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Archive for December, 2008

Book Signings

Friday, December 19th, 2008

I always thought that getting published was the biggest challenge for an author.  I’d been fortunate because I had very little difficulty in finding a first-class publisher for my business book, Corona: The Inside Story of America’s #1 Beer.

However on the completion of my novel I ran into all the usual problems of finding a publisher.  After numerous rejections from both literary agents and publishers, I was fortunate to be introduced to my current publisher, Morrison McNae, who liked the manuscript and agreed to publish.

But this is not the end of the story.  In fact, it is only the beginning.  Promoting and selling the book, especially in today’s environment of declining sales and competitive online media, is an even larger challenge.  I quickly discovered that even celebrity authors have to go “on the circuit” of discussions, book signings, and promotions in bookstores around the country.  I understand that even some of the most successful authors get their RV out on the road and tour the country in this fashion.

Being recently published, I’ve done my share of book discussions and signings at public libraries, special events, and bookstores. Today, I was with my friend and recently published author, Jian Ping, whose compelling Memoir, Mulberry Child, describing her family life before, during, and after the Cultural Revolution in China is a beautifully told story of strength of character and family devotion.

Through her connections, we were at the Barnes & Noble bookstore at the University of Chicago.  The manager, Ryan McCarl, provided a covered trestle table in the entrance to the bookstore, which also shares space with a university café.  We set up our display posters.  Ryan had advertised the event and posted flyers inside and outside the bookstore, and had ordered fifteen hardcover copies of our books each.  He then kindly arranged for a substantial discount for today only, on our hardcover copies, which he advertised on a separate flyer for prospective customers as they came into the bookstore.

Both I and Jian Ping told our respective stories, my Cold War espionage novel, with a World War II background and European family saga, and Jian Ping, of her family’s experiences seen through her eyes as a young child during the Cultural Revolution.

For the most part, people were interested and pleasant and asked lots of questions.  We kept the patter light and friendly and were very pleased to sell thirteen copies over an extended lunch-hour period.  Ryan was very happy particularly because this was the second signing that he had arranged with Jian Ping.  He’s asked us to return in the spring.

Sometimes these events can be daunting when you only have four or five people attending, or when, as I have experienced, they have great enthusiasm with lots of questions and then don’t make a purchase.

Today can be considered a good day.  But how many of these events does an author have to attend in order to achieve sales success?  I’ll let you know.

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A Thanksgiving Read

Friday, December 19th, 2008
Imperial House
Image by Nikonmotion via Flickr

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I read Mulberry Child, a Memoir of China by Jian Ping. Jian Ping is a former business colleague and friend, with whom I shared the writing experience, working on my novel at the same time as she was working on her Memoir.

Her creative talent and advice was of great assistance, and I hope that similarly I was able to give her the necessary support for her to finish her project.

Mulberry Child is the heart-wrenching true story of a childhood in Communist China. Jian Ping is the daughter of a high-ranking government official in the rural northeast of the country, growing up at a time of famine and political upheaval in the 1960s. Jian Ping’s innocent childhood comes to an abrupt end when the Cultural Revolution—a power struggle within the ruling party—engulfs the country like a wildfire.

Jian Ping’s father, Hou Kai, is falsely accused of treason—he is detained, beaten, and publicly shamed. Her mother Wenxiu, a top administrator of a middle school, is paraded in public and imprisoned by the Revolution Committee and the Red Guards—both driving forces of the Cultural Revolution. She is forbidden to see her children and pressured to divorce her husband. The family is pushed to a breaking point when they are forced to live in a mud house without heating, water, or a toilet. Facing abuse and deprivation, Jian Ping’s family stands steadfastly together, from her aging grandmother Nainai, a frail woman with bound feet, to her parents and siblings. The traumatic impact of their experiences shape the course of their lives forever.

Based on her own memories, as well as interviews and exhaustive research, Mulberry Child is a sprawling family saga and an inspiring tale of resilience and determination, a coming of age story told through the eyes of an innocent child.

Even though I had shared part of the writing process with Jian Ping and had thus read various excerpts as the book progressed, I was truly moved by this compelling story, written in such a delicate and graceful style.  I was also conscious about the timing of my reading this beautiful book.  A time for us to give thanks for the free democratic society in which I and my family have lived our lives.

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Thursday, December 4th, 2008
Foraging at sunrise
Image by Jeroen Krah via Flickr

I read with interest in the newspaper last week that Jon Favreau, the 27 year-old head of President-elect Obama’s speech writing team, is working hard on the inauguration speech.  It appears that Barack Obama sets the theme, reviews the drafts, and edits the results of Jon Favreau’s efforts to craft the speech.

There have been many times in history where speeches have roused a nation and changed the course of events.  Being English, I, of course remember Sir Winston’s Churchill’s powerful speech to the British people… We shall fight them on the beaches…we shall never surrender… in the darkest days of the Second World War when Great Britain stood alone against an expected invasion of German forces.

We are all familiar with Franklin Roosevelt’s rousing speech to the nation at the height of the 1930s depression… We have nothing to fear but fear itself…  Exuding confidence, he rallied support for the public expenditure programs that slowly pulled the US out of its industrial slump.

I was inspired by John F. Kennedy’s inauguration speech in 1961… “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country…  I used another quotation from Kennedy’s inauguration speech for the title and introduction of my recently published espionage novel… We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty.

The power of well crafted and well delivered speeches can have a profound influence on the course of world events.

During the past eight years of the Presidency of George W. Bush, among the long list of “worst’s” was the President’s inability to string together two coherent sentences.  I, like many other Americans, cringed as he stumbled and bumbled over his set piece speeches around the world.

Maybe he has been “misunderestimated” but to many, he appeared to lack conviction and comprehension of the words that he was delivering.   His inability to set out US policy and positions concisely and clearly has no doubt contributed to the US losing respect and its position as the leader of the world.

Clearly, Barack Obama has the power to inspire, the ability to communicate, and deliver rousing oratory.  As he begins his presidency, the US is fighting two wars and is facing the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression.  At this time, the American people need to be inspired and to regain their confidence.  Hopefully, our new president will be able to start this process with his inauguration speech.

Perhaps on this occasion, as often in the past, such a speech will change the course of events for the US.  It appears that much of this responsibility may well fall on the shoulders of a 27-year-old.  That is certainly food for thought.

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