Does This Make a Good Speaking Topic?

Even though the annual Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Conference is still several months away, many writers in the group are preparing and proposing speaking topics.  I’ve often tried to propose a topic that would work well and be accepted by the conference board.  The reward is a free conference attendance, and, to me, that is a lot of savings on a terrific event.  Unfortunately, none of my topics have, as of yet, been accepted.

This year, one of the proposals I’ll submit will be with a well-established writing colleague, Robin D. Owens.  Have you read her paranormal romance books?  Lots of good reading there.

Anyway, both Robin and I are interested in secondary characters that happen to be animals.  She focuses a lot on cats, and you know my heart has gone to the dogs.  We’re thinking of doing a presentation on animals and other non-humans as secondary characters.  I’d really appreciate your thoughts on this subject.  Here are some of my challenges, as I think through the proposal:

EVERYONE HAS A PET–HOW CAN I PROJECT SPECIAL EXPERTISE?

Dog with reindeer antlers

Okay. Couldn’t resist. This is Trigger. What’s his story?

Much more than half our population has a pet of some sort.  According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, our country has over 43 million households with dogs and 36 million homes with cats.  That’s a lot of anecdotal expertise out there.  How can two writers bring something new to the conversation?

I have had three large dogs in my adult life.  With each dog, I believe I’ve added skills and interest.  But then, so have many who will be in my audience.  My knee-jerk reaction to this thought is that I could put together interesting statistics, but I’m not sure how those stats would help people write better about animals as secondary characters.  Perhaps, I can re-read my books on “Why does the dog do that?”

WHAT MAKES A NON-HUMAN CHARACTER DIFFERENT FROM A HUMAN ONE?

Close up of cat face

Nalla on mouse alert.

As pet owners, we all engage with personification of our pets, at least to some extent.  How can a writer step so completely outside the human experience to write about a world from a dog or cat’s perspective?  And is this necessary?  With human side-kicks, we only need to sketch a few impressions and our readers (being human themselves) fill in the gaps.

Or perhaps I’m making too much of our differences?  Perhaps the animal psyche is similar to the human psyche and all we need to do is remind readers of Rex’s furry legs, or habit of chewing old shoes and we’ll be okay.

I WANT NON-HUMAN CHARACTERS TO GET THE RESPECT THEY DESERVE

One thing that bugs me, is the now cliché use of an inexperienced dog walker facing that dreaded poo-pick up for the first time.  This potty joke is a cheap laugh at best, and is growing more boring all the time.

How can I put animals in a story in a perspective that’s appropriate, yet still give them the distinction of a personality all their own?

IS THIS AN IMPORTANT TOPIC?

Colorado Wolves at Western Welcome Week

Spooky (front), Rocky and Yukon with owner Cody on Main Street, Littleton. Wolves at Western Welcome Week, Littleton, CO

Above everything else, a speaking topic needs to be relevant to the audience.  Do you think writers would be interested in listening about and discussing “non-humans as secondary characters” in writing a book?  Need we, as authors, even need be concerned about stereotyping pets and other animals?  Or should we use the stereotypes that already exist (German shepherds are brave, loyal and bright–cats are aloof–fish are boring) and solidify the beliefs that the majority of our readers hold dear?

If you have any thoughts on this topic, I’d appreciate hearing from you.  Hoping you have a bright and perhaps a little furry, scale-riddled or feathered day.

The Business of Being Personal

BOUCHERCON BAG CONTEST

Bouchercon Book Bag - Grand Priaze

Bouchercon Book Bag – Grand Priaze

Whew!  I must have stumped you well last week!  I only had one person able to answer the questions.  Congratulations, Sharon from Littleton, CO for guessing these contest questions right:

  1. What was Anthony Boucher’s full legal name?  William Anthony Parker White
  2. When and where was the first Bouchercon? 1970 – Santa Monica, CA
  3. Who is the main suspect in Liesa’s upcoming novel, “Sliced Vegetarian?”  Brian Hughes – the special needs worker at Gigantos Supermarket (and Ginny Caerphilly’s boyfriend)

Better luck next time, my friends.  By the way, what kind of contests do you prefer: raffles, trivia, puzzles, other?  I’d like to do more of these, but will probably do them in my quarterly newsletter, which I’ll be starting to send in January.  Please let me know if you’d like to be on my mailing list.

‘TIS THE SEASON TO BE SOCIAL

RMMWA 2014 Holiday Tree

Happy holidays, my reading and writing friends!

If you are an aspiring author, chances are you’ve been inundated with the concept of “author platform” over the past few years.  An author platform is a fancy way of saying “personal branding.”  I may be opening a can of worms here, but in yesteryears personal branding was pretty much handled by a resume and a handshake.  Today, we’ve replaced that minimalist effort with social media.

