Notes from the Road

This has been a good first week on the road, for a lot of reasons, many of them obvious. But I’m going to give three for now.

This is the first time since I’ve known Tori that we have been together without kids for a whole week. We both had children before we met, and after we got married we had three more. (They know what causes that now.) So we have been able to get away for occasional weekends, but that was it.

Today is our seventh day on the road, a full week. And we’ve had a great time. Just driving, being silly, exploring new things together, laughing. It’s always been a “given” that she’s my best friend. How fun to see how true that really can be, when it’s just the two of us, how well it works.

DSCN1924
Ol’ Chumbucket with Constable Heartless, whose name believes the generous spirit of the man,

Speaking of friends, I left Hampton late Sunday afternoon with a slew of new ones, the many fine freebooters I met at the Blackbeard Festival, starting with the members of Blackbeard’s Crew, who were our hosts at throughout the gathering. It was an honor I feel deeply, and I’m proud to call them brothers. Constable Heartless – you’re not fooling anyone with that name. You’re a fine pirate, a fine captain and a fine man. And all the other pirates from the various crews – Hope, Rattanne, Just Gregg, Damon, Mr. Willis, Rummaker, all the crew of the Vigilant, The Moody Crew and the Loose Cannon Company and all the rest of ye – I’m proud to call you brothers – even the women.

This had been planned as a sales trip, and certainly that’s the point. We wouldn’t be doing this without the impetus of “Chrissie Warren” Pirate Hunter.” (Certainly as far as the IRS is concerned that’s all it’s about.) It wasn’t necessarily about selling books as getting it out there, meeting people, showing the flag. But it turns out, so far anyway, that we have been selling books, especially the first day of the festival when we sold quite a few. Not just “Chrissie,” although mostly that. But Tori had noticed early in our “retailing” career last year that the tables that seem to do the best have more than one title on them. So we brought with us some of our earlier efforts written with Cap’n Slappy – “A Li’l’ Pirates ABSeas,” “Well Blow Me Down,” and “Pirattitude,” and sold a few of each. In fact, I think it was the single best day of book selling I’ve had since Cap’n Slappy and I had a reading at a bookstore in our hometown and the audience was packed with our longtime friends. This has been total strangers. So we’re hopeful.

And, like I’ve always said, each book is sold one copy at a time, person to person, one to one. I actually had quite a bit of fun engaging people as they walked by, joking with them, talking about the books, and drawing them in until – Click! – they decide to buy one. You can actually feel it when they make the decision, sometimes they are as surprised as anyone. It’s fun.

We’ve got three readings/events coming up in the next five days, and we are just having fun.

Day 2 on the Road – Resting Already

 

Day 2 of the road trip has been a rest day. We spent the first day driving from home in New Orleans to our friend Robyn’s house in Knoxville.

at the quarry
Robyn, Tori and jb at the quarry.

So instead of doing the drive to Hampton in one burst, we made plans to take Thursday off. And it’s been a very nice, restful day, enjoying Robyn’s incredible yard (She’s been in this house about a year, and already has it certified as an urban wildlife refuge.) We took her on an errand, where she traded a container of worm castings (she grows worms in her garage) for burlap sacks from a coffee roaster, and made arrangements with him to pick up a couple of buckets of coffee grounds for – whatever it is she uses them for.

We also went out and saw a couple of historic sites, the quarry where a lot of the marble in federal, state and municipal buildings across the country was mined – apparently Knoxville was once known as “The Marble City.” Who knew, outside of Knoxville?

jb and rifled ordinance
John and three-pound rifled ordinance.

Then up to Fort Dickerson, the site of a Civil War battle in which Union Forces slammed the back door to Knoxville on a superior Confederate force. It was interesting, and always a little awe inspiring to think about what had taken place on that spot 150 years ago, men not much different than myself engaged in a life and death struggle – literally – for the soul of a country.

We’ll be off at the crack of dawn tomorrow, heading for Hampton, Virginia, for the Blackbeard Pirate Festival. Looking forward to the Pirates’ Ball Friday night, where we’ll get to hobnob with Hampton’s finest freebooters. And we’ll be doing our best to sell “Chrissie Warren” Pirate Hunter,” while we’re there. After all, it was not an accident or coincidence that the opening chapters of the story take place in Hampton. I knew I’d be there soon.

This is the time.

jb

Tori glamour shot on gun
Tori knows what the big guns are for – Looking dramatic!

