Archive for Deep Thoughts & Pronouncements

Writing: Leave Yourself Hanging

By | December 15, 2014 | 0 Comments
Typical Writer's Retirement Plan

Typical Writer’s Retirement Plan

Writing advice is one of those things that a lot of people want from you but are then almost always disappointed by. I’ve seen it plenty of times: Someone says, oh hey, you’ve completed/sold novels, what kind of advice do you have for the aspiring writer? And they are clearly expecting me to say something like drink heavily all the time and the magic booze faeries will dictate stories to you or jot down this ancient Sumerian magic spell and you can summon magic booze faeries to dictate stories to you or possibly sit down and let me buy you expensive cocktails on my dime.

When I offer instead some chestnut about craft or reading widely or avoiding Tom Swifty constructions in your dialogue, their disappointment is obvious, and their eyes always say something akin to you sir are a fraud and I despise you.

So I’ve been trying to think of a piece of writing advice I can offer that is actually practical and useful but also concise and simple, the sort of immediate benefit I think many folks want. They don’t want to hear something that if you apply diligently for the next thirty years might offer some insight. They want something they can go home and do immediately. And in my role as professional bloviator, this is a tool I must have. And after much thought, I have it: Leave yourself hanging.

This is something I’ve done my whole life without actually thinking of it consciously, and it really does work. The concept is simple: When writing a story, always stop for the day at a point where you know what the next thing will be. In other words, never write until you’re unsure of the next step in your story. Whenever I’ve written until I had no idea what came next, when I sat down the next day I was stumped. If I leave even the slightest bit unwritten, I can swing into it easily the next day.

Simple? Yes, but surprisingly not obvious to many. So there you go: A bit of easily marketed writing advice I can apply my unique brand to. Said brand summed up with the phrase Cranky Inebriated Incompetence.

The Cynicism Fail

By | December 11, 2014 | 2 Comments

blackmirrorSO, approximately three years too late, I finally caught the first episode of Black Mirror now that it’s on Netflix. I’ve been hearing about the show for years, especially that first episode – “National Anthem” – and was very interested in it. I’m too lazy to chase things down, so I just thought of it every now and then and finally my weak magical field worked its wonders and the show popped up on Netflix.

And it’s good – very well done, creepy, and the premise of “National Anthem” – a hugely popular member of the royal family is kidnapped, and the sole demand for her release is that the Prime Minister fuck a pig on live television – is inspired in both its creepiness and hilarity. I enjoyed it as a piece of black comedy and theater. It does, however, fail in a big way that often hurts supposedly audacious satires like this – it revels far too much in a cynicism about the world that’s supposed to feel edgy but is actually just really, really lazy writing.

And yes, I know: Me carping about lazy writing is like Charlie Sheen carping about drug addicts. Let it drift.

In “National Anthem,” the Cynicism Fail occurs when the story suddenly needs to give us a reason why any reasonable man, a Prime Minister no less, would actually agree to fuck a pig on live television. Yes, yes it’s satire and thus not beholden to normal rules of storytelling, but plot mechanics are plot mechanics. And Black Mirror falls back on the rickety old structure of “public opinion has shifted,” which is possibly the laziest writing crutch in the universe. In the story, at first the public is reasonably shocked by this ridiculous demand and supports the Prime Minister against it. Then the government makes the mistake of trying to fake a pig-fucking via CGI, and a raid on a spot where the princess might be held goes haywire and a reporter is shot. When the public finds out about these debacles, polling shifts, and suddenly the whole country insists the Prime Minister fuck the pig already. His party informs him that not only can they not longer support him if he doesn’t fuck the pig, they cannot even guarantee his or his family’s safety.

In other words, we are to believe that in the space of an hour or so the country goes from mild shock at this turn of events to rabid, primitive grunting.

And I call bullshit. The trope of “people are really the worst and will show their true colors when pushed” has been done. And people are the worst, I’ll stipulate. But bad polling as a reason you cannot possibly avoid fucking a pig on live television is perhaps some of the worst plot mechanics I’ve ever seen. I enjoyed the episode in spite of this bullshit, trust me. This is the sort of stuff a writer who has become completely divorced from real people trots out, imagining that everyone who is not him or people directly in his line of sight must be awful, ignorant, evil people.

I haven’t watched the other episodes, but likely will, and likely will also have drunken, belligerent things to say about them, as well. In the meantime it’s nice to know that even highly-paid folks with shows on TV can screw up their stories this badly. There’s hope for us all yet!

