What to Wear, What to Read, What to Say

My novel, Under The Mercy Trees, comes out in two months, so it’s time for me to start thinking about upcoming book events.
There is, of course, the question of whether anyone will come to my readings. Remember that line in Spinal Tap? (I’m paraphrasing) “If I told them once I told them a thousand times–it’s Spinal Tap first, then Puppet Show.” Fortunately, the appearances my publisher and I have set up so far are all in cities where I have family and friends, so I don’t have to worry too much about no one showing up.
Then there’s the decision about what to wear. My dad does have a black beret and matching turtleneck I could borrow, but then I’d have to find someone with a bongo drum to accompany me. My mother, who is also a writer, likes to poke gentle fun at lady writers who wear “author clothes”–usually flowy, flouncy skirts and scarves, and the largest dangly earrings their lobes will support. I don’t really own anything suitable and wouldn’t know how to accessorize properly if I did. My wardrobe includes two types of clothing. I wear business suits when I have to look like a lawyer. At all other times I wear ripped jeans and comfortable 100% cotton shirts that don’t touch my body at any point. And fleece. I like fleece. Maybe Santa Claus will bring me an outfit for Christmas that strikes a happy balance between my Boston Legal look and my dug-it-out-of-a-trash-can look. I am grateful for one indispensable item of apparel I recently acquired–my bifocals, without which I wouldn’t be able to read at all.
Then we get to the reading itself. Some people have wonderful reading voices. My Flatiron Writer friend Maggie is one of them. She was an actress before she began writing, and her voice is mesmerizing. In comparison, my own native North Carolinian speech is somewhat nasal and flat. I thought about hiring Maggie to come with me on the book tour. I could take along a screen for her to hide behind, like the Wizard of Oz, and let her read while I move my lips. But I doubt I could afford to pay her what she’s worth. So any of you who come to see me will just have to put up with my lack of dramatic ability. I promise not to go on too long.
The choice of what passages to read will be interesting. Sex scenes are out, I suppose, as are scenes that give away the ending. When I read at a church there’s a handy Baptism chapter I can use. When I go to Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill (January 27th at 7 p.m.) I can read an excerpt that takes place on the very street the bookstore is on. The rest I’ll have to wing.
The final, and perhaps most challenging, part of the author events will be the audience questions. I have been to many readings in my time, and inevitably someone in the audience asks, “who are your favorite authors” or “what are your favorite books?” Given the zillions of authors and books I love, how will I choose which ones to list? I’ll feel guilty if I leave one out!
Someone asked me this week whether I was nervous about the book events. I’m really not. Are you kidding? Put me in a room with lots of people who love books and let me talk to someone other than my husband about my novel? I can’t wait.

Flatiron Writers member Heather Newton is the author of the novel Under The Mercy Trees (Harper Paperbacks, Jan. 18, 2011). You can find a list of her upcoming book signings and other events on her website at http://www.heathernewton.net.

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