Ready to Hit the Road

Been busy. So freakin’ busy. Trying to lay plans to make myself even more busy.

School’s out, and Tori and I are hitting the road for two weeks to sell books. But boy, it’s skull-numbing trying to set it up.

Because I’m self-pubbed, I have to do it myself. But honestly, even when I had a publisher (“Pirattitude!” and “The Pirate Life”) I had to do it myself. As I’ve said before, a publisher’s not going to put a lot of effort into promoting you unless you’re already selling, which seems bass-ackwards to me. So it’s up to you.

Anyway, the “tour” was all based around attending the Blackbeard Pirate Festival in Hampton, VA, the beginning of June. By a happy coincidence, my novel actually opens in Hampton, where Chrissie lives before she sets off on her adventures. (Coincidence my eye! I did it for this very reason, knowing I’d eventually be trying to sell it at the festival.)

I contacted the festival back in October, and had several very encouraging exchanges with several different members of the organizing committee. We talked about a book reading, setting up a table for sales, performing, really just doing anything we could to help out. For what it’s worth, I’m a pretty well known member of the pirate community. I’m also a ham, never met a microphone that frightened me. I was ready to help out.

Then I got to work trying to set up other events around that. And slowly but surely they started coming together. There’s a fine line between calling too early before an event and calling too late. That line is somewhere between six and four weeks. I started sticking pins in the map.

But I was never able to get any firm commitments of times or activities from the folks I’d been talking to in Hampton. I didn’t want to show up and discover no one knew who I was, why I was there or what I planned to do. Believe me, I’ve been there and it is NOT the best experience. Awkward don’t begin to describe it. I’ll tell you the story some time. As the date approached I was getting more and more nervous.

Finally, only a week ago, I heard back from one of the folks I’d been in touch with earlier. Turns out neither he nor the other two people I’d been in touch with are still on the organizing committee. Hadn’t been in months. While he tried to be helpful and was very nice about it, he really couldn’t do much. I was back at ground zero, with the clock ticking. And I had a couple of events on the calendar that I wouldn’t have dreamed of scheduling if I wasn’t already planning to be in Virginia.

I scrambled. It took a day get hold of someone at the city (the festival is a city parks and rec event) who referred me to someone else, and finally, on Thursday I was talking to the captain of Blackbeard’s Crew Inc. He was horrified, felt somehow responsible for the mess, even though it had nothing to do with him. I tried to reassure him that stuff happens, and if it doesn’t work out, that’s not the end of the world. But he wouldn’t hear of it, and by Friday Tori and I had an invitation to come to the festival under the aegis of his group, with some really nice arrangements offered. We are honored to be the guests of such a gracious crew.

And that pretty much nailed down the schedule, at least the front two thirds of it. We’re driving from New Orleans to Hampton, VA, with a one day stop in Knoxville, TN, to spend a day with Tori’s oldest, closest friend. Then on to the festival where, with any luck at all, we’ll sell many books or at least pick up email addresses for the mailing list and give out cards advertising the book. We’re going to take most of an off day to visit the Jamestown Settlement (I’m a nut for historical sites) and on to Maryland to visit my niece, then up to Wilkes-Barre, PA, for a reading at the Barnes & Noble, followed the next day by an event at the Red Canoe Bookstore and Cafe in Baltimore.

In Baltimore we’ll pick up daughter Millie, who is coming down from New York, and spend Saturday June 11 with her driving like maniacs back to Knoxville, where I have a reading at the Barnes & Noble 2 p.m. June 12. We’ll stay at the friend’s house, getting Millie to the airport where she can fly home on that Tuesday (so she only misses two days of work.)

And then we’re at loose ends for a couple of days. I’m still looking for one more opportunity in the area, maybe Chattanooga, maybe Memphis, but honestly, resting up for a couple of days sounds good, too.

Then there’s an event in Murfreesboro, TN., just outside Nashville, 5 p.m. June 18. Our friend Tom Mason and his pirate band, Blue Buccaneer, will be performing at the Mayday Brewery. I will sing along with the best of ’em, pounding my tankard on the table appropriately. And of course I’ll have books with me available for selling, because even if I don’t sell any, that makes the whole event a sales trip and deductible from my taxes. No beer tastes better than a tax deductible beer!*

And then home. We’ll have covered a lot of miles and a lot of the eastern half of the USA, and we’ll be ready to put our feet up for a few days.

