Category: Events


Notes from a book tour

By Midge Raymond,

Years ago, before my book was published, I remember reading an article by a very successful author who was complaining about doing book tours. And I remember thinking, How can any author fortunate enough to have a book published and a tour scheduled complain about the privilege not only of having a book out in the world but of being able to meet her readers?

Now, after having just completed a ten-day whirlwind tour of my own, I can empathize a little more — it really is quite exhausting — but I most definitely cannot complain.

For one, I feel so fortunate to have teamed up with my friend and fellow writer Wendy Call, whose amazing book No Word for Welcome (University of Nebraska Press) was published two months after my book, Forgetting English, was reissued by Press 53. Though my book is fiction and hers narrative nonfiction, our books touch on similar themes — the global economy, home and travel, border crossings both literal and figurative — and we put together a series of workshops, seminars, and joint readings that made for a very busy ten days.

We did eight events in four states, traveling through Hurricane Irene-damaged areas that sent us on all sorts of detours, which were so very minor compared to what most residents were going through. It was amazing to see how these communities we visited bonded together; the photo below is from Woodstock’s Shiretown Books:

Wendy and I gathered a whole series of lessons from this tour, and if I had to sum them up as one, it would be: Be prepared. For anything.

We had water shortages, a car break-in, oddly timed meals (our first meal at 4 p.m. one day, dinner at 11 p.m. on another), and a lot of detour stress. Yet the less-than-fun aspects were offset by being hosted by fantastic indie bookstores and generously taken in by amazing friends. We met with inspiring students and writers, and, no matter how long the day, we  always managed to have a glass of wine and at least a few hours’ sleep at the end of it.

I’ve learned that book events are one thing, whereas an extended book tour is another thing entirely. Book touring is for writers who are flexible above all else —  you never know what you’ll encounter when you show up for an event. You need to be prepared for detours, of course, and for events that need to start late or end early. Be prepared for crowds larger than you’d expected, or smaller than you’d hoped. Be prepared for more questions than you have time for, or for no questions at all.

But most of all, be prepared to have a lot of fun. I reminded myself, even in the challenging moments, that we were out there talking about our books, which is something many writers don’t have the opportunity to do.

So if you’re a writer considering a tour, remember that, despite the inevitable challenges, when you do a book tour you’re not only meeting your readers but supporting indie booksellers, community centers, and other venues important to the literary world. And if you’re a reader, go to your nearest bookstore on an event day and see what it’s all about.



Book Promo 101: Reading aloud

By Midge Raymond,

While this post touches on some of the points from Book Promo 101: The bookstore reading, I wanted to devote a little extra time to the art of reading aloud, especially given the wonderful tips I received recently from Jack Straw Productions and Elizabeth Austen.

As part of the preparation for our joint book tour, Wendy Call and I visited Seattle’s Jack Straw Productions, the Northwest’s only non-profit multidisciplinary audio arts center, to record excerpts from our books.

 Producer Moe Provencher had wonderful advice for me as I stumbled through a practice reading — an excerpt I’d never rehearsed until that afternoon — and I found her tips  as relevant and useful for live readings as they are for audio recordings:

  • Mark up the text from which you’re reading so that you’ll know when to pause, what to emphasize, etc.
  • Develop a facial expression that reflects a character’s voice and/or mood; when you use your face to express something, this mood and tone will come through in your voice.
  • Read far more slowly than you think you need to — to the point at which you feel ridiculous — and this will likely be the perfect pace.
  • Practice. Aloud. Many times.
  • Breathe.

The good news for Seattle-area writers is that Jack Straw offers a Writers Program (Wendy was a 2008 Jack Straw Writer) in which writers spend several months developing a project while learning tips for readings, doing interviews, and more.

I learned a few more invaluable tips when, the week after the recording, I attended Elizabeth Austen‘s workshop at the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference: “Beyond the Page: Poems Aloud, Poems Alive” (a session I recommend all prose writers take as well). Elizabeth, with her background in theater, has a gift for the spoken word, and she reminded us first and foremost that language is physical, that we need to remember this when we read aloud, and to feel every word. She offered a few examples — words such as awe, hiss, tip, trapeze — and in speaking them we could hear and appreciate their pitch and length, their sharpness or languidness. (Give it a try, right now. It’s pretty cool.) Elizabeth gave us tips on everything from rehearsing (avoid mirrors or recordings; ask a friend to listen and offer feedback instead) to what to wear to a reading (whatever makes you feel comfortable and confident; also, avoid high heels, and rehearse in the shoes you’ll be wearing at the event).

Among Elizabeth’s wisest tips was this: “The performance requires you, but it’s not about you.” As readers, she explains, we are conduits for getting the words out into the room and to the audience. I love this eye-opening tip, not only because it takes the edge off the self-consciousness most of us feel when we read, but because it reminds us that our words need to speak for themselves — that, now that we’ve written them, it’s time to let them shine on their own.



Dispatches from the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference

By Midge Raymond,

This week, I’ve been at the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference at Centrum — an absolutely fantastic place to be reading, writing, and simply to be among writers. With morning and afternoon classes, afternoon craft lectures, evening readings, and views of the water, I can’t think of a more inspiring place to be.

