Join Blog

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Throwing a Book Launch Party



Prepping for a college party at your tiny sophomore apartment: Pick up several six packs, maybe a cheap bottle of tequila, lemons, some chips, some dip, make sure the ashtrays are empty, and be certain the music is ready. In my day this meant the turntable's stylus was relatively new and the vinyls were stacked in an appropriate order so you could play entire sides without having to change the record.

Preparing for your wedding: Say yes to everything she wants and show up on time.

Prepping for your child's birthday party: Order lots of pizza. Make sure the pies are cheese only. Kids aren't into your garlic and mushroom slices. Have plenty of cake and ice cream. Vanilla is best. Hire a clown. No, scratch that. Bad idea. Instead, buy a pinata that will break with only a few weak whacks, not one you have to take a chainsaw to. Get balloons.

Preparing for a book launch party: Don't forget to order books. Either you or the bookstore. Make a list of people who like you, or at least can tolerate you. Invite them. Tell them there will be wine. Remind them. Tell them again there will be wine. Remind them again. Pray they show up.

I've written several books, but I've never had a full-out book launch party. October Song is my first. So, please be gentle.


I've done readings, signings, and appearance events. But this is far different. This is the arrival of your newborn, fresh from the hospital. You walk up the driveway holding it tight and everyone is going to want a look. Ugly baby? If it is, no one will admit it. You'll coo after it, kiss it, and caress it. But ultimately in time, your child will have to find its own way and people will decide on their own whether the person you brought into the world is a good, solid human, someone who will contribute to our existence. It may seem odd to compare your book to a baby, but the book is your baby and you want people to like it. Hell, you want people to love it!

Saturday, May 6th at 6pm at The Book Cellar, the wonderful independent bookstore in Chicago's Lincoln Square neighborhood, I will offer up my bouncing infant to a room full of people—hopefully, a room full. They will listen to me talk about all the work it took to deliver this sweet child and they will hear it speak its first words. And they will judge. Pretty baby. Nice kid. Can you get it to stop crying? 

Writers know this all too well: Writing is admitting vulnerability. It is opening scars and wounds and your heart. Certainly with memoir or personal essay, but also with fiction, there is always a little of us in everything we write and when we let the reader into our world, well, that means we are going to be judged. It means people will have something to say about us...and our babies.

I am so grateful to The Book Cellar for hosting the book launch and I am forever humbled by the people from all walks of my life—family, friends, colleagues, students, fellow writers—who say they will be there, will listen to me talk and read, consider buying a book, and tell me how beautiful my baby is.

Last thing when prepping for a book launch: Remember to be thankful.











Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Why We Write

"I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking." These are the words of Joan Didion, arguably one of the best essayists to ever put down words. This quote has been repeated many times. But I use it here because it's so true—to some degree—for nearly all of us who write. We write to own our thoughts.


Why do we write? More specifically, why do we bother? It can be laborious work. That too has been repeated so many times in many renditions from many writers. We all know that quote from Hemingway about bleeding at the typewriter. Frankly, that notion—that writing is drudgery—is just not true for most of us Nearly every writer will tell you when things are going well on a story, it is far from painful. It is glorious. Pure pleasure. When it's not going so well is when writing is true work and there's at least a bit of bleeding.

There have been many ideas about what motivates great writers to write. Truman Capote said it was about hearing the "inner music that words make." F. Scott Fitzgerald believed you write not because you "want to say something but because you've got something to say." Each of these suggests a sort of obsession, a visceral need to tell a story.

For me, these comments and all the many that have been shared when I've asked the question, why do you write, are really about creative energy, the energy of life. So, why do I write? To feel fully alive. And that seems to say it all.

I asked several writers in the Chicago area to offer their thoughts—Why do you write? Although there is a similar thread weaving through the answers, they also are as varied as the stories we tell.

Rita Dragonette is the author of The Fourteenth of September, a manuscript she's currently shopping. For Rita writing is about relevance. "Nothing is irrelevant," she writes in one of her blogs posts. "We are the ancestry.com of our times and to continue to move forward there's an imperative to connect the dots..."

Sandra Colbert: "I write because I must. Some questions get answers. Some demons purged. And then there is the laughter."

Barbara Barnett: "I think I write because I have all these stories cluttering my mind. I go to the grocery store, or whatever, and every observation becomes a potential scene or impetus for a new story."

Lou Holly: "I began writing novels several years ago because I had characters that wouldn't leave me alone."

Joyce Pyka: "For therapy...to educate myself and others, to make discoveries about new things, places people and myself."

Kristin Oakley: "Because my characters get pissed off if I don't!"

Sandra Tadic: "I write to purge."

Danielle E. Shipley: "First I wrote for fun. Then I wrote for passion. Now writing has become so much a part of my identity, I wouldn't know who I am without it."

Tricia Wagner: "I write because I feel I have more lives to live than the one I  was born to."

Maria Hansburg: "To keep the voices in my head alive!"

Lee Delarm: "I write for two reasons...it feels good...and...because I feel it's the only way I'm going to have a true legacy behind...even if the books aren't popular."

Iris Orpi: "I write to feel powerful again whenever I feel powerless."

Tamara Gaumond: "It's cathartic. I have stories to tell and I can live vicariously through my characters."

Pat Camalliere: "I've had a book in my hand practically since the day I was born. It was time to move out of the audience and see what it was like on stage."

Cynthia Clampitt: "I love ideas. I love words. And I love more than anything else sharing everything I discover with others."

Tanya Talmadge-Ethridge: "I write for fun, passion, and release."

Mary Ann D'Alto: "I write for the same reason that I breathe; I simply must. There really is no other answer."


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A Most Memorable Memoir

I have read a wonderful memoir.

I love memoirs. I write them. So, there's that. But I'm not necessarily a fan of memoirs about highly dysfunctional lives, diseases, abuse, overcoming incredible tragedies—the so-called addiction/recovery/messed-up family/Mommy Dearest memoir. There's a place for these stories and they can have great impact. Some are superbly told through brilliant writing. Some have been labeled classics and are studied and dissected in creative nonfiction classes at universities. Still, I'd rather not.


I do love memoirs that go deep, however, deep into self-examination, adventure, escape, and exploration without the unspeakable tragedy underneath. Troubles, yes. Pain, yes. And that's where the book The Point of Vanishing comes in.

This memoir by Howard Axelrod is about his two years in solitude in the woods of Vermont after losing the sight in one of his eyes. It was published two years ago but I'm only getting around to it now. I wish I had read it sooner. I'd have read it twice. Three times.

Yes, there is a life-altering accident at the center of Alexrod's story but it's at a level that relates. This is to say, it is not over-the-top. What happened to the author could happen to any of us. I'm not intending to lessen the severity of Alexrod's injury but his experience could be any of ours. Like a car accident, his accident could occur at any time or anywhere to anyone. However, the injury is not the true thread of the narrative, but rather it is Alexrod's own inner uncertainties. The eye accident only triggers the deeper story and so the book is far more about personal examination—who he is, where he belongs and why.  


Memoirs come in all shapes and sizes, just as tragedies do, just as lives do, just as we do. But no matter the story, in the end, personal narratives have to connect with the lives of the readers in a visceral way. Not all of us experience unthinkable tragedies but all of us at times live the unmanageable life, the unbalanced existence, and any of this can be eloquently examined. Always, however, the story needs to go deeper than the source of the pain.

The Point of Vanishing is not the only memoir that accomplishes this. But it was the one most on my mind today and the one I would recommend for those looking for a memoir that goes beyond the horror of one's personal catastrophe.