What Authors Never Say At Book Signings

Being an author on a book tour can be a wonderful experience, until things go wrong: missed flights, poor turnouts, noisy and uncomfortable hotels, cab drivers taking you to the wrong book store in the wrong part of town, hotel WiFi crapping out–and a host of other problems that can work your last nerve.

So sometimes your charm can wear very thin, and you start to feel that the same kinds of remarks or questions you’ve heard before feel like swings people are taking at a piñata.

The stress can leave you most vulnerable when you’re marooned at a table waiting for people to come over and get a book to be signed.  This isn’t after a reading, but when all the bookstore wants you to do is just sit and sign.  You end up feeling like you’re not much more than somebody’s desperate grandmother at a weekend yard sale trying to unload worthless junk rather than an artist selling a book you’ve slaved over.

Here are some moments many authors have experienced, and what some of them might have been thinking in their weary, frazzled, tortured little hearts.

Scene: Customer rifles through a book for five or more minutes while the author sits at the bookstore table grinning stupidly and helpfully, imagining alternative realities that would have kept her home: a stalled car or a civil insurrection or just a plain old flu.

Customer puts book down and mutters, “I’ll get it on Amazon.”  Customer trundles off.

Author would love to say: “I won’t sign it on friggin’ Amazon!”

Or Customer asks, “Will I like it?”

Author would love to say, “You will adore it.  It’s gonna improve your sex life, give you a green thumb, help you lose weight (and seriously, honey, it’s time because have you seen yourself from behind?), get your kids into their first choice colleges, and make your dog stop peeing on the couch.”

Customer says out of the blue, after inspecting as if it might have bed bugs, “I don’t read much.”

Author would love to say, “I could tell from the vacant look in your eyes.”

Customer sighs after putting the book back upside down and face down, “I have so many books at home that I have to read first.”

Author would love to say, “This is way better than the trash you’re used to.”

Customer bustles up to you and scolds you at length for some plot point in your last book and says you better not have repeated the same mistake in the new one.

Author would love to say, “I’m so grateful!  That was amazing advice! Nobody’s ever pointed that out to me before!  I’m dedicating my next book to you!  Here, take a free book!  No, take two!”

Friend_hugLev Raphael is the author of The Edith Wharton Murders and 24 other books in many genres.

Why I Love Writing Mysteries

I grew up in a household where my parents read a handful of different newspapers in more than one language.  My mother read Georgette Heyer and Agatha Christie as well as Thomas Mann and Margaret Mitchell. Not at the same time, mind you, but the model of reading she set for me was broad and enlightening.

That meant I was never told what not to read, and I carried that freedom with me through my school years, reading whatever interested me for whatever reason, delving into science fiction, the history of France, dolphin studies, biographies of the Founding Fathers, you name it. If it grabbed me, I grabbed it off the library shelf and carried it home, curious and expectant.

I was often inattentive in class because I was thinking about my library books, wishing I could be home reading them. Each one seemed to open to a world that was larger, more fascinating, and more liberating than my cramped classroom. Nowadays, I would probably be diagnosed as needing of Ritalin, but what I wanted was escape.

But not just from class. My parents were Holocaust survivors and this dark tragedy too often set the tone for our household: angry, depressed. Reading offered relief and distance, especially the alternate worlds of science fiction and history. Mysteries promised something better once I discovered them: the assurance that things made sense, that evildoers were punished, and order could be restored. It’s the balance Oscar Wilde mocks in The Importance of Being Earnest: “The good end happily, the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.”

I’ve published 25 books in many genres and almost a third of those have been mysteries in the Nick Hoffman series, satires set in the world of academe. My mother developed dementia before she could see me become successful and before she could read even one mystery of mine.  But writing and publishing each of them, I’ve thought of her. I’ve thought of a woman of wide tastes and deep education, a woman who spoke half a dozen languages, who had a rough smokey laugh–and how mysteries made her happy. Remembering all that makes me happy.

Lev Raphael’s Nick Hoffman mysteries are available from Amazon.

People Will Say Anything to Writers

Did you get fired from your real job?

What do you write? (long pause) Oh.

Aren’t there enough books out there already?

 Do you know Stephen King?

I’m into gaming.

You should write a book about my life, it’s a bestseller for sure.

 

My sister reads a lot. Have you written anything she would know?

I liked your book except for the characters.

I’m gonna write someday, when I get some spare time.

jokeyYou should write a screenplay! That’s where all the money really is.

Your book was…interesting.

I thought books were dead.

If you’re a writer, what kinds of off-the wall comments and questions have you heard?

Lev Raphael is the author of The Edith Wharton Murders and 24 other books in genres from memoir to historical fiction which you can find on Amazon.

Don’t Spread Bogus Quotations!

Someone on Twitter recently pointed me to a book called How To Gain 100,000 Twitter Followers: Twitter Secrets Revealed by An Expert.

Well, who wouldn’t want a vast horde of followers? I know that gave Jesus  some trouble, but on Twitter you just have to feed them content, with no miracles involved, right?

