Monday, March 11, 2019

Connecting with the Audience - Brenda Chapman

Question: What do you remember about the first time you read your crime fiction work in progress or finished novel/short story to an audience?

My first novel was a young adult mystery entitled Running Scared, which pretty much sums up how I felt reading from my own work in front of those first young audiences. I'd worked as a special education teacher, but somehow, presenting my own writing was more daunting than working from a curriculum that somebody else had devised.

I cannot remember the exact first time that I read in front of an audience. While it was likely in front of kids, it might as easily have been in front of adults since I did both for my first four young adult books. I've always enjoyed reading aloud so this was not an issue. It was more the fear that my work would bore the audience ... a very real worry when reading to ten to thirteen year olds, who will let you know right smartly when they're not engaged.

However, I do remember the first time I visited a classroom. I was studying French language full-time at a government school and a man in my class asked me to visit his son's grade five class. They were new to Ottawa and his son was having difficulty making friends and fitting in. The boy met me at the school office and brought me to his classroom. I gave my presentation, including a reading from Running Scared, and things appeared to go very well. The boy had been tasked with thanking me in front of his classmates and he gave me a small gift before escorting me back to the office. "That was the best day of my entire life," he said as we walked down the hallway. You can't buy that kind of heart-warming memory.

As for other school visits, I cannot recall a single time when the room hasn't settled once I started reading. I've experienced that moment many times when I could hear a pin drop as I looked up from the page into the upturned faces of a roomful of children. This has always been the magic moment for me. The brief period of time when I capture their imaginations and they become absorbed in the story.

My first presentations and readings were nerve-wracking, often because I didn't know what situation I would be facing. Once I went to a school to read to a classroom only to find the entire school in the gymnasium with a microphone set up in the front for me. Most times, the teacher was prepared and welcoming; the odd time, the room was chaotic and the physical space not well set up for my presentation. I learned to ask more questions ahead of time, to be well prepared but also flexible. I 'd rejig my presentation to fit the audience or whatever else cropped up. Presenting became much easier and more fun with practice.

The last several years, I've focused on the adult market and have found this to be less stressful over all. Adults are unfailingly polite and only attend if they're interested in crime fiction (kids in a classroom have no say). I read only short passages, finding two minutes plenty to whet appetites with a taste of my writing style. The bulk of my presentation usually appears as off the cuff talking that in actuality has been carefully thought out ahead of time.

Over the past fifteen years, I've read to audiences, sitting or standing, with a mic, without a mic, in crowded rooms and not so crowded rooms, with other authors and alone. I've read from my YA mysteries, adult mysteries and  adult literacy series, twice even with a translator. I've come to know that people of all ages and cultures love to use their imaginations and to immerse themselves in a story. I've found that there is nothing more gratifying than when people give their rapt attention to me for those few minutes when I share a few pages from my book ... except perhaps when they purchase a copy because they have to find out what happens next :-) 

Twitter: brendaAchapman
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