My friend author Gar Anthony Haywood has taken a long hiatus from attending conferences. But he's coming back for Left Coast Crime next month. But he's not going to be the same guy he was in the past.
I’ve revamped the act I used to do in public settings such as this and will be testing out the new and improved one at LCC. Gar Anthony Haywood, the conference panelist who never met a punch line he didn’t like, is no more.
It won’t be an easy transition for me. Going for the laugh has always been my M.O. when faced with panel audiences. One, because humor comes more naturally to me than eloquence and, two, because I used to regard writers who can’t bring themselves to crack a smile when answering a moderator’s question as stuffed shirts with an overinflated sense of their own importance. I thought it was better to be remembered as a joker than quickly forgotten as a smart and articulate egomaniac.
Now, I’m not so sure. At least, if being the most memorably hilarious writer at a conference has any long-term benefits, I would seem to have failed to reap them.
It isn’t just humor’s questionable value as a marketing strategy that’s driving my P.R. metamorphosis, however. I’m also looking to more accurately represent the literary heft I’d like to think my more recent writing carries.
I'm not sure he's right. I've seen way too many writers who think because they write dark, brooding, moody stuff that they have to be dark, brooding and moody themselves. I am a firm believer in just being yourself, and if you happen to be funny, that's fine. Nobody likes schtick, though, whether you are telling jokes or being the darkest guy in the room. My brother Tod writes dark stuff, and he's always funny on panels, and that didn't stop him from getting nominated for the LA Times Book Prize. Craig Johnson's stuff is procedural cop stuff that borders on the literary…and he's always hilarious on panels. Hasn't stopped Craig from being taken seriously, or for his books to win widespread acclaim. I guess what I'm saying Gar, if you're reading this, is just be Gar and stop over-thinking it.
6 thoughts on “Changing the Act”
Has any panel attendee ever muttered, “That guy’s way too entertaining. I’m not buying his books.”
Last year at the LATFOB Marilyn Robinson, who, clearly, is a serious writer as per her Pulitzer and such, did an interview with Susan Straight, who, clearly, is also a serious writer as per her National Book Award nomination and such would indicate. And yet the difference between them was (and is) striking — Susan has never stopped to say how important her work is, or how seriously it should all be taken but Robinson seemed to take pains to let everyone know how important all of her stuff was and is. Robinson couldn’t have been more boring or turgid, Susan couldn’t have been more affable and friendly and the overwhelming sense I took from that was that I’d much rather spend my time and money on Susan than on Marilyn. (Now, granted, Susan and I are friends…) But that’s just their personalities. I think if you try to sound important you end up, too frequently, just sounding like a humorless pratt. And who wants to spent an hour listening to a humorless pratt?
Great advice for any writer!
I agree with Tod, but what if the writer is coming across as a humorless pratt and wants to change this?
The writer could then change their public persona without changing their self. They could still “be themselves” and yet “talk differently” at public gatherings.
If the writer wanted to both change their public persona AND change their self, then this is possible by going inside to their core and developing a new list of priorities and values. The humorless pratt could try to smile before answering a question, say, or try to give brief ancedotes instead of heavy philosophy.
In any case, some need to add in humor while some need to take out some humor and add in information in order to get a more favorable response from the audience.
Take your work seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously. That’s what I reckon, anyway.
“Overthinking” seems to be good advice. It doesn’t seem worth the effort to create a persona unless you’re going to go full retard.
Or, maybe it’s better to rethink your writing. Parnell Hall’s as funny as any writer I’ve heard at a convention, but when his Stanley Hastings series was dropped, he didn’t change his persona; he started doing the crossword lady series, which (from what I read at the time) got him a very good deal (and from just checking amazon, his Hastings series is back in print, too).