be honest, the series had been stale for a while, and even though I felt this way, I remained reading because I had faith they’d pick up again. I was a loyal fan right up until the moment it became clear that she wasn’t a loyal author. She wasn’t trying. She felt no sense of obligation to provide her fans with her best work – or even her time. She was pumping out the same tired story line book after book because we continued to buy them.

Earlier this year, I met a new author shortly after the release of her first novel. The book was good. It showed promise. The characters were well developed, the plot was entertaining, but there were certain things – a little too much backstory dump in places that turned into rambling, erroneous writing that did nothing to move the story forward or invest the reader deeper into the work. Things that readers know will improve with experience and time, things that won’t necessarily stop a reader from picking up another book by the author. The author seemed comfortable with the audience. She talked about herself for over an hour. By the time she was done, I think we all felt like we knew her a bit. She’d certainly shared enough intimate details of her life with us. Yet as we stood in line, readers telling her how much they enjoyed the book, or how much they identified with a character, the author couldn’t have seemed less interested. She quickly scrawled her name in each book, taking neither the time nor the effort to personalize with a name or message, much more interested in her cell phone. I don’t think she actually made eye contact with a single person while signing their book for them. It was obvious that the author didn’t need anyone in that room to make the effort to look for her next book – she was already a rock star.

And then there’s the author who does it right. Who not only makes eye contact, but takes the time to ask questions of every reader. Who personalizes what they sign from the conversation they take the time to have with each person. Who thanks every reader for coming out, for their support, for reading the book. After all, what is an author, what is their book, without readers? When you write a book, you’re asking readers to let a piece of you inside them – into their heads, their hearts, their homes. You’re establishing a relationship, and relationships are built on mutual affection.

Image result for following atticusIf When I make the transition from writer to author, this is one of the biggest lessons I hope to bring with me. I am an introvert. Most writers probably are. But you’re going into the situation knowing that these are your people. Embrace them. Appreciate them. Thank them. Treasure them. Take the time to make them feel as special as they make you feel.

And while I won’t reveal the names of the authors who do it wrong, I will share the name of the author who, in my opinion, does it the best, and that’s Tom Ryan. If you’ve never read his creative nonfiction book, Following Atticus, you should. Check out his social media and his blog and you will see that this is an author who is doing things right. He’s created a family of his readers. His readers adore him, and he takes the time to make them feel appreciated in return. He has a line around the block waiting eagerly awaiting the release of his second book.

Jodi Picoult is another author who treats her fans with appreciation and sincerity. If you get the chance to attend one of her signings, you should definitely go. She’s a wonderful speaker, passionate about her causes, and also makes her readers feel like family. It’s no wonder that she’s achieve such success – Leaving Time had an initial hardcover printing of a million copies – in the literary world, she really is a rock star – and yet, she’s still humble enough to thank you for coming. Whether it’s the secret of success, or simply good manners, count me in.

 

Perfect Match by Jodi Picoult ~ Fiction Book Review

111180There’s no doubt that Jodi Picoult is a gifted writer and wonderful story teller. She has the ability to leave the reader breathless with awe and emotion, tale spinning into despair from an unforeseen plot twist. This book – well, it’s not that it doesn’t have the unforeseen plot twist, it’s just that it’s rather predictable.

The book was good, it kept my attention, but I had several eye rolling, “Yeah, right,” moments. Jodi Picoult, you’re better than that. When I read your books, I want to be shred into a little pile of kleenex bits and then scattered in every direction.

I want to feel the strength of your typing hand as it reaches inside my chest, grips my heart in a cruel fist, and wrenches it from my body. I want to feel . . . something. This book did not any much emotion in me. It left me feeling meh. No tears, but not a complete waste of time. 4 stars.

Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult ~ Fiction Book Review

wpb7.jpgThere’s no question that Jodi Picoult is a good writer. Some of her books that I’ve read have left me completely floored. This wasn’t one of them.

Don’t get me wrong – this was a good book. I just didn’t connect to it. I liked the supporting characters more than the main characters, and while the plot was well thought and enjoyable, it felt almost formula to me. As usual, it was obvious that Picoult did a lot of research for this book. Unfortunately, it seemed clumped together in data dumps throughout the novel. If I had to guess, I would say that her heart wasn’t in this one as much as some of her others.

I did enjoy this book, and if I found it a bit disappointing, it is probably because I have such high expectations when reading Picoult. Four stars.

 

Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult ~ Fiction Book Review

book25Another thought provoking read by bestselling author Jodi Picoult, this book pushes the boundaries – of tolerance, of belief, and of religious exploration. In this review, I will discuss more than what you can read on the back cover, so spoiler alert.

The topic is catchy enough – a woman’s daughter is dying and needs a heart transplant; the one offered to her is that of the not-yet dead convicted murderer on death row who killed the woman’s husband and other daughter. As if that weren’t touchy enough, Picoult takes the story a step further and makes the book even more controversial by adding the element of religion. Could the murderer be the messiah? Is the killer Jesus?

As usual, Picoult presents her readers with a well researched book that explores the storyline from every angle. She fearlessly pushes buttons, and for that I have to give her credit. I enjoyed the book and would rate it 4.5 stars. I enjoy fiction that makes you think. That said, I know that there are readers who would absolutely detest this book based on subject matter alone. If that’s you, I suggest that you don’t read it.