Why “The Girl Who Waited” is theBest NuWho Episode

By | November 24, 2014 | 0 Comments
Thirty-six years.

Thirty-six years.

Okay, I understand this is controversial for fans of Doctor Who, among whom the episode is considered kind of meh, but I recently re-watched the Season 6 episode The Girl Who Waited, and it’s one of the best episodes of the rebooted Doctor Who, for several reasons. The main reason, though, is how brutal it is.

Let’s consider the brutality:

  • Amy Pond is accidentally abandoned on a plague planet in a separate time stream amongst unintentionally murderous robots for thirty six years because The Doctor refuses to do any sort of basic research about where he’s traveling (“That is not how I travel.”).
  • The Doctor’s solution is to bring Young Amy into their time stream and then to abandon Old Amy to nonexistence even though over the course of 36 fucking years Old Amy has become a distinct and unique person.
  • The Doctor doesn’t even do this brutal murder himself, he forces Rory, Amy’s husband, to do it. And then he leaves it to Rory to explain to Amy that he basically murdered her older self.

That’s some dark stuff. And it gets to the core of what Doctor Who really is: It’s a horror series. And The Doctor is the monster.

The Doom of Men

Forget Amy and Rory’s ultimate fate — to say that Companions on Doctor Who often have less-than-happy endings is an understatement. But The Girl Who Waited underscores the fundamental conflict that drives the show. The Companions, usually (though not always) humans, want The Doctor to care about them. To be their friend. But he doesn’t, and can’t be, not the way they think. He’s not a human, and humans will always be collateral damage to him. He might feel bad about it — in fact, often does — but it’s equivalent to the way we feel bad when a pet runs away and gets run over by a car. We grieve. We feel bad.

Then we get another pet.

Collateral Damage

The murder of Old Amy is pretty dark stuff. And in the episode it’s not even obscured: The darkness is right there. Ostensibly, The Doctor’s decision to abandon Old Amy (or, to be fair, an Amy, as he leaves the choice of which Amy to leave up to Rory) is brutal, and Matt Smith plays it that way. It’s a murder. One moment Old Amy exists: bitter, fierce, and filled with rage, but also filled, suddenly, with hope of reclaiming her future, of having adventures and popping ’round the Pond house for holidays.

The next, she is gone. We’re supposed to be relieved that the hot, young version of Amy, the one we’re used to, the charming one not filled with bitter rage, has been ‘saved,’ and ignore the fact that Old Amy has … not been. But Old Amy existed. Imagine Young Amy, married to a man who abandoned her to die on an alien world, alone, her last memory her friends leaving her again, for the second time in 36 years. Imagine waking up next to a spouse who’d made that decision, no matter what the circumstances.

This is pretty much the core of Doctor Who. He’s a madman in a box, right? He’s an incompetent thief who stole a TARDIS that he’s not even 100% competent to operate and who has spent 2,000 years exploring and abandoning and generally destroying lives, often in the name of justice or the greater good. Viewed from far above, it looks like heroism. Looked at standing next to him, you have to know that if you became a liability, he would sacrifice you, and if he got a little moody about it, he’d just go out and get a new companion, eventually. The Girl Who Waited makes this subtext text, and that’s why it’s one of the new episodes I watch over and over again. Because it makes it clear: The Doctor is a monster.

“Coherence”: The Idiot/Genius Paradox of Sci Fi

By | November 20, 2014 | 0 Comments
Mind: Broken.

Mind: Broken.

I recently watched the film Coherence, written and directed by James Ward Byrkit and starring Emily Baldoni, Maury Sterling, Nicholas Brendon, Elizabeth Gracen, Alex Manugian, Lauren Maher, Hugo Armstrong, and Lorene Scafaria. If you’re not terribly familiar with those names, check the IMDB page, you’ll likely recognize some of their faces.

It’s an interesting sci-fi movie with a deceptively simple premise: On the night eight friends gather for a dinner party, a strange comet passes overhead. Technology malfunctions, glasses shatter, and the lights go out – and they discover that the whole neighborhood is dark and abandoned, except for one house that blazes with the lights on. When they investigate, they discover the other house is … their house, and inside is … them.

SPOILERS

Spoilers? YES WE HAVE THAT. Don’t read if you fear spoilers.

So, the film essentially deals with a “Many World” premise: The comet has somehow caused coherence between realities, meaning the separate realities of quantum physics can, for a short time, interfere and affect each other. What this means in practice is that whenever someone leaves the house and passes through a “dark area” between House Prime and the Other House, they are actually spun randomly into a parallel universe, sometimes replacing themselves, sometimes encountering themselves.

