Wednesday, July 17, 2013

All for a Signature

A couple years ago my friend Shalena (of Writer Quirk) gave me my very first book signed by an author for my birthday — the author’s name was scribbled in loopy handwriting, and above that was my name and a birthday greeting.Ever since then, I’ve been addicted to getting books signed. I’ve gone to book signings in Nashville, a book fair in Kentucky and even local self-published authors. So, when I heard world-famous author Neil Gaiman was coming to Nashville, I got up early just so I could be online the exact second when the tickets went on sale months before the event.

Last week Shalena and I made the journey to Nashville, battling thunderstorms and my bad sense of direction to finally make it to the sold out event. Once all the 1,600 or so guests were seated, Gaiman told us about his new book, “The Ocean at the End of the Lane,” which he originally started writing as a short story for his wife while she was away making a record in Australia for several months.

“I started writing and I kept writing and I kept writing, and I thought, ‘Ok, it’s not a short story. Its a novella,’” he said. “And then I thought, ‘It’s a very long novella.’ And then I finished it and I typed it up and did my word count. Then I sent a somewhat baffled and embarrassed email to my editor saying, ‘I appear to have written a novel. I know you weren’t expecting it. I’m very sorry. It won’t happen again.”

Part of the inspiration from the story came from the time when he learned that the property at the end of his street of his family home in England was listed in a document by William the Conqueror in 1066.

“I thought, ‘Wow, one of the farms down the lane is 1,000 years old.’ It didn’t occur to me that 1,000 years ago it would have been a peasant hovel. I just figured this nice, brick building had been there for 1,000 years,” he said. “And I thought, ‘I wonder if the people who live there have been there for 1,000 years, too?’”

This kicked off the reading of a portion from the spooky novel, complete with natural sound effects from the thunderstorm going on outside the War Memorial Auditorium. After that, he answered questions from the audience. Some silly, like “How do you take your tea?”, to which he answered “Orally,” or the question, “A hypothetical: If you drove two hours to get here and sat down only to realize you’re not sure where you parked, how would you go about finding your car?” Gaiman’s answer? “I’m really fortunate because I came here in a giant bus. … You’re screwed.”

Other questions were more serious, like how it felt to hear that one of his books had changed someone’s life.

“For my first decade or so as a writer, I thought ‘It has nothing to do with me. … I just wrote it because I wrote it, and you cannot be responsible for people’s reactions to it out in the world.’ Then my dad died,” Gaiman said.

He was numb until several months later when he was reading over a script for a friend.

“In the middle of the script, a fictional character died. And suddenly I was sobbing,” he said. “All of the unwept tears from my dad, all of that stuff just came out. I thought, ‘You know. That’s amazing. It’s a wonderful, cleansing thing — getting to cry for somebody who didn’t exist, in a story — and I should not downplay it.’”

He also revealed a writing ritual: he writes his stories longhand, using different colored pens each day so he can see how much work he has done daily. The reason he writes longhand? To minimize distractions, he said.

“Even if people are not emailing me, I can realize that I’m not quite sure how many P’s and L’s are actually in (the word) ‘appallingly,’ so I should check. And 90 minutes later find myself on Ebay buying something I don’t want.”

He also joked about the treatment of his characters in his books.

“I still worry that all the characters that I’ve been mean to or I’ve killed in my stories will at some point turn up at my backdoor. I will open the door, and I’ll see them, and they’ll be going, ‘Why were we born to suffer and die?’ And I will say ‘For the entertainment. But also perhaps you taught people some valuable lessons.’ And they’ll go, ‘It still hurt.’ And I’ll say, ‘Sorry.’ Then they’ll go away. That’s probably how God feels. Maybe. You never know,” he said with a smile.

After more questions and another reading from one of his children’s books, “Fortunately the Milk,” with accompaniment on the banjo by Béla Fleck, it was finally time for the signing. They announced they would randomly draw row numbers out of a bowl to join the line. I hoped that maybe we’d be ridiculously lucky and get picked first. Then I joked that most likely, with my luck, we’d be drawn dead last.

I was right.

It was 1 a.m. when Shalena and I finally reached Neil Gaiman in the signing line — five hours after the signing started. The poor man had only taken one short break the entire time. When I rounded the corner and saw his smiling but clearly exhausted face, I understood why he said this was his last signing tour. As he signed my two books I’d brought, I thanked him for staying so late for us, and he thanked us for not rioting in the streets after having to wait for five hours for a signature. (I was ready to say if his wrist was in excruciating pain, he could just use some lip gloss or something and kiss the page for me instead. At this point, I would have taken pretty much anything.)

