Saturday, December 12, 2009

Face Painting

I was at Barnes & Noble in Boulder today, signing books as part of the Whittier Elementary book fair. Even after all these years, I always forget certain facts about bookstore events, such as:

1) The store will have ordered hardly any of my books, because they will have expected me to sell very few.
2) The store will turn out to have been right.
3) It is very hard for an author to compete with other simultaneous attractions, such as (in the past) a visit in the flesh from Santa Claus or a chance for kids to decorate and eat Christmas cookies (memories of the year I did a lot of book signings for the release of Gus and Grandpa and the Christmas Cookies ) - or this time, a very talented mom doing face painting. Kids would simply rather have their faces painted than chat with an author. It's past ten o'clock at night now as I write this, and that mom is probably still sitting there, painting away, with a long line of kids waiting their turn.

But I decided today that rather than sulk about this, I would try to reflect on the situation in a constructive way. So here are some Lessons an Author Can Learn from a Face-Painting Mom:

1) There is really nothing that can compare with getting to be somebody else for a little while. Readers love to take on an entirely different identity as they read. I remember hearing, re Harry Potter, that kids don't want to buy bed sheets that have pictures of Harry Potter on them: they want to buy Harry Potter's bed sheets. They want to BE Harry Potter. Have I created characters that readers truly want to BE?

2) The kids seemed to love best getting to pick from the catalogs of possible face-paintings the mom had available for their perusal: they loved the different possibilities laid out in front of them for the choosing. Do my books offer enough different possibilities for my readers? Are there enough different ways that each story can unfold?

2) Suspense is powerful. The face-painting mom refused to let the kids see themselves in the mirror until the face painting was done. As an author, do I give away too much too soon?

I did sign 6 books - not yet the blissful land of double digits, but better than nothing at all. The wonderful Whittier mom who organized the event had a little gift for me waiting on my table: a package of my beloved Swiss Miss hot chocolate that I had told the kids about when I visited Whittier to do a day of author presentations a week ago. During the book fair today I got to hear the Whittier fourth and fifth grade chorus sing "Twist and Shout" - what is more fun than that? And I picked up some tips on writing from watching a face-painting mom.

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