Thursday, March 10, 2011


I gave three book talks this week, plus one radio interview. Because my book is about an ex-nun, I expected to field questions about the convent at all four venues. Yet it’s surprising what people want to know, or what readers will take away from a book.

Audience questions at the first talk were all about the convent and the Catholic Church—and the state of the religious life in today’s Catholic Church. I think people were disappointed when I prefaced all my answers with a version of the disclaimer, “I’m no longer Catholic, but this is what I’m seeing…”

At the second event, the questions were all about the publishing process. The audience was fascinated by the length of time from contract to books-in-stores, and about all the steps that go into pounding a manuscript into its final shape.

At the radio interview, the super-professional host asked basic questions like “Is writing still a solitary occupation?” and “How do you keep your plot and characters straight?”

And at the last talk, the discussion was about how a live reading can still paint visuals in your head the same as reading the book yourself does. (With a slight derail on how an audiobook reader can make or break the book.)

This is what is great about interacting with readers: They all see books from a different angle. I love not knowing exactly what to expect when the questions begin. And I realize that what I bring to a book affects what I take away from it. I’m reminded of a play I saw years ago—it was a family-type drama that was quite well written. Except that the climactic scene involved a fight between the main character and her mother, which was way too close to home for me.

I figure someone’s going to come to one of these events with a large chip on their shoulder from a bad experience in Catholic Grade School. Or, perhaps, a band of irate nuns with torches and pitchforks. )I rather like the latter possibility: Think of the news coverage. Think of the sales!)

As readers and writers, what books have you liked because of what you brought to the read? What books turned your expectations on their heads?


Darrell James said...

Alice- It never fails to amaze me what a given person will like or dislike in a particular book. I had an elderly man in my workshop last week tell me "90% of all mystery was crap." I didn't get to ask who wrote the other 10%.

G.M. Malliet said...

I'm not exactly answering your question (do I ever?) but last night we watched a Netflix CD called Molokai. It's about Father Damien, who lived with the lepers and eventually died of the disease. I expected it to be sad and a bit morbid and I didn't think I'd be able to watch it.

It was all those things. It was also incredibly moving. Damien was one of the most courageous people who ever lived. Ever. This movie, now ten years old, had an all-star cast but I think the topic filled people with preconceptions so it didn't get the attention it deserved.

Your launch sounds like it's going well. Congratulations!

Lois Winston said...

Alice, I've been to see Garrison Keillor at least half a dozen times in person and I listen to him on the radio. I'm always so mesmerized by not only his story telling skills but his presentation that I feel like I know intimately the people of Lake Wobegon. It also makes me realize that there's no way I could ever do justice to a reading of my own work. I'm not a performer. I can stand in front of a room full of people and give a talk and answer questions, but I quake at the thought of reading aloud from my own books.

Alice Loweecey said...

Gin, small world! The nuns I used to belong to were out at Molokai with Father Damien. They have a few convents on the islands, and always sent leis for the nuns taking vows. I have a pic of me wearing the most gorgeous pink lei after I took vows.

Lois, possibly because I spend a couple decades on stage, I don't have a problem reading from my own book. I just put myself in "character" mode.

I'll give tips at Malice for whoever's interested. :D

Cricket McRae said...

What a busy woman you are these days! Glad to hear your new release is going well.

The first answer that came to mind was years ago when I picked up a book by an author I venerate only to find it nearly unreadable. It was a mere hiccup given all stunning books this author wrote before and after, and I'm still a huge fan.

G.M. Malliet said...

Alice - I think the chances of this coincidence are a million to one. That movie is a bit obscure; I guess I rented it because I'd been in Hawaii recently and was interested in the history. You probably know the story well: One of the things Damien kept asking for was nursing nuns to help him. It took years and many obstacles before the women were allowed out there. I should have added they were every bit as brave as Damien. It was considered a death sentence in those days.

G.M. Malliet said...

p.s. And there are still people with the disease living out there, about 50 of them. Some appeared in the movie.

I had no idea and am sorry for my ignorance - I thought we'd found a cure for this disease a long time ago.

Alice Loweecey said...

Gin, I think the founder of the Community appeared only briefly in that movie. She was out there with Damien for at least a decade, but... [restrains self from a rant about women being ignored, besides, she survived, so therefore doesn't have the automatic interest that martyrdom has. :P]. I remember reading a bio of Damien, and the poor woman and her dozen or so nuns barely got a mention.