May 01, 2009

Notes from the Animal Kingdom posted by Jeanne Munn Bracken So I've spent much of my "free" time over the past decade reading about childhood cancer. Researching childhood cancer. Writing about childhood cancer. It's pretty draining, so when I select books to read for pleasure, I might pick fiction (a light mystery, mostly) or nonfiction. Whatever I grab from the shelf, it better be funny. Okay, I exaggerate. Not everything I read is humorous, but my favorite authors almost always make me laugh. Funny animals--even better. A few weeks ago I became the last person in the country (judging by the library waiting lists) to read Dewey: The Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World. The delightful story of a tiny kitten left in a library bookdrop on a frigid Iowa winter night is as much about the town and especially the librarian/author Vicki Myron, as it is about the remarkable cat. Dewey Readmore Books is a feline charmer, but the importance of a library in a small town's life is the underlying message. I loved the book. I loved the message. The cat doesn't talk or solve mysteries, but I just wanted to cuddle Dewey. I felt the same way about Norton, Peter Gethers' [The] Cat Who Went to Paris. When I suggest this title and its two sequels to patrons looking for a good read, people are often wary, thinking I'm sending them to the books about the Siamese cats, the guy with the big mustache, and the town located 400 miles north of nowhere. But Norton is a whole different kettle of fish, if you will. The Scottish Fold cat is an ambassador, and Gethers dishes about famous movie people and Summer Folks on far Long Island. Norton's smarts and cleverness carries easily through all three books. He's another cat I just want to cuddle (although he probably wouldn't allow it.) It's not just cats, though. Consider John Grogan's Marley and Me, about the obstreperous Labrador retriever who destroyed everything in his path, but stole everyone's hearts while he was at it. I haven't seen the movie yet. But I could totally identify with the Marley in the book (and with the author, learning about the newspaper business); we had a dog that snacked on mattresses--she loved that foam rubber. God knows why. These books aren't just a barrel of laughs, though. Because animals don't live as long as their humans and Dewey, Norton and Marley all died at the end of the book. This should not be a spoiler, given, for example, the final Norton title: The Cat Who'll Live Forever: The Final Adventures... etc. I'm not much of a weeper, but I admit to multi-tissue sobfests at the death of these pets. So when I picked up John Grogan's newest book, The Longest Ride Home, I was relieved that it was about family and faith. LIke most families, or certainly like mine, Grogan and his relatives are flawed--and darned funny. He lulled me into complacency, then wham! One of the main characters dies at the end, and there I was, sobbing my eyes out again. Next up: Malcolm MacPherson's The Cowboy and His Elephant. I figure this one should be safe. Elephants live a long time, and so do cowboys, so it should have a happy ending. Right? I'll let you know, and in the meantime, if you see me at Malice Domestic, I promise I won't be crying.
Author Visits to Book Clubs by Guest Blogger Beth Groundwater When I suggested to my book club that we invite a local women's fiction author to discuss one of her books and her writing career, the other members went all a-twitter. “She'll think we're so unsophisticated.” “What if we don't like her book?” “What if she hates what we have to say about the book.” “Goodness, a real author, I won't know how to act around her.” Confused by their reaction, I said, “Wait a minute, I’m a real author, too, and you aren't self-conscious around me.” Also, I could vouch that this author was a person just like us, was very friendly, and would not judge their literary astuteness. I knew my book club would enjoy her book because it was set in a nearby town and was the type of book we had enjoyed reading in the past. The group finally agreed, but when the evening of the author visit came, the nervous sweat was apparent. I got the discussion going after introductions by asking the author to talk about her writing career and her other books. Gradually everyone's shyness wore off, and we had a wide-ranging discussion about the book we'd read and the typical questions that we authors are used to answering. “Where do you get your ideas?” “What's your writing schedule?” “How did you sell your first manuscript?” Later, the author said my friends were delightful and thanked me for encouraging the group to invite her. The book club members said the experience was less intimidating than they thought it would be, and they'd like to invite other authors to visit. They talked about that author's visit and how exciting and entertaining it was for months afterward! I visit one or two book clubs a month, both in-person if the group meets within an hour's drive from my home or on a speakerphone if the group meets farther away. I discuss the first book in my Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series, A Real Basket Case, and answer whatever questions the group has for me. These are my favorite kind of promotional events, because I spend an hour or two with book lovers and avid readers like myself. I invariably come away with titles of recommended books to add to my personal reading list and to suggest to my book club. I encourage you, too, to invite authors to visit your book club. Here are a few tips that hopefully will make an author visit less intimidating. 1. If you haven't already read books by local authors, ask your librarian or favorite bookseller to recommend some. Local authors and those who are not New York Times bestsellers are the most likely to have the time and desire to visit book clubs. 2. Once you've selected a few authors to invite, go to the first author's website (which you can find by searching for the name on the Internet) and click on the “Contact Me” or equivalent link. Send an email saying how much you admire his or her writing and name the book you hope to discuss, then request an in-person or speakerphone visit and list suggested dates and times. The worst that can happen is the author won't reply or will politely refuse and you can move on to your second choice. The best outcome is that the author will agree and arrange a visit. 3. Encourage your book club members to purchase the author's book and to bring the books to the meeting so they can be autographed by the author, if it's to be an in-person visit. If it will be a speakerphone visit, the author may be willing to mail autographed bookplates to you. Buying the author's books is the polite thing to do. Since authors usually are not paid by book groups for their time (though gas money is always appreciated), the least you can do is for the majority of the members to buy the book. 4. If one is available, print and bring a list of discussion questions for the book. Many authors, like myself, provide discussion questions for their books on their websites. Another place to find discussion questions is . Also, encourage your members to come prepared with one or two other questions for the author. 5. For in-person visits, I like to arrive 10-15 minutes early and set up a small display of my books, bookmarks, and a sign-up list for my email newsletter. Other authors may want to do the same thing. Also, we appreciate the opportunity to sell books to members, who may not have had a chance to buy one before the meeting or who may want to gift the books to others. 6. Someone should introduce the author and thank him or her for coming, then have the members of the book club introduce themselves. Especially if this is a speakerphone visit, it’s helpful for the author to know something about each member to distinguish them. And, if it’s a speakerphone visit, members should re-state their name each time they ask a question. 7. Relax and enjoy the interaction. If you normally serve food during your meeting, continue to do so. Just let the author know beforehand. Most authors won’t turn down a meal or a glass of wine! Make sure someone watches the time so you don’t keep the author longer than the agreed upon period, and plan for time at the end to autograph books, if it’s an in-person visit. Having an author visit your book club can be a fun and rewarding experience. I encourage you to conquer any qualms you have and go for it! -------------------- If you have any questions about author visits, ask away. And, if you’d like me to discuss my new release, To Hell in a Handbasket, with your book club, please contact me at: . Also, please visit my web site to sign up for my email newsletter and see where I’ll be appearing....

Lorraine Bartlett

Five women, five weekdays, many surprises.

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