I've been corresponding with a couple of other writers on the art of public speaking. They're both really good at it. Me, not so much. Q & A is not a problem for me. Nor am I daunted by sitting on a panel, trading bon mots (we hope) with other authors. It's those solo flights that get me.
The most traumatic was an incident I call Sex At Midnight at the 2007 Historical Novel Society Conference in Albany, NY. I was invited to be on the panel, "Writing Love Scenes; How Much Sex Is Too Much?" How much fun would that be? But wait; it gets better. One of my fellow panelists would be Diana Gabaldon, author of the mighty Outlander series, whose books, more than any others, infected me with the irresistible itch to write my own historical fiction.
The exhilaration factor was amped up meeting my fellow panelists in the, ahem, flesh. (Previously, we'd exchanged a flurry of pre-panel emails more stuffed with double-entendres than an Austin Powers marathon.) Besides the ever-gracious Gabaldon, they were C. C. (Chris) Humphreys, actor, stage combat choreographer, and author of the ripping Jack Absolute series, and romance/erotica author and editor Jade Lee. All of them proved to be razor sharp and riotously funny in person. Along with our thoughtful moderator Ann Chamberlin, we became known as the "sex panelists."
As a prelude to our panel, we had agreed to read one or two of our own love scenes the day before, possibly in a cozy suite or modest conference room somewhere out of the way. Instead, we found our "act" was booked into the cavernous dining hall late Saturday night, after a gala dinner, a keynote speech by Gabaldon, and a two-hour Talent Revue. It was nearly midnight by the time the first of us sex panelists took the stage. That would be me.
Well, consider my dilemma: Gabaldon's love scenes are witty, sexy, and profound. Chris Humphreys is, hello! a professional actor; his reading was bound to slay 'em. And Jade Lee is such a pistol, who cares what she reads, she's so entertaining. I wasn't about to FOLLOW any of them; I had to get a grip and go first.
The crowd had thinned out somewhat by then, but there were still about 200 people left to whom I had to read one of my intimate love scenes. I climbed to the stage with all the panache and confidence of a miscreant ascending the gallows. Remember that old TV deodorant commercial, where the woman on the way to a job interview looks in the mirror, and goes, "Why did I cut my hair? I look like a squirrel!" That was me.
Somehow, I managed to squeak out my lines No one gave me the hook, so I guess I didn't disgrace myself too badly; I've mostly blocked it out. After that our Sunday morning panel was almost a bit, erm, anti-climactic, but still loads of fun. The room was SRO for this last panel of the event, so at least we ended the conference with a bang. (Okay, sorry!)