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The Power of Group Book Signings — and Birth of a New Literary Series

In this era of extreme tidal changes in the publishing industry, writers, readers and those who love personal author appearances will be happy to know of a great trend: enterprising authors banding together to form group appearances and signings.

The power of the group read, this occurring at Vista Library, site of the North County Literary Cavalcade: Sunset Poets and Hummingbird Review  launch. (L-R) Sunset Poets creator and poet Dick Eiden; "Dances With Wolves" author Michael Blake; poet and musician John Doe, of the legendary group X; Charles Redner, Jr; Hummingbird Review publisher & author Charles Redner; fictionist Alwyn Pinnow; and yours truly

The power of the group read, this occurring at Vista Library, site of the North County Literary Cavalcade: Sunset Poets and Hummingbird Review launch. (L-R) Sunset Poets creator and poet Dick Eiden; “Dances With Wolves” author Michael Blake; poet and musician John Doe, of the legendary group X; Charles Redner, Jr; Hummingbird Review publisher & author Charles Redner; fictionist Alwyn Pinnow; and yours truly

 

AK Patch, the author of "Passage at Delphi," will appear Feb. 23 to launch the North County Literary Cavalcade series at Vista Library.

AK Patch, the author of “Passage at Delphi,” will appear Feb. 23 to launch the North County Literary Cavalcade series at Vista Library.

Not necessarily. Speaking from San Diego County and nearby areas, I can report that a few enterprising authors are working hard to create more group signings. Kaitlin Rother recently hosted an event at the new San Diego City Library that drew a standing room-only crowd. Author Lin Robinson, one of the most innovative and funniest writers around,  is stirring up the waters for a group signing series as well. “My thoughts are to get some local writers together and do something major and newsworthy, maybe in the atrium of the new San Diego library, or across the street in the beautiful Jing Si Café,” Robinson said.

It goes from there. A genre-based group, the Crime Fiction Collective, has been staging group signings for awhile. The La Jolla-based indie bookstore Warwick’s presents not only national authors, but individual and group signings with area authors — in which the author gets a table and signs for several hours on a Sunday afternoon. Very cool.

Group signings are awesome. Several authors appear together, read from their works, perhaps hold a short panel discussion, and then meet, greet and sign. While every author wants (and should have) the stage to themselves, I can tell you that booksellers and libraries love group signings. Why? They put more butts in the seats — and more buyers, or patrons. Readers feel like they’re at an event, and when you attend an event, you want to take the energy and memory of it home with you; hence, buying a book (that’s why motivational speakers and leaders always sell books at the back of the room). Plus, authors receive the dual stimulation of sharing stories from the trenches with other writers, and engaging with their readers.

We will be actively promoting all group signings on this blog, and on the Word Journeys Social Media Network. If you’re an author, band together with a couple other authors, visit your bookstore or library, and set yourself up. It will be much easier than you think — and you will connect eye-to-eye with your audience. Readers and writers, stay tuned.

 Speaking of libraries, I’m pleased to announce something I’ve wanted to create for a long time: a monthly literary series. This one even gives a naming nod to the Golden Age of radio and TV! The North County Literary Cavalcade will be hosted by Vista City Library. Reference librarian Kris Jorgensen and I met earlier this week, and laid out the plan for a combination of author signings, group reads, student presentations, panel discussions, topical workshops, open mics and festival events that will involve national and area authors, educators and poets. Best of all, we’re drawing authors from all fiction and non-fiction genres, plus young adult authors, sci-fi writers, and children’s writers. No matter your reading preference, you’re going to be up close and personal with a prominent author at this series.

Vista Library is a great venue: We hosted a pair of Hummingbird Review launches there, drawing large crowds in both cases. The secret? Yep — group reads. We had six to eight readers on each occasion.

Our first event takes place Sunday, February 23, from 3 to 5 p.m. Author AK Patch will present the history and backstory of his new historical adventure thriller, Passage at Delphi. This book brings the famous Greek-Persian War (source of the “300” movie series) into modern-day light, as eyewitnessed by time-traveling professors. They are under the influence of the Greek God Apollo, who worries that today’s civilization will go the way of the Ancient Greeks. If you’re a “300” fan, and pacing the floors waiting for the March 7 premiere of 300: Rise of an Empire, this book will not only feed you, but give you a counter-story filled with excitement and depth.

I’ll also be reading, as Dr. Patch’s warm-up act. Kris Jorgensen and I will co-host the event, and we will also present the schedule of Literary Cavalcade events.

Hope to see you there — and at all group signing events.

