Austin Bookstore Reading: Take Two and Lessons Learned
As some of you might have noticed from my plugs around the site, and the Twitter, Facebook, etc, I will be returning to Malvern Books in Austin next week (Oct. 8th 2015) to do a reading of Undeath & Taxes, then hang out and sign books. While I had originally hoped to have advance copies of Split the Party with me, sadly Createspace has no shipping option fast enough for them to make it, so I’ll bring other books instead to sell and sign as people desire.
For those of you new to the site (Welcome! Sorry about all the curse words and drinking) you might not know this, but it is in fact my second trip to do a reading at Malvern Books. Last time the crowd and staff were all very nice, and there were even a couple of people who came just to see me, which was both terrifying and awesome at once. It was also, however, both my first real trip to Austin since high school, and my first public reading. As such, there was a lot to learn on both accounts, and I’m going to share those lessons with you today.
1) Sixth Street Is a Paradox
Literally, and I’m not being hyperbolic here, literally every person I told I was going to Austin advised me I needed to hit Sixth Street (For non-Texans, that’s a famed bar area in Austin). Friends, family, former Austin residents, all of them told me I had to check it out. So, trusting the people who are supposed to have my best interests at heart, I followed their advice and booked a hotel in walking distance of the famed drinking area.
As soon as I arrived in Austin, however, I heard a very different tune. I talked with the hotel staff, the people at the book store, and got in touch with a few friends who lived nearby, and pretty much all of them looked at me like I was off my damn rocker when I told them I would be going to Sixth Street. If I told them I planned to actually set fire to a coffee shop, I doubt the looks could have been weirder. Evidently the love for Sixth Street only applies to those outside Austin.
But I still went, cause I mean… sort of had to. And it was fun, so much so that I booked the same nearby hotel, but more on that later.
2) You Can Totally Give a Crowd Context
You know what I probably should have done before going to do a reading at a bookstore? Go watch other people do that. Yeah, hindsight’s 20/20, ain’t it? Anyway, I did not do that, so I went into the reading with no idea what to do. Well, I mean, I knew to read from a book, even I’m not that dumb, but I didn’t realize you were allowed to talk with the audience about the work before you started in. So… I didn’t.
Yup, no warm-up, no verbal foreplay, just a “Hi folks, here’s the title, now we’re off!” To their credit, the crowd was really cool about it, even though I’m sure my nerves were showing, but when the questions came at the end I realized how lost a lot of them had been about what the hell they’d just listened to, and that was no fault of their own. I’d picked a fun scene, but one mid-story, so if you didn’t read the book it was confusing, and I didn’t help the matter.
Luckily, the dude after me did a much better job preparing the crowd, showing me how to ease them in, and since then I’ve actually made time to go see a few other local authors put on the same kind of show. I’m sure I’ll still fuck some stuff up, but hopefully this time it will be different stuff.
That’s what we call growth, in the adult world.
3) Sixth Street Has Liquor Pitchers, but They Aren’t What You Think
Okay, so when I first got to Austin, it was like 3 in the afternoon (I will happily go somewhere five hours early if it saves me thirty minutes in traffic, I fucking abhor traffic). Having nothing else to do and being in a different city, I decided to go check out the bars and restaurants in walking distance to kill time. And, you know, beer calms the nerves.
One of the first things I noticed was that pretty much every bar on Sixth Street had the same Thursday Night special: $5 Liquor Pitchers. Now I don’t know about ya’ll, but to me a pitcher is filled with a sizable amount of draft beer, so the idea of that vessel, full of liquor, for $5, seemed like a great way to bankrupt a bar while simultaneously giving everyone alcohol poisoning.
As it turned out, when I asked my first bartender that night (because of course I was going to order one) they were in fact just double-shot cocktails served in small pitcher glasses. Still, a double for $5 is nothing to sneeze at, and I really hope that practice hasn’t changed when I arrive on Thursday.
4) Assume You’re Reading To A Fresh Audience
I don’t think I did this intentionally last time, but looking back I picked a passage based on what I considered to be one of the funnier chapters. My goal was to make people laugh, because that was the spirit of the satirical book that was Fred. However, a lot of the jokes were built upon character interactions, ones that almost no one in the audience had any idea existed, since they hadn’t read the book. Obviously there’s no getting around some of that when you’re jumping into the middle of a novel and only reading a part of it, but there were definitely pieces I could have picked that minimized the issue.
Going into a reading means choosing a passage based on what will be most enjoyable when someone knows literally nothing about the book aside from what you tell them and the part you read. Running jokes, callbacks, and referential humor all have to be assumed as lost, because the audience doesn’t have the context that makes those funny in the first place. The best passage for the job is one that’s still gripping, but depends as little as possible on existing content that’s come before.
Or get so famous that everyone will have read the book. If you can pull that off before your first reading, it’s probably the easier way to do things. But if you want to know how to get that big, you’ll have to ask someone who’s crested that hill. Maybe try Stephen King, he seems amiable.
5) The Town Is Great (And I Can’t Wait To Return)
I’m not sure I could ever live in Austin (see my feelings on traffic) and given how full they are, I doubt they’d really want me there. That said, I had a shitload of fun last time I got to go do one of these, and I’m really excited to head back for next week (again, October 8th). If any of you live in or near Austin, I hope you can make it out, because even aside from great food, shockingly cheap booze, and nice music, getting to meet my readers is by far the most rewarding part of making these trips.
At least, until those $5 pitchers start actually being full of straight liquor. See you there!