What’s great about the story is that none of this is immediately obvious, and it (mostly) avoids tedious exposition (there is a moment with a Magic Science Book of Immense Convenience, but they had to figure out some way of getting the physics stuff spelled out). In fact, one of the greatest pleasures of the film is looking back and trying to figure out when, exactly, the exchanges between realities begin – and realizing it might have been much earlier in the story than you originally thought.

Also amazing: The ending, which is genius, brutal, and cuts on a final shot that floors. Emily Baldoni ought to get an award for that final facial expression alone.

Anyways, I’m not here to praise Coherence unconditionally. Because it does rely on a common sci-fi trope that is very unfortunate: It’s characters are all simultaneously morons and geniuses.

MORONS

On the one hand, these folks react to stuff in insane ways. The lights go off, and everyone almost immediately goes crazy, jumping at every noise and generally acting like they’re in a disaster movie even though most people have experienced a blackout before. These people immediately begin running around like decapitated chickens. Then, they do remarkably crazy things, like marching off into the night to “investigate” things when the obviously better idea would be to stay inside with allies.

GENIUSES

On the other hand, they figure out what’s happening remarkably fast, and when one character explains the whole Many Worlds thing and throws in Schrödinger’s Cat for good measure, they all absorb and comprehend it immediately and begin working on the assumption that they’re in a sci-fi scenario without any resistance or difficulty.

STORY MECHANICS

I get it. As a writer, I get it, and, frankly, Coherence handles this pretty well. The characters are all presented as reasonably smart people through the initial interactions and conversations, and I much prefer this sort of Genius Character than a more typical Always in Denial character you see in other sci-fi stories – you know, the characters who continue to insist nothing strange is happening way past the point that any reasonable person would cling to their illusions. The AID character is infinitely more annoying.

And the thing is, you need your characters to be both Morons and Geniuses in a story like this. Because if they were smarter and decided to hang back in the house and be calm and safe, they never find out the bits of information that spell out what’s happening. And if they aren’t immediately able to comprehend what’s happening, they can’t explain it to the audience and also they can’t take the story in the interesting directions you want it to go. So, I get it: Sometimes your genius characters have to be morons, or vice versa.

And, frankly, Coherence handles it very well. It gives you information very subtly, relying on the smarts of its audience (though it’s not like Primer in complexity – it’s fairly easy to track what’s going on once you figure it out). The fact that the characters, by about the midway point of the film, have all swapped out to alternate realities without realizing it is a fantastic idea – because their interactions just start to be off, slightly. Imagine you came home and your wife or husband or best friend was suddenly just off – you can’t figure it out, but you remember things differently, or they just say or do something that’s all wrong. Without knowing what’s happened, it just inspires a paranoia – which is what this movie deals in brilliantly.

I’d go see it. If only for that final facial expression.

The King of North Street: I Was Once a Gifted Athlete

By | November 17, 2014 | 0 Comments

This essay originally appeared in The Inner Swine 19(1/2), Summer 2013.

Okay, first of all, the ravages of fucking time are fucking horrible, right? Sweet Jebus on a tricycle, I once looked like this:

Proof I've looked drunk since the day I was born.

Proof I’ve looked drunk since the day I was born.

Sweet hell, I was adorable. Shut up – I was adorable. Blond, soulful eyes, the correct proportion of nose to ears, I had it going on. Today I look like the fucking Crypt Keeper. Oh, this is the normal and perfectly natural process of aging? Maybe so, but it’s still personally horrifying, and if you’ve been riding this zine ride for 20 years with me you know this is all about me being personally horrified at things. If I was the type to wear a monocle, it would be constantly popping off in shock and dismay.

Anyway, if you are only familiar with what we will refer to as Old As Hell Jeff, which is to say any version of Jeff you may have encountered after he discovered alcohol and began drinking himself to death every night, you may be surprised to learn that there was a brief time in my very early childhood when I imagined myself to be somewhat athletically gifted. Whether or not I was actually athletically gifted or if I was just the least un-gifted on a block filled with children of questionable dexterity and physical fitness remains a mystery for the ages, but when I was a kid, man, I was fast.

I know I was fast because I won races.

(more…)

Ye Olde Creative Process

By | November 4, 2014 | 4 Comments
My desk is literally covered with hundreds of these.

My desk is literally covered with hundreds of these.