So I sampled the book on Amazon and here’s what I found right at the beginning, obviously meant as inspiration: “Learn the rules like a pro, so that you can break them like an artist.” It was attributed to Picasso. The dial on my bullshit meter went into the red zone and the meter melted down.

946848-pablo-picassoWhether he supposedly said it in Spanish, French, or English, I just couldn’t imagine Picasso using the word “pro.” And the whole quotation just sounded too flashy, informal, and fake–why would a renowned artist put it like that?  It reeked of being a t-shirt slogan, not something one of the world’s great painters would say.

So I did some checking and quickly discovered that despite the quotation being attributed to Picasso across the Internet (and probably across the universe), there’s no citation whatsoever proving that he did.

It’s distant origin might possibly be Life’s Little Instruction Book which has a similar line: “Learn the rules then break some.” Add the bit about the artist and Boom, you’re viral!

But Picasso isn’t the only one who gets credit for the line. A different version was attributed to the Dalai Lama, too, if you can believe it.

Well, even if you can’t believe it, plenty of people have. Snopes has disproved the Dalai Lama attribution, tracing it to a viral email chain.  Oh, and there are also versions attributed to comedian Lea DeLaria and that prolific dude Unknown, who I guess is a cousin of Anon.

So did I read further in the sample on Amazon to learn some fabulous Twitter secrets that would change my life? No.  Because I figured if the author was sloppy in his epigraph, why should I trust him with my $9.95–who knows what else he got wrong?

jon-stewart-huhLev Raphael is the author of 25 books in genres from memoir to mystery which you can find on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  Picasso had nothing to do with any of them.

Fifteen Howlers From Fifty Shades of Grey

I recently re-read Mark Twain’s epic smackdown of James Fenimore Cooper’s dreary 1841 novel The Deerslayer which Twain ends with this barrage:

…it has no lifelikeness, no thrill, no stir, no seeming of reality; its characters are confusedly drawn, and by their acts and words they prove that they are not the sort of people the author claims that they are; its humor is pathetic; its pathos is funny; its conversations are — oh! indescribable; its love-scenes odious; its English a crime against the language.

Fifty Shades of Grey came right to mind. The book is a marvel–but not the way I imagine the author intended. It reads like a first draft teenage fever dream. It would make a superb primer for creative writing students in how not to create character, how not to set scenes, how not to do sex writing, and how not to write prose. Yes, it’s a best seller. So what? Brilliant marketing and karma did that, not quality.

Like The Deerslayer, it’s often very funny, unintentionally so. Here are fifteen terrific examples, though going to fifty wouldn’t be difficult.

1–My subconscious has found her Nikes, and she’s on the starting blocks.

2–His lips quirk up.

sheldon-2.jpg3–A frisson of trepidation mixed with tantalizing exhilaration sweeps through my body, making me wetter.

4–Each one is kissed and nipped gently and my nipples tenderly sucked. Holy crap. [the author’s italicized words, not mine]

5–My inner goddess glares at me, tapping her small foot impatiently.

inner goddess

6–He looks so…hot.

7–I can feel myself quicken.

8–I slice another piece of venison, holding it against my mouth.

9–And I come, my orgasm ripping through me, a turbulent, passionate apogee that devours me whole.

Crocodile-and-Snake10–I rub my wrists reflectively–two strips of plastic will do that to a girl.

11–I know that lurking, not very far under my rather numb exterior, is a well of tears.

overflowing12–He kisses me passionately, forcing my lips apart with his tongue, taking no prisoners.

cows-french-kissing

13–My subconscious is staring at me in awe.

staring14–He lays still, letting me acclimatize to the intrusive, overwhelming feeling of him inside of me.

15–I glower inwardly, walking away.

I have to sign off now because my subconscious just found its missing car keys.  But what are your favorite howlers from Fifty Shades of Grey?

Lev Raphael is the author of the comic Nick Hoffman mystery series and many other books which you can find at Amazon.

Who’s to Blame for Your Crappy Career?

Writers like Malcolm Gladwell have popularized the notion that all you need to become a genius or even an expert at just about anything is hard work. Do I hear RuPaul?

And it’s never to soon to start kicking butt, either.  Psychologist Ellen Winner says it’s now widely believed that “with sufficient energy and dedication on the parents’ part, it is possible that it may not be all that difficult to produce a child prodigy.”

Whoa. Think about it: truly dedicated parents can get their kids to write symphonies like Mozart, paint canvasses like Picasso, carve sculptures like Rodin, design buildings like Frank Lloyd Wright, create fashion to match Ralph Lauren.  The list is endless because they can get their kids to do anything. It’s all about work, and wanting it enough. Boom.

I come from a family of mathematically gifted people. My mother’s father was a statistician; my mother tutored her peers in mathematics; my older brother aced every math class he ever took from day one.  Math was like a religion in our house. But from kindergarten on, I had trouble with the simplest computations–and I still do.

