September 20, 2009

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Writer's Conventions: When It's Okay To Talk To Strangers By Guest Blogger Lisa Black Some rules we learn as children: Don’t talk to strangers. Wash your hands. Do your homework. And they stick with us. I don’t consider myself shy. Sre, I don’t like to approach a total stranger and begin chatting, but that’s not because I’m shy. Reserved, maybe, and mostly just lazy. What are the odds of them having anything interesting enough to say to make it worth wasting ten or fifteen minutes of my valuable down time that could be spent here by the wall, nursing my drink? But at a writer’s convention, I’m not there to drink (well, not primarily). I’m there to meet people, network, and pitch my book. This is business and I have to treat it as such, I tell myself sternly. But mingle at a cocktail party? Surely there must be a better way. Nevertheless, I was determined to make the most of the Thrillerfest convention in The Big and Very Expensive Apple. I expected it to be full of snobby New York types who wouldn’t talk to me anyway, but it was costing me an arm and a leg just to be there and by golly (for I am my Depression-era parents’ daughter!) it was going to be worth it! So this is what I did: I took the Attending Authors list of nearly two hundred people and went through it, looking up every single author’s website. I made up a list including their publisher, the type of book they wrote, a thumbnail photo and one biographical fact which I could use to begin a conversation. “So, you live in New Orleans?” “So, you studied Egyptology?” “So, you used to be a fraud investigator?” I tried to find a topic that I had something in common with, that would give me some sort of follow-up avenue to say a word about myself. At first, all I got was an inferiority complex. Everyone seemed so impressive, and oh by the way, my website stunk. Next to one woman who had a PhD, had traveled the world, held high-level positions and had a few best-sellers under her belt, I wrote: “Don’t even bother talking to this woman.” I couldn’t think of a single, solitary thing we might have in common. But I persevered. It took almost a month. When done, I spent the next few weeks paging through the list whenever I had a moment, trying to memorize their faces and my intro line. I didn’t get this done perfectly, of course, and I did concentrate mostly on my own publisher’s authors because I could possibly run into them on four different occasions. I have a less-than-photographic memory and I’m terrible with faces, but after a while the details began to stick. Then I got to the convention. The other attendees were not snobby at all, approachable and friendly. But still, I was happier with every minute that I had done my homework! Because I had something to say, I was not afraid to approach people. Because I could say something about them instead of me, I didn’t have to feel I was imposing or trying to hard-sell myself. I could force myself into action, because having done all this work I fully intended to put it to use! The facts I mentioned were all posted on their own websites, so I didn’t have to worry about bringing up a topic they didn’t want to discuss or would make them uncomfortable…or having them think I’m some sort of stalker. I like to think I helped out my fellow authors, maybe—because not all of us are Sandra Brown or Lee Child. We’re not accustomed to big crowds or working the room. Maybe a lot of us there could use a little support to put down the glass and step away from the wall. And by the time I had learned all these interesting things about these interesting people, I was dying to talk to each and every one of them. So break the rule about talking to strangers. Keep the one about doing your homework. ------------------------------------------- Lisa Black is a forensic specialist for a police department in Florida. Before that she worked as a forensic scientist in Cleveland, Ohio. Evidence of Murder is her fourth published thriller. Visit her website: www.Lisa-Black.com.
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BLOWIN' IN THE WIND Posted by Sheila Connolly (Sarah Atwell is too young to remember) Mary Travers died this week. For those of you not old enough to know, she was the Mary of Peter, Paul and Mary, the folk group that dominated the 1960s (she was the one without a beard). It's strange to look back now at that time and its music. The Beatles were on the horizon, but folk music was big. Back then I lived in a New Jersey town that was a bedroom community for New York, so we got the New York radio stations (mainly WABC, 77 on your AM dial). My parents gave me a transistor radio (my, that does date me, doesn't it?) for Christmas in 1961, not long before PP&M's debut album came out. To tell the truth, I was not much into popular music in those days, and an allowance of three dollars a week didn't go far. The first PP&M album I bought wasn't for myself but as a gift for my stepfather, who actually asked for it. This seemed a bit odd, since his taste usually ran to Johnny Cash and Herb Alpert, but I dutifully bought it for him–and very quickly appropriated it as my own, and played it endlessly on my portable record player (I'm feeling older and older). PP&M brought out a new album at least once a year for the rest of that decade, and I bought every one, through Peter, Paul and Mommy, which came out my freshman year in college. After that they more or less went their separate ways, although they did a lot of reunions, and toured until quite recently (and, yes, graced a lot of PBS oldies shows). Not only did I own the albums (and still do), I could still tell you the order of the songs on each, and I can sing all three parts of all of them. I loved their harmonies, and their combined vocal range fit well with mine. One year two friends and I even went trick or treating as PP&M, which gave me the opportunity to wear a beard for the first and last time in my life. Unfortunately "Mary" bailed on us at the last minute, but "Peter" and I went out anyway, complete with guitars, and even sang for our candy. (Sorry--there's a picture somewhere, but I think I buried it.) What seems extraordinary now is that they popularized Bob Dylan's music even before he did. Both included "Blowin' in the Wind" on an album in 1963, but it was the PP&M version that hit the top of the charts. Flash forward to my first Bob Dylan concert in 2006 (yeah, it took me a while), when I was reduced to tears at hearing Dylan himself sing the song that had become one of the anthems of the 1960s. In fact, the first concert I ever attended was a PP&M concert in Newark. I was 14, and a friend (the "Peter" from above) and I coerced her long-suffering father to take us. We saw them again the next year, but I suppose after that we were trying harder to be cool, and folk wasn't as cool any more. The Beatles had happened, and the bad-boy Rolling Stones, and the music world moved on. I had long been aware of the influence of traditional English songs on the folk music movement, but it wasn't until recently when I began taking Irish classes that I recognized the impact of Irish music. Another flashback moment: when I found myself in a pub in Dublin, and the musicians were playing "Whiskey in the Jar"–and I knew all the words, thanks to PP&M. So PP&M have been weaving their way through my life for over forty years now–and I'm grateful to them.

Lorraine Bartlett

Five women, five weekdays, many surprises.

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