As a published author, I get a lot of emails and messages from writers who want some advice on how to get published or how to improve their writing [1], and, frankly, it’s always challenging to find new and entertaining ways to tell them “I have no goddamn clue.” Which I mean very seriously. For the “getting published” part I can’t tell you anything beyond I wrote a lot and submitted work fearlessly, somehow found an incredibly agent and took advantage of the opportunities that came to me. The rest of it is all blurry and confusing [2].

As for the writing: I honestly have little insight. While some folks attack writing as a craft, honing skills, for me it’s always been a simple expression of creativity. I don’t study writing (unless reading a lot counts, which it of course does, in which case I study writing every day) and I never workshopped or participated in a writer’s group or a creative writing program. I always just wrote and wrote and wrote and my submission process is a sloppy one, often violating submission guidelines I never read, hardly ever taking the advice to read sample issues or paying attention when an editor says they’re not looking for what I’m writing.

The worst part is how alien much of my writing comes to seem after time. Things I wrote ten years ago I can’t imagine writing now, and often don’t even remember writing at all. I have novels in folders (written back when I was still typing everything out on a manual typewriter) that I have zero memory of. There’s one titled The Hobo Obituaries. It’s 102 typewritten pages, which is about 40,000 words. I have no clue what it’s about. Nothing.

My memory is terrible, and there was a time when I worried about that, was frustrated by it. Much of my life has faded from memory. I might recall on some basic level that I did something that particular day, but the details e usually gone. I have no real memory of it, I just know it happened. That used to scare me a little, and frustrate people around me who remember things in vivid detail and assume my lack of memory meant it hadn’t mattered to me.

Today, I think of my awful memory as a good thing. [3]

My terrible memory allows me to reinvent things easily. I’m not a slave to actual detail; I can take the fuzzy dreamscape that is my memory and shape it and work it and add details that might not have actually been there in the first place. I can write my memories. Details are overrated, anyway. [4]

This is both a superpower and Kryptonite. Just like my beloved liquor! On the one hand, I am free to recreate anything without being tied to details, which is a way of being creatively free. On the other hand, those details are sometimes useful, and not having them at hand can result in some wonky Wikipedia lookups – which are doubly humiliating, as I’m researching stuff I actually lived. Or think I lived. If I can’t remember the details, did it happen?

Ultimately, I don’t think it matters. I’ve always rejected the idea that experience is important in the sense of collecting them – you travel and adventure and see things, but if you don’t do anything to share them, they die with you and what did it matter? Conversely, if my own experiences are by now hopelessly muddled [5], so what? The precise details don’t matter anyway. All that matters is what I write.

——

[1] “a lot” = one recently; most of my emails are meant for another Jeff Somers who might be some sort of secret agent.

[2] Just ask my agent, who is still cleaning up some of my awful mistakes signed before she took me on.

[3] For context, though, I also think of my lack of grooming as a good thing.

[4] Details like making a living and wearing pants, apparently.

[5] My whole life is basically this Simpsons clip:

Why I’ll Never Be an Actor

By | October 27, 2014 | 3 Comments
A face for radio!

A face for radio!

So, the other day I was recorded reading a brief excerpt of We Are Not Good People for The Author’s Corner, a public radio program. When I was initially approached for this, I was excited, of course, and also pretty confident. I’ve done a fair share of readings, after all, and I think I have a good sense of what works in a reading and how to read my own work so it’s a little entertaining. I’m fairly confident in my voice; while I don’t think it’s some sort of Saruman-like instrument, people don’t run screaming when I start to read some fiction. Or, more commonly, when I stand up in a tavern and begin to recite The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock from memory, as I am wont to do.

As usual, life noticed me being cocky and confident, and decided that Somers boy needs to be taught a lesson.

First, the first twelve or so excerpts from the book I submitted were rejected. We only had about a minute to work with, so the excerpt had to do a lot of work: Be entertaining, be coherent, have an arc and a point, not be too gory or profanity-laden (that last one, from a book written by me and involving blood magic, was a doozy). Finding the ideal piece to read was a struggle, and just when I thought we’d failed, I hit on the perfect excerpt: The very beginning of the book.

Triumph! We were both happy with that choice. So I sailed into the offices of my redoubtable lit agent and met the producer of the show. He unpacked his equipment and created a mini-studio in an unused office, and we started working on a very brief introduction. This was harder than expected, too, but we finally nailed it down and I commenced reading. And discovered I could never be an actor.

Which I guess I knew.

