Thursday, July 02, 2009

Readings: Thoughts and an Open Question

This week, I’m teaching fiction writing to 13 teens, 11 girls, two boys, ages 14 to 18 at the Broken Bridge Summer Arts Program at Pomfret School in Connecticut. It is invigorating work. The kids ask questions that make me think, they take revision seriously, and, when not in class, always have a book open. In short, the future of this thing we all love and choose to live—the literary arts—appears secure. The kids work diligently on their craft from 9 a.m. to about 9 p.m., and each evening, as if to provide creative nourishment, published fiction writers, poets, and playwrights give readings.

I was asked to read my work Tuesday night, told to go for about 40 minutes, then field questions. Forty minutes, to me, seems like a long time. I know I wouldn’t like to be read at for 40 minutes, especially from one text. So I selected the opening chapters from three different books featuring three different protagonists (and I always open a reading by sharing my favorite Philip Levine poem, “The Simple Truth”). Thirty-five minutes later, we were all still awake.

One writer, who had the unfortunate fate of following a 25-minute introductory reading, and is a mainstream author whose work I love (it reminds me of Richard Russo’s), read for 50 minutes from the same book. The audience’s interest level had waned by the time he finished.

Authors read to create interest in their work, even in a forum like the one I have described here. Therefore, I’ve always believed the best approach is to leave them wanting more.

I’d like the thoughts of my blog mates and any readers. What are your approaches/philosophies on readings? Keep it short? Go long and read from several books?


Rick Blechta said...

It's my feeling that the thing we writers have to remember at all times is that when we put down our pens, and go out into the general public professionally (as opposed to popping down to the 7-11 for a quart of milk) is that we are entertainers. Rule #1 for all entertainers: Leave them wanting more. You are so right.

That switch from writer to author, ie. entertainer, is an important one to acknowledge to ourselves if we want to make the most of personal appearances. We must appear engaged, eager to share, thrilled to be there -- even if we're not. Rule #2: the show must go on!

I've often seen authors miss out on great opportunities because they just don't "get it".

Sounds like you hit all the right notes, John.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Honestly, I don't like reading my stuff, so I avoid it at all costs. When I go into the schools, I usually will talk about the writing process (tying it into my novel) and then talk about whatever topics the teacher asks me to address.

Best of luck! Sounds like fun.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Anonymous said...




Rick Blechta said...

Anonymous, you're absolutely right. How could I have neglected to mentioned Rule #3?

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