There’s another event coming up in August, and another in September. So there’s always something. But you’d better believe before I hit the road Wednesday, I’m recontacting all of the venues I’ve scheduled with, just to be sure. I hate that kind of surprise.

* I would point out that I am NOT a licensed tax expert or a CPA or anything like that. I’m a pirate. Please consult your tax professional before trying this at home and remember that it’s probably never a good idea to take tax advice from a pirate. The IRS hates the competition.

Discovering the Bookends that Help My Story Succeed

This may seem an odd thing to say, but I recently discovered that my novel, “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter,” is a better book than I thought it was – and I thought it was pretty damn good.

Last month when we were at the Jambalaya Writers Conference, one of the presenters mentioned a book that he had found very useful in plotting. It’s “Save the Cat,” by Blake Snyder. It’s about writing screenplays, not novels, but there’s an awful lot of good advice about story and how to make it work that can be applied to novels.

“Save the Cat” is a rather calculated view, one might even say cynical. It’s not about just writing a movie, or even a “great movie,” whatever that is. It’s about how to write a successful movie, successful by Hollywood standards.

But there’s a lot of craft that goes into making a successful movie, and what’s wrong with commercial success? There’s a lot to be said for a movie that people want to see. You, as a writer, have a story to tell. Don’t you want to tell it to as many people as you can?

You may rebel at the notion of there being rules. You, after all, are an artist. Rules don’t apply to artists. Snyder acknowledges this and says you can write any kind of story you want, any way you want. But if you want it to have success in the marketplace, you have to recognize there are things that work and things that don’t.

At the very least, you ought to have an idea what the rules are, so you can enjoy breaking them all the more. But if you don’t understand why they work, you aren’t doing yourself any favor.

Anyway, that’s the gist of “Save the Cat,” (Save the Cat, by the way, is one of his rules for screenplay writing and it’s a good one. But it’s not what I’m writing about here. Buy the book.) A lot of what he has to say about screen writing applies equally to writing novels. It’s all about finding the most effective way to tell a story.

In talking about structure, Snyder says the opening scene and image are the first taste the audience (or reader) gets in discovering the world you’ve created. It’s usually a glimpse of that world before the chaos of the story knocks it all apart. And the ending scene, after the story has been resolved, shows a glimpse of the new world going forward, how the character and the world have been changed by the action that has taken place. (And if there is no change, there is no story. That’s maybe the most important thing to remember as a writer, whatever your medium.) So the opening and closing scene are sort of a question and answer, telling the reader in shorthand what the story is about.

“They are bookends,” Snyder says. “Because a good screenplay is about change, these two scenes are a way to make clear how that change takes place in your movie. The opening and final images should be opposites, a plus and a minus, showing change so dramatic it documents the emotional upheaval that the movie represents.”

And if you have read “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter” (and if you haven’t, why not?) you may recall that I have those bookends, although I never thought about it that way at the time or did it on purpose. Both the opening and closing scenes take place at a table. In the first scene Chrissie is with her family in Hampton, Va., celebrating her 13th birthday. “She’s become a woman!” her father exults. The final scene takes place at a table in Roadtown, Tortola. Chrissie is surrounded by the family she’s created at sea. And when she says she needs to get into a pair of honest trousers because the dress she’s forced to wear is driving her crazy, Charlie slaps her on the back and says … Well, he says what he says. Don’t want any more spoilers than that. When I wrote it, I thought it was a good line. I didn’t realize at the time it wasn’t just a good line. It was a summing up of what story is about.

Now, I had never heard of the notion of the bookend scenes. Wasn’t aware that’s what I had done. But I sure did. The opening and closing scenes are perfect bookends, the closing scene echoes the opening scene in a way I had never even thought about, they are mirror images, neatly encapsulating the the change Chrissie has undergone through her voyage.

It’s not anything readers will notice, hell, I didn’t and I wrote the darn thing. Maybe one in ten thousand would get it, and that one’s probably a college English major. (And oh, please, may I have ten thousand readers. Please.) But it really makes the story work, it’s the cap that makes you sit back with a sigh of contentment, even if you aren’t really aware of the technical thing that brought about that feeling of completeness. In retrospect, I can’t think of any other way the story could have ended that would have worked as well.