On Monday, I spent the morning writing (working on a stubbornly unfinished short story), and then went to Sam Ligon‘s afternoon class on short-short stories — a form that I admire and love to read but haven’t had success with myself (I do well at 1,000 words and above — but writing a shorter story than that still mystifies me). Sam’s class went a long way in demystifying the form, and his examples (from Willow Springs authors to Amy Hempel to his own story “Glazed,” which appears in his collection Drift and Swerve) reinforced the major takeaway: that short-shorts must do away with most of the general rules of fiction (such as plot and character) and focus heavily on voice and mood, with a hard turn at the end.

Tuesday gave me more writing time, and in the afternoon I taught “Setting the Scene,” in which I gave everyone writers’ cramp as we discussed the various ways in which to insert the where into one’s work.

Evening readings have included works by Pam Houston, Carl Phillips, Sam Ligon, and Paisley Rekdal — and I am especially looking forward to Friday’s reading with Wendy Call as she reads from her hot-off-the-presses book No Word for Welcome.

And we’re only halfway through this amazing week. Visit the Centrum web site for more info on how to get your own self here for next year’s conference.

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Weekly Writing: Perception

By Midge Raymond,

The writers and travelers who joined me for my recent workshop enjoyed this writing prompt, so I thought I’d share the fun. It’s a two-part exercise, the second of which is usually the most fun — and the most surprising.

1. Think of someone you saw while traveling. Write a description of this person.

2. Next, write a description of yourself from this person’s POV.

Enjoy!

 

 





Bookstore geek: Bloomsbury Books

By Midge Raymond,

In my continuing coverage of awesome indie bookstores, I’d like you to meet Bloomsbury Books of Ashland, Oregon.

This lovely bookstore is in the center of town, and as well as offering a great selection of books and magazines, Bloomsbury is also a wonderful gift shop, with cards, games, and (very important) Theo Chocolate, among other delights. The staff is friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful, and the store features frequent author events (I’ll be reading there on Thursday, May 12, at 7 p.m., if you happen to be in town).

Yet another thing to love about Bloomsbury is the cafe upstairs, with its organic selections, gigantic comfy chairs, and a gorgeous outdoor patio and garden (the cafe has a “no cell phone policy” of which I am a huge fan). I’ve spent much of the winter there on writing dates with my writing buddy, and now that the weather is nice enough to write outside, I’m hoping to spend most of the summer here as well.



Weekly Writing: Short story inspiration

By Midge Raymond,

In honor of Short Story Month and the Short Story Month Collection Giveaway Project, I’m turning to short stories for inspiration for this week’s writing exercise:

1. Pull one of your favorite short story collections off the shelf.

2. Open to a random page.

3. Write down the first line on that page. (For example, I’ve just picked up Lori Ostlund’s The Bigness of the World, and my random line is: “They had not expected the desert to be like this…”)

4. Write a story of your own based on this one line — erase the original story’s context from your mind, start over, and have fun.

 



Short Story Month Collection Giveaway Project

By Midge Raymond,

Welcome to Short Story Month!

UPDATE, 6/1: Congratulations to the winners — Tommy, Ed, and Susan — who now have some amazing summer reading material on the way. And thanks to all of you who participated in the giveaway and for all that you do to keep short stories alive and well!

This year, I am happy to be joining other bloggers in the annual Fiction Writers Review Collection Giveaway Project, a community effort by lit bloggers to raise attention for short story collections. FWR Contributing Editor Erika Dreifus suggested FWR as a home for this project last year and will not only be participating on her own blog, but will also be helping FWR run the project. And those of you who are fiction bloggers yourselves, click here for information on how you can participate as well.

The only difficult part about this for me has been choosing a collection to give away…but I’ve finally narrowed it down. To three.

First, I’m happy to be giving away Erika‘s own collection, Quiet Americans, out this year and well worth the long wait! I first met Erika in a bookstore outside Boston, where we did a reading together as finalists for a short story award. So I’ve enjoyed her work for many years and was thrilled to have a whole collection of her haunting and thought-provoking stories to curl up with this winter. From a high-ranking Nazi’s wife and a Jewish doctor in prewar Berlin to a refugee returning to Europe as terrorists massacre Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, the characters and conflicts that emerge in Quiet Americans reframe familiar questions about what is right and wrong, remembered and repressed, resolved and unending.

I’m also happy to be giving away Becky Hagenston‘s collection Strange Weather, which received the 2009 Spokane Prize for Short Fiction and was published by the fabulous Press 53. As with Erika, I’d already been acquainted with Becky’s work and with some of these stories through the many literary magazines they’ve appeared in, and I loved having the chance to overdose on them with this collection, which is nearly impossible to put down. From the visceral tension in the mother-daughter relationship in “Trafalgar” to the wonderfully witty ghost story “Anthony,” these stories offer us a delightful mix of magic and reality, while never losing their grip on the truths that draw us to stories in the first place.