Take after take, the producer gave notes. Good notes, really. Smart notes. And while I always considered myself at least modestly facile with performance — see my leading man-caliber performances as part of Two Men Have Words, for instance — even I knew that I wasn’t really nailing it. I knew what I wanted to do, how I wanted it to sound, and yet when I read it I would lose the thread of what I was hearing in my head and it would be … not so good.

Actors, I imagine, have to go through something like that. Being told their performance was just not … quite right, do it again. And then that the version they gave five minutes ago was 98% right, but this most recent one was only 60%. And then you finally nail one bit that was problematic, and feel great, only to hear that there are 15 more things to tweak. It’s exhausting. It didn’t exactly make me think that actors deserve the tens of millions of dollars they get for their films, but it drifted me a little closer to that conclusion.

In the end, I got it right. For about eighty total seconds of audio we worked for an hour and a half. It’s probably the longest I’ve gone without a drink in years.

Character Attrition

By | October 23, 2014 | 10 Comments
I must be dealt with.

I must be dealt with.

Few people think of me as an expert in anything. Well, booze, yes, I suppose there’s that. But in general I am regarded in social settings as a mildly alarming Wild Card (or, more accurately, I go around demanding that everyone call me by the nickname “Wild Card” so I can use my self-made catchphrase, “I have to be dealt with! BECAUSE I’M A WILD CARD, BABY!”)

<crickets>

Maybe I’m an expert in novel writing, as I have published nine of them. Though technically that makes me an expert in selling novels, not necessarily writing them. Which leads me, with the drunken grace of a shore leave sailor, to my point.

 

There is a rule in fiction writing called the Law of Conservation of Characters. Is there? I may have made that up. Actually, after Googling it’s something Roger Ebert said about movies, but it still applies. It has to, or this blog post is a waste of everyone’s time.

Basically, what this boils down to is the idea that an author doesn’t waste time on characters who have no purpose in a story, so if you’re, say, trying to figure out who the killer is in a mystery novel you know it has to be a character you’ve spent some time with – and any character who so far hasn’t had much reason to be there is the most likely suspect.

There’s a flip side to this rule that doesn’t get talked about much, and that’s because it’s a rule you should apply while writing the damn story in the first place. This is the Rule of Character Attrition, and it might be a Somers-Only Rule, who knows, but it goes like this: If you’re struggling in your novel, consider cutting characters out and combining their role and attributes into another character. It’s often a tonic for an ailing novel, in my experience.

For example, I’ve got a WIP. As is my wont, I started this book off by throwing everything I could think of – exposition everywhere like a slow flood of molasses, details that just drop like anvils here and there just so I wouldn’t forget them later – and every character I could think of that might be useful. I do this. If I think there might be a scene later that would benefit from a unicorn, I will create a unicorn character.

End result? My protagonist has a very large posse of people following him around, and the story gets bogged down. And then I realize that character #5 hasn’t said or done anything in 50 pages.

That’s when it’s time for a culling.

I start over. I boil down my characters: Who can be combined? Who is unlikely to ever get a Big Moment or a reason to exist? Who have I completely forgotten was even in this book? Burn them off, and what you’re left with are the characters that actually matter.

It really just goes to show that we novelists really have no idea what we’re doing. We just make it up as we go along. It’s actually kind of surprising that any of us manage to feed and clothe ourselves – and yes, I know that in my case the definition of “clothe” is very loose. DAMN YOUR EYES.

Poorly Scheduled Film Analysis: PROMETHEUS

By | October 20, 2014 | 5 Comments
THERON WILL DESTROY YOU

THERON WILL DESTROY YOU

As I like to inject my “brand” (incompetence and intellectual laziness) into everything I do, here’s the second in my series of essays discussing films that came out a couple of years ago, when people might have been interested in such things. This time around, we’re going to consider Prometheus, which is really just a gorgeous blob of WTF.

Let’s start with a simple question: Why is Charlize Theron in this film? Her character is completely and totally unnecessary. I’ll give you a moment to ponder this.

There are two possible answers to the question of Theron’s character’s inclusion:

1. The less charitable possibility involves two producers discussing the film over a pile of cocaine the size of a Thanksgiving turkey. Producer One suddenly says, wait a second, there’s only one chick in this movie and she’s played by the scary-looking actress from Girl with Dragon Tattoo who doesn’t speak English? We need a hotter chick in this movie. And Producer Two thumbs his phone for a moment and announces they can get Charlize Theron and make her do pushups in her underwear, and Producer One writes a check for one billion dollars.

2. The more charitable view is that Theron’s character exists solely to embody two of the film’s themes. She’s a walking, breathing symbol.

