Monday, October 30, 2006

Tales from the Road

Rick posting

The ubiquitous book tour: Belleville, Ontario.

Some have called these things “an exercise in author humiliation”.

They can certainly be that and more. It’s not much fun going into a book store (usually one of the large chain ones) only to find out that no one knew you were coming, or worse yet, they didn’t want you to come in the first place (although, thankfully, that doesn’t happen very often). The largest calamity an author usually has to worry about is that the store ordered your books but they didn’t arrive. That’s easily settled by making sure you always travel with a box or two of the things in the trunk of your car.

No, the really humiliating thing that can and does happen is when none of the customers have heard of you and have little or no interest in your book. “I don’t like mysteries.” “I only read nonfiction.” “I only came in to get a cup of coffee.” Most authors have heard these (or variations on the theme). My particular favourite is, “I don’t like to read.” Hello? Please excuse me for pointing this out, but you ARE in a book store!

Having already done 10 signings on my When Hell Freezes Over Tour, I’ve become very sanguine in my reaction to various things potential customers say when I try to break the ice by asking them, “Do you like reading mysteries?”

I do ask this question with some feeling of guilt, say as a telemarketer might when he asks the computer to dial yet another phone number, knowing that he’s breaking in on someone’s private time. But it is something an author has to do to be successful – unless your name is Bill Clinton or Dan Brown. The alternative is to stare balefully and with increasing depression as each person passes by as you sit behind your little table display, a table piled high with your latest. So engage you must!

That’s when those not interested will come up with one of the comments listed a few paragraphs above. What those folks are really trying to tell you is, “Please leave me alone; I don’t want to be bothered.” Once an author realizes that, it’s a little easier to take the rejection. They’re trying to be nice. They could just tell you to eff off.

But then there are those kind souls who ARE tempted to come over. Often, I’m sure they feel sorry for you, but some are actually interested. These are your target audience: mystery readers, and they’re the real reason you do these things. If they read your latest and like it, they’re liable to buy your other books, and quite often they have friends who also like reading mysteries, and they might also buy.

A savvy author comes equipped with The Handout, something people can take away with them and read over. You can also give them a bookmark. I know people who also have some sort of goodies: candy, cookies, fridge magnets, pens with your book’s name on it. All of these things do help, although it can get pretty expensive.

With Christmas not that far off, an author can also use the angle, “You know, Christmas is not that far off and a signed book makes a terrific gift!” With my limited skill at the craft, I’m also quick to add, “And they’re really easy to wrap!”

Probably the most gratifying thing to happen at signings, though, are those rare (for me, at least) occasions when someone actually knows who you are. That happened to me today. “What a coincidence! I came into this store specifically to look for your book.” In my case, a review in this past Saturday’s Globe and Mail was the impetus for this wonderful person to make the trip to their local store. Let me tell you, my day was made, too! That one thing totally wiped out last week’s debacle at the Indigo in downtown Montreal where I only sold one book.

So now you know why I’m sanguine about having to go on tour. I honestly do enjoy talking with readers, but beyond that, there’s the rush of meeting someone who actually knows who you are and is honestly glad to meet you and excited to get a signed book.

Maybe that will happen tonight at the Chapters store in Belleville. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Afterward: Belleville was NOT a good signing. I sold 3 books. Still, it was better than Montreal. Call me Candide...

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Q&A, part 2

I liked Vicki’s post so much I decided to try it myself. I even left in the Canadian spellings.

What was your first job?
Grounds crew at a golf course.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
After reading one too many Clive Cussler books.
What was your first paid professional writing assignment?
It was a freelance assignment. I was hired by Dixon Schwabl Advertising to write the coffee table book that would accompany a community arts charity event. They must have liked it since they went and hired me full time.
Career influences?
Donald Westlake, PG Wodehouse, Jon Cleary, Edgar Rice Burroughs, George MacDonald Fraser, Larry McMurtry, Paul Theroux.
Favourite author?
Westlake.
What is your favourite writing genre?
Adventure fiction. This includes stuff like Westlake (Kahawa, High Adventure), McMurtry’s westerns, Elmore Leonard (Cuba Libra), Cleary (High Road to China, Golden Saber), Theroux (Mosquito Coast, Saint Jack, My Secret Life) and everything by Fraser.
What book are you currently reading?
Windfall by Desmond Bagley and Plunder of the Sun by David Dodge. In the CD player in the car I’ve got Interlude in Death by J.D. Robb.
Favourite sport?
To play it’d be softball but I’ll watch any sport.
Favourite local spot?
The Dinosaur Barbecue.
Favourite way to relax?
Reading and, as much as I hate to do it, going to the gym.
Favourite hobby?
Playing the sax.
Favourite snack?
Martini olives, properly skewered and soaked.
Favourite meal?
Anything Indian.
Dogs or cats?
Is this part of the meal question?
Wine or beer?
Whiskey.
What's in your music player?
Robbie William (Greatest Hits), My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult (Live) and Lee Press-on & the Nails (Playing Dirty)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Q&A and an upcoming event

Vicki here: I love to play those games on the Internet where you answer questions about yourself and then pass the questions on to your friends. You know the sort – what’s your favourite movie, favourite ice cream flavour, etc? I guess that we all like to talk about ourselves; it makes us feel important, even answering pretty mundane questions. I was featured last week in my local newspaper, the Oakville Beaver, in a segment called Q&A. I tried to plug the Afternoon of Murder event on November 18th at the Moonshine Café in Oakville (six Canadian mystery writers reading from their books) but they cut all that out. Oh, well, I’m plugging it now. Because I’m sure the readers of this blog are dying to know what’s my favourite movie, here is the piece as it was in the Oakville Beaver. And if you’d like more info about the Afternoon of Murder, please drop me an e-mail at Vicki@vickidelany.com. Oh, one more thing – in my answer about career influences I mentioned my fellow typist, Rick Blectha, who taught me a lot about doing a book signing. Sorry, Rick, but you were edited out!