And finally, I’m delighted to offer the wonderful collection The Bigness of the World by Lori Ostlund, now out in paperback. Winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, this beautiful book introduces us to characters venturing out into a world in hopes of escaping their troubles, only to find that life remains as complicated as it was before they left. You may have already read “All Boy” in Best American Short Stories 2010 (two additional stories from the collection, “Bed Death” and “Talking Fowl with My Father,” are on the list of Other Distinguished Stories) — and if you’ve already read Lori’s work, you’ll only want to read more.

To be entered to win, leave a comment on this post any time from now to midnight (Pacific time!) on Tuesday, May 31, 2011, at which time I’ll use a random number generator to select three lucky winners.

Happy Short Story Month! Go forth, read stories, and celebrate.



Virtual Book Tour: Word Love

By Midge Raymond,

I’m delighted to be a guest today at Word Love by Randy Susan Meyers — a fantastic blog about writing and all aspects of the writing life. In addition to hosting this terrific blog, Randy is the internationally bestselling author of The Murderer’s Daughters; visit her web site to learn more and to read all the fabulous reviews.

Come join us at Word Love to learn a few tips on how to create a book trailer, to watch a few great ones, and to read the behind-the-scenes story about my own effort, Love in the Time of Amazon.com.

 



Virtual Book Tour: Savvy Verse & Wit

By Midge Raymond,

Today I’m thrilled to be a guest on the fabulous Savvy Verse & Wit blog, where I share some thoughts about my writing space (complete with before and after photos!). We’re also doing a Forgetting English giveaway, so come visit and enter to win a copy of the book.

Many thanks to Serena for hosting me today — and in addition to her blog, you can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.



Virtual Book Tour: Practicing Writing

By Midge Raymond,

Today I’m delighted to be a guest on Erika Dreifus’s popular and invaluable blog, Practicing Writing, to which I’ve been addicted for many years. Erika is a contributing editor for The Writer magazine and Fiction Writers Review and an advisory board member for J Journal: New Writing on Justice. Her beautiful story collection, Quiet Americans, was published earlier this year.

With thanks to Erika for hosting me, today I’m offering Ten Tips for a Writing Life, a few things that I find helpful to keep in mind as a working writer. I’d love to hear your tips as well, so stop by and share!

 



Virtual Book Tour: Elizabeth Austen

By Midge Raymond,

I’m so happy to be over at Elizabeth’ Austen’s blog today, writing about Thinking Like a Writer (a nice reminder for those of us who can’t manage to sit down to write as often as we’d like).

Elizabeth is a poet, teacher, and performer whose most recent collection, Every Dress a Decision, has just been released by Blue Begonia Press. Check out the trailer here — and listen to Elizabeth chat about poetry with Billy Collins here.

I look forward to seeing you at Elizabeth’s today!



Virtual Book Tour: The Alchemist’s Kitchen

By Midge Raymond,

Today I’d like to thank Susan Rich, author of three beautiful books of poetry (the most recent of which, The Alchemist’s Kitchen, is a finalist for the Poetry Book of the Year award), for hosting me on her blog today. Today’s topic is Writing About Place, and I offer a few tips for how all writers — from poets to novelists — can best write about place.

So join me over at The Alchemist’s Kitchen blog. It’s a place you’ll want to visit over and over again.

 

 

 



Virtual Book Tour: Crab Creek Review

By Midge Raymond,

I’m thrilled today to be blogging at Seattle’s Crab Creek Review, one of my favorite literary magazines, about putting time and space between yourself and a piece of writing (it’s true: absence really does make the heart grow fonder).

Join me at the Crab Creek Review blog — and be sure to check out the magazine and all the latest news here. Thanks so much to editors Kelli Russell Agodon and Annette Spaulding-Convy for hosting me!



The debut of the Weekly Writing Exercise

By Midge Raymond,

Happy new year, writers!

There’s nothing like a new year to inspire us toward new writing resolutions (especially if some of last year’s goals didn’t quite make it to completion in 2010…or is this just me?).

One of my goals for the new year is to begin a regular writing practice — that is, not simply to focus on projects but on the joys of random writing (which, as we all know, can have marvelous effects on our writing projects, whether it’s generating new material or finding the perfect piece to an unresolved puzzle). So I’ve been getting up early (early! before sunrise, believe it or not) and taking the time to write before doing anything else (with the possible exception of making coffee, when necessary). And so far, so good.

I like to use writing prompts to jump-start my writing session (I need it, especially at such an early hour), and I’ve been using the revised edition of Judy Reeves’ wonderful book A Writer’s Book of Days. I also have a great many writing prompts saved up from years’ worth of teaching writing — and so I thought one way to stay inspired would be to offer them here.

So each week I’ll be posting a new writing exercise — one that I’ve made up, or I’ll feature one from another author’s collection. And if you have a writing exercise to share — or if you’d like to point me toward one — please contact me; I’d love to include it.

This week, I’d like to feature Judy’s prompt for January 3 (from A Writer’s Book of Days):

You’re in a courtyard.

Intriguing, isn’t it? Just the sort of prompt I love to see on an otherwise blank page.

Happy new year, and happy writing.