Maybe it's because I haven't done a reading in a while. Maybe it's because I'm reading serious stuff, and I can't count on the shock value or amusement value or arousal value of reading sex scenes to carry the audience. Maybe it's because I'm getting old.
It did actually go very well, eventually. Jed and I went to a party in the afternoon, which was pleasant, but then we both miscalculated different aspects of the timing of taking BART into the city, so that we ended up getting there ten minutes late or so, noticeably into the first reader's performance. I hate being late to things. I especially hate being late to events where I'm performing; I would much rather get there fifteen minutes early and scope out the place. I truly, madly, deeply hate being so late that I interrupt another performer, even if it is a large, echoing sort of space with people ordering drinks and moving around and rustling and the like, which helps to cover one's late entrance. So apologies to Shanique Scott, who I believe was the very funny comic we interrupted. Oops.
Cliff had arrived early and saved us seats, the darling, so then we settled in to sit and enjoy. The show was terrific -- everyone read well and was very funny. Yup, one writer after another, being very funny, making everyone laugh so hard their sides split. With me sitting there, quietly, slated to go last, with my serious, literary, somber, depressing little ethnic war story. Ugh. I got more and more fretty about it, but what could I do? There comes a point just before every reading I do when I'm so scared that I just want to get up and leave -- they wouldn't actually stop me, would they? You have no idea how tempting it is. But I think that probably falls under the classification of 'really bad form'. So I stay in my little chair, holding my little bleak story. Freaking out, quietly. And laughing too, 'cause these guys, Dani Montgomery, Bob Vickery, Jack Boulware -- they're really funny.
When Charlie Girl had finished her fabulous introduction of me (including a description of the bookstore I supposedly run, where the books are categorized not by genre, but by such concepts as 'bleak endings' or 'really frickin' funny' or 'too pretentious for words'), I went up there. There were at least a hundred people in the audience I think. It was hard to tell, given that it was a) very dark, and b) there was a flickering disco-light thing. Made it hard to make eye contact! I think my voice broke a time or two in my first few words, and as usual, I felt like I was about to throw up. Hopefully no one noticed. (One advantage of reading erotica at these things is that my trembling abject terror is generally read as arousal and excitement by the crowd, and so it goes over well.) I started the story, and settled down within a few lines, and here's the miracle:
They were utterly quiet. This was the most silent crowd that I've ever encountered -- and for a fifteen-minute serious literary story, they gave it their full attention. No moving of chairs, no rustling of clothes -- just silence. I can't tell you how lovely that was. I don't know if they liked the story or not -- maybe they hated it. But they did me the wonderful courtesy of really paying attention...and then at the end, clapping like they meant it. Sweethearts, all of them.
Even if I paid for the whole thing in cold sweats and night terrors and waking up cranky and exhausted today, I couldn't have asked for a better audience, a better reading experience. So three cheers for Writers With Drinks, and to Charlie for organizing such a fabulous event. Hip hip hooray! :-)