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Why Thrillers Are Fun to Write, and #1 to Read: William Thompson Ong Interview

After he retired from a long career in the advertising industry, William Thompson Ong knew he wanted to return to his other love – 41z1MhGnReL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_writing – but didn’t know where to start. Like other writers, he wanted to draw plenty of fun and enjoyment from his daily sessions. However, he also wanted to write books that would find large audiences.

Ong did some research, and it brought him back to one of the favorite genres he read as a youth and young man: action thrillers with plenty of mystery. Bingo! He transformed into a typing thoroughbred, and burst out of the gates. In just a few years, he has written seven novels and a popular thriller series. In the second part of this exclusive interview, Ong reflects on why thrillers are so much fun to write, why they are the #1 fiction genre for readers (just ahead of the other ingredient in his books, romance), and how the stars have aligned ideally in the persona of Kate Conway, his protagonists for the novel series The Mounting Storm, The Deadly Buddha, and The Fashionista Murders, all available on Amazon.com.

WORDJOURNEYS.COM: What is it about the personalities and characteristics of investigative journalists that make them ideal protagonists for thrillers and mysteries? 

WILLIAM THOMPSON ONG: I’d like to answer with some comparisons between the detective and the newspaper guy or gal. Both appear to be dedicated to discovering breakthrough facts or evidence they can weave into a conclusive story or an indictment.  Aren’t they both in the same business, after all—fighting crime?

In Kate Conway’s case, the hurdles are set higher. The investigative reporter is in a class by herself at a newspaper or magazine journal, assigned to the really big and explosive stuff—stories and cases that go far beyond the murder story.  These are the bright, tenacious, and fearless guys and gals who won’t be home for Christmas—they’ll be spending it hiding in a basement in Teheran to escape a terrorist’s sword. These are the guys and gals whose names will appear on the stories that garner Pulitzer Prizes for their papers—(to say nothing of boosting circulation enough to keep today’s newspapers alive for another year.)  And in most cases they’ll be acting alone—not with the NYPD at their disposal.

Tom's jacket photo. Alicia #9 (preferred)WJ: You mentioned a disparity between typical education levels of an investigative journalist and detective, which creates major story problems in moving crime novels along because of the distrust with which one often views the other in real life. How did you get around that in your series?

TO: I made Kate’s father a gnarly ex-detective—(Paul Conway is a career dick from Brooklyn). When Kate needs help she whistles and Paul Conway appears, wise in the details of police procedure (which Kate and I choose not to be) and just dropping his name opens doors for Kate. Some may think I am cheating by supplying Kate with a crutch like this. But it allows Kate to cruise on a higher level and solve the really complicated crimes.

All of this explains why I lean away from the straight detective story in favor of the mystery-thriller. I’m still that stickler for detail.  But now I can keep a lot more balls in the air when it comes to plotting.

WJ: In The Fashionista Murders, and also The Mounting Storm, you give an expert’s touch to how you portray the high fashion industry and the high-end art world. Are these interests of yours, or just story drivers that you researched (well) and brought to life?

Like Kate Conway herself in The Fashionista Murders, I am totally turned off by fashion—which is why I attached the serial killer to the story. In The Mounting Storm, introducing Kate to Margaret Winship opened up the world of art and museums and society that heightened Kate’s search for the missing Monet she suspects belonged to her grandmother and triggered Kate’s unmasking the Nazi.

It also opened all of Kate’s subsequent novels to the swanky world of high finance and billionaires and celebrity society with its pretension and snobbery and deviousness—absolutely wonderful and trusty elements for layering your novel.  These elements are story drivers and not comfortable elements already present in my life—although at one time I seriously considered becoming an artist.

WJ: You had an interesting way of becoming a thriller writer after leaving the advertising industry:

TO: I did. My decision to write thrillers was based on some good old-fashioned seat-of-the-pants research.  I found thrillers to be the most popular genre. I also found there were more female readers than male readers, which helped lead me to inventing Kate Conway.  Discovering that romances were the second hottest genre convinced me to spread Kate’s adventures with hot and spicy romance.

WJ: Were you a big reader of mysteries, thrillers and crime fiction in your growing up years? Who were your favorite 41u0RCXXw7L._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_authors, and what influenced you most about their works, styles and/or voices?

TO: When I was 9, my father brought home The Five Orange Pips and lightning struck. I became a Sherlock Holmes fan forever, admiring his characters and atmosphere (who can resist The Hound of the Baskervilles for atmosphere?) as much as his sleuthing.  But as I grew older, my tastes gravitated to more intricate thrillers like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Gorky Park, The Manchurian Candidate, and The Day of the Jackal.

By the time I reached college, writing style became important—the   grace and class of W. Somerset Maugham as well as the biting vividness of Hemingway and the magic of F. Scott Fitzgerald. (I have worn out several soft-cover editions of A Farewell to Arms and The Great Gatsby.)

WJ: Story structure and writing style definitely resonates in your books. We start off on one trail, only to be switched to another – then another –  always with entanglements of some kind involved. Is this a reflection of the way Kate keeps changing and running into surprises? Or the storycrafting style you’ve decided to run with?

TO: It’s both. The multi-layering of plot that I began in The Mounting Storm logically became a pattern for all of Kate’s novels.  In the beginning I had no thought of making the novel into a series.  It was to be a dark and brooding Citizen Kane type of story dramatizing the deviousness of Stirling Winship with Kate almost a minor figure. On the advice of an agent I cut some 90 pages and 30,000 words of background color on Stirling and turned it into a fast-paced thriller featuring Kate. But almost all the plots and subplots remained intact and we were off to the races with the Kate Conway series.

41WA0IPiSeL._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_WJ: Rather than go the traditional publishing route, you’ve partner-published with Charles Redner and RiPublishing. Could you elaborate on the advantages you’ve found to the path you’re taking?

TO: The advantages? I am getting to see my books in print, I’m getting strong reviews, and I’m selling enough books to encourage me to keep going. Plus, it’s happening right now. This sure beats waiting around while an editor fiddles and fusses with changes for a year and then spends another year wondering whether the publishing house bosses will give me the final green light.

Self-publishing no longer bears a stigma. It’s attracting big name authors as well as beginners.  If you can’t afford to wait, it’s the place to be. If your books have the necessary magic, they will almost certainly rise to the top.

Partnership-publishing is even better. In Charlie Redner, I have the advantage of a fellow author who acts as my publisher and also my agent when it comes to advice.  There’s a lot of advice you’ll need, especially if you’re like me and have a mind that was built to function in the old days before the computer and the internet—back when we spent our time thinking and doing things instead of walking around pressing buttons on gadgets. (But thank Heaven the word processor replaced my typewriter!)

WJ: Final question: In each of your books, what is the one scene, situation, or character shift that surprised you most when it came flying from your mind to pen or computer screen?

TO: What a terrific question for ending this interview!

In The Mounting Storm, it’s the scene where Kate’s having dinner as the guest of Winston Winship.  She has found the guy an obnoxious bore and lets us know it. But then he says something encouraging about her idea for a new magazine—and she warms to him. When he invites Kate to the party he’s throwing in the Hamptons, which she absolutely hates…

            Kate looked at him before answering, digesting all over again his         coolness, his incredible confidence, his mastery at what he does, his   extremely good looks. And his eyes, those wonderful gray eyes with      their look of sadness.

           “Yes, I’ll come,” she said. “I love the Hamptons.

In The Deadly Buddha, in the party scene at the Hollywood movie studio, Kate has no idea the handsome dude chatting her up—and from whom she reluctantly accepts a ride back to her hotel—is the Welsh movie star she’s been ordered to interview.  He stops at the Griffith Observatory and they find themselves having a ball as they recall from memory the lines James Dean and Natalie Wood exchanged in Rebel Without a Cause. This is how the scene ends:

             Kate didn’t lean over and kiss him, although she thought about it. They were too busy laughing. They laughed all the way back to the hotel. The doorman helped her out. She turned to wave goodbye, but he was already in the circle and heading toward the Wilshire exit, his hand waving carelessly in the air.

           That was the moment Kate realized she didn’t even know his name.

In The Fashionista Murders, we go through the thought process that keeps Kate from giving in to sex, this time in the apartment-studio and in the arms of the handsome photographer covering the fashion shows with her:

Maybe the shrink her friends had dragged her to was right—instead of shutting men out of her life she should loosen up when she felt her buttons being pushed and let things happen. Maybe she needs to change—not just Cam.

          “You are not only a sex maniac but a full-fledged, card-carrying, conniving bastard,” was the way she began the terms of her surrender.  

           She took a step back, grasping both his hands in hers while shaking her mane of Irish red hair. “And now that I have made it ridiculously clear, you may do what you want with me—so long as it’s not boring, distasteful, or so devious it will land us in jail.”

 I warned you how much fun it is writing thrillers, especially when you decide to stretch the boundaries a little. Thanks again for inviting me into your sanctuary.

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Singing Praises to the Home Library … and All Libraries

In the past week, I’ve been really thinking a lot about libraries, those bastions of knowledge and our love of learning and reading that, many feel, are under siege by the proliferation of e-books. Three things popped into my life concerning libraries:

First, while reading a scene in Roadshow, the outstanding travel memoir of Rush drummer Neil Peart, I was reminded of the time I spent in a couple of Carnegie libraries in New York. As part of his enormous philanthropic work, 19th century American industrialist Andrew Carnegie created 2,500 libraries when there was no library system in the U.S. He launched libraries in this country as we know them today.

