This weekend was packed full of literary goodness and I learned yet more about reading in public.
Saturday I went to Borderlands Cafe to hear Ann Leckie read part of Ancillary Mercy. She chose a scene introducing a new alien character, so it was a lot of dialog. She did three different voices and seemed to take pleasure in the words. The scene sounded fun and fresh, even though she said she’d read it every step of her book tour.
On the other hand, Greg Bear (who was traveling with her) chose to read a scene where a ship is landing on one of the Martian moons. There were a lot of characters, one of whom is possessed by a ghost. Bear had to keep breaking the text to explain things. I had trouble envisioning things. A scene with fewer people talking would have been easier to follow.
In May, I met Joel Eis of Rebound Books at the first Bay Area Book Festival. He invited me to come up and read at the Litquake in San Rafael, so I drop up there on Sunday. I was joined by Sumiko Saulson and Peter Fugazzotto.
Peter went first and read a series of short pieces. The best of them was a segment of a story about a utility customer service rep who gets lured into a creepy basement by an old lady. Peter’s voice made the room vanish. My imagination was taken over by his words.
Sumiko got caught in traffic, so she came in halfway through. She’d been meant to go second, but Peter suggested I take her place and give her a moment to settle in.
We read in the back of Gamescape North. The setting wasn’t optimal. I knew before I got there that I wouldn’t have a mic. The chairs were a long way back from the podium. The store was open, of course, so people came in to shop and the phone rang. With the door open to the street, voices drifted in from the street. A box fan moved the air around and contributed white noise. And I was fighting something off. My throat was scratchy, despite my requisite hot green tea.
The upshot of all this: people had trouble hearing me. I should’ve moved out from behind the music stand and come closer to them. I should’ve invited them to move their chairs closer to me. Instead, I struggled through, tripping over words, reading too fast, pushing my voice.
I got through my scene, but I wasn’t happy with my performance, frustrated by the limitations and interruptions. I was already anxious about getting up to San Rafael — although, as it turned out, the trip was easy. I worried about the size of the crowd, which turned out fine.
It didn’t help that my family was supposed to come hear me read for the first time, but they didn’t. I didn’t know anyone in the audience, except Joel and Peter, both of whom I’d just met, so I didn’t have a familiar face to perform to. That’s a crutch that I need to wean myself from — but readings really do go better for me when I feel I have a sympathetic ear.
Sumiko read a scene toward the end of Warmth, where the doctor is explaining how the zombie virus works. Sumiko did a great job of gesturing as she read the lecture. I wished, though, that she’d read a scene about her main character. She’d told us that Sera was a ghula who preyed on zombies and had been pregnant for 600 years, 200 of which she’d been suffering morning sickness. She sounded absolutely fascinating.
Still, like me, Sumiko was aware that we were reading in a game store in the middle of a Sunday afternoon — and we had kids in the audience. That affected what we chose to read.
Last night I had the honor to join the SFinSF family. I worried about the size of the crowd on the Monday of a three-day weekend, with Litquake going on all over town, and an early starting time. To my surprise, the crowd was a nice size. There were a lot of people I recognized from Convolution and the Borderlands Sponsors parties, so I pretended I wasn’t cripplingly shy and marched over to say hi. That turned out to be fun.
Terry Bisson asked if I would mind reading first, but in this case, I preferred it. I’ve been reading Laura Anne Gilman’s Silver on the Road and was thoroughly intimidated by her writing. I didn’t want to follow her reading of it.
I read the same scene that I’d read in San Rafael: the attack on Mellix’s apartment from Kill By Numbers. I started slowly, with Mellix and Raena talking about the tesseract flaw, then went into her preparations for whatever attack may come, then ended with her fending off the gray soldiers.
And the scene went much better this second time. Partially that was because I’d had some time before the event to compose myself. Also, Borderlands! I counted just now: I’ve read at Borderlands 10 times, from the All-Night Halloween Reading in 2001 through three Litcrawls to the Sponsors’ Open Mic last month. I’ve done 12 Morbid Curiosity events there. I even worked behind the counter, back when the store was still on Laguna Street. Borderlands, more than any other bookstore ever, is home to me.
And the set-up is a dream. We had a table and a mic, so I could concentrate on the text rather than on projecting my voice or what my body was doing. I heard people laugh in the right places.
Laura read the scene where Isobel is waking up and getting ready to take her position as the Devil’s Left Hand. It’s a scene that’s all about anticipation and setting out, but it evokes the character and the world beautifully.
Afterward, Terry Bisson fed us questions. I’m not sure my answers were good or even coherent, but in the course of answering them, I did realize how different Raena is from Alondra. Raena is much older, more comfortable in her skin and with her abilities. Alondra thinks too much and doubts herself. I may have to write more about them later.
Overall, it was an amazing weekend. I learned a lot about performing and my relationship to it, about how to present myself, how to prepare myself right before a reading. The other readers’ selections taught me more about the sorts of things one should read and why and how.
I’ve got a short break from performing, then we’ll see if I can apply what I learned at Writers With Drinks and the Literary Speakeasy at the end of this month.
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