Something to think about. NOT, I would add, to obsess about. Trying to force a story into a formula isn’t going to feel right. But at the very least, when you’re writing you should keep in mind “what is this story about?” and focus on taking the reader along on your main character’s journey. A journey has a beginning and an end, and those opening and closing scenes are your chance to make that journey complete and memorable.

(One amusing note. “Save the Cat” was published in 2005, and the subtitle is, “The Last Book on Screenwriting That You’ll Ever Need.” Since then there have been two sequels … which you apparently don’t need. Still it’s a good book, and if you’re looking for something to help with a writing problem, especially if you’re trying your hand at screenwriting, I’d recommend it.)

“Coming Soon!” You, too Can Make a Book Trailer

The trailers are often the best part of a night at the movies. And more and more books are getting the same treatment, a minute to two-minute video trying to entice people into reading.

I decided to put one together for Chrissie. Video software is ubiquitous and fairly easy to learn – although like so many things, it’s easy to learn but takes a lot more time to master. But Tori and I have done a lot of videos for the Pirate Guys, so we figured why not.

It took a lot of time, one of the reasons I haven’t posted in a couple of weeks. I was mostly slowed because Apple keeps “improving” iMovie, in particular, the text functions, which slowed me down a lot. It was maddening. But I roughed it out, then Tori cleaned it up.

I like the way it turned out.

After you ooh and ahh over mine (kidding there,) you should go to youtube and search the words “book trailer.” you’ll be amazed how many come up. They range in quality and resources from full-blown productions with actors and budgets (I suspect these are paid for by publishers who only throw money promoting products they already think will be best sellers,) to videos of authors sitting on front of their computers camera talking about the book. Mine falls in the low-budget category. The music, which wasn’t what I was looking for but was perfect, came up on a search for “non-royalty tin whistle music.” The images were all sketches done by my cover illustrator. The words were from fans who loved the book.

We all know the story. When you self-publish, you’re not just the author. You have to do everything, and while that can be onerous, it also gives you a certain freedom. You can be a director, creating your very own video for the trailer.

It was more work than I expected. It’s easy to rough out. Harder to clean it up so that it looks good. But I had fun, probably too much.

Now back to work.

Thoughts on Using Social Media and Other Things

It’s been more than a week now since I took part in the Jambalaya Writers Conference in Houma, then I got busy last week (a string of household “incidents” that took a lot of attention and time.) So let me start wrapping up what I talked about in my session.

I told you last week how I opened, with a couple of stories that illustrated, whether you’re self-publishing or got picked up by a legacy publisher, you still have to get out there and do the work yourself. And that’s the good news, because no one loves your book as much as you do, and no one is more vested in its success than you are.

So here, in summary, is the rest of what I had to say.

It starts with your book. Make it the very best you can. Rewrite. Rewrite again. Have a few test readers. Listen to them. But keep these words from Neil Gaiman in mind: “When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

Don’t scrimp or cut corners. Hiring an editor is a good idea. An outside professional can do more than clean the typos. He or she can point to problems in your story that you might be blind to. If you can’t afford one, find someone competent to read it. You must know somebody – your daughter’s fifth grade English teacherAnd DO NOT go cheap on the cover. Like it or not (and nobody does) people do judge books by their covers. Do not have your neighbor’s 14-year-old daughter do the cover because “She’s always been so artistic,” unless your neighbor’s daughter has also taken classes in art, design, typography and print technology. Money spent on a good cover is, perhaps, among the most important money you will spend. Yes, you can use a service or the “cover creator” software on your POD platform, but the best you’ll get is a thoroughly OK cover. Generic, but not embarrassing.

You don’t want to publish a book. You want to publish a great book. So don’t cut corners. People might buy a bad book from you the first time. They won’t do it twice, and you probably want to be in this for the long haul.

Social media can help you get the word out, but it will not sell your book.

Rule number one of social media is – It’s social. It’s not a marketplace or an advertising venue. It’s social.

Yes, you want the people on your friends list to buy your book. But you can’t treat them like potential customers. Treat them like – for want of a better word – friends. You don’t want to be the guy who is on their every day saying “buy my book, buy my book, but my book.” That’s a recipe for getting unfriended and unfollowed really fast.

If you have a release date coming up, if your book is about to come out or already has, you’re about three years behind the curve. The time to start cultivating your social media following is as soon as you start writing, or earlier. On Facebook (and “everybody” is on Facebook) you can start with your page, then set up a page for the book. Then act like a friend. For every time you mention the book you’re writing, try to post five things that are just chat. The picnic you went on with the family, the weather, something funny that happened on a date last night. Maybe post a picture of your cat. Those seem to be popular. And take some time every day to go through your friends’ posts and like things, comment on some of them. Be supportive and encouraging. Be a friend.

