Monday, March 30, 2015

Being Part of the Writing Community

Over the past week, I had the pleasure of attending two book signings for first-time novelists. The first was for my longtime friend Patrick Robbins, who just published his novel TO MAKE OTHERS HAPPY (Three Wide Press). It was heart-warming to see Pat surrounded by copies of his book, as well as the crowd of friends and family who came out to support him. A friend stood by with a camera to snap pictures for a memory book (including the one below). It reminded me a little bit of a graduation party--one of those precious few days in a person's life when you are showered with so much love and support and admiration and pride. It can be overwhelming and humbling in the best possible way. Pat's busy with promotional duties at the moment, but soon I'll have a follow-up interview with him to fill you in on all the details about his road to publication.

Patrick, me, and my daughter, Kate.  (photo credit: Emily Richards)

The second event I attended was a literary introduction series co-sponsored by The Author's Guild and Richard Russo, who currently serves as one of the guild's vice presidents. Russo has long been a champion of young writers (myself included) and understands how difficult the publishing landscape is right now for unknown authors of what he describes as "hard-won novels" or literary fiction. To help these writers get discovered, Russo has launched a reading series where established writers interview up-and-comers whose work has caught their attention. There will be a few of these readings in Portland, Maine and in New York City, with the hope that they will eventually roll out across the country.

The featured author of the night was Eddie Joyce, author of SMALL MERCIES (Viking), a story about a Staten Island family devastated in the wake of 9/11. While I was waiting for the even to start, a woman sitting in the row in front of me turned around and noticed I was reading the book flap. She touched my arm and said, "It's a wonderful book, you know. My son wrote it." We both started to laugh and I offered my congratulations. As it turned out, Richard Russo happened to be her favorite author. Joyce and Russo share a publisher, so the young author's editor suggested they send Russo a galley in hopes that he might blurb the book. The fact that Russo had chosen her son's novel to feature among the enormous pile of requests he regularly receives was a stunning turn. Other members of Joyce's family were in attendance and once again, like my friend Pat's signing, the room was filled with the most wonderful spirit of excitement, joy, and awe.

One of the goals of this literary series is to not only to help new authors break out, but to establish a sense of community among writers. When it came time for the question-and-answer portion of the program, a man stood up and acknowledged that it was a difficult time for writers and asked what we, the public, could do to support them. It was such a brilliant question--so many questions in this type of forum are limited to the "inward" pursuit of writing, such as inspiration and process. How often do we, as writers, look outside ourselves and to the larger community of writers to see how we contribute to the culture as a whole?

Both Russo and Joyce stressed the importance of shopping at your local independent bookstore. We all know the economic arguments for shopping locally, but the added advantage to both writers and readers is that local bookstore owners read widely and can make recommendations. By developing a relationship with your local booksellers, they can learn your tastes and suggest new writers you might like.

So often it feels like we writers are at the mercy of a difficult industry, but the events of this past week made me feel empowered. If we--members of the writing and publishing community--decide to come together and support one another by attending readings, purchasing books locally, and taking a chance on lesser-known writers, then just maybe we'll begin to turn the tide in our favor.

In what ways do you support your writing community? Please share your thoughts. 

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