I was nearly pissing myself with nervousness.
After having planned the event from across the country, sight unseen, I was finally in L.A. last week and pissing myself, because I actually had to go through with the damn thing! After all, I’m a nobody! I’d done very little promotion, and I had no idea what kind of clientele The Talking Stick would have in on a Tuesday night. I Tweeted and Facebooked as much as possible, then sat back and hoped. I didn’t expect a big crowd.
I just didn’t want to be reading to no one but the cashier and the kitchen staff, you know?
I needn’t have worried.
The Talking Stick is a great, homey coffeehouse in Venice with a stage that’s set for all sorts of music and spoken word events. It’s not tiny, but it’s not enormous, and there was a respectable group of people already there when I arrived with my friends (and hosts for the week), Heather and Alexis.
Nervousness set in anew when the rest of the friends I expected were held up in traffic (the first in a series of lessons about L.A. traffic sucking hardcore), but after waiting an extra 15-20 mintues to start I finally had to get on with it. With the world’s biggest knots in my stomach.
Which is funny, because I’ve spent years as an actor and am a karaoke whore. I don’t get nervous in front of people. Well, I didn’t. Apparently, I do when I have to read them my writing.
LESSON #1: Give yourself time to make sure your microphone and stand (and water) is exactly where you need it.
The gentleman behind the counter, who was the most awesome hippie ever, helped me with the music stand, but I adjusted my own mic, quickly, and I adjusted it wrong. The top of the stand stayed loose, and I ended up holding it up for much of the first story I read. After a while, I just took the mike off the stand and held it, which made me feel like I was doing stand-up. Except that my short story wasn’t particularly funny. Speaking of…
LESSON #2: Make sure you time your selection ahead of time. Don’t read anything over 20 minutes long.
I thought my short story would clock in at about 20 mins or so. So, imagine my horror when I glanced at the clock on the wall and saw that I’d been reading the same story for over 40 minutes! Never mind the audience, I wanted to boo myself off stage!
However, once I got to the story’s climax I looked out at people’s faces and saw that they were interested and right there with me. So…it was a little long getting to the exciting stuff, but once the exciting stuff started happening, the folks were into it! So, yay! But in future…
LESSON #3: Don’t read a “new” or “in-progress” piece unless you’re famous.
I thought it’d be a good idea to read something more current than what’s in my chapbook, as my chapbook stories are older and I like to think I’ve improved as a writer in the intervening years. The thing is, while those stories are older, they’re also polished and finished. As I read “How to Be Ignored at Parties,” I felt each and every place where it still needed editing. It was kinda excruciating. I got through it, and people seemed to enjoy it by the end, but still. If you’re selling a book, you should read something from that book. No one cares about stuff that’s still in-progress unless the author is famous and already has several reliable novels/collections under his/her belt.
LESSON #4: Practice really does make perfect.
My friends who’d been stuck in traffic arrived at the tail-end of my story, which ended up working out as they’re the real Whedon fans, and I wanted them to hear my essay from Whedonistas. I’d read my essay over and over beforehand, not really in the interest of practicing so much as in amazement that it was actually going to be in a book, but that prepared me for the reading anyway. I was so familiar with the piece that by the time I read it at the Talking Stick, I was able to pretty much act it out like a monologue! I still had to look at it from time to time, but I was able to engage more with the audience.
And for the record, the audience grew considerably between my first and second selections! After the rest of my friends arrived, other folks came in, and as I read my ode to Joss Whedon, which is also my geek “coming out” story, I started getting supportive comments from the audience as people started shouting things like “It’s stupid to hide who you are!” and whooping or clapping when I was talked about their favorite Whedon show. I got a really warm round of applause at the end of that piece, which was amazing, and afterwards my friends and I hung around for the music act that came on after me.
And then, something awesome happened.
As I went to the back of the store to get sugar packets for coffee, a gentleman named Jose stopped me to tell me how much he enjoyed my reading! Then he said “You know, I haven’t read much sci-fi in a while. I used to read it all the time when I was younger. Listening to you made me want to pick some up again!”
I can’t begin to tell you how good that made me feel! (Though I’ll certainly try) It was such a thrill to think that me reading my little old story and essay made someone rethink their entire relationship with a genre. I inspired someone back to sci-fi! ME. And that, right there, is the power of the written word, mo fos.
And yes, it was only one person. And yes, the “crowd” I read for wasn’t enormous. But I’m of the mind that affecting one person is just as important as affecting a room full. And that if I – random freelance writer going to a state where few people know her and setting up a reading to share her work that no one has heard of – can do it, anyone can.
For another take on my reading, check out this generous review of it at ChinaShop Magazine! It’s where the Mike Bucher photos are from!