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Author Archive: "Tom Grimes"

Fifty Empty Chairs

Interviews are easy, blogging is hard. Interview questions are posed by someone who has read your book thoughtfully and then fashioned a specific line of inquiry. The purpose of a smart interview is to illuminate aspects of your book that readers may want to pay special attention to and to prompt writers to reflect on authorial strategies regarding his or her book that previously had been uninvestigated. But when you blog, you're alone.

Having blogged for Powell's for a week, I have no idea why anyone who isn't paid to do so would want to maintain a blog. If you don't hope to shape a brief essay from which a reader can take away an idea that prior to reading an essay hadn't been in his or her mind, why do it? Pure narcissism? To sate a desperate need to be paid attention to by virtually no one? A blogger imagines a vast audience awaiting his or her next missive the way a modestly reviewed author checks Amazon hoping to find his or her ranking near the top of the list. Blogging offers bloggers false hope; at a ...


Don’t Tell Me What to Write

Mentor is the only memoir I've written. Since my wife and I have been together for 28 years, we've shared a great deal of what happens in the book. But memories vary; the same event may have more than one point of view or interpretation . So we made an agreement: if her recollections differed from mine, we wouldn't argue about the difference. Otherwise, the debatable minutia would have skewed the book. Once the memoir was finished, we found that nearly all of our recollections matched. But we argued extensively about one sentence. It described the plaque on our attorney's office door. He was giving up his law practice and "moving into the film business." Jody and I wrote purposely terrible scripts for his small production company. Hot Splash went straight to video and late-night USA TV. We were supposed to write a "biker flicker." Then financing fell through. But our attorney/director's masterpiece was Snake Island. In the memoir, I describe our involvement with ...


Amazon and Me

It's official: I'm wasting my life checking my book's Amazon.com rankings. Even now, as you're reading this Powell's blog, I'm checking Mentor: A Memoir's rankings to see if, after you've finished reading my entry, you've bought my book. I know you should buy my book from Powell's. After all, its editors are giving me this space to promote my book so I can... check my Amazon rankings. Now, I want to be a loyal Powell's customer, but Mentor isn't on Powell's "Indiespensable" books list, which tells me this: I'm dispensable! In Powell's eyes (thanks for allowing me to blog!), my memoir's paperback is literary Kleenex. So, I have to go back to Amazon which loves me and ranks my hardcover at... fuck!... 106,481. How is this possible? Twenty-two hours ago, it was #51,520. Have 55,000 people fallen out of love with me? Are they returning my book by the boatload? And my paperback ranking: #26,074! Eight days ago they were ranked, respectively, #1,458 and #4,747. ...


Please Speak Clearly into the Microphone

I felt like Pavarotti and I probably did everything he did, short of wearing a silk scarf around my neck. I had agreed to read the audio version of my book for Audible.com, a subsidiary of Amazon, but I began to lose my voice a few days before I was scheduled to arrive at the studio. So I got a prescription for five Z-Pak tablets, which cleared up my laryngitis. Then I spoke as little as possible for five days. Meanwhile, I loaded up on Biotene Dry Mouth chewing gum, slippery elm lozenges, Ricola cough drops, an herbal, alcohol-free moisturizer called Singer's Throat Spray, and a transparent plastic bear filled with honey that, during the most trying moments of the sessions, I sucked directly out of the hole in the little yellow cap on the bear's head. The day before, I didn't talk at all. The following morning, armed with every vocal cord emollient I could find, I carried two bottles of water, my memoir's 245-page manuscript, and a plastic bag filled with my battalion of throat protectors into the recording studio. Andrew, the sound engineer, a tall, thin, red headed guy who smoked every moment he wasn't chained to the church-organ-sized control panel, led me into the small room I would live and talk in, relentlessly, for four days.

To prep, I had read my book three times, softly, mumbling every sentence as I tried out different inflections, pauses, and changes of pitch and pace. The first mistake a reader makes is reading too fast. I had to speak, I learned, 50% more slowly than I usually spoke. Also, I couldn't speak in a monotone. And I had to enunciate all 75,000 words perfectly.

The room's walls were covered with acoustic panels, the floor was carpeted, the armchair's upholstery tattered. Once I was seated, Andrew swung a black microphone shielded by thin black mesh toward me and placed it three inches from my mouth. My manuscript pages were propped up on a music stand 12 inches from my nose, and illuminated by a lamp fitted with a small, bright halogen bulb. Then Andrew left and closed the door behind him so no air moved inside my room. Through the padded headphones he'd clapped over my ears I heard him say, "Rolling whenever you're ready." I took a deep breath and began to read. Five seconds later he said, "Slow it down. You're reading a litttttttttle fast." I spoke more slowly. Ten seconds later: "You're getting a littttttttle froggy in there. Take a sip of water to clear your throat." Next, my T-shirt sleeved rubbed against the chair's upholstery. "I'm hearing a litttttttle fabric rustling." I pushed up my T-shirt's sleeve until only bare flesh touched the padded armchair. Then I took a breath, started, and my stomach gurgled. "Let's take it from the top," Andrew said. I did. A moment later he said, "I'm hearing some lip smacking. Wipe your lips." We started again. I read page one, then turned to page two. "Pause when you turn a page." There had to be complete silence. So, I had to keep my throat moist, my lips dry, my stomach silent, my eyes trained on pages I had to turn without making a sound, and do it all without moving for several hours straight. Finally, I began to read without being interrupted.


Go Figure

I didn't plan to write Mentor: A Memoir. This is what happened. Tin House magazine publishes a feature called "Writers on Writers." Yiyun Li wrote about William Trevor's influence on her work. Anthony Doerr wrote about Alice Munro. One day, while I was talking with Tin House Executive Editor Lee Montgomery, she said, off the cuff, "You should write about Frank." She was referring to Frank Conroy, whom I'd known since 1989 when I first entered the Iowa Writers Workshop. I said, "Okay, I'll send you three pages. If you like them, I'll keep going. If you don't, I'll stop." A day after I emailed the pages, Lee called and said, "This isn't what I meant, and this isn't what we'll publish in the magazine." I was supposed to have written about Frank's work, not about him. But within a few sentences, a comparison between my father and Frank had worked its way into the essay . Lee added, "But I don't think you should stop. You might have a book." Surprised, ...


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