Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Reader Expectations

Recently I saw the title for a blog that asked the question: "Can a mystery still be good if no one gets killed?"

Of course, the short answer is, "Yes." But it got me thinking about reader expectations. So often, our life experiences - or our reaction to them - is based on how well it met our expectations. This is true of a restaurant meal, vacation, movie, play, or a book. We spend months planning a vacation, often having an idealized vision of what we will experience. Bad weather, airline delays, illness during the trip, are all factors that can turn "the trip of a lifetime" into a nightmare or at least a very forgettable vacation.

For much of my work career, my duties included organizing conferences, which were held in hotels.We always provided our participants with evaluation sheets, and would ask them to rate, for example, the conference meals. We provided a five point scale, and responses would be all over the place. I NEVER have high expectations for hotel banquet food, so if it arrives warm, looks good, and tastes palatable, I'd be likely to give it a rating of 5. For others it seems, they were expecting fine dining, and would rank low.

I often wonder how much a reader's reaction to my book is related to what they expected going into the read. A first time reader will be affected by the book's title, reading the short description on Amazon.com (for example), or perhaps even reading the first few pages online. Maybe a friend raves about the book, but then they don't quite have the same reaction. Or perhaps it is the other way around, a friend hands them the book and says, "I couldn't get into this, but you might like it."

Often, movies I enjoy the most are those I go into with ZERO expectations.

Similarly, with each new book I issue, I wonder what those loyal readers will think. Many of them have read all of my books, which definitely gives them an expectation level. I always hope I'm able to deliver.

Since "Life is a Mystery" do you have any thoughts you'd like to share on your expectations when it comes to a particular book or an author? Feel free to share your comments below.


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

More on Ben Franklin

Just about a month ago I wrapped up performances of my one-man play - BEN FRANKLIN: AN INGENIOUS LIFE at PACA in Erie, PA. The play was well received, and since I was back in a community where I had spent a chunk of my life, it was great to see so many friends.

This marked only the second time that I'd been able to do performances of the show. It was a different kind of experience for me. The first time I'd done it, in May of 2014, I was concerned about a lot of the technical aspects of the show. This included whether or not I'd be able to learn the 9,000 word script that kept me on stage for about 90 minutes. Although I'd previously done a workshop performance (which involved reading much of the material) and knew that those audiences had been pleased, it was still a bit daunting to see how the material would work with a regular audience.

I didn't need to have any fear. It all worked. And since I'd done talk backs following each performance to field questions about the play, Franklin, or whatever else the audience might have on their mind, I felt that I had a good grasp of audience expectations.

As I approached this second series of performances I felt I had a better idea of what worked well, and specifically how (as an actor) I might be able to "punch" a line for better effect. All of this held me in good stead, and the performances went well.

A live play involves interaction between the actor and the audience. Some of that is very obvious, such as when the audience laughs or applauds, but quite often I could hear a audience member's subtle reaction (a gasp) or a comment made to the person next to them. Or sometimes, just hearing an "ah" in response to one of Franklin's timeless aphorisms.

All in all, doing the play again was a fun experience. I look forward to more performance opportunities of the play in the future.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Irony

Mystery writers like to keep their readers in suspense and do the equivalent of pulling a rabbit out of the hat with a surprise ending. I'm no exception. I enjoy writing a nice twist to the end of the story (hopefully one the reader did not anticipate) as well as reading authors who accomplish the same.

I also enjoy the use of situational irony in my writing. When I wrote BLOOD PORN, I introduced the character of Oliver. He was a probation officer with whom Sharon had briefly worked before she joined Brad's detective agency. I got the idea for the character from a guy who had lived next door to me in my college dorm. He had lost his sight from birth, but enjoyed enhanced use of all of his other senses.

Fellow students would try to trick him, for example sneaking into his room, but he had come to know our footsteps and frequently called us out (to our amazement, I might add) when we were attempting to fool him.

The irony of Oliver's involvement in BLOOD PORN, was that in spite of all of the "sighted" people who had viewed an illegal porn video in an effort to determine where it might have been filmed, Oliver "heard" a distinctive background noise. This led to solving the case.

In another irony, I turned that same character into a love interest for Sharon. As to their future, I can only say, "stay tuned." Because Life's a Mystery.