Second, I read two conflicting articles, by two newspapers of conflicting political views. One said that libraries were about to die by the sword of electronic publishing and a lack of deep thinking and learning in the U.S. The other said libraries were thriving like never before. As one who taught writing workshops for four years in a small, vibrant rural library (Crittenden County, KY) with a staff that radiated love of reading (and whose head librarian, Regina Merrick, is a novelist), I’m here to say the latter article is more accurate.

Third, I read an article the other day from the Independent, the United Kingdom’s largest online newspaper, entitled, “Will the Home Library Survive the e-Book?”

This article gave me pause: Can the home library truly be endangered? The answer is, yes and no – depending upon the value you place on good old-fashioned book learning, how much you and family members enjoy curling up or stretching out with a good book, and on the worthiness of books as a reflection of who you are. With Amazon selling more e-books on Kindle than physical books, and Barnes & Noble also claiming higher e-book sales, the very satisfying and rewarding experience of going to an independent bookstore, buying a book, reading it and placing it on your home shelf appears to be in some danger.

Appearances can be deceiving. For example, since I now promote books via social media and publish e-books, among other things, I could be considered the enemy … until we start talking about the 3,000 books in my home library. Some of these books were the first I read, or that my mother read to me: Babar the Elephant, Make Way for Ducklings, Burt Dow Deep Water Man. Others serve as literary benchmarks of my school years: Johnny Tremain, Treasure Island, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Lord of the Flies, Fahrenheit 451, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Old Man and the Sea, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Then there’s my rebellious bohemian side, told in a tale of New Journalism titles: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Pump House Gang, In Cold Blood, Trout Fishing in America, Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. An entire bookshelf captures my love of poetry as a reader and writer, with works by more than 200 different poets. And the spiritual titles, ranging from Christian works to Autobiography of a Yogi and The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Often deep flirtations with the Space Age, movies, sports, nature, ecology, sustainable living, organic gardening, travel, military subjects, running, nutrition, foreign languages, mind-body learning and so much more cover a roomful of shelves, presented as novels, memoirs, topical non-fiction, essays, short stories and travelogues by writers from legendary to one-book wonders, from globally known to regional heroes and heroines.

Then there are the collectibles, the old hardbacks, the books that sit prominently, some behind glass cases, to be seen but not necessarily touched: the transcript of the Apollo 11 moon landing and walk; Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, with pencil illustrations by Picasso; Steve Garvey’s life lessons learned as a Dodger batboy, before he became a star first baseman, with his autograph to me “from your fan, Steve Garvey,” a nod to the years I covered Garvey while a sportswriter; first editions of Mark Twain books; and my priceless treasures, the poetry and children’s books written by my great grandmother and great-great aunt.

I’ve tried many times to downsize my library. I can downsize furniture, clothing, dwelling size, DVD collection and other possessions … but unless I’m passing along books to a public library for safekeeping, I just can’t part with them. That’s because each book on that shelf represents a slice of life, an experience, a moment in time shared by the words on those pages and the inquiring or imaginative mind inside my skull. Furthermore, I put notes, related articles and other slips of paper in these books, further footnoting them for posterity.

Whenever I get around to writing life stories or a memoir, you can bet my library will be a major character. It has accompanied me through thick and thin for 45 years and counting.

My experience is shared by millions of others who have home libraries of all shapes, sizes and designs (and home library design also reflects the style of the owner). As Alice Azania-Jarvis, the writer of The Independent article, noted, “But it’s not just a matter of which books we display that’s interesting – how we choose to do so has become an equal point of fascination. ‘They can almost sculptural in that they offer a physical presence,’ explains (household stylist Abigail) Hall. ‘It’s not just about stacking them on a bookcase, it’s how you stack them. I’ve seen books arranged by color, stacked on top of each other. Once I saw a load of coffee-table books piled up to become a coffee table in themselves.’

Do you think people like this – people who truly love to read, to present their libraries as a statement of taste and love of learning – will let Google come in and scan out their collections? Do you think they’ll buy a bunch of storage drives and relegate covers, paper and all their visceral experiences to electronic files? Will you?

I didn’t think so. To me, the home library is like the public library – an institution running a very close second in sacredness to your place of worship. For many, the library, home library or bookstore is a place of worship. My library is the living, breathing lungs of a life dedicated to writing, learning, and helping others bring their stories to life.

Here’s hoping your bookshelves receive the same love — and reward you with the joy of all those stories, words, and memories of your life at the time you read them. In fact, dust off one of your older books, one you haven’t read in many years, then sit down and re-read it. As you do so, enjoy this present experience and literary adventure, but also recall the events of your life the last time you flipped through these particular pages.

Deeply enriching and revealing, isn’t it?

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