Saturday, July 28, 2012

Sarah Lee Parker and Jack Gorman Drop By!

Egoboo WA's Sarah Lee Parker drops by my blog to chat about writing, travel, dinner parties and her first publication in Musa Publishing's anthology Jack Gorman Gets Cut By A Girl. She's an inspiration! You can join us here.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Page to Stage

I've recently been in the enviable position (and I'm not being ironic) of performing my writing in front of audiences. Note: not "reading", performing. How many times have you gone to hear a writer whose work you really admire, but sat there in dismay — or worse, boredom — because the way they read turned their wonderful words into sawdust? Performing your own writing is an exhilarating opportunity to connect with people and share the excitement you felt when you wrote the piece to begin with. It gives you immediate, warm, vibrant feedback on what works (and doesn't) in your writing. And, to be entirely pragmatic, it introduces potential new readers to who you are and just how intriguing your writing is. What's not to love?

However, many writers seem to have a few misconceptions about performing their own writing.

  • I'll look like an idiot if I read with all that expression. No, you won't. Trust yourself and trust your audience (and trust me). Go to poetry slams and notice which poems really grab an audience and which don't. Pretty much all the time, the ones that are performed with panache and courage end up being the ones that rivet everyone's attention.
  • My writing should speak for itself; I don't need to pretty it up with a flashy delivery. Do you want people to be able to hear the cadences and flow you worked so hard to produce? Do you want them to instantly comprehend the rush of meaning in each sentence? Or do you want them to have to squint, frown, and puzzle out where each sentence begins and ends, which character is speaking, and what emotion they're supposed to be feeling, because you're reading in a dead-flat monotone?
  • People at a reading expect a calm delivery, not a freak show. That may be so, but they'll be a whole lot happier and more excited about what they're hearing if they get the freak show. People have grown to expect the monotonous delivery that seems, regrettably, to be the standard. I've had a number of wonderful surprises at readings when an author has taken such obvious joy in sharing their writing with me that now the flat-style readings seem almost...rude. Why aren't I important enough to the author for them to put a little effort, a little preparation, into their reading?
It's a sad truth that most writers get little or no training — not even a hint — about how to perform their stuff effectively. I've worked pretty hard on it, having been inspired by two of the best I've ever heard (Richard Harland and Robert Shearman), and I've come up with a few strategies that have helped me a lot. I present them here:

  • Pitch. This is probably the most important one. Practice (and I do mean practice, more than once, and not just to the mirror) how to make the pitch of your voice go up and down to maintain interest. This is the single most effective change you can make to your reading, and it's worth a lot of effort. Don't worry about sounding too melodramatic; that's almost impossible to do, and you can always scale it back later if you get feedback that you've taken it too far. (A sympathetic friend can be helpful here while you're getting the hang of it.)
  • Pace. You don't have to read with every syllable as regular as a metronome. Experiment! Don't be afraid of the pause! Love the pause! Trust the pause! And for God's sake, slow down. It gives your listeners time to assimilate and enjoy (in short, to savor) your amazing words. You have all the time you need.
  • Volume. Particularly if you're miked, you can have a lot of fun with this one. (For example, lowering your voice a lot, but leaning in close to the microphone, can involve your audience as though you were murmuring confidences, and yet they can still hear you.) But even if it's just you and your words, don't be afraid to make the exciting bits louder, and the calmer bits a little more gentle.
  • Physicality. While this (obviously) is less relevant when you're reading over the radio or as part of a podcast, your physical presence can add a lot to your performance. As much as you can without losing your place on the page, look up and into the eyes of audience members. (Printing your reading out in a large font so that it's easier to keep track of where you are is useful for this.) If you have a hand free from holding your text, don't be afraid to make the occasional gesture (within reason). And never, ever underestimate the power of your facial expressions: a smile, a frown, the expression that your character has at the moment you're reading their words. The expressiveness around your eyes is particularly important. Me, I have shocking eyesight, and even with contact lenses I need glasses to read. However, glasses are a serious barrier between you and your audience, so I've taken to printing out my text in large type so that I can wear the contacts without the reading glasses and still actually read the words.
  • Sense of fun. We writers are not known for being particularly...jolly. But I've never know a one of us who hasn't had a highly developed sense of whimsy and drama. Use that! Have fun with your audience, and your own words.
  • Courage and trust. The two are very closely related, if not synonymous. Your audience wants you to succeed. They will give you every benefit of the doubt, forgive much, appreciate everything you're brave enough to offer them. They trust you to give them good stuff. You trust them to give you a fair hearing. Isn't that great? For once in this cold, hesitant, suspicious world, people are trusting each other. Don't you want to be a part of that?
So — how do you get started making your performances jaw-droppingly wonderful? First, listen. Go to readings, go to slams, and don't just focus on the pieces, but on how they're performed. How does the author use pitch, pace, volume, and physicality?

Second, choose a piece of your own writing that will work well when performed. In other words, it's short (two minutes is an eternity), it's self-contained (more or less), it's got something happening in it (as opposed to just a long and pretty description of, like, a sunset or something), it hasn't got too many characters for the audience to try to keep track of in their heads as you read, and it's got some interesting language that flows and uses sound well. (Going to slams will be very helpful in starting to figure out what kinds of language work well out loud.)

Third, PRACTICE. You want your brain to pretty much remember how the words go, so you don't sound surprised every time you have to turn a page or start a new paragraph. You also want your mouth to be trained in how the words go, so they flow smoothly. It's like learning a dance: if you don't practice it, the individual motions are disconnected, awkward, tentative.

Fourth, try your performance out on audiences of increasing size: first, one or two trusted friends, who will concentrate on what you did right so you can keep on doing it. Then, as you gain confidence, maybe a writer's group (beware and be ready for feedback of varying levels of helpfulness — it may help if you prime them by saying, "Tonight I'm really looking for feedback on how I'm reading the piece, not on the piece itself"). Work up to a small open-mic night at a coffee shop or pub. Soon, you'll have the hang of it, and you'll start to live for the moment you hear the laughs at the funny lines, and the gasps of wonder at the very place your own heart leapt when you wrote the words.

I've grown to love performing my own writing: it's made me a better writer, it's brought my writing to a lot of people who otherwise wouldn't have ever found it, and it's given me great, great joy. I hope you, too, give it a try!

I offer for your listening pleasure two stories that I consider to be fabulously well-read: one by Nathan Hill and one by Richard Harland.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Heidi Berthiaume, also from 'Jack Gorman Got Cut By A Girl'

Heidi  Berthiaume

1) What is your least favourite trait of Jack Gorman?
The man has no remorse or concept that how he behaves is not
acceptable, therefore he has no desire to change his ways.

 2) What was the most fun part to write?
The interactions with Jack and the younger and older versions of the
girl who originally cut him. I got to work in a Doctor Who reference
and fencing!

 3) Favourite line or paragraph from your story?
//"Probably dumb as well as deaf" should be in italics if possible please//

The old woman shook her head, pointing to her ear, and beckoned Jack closer.
Probably dumb as well as deaf, Jack thought as he stepped forward,
almost bumping the woman's pant-clad knees.
"I said—"
"I heard you, you mutant man-ape," the old woman snapped, pushing
herself out of the swing and stabbing Jack in the arm with the quill.

 4) What is the best part of working with a whole bunch of authors in
a collaboration like this?

Seeing the variation of ideas that came from that dinner at WFC when
we all first heard the origin story of this drunken guy getting cut by
a girl. The creativity of these ladies is so much fun.

 5) What sort of stuffed toy do you own or sleep with?
Too many stuffed toys owned to mention and the bed currently has a
leopard, a panda, and a Build-A-Bear Champ teddy bear.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Keyan Bowes from the Jack Gormon Got Cut By A Girl Anthology

This week we have Keyan Bowes,  Clarion survivor, anthology contributor and all round awesome writer.
1) What is your least favourite trait of Jack Gorman?
His limited vocabulary, to stay in character - but that made him more difficult to write. He said "Ow" a lot. Also "fuck!"

2) What was the most fun part to write?
Hmm. The whole story was fun, but I really liked writing the scene where Lashira's trying to save the dragon from the man and the man from the dragon while the whole mountain is catching fire.

3) Favourite line or paragraph from your story?
He ran into the Acme and told Lashira, who was tending bar, “There’s a goddamn big lizard out there!”
“Yeah?” said Lashira, glancing quickly out the window. “How big is 'goddamn'?”
Jack stretched his arms, knocking over a bottle which shattered and spilled Heineken onto the already grubby carpet.  “Its belly was green, like that bottle,” he said, pointing to the shards, “and shiny, like…like, that thing you’re wearing.”
The “thing” was Lashira’s engagement ring (lab-created emerald, surrounded by tiny diamonds set in two circles around it), so she wasn’t especially pleased by the comparison.

4) What is the best part of working with a whole bunch of authors in a collaboration like this?
All the different points of view! They made the narrative come alive... right from the cafe dinner where the idea was born, to the email exchange of ideas, to the Skype conversations to pull it all together. And I loved the different narratives that emerged.

5) What sort of stuffed toy do you own or sleep with?
I have an ancient owl. It sits on my bookshelf looking befuddled.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Nancy Greene, another one of the authors from Jack Gorman Got Cut By A Girl