As authors, we are supposed to engage with multiple social sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Pinterest.  The list goes on…and on…and on.  I could see an author getting stuck in social media and never writing anything for real consumption again (please don’t ask how my book’s coming!).

But the bigger question is, with all this personal advertising and letting total strangers get to “know” us, are we any better off? Hmm.

I like to write this journal on-line, because I feel like I’m being a pen pal.  I love hearing from and responding to you individually.  But with Goodreads, I’m not really fond of reviewing books by others (everyone should get five stars just for going through the publishing process in my mind), and saying “something” in 140 characters for Twitter 1,000 times a day is truly noise pollution from my perspective. Sheesh! What’s an author to do?

With so much noise on the Internet, I am finding that connecting with others is a more personal mission.  It isn’t a game of “who’s following me?” but the more genuine back and forth of building personal binds between potential friends and true acquaintances. This “belly-to-belly” approach isn’t efficient, but much more rewarding.

Littleton Writers Holiday Party

Social Media at its finest is a one-to-one connection.

The Internet is a “safe place” for introverts to hang out.  We only have to post our opinions and comment a few times here and there to build reputations in our chosen communities. But when we truly buy into our areas of interest, and the people who populate those areas, we must make a personal effort, have good timing and embrace good luck.  In the ’80s we called it “networking.” Before that, it was simply “good business.”

This reminds me of the “Christmas Carol,” where one of the ghosts reminds Scrooge, “Business? Business?  PEOPLE are your business!”  In the spirit of that people focus, I’m attending a few holiday parties this year.  Not my area of strength, but people are indeed my business and I find that the more I put into this effort, the richer my life becomes.

It’s no good to go to a party, convention or business gathering and make the excuse, “I’m shy” to not engage.  We need to reach out, shake hands, have our photos taken and be involved.

The Littleton Writers’ party was on Sunday. Small turn-out, but I had the chance to engage not only with my writing friends, but with their interesting and wonderful spouses.  John talked about education in the south, Dave talked project management, and I always enjoy Marta’s dialog on public relations and the light rails going around our cities in the Denver metroplex.  How cool is that?

Edgar Holiday Ornaments

Being social can be crafty.

Tomorrow, I’ll be at the local chapter of Mystery Writers of America.  Because I volunteered (something cynics among us think of as a waste), I got to play with arts and crafts, I’ll be reading a snippet from my second book to the group, and I had the chance to get to know the chapter president and a few other people much better than before.  Every person in this group is not only a potential reader, but someone who may promote my book, or give me a book review.  This is HUGE!

On Saturday, I may miss a function.  These parties are, after all, “work” for authors.  But my sister is coming in from Detroit, and I have wanted to chat with her for a while.  Family is priority one to me.  But if she slips off with her daughter, I may go to the RMFW holiday party.  If I do, there’s probably someone I haven’t met yet who may become a friend or at least friendly acquaintance.

Author platforms. We build ’em one plank (or friendship) at a time.

The Copyright Page — by Letizia

Here’s a real treat for you my friends!  This week’s blog is by one of my frequent visitors, known only as Letizia.  She is a professor at a University that I’m guessing is located in the eastern United States, but her background is Swiss/French.  I’ve been reading Reading Interrupted for a couple of years, and it’s always well worth visiting.  Please enjoy today’s post, and thank you, Letizia, for donating your super reading observations!

____________________________________

I was so pleased when my blogging friend and author, Liesa, asked me to write a guest post.  I always look forward to her posts, her reflections on the creative process, and updates on her beautiful German Shepard.

Holding a book in my hand for inspiration, I started thinking about how I read. I turned the book cover open and realized that I didn’t start reading on the first page of the story.

For me, the first page of a book is the copyright page. I can’t remember when I started paying attention to it, but now, when I open a book for the first time, I always look at it.

Some are more interesting than others, but they provide me with a little introduction to the book.

Jhumpha Lahiri’s The Namesake, for example, gives us the subject terms by which the book is categorized: Young men—Fiction, Massachusetts—Fiction, Children of immigrants, etc.

I notice that she first published it as a novella in The New Yorker

Jhumpa Lahiri copyright page

The copyright page of Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road reminds me that the book was first published in 1961.

I learn that the author passed away in 1992.

copyright page for Revolutionary Road

My French books are different.  Natalie Sarraute’s Le Silence, for example, is very simple, only revealing the actual publication dates.  The ISBN number and other information are found at the end of the book.

Copyright page for Sarraute

If we are lucky, the page can be whimsical, part of the creative process itself.  I particularly like the ones by book designer, Louise Fili, who wanted to move beyond the traditional look:

copyright page for Louise Fili

The copyright page reminds us that we are holding someone’s creation, reminds us that we are about to read the collaborative work of an author, an editor, a book designer, etc.  At its best it gives us insight into the creative process and an introduction to the story.  At the very least, it tells us where and when the book was published, situating it in history.