As Shalena and I left, we giggled about the famous author having “spoken words to us!” (this might have been the sleep deprivation kicking in) and shuffled off into the night for the long drive home.

We carried with us the precious signature and the hope that one day our own books would touch people enough to make them want to stick around for five hours just for a few quick words, a smile and an autograph.

(Me, getting that long-awaited signature!)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Why YA?

Remember that time that I decided to be a responsible, regular blogger and then I had a baby and real life said, 'Haha, that's cute. She thinks she's going to get stuff done."? Yeah. Well, that's my excuse as to why I'm so late getting this post up.

The fabulous Hannah Courtney put together an awesome YA event at Edmondson Pike Branch of the Nasvhille Library at the end of June, and kindly invited me to attend. She lined up authors: Sharon Cameron of "The Dark Unwinding" and the upcoming "A Spark Unseen," Kristin Tubb of "The 13th Sign" and "Selling Hope," Courtney Stevens of the upcoming "Faking Normal," Heather L Reid of "Pretty Dark Nothing," and Amanda Havard of "The Survivor Series," including "The Survivors" and "Point of Origin."

I'd totally intended this event to be my big "comeback" for my blog, but unfortunately, I forgot my voice recorder at work. Once I got there and realized my error, I downloaded an app onto my phone, thinking that would solve my problem. But, not having had the chance to try it out before the event, I didn't realize until halfway through that this particular app only records 5 minutes at a time.

So! Instead of the fabulously detailed post of the event, I hope you will still enjoy some random photos and the only part of the interview I got to record properly: each of the author's responses to why they chose to write YA/Middle Grade:

Sharon Cameron: "It's something I feel really strongly about. First of all, I naturally started writing in that age group because I never really left it in my reading. I read adult stuff, but I never left the 'kid' portion of the library. I always wandered there first. But I think even as a teen and a 20-something, I realized that something that I think it absolutely true and that is the fact that young adult literature is where all the amazing storytelling is going down, I think. Not that there aren't wonderful adult books and wonderful middle grade books, but I think there is such a boom of creativity and just amazing storytelling, where we're really focused on amazing stories, amazing characters -- I think Young Adult is where that's going down, and that's where I want to be."

Amanda Havard: "It has a huge appeal to me because they're trying to navigate all that (new emotional territory) and they're making all the decisions that are going to start affecting the later decisions, good or bad. Not to say that you're going to make decisions that are going to ruin everything -- I'm not saying they're all that high stakes -- but it's the formative years, right? It's the formative moments and … you're really seeing them become something, so I've always been drawn to that age group."

Kristin Tubb: "I think that the readers in that particular age group … are really open minded, and I love the idea of trying to present new ideas and new possibilities that may be the first time they're seeing this idea or it's something that they're not jaded against yet, not biased against yet."

Heather L Reid: "I think it was just the voice that came from me. I remember high school so clearly: the sights and the smells and the friendships that I made there. I keep coming back to that and the lessons that I learned. … Like you were saying, it's such a formative time and the storytelling, the things you can say to this age group is so important. ... They're not as jaded by life and they have more of an ability to go on a journey, sometimes.They're not letting their adult selves keep them back."

Courtney Stevens: "I came from a youth ministry, so I spent all my time invested in this age group. This is the age group I love and I love them for a million reasons. They have so many questions. They haven't fallen in love yet, and so when you get it, you get it for the first time. Or they haven't been in that kind of pain yet, so they really have no idea what to do with it. I needed books when I was that age, and so I think I find it a real gift to be able to give back to that age."

I also wanted to point out Courtney's awesome shirt from the back:

I had a fantastic time and can't wait for Hannah's next event -- and I promise to do my very best to actually be prepared next time! ^_^

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Back in action!

I'm back! Well, sort-of.

I've been away from the writing world for several months, dealing with pregnancy aches and pains, but in April I traded all of that in for this:

So now instead of being unable to write because of crazy hormones, exhaustion and basically feeling like a beached whale, NOW I'm unable to write because I'm sleep-deprived and caring for the needs of a now three-month old child. I'm still trying to find my groove in this massive change in my life, and so haven't quite gotten back into the habit of writing/editing every day. (If I'm not at work, I'm feeding, changing or playing with above munchkin, or trying to eat or sleep myself.)

So, even though the posts might not come very frequently, I just wanted to leave a little note saying I am more-or-less still alive and hoping to get back into the writing groove soon!

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