BELFAST — Around here, authors are like groundhogs. You might see them once a year — or wait, was that their shadow? For the past year, the Belfast Free Library has been bringing authors out of their hidey holes with their “Maine Writers Talk About...” a series of author talks, each with a different theme.
"We've had six writers in this series since last May,” said Brenda Harrington, director of Adult Programming at the library. “We wanted to highlight Maine authors who weren't necessarily the number one best-selling most popular authors, but who have something to say. And we wanted to invite them to come speak about their craft or their approach to writing."
This past Tuesday, Nov. 12, the series concluded with award-winning author Elizabeth Hand and her presentation "Guided by Voices: Channeling Fictional Characters."
Hand is one of those rarely seen, almost underground Midcoast authors whose writing is frankly some of the sharpest and most glittering stuff you’ll ever see come out of Maine. She’s the author of 14 novels and three collections of shorter fiction. She’s won numerous awards; her 2007 book Generation Loss won the inaugural Shirley Jackson award for best work of psychological suspense.
In her trademark Chuck Taylors, she stood in front of an audience and read selections from a variety of her essays and novels, including her most recent crime thriller, Available Dark, the follow up to Generation Loss, featuring her punk photographer, Cass Neary.
She read in various voices, male and female, old and young. Breathy and Brooklyn-y.
“I’m not ever going to do a Maine accent when I read,” she warned her audience. “I might try that out of state, but never here.”
When an audience member asked how she’s able to switch persona so easily, she answered, “It’s like a radio tuning in, when you finally nail the voice of your character.”
"When I'm supporting one book, I usually just pick out one character and rehearse, but for this event, I thought it would be fun to read from multiple books, sort of 'Lizzie's Greatest Hits,'” said Hand. “I just thought it would be more fun for the audience."
It’s no small trick to entertain an audience these days — particularly when audiences are hard-wired by technology, movies and games to be constantly amused with flashes, bangs, CGI, quick cuts — the usual short attention span problem for authors. Many authors will get up in front of a podium and simply read to their audience like children at story hour, but unless one’s speaking voice is well trained and melodic, that is a format that doesn’t always work. Fewer and fewer younger people respond to that; and authors need to adapt to this reality.
"I think people mostly want to be entertained and ideally, moved,” said Hand. “And for me, I've done readings when I've had many people in the audience and when there's literally be two or three people. Anytime you have an audience, you're there to entertain them. That's my job."
This year-long series of writers speaking about their craft has been made possible through the support of the Friends of the Belfast Free Library.
"It's been really well received,” said Harrington. “This was our first year. We're going to offer it again next year with six or maybe seven new authors and continue it."
For more information about the author, visit elizabethhand.com. “The Maine Writers Talk About...” series also included Debra Spark (The Pretty Girl), Monica Wood, (When We Were Kennedys) Rhea Cote Robbins, (Wednesday’s Child) Bill Roorbach, (Life Among Giants), Jaed Coffin (A Chant To Soothe Wild Elephants),
The Belfast Free Library is at 106 High Street in Belfast. For more information about the Maine Writers Talk About... series, visit belfastlibrary.org or call 338-3884, extension 30.
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org