May is short story month.
I'd originally intended to post something every day in May for short story month, but although I had two "ready to post" in my iPhone and did so remotely from New Orleans, the joy of being at the Saints and Sinners Festival pretty much outweighed any drive I might have had to write more posts while there. Also, when I got back, I had two days of manager meetings - the first of which had a dinner thereafter, the second of which involved a lunch delayed by about an hour and a half, which gave me a raging headache and I went straight to bed when I got home until about 8:00p.
Anyway. That's where I've been.
While at Saints and Sinners, I got to do two really cool things: appear at a panel about reviews, and do a reading. At the panel, I was perfectly comfortable. I wasn't remotely nervous, upset, or worried. I was fine.
At the reading? Less so.
There's a trick I picked up from someone about reading aloud when you're in the editing stage. Obviously, this would work better with short pieces or short pieces of a larger whole, but I've done this for most of the stories I've written now. When I'm about ready to hand off the pages to someone else, I read them out loud.
Pacing issues, confusing word repetitions, awkward word choice - a lot of things are clearer when you read them aloud. Similarly, tricks your eyes play (such as accidental additions of words that your eyes skim right over) aren't as easily missed when you're engaging your voice as well. You read slower when you read out loud - or at least, I do - and it means more attention paid.
As an editing step, I really can't recommend reading your stuff out loud highly enough. At least do it once.
Reading out loud in front of an audience with a finished piece? Egad.
At the first evening, the book launch for the New Fiction From the Festival book for 2011 occurred, and it was fascinating to watch as the readers skipped passages, jumped around the page a bit, avoided dialog attributions - since their in-character voices made it obvious who was speaking - and still kept the flow of the story strong.
I took a look at my story, and wondered if I had that talent to do so "on the fly." I didn't, but I did take a second to cross out some attributions, to skip a passage here and there, and to - hopefully - leave on a "and then what happened?" moment, like the readers that Thursday night did.
Some writers can perform. If you ever get the opportunity to see Fay Jacobs or Jess Wells read their work, you need to run - not walk - to get tickets. I have rarely laughed so hard. There's a skill set involved - grabbing the audience, making eye contact, pregnant pauses - all of it meshes together to make a reading an engaging and rewarding experience.
Give me a topic to discuss, and I can do this. I rarely don't have something snarky to say at the tip of my tongue, and my memory is full of trivia. At the review panel, I didn't have many moments of stalling, and feedback was quite positive. It went well.
Lacking these skills when it comes to a reading, however, I cheated. For one, I was over-cautious of the time allotment, and barely did an intro (that was something else - if you're going to introduce your work, do that while you time yourself for the full time allotted, so you don't run short). I had had the pointer from my first reading from Rob Byrnes that I hadn't looked up, so I actually drew little eyeballs on the page where it was a good spot to break and glance around at the audience (who were hopefully reacting the way I wanted them to react). I'm not a natural performer, but by the end of the reading, I felt it had gone better than the first two I'd done so far. Third time's a charm, and all that.
And evil Mark didn't buzz me.