I’d Rather Drop Dead Than Do a Mic Drop

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Autumn is one of our favourite times of year at Behind the Book. Annual “best of” book lists abound, literary awards are bestowed, and the Vancouver Writers Festival brings a host of fantastic talent to town. This year, we took in three great events at the Writers Fest that featured Cherie Dimaline, Patrick deWitt, Gary Shteyngart, Deborah Levy, and more. Each event was a delight to attend and completely engaging in its own way. (If you ever get a chance to go to a deWitt or Shteyngart reading, do so! They had us in stitches.)

But that’s not always the case. As much as we love going to see the writers that we enjoy on the page, they’re not always riveting “on the circuit.” After all, writing is a solitary endeavour, and communicating eloquently in a book doesn’t necessarily mean it’s something you’re comfortable with in a public setting. And yet, promoting your book through launches, readings, and interviews is an integral part of any effective marketing plan. So, what do you do if public speaking is just not your thing?

Fear of speaking in front of groups is a common phenomenon. According to Psychology Today, some people fear public speaking more than death! And even this year’s Word Vancouver festival included a “Performing Your Work” workshop on “the foolproof techniques that veteran authors use to overcome the jitters.” By now we know that imagining your audience in their underwear to alleviate anxiety is a public speaking myth. However, focusing on one or two audience members who are listening with a smile (or at least a modicum interest) will go a long way to making you feel less nervous (another good reason to always invite family and friends to your readings!).

It’s important to remember that no one is judging you, and most people are there to support you. Keep in mind that it’s fans or admirers filling that room to see you, and that will go a long way to building confidence at the mic. And, practise makes perfect. Read your excerpt (again and again) into your mirror, your smartphone, or your tablet (okay, or to your cat). The more you practise your words, the more comfortable you’ll be delivering them “on stage.” If the prospect of speaking in front of a group still makes your stomach turn, join a Toastmasters’ Club, invest in a training course for speakers, or pick up Betsy Graziani Fasbinder’s From Page to Stage: Inspiration, Tools, and Simple Public Speaking Tips for Writers.

The truth is, you’ll regret it if you spend your entire event being nervous instead of celebrating your accomplishment. It does get easier the more you do it, and it also happens to be character building. As self-published author Judy Croome says, “I guarantee from personal experience that, when you walk away from your first book reading, you’ll have a deeper understanding of yourself as both a person and as a writer. And that can only benefit the stories that you write and the books that you sell.”

Why Do Llamas Wear Pajamas? Good Question.

 © Sally Huss

© Sally Huss

One of our authors, Deborah Katz, just won the 2018 Vine Award in the children’s literature category for her picture book, Rare Is Everywhere, which takes readers on a journey through the animal kingdom, revealing that grasshoppers can be pink, tigers can be white, and lobsters can be blue. Showcasing eleven incredible animals through vibrant illustrations and playful poetry, Deborah’s goal was to blend science with art to encourage children to recognize and accept diversity in themselves and in others. No small feat! As her editors, we knew that if Deborah was going to use science to communicate that uniqueness is something to be celebrated, it had better be right.

Is scientific accuracy really important in children’s books? In award-winning kidlit and YA author Clair Eamer’s recent article, “Storybook Whale Fail,” she argues a resounding yes. Eamer states that scientific inaccuracies in kids’ books “can lead to misinformation that lingers long past childhood.” So why is that? Well, we know from experience that children don't think of characters or settings in picture books as being invented; rather, they accept and take what they read as part of their world. In other words, young children take books at face value, and they place their trust and faith in writers and illustrators as conveyors of truth.

Does that mean kids’ books can only be approached with 100% accuracy? Of course not. There’s plenty of room for playfulness in a book, just as there is in the telling of a good story. Young readers can go along with a little stretching of the truth, as long as they realize they are in on the joke. For example, can llamas wear pajamas? Sure – in a silly story and in our imaginations they can, as long as the pajamas add humour to the situation. But, if you’re an author writing a book about how the people of the Andes use llamas as pack animals like camels, they likely wouldn’t be wearing pajamas, nor would they have humps.

When writing for children, authors have a responsibility to be both engaging and, through careful research, truthful – the story and illustrations should be fundamentally based on scientific accuracy. Honour that principle, and you’ll not only earn happy readers and positive reviews, you just might find yourself on an award podium too!

Carol and Rachelle's Excellent Summer Adventures

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One of our pet peeves is a poorly upkept blog…. Oops, we did it again. We haven’t written a blog post since March, but we’ve got great excuses. We’re happy to report that a busy spring left little time for blogging, as we helped clients self-publish a couple of novels and a memoir. Work also continued on some great books that will be coming out later this fall.

Then, with the arrival of summer and the promise of warmer weather and longer days, came a broken wrist (Carol) and a neck injury (Rachelle). Appointments with cast clinics, orthopedic surgeons, RMTs, and physiotherapists meant a slowed work pace, a cutback on keyboarding and desk time, and yes, a neglected blog.

On the plus side, our collective sore bones meant extra time to take in fun local events like the Parksville sand sculpting competition, Vancouver’s Meowfest, and the Coombs Country Rodeo, and they didn’t stop us from doing some great hikes in the Arrowsmith, Squamish, and Pemberton areas. And, of course, it left us a lot of time for reading. So, without further kvetching, here are a few of our favourite books from this past summer:

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (Rachelle)

A big fan of Backman’s Beartown, I was excited to read A Man Called Ove, and it didn’t disappoint. A funny read about the quintessential grumpy old man next door, this is also a heartwarming book about loss, redemption, and reconnection. Filled with Backman’s classic, underlinable insights and observations about humanity that I’ve come to love, this is one of those books you won’t forget.

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline (Rachelle)

I love dystopian YA fiction, especially by Canadian authors. This book has seen blockbuster sales and an awards sweep, and it’s being developed into a TV series. I can see why. The story of Indigenous people who are hunted for their bone marrow in a world in ruins as a result of our over-consumption and neglect is both riveting and timely. If you’re a fan of the Hunger Games, Divergent, or Chaos Walking series, you’ll definitely want to pick this one up.

Calypso by David Sedaris (Carol)

I’ve loved every word written by David Sedaris and his latest is no exception. These deeply personal and hilarious stories primarily take place at his beach house on the Carolina coast, where along with his long-time partner Hugh, he plays host to his eccentric siblings and 90-year-old father. With Sedaris’s trademark inner musings and observations, Calypso allows you to take a little vacation from yourself.

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick (Carol)

I picked this book up off my 16-year-old daughter’s bookshelf. My expectations weren’t super high – how much could Anna Kendrick have to say, really? What a surprise! It turns out the quirky movie choices this young actress makes are for a reason – she really is that quirky. Pretty much an unstoppable force who’s already lived a larger life than most people three times her age, she lets the “crazies” out of her head to share her wry observations and ordinary stories with candour. A great read; recommended for all women, 16 years to 90+.

David Tanis Market Cooking: Recipes and Revelations, Ingredient by Ingredient (Carol)

I’m slipping this one in because once in a while a cookbook comes along that’s so good you read it like a novel – cover to cover. Simple recipes celebrating the bounty of local, fresh market fruits and vegetables with bold flavours and straightforward summer preparations. The writing is engaging and the design and photography are perfect. I’ve had this book on loan from the library all summer; time to go to the bookstore and pick up my own copy so I can start planning next season’s garden!

On a closing note, we promise (again) to get back on the blog. So, stay tuned for posts on the Vancouver Writers’ Festival, libraries, children’s books, and more.