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On Tour

April 25, 2008

The Writers Among Us
Posted by David Jones

As those of you following this blog must be aware by now, every evening the four writers on the Kootenays leg of the B.C. Book Prizes tour visit a different public library or café. After Bryan Pike pays homage to the legion of corporations and organizations that have funded the tour, he introduces us and we each read from our books.

None of us is being mobbed by the kind of audience that you might imagine one meets on a book tour—people who have read our books and are dying to meet their authors—fans, in other words. Speaking for myself, I don’t think I’ve run into anyone on this tour (other than a teacher or librarian setting up the reading) who has actually read my book. Now, if this sounds like a complaint, believe me, it’s not. I’m grateful to anyone who takes the time to show up at these events and listen to us.

Most of the people who turn up fall into one of four categories:

1) People who are literary buffs who track these sorts of things.
2) People who spotted the poster in a bookstore window and found themselves free that evening.
3) People whose children saw us at school earlier that day.
4) People who just happened to be at the library, minding there own business, when these literary hooligans tumbled out of a minivan and started reading out loud, making it impossible for them to concentrate on whatever it was they really came there for.

But always lurking among them are the writers–-the people just as keenly interested in the craft as we are. You can see their eyes glittering from the back row.  They’re often shy. Polite. Tentative-–sometimes to the point where you have to coax it out of them: “So . . . do you write yourself?” I’m not the most intuitive guy in the world, but I can usually spot them. At least, I think I can. Who knows how many more are out there, wearing camouflage just a little too effective to pick out of the crowd?

The fact is, most of them want to be spotted. I always love meeting these people. I know some writers don’t. They keep waiting for that 800-page manuscript to thump to the floor between them and their new best friend to say, “Did you drop something? Oh, wait, that’s my novel. How did that get there?”

I don’t know why I like talking to these people so much. Maybe it’s the anticipation of that moment when the admission that they, too, are writers spills from their lips. Maybe it’s because sometimes I have the impression that right then, when they’re saying the actual words to me, is the first time they’re saying it aloud. Or even to themselves. And as I do my best to embolden them, usually just by talking about writing—the process, what it’s like when it’s going badly, what it’s like when it’s going well—I can see them warm to the idea before my very eyes. “I am a writer. I must be. After all, I’m talking shop with other writers!”

At the same time, these conversations are always just a little awkward for me. That’s because these people seem to assume that I have some advantage over them, that I know some secret they don’t, or even, perhaps, that I am a better writer than they are. That may or may not be true. I believe that getting published is a combination of talent, hard work, and luck. You need all three in some proportion. If you’re hugely talented, you need only a little hard work and luck. The world will beat a path to your door. If you’re incredibly lucky, you don’t need much hard work or talent. And if you work really, really hard—well, you still need some talent and a bit of luck. But for me, becoming an author has been a long and incremental process.

So I never know quite how to address these people, because I look at them and I still see me. Maybe they’re not published because they’re unlucky. Usually, I suspect, they just haven’t given it quite enough time. My point is, I never really know if maybe I shouldn’t be asking them for advice. There’s no way for me to know until I’ve read some of their work.

Which happens, sometimes. A man approached me this evening after we gave a reading to a small but enthusiastic crowd at the Cranbrook Public Library. He had written and illustrated a children’s book, and asked me to take a look at his manuscript. I’ll be reading it on the drive home to Vancouver, tomorrow. I don’t know if I can do anything for this man, but the least I can do is read the work he gave me. He was polite, he was brief, and he was direct—oh, and he also bought one book from each of the writers present and then asked him or her to sign it. 

In addition to being talented, hard-working and/or lucky, it doesn’t hurt to be smart about it, too.

Filed under: Kootenays Leg 2008 | 2 Comments | Permalink


Paul Headrick
Apr 25, 2008 at 08:04 AM

HI David,
With your permission, I’ll steal this response and share it with creative writing students.

The smart man who asked you to look at his work has also run into some luck: the good luck to have approached a writer with a generous spirit. He’ll be getting some very valuable feedback.

Mary Novik
Apr 25, 2008 at 02:22 PM

There’s that Paul Headrick guy stealing ideas for his students again. Can you believe the blogging this tour group is doing? An amazing stream of impressions and funnies and ideas…..

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