Some of you may be aware of bestselling author Margaret Atwood's virtual book signings. Instead of touring the book shops signing copies for the masses, she stayed at home and used a remote connection to a robot arm. The robot arm did the touring and, thanks to a remote sensor, mimicked every movement that Margaret's arm made back in the comfort of her own living room. A videolink allowed Margaret and her fans to see and talk to each other.
Brilliant ... that is until the wiring became reversed and Margaret spent the next three hours trapped in her living room painting invisible Volkswagens.
But technology has moved on since then. Margaret has a good job with Peugeot and, today, we will be trialling The Virtual Book Tour Mark II. No robotic arm, no Volkswagens. Just the power of the human mind and a couple of mediums hooked up to a supercomputer.
Magic. Over in Washington DC we have bestselling author of the Glasswright series, Mindy Klasky, with her new book, The Girl's Guide to Witchcraft. In Palo Alto we have IBM's new 485000 quantum computer. And in London we have the internationally renowned mediums, Doris Scrote and the Salvador Dali Llama.
And in France we have me - the disembodied voice with a lot of questions.
Okay, the IBM 485000 has been switched on. Windows ESP is booting. Now, gentle reader, concentrate on Mindy's book cover below.
Think 'Mindy' and hold that thought, close your eyes, imagine the letters ... no wait, open your eyes again and finish reading the instructions first. Now imagine the letters growing in size and intensity. M I N D Y. Let the word burn into your consciousness. Think, imagine, concentrate and ... open your eyes. Can you see it? No, it's not smoke from a Sony battery overheating, it's Mindy being astrally projected into your home or office.
And don't worry. If there is any ectoplasm leakage - which I'm assured there won't be - it can't damage your keyboard. And if it does form into an evil entity and hide in your attic - just sell the movie rights and buy a bigger house.
Now, while we have Mindy hovering over our keyboards, let's ask her some questions.
Q1: Mindy, how did you make your breakthrough into becoming a published novelist?
I wrote a brilliant fantasy quest novel (if I do say so myself), which was shopped around by an agent ("Mr. X") for over three years, garnering rejections from every single publishing house in New York. While I was smothering under the accumulated weight of those rejection slips, I managed to reach my computer keyboard to type a new manuscript - the pages that eventually became THE GLASSWRIGHTS' APPRENTICE.
Mr. X and I decided to part ways, and I signed a one-year contract with my current agent, on March 31, 1998. The day after our contract expired, my agent sold APPRENTICE. He sent me email late in the afternoon and said that he'd be available to talk about the deal the next day. It was only that evening that I realized the date - April 1. I did not sleep that night, wondering if I had been made the greatest April Fool in all of New York City. Happily, my agent is not the cruelest man in the world, and my career as a published novelist was launched.
Q2: What advice would you offer an aspiring writer?
It sounds foolish, but: "Write." I know too many aspiring writers who give up the first time that life-balancing intervenes. Or rejection letters. Or temporary-lack-of-ideas. In the alternative, many aspiring writers choose to pound out the second, third, fourth, or one hundredth draft of their Great Novel To End All Novels, rather than moving on to the next project.
If the first thing that you write doesn't sell, write another. And another. And another. Pattern your writing on published authors you know and love. Experiment with new styles. Try different genres. But write. (I have four finished, unsold novels lurking on my computer, all of which were completed before I sold my first book.)
Q3: You receive a phone call from a serial killer. He asks you the same question he asked his previous victims. "You have 150 words to sell me your book. 150 words exactly. If I like what you write I'll buy the book. If I don't you die." What would your 150 words be?
You know those books where the serial killer is brought to justice, dragged down in a hail of bullets or locked forever in a prison cell?
Well, Girl's Guide is nothing like that.
Girl's Guide features Jane Madison, a librarian who discovers that she's a witch. With the help of her familiar (a slinky black cat turned gay fashion consultant who could work wonders for any poor, exhausted, hard-working murderer), her warder (an astral protector who would never dream of harming a hair on the head of a serial killer), and her best friend (a baker and yoga guru who could brew a soothing cup of tea that would ease just about anyone's stress after a hard night's slaying), Jane learns how to balance her newfound powers and her age-old responsibilities to family, friends, and work.
Voted number one by Serial Killers Anonymous! Buy it at your local bookstore today!
A quick pause for a reaction ... and yes, it's an ectoplasmic thumbs-up from our serial killer. So, on with the next question...
Q4: As a writer of kit-lit, I was intrigued to see a Girl's Guide to Witchcraft listed as chick-lit. Are there many chickens in the book?
Alas, none. But there's a healthy serving of Dover sole. And some lamb chops. But they meet a Bad End.
Q5: And finally, the question we've all been pondering, do you see much of Mork these days?
Just to complicate my life, my husband's name is Mark. We go out of our way to introduce ourselves as "Mindy and Mark" to avoid the inevitable comments. We had warned the celebrant at our wedding to avoid the more traditional name order, utterly confusing her because she had never heard of the television show (!) We must have made some impression upon her, though, because halfway through the ceremony, she slipped up and called my beloved "Mork." It only took about five minutes for the laughter to die down, and for us to get back to the wedding vows.
Thank you, Mindy. The mediums power down, the quantum computer may or may not be switched off and Mindy's ghostly presence recedes from our keyboards.
Now for feedback on the experiment - did everyone see Mindy? Did anyone sober see Mindy? Did Mindy's astral form manage to grasp a pen? And if it did, did it sign anything? Enquiring minds need to know.
Meanwhile, The Girl's Guide to Witchcraft can be bought from all good bookshops including Amazon in the US and the UK