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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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It’s Time for NaNoWriMo!

What will you be writing for NaNoWriMo?

After nearly a year-long wait, NaNoWriMo has finally arrived. National Novel Writing Month used to be another convenient literary designation on the calendar where librarians, bookstore owners and people in the literary world paid a little special attention to the novel — like they do in April with National Poetry Month. 

However, a few years ago, someone came up with the crafty idea of giving National Novel Writing Month a clever acronym and a community-based

The month of November is a great time to dive deep and write a novel — or any kind of book.

website, designed to help writers actually spend the month of November writing a novel.

The result has been extraordinary: the advent of NaNoWriMo. Beginning Thursday, Nov. 1, more than 1 million writers — along with many college and high school writing programs, community writing groups and professional writers clubs — will log on to their personal pages on www.nanowrimo.org and take the wordsmith’s challenge: to write at least 50,000 words in one month.

I’m going to be among them. While my effort won’t necessarily be fiction — it will be the start of my memoir, working title Do I Have a Story For You! —  I’m just as pumped up as everyone else. During this month, I will spend a couple hours per day (or more, on some days) writing out the stories for my memoir, while also chatting with and supporting other writers in my NaNoWriMo support group. My goal will be to write about 2,000 words per day, to get to that magical 50,000 word mark. And I’m going to have a lot of fun doing it.

It sounds daunting to write 50,000 words in one month. If you’re soloing, it can be very daunting. Which leads to the beauty of NaNoWriMo: while you’re cranking out your novel, memoir or story, so are more than a million others. There is a group energy and consciousness that, I swear, you can feel. Everyone is elevating everyone else. For a golden month, we’re not the only writers engaged in the solitary act of writing a book. I sure felt it last year, when I jumped into the fray very late (because of teaching duties) and still put out the first 20,000 words of my novel-in-progress, Open Mic Night at Boccaccio’s, in the last 10 days of NaNoWriMo.

In 2011, more than 3 billion words were recorded on NaNoWriMo’s official count, which is drawn from the individual daily word count updates of each participant. That’s a lot of stories, a lot of minds stretching out to produce their works. Several of my writing support group partners started and finished entire novels; others really got into it and wrote 14 to 16 hours per day.

Do you have a story you want to write? Do you want to try this out? I sure hope so; NaNoWriMo is an absolute blast. Log onto the website, fill out your profile and a few words about your desired story — or collection of short stories — and be ready to log on Thursday and write, write, write. And let us know how you did!

 

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Episodes: A Truly Special Memoir Reading

Just when I thought I’d written, read or heard about all of the different ways to write a memoir, in comes a completely unique structure — with a truly heartwarming author backstory.

The other night, I traveled to Fallbrook for part of a weeklong celebration of the opening of its new library. What a celebration — seven nights, eight readings by Pulitzer prizewinners, National Book Award winners, and bestselling novelists, journalists and memoirists with ties to the San Diego County community.

However, one particular reading intrigued me: a double reading by novelist-memoirist Debra Ginsberg and her son, Blaze. Several years ago, Debra wrote Raising Blaze, a memoir about shepherding her autistic son through the world while trying to understand the wiring of his mind. Now Debra was back with her newest novel, The Neighbors Are Watching, set during the devastating Witch Fire of 2007 in San Diego County. While this novel certainly has its characters, plot, pathos and resolution, she was essentially (and gladly, judging from the smile on her face) the warm-up act.

When Debra was finished, she introduced a large crowd at Cafe del Artistes to Blaze, whose memoir, Episodes: My Life As I See It was published by Roaring Book Press (an imprint of Macmillan) in 2009. First of all, the fact any 23-year-old man is publishing prose and reading at public events is impressive, especially when you consider that the vast majority of 23-year-old men won’t touch a book these days if their lives depend on it. Secondly, Blaze is a highest-functioning autistic.

The beauty of Episodes begins with its structure. Blaze explained that he views his world as episodes, so he crafted the book into 28 “series”, each with its episodes, framed on his love of TV shows, movies and movie trivia (one of his favorite websites is the Internet Movie Database). As he read two episodes, one from a “series”  focusing on his long-time crush on Hillary Duff, I marveled at how he transferred the story onto paper in a way that showed the inner workings of his mind. Memoirists are notorious for writing and writing on how their minds process whatever central event created the basis for their books, but Blaze’s delivery was a huge breath of fresh air: He laid it down, and let us see for ourselves. He broke down each episode (mini-chapter) into a summary, notes, quotes, trivia, and soundtrack listings — and zoomed in on them with voice and raw emotion more customary of poetry readings. He fed us the pace and energy of not only his story, but also his world. It was one of the most directly honest and entertaining prose readings I have attended in a long time. A quick example from his book:

Episode 9

title: SUMMERTIME SILLINESS air date: JUNE 12, 2003

Summary

It’s the last day of school. There is a field trip to Fifteenth Street beach. On the bus before we leave it is somewhat chaotic. Lucinda (the girl I had lunch with when she was visiting Surrey and who is now a student there) gets her toes smashed (as in stepped on). Courtney ends up crashing on my shoulder (fake sleeping), which she is not supposed to do. Later on there is a commotion (which has become a recurring theme with our trio): Courtney and Amber want me to take my shirt off. They end up pulling it off for me. I play cool with it and put it back on later. We run over to Powerhouse Park, but it is closed. So we go back down to the beach.

 

From there, he takes it deeper through notes, trivia, quotes and soundtrack listing — the tunes he listened to that day (Madonna, Hillary Duff, Dusty Springfield).

Later, as I read Debra Ginsberg’s introduction to Episodes, I further appreciated this unheard-of memoir structure. She opens the introduction by recalling an event when Blaze was 10, one of the first times he successfully conveyed to his mom how his mind worked. He told her that different colored wires control all of our various functions (hearing, walking, seeing, emotions, etc.). In his case, the “yellow” wire — hearing — had been snapped. To him, that’s where the problem lay, as he was particularly sensitive to sounds. “His theory was a very direct—and very visual—way of explaining that he was wired differently,” Debra wrote. “It was surprising to me that he was able, at least at that moment, to articulate it so clearly.”

Blaze began writing in earnest. Eight years later, at 18, he began writing Episodes, which took 3 1/2 years from inception to publishing.

Now, he’s on his way — and has shown us an incredible new memoir structure in the process. I can’t wait to see his next book, which will be his own unique variation on gods and goddesses.

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