Sunday, October 07, 2012

LCCC's Literary Connection connects this writer with something old and something new

A few thoughts after spending two days at the Literary Connection at LCCC...

Overheard at my table: "She's a big reader but didn't come because she hadn't heard of any of the writers."

Never heard of Tim O'Brien? Can't be much of a reader then. He's probably the best known of all the Vietnam War veteran writers and winner of the National Book Award for "Going After Cacciato." On Oct. 27-28, he'll receive the 2012 Texas Writer Award at the Texas Book Festival in Austin, which is where this Minnesota native now lives. This bookfest may be the biggest in the USA -- it's Texas, right?

It's possible that this mysterious person never heard of Cat Valente and John Calderazzo. I can accept that. John is a full-time professor at Colorado State University and has published two books about volcanoes and one about freelance writing. He's been widely published in environmental and outdoor mags -- if you don't read those, you may never have heard of him. He's a terrific teacher, and has won teaching awards from CSU. He also was my mentor when I was in grad school there. Check out John's web site, 100 Views of Climate Change.

Cat is a young writer of sci-fi fantasy novels and most of her readership is the age of my children. She's a multimedia -- or maybe multi-platform -- author. What does that mean? She publishes books in print form, and has been wildly successful at that. However, she also is at home on the Internet. Her web site and blog are updated all the time (even when on the road) and she's a diehard Twitterer and Facebooker. At Saturday's talk, she said that her first three books came out when she was a military spouse living in Japan so the Internet was her pipeline to her U.S. readership.

Cat also has gone on tour with a musician/songwriter friend to promote her work. They hit the road for four months, reading and performing in every little coffee house and gin joint that would have them, making at least one stop in Wyoming. They slept on the car or on couches. "I was younger then," says the thirty-something author. Weren't we all?

I bring this up because I learned as much from those authors I know (O'Brien and Calderazzo) as I did from the author whom I didn't know, Cat Valente. I am old enough to be Cat's father or possibly, her grandfather, but by keeping my eyes and ears open while she spoke, I learned volumes. True, during her Saturday presentation in which she read a blog post on advice to writers partially in blog-speak, she had to translate some of it for us older folks. Here's one line I particularly liked: "You may as well dork-out to the things that thrill you down to your toes." Translation: "Forget all the advice about following the market and writing what sells. Write your passion!" Here's another one: "Do not operate narrative machinery while being an asshole." Translation: "Don't use your fiction to spew your racist or sexist garbage."

Cat is a wizard at marketing and promotion. She credits her upbringing by an advertising clan. Her father's dreams of being a filmmaker were never realized. But he taught some key skills that she used to produce her own book trailers. She would have continued to do those book trailers but her publisher does them now because they can do animation.

She also wants to spend more time writing and less time on promotion. But she knows that today's writers can't just depend on the skills of their publishers and publicists. All of us writers know this, although most of us haven't taken it to Cat's level.

I bought books from the store that Barnes & Noble set up on-site. I am now reading "Breathless" by Cat Valente, which has as its setting Soviet Russia, specifically the World War II Battle of Leningrad. I bought three books by O'Brien -- two reissued in trade paperback by Mariner and one by Broadway Books. I couldn't find my old copy of "Going After Cacciato" so bought a new one.  As Tim was signing them, he mentioned that "In the Lake of the Woods" is his favorite. That's the one I haven't yet read. I did start it at the library but only got a few pages into it before the Literary Connection. I bought an anthology co-edited by John ("The Landscape of Home") and one of Lit Connection emcee Robert Caisley's plays, "Front."

B&N said that it didn't sell as many print books as it would have liked. But the answer for that may lie in the fact that it also was promoting its soon-to-be-released HD versions of the Nook Reader. I was tempted to reserve one of the 9-inch versions but did not. Not sure if I'm ready for Nook. Are you?

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