Show Don’t Tell

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.

W. Somerset Maugham

And yet: everyone in the writing world will insist on show don’t tell. Put the reader in the room; let her smell the coffee or the roses or the gunpowder. It’s exactly the right way to describe the launch party for The Dancing Girl and the Turtle.


Going to the party
On the road. Photo credit: Frans Verhagen

This is me on my way to the launch. It’s a gorgeous day, one of the first this spring when you can go out without a coat. At this point in the day, I’m still feeling calm, cool and collected. And so I get onto my bike and head off to Boekhandel van Rossum.

The bookshop is still open for regular business when my husband and I arrive.

party guests
Lynn, Keith and Alison. Photo credit: Frans Verhagen

Lynn Michell, the publisher, and her husband Keith are already there. My buddy Alison soon follows all the way from Zurich. The bookshop staff buzzes about uploading film and making sound checks. They transform a busy store into a happening event space. Meanwhile, Lynn and I sneak upstairs to do an interview. Soon to be available on YouTube!

the crowd

start of launch
Family and friends. Photo credit: Frans Verhagen

The first party guests arrive. In the end, one hundred people attend and it’s literally standing-room only.

launch party
Standing room only. Photo credit: Frans Verhagen

They come bearing good wishes and gifts, too. Books and wine, chocolates and cards.

launch flowers
Flowers galore! Photo credit: Linen Press

And loads of flowers, too.

Chinese launch
Tongxuemen. Photo credit: Frans Verhagen

My former life as a lawyer meets my present life as a writer. Lawyers rub shoulders with yoga, tai chi and Chinese students.

family photo
Verhagen family. Photo credit: Frans Verhagen

My extended Dutch family is out in full force as are all the members of the Amsterdam writing community.

Book sales
The sales counter. Photo credit: Frans Verhagen

It’s a circus and a wedding and a reunion all in one. And wonder of wonders, my party guests all buy books, too.

It’s time

launch party host
Beth Johnson. Photo credit: Frans Verhagen

Now that they’ve scored a copy of my book, the natives are getting restless. What’s going to happen next? Do we all go home now? Beth Johnson, the bookshop owner, comes to the rescue. Boekhandel van Rossum is a favorite spot for book launches and Beth knows how these events work. She calls the crowd to order and announces the order for the day.

co-host launch party
Lynn Michell. Photo credit: Frans Verhagen

First up is Lynn Michell, my publisher. She talks about her publishing house, Linen Press. And says embarassingly kind things about why she chose to publish The Dancing Girl and the Turtle.

launch film
Linen Press video. Photo credit: Frans Verhagen

Then she shows a cool little film about Linen Press and its many fine authors. There’s even a cameo of a very young me.

the reading

Finally, it’s my turn and I choke. Literally. At the sight of so much support, all those people who’ve come to cheer me on. I still have no words to describe the sensation.

A rapt audience. Photo credit: Frans Verhagen

I choke in other ways, too. The mike keeps dying on me. My voice isn’t loud enough to project into the room. I finally get myself under control and a phone going off: boing boing boing.

But we manage in the end and I read passages from The Dancing Girl and the Turtle. I start, of course, where all readings should. At the beginning.

I shot the horse four days ago.

party time

garden party
Louis, Annemieke & Bart. Photo credit: Frans Verhagen

Then the music starts. It’s a playlist of 1930’s jazz. The crowd starts to move.

Garden party
My son Paul manning the bar. Photo credit: Frans Verhagen

But not to dance. Instead, the party heads into the garden. The weather today is too gorgeous a lure. Or is it the wine bar?

me signing
Book signing. Photo credit: Fenna van Dijk

I don’t know. I never make it outside. In fact, I never get farther than a few feet away from the podium. There are people lining up for me to sign their books. Lots of people. Do they think I’m a rock star?

after party

I’m still high on the buzz from that wonderful launch party. My thanks go to Beth Johnson and her stalwart crew at Boekhandel van Rossum. And to Lynn Michell of Linen Press for making this dream come true.