When it comes to public readings of one’s own work, writers seem to fall into two categories: those who revel in reading their own words for strangers the way other people love chocolate–and those for whom the mere idea can incite reverse peristalsis. I fall into the latter category. I may be pleased with my words on the page, but to speak them in public is a source of indescribable terror.
This isn’t a fear of public speaking. I can speak endlessly and comfortably, generally without prior preparation, on a plethora of topics. But ask me to speak about my own work, and I quickly grow tongue-tied. It’s as if speaking about my creative obsessions will reveal their utter stupidity.
Fortunately, I know a cure for the terror. It is the sound.
There is a sound a listening audience makes when the words are working: a collective gasp in the midst of utter stillness. That’s the sound that says the words are, in fact, all right. That sound makes all the fear drain away.
It can only be generated by doing it anyway: by standing up in public and reading, come what revisited dinners there may. I performed that exercise with The Shadow of the Sun at Faerie Escape Atlanta, at Mercury Retrograde’s Sunset Salon.
I’d prepared a five-minute reading, but I was the last of the Mercury Retrograde authors to read that night, and I was sensing Listener Fatigue among our audience; so I only read the first scene of the novel. It’s short: less than two minutes. It’s also one of the hardest-to-read passages of the entire work: the opening sequence is complex, full of sentences that would make a student assigned to diagram them scream and cry. But in the course of that brief reading I heard the sound.
I will carry it with me into my next reading, and the one after that. For those audiences, I will perform. I may even enjoy it. But I already know that I will go through the same thing at the first public reading of the next novel.
Until I hear the sound.