Last night was the third annual Christmas Party and Read-a-Thon for the authors/writers group I help oversee here in town: Writers and Scribblers.
The group is open to anyone, and people join and quit the organization all the time. We have a Meetup page for our group, which lets anyone new to town know we exist.
For all the change we experience with our members, we have a core membership that has remained fairly consistent over the years. I first learned of the group in September of 2012, when I stopped by the Local Authors Fair at the public library. I was staying in Silverton at the time, giving full-time care to my uncle, who was dying, and I’d come to Durango that day to pick up a prescription for him. Before I left town, I spent a few minutes meeting the authors who had tables at the event.
A year later, in September 2013, I was one of the authors with a table, and my friend Adriana joined me. We passed out information on our ebooks, since neither of our books was available in paperback at the time. Adriana had a really pretty display for our table, including a poster with her book cover, Leaving Stage IV. I had business-size cards with my name and my brand-new website address on them. I mostly spent my time advertising the authors group that is now called Writers and Scribblers, letting people know we existed and urging them to join.
This year, the Local Authors Fair was held in October. Adriana wasn’t able to join me again, and my table was lacking without her. I had the same black tablecloth I bought last summer, plus three paperback copies of The Etiquette of Wolves on display (because I made both of my books available in paperback this year). I had no copies of Love and Student Loans and Other Big Problems on my table (because I’d failed to order new ones in time), but I *did* have postcards with pictures of my two book covers on one side, and my author information printed on the back. (A huge step up from my uber-simplistic business cards the year before.)
The Local Authors Fair was held in the morning this year, from 10:00-11:30 a.m. on a Saturday, and I still spent time advertising the group Writers and Scribblers, but I also sold 3 books this year at the event. Two people bought copies of Love and Loans (from the Maria’s Bookshop table in the library proper, because only Maria’s can actually sell things inside the library) and a woman named Rhonda bought a copy of Wolves. I remember her name because she asked me to sign the book for her, and I was so nervous that my hand shook like a total spaz, and I created the worst author signature ever on her book’s title page. It was like I swallowed five packs of Benadryl, a fifth of Jack, took a quick shot of heroin and then stepped in some lava before I picked up the Sharpie. Plus, the Sharpie was dying.
So that was an epic fail, but a good time for practicing my whatevering, because if you can’t whatever the worst author signature ever, then the really brutal parts about being a self-publishing author will just kill you. [Insert picture of me being poleaxed here.] Though, to be fair, traditionally-published authors don’t escape the brutal parts, either, so they’re at equal risk of the poleax.
So. Enough with whatevering. Back to the point of this post. The third annual Read-a-Thon for Writers and Scribblers.
I’ve been to all three of them. The first one I attended was three weeks after my uncle died. I was pretty much numb and in shock. I was also so sleep-deprived that my body couldn’t adjust to being able to sleep through the night. I kept waking up in panic, yelling, “Uncle! Uncle Uncle!” and jumping out of bed, like I was still back in Silverton, administering care. My husband was going through his own trials at the time, and my PTSD from 24-hour hospice care in a really stressful environment did not inspire his solicitude whatsoever. It was a bad scene all around.
So when I attended this writers party, it was like feeling this warm, warm hug from the universe… after going through months and months of one of the bleakest times in my life.
Which means this annual Christmas Party-potluck and Read-a-Thon means a lot to me.
I took a pot of chili and a bowl of cornbread with me this year, and I also took pictures. Here are some of the people who were at the party last night. All names are listed from left to right.
Here are Janice (mystery writer), Sharon (poet), and Victoria (who didn’t read aloud this year) —
Here are Jim (memoirist, The Road to Narromine) and Tim (memoirist) —
Here are Jane (romance writer), Jerry (Jane’s husband), Jean (Jim’s wife), and Jim —
Here are Melanie (children’s author, I Love You More than Chocolate, and our party hostess) and Julia (poet) —
And here’s a selfie I took with Bodil (nonfiction writer) —
A short story writer named Bob was also there (but left early) and Melanie’s husband Joe avoided the camera. But I think everyone else made it into one of my photos above.
One thing about helping to run this writers group — it has made me a lot more comfortable reading my work aloud. Before joining this group, I’d only read my work aloud two other times. The first was in a small wine shop in Ouray, in 2009, and I read aloud from my third or fourth draft of The Etiquette of Wolves. I was terrified. I didn’t think I would be — I’ve given lots of presentations in my life, and I don’t really get nervous in front of people, I’d never had stage fright before — but this was the first time I’d ever shared my fiction aloud — and the experience scared me about more than anything else ever has in my life. It was the only time I have ever had stage fright. My knees shook so bad, I thought I’d fall over. I forgot how to breathe like a normal person. My voice was barely audible. I mumbled and ran my words together. I wanted to die. I felt like I was dying. Or being clubbed to death. My whole psyche seemed reduced to one word: terror.
So that reading was a complete epic fail. Another situation where some serious whatevering is in order.
The second time I ever read my fiction aloud was in 2011, at the Aspen Summer Words writers conference. I had another bad bout of stage fright, but it wasn’t so bad. Probably because we were in a bar full of noisy customers, and no one was really listening. I still mumbled and ran my words together. I still forgot how to breathe like a normal person. I still almost fell over, and felt like a rabbit that had almost been eaten after I sat down again.
But it wasn’t as bad. Not nearly as bad as my first reading.
So by the time December of 2012 rolled around, Jim shared some pointers on how to practice reading aloud from your work, and I was ready to practice. Setting a timer. Making notes about where to breathe. Standing with paper in hand, projecting, allowing time for drama and pause. Reading aloud is an art, it’s theater, and I can’t say I delivered a great performance in 2012, but I wasn’t horrible, either.
I was better last year.
This year, I made people laugh. A lot.
I chose material that would make people laugh. I succeeded.
I didn’t read aloud from Mark of the Pterren. I read four of what I’ve come to think of as “my Facebook vignettes” — which are tiny snippets of my interactions with people (or observations of them), which I share on my personal Facebook page. My friend April shares “librarian vignettes” about her interactions with library patrons, and I enjoy reading them so much, I started to share my own stories — and, like April’s, people laugh when they read them.
So these are all true stories, but no less funny for being true. I didn’t pick any stories that forced me to curse, and I didn’t choose conversations that centered on religion or politics. I chose four of the lightest, silliest vignettes, and I realized how weird it feels to read aloud a conversation I’ve had in real life. All the inflections are changed around to evoke the humor — because in real life, angry people *sound* angry, but in comedy, when I’m delivering their lines for them, I can’t channel their emotion — because I don’t want to summon their anger in a comedic performance.
So it was a bit strange to perform those vignettes, but also fun. If I had a partner, we could back-and-forth for an hour, and *really* have people rolling with laughter.
Some of my friends have said I should collect my vignettes and publish them, and I don’t know if I’ll do that, but it’s nice to know the option is there. I’ve gone more than a year now without publishing a new book, so the idea that I could keep collecting these vignettes and perhaps have an entire book of them one day — that’s a cool thought.
Because Mark of the Pterren still has several months of work ahead before it will be ready to launch, and the sequels to follow will be massive undertakings as well. Mixing in a light, easy project around this far more taxing workload sounds like a fun idea. Plus, making people laugh — is really addictive.