Tuesday, August 26, 2008

QUESTIONS Anyone . . . Please!

Weve all been here. In this place.

At the end of most writer’s readings, there is a moment of reverence where a pause hangs in the air and complete silence is heard. It’s right when the moderator opens the floor for questions. It’s right before the author looks around and wants to slide into a book and disappear because there are many eyeballs on the author but NO ONE is raising a hand or asking a question.

As a book festival promoter, moderator, and writer I have stood in the back of the room and watched the silence fall like an old testament plague and land on the shoulders of the audience over hundreds of times and for hundreds of authors. Known and unknown. And some REALLY FAMOUS FOLKS. And some people who were downright delightful and funny and heartwarming and still NO ONE ASKS A QUESTION. And so this writer who has poured out their heart, read till their throat bled, and given their best presentation ever, suddenly has an event that falls flat because there is a pregnant pause, and then a nervous moderator saying, “Well, okay then - if there are no questions, thank you for coming.” And suddenly everyone feels like the kid on Christmas Story that couldn’t think on Santa’s lap to ask for the thing he desired most but it’s TOO LATE because the question box is closed, it's over and the dazed, tired, and deflated writer is heading to the book table hoping people will be more eager to buy books than they were to ask questions.

And because of witnessing this scene over and over, I have learned to stand with questions at the ready to sail forth. I can ask writer questions at the drop of a hat and all day long. Maybe part of that is because I don’t just ask the writer questions. 1) how long did it take you to write your book (all my life) 2) how did you find your agent (through a fortune teller at a strange circus on Route 66 on hot summer night when my car broke down ) When can a person quit their day job (you can’t quit your day job when writing becomes your day job - or you buy a VW van to live in it down by the river - which appeases my gypsy soul just fine)
My questions tend to be 1) What did you parents discover you were a writer? Are they over it yet? 2) How long have you known you were different? 3) If you could only write one book, and it was the only book you would have to read for the rest of your life on a desert Island - what would it be? 4) Are you currently on medication?

And I have dutifully carried out this ministry of being Question Girl across the nation. Let me be at a festival with a friend presenting and BY GOD I’ll be there just for that back of the room moment. Even if I have to ask, Prefer Broccoli or Cauliflower? Do you read Joyce or Twain before retiring in the evening? What’d you have for lunch? Wear Pajamas?

But as much as I take asking these questions seriously, and I do and ask them fervently on BACKSTORY on the Radio every Saturday from 4-6 (shameless plug), it occurs to me that the fact of the matter is = I cannot cover every festival, every friend, and every opportunity to be Question Girl - and after just having watched two years of SMALLVILLE on DVD in two nights, I realize ultimately all super hero's don’t work alone in their best save the world moments. I thought maybe we could band together as writers and readers like the Justice League and come up with a plethora of creative questions for writers and share them. Then we’ll type the list and spread it around. Seriously, we’ll make copies of the questions and carry them with us and rip them into tiny assigned portions to divide up with the audience when we arrive.Not kidding. It makes it so much easier for us, and for the readers. Imagine! When the moderator asks if anyone has any questions, a bevy, a bushel, a literal harvest I tell you of hungry hands will rise quickly to the rescue with some enthusiastic people saying things like, "Me, me - I had my hand up first."

Okay, okay - I know. It’s question planting and in a political year maybe that’s frowned upon just a little teeny, weeny bit. But hey, we are writers and carry the banner for the creation of creative human interaction as one of our obligations.

So I say we do it. We ban together and share the questions. The best ones that we’ve ever been asked. The ones we wished we had been asked. The ones that took our breath away.
Just close your eyes and imagine . . . no more pregnant pauses. No awkward moments. Just brilliant, lighting-quick, authentic author finishes with a flourish. Well, almost.

RIVER JORDAN is a storyteller of the southern variety and has been cast most frequently in the company of Flannery O’Connor and Harper Lee.
Ms. Jordan is the author of two highly praised novels of southern mystical fiction, The Gin Girl and The Messenger of Magnolia Street. She teaches and speaks on ‘The Passion of Story’, is a monthly contributor to this wonderful southern collective blog, and produces and hosts the radio program BACKSTORY, on WRFN, 98.9 FM, Nashville Saturday’s 4:00-6:00 CST. She has recently completed a new work of fiction, Souls in Limbo which will be published by Random House/Waterbrook in Spring 2009. Jordan and her husband make their home in Nashville, TN. You may visit the author at http://www.riverjordan.us/ or email your best questions from the road to river@riverjordan.us

No comments: