Looking for a good time sailor? How about checking out a book signing?
Okay, I know. I’m preaching to the converted here, but I’ve really enjoy book signings. Admittedly, there have been a few duds. On more than one occasion, my ass has gone numb sitting on a folding chair, listening to a writer ramble on and on about some plot device I could care less about. For the most part, however, they’ve been great. Going to see Charlie Huston and Marcus Sakey a few weeks ago reminded me of that.
Put simply, for the low, low price of one book, I get to listen to an author I admire wax poetic on the craft I love. What could be better?
But try telling your non-writer pals this. The words will barely leave your mouth before you see their eyes glaze over with stupification. You can read it in their faces, plain as day. "Why would anyone want to a book signing?"
Because they’re damn entertaining, that’s why. And I’ve got the list to prove it.
What follows are some of the most entertaining authors I’ve gone to see. My criteria has nothing to do with their insights on the craft, or the thought provoking discussions they inspired (that’s another list altogether). Instead, I picked them for one reason and one reason only–they made me laugh.
I’m the first to admit, I wasn’t thrilled about being dragged to a Jennifer Weiner signing. My wife absolutely lovers her books, and I have no doubt she’s a very good writer. But frankly, I’m guy. And I’m guessing the main character of IN HER SHOES rarely if ever breaks out in a killer, karate rage. With that established, I’m here to tell you Weiner is one of the funniest, most engaging speakers I’ve seen in a very long time. I’m not exaggerating. This woman could give up writing for a career in stand-up. She was so funny, I quickly forgot that I was one of only four people in the room with testicles.
I understand the criticism of Patterson’s work, but I also admire his ability to create page-turning plots, and I’m fascinated by his phenomenal success. So when Mr. P visited the Poisoned Pen on the Jester tour, I jumped at the chance to hear him speak. To give you an idea of the pull Patterson has, the president of Time Warner books traveled with him, introducing the mega-seller at each stop. After a few minutes of gushing by the pres., Patterson regaled the audience with funny vignettes about his life, his fans, and about the wild ride of success. In his most endearing story, Patterson described going to his local bookstore and counting copies of his novels on the shelf to see how many had been sold. I guess multimillionaires are neurotic just like the rest of us.
You can call James Ellroy many things, but boring isn’t one of them. Ellroy has earned a reputation for being cocky, outrageous, and totally uncensored. And it’s all true. Sans microphone, his voice boomed over a crowd of fans, answering questions with a wit and style all his own. I vaguely remember the mention of his unrequited love for his dog ("She’s a dyke," said Ellroy) and his opinions of then presidential candidate John Kerry ( who he described as a donkey filater). But through all the bravado and cursing, I heard glimpses of Ellroy’s brilliance and saw a true appreciation for his fans.
At last year’s Thriller Fest, when I heard children’s author Stine was speaking at a luncheon, my first reaction was, Well, I’ve already paid for the grub so I might as well go. I don’t remember what I ate, but I do remember Stine. In a convention full of highlights, this man was a star. He had the whole audience quivering in their seats with laughter. From tales of his early writing careers, to descriptions of fan letters, each story was better than the last. Walking out of the ball room, I noticed just about everyone had smiles stretched across their faces. A complete stranger turned to me, shook his head and said, "I can’t believe how good he was."
I can’t help but notice each of these writers is a huge bestseller. Is this a coincidence? Or is there a correlation between being an engaging public speaker and a bestselling author? What do you think?
Let me hear some of your picks. Who should I go see next if I need a good chuckle?