Let me be absolutely clear: I was desperate to be good at math, and equally desperate to please my mother (and my teachers), but I kept disappointing everyone. I was a good little student in most everything else, and it was a torment to me that no matter what I did, no matter how anyone tried to help me, I just could not succeed. Neither could my teachers or my tutors. And no matter how many hours my frustrated mother spent trying to get me to understand what was elementary to her,  I just did not get it. 

All that hard work only led to embarrassment and shame, and that’s what this perverse new cultural naivete has the potential to induce, despite its smiley-face propaganda: feelings of inadequacy for everyone who doesn’t make it to the top. Because the answer isn’t bad luck, or not enough talent. Nope, it’s because nobody tried hard enough!  Not you, and definitely not your loser parents.

Andre Dubus is widely quoted as having said “Talent is cheap. What matters is discipline.” And now we know it started before we got the career bug in our heads.  We know exactly who to blame when we don’t make it as writers (or anything else): Mom and Dad.  If only they’d believed in us more; worked us harder; pushed us to the max we would all be best sellers (or celebrities).  Then we wouldn’t have to spend so much time and money in therapy complaining about how we never grabbed the brass ring.

http://jasonfixmypc.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/frustrated-computer-user-2000.jpg

 

How to Diss Other Authors Safely: A Quick & Dirty Guide

Watching other authors succeed in ways you can never dream of isn’t easy.  Life isn’t fair and that goes double or triple for the writing life.  There’ll be plenty of times in your career when you wish you could hire Olivia Pope and her Scandal team to just shutthemdown.

But speaking out about your feelings isn’t a good idea.  Not so long ago, Lynn Shepherd got  lambasted all over the Internet for having urged J.K. Rowling to stop writing.  In Shepherd’s view, Rowling is a literary Mount Etna whose magma is burying way too many other authors. Cap the volcano, whatever it takes!

Whether she was kidding or being serious, I think she chose the wrong way to express herself.  As an author of crime fiction she had obvious, wonderful tools she should have used, and it’s a path any author who wants to even the score can easily take.

Write about it, but disguise the people involved.  Channel the emotion and use it to fuel fiction of some kind where you can balance the scales in any way you want.  Take control of the situation by turning the “offending” author into a character over whom you have complete control.  Their fate is now completely in your hands.  Make it brutal, gory, grotesquely funny–whatever works, whatever gives you catharsis.

Turn the author’s latest book into a joke or a disaster.  Mock the title, the theme, the reviews, whatever gives you pleasure.  I’ve done that at least once and it didn’t matter that I’m sure the quite famous author never noticed. I had a ball because I thought he was so over-praised by the reviewers and I couldn’t stand his work.

When you channel your frustration this way, you’ll not only end up rising above the feelings weighing you down, you’ll also be extra productive.  Better still, if you do a good job of disguise, nobody but you, your agent, your editor or whoever else you let in on the secret will know.

Masking the situation as fiction, you have the chance of not seeming mean-spirited and be far less likely to incite other people’s fans to shout Bansai! and launch their planes at your fleet.

A veteran of university teaching, Lev Raphael now offers creative writing workshops online at writewithoutborders.comHe’s the author of the forthcoming mystery State University of Murder and 25 other books in a wide range of genres.

 

Why I Write Academic Mysteries

 

I write a mystery series set in academia and now and then fans ask me, is it really that bad?  Are professors that selfish, backbiting, and ungenerous?  Well, obviously not all of them are, but academic culture from school to school has quirks and even  idiocies that make great material for satire.  Sometimes the behavior is egregious, sometimes it’s just ridiculous. Either way, it’s fodder for fiction.

Case in point.  At one private college where I read from one of my most successful books, I wasn’t brought in by English or Creative Writing faculty, but by another department that I won’t name.

I love readings.  I have a theater background, years of experience on radio, and I’ve done hundreds of readings on three continents. I’ve also taught workshops for writers on how to do readings, which require practice and art and thought.

Only four people turned up for this particular campus reading, and the disappointed coordinator told me that despite her efforts, whenever she brought in a speaker who writing students would naturally be interested in, English and Creative Writing professors consistently failed to do anything to promote the reading.  They didn’t encourage their students to show up.  They basically cold-shouldered the event.  Why?  Territoriality.  Apparently they feel they’re the only ones who should be inviting authors to campus.

It made me laugh, because it seemed so very typical of academic pettiness.  But it also made me sad because the writing students might have learned something and enjoyed themselves.

I never obsess about  numbers when I do a reading: 4 or 400,  the audience deserves my best, and that’s what I gave them at this college.  Too bad the small-minded English Department and its writing professors don’t do the same, don’t really care enough about their own students to point them towards opportunities right there on their own little campus.  It makes you wonder how else they may be giving students less than they deserve as they jealously defend what think is their turf and nobody else’s.

Lev Raphael’s latest academic mystery is State University of Murder.  He teaches creative writing online at writewithoutborders.com and his June workshop is “Mystery Writing 1.0”