Friday, July 27, 2007

Jasper Fforde (and yeah, maybe I'm a little full of crap)

Went to Brookline Booksmith (actually it was at the Coolidge Corner Cinema) for a reading by author Jasper Fforde, who has a new book, Thursday Next: First Among Sequels is just out. There were probably 150-200 people who paid $5 each to hear his one-hour talk, and then they all waited in line 45 minutes or so to get him to sign books. And he was great. Very funny, as you'd expect (demand) if you're Fforde fan. When you hear him talk (very fast), you can begin to understand how he's able to create his two series on such a consistent basis, and why people like them so much.

He had a great list of ten principles that he uses when writing (though I don't remember them well enough to quote them). He said a lot of useful things, but one that I really liked was that first he wrote his books (feeling completely unqualified to do so). Later, after they were published and he did book tours and answered people's various literary questions, he figured out what he'd actually done.

(This points to a potential problem with the way that new plays are developed, in that quite often full-length plays have readings, where there are talkback sessions with the audience, which are all fine and good. But the expectation is often that somehow the playwright will use these to "fix" problems with the play. But maybe (I'm not the first to mention this), theatres should work together with the playwright to produce the play in whatever way seems to make the most sense. And then, after the play is actually produced, the playwright can engage in pleasant Q&As and everyone can think about answers to the questions about what is happening and why.)

In my recent post about fame and fortune, I, of course, said that they don't really matter that much to me anymore. Which is mostly true. But I'm also a little full of crap. I tell you, I'd sure like to have people lined up around the block to hear me talk and buy my books. And I'd like to have them name city streets after characters in my books (like they've done in Swindon, the setting for the Thursday Next series), or host an annual Gabridge festival (there is apparently an annual Fforde FFestival in Swindon).

And I'd like to have it all happen and still come across as funny and witty and unspoiled as Jasper Fforde. He's clearly having a ball writing his books, and he seems tickled that so many of us enjoy them as much as he does.

While, as I pointed out in my previous post, it takes a lot of luck to have a successful book published, Jasper Fforde's success also shows how hard work and ingenuity can turn a few strokes of good luck (and a very clever book) into something far more.

Jasper's made a tremendous effort to connect with his fans. Just take a look at his web site--he clearly enjoys the interaction with the folks who read his books, and he gives them a lot of material to look at between releases. He sends out e-mails to his e-mail list about when he's going to make appearances on tour. And in person, he's so entertaining. He definitely gave me a valuable lesson about how to make a book reading into an event worth remembering. I've done a few (mostly for very small audiences) and I know I have a lot to learn. He's given me something to shoot for.

In some ways, the playwrights in the theatre blogosphere provide our fans (what few we have) with ways to hear from us on a regular basis. But much of what's written tends to be for other playwrights. I know theatre is different from novel writing--i.e. locally produced, rather than broadly sold--but it is important for us to keep thinking about ways to communicate with our audiences between shows. How can we use the web to provide additional info/material/value to those folks who see our plays and are interested? Some writers are making progress on this, but I know I have so much room to improve ( all takes time, we're all short of time, I know, I know).

Anyway, here's hoping for a long line at my next reading (or production). And yours, too.

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