That way you’re an interesting person who happens to be writing and selling a book, not just an annoying person who is out there shamelessly flogging your book to a resentful public at the expense of everything else.

Build an email list. Your email list and newsletter is your best single selling tool. You need a web page, and a place for people to sign up for your newsletter. Don’t sign people up without their OK. Having them sign up is critical. It gives permission for you to send them your information. Otherwise they just get – here’s that word again – resentful. And resentful people are hard to sell to.

And don’t make the newsletter nothing but an ad. Give the reader something useful, some reason to want to open the email you send them once a month. That’s going to depend on your book, your genre, and your platform. (More on platform later.) In my case, I try to give the readers something funny every month. I’ve been sending short excerpts from the earlier humor books Cap’n Slappy and I wrote, then a calendar of upcoming events, and finally something about the book.

The people on your list gave you permission. Don’t abuse it.

Making and maintaining an email list and creating a newsletter are not that hard, they’re something you can do yourself. But there are services you can use that are inexpensive and even free. For instance, if your list is less than 2,000 address, MailChimp allows you to send 12,000 emails a month for free. That’d by six mailings to your entire list every month, and I think we can agree that’d be excessive. Once your list grows over that number, it goes from $40 to $65 a month, which isn’t onerous, and wouldn’t that be a nice problem to have? A list that just keeps growing? And they provide other services, templates, reports of how many of your mailings actually got opened. Stuff like that. Anyway, it’s something to think about.

There were two more pieces of my presentation, but this is long enough and I’ve got to get to work. So I’ll finish up tomorrow.

You and Your Book: It’s Up to You

Saturday I was a presenter at the Jambalaya Writers Conference in Houma. I was talking about getting the word out on your book, and I started with these two stories.

In 2005 my friend Mark and I had written a book, and our agent had tried for a year to place it with a publisher. No one said they didn’t like it, in fact most of them said they really enjoyed it. But none of them decided to take a chance on it. One publisher called it “laugh out loud funny,” but said “It doesn’t fit our list.”

After you’ve been in the book business for a while you realize “It doesn’t fit our list” is publisher speak for “It’s not like what we’re already selling and we don’t know how to sell what we don’t already sell.”

So our agent suggested we should consider self-publishing. A woman I worked with at the newspaper, Jan Roberts-Dominguez, is a well known food writer in the Northwest, and had published several cookbooks, some self-published and some traditionally. So I called her and asked if she had any advice or thoughts about our decision to go our own way.

There was a long pause, then she said, “When you self-publish, you’re spared the disappointment when you learn that your publisher doesn’t know how to sell your book either.”

So we decided to do it, figured out how much money we could afford to lose, and went ahead. And we worked our tail off. We went to book fairs, we performed all up and down the coast. We performed places where they were kind of surprised to see us walk in the door. And we sold books. Within a few months we had sold enough to cover our costs. A few months after that we had sold enough to interested a publisher. New American Library offered us a contract. New American Library. That’s a pretty big deal.

About six weeks before the release date for the new book, I got an email from someone in the NAL publicity department. She said she’d been assigned to our book and she was excited to be working with us and was sure we’d have a big hit.

And that was the last I ever heard from her.

I made calls and sent emails with suggestions or questions or ideas for promoting the book. Nothing. Eventually my agent explained, “You have to sell 50,000 copies before she’ll reply to your calls and emails to tell you she can’t help you.”

I figured, if I can sell 50,000 books, what do I need her for.

So we set to work and the book went through seven printings.

And that’s the main point of what I want to say today. It’s up to you. Whether you’re self-published or traditionally published, YOU have to be your book’s biggest promoter. You have to get the word out. It’s up to you.

And that’s good news, because nobody loves your book as much as you do. Maybe your mother, but she has to say that. No one loves your book more than you. Yes, publishers have PR departments, and you can always buy the publicity package from CreateSpace or Lulu or whatever service you use. You can hire a publicist, and I assume they do a good job. But they’re doing it for money. It’s their job. You’re doing to because you love your book and want readers to love your book too.

No one cares about it as much as you.

