Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Art of Twofers--Matching Up Authors for Events, with a Whole Mess of Links to Previous Blog Posts.

I’ve mentioned before that booking events can be a tricky business. But getting it just right can be even more complicated when trying to pair authors up for events. There are more complications with scheduling, but my experience has been that the interaction between the authors, particularly during the Q&A can be even more interesting than one author alone. And one hopes that each author will find its own market, and if you’re particularly lucky, there will be an extra publicist drumming up support.

Sometimes the pairing is brought to us by the publisher or author. Sometimes it’s our idea. Sometimes the authors are of comparable fame. Other times, one is an opening act for another. I’d love to say it’s a science, but it’s closer to an art. On third reflection, it might be closest to a crap shoot. Or a construction project. Since I’m running out of metaphors, why don’t I just note some of our upcoming pairings?

Tuesday, May 22, 7 pm—Diana Abu Jaber and Samuel Park.

I so enjoyed Abu-Jaber's most recent novel, Birds of Paradise, and when we were discussing the author in hardcover with her publisher, Norton, they noted that she wouldn’t be able to come on the current tour, but a paperback appearance might be possible. She did wind up getting close to us in Madison for the Wisconsin Book Festival—hoping some of you got to see her and will spread the word to more fans. I had suggested pairing her with another author, and thought of Samuel Park, whose book This Burns my Heart, was now in paperback. We had a very nice event with the author, and though small, we got very good feedback from attendees. Here are more of my thoughts about the current works by Abu-Jaber and Samuel Park

Both novels are on our book club table and brochure, and both share a theme of a woman beset by family troubles. In Abu-Jaber’s story, Avis’s daughter has left home to live on the streets. In Park’s tale, Soo-Ja has married poorly and thwarted her dreams of a career. Each uses place (Miami and Seoul respectively) to enhance the story and almost to function as another character. And both use historical events, specifically economic booms and speculation, to complicate the lives of the characters.

Not that the pair ups always take completely. We're pleased that the Shepherd Express did a preview of Abu-Jaber's appearance, but we're sad that Park was not included.

Wednesday, May 23, 7 pm—Tayari Jones with Ann Stewart McBee.

Jones’s Silver Sparrow is also out in paperback, and is another novel that we’ve been recommending to book clubs. Set in 1980s Atlanta, it’s the story of a bigamist and his two families, told by the respective teenage daughters in each family. The novel was a #1 Indie Next pick in hardcover and appeared on several best-of lists at the end of 2011.

In this case, we’ve asked Jones if she’d be part of our opener series, where we pair up authors on tour with newcomers who’ve been published, but not yet in book form. In addition to McBee’s appearance with Tayari Jones, Laurel Landis will be opening for Alison Hagy, who is appeaing at Boswell in conjunction with the novel Boleto on Tuesday, June 12, 7 pm.

Friday, June 8, 7 pm—Bonnie Jo Campbell and Natalie Bakopoulos.

Several of us are big fans of Bonnie Jo Campbell and we were quite jealous when she read at Next Chapter for her hardcover release of Once Upon a River last year. Campbell’s novel is the coming-of-age story of Margo, a young woman searching for the mother who abandoned her, and has won raves across the nation, including this ebullient write-up from Ron Charles who notes in the Washington Post that the novel bears the “the saw marks of classic American literature”, comparing the story to Huckleberry Finn and The Leatherstocking Tales. Read more here.

At the same time, we were juggling an appearance by Natalie Bakopoulos, author of The Green Shore, a first novel about Greece during the military dictatorship of the late 1960s, as seen through the eyes of a mother and two daughters. I’m a fan of the novel, and even had my quote picked for the June Indie Next List . Booklist has also noted that “Bakopoulos' debut novel is a sumptuous and provocative portrait of the nexus of the personal with the political.”

Both authors were going to be in Chicago for Printer’s Row the wonderful literary festival that takes place June 9 and 10. And just to get you very involved with the story, so was Hagy. Stacie and I worried that three authors where we were targeting similar audiences might be one too many for a week. So we actually went to all three authors (this was before we paired up Hagy with an opener) and asked about their interest in reading together, as well as their date flexibility. It turns out that Campbell and Bakopoulos were acquainted and could both read on the same date. And so the Mighty Michiganders event (yes, they are both long-time residents of the Wolverine State) was born.

Wednesday, July 11, 7 pm—Patrick Somerville and Dean Bakopoulos.

Does that name sound familiar? It’s not just that both Somerville and Bakopoulos are house favorites, having previously read at Boswell (and Schwartz as well). It’s also that Dean is Natalie’s brother. I’m sure that they are also doing some of their gigs together, but we’re leaving that swell pair up for another store.

Somerville last read with Hannah Pittard at Sugar Maple earlier this year and is best known for his novel, The Cradle (more here), though Shane is also a big fan of his story collection, The Universe in Miniature in Miniature. In the new novel, This Bright River, set in Wisconsin, Somerville follows two lost souls; Ben is an ex-con (drug related) haunted by the death of his cousin, and Lauren is a doctor also beaten down by recent events, particularly a bad divorce. Booklist’s starred review notes “Somerville has a gift for spurring dialogue, and the meandering narrative tributaries he explores stoke our curiosity and build suspense as he crosses the wilderness of madness and bloodshed, lies and loyalty, courage and love in this by turns rolling and raging river of a novel.”

In this case, it was Somerville and Bakopoulos’s idea to team up. Bakopoulos returns for the paperback of My American Unhappiness, a wicked tragicomedy about the self-destruction of the head of an arts nonprofit. Perhaps we can call these guys The Wild Wisconsinites to the Mighty Michiganders above. Perhaps this is sort of a final four of literary sparring. Here’s a bit more about My American Unhappiness, from an earlier Boswell and Books post. And have I mentioned how much more I love the paperback jacket? Way to go, Mariner!

And we’ve got more teamups in store. We’re working on an event for Joe Meno’s new novel, Office Girl, and we’ve already booked Jean Reynolds Page to speak/read with Kelly O’Connor McNees this coming October. I think these can be some of our most interesting events. There’s something a little less planned about the interaction, which often turns into a conversation. Hope you’ll check out one (or more) of these twofers.

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