Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Learning From the Best

My sister is constantly asking me why I love to go to book signings or take my time to have signings of my own. Standing in line seems like a pain to her and even getting to talk to the author doesn't seem to appeal to her -- the author is a stranger.

For me, I love book signings--whether it's behind the desk signing or standing in that line meeting other fans of the author. Every week I check out the email from Barnes and Noble and from my local bookstore to see which author is coming to town and when the book signing is.

Why? Well, first it's an excuse to visit the bookstore. But it's always fun to hear how an author comes up with a character or how the author comes up with a plot. I learn so much from hearing them speak, it's like being in a writer's class.

The last signing I did personally was at Left Coast Crime in Reno, with fellow mystery authors. That is a great convention because it draws authors and readers so the people we are meeting in the sessions and at the signings may be readers as well as writers.

For me, I enjoy being the reader and getting the opportunity to personally question the great authors I love to read. For instance, one of the recent signings I attended was with Anne Hillerman, who has taken up the characters from her father's mystery series and made Bernie Manolito a heroine in her own right. Having read all of the Tony Hillerman mystery novels set in Navaho country, it was fun to hear her tell how she grew up with his characters to the point that Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn were like part of her family. It was also great to get personal advice from her on how to make setting more realistic.

Another  great signing was meeting best selling author Harlan Coben who told us how he came up with the idea for his book, Promise Me, published several years ago. Since that was the first book of his I read, I found his discussion fascinating. That  book hooked me on his characters of Myron Bolitar and his pal Win for life! I went back and got every book that featured them and have read every book since then.

But the best part about going to any booksigning is getting the opportunity to get inside the author's brain, whether it is how they come up with ideas or how they develop their characters. This is the sort of information you can't just get normally -- unless they decide to write a book on writing. Hearing the great Sue Grafton talk about her journey from working at studios in Hollywood to her creation of Kinsey Milhone was a memory I'll always carry.

The main thing I've heard from listening to all these authors is that writing is hard work. We all have to put in the time and get the experience and we all worry we'll never write again. That makes facing the next day of writing easier for all of us. Getting tips from the best selling authors and hearing their struggles only make others, like me, work harder. The only answer to any question seems to be to keep on writing and let the words keep flowing. 

That's the lesson I tell to students when I teach writing classes and they ask how they will ever succeed. The only answer is to keep the stories coming. Keep writing and don't give up.

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