Friday, October 21, 2011

Night




Last night it happened again.  Three in the morning I was awakened by the screams.  It sounded like they went on for hours, but in reality they probably trailed off after a few minutes.  This time, I stayed indoors, and I kept back from the windows.

I’ve never heard of them smashing windows to break into an unoccupied home, but they can certainly jump through glass if they see you behind it.  And an open window is just an invitation.

Once they get inside, you have a real problem.  Sharp teeth in a small space makes for a bad time.  I have a knife if it comes to that.

Of course, windows on the second floor are safe, most of the time.  Very few can leap that high.  But if one does . . .  Better safe than sorry.

There’s eight round of double-o buckshot in the gun, but I’m worried that might not be enough, if they swarmed in together.  I’m thinking of ringing the house with lights, and setting up a position on the roof.   A fellow could get up there with a rifle and an infrared sight, and pick them off in safety.  Unless the birds get in on it too.  Now that’s a scary thought.

This morning there was nothing to be seen but a large patch of blood and some hair, in the meadow between the house and the road.  No telling what they got.  That half a shoe we found the other day is still unsettling.  And it’s going on three weeks since that kid vanished.

Snake wants to rig claymore mines around the edges of the lawn.  I’m afraid of claymores, but it may come to that.  We’ll see.

Meanwhile, darkness has fallen again, and I’m settled in for another long night.  I hope the night vision I ordered arrives soon.  

These posts get shorter and shorter because I don't want to run the lights to write at night.  Anything I can see by, makes me visible to them.  And that's bad.  The electric power's been spotty too, and I'm wary of venturing outside to start the generator.  Better rely on the batteries, and wait for dawn.  

Maybe we should have rigged those claymores.

Tomorrow.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Animals


I don’t know how long the screaming went on before I noticed.  When I did, I lay very still and listened close to determine what was happening, and where.  I concluded they were still on the outside, probably at least a hundred feet away.

Moving slow and careful, I turned toward the clock.  It was 3:17 on a pitch black night.

It’s hard to say which is worse, the howl of the pack or the scream of a big cat.  We get both around here.  So far, they’ve stayed in the yard.  I’ve got a shotgun loaded beside me, in case they change their minds.

The house was silent, up until the noise started.  Outside was a different story.  Wind, rain, and the unknowable sounds of the night.  When the clouds drop low, and the moon sets, you can’t see ten feet in a clear meadow.  In the woods it’s even darker.  There, you can’t even see your shoes.

Something big could grab hold of your leg, and you wouldn’t know until it was too late.  Knowing that, I listened close and moved slowly as I walked down the steps and into the yard.  Half expecting to see a dead animal or some other sign; a warning or perhaps a challenge.

I crept forward into the night, until I heard a rustle.  It seemed to come from all around, but noises can be tricky.  I looked up to the dark sky.  It might be the wind, shaking the fall leaves from the trees.  Or it might be something else.

After a moment, I kept moving.  Every crack and pop makes you stop and listen when the predators are howling.  No one wants to end up as some animal’s dinner.

I used to be the undisputed king of my property.  These past five years, things are changing.  Animals are taking back the night.  I don’t know if it’s the chemical spills, the radiation up north, or something else.  All I know is, they’re different. 

They don’t back down so easy, and when they run, they only go far enough to get out of reach.  Things have started vanishing, too. First it was the cat.  Now the kid down the street.  No one’s seen him for two weeks.  Then I found a piece of shoe, out back by the creek.  I showed it to Snake, but neither of us could recognize it.  It was a size 14, though. Whoever he was, he was big.  No one that size has gone missing that I know of, but sometimes homeless people take shelter in the woods, and when they get eaten, no one knows.

I’m gonna begin patrolling with night vision glasses and a gun.  Getting a dog didn’t work. On the fifth night, I heard the noises, and all I could find the next morning was half a hind leg.  So I’m down to technology.  That’s the only way to level the playing field. 

I wonder where it will end.  

Monday, October 10, 2011

How to speak to an audience at a book event




I don’t get asked many questions about being an author, or the process of writing and promoting books. This evening, a fellow writer sent me a letter, and I felt the answer might be of interest to one or two others, so I’ve posted it below . . .

This Friday I'm making my first-ever author appearance at a booksellers convention.  Apparently I'm supposed to give a short reading, followed by dinner and a signing.  I've never done anything like this before, and I was wondering if you could offer me some insight into how these sorts of events tend to play out.  In your experience, are there aspects of being a guest presenter that are overwhelming or different from what you would have expected?  Anything I should definitely do, or not do?

The first point that I would make is that you are there to entertain and engage your audience.  Whatever high purpose you may have, you cannot accomplish it if you do not capture their attention by entertaining or engaging them.

A successful author/speaker leaves audiences feeling one of two ways:
This guy is really funny/entertaining – I need to read his book
This guy is really insightful – I need to read his book

Obviously, there is more to speaking than that.  Your audience may go away thinking they need to change this or that in their life, or in their community, or at work . . . whatever.  However, before they can form such an opinion, you must have gained their respect, and for that to happen you must have entertained or engaged them, which takes me back to that original point.

So how do you do that?

Find the two most entertaining passages in your book, and distill a reading that is at most one or one and a half pages.  You may be wise to ask others what those “best passages” are, and if there are differences, select two.  Work out what you say to set the scene up, and use those little passages as your reading.

Tempting as it sounds, do not read more.  More = boring.  As a debut author, you need to read them something so they can get a sense of who you are, in words.  More than a page, though, and even the best prose gets boring when read aloud in a dinner setting.  If this were your second third or fourth book, my advice would be to not read at all; just tell them stories.

When you get up to speak, thank the audience, thank the sponsor.  Say a few words about your book and why you wrote it. 

Read the entertaining scenes.

Thank the audience and tell them you will be available to sign books and answer questions out front.

Do the whole think smoothly and quickly, and don’t use a prepared script.

Stand in front of the audience, not behind a podium.  If you don’t have a script, and you are fully dressed, why would you need one?

At the dinner . . .

People will ask you questions, which you should try and answer.  Remember, anyone with a question has made a special effort to seek you out.  No one put them up to it. Consequently, they are going to be predisposed to be friendly and you should not be afraid to answer.  Also, these people are your partners in selling books, so they deserve your best thought.  Give it to them.

When it comes to signing books, I will tell you what I learned from Steve Ross, the president and publisher of Crown when they bought Look Me in the Eye . . .

Books should be signed on the inside title page.  That is the page that has the book’s title.  It’s usually the second or third right side page inside the front cover.  Don’t sign the blank page just inside the cover. 

Develop and practice a signature you can do quickly and consistently.   Ideally, it should be different from the signature you use on checks.  I use my initials, not my whole name.

Get a pen that you like, and keep control of it.  If you don’t have a pen, people will hand you any weird thing they have, and signing will be erratic and uncomfortable.  I use a Montblanc rollerball in black.  By using the same pen, I can go back and personalize a book I signed earlier, and it all looks the same. 

You will occasionally be asked to sign shirts or bags.  You need a Sharpie Permanent Fine Point for that task.  It’s good to have one of them too.

In closing, I’ll just repeat one important point.  When you speak at an author event, every person in the audience has chosen to come hear you talk.  There were plenty of other places they could be, and they chose to come hear you. 

If you believe that, you know you have a duty to give them your very best.

Having made that effort to come see you, the audience is going to be friendly, so you have nothing to fear from getting up there and talking.

Do not swear to excess, and do not spit from the stage.  If members of the audience throw eggs, it’s ok to throw them back, but do not throw rocks.  If they throw rocks, retreat through the rear.

Best wishes
John