And then I went on with a lot of thoughts about ways you can get your book out there. And you know what was freaking AMAZING? People were listening and taking notes! I was so surprised I lost my train of thought. I have done a lot of public speaking, but I don’t remember anyone ever taking notes before. Very surprising.

I’ll have another post or two over the next week with some of the other stuff I either said or learned during the course of the weekend.

A Good Conference and Great Doughnut

Tori and I spent a great day in Houma, Louisiana, at the Jambalaya Writers Conference Saturday. Here are a few of the highlights.

Before I talk about the conference, let me say this. At the opening, when people were checking in, they had THE BEST doughnuts I have eaten in my life I’m not kidding, the very best doughnuts ever, and I’ve eaten a few doughnuts. They were by a local bakery called “Mr. Ronnie’s Famous Hot Doughnuts,” and they were so good. A little doughier than you usually get, but not too chewy, and yeasty and – well, just delicious. So there’s that. If you’re ever in Houma, do not miss the doughnuts. I had five.

Now. About writing.

“You have to confront your worst fear, and maybe your worst fear is you’re not as good as you think you are.” But you’ll never find out if you are or not if you don’t try.

That was Washington Post reporter and crime novelist Neely Tucker, who looks a LOT like Billy Bob Thorton. Not that his physical resemblance has anything to do with him as a writer or a speaker. It’s just a thing. I missed his keynote speech after lunch, had to go out to the pickup and don my pirate gear for the book fair portion of the event, which followed.

But he spoke again in an afternoon session. I’d love to have made that a full quote, but that’s all I was able to hear. His mike was dying and it was a big room and at that point in the talk I was only picking up about half of what he said. But the context was that fear that you’re not good enough is NOT a reason not to write, and what he said after the bit I couldn’t quite make out wouldn’t have made any sense if he was saying “You have to confront your fear, so don’t even think about being a writer.” I’m confident that what I’ve written there is what he was saying, if not the exact words.

And it’s good advice. As Tori and I often said when contemplating our move from Oregon tot he Caribbean, “You’ll never learn if you can fly unless you throw yourself off the cliff.” Either way it makes sense. You’re itching to tell a story, but you’re afraid you’re not good enough? Scratch the damn itch.

A Long Flight

Another presenter was a guy who has been an editor for Random House for 31 years. He was talking about “the state of the publishing industry today. (Short answer: Upset, worried, unsure, but like 31 years ago.)

But he also told the story about the longest day of his life. This happened before he had learned one of the first rules of being an editor at a major publisher – if someone asks you what you do for a living, so you’re an insurance claims adjustor, or an actuary (no one actually knows what an actuary is, so unless the person who asks actually is one, you’re safe) or a pastry chef, ANYTHING besides a book editor. Because if you tell someone what you really are, they’re going to pitch their book, and sometimes you’re trapped.

Sure enough, sometime around 30 years ago he had just gotten on a plane. The guy sitting next to him was chaperoning a church group of young people on their way to the Holy Land. And the guy asked him, “What do you do for a living?” And he said, “I’m an editor for Random House.”

Wouldn’t you know it, the guy had written a book! Who could have guessed that? And not just any book, oh no. Not even any church related book.

No. This guy had translated the Bible. The whole Bible. The holy scripture, the revealed word of the lord, so to speak.

And nothing so mundane as a rate language. He had translated the Bible into …

Wait for it …

Limericks. That’s right. The word of god as if the almighty were a bawdy Irish storyteller. Can you imagine? I’m just guessing, because the editor said, with some regret, that he no longer had the manuscript, but it might have gone something like this.

The Lord set it off with a word –
The earth, every tree every bird.
But a snake spoke to Eve
With a trick up his sleeve,
And now paradise is deferred.

OK. Not very good. But I’m not pitching it to an editor, either.

I Surprised Myself

I was at the conference because I had been asked to do a presentation on “getting the word out” on your book. Marketing. I don’t know why they asked me. I’m not sure how they even had a clue about me. I had been to the library last October for their book fair, sold a few, had a nice time. I was as surprised as anyone when I got the invitation to present. But I took the risk. Kind of goes back to what Neely Tucker said about writing. Maybe I’d be awful, and then we’d know that and could move on.

But I was pretty good. In fact, I had a room with about 30 or so people who listened, smiled, interacted ­hell, some of them even took notes! That surprised me, to look out at them and see people with their heads in their notebooks scribbling. What had I said that was worth writing down? Maybe it was my presentation.