1) What is your least favourite trait of Jack Gorman?
I know I should like him less than I do, but I sort of like him for all the reasons he's an annoying ass.  His drinking, and search for more beer, is what gets him in the most trouble.
2) What was the most fun part to write?
I probably had the most fun with the bar scene and Raven's discussion with Jack afterwards. In the bar, Jack was the person he always thought he was - a gift to women - and still manages to strike out. When Raven explains what would be expected of him as a male in her world, he realizes that he might not want what he thought. Coming up with ways to abuse well known movie references was also fun.
3) Favourite line or paragraph from your story?
I have a couple of favorites, but the one that takes the prize is the metal bikini discussion. It was nice to be able to poke at the fantasy heroine stereotype.
The sun had finally crested the horizon. The man was wearing some sort of blue hide pants and orange  shirt. His long pale feet and legs poked out of the ends of his breeches. Why in the Goddess’s name wasn’t he wearing boots? She’d never seen anything like it. Curiosity battled caution. And won. She stepped closer. Fresh vomit clotted the man’s greasy straw-colored hair as if he’d rolled in it. He cracked an eye open. His eyes might have been the pale blue of a morning sky if not for the bloodshot whites. A trickle of blood ran from a small cut on his bulbous nose.
 “Hey, dude.” Rolling on to his hands he pushed himself up. “Dude. Aren’t you supposed to be wearing a metal bikini? And what’s up with your hair? It’s purple.”
“A what?”
“Umm, ya’know.” He motioned to the front of his chest and groin area as he spoke. “A bathing suit that only covers your tits and ass. Ya’know for swimming?”
Her brow furrowed. Raven looked down at her serviceable chainmail and plate armor. She hadn’t been able to afford full plate, but why on earth would any shield maiden wear plate only on her most sensitive areas? And there was nothing wrong with her hair. 
“How exactly would a metal bee key ne  protect me in combat?” She shook her head.
What a ridiculous idea. Maybe he was an imbecile. No one would any sense would think this bee key ne would make decent armor.
He grabbed her staff to pull himself to his feet. She was taller than most women and he stood another hand higher.
“Where the fuck am I?” he slurred.
He ran a hand through his hair. Red streaked the strands. His eyes traveled around the circle and widened at the white birch trees and verdant grass. “Toto, it doesn’t look like we’re in Topeka anymore.”
"Are you addled?"
4) What is the best part of working with a whole bunch of authors in a collaboration like this?
Working with a whole bunch of writers. Seriously. For large chunks of time, writing is a solitary profession. This anthology was very different from the one I previusly participated in because of its origin and the publisher. The dinner where the idea was born was wonderful. We then all went to our various writing corners and came up with a story based on one idea "Jack Gorman was cut by a girl." Once we saw everyone's story, we had to figure out a way to knit them together. That also, was a lot of fun. I think the anthology is much stronger for the collaborative effort that went into it, and the group of us were able to form friendships as a result.  
5) What sort of stuffed toy do you own or sleep with?
My husband.  :) He gets annoyed when the critters take up the bed, so he's not giving up real estate to a stuffie. 
Find out more about Nancy's writing here! 

Goldeen Ogawa from the anthology Jack Gorman Got Cut By A Girl

Author interview time! Today I put for your delectation the delightful Goldeen Ogawa, the writer who started the whole Jack Gorman Got Cut By A Girl anthology simply by telling an awesome story.

1) What is your least favourite trait of Jack Gorman? 

Besides the fact that he was an idiot (and kinda creepy) drunk? Well, he wore a really ugly shirt.

2) What was the most fun part to write? 
The ending. Where I got to make stuff up. Writing real stuff, I have learned, is not as fun. From now on I'm sticking strictly to fantasy.

3) Favourite line or paragraph from your story? 
"That Jack Gorman, I'm just sick of him. He came to me, you know, saying he was attacked by a gay guy with a sword outside the Waterwheel!"
I have been mistaken for a gay. And I have been mistaken for a man. But never both at the same time before.

4) What is the best part of working with a whole bunch of authors in a collaboration like this? 
My favorite part was working with my friend Heidi (whose story comes after mine) to get our two lined up. Heidi made my job really easy without knowing it, and it was wonderful. Aside from the specific instance, just getting to see this little dinner-table story of mine get inflated and continued by other writers is humbling and astonishing.

5) What sort of stuffed toy do you own or sleep with? 
White Star, the gray and white stuffed horse my grandmother bought for me when I was three. I recall at about the same time I watched The Velveteen Rabbit, and I swore I would never do that to her. We have been best friends ever since. Don't judge. (No judging around here, Goldeen! - Sarah)

Sarah Lee Parker

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Anthology is Coming!

The anthology is coming! The anthology is coming!

If you're a long time reader, you might remember I went to World Fantasy Convention last year in San Diego. Carol and I had a wonderful time in America, my first trip overseas without the family, and the first time to a World Fantasy Convention. One of the many highlights was dinner on the last night at a tiny diner close by the convention hotel that had a dreadful chicken friend steak. It was still a highlight, as this is where the idea for the Jack Gorman Got Cut By A Girl Anthology came to be.

One of the writers at the table told the story of how she had once been menaced through a series of drunken mishaps and misunderstandings by a man who thought she was a boy. The story resonated with all of us, and Celina said "Dammit, this is why I have my own publishing company. Every one send me a story on this character, and we'll put together an anthology and it will be great!" And so we did. There were about nine of us at dinner, but only 6 of us managed to provide a story in time.

I'm really pleased to be one of them. The anthology comes out on the 20th of July, and to celebrate I am running a series of interviews with the authors, and hopefully even Celina, our editor. The first interview will be with Goldeen Ogawa, who was the one to tell us the original story, from which all others have come.

I hope every one enjoys the anthology and our stories as much as we have enjoying writing (and editing!) them.

Sarah Lee Parker