Theron’s character is just a visual metaphor – which is, essentially, the whole problem with the movie in a nutshell. It has some great ideas, some clever stuff, but it smothers under the weight of its pretensions. Theron is there to do two basic things (aside from those aforementioned push-ups): To represent mortality and how awful it is to try to avoid it (her father refuses to die, and thus she’s literally living on a lifeboat), and to represent death without purpose.

Other characters are either purely Redshirts or their deaths are heroic sacrifices, or they are transformed into monsters. The Engineer at the beginning of the film sacrifices himself for a greater good. Holloway sacrifices himself heroically when it dawns on him what’s happened. The captain and the crew sacrifice themselves to save the distant earth, following clear motivations that were deeply lodged inside Ridley Scott’s head, because they sure weren’t on the screen.

Theron? Theron’s character tries to save herself. She doesn’t want to sacrifice herself, but she doesn’t want to die. So she flees, and winds up crushed under an alien spaceship because she apparently forgets how to run at ninety degree angles – her death is completely meaningless.

As is her character – if you removed Theron from this story, nothing would change at all. Except Idris Elba wouldn’t get laid. Although I doubt Idris Elba has much trouble in that department. But the point is not that Idris Elba is a damn fine good-looking man; the point is that Theron’s character is just a walking, talking metaphor. If you were wondering what that pebble in your brain driving you crazy while watching this gorgeous blob of WTF, it was probably Theron and her ghost of a character.

 

Jeff’s Guide to Reading Good

By | October 13, 2014 | 2 Comments
Jeff at Noir at the Bar NYC 10-5-14

Jeff Struggling Not to Faint at Noir @ the Bar 10-5-14

So, in support of my new novel We Are Not Good People (you may have heard me mention it one billion times so far), I’ve been doing more public appearances than usual. Which is to say: More than none public appearances. I like meeting people who like my books, and enjoy conversations about books and such (especially if the conversation skews towards how awesome I am), but I also fear people and often feel very awkward with my fellow humans, so I don’t do a lot of public stuff.

But, when you have a novel you need to sell, you get out there and shake your awkward, slightly hairy ass (slightly?). I trooped to the Brooklyn Book Festival, I did a reading at Shade in Manhattan with some MWA peeps, I did a very short radio reading that I assume will go live at some point soon … I went to New York Comic Con this year as a guest speaker. All the public speaking got me thinking about it, and about book readings in general.

Jeff’s Guide to Reading in Public

I’ve done my share of book readings at this point. I’ve read in bars, in bookstores, to crowds and (literally) to no one. I’ve done my work. And so I have a few simple guidelines that I think work well for me. And, since I’ve also been an audience member at all these readings, I also think these rules of thumb would work for other writers as well.

The disclaimer is, your mileage may vary, and my limitations are not necessarily your limitations. So feel free to ignore my advice here. These are my general impressions after having been involved in a ton of readings over the years – take my advice or leave it.

  1. Don’t read dialogue. A section where two (or, god help us, more) characters are speaking can be really, really confusing to the audience. Your ability to do voices is probably not nearly as good as you think, and reading each line in the same nervous monotone makes figuring out which character is speaking really tough.
  2. Don’t read for more than 5-10 minutes. And lord, skewing closer to 5 is better. Time yourself at home. Trust me when I say no one wants to hear you drone on for 20 minutes, and if you’re sharing the night with other writers going long is just rude.
  3. Practice. I am always amazed when an accomplished writer with a lot of success publishing their work gets up, flips to a page in their book, and staggers through a section like they only recently learned to read, much less like they themselves actually wrote the words. You may think that because it’s your prose you’re golden, but trust me: Read it out loud a few times before the event rolls around.
  4. Edit. When you’re reading, you’ll probably hit a few moments when you stumble because reading out loud is different from reading in your head. Don’t be afraid to edit slightly to make it easier on yourself and easier for your audience to follow.
  5. Have fun. You’ll trip over words anyway, or mispronounce things, or trip over sound wires or something. Don’t worry. Just have fun, and remember this: Very few people will leap up from their chairs and rush out to buy your book based on a 5-minute reading. You’re there for the camaraderie and the exposure, not to start a cult.

Finally, try to choose a scene in your book that captures tone, but doesn’t require everyone know the plot – stopping to explain things just drags everything down.

Those are my thoughts. You are, of course, free to completely ignore me or even show up at my next reading and heckle me until I cry. At which point my wife will beat you up, so be careful.

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