They put me and Tori up a the Marriott across the street from the library. My presentation was in the first round of the morning so we had the rest of the day to attend others. I’ll pass on some of the stuff I picked up later this week, along with what I had to say – after I go through my script and figure out what it was I said that was interesting enough to take notes on.

Being a Pirate Is All Fun and Games

DSCN1580
Ol’ Chumbucket asks Zoey for her favorite letter as he reads “A L’Il Pirate’s ABSeas.”

You never know what you’re going to get when you face a roomful of kids. Monday in the westbank community of Algiers Point, we got a lot of fun.

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Captain John Swallow, Sjeka Hellbound Groves and Copper Otter.

“We” were me, my wife Mad Sally, and three buccaneers from NOLA Pyrate Week, which is going on this week. The leaders of Pyrate Week, Captain John Swallow and Quartermaster Sjeka “Hellbound” Groves, organized the event with the Algiers library and the Confetti Park Kids organization. We were also accompanied by Copper Otter the pirate. 

There were about 30 kids in all, ranging in age from, I would guess, about a year and a half to a class of about 20 kids in the first or second grade range. They all came in and sat neatly on the floor and cushions in the children’s area of the library, one of the old Carnegie Libraries, built in 1907 and a perfect match for the quaint neighborhood.

And they stared at us. They were intrigued, but they weren’t giving anything away.

 

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Kids always have their hands up – sometimes they even have questions.

So Captain Swallow introduced us, and suggested perhaps I’d do a reading. You know me, of course I said “Sure! But first, a song!” 

I don’t like to do all the work by myself, so I taught the kids their part, and they were great. I sang “Being a Pirate” – and if you’re “of the brotherhood” you know the song. “Being a pirate is all fun and games, ’til somebody loses an eye. It hurts like the blazes, it makes you make faces, but you can’t let your mates see you cry …” and on through the various body parts a pirate might lose, ear, hand, leg, “whatsis.” Each time I got to something being cut off, many of the kids would wince or gasp. But on the chorus, “It’s all part of being a part …” and they’d shout out their part – “A pirate! A pirate!” with some much gusto the room shook. “You can’t be a pirate, with all of your pa-a-arts! Oh! It’s all part of being a pirate” – and them again, “A pirate! A PIRATE!” – You can’t be a pirate, with all of your parts.”

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Mad Sally, Sjeka Grove and Copper Otter.

What fun, and when we were done the kids belonged to us. I didn’t try to read to them from “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter,” because it was much to young a crowd, although I made sure to mention to the handful of parents in the room that I had copies with me for sale and they might really enjoy it. Instead, I’d had the foresight to bring the children’s alphabet book Cap’n Slappy and I had written – “A Li’l Pirate’s ABSeas.” I didn’t read the whole thing, but I let them call out their favorite letters and read those to ’em. And I made sure to finish with the letter U, because it’s a kid’s favorite. 

“U is for UNDERWEAR, every crew wears ’em.
Each man has his own, and nobody shares ’em.
Some personal things belong just to you,
And shouldn’t be shared with the rest of the crew.
One is your boxers, but – Please! Keep ’em clean!
‘Cause if they get stinky, the crew will get mean.”

As the father of six, I know that “Underwear” is the second funniest word in the English language to that age, second only to “Butt.” Really. Go ask any five year old.

Slappy and I have always said that “A Li’l Pirate’s ABSeas” is NOT the book perfect parents buy for their perfect children. It’s a book the perfect child’s drunken uncle or wild aunt buy them so they don’t grow up to be complete prigs.

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Reading to the powder monkeys.

Anyway, we all had a blast. Captain Swallow and Hellbound talked to the kids about pirates – who they were, what they did and some of the things everybody “knows” about pirates that just ain’t so.

The kids had questions – Oh lord, the kids had questions. They always do. At that age, when a kid raises his hand, it means one of three things. The kid actually has a question that might have something to do with what you’re talking about, the kid wants to say something, that might or might not have anything to do with the subject, and – most often – the kid really wants to have a question but when you call on him or her, she or he hasn’t actually thought of one or has forgotten it.

Good times.

Anyway, it was a fun morning and I like to think everyone had a good time. And I even sold a couple of books – one of each! So that was fun too.

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Pirates meet youngsters at the library in Algiers Point. Below – Chumbucket teams up with the Terrible Pirate Zoey, and Super Pirate!