Q&A
We pose questions to author Vicki Delany

Oct 7, 2006
What was your first job?
Sales clerk at K-Mart at Hopedale Mall.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
When I was in school (I went to T.A. Blakelock) my firends and I wrote stories for each other based on our favourite TV character.
What was your first paid professional writing assignment?
My first attempt at a novel was sold to an e-publishing company. My first cheque from them was for $14.
Career influences?
Mystery writers such as Giles Blunt and Maureen Jennings proved a good mystery, with a very Canadian setting, can make it.
Favourite author?
My favourite book of all is To Kill a Mockingbird, but of an author with a body of work, Ian Rankin.
What is your favourite writing genre?
About 80 per cent of what I read is mysteries or suspense. The other 20 per cent is generally non-fiction.
What book are you currently reading?
I have just started Season of Iron by Sylvia Maultash Warsh. In non-fiction, I'm reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan.
Favourite sport?
I don't play, but I enjoy going to a Blue Jays game.
Favourite local spot?
I love the Moonshine Café on Kerr Street. Other than that - my own back yard!
Favourite way to relax?
Reading, reading and more reading.
Favourite hobby?
Quilting.
Favourite snack?
Stilton on baguette.
Favourite meal?
The leftovers from a full turkey dinner.
Dogs or cats?
Dogs.
Wine or beer?
Wine.
What's in your music player?
Il Divo, Enya, David Wilcox, and Lord of the Rings.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

And a Grand Time Was Had By All

Rick’s blog tells it all – Bouchercon was a blast. The high point for most guests had to be the Meet the Canucks gala gathering and game show. Rick got to give away loads of great books all while raising awareness of the CWC and its members. I got to spend the night explaining why an American from New York is a member of the Crime Writers of Canada.

Now what’s the sense of going to something like Bouchercon without the chance to drop names? To save time, just assume that I was rubbing – and bending – elbows with the biggest names in crime fiction. Let me tell you folks, I was chatting up a storm and I could tell by the look in their eyes and the tone of their voice that these Big Name writers were wondering who was responsible for letting me in the room.

Madison itself if a quaint little place with an impressive capital building right there in the center of town. The place is teeming with college students, each one there to remind you just how frickin’ old you really are. Case in point: In a CD store I asked the fresh-faced clerk where I could find the Ramones CDs (there are rumors of an excellent bootleg concert CD floating around). The wee lad looked up, pointed to the section to his right and said, “Try Easy Listening.”

I had the honor of hosting The Architecture of Murder panel discussion featuring Mary Logue, Harry Hunsicker, fellow Poisoned Pen Press author Fred Ramsay and fellow CWC member Louise Penny. I read a book or two by each of the panel members and did all this background research – it was a wonderful way to procrastinate, especially since the books were so good. I had read books by Mary, Fred and Louise first – perfect cozies and great reads, filled with warm, real people who you’d want to spend time with over a piping cup of chamomile and set in towns you’d want to move to or at least visit in autumn when the leaves are changing and there is a nip to the air. Then I read Harry’s book, Still River. From the opening line I knew I was in for something different. “Vera Drinkwater had been a slut in high school, or so they had said.” I switched to Old Smuggler whiskey when I read Harry and vowed that if I ever do visit Dallas, I will avoid hanging out with Hank Oswald. Good stuff – the whiskey and the book. I still haven’t forgiven Dallas for embarrassing the Bill’s in Superbowl XXVII.

Next year Bouchercon will be in Alaska. I gave them my registration on Saturday.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Bouchercon

I spent this past weekend in Madison, Wisconsin at Bouchercon, the granddaddy of all mystery conventions. Type M authors Alex Brett and Charles Benoit were also present.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times (or considering the state, should I have said "the wurst of times"?). When you get a conference this large (over 1000 attendees) and many, many of them are authors, whether published or not, the experience can be a bit surreal. Part way in, you get the feeling the entire convention is saying, "Look at me! Look at me!" At least, I felt that way. I had this mental image of the actual mystery fans at the convention being swarmed by expectant authors and being dragged down to the dealers' room, not to be let go until everyone's books had been purchased. Roving gangs of writers would accost Madisonians on the streets, pelting them with freshly printed books. Mayhem would ensue.

It didn't get out of hand like that, of course, but the focus of the convention was certainly on the leading authors in our chosen genre. It is very hard to get noticed in that august crowd. Alex, Charles and myself did our best. Probably the best medium for us was our Meet the Canucks party on opening night. CWC members gave us a lot of books to hand out. Charles did an Ed McMahon to my Johnny Carson (actually, he's A LOT funnier than Ed), and Alex, a brick as always, did a very credible Vanna White with the prizes.

Then it was on to panels. This can be the best way to get noticed -- provided you get on a good one. I was fortunate this time out to have a great moderator, John Rickards, who was well-prepared and really tried to stay out of the way. Not all moderators do that. As a matter of fact, we had to drag this very good author into the conversation. In the end, I certainly enjoyed the topic (The New Wave) because it was wide-ranging and got not only the panelists but the audience involved as well. It also sold a few books for me, and that's always a good thing.

After that, it was down to hanging around, talking to people and taking in the odd panel, mostly friends whom I wanted to support and hear what they had to say. Hanging out in the bar during the evening hours can also be useful for networking.

So why was it the worst of times? My plane back got cancelled, so I had to get back to Toronto via Minneapolis and at a much later time, and I'd managed to get a horrible cold. Landing at two airports drove the thing into my ears and now I'm really down for the count.

But I'll probably still go to Bouchercon next year...