This past Saturday, I was one of the featured readers at the Redwood Writers Open Mic event at Gaia’s Garden in Santa Rosa. What’s cool about being the featured reader at this event is I get to read from my novel for 20 full minutes. What’s terrifying is I get to read from my novel for 20 full minutes.
20 minutes is a really, really long time to be on stage.
I’m no longer new to reading my books in front of a crowd. My first time reading was 3 years ago. I was reading from my very first published novel, A Symphony of Cicadas. And I was TERRIFIED. In fact, I downed a half bottle of wine before I began reading just to give me the courage to step up on that stage. It worked, somewhat. I got up there. And I read. And I hardly remember a thing about it because it went by so fast (and I was a little buzzed). One minute I opened my book to start reading. The next, I reached the very last page and people were clapping. The one thing I do remember is that they laughed at the appropriate times, and got quiet at the more serious moments. It was a relief to see that people were actually following along!
Each time I read in front of people gets a bit easier. I’ve never died from reading in public. I’ve never forgotten the words (they’re written right in front of me!). I’ve never fainted or thrown up. People have never booed me off stage. The worst that’s happened is that people are talking while I’m reading. When that happens, I’ve learned to just tune them out and keep going so that the people who are listening aren’t distracted.
When I read on Saturday, the butterflies managed to keep away. In fact, I was so excited to read from Loving the Wind, that I volunteered to go first – something I never do! But I wanted to be able to read right away, and then enjoy the other people’s readings without mulling over my own. So I barrelled forward, taking that first time slot, and stepping on to the stage to kick off the event. My nerves remained intact, and I smiled at the modest crowd of 13 listeners. And then I began to share my story.
That was the moment that my tongue decided I hadn’t had enough to drink. It dried out completely, replacing itself with a wad of cotton. I had brought a drink on stage with me, but it was just out of reach. So I powered through, licking my lips every now and then to try and turn my cotton tongue back to normal. I was aware of every word that came out of my mouth, sure that people could hear the garbled texture of my words as they spilled out over my cotton tongue.
Eventually, my normal tongue found itself. I began enjoying the words I was reading, feeding off the way the room had silenced as people listened to my words. No one was talking, which is a great sign. It means they were paying attention. A few quick glances out into the audience, and I could see it was true. It was good to be first. It meant the crowd was fresh and ready for a story.
Fifteen minutes in, and I was reaching the most dramatic point of the scene. And that’s when I felt the tickle in my throat. There was no pushing it aside. I had to pause.
“Bravo!” the MC clapped as I stopped reading and reached for my drink. She thought I was done.
“Oh, there’s more,” I promised. For a brief moment, I second guessed myself. Was the audience done listening? Were they ready for me to be done so that the next reader could come up? I banned these thoughts from my head, took a swig of my drink, then stepped back up to the microphone.
“…here’s the secret about pixie dust…” I continued, feeling all eyes light up as I went on with Tiger Lily’s story of Neverland.
The reading ended, and the crowd clapped. And the show went on.
I will probably never get over being nervous before readings. I no longer need liquid courage to get up on stage, but the butterflies or cotton tongue will likely accompany me in the spotlight. But that’s okay. It’s only because it means so much to me to stare out at a crowd of people and share stories with them that I wrote from the heart.
Cotton tongue and butterflies can’t stop me from doing it again, and again.