Handle With Care by Jodi Picoult ~ Fiction Book Review

book19Another good book by dependable author Jodi Picoult. Not amazing, but a good story with solid characters and a well thought plot that makes the reader both think and feel. As usual, Picoult picks a controversial subject, in this instance a wrongful birth lawsuit for a child born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (brittle bone disease), and argues the case from every possible angle by everyone involved.

It’s basically the same formula she used in My Sister’s Keeper, although I seem to have developed more of a connection with those characters. Still, this was a good book, and I’d recommend it if you’re looking for a book that makes you think twice about your own gut reaction to a moral dilemma – it might be more complicated than you think.

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult ~ Fiction Review

book9I picked up this book not knowing anything about it but the author. I had no idea about the plot or the significance of 19 minutes. I was pleased to find myself immersed in a controversial subject ripped from the headlines – something that Picoult does well.

Jodi Picoult is a storyteller. I love the way she writes, the way she puts herself (and the reader) in the shoes of such a wide array of characters. I especially love it when she pushes you into the uncomfortable position of considering circumstances from a point of view you’d rather not experience.

The good news, besides really enjoying this book, is that I finally made it through a Jodi Picoult book without crying! The bad news is that once I finish one of her books and pick up something written by another author, it tends to pale in comparison because Picoult has mastered the trifecta of fiction writing – the plot, pacing, and emotion always work together to create a dynamic vehicle that drives the reader to race through the book, unable to put it down.

Review ~ My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

keeperI find that, quite often, I’m not the one reading the hottest new book as it hits the shelves. But chances are that, as time passes, as my reading tastes change, and as the title finds its way into the boxes at library book and yard sales, it will eventually fall into my hands. I’m glad that My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult found its way into my to-read stack.

I really enjoyed this novel. Simply written, it’s an intimate, emotional account of a family’s ordeal with leukemia. Picoult strips the flesh and reveals the tender meat below as she delves into the difficult choices that have to be made to save one child at the expense of another, and how years of struggling takes its tole on each member of the family.

I must add that even though I expected and had prepared myself for a  certain ending, the author blindsided me with the way she made it happen, leaving me in tears. Although I haven’t read many books by Picoult, the ones I have read have had endings like that – you think you’ve prepared yourself and built up a tough exterior, but she manages to surprise you in such a manner that she strips your fortitude away, leaving your heart exposed and at her mercy as she squeezes. I look forward to reading more of her books.

Jodi Picoult’s “Leaving Time” Book Launch – and My Confession

jpLast night I was fortunate enough to attend a reading and book signing by author Jodi Picoult, who isn’t just an incredible writer, but also an amazing speaker with an admirable social conscious. As I sat in the audience listening to the Q & A session, watching the way Jodi connected with her fans, I knew it was finally time to say it loud and proud.

For those of you who don’t know, my name is Shannon and I want to be an author. I always have and always will. There was really no stopping it – it started when I was a young child. Somewhere at my parent’s house there’s a trunk full of stories I wrote and illustrated as a kid.

Then something weird happened. Somehow I got the message that you can’t be an author and pay the bills; that only works for a select few. Thinking back, I try to remember who planted this seed of poison – certainly not my parents. They always told me I could be whatever I wanted to be as they took me to the library each week to check out my tower of books. To a certain extent, I believed them. While I didn’t like school, I was good at it and loved to learn, immersing myself in any and every subject I found interesting. jp1

Perhaps that’s why I spent 7 years in college, earning several degrees but no PhD – I had no focus. I wanted – and still want – to learn about everything. I only have this one life and I want to spend it experiencing, learning, doing, living as much as possible.

I came back to writing off and on during my twenties, started a couple of novels, tried to submit some short stories for publication, but could never really find a balance between writing and paying the bills. Finally, though, I’ve found my groove and have become focused on my goal.

I’ve been successful in getting short stories accepted for publication and am working on the rewrite of my first novel, but I didn’t actually feel like a writer until last night. When I would say it out loud, call myself a writer, I felt odd, like a poser. A voice in the back of my head scoffed at me like the mean girl in high school. “As if.” Why the sudden change then? Because of something Jodi Picoult said. She talked about how, as a writer, she gets to play scientist and learn about what interests her. That’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do my entire life. Suddenly the confusion, the guilt from my indecisiveness that’s kept me feeling so lost and awkward all these years simply melted away.

I was an archaeology major because I loved reading books where I learned about ancient civilizations. My fascination with bones led to a degree in Anthropology. I earned a degree in Crime Scene Technology because I loved reading forensic thrillers and writing mysteries. As I discovered during my time at the Medical Examiner’s Office, though, it’s not always as fun as it sounds. I love the science, but not always the hands on work. When someone asks you what you do and you say you touch dead people, they take a step back, one eyebrow raised, and look like they expect you to bite them. If you say you write mysteries, they take a step forward and want to know more. IMG_20141014_202407605_HDR

I love the opportunity writing presents me with. I can share what I learn with others. I can help raise awareness, shed light on issues that need attention, I can use my craft to make a difference, and hopefully provide a bit of entertainment in the process. If only a handful of people ever read it, it doesn’t matter. I’m still a writer because it is who, not what, I am.

So thank you, Jodi Picoult, for making me feel like a writer. I’ve been waiting for an ‘aha’ moment, something to make me own it, and last night, during your talk, your words made it click. And I’m really sorry for fanning out and making you smile for a picture with me. In my defense, however, it’s not like you’re some Hollywood actor, professional athlete or politician – you’re AUTHOR Jodi Picoult – how could I resist?