Author readings have often been somewhat static affairs. The writer is introduced by the host, they read, and a Q&A with the audience follows. It's nice for the reader to have an opportunity to hear the author read their work, and it's lovely for the writer to interact with the audience. But, well, let's face it, it can sometimes be a little boring. Writers and hosts have been working to find ways to make the author reading more engaging, of course. But as we increasingly move events online, and especially during the pandemic, the Zoom reading often didn't stray far from this tried and true model. Here too, the host introduces the writer, they read, and there is opportunity for Q&A, often on chat.
As the pandemic wanes, readings on Zoom or other online platforms are likely to continue, of course, as they provide the author a larger reach and potentially larger audience. But given our access to all these amazing technologies, does the reading have to be the same old, same old? Of course not. And writers and host organizations are experimenting with the reading in many ways. Here's just one list of great ideas on that front.
As my book launch of The Almost Wife approached, I knew I didn't want a traditional Zoom reading event. The book launched in July, for one thing, and who wants to be inside watching a Zoom reading in July? So I elected to make my book launch an all-day Twitter open house instead, where readers and other writers could pop in to say hello for a few minutes as their schedules allowed. I posted tidbits about the book and its inspirations throughout the day, and answered questions that writer and reader friends threw my way.
But what about that reading? I first thought of posting a series of very short traditional recorded readings. But I wanted to have more fun with it and perhaps reveal a side of my personality that, as a "serious literary writer" I don't let out of the closet all that often: the goofball. I love to make people laugh and here, with this thriller, a departure in my writing that I truly wrote for fun, I figured I had the opportunity. So, instead of the traditional reading, I wrote scripts for several sketch comedy shorts, on the challenges and pitfalls of promoting a book from home, and with my husband's help, acted, recorded and edited them.
Yes, the sketch comedy pieces are badly acted and produced. Yes, they are silly. But that's the point. They are meant to be a goofy little gift, something that I hope will make the audience laugh, and more, help us recognize we all face the same insecurities and challenges dealing with this brave new online world. And I still managed to squeeze in tidbits from the novel, for comic effect. For the writers out there, I hope these shorts inspire your own innovative takes on "the reading," and I look forward to seeing them.
So here you go: The Almost Making of the Almost Reading of The Almost Wife. And, as a bonus, bloopers, which includes a segment that didn't make the cut.
"We are familiar with how musicians blend musical traditions
...to produce dynamic new music, or how chefs draw from many cuisines to create fusion dishes. Storytellers borrow and blend too. And when we write, we almost always step into someone else’s shoes. That is in fact our job description."
"The challenge of crafting a novel from history
... is that a life does not unfold in chapters. There is rarely a clear villain, and usually there are swarms of main characters, not just three or four. Most importantly, there is no discernible character or story arc. Yet a novel should have most of these things."
“The goal … is to seduce the reader
... into caring about these people, into opening their hearts, and responding emotionally themselves … to create emotional resonance.”
"The trick to combining humour and suspense
... is to play each against the other. Taut suspense is broken up by bathos, making the suspenseful parts seen more dramatic.”
– Melodie Campbell
“As novice writers
... we often think that finding a publisher is the end of the road on our journey to a finished novel. (Instead) it’s more of a, “and so begins the next chapter” sort of affair.”
“I worked hard to remember the joyous feeling
... the thrill, of letting my imagination write the first draft … My hope is that I come to see revision as something that burns as hot as the initial creation …”
“The draft continued to lie there like a dead mackerel
... on a plank, until I finally understood that I was telling the wrong story about the wrong characters, completely.”
“People have every right to be offended
... but that doesn’t mean they get to take away your right to offend.”
"Forget the 'lesson'
There is a tendency for new writers to want to write a moral within a story. The Grimms already did that.”
Gail's novels have been national and international bestsellers and two have been short-listed for the Giller Prize, among other awards. She works with writers from around the world on her online teaching forums.