A while back, I was invited to do a reading of one of my books for the Federation of BC Writers. They called it a travelling writer spotlight -- done through Zoom due to Covid restrictions. If interested, I would be one of a group of fellow writers from the Okanagan and surrounding area.
My first reaction, when I got the invite, was why me? I mean, I've been pretty reclusive of late. By choice, I work, I write, and I do solitude or family things. That's about it. I've made the decision to simplify and minimize my life, most likely in response to a handful of years ago when I led a couple of bands and my life was a whirling, never ending Ferris Wheel of go-go-go sociability. When I started to 'just say no' to ninety percent of the invites I received, I realized, I like this better.
And then, of course, Covid hit.
So, I haven't attended a writer's group -- via Zoom or otherwise -- in over a year. I feel like I barely even post my writing updates to the Facebook writer's groups anymore. It's not that I dislike any of these things, it's more a choice to maximize my time in a way that works for me as a confirmed introvert living in an extroverted world. So, why me? In truth, I was kind of surprised people even remembered my name.
The other why me to this invite was the reality that I focus my writing on genre fiction, and hey, Federation of BC Writers! Was this not a little more highbrow than my cheerful little romantic suspense novels with their determined HEA endings? (Happily Ever After. I do the lingo now. I learned it on the documentary about romance writers I watched last night -- thank you Amazon Prime.)
Either way, I took a day to think about the invite. I was really flattered, and that's the truth, right there. I also wasn't at all certain I could even book the night off work in the first place. When it turned out that yes, I could be free to participate, I took the plunge -- and said I'd be there.
I started writing novels in 2018, and since then, I've written twelve, published (as of one week today) nine. All of which is a good thing, but it also posed a dilemma. How would I chose which book to read from, and which passage would be intriguing without giving the whole thing away? How, in a 75,000 word work, do you pick one passage that pulls together characters, plot, tone, style, etc., and makes it all make sense as a fragment of a much larger whole?
In order to make a selection, some of the considerations I went through were:
- No sex scenes. I might write them (and secretly not-secretly even like 'em), but I can't picture myself being comfortable reading them in mixed company. It's bad enough that my children wander in and out of the room when I am writing them in the first place. (PS, so you don't call protective services, my youngest is now 17). I mean, it's romance novel sex (all things bigger and better if you know what I mean), but still and all. That was a defs no.
-What did I want to accomplish with this reading? Did I want to make friends? Promote sales? Did I just want to have a fun night 'out'? Because, if I wanted to promote sales and gain exposure, well, I had just released a novel and have another one coming out in a week. Logically, shouldn't I push one or the other of those stories? Except, the recently published The Merry Kind of Things and the soon to be published Santa's Surf School are fourth and second in separate series. Wouldn't it make more sense to read from the first book in the series?
-Generally speaking, I set my books in the Okanagan of BC. Sometimes, I set it in this region but create a composite (read renamed) town. Sometimes I am brave and just call it like it is. There are one or two of my novels that are exceptions to this rule. Next week's launch, Santa's Surf School, set in Santa Cruz, California, is one example. Should I immediately exclude those books which don't represent the bulk of my writing? Probably. So, okay, one down.
In the end, thinking like a business person as much as I possibly can, I decided to read from The Heart of Things, book one in my Lakeland Series. For one thing, I am proud of this series, and it is a collection of four novels, so my longest series to date. For another, it is G-rated (PG at most) since my mom won't read the racier books I've written. Yes, mom, that series is for you! Plus, November's launch of The Merry Kind of Things was the fourth and final book in the series, so it stood to reason that introducing the series might lead to sales of all four books -- and that seemed like good business sense. Plus, I just really love the series. So, decision made. Now, all I had to do was find a passage that encapsulated all elements of the story without being a complete bore.
I chose Chapter Sixteen, in which hero, Drew, is investigating the car crash of heroine, Colleen. She is concussed, and stressing about her daughter and her dogs who she was on her way to rescue. He is worried about her because (we know but she does not yet know) he is in love with her, and geez, her car is a mess. Spoiler alert, a villain is introduced in this chapter, and also, Colleen in her concussed state of mind lets it slip that she and Drew have kissed. So, yeah, it had all the elements without excessive gore or gratuitous sex. Done deal.
I read the passage out loud once and timed myself doing it. I came in right on time, which was a good indication that this was the passage to read. And then, I got sick.
I'd planned to read and reread for practice and, on the night of the event, be a stellar star reader of my story excerpt. I know from experience that when reading aloud I tend to rocket along; I know, if I don't give supreme attention, my eyes tend to rove ahead and ultimately trip up my tongue. But, when I practice, when I remember to stay focused and slow 'er down, I am a fairly decent, inflective reader. Since my throat was home to razor blades and my chest to a lovely hacking cough up to the day before the event, that practicing I'd intended just never happened.
The night of the reading, I was seriously underprepared and horribly nervous. I almost even used the excuse of being sick to back out last minute. Except if you want to be a professional, you have to act like a professional, and if I made mistakes, well, I'd just have to live with them.
So, I set up my laptop in my office in advance. I stacked it on a couple of books on top of my desk so people wouldn't end up with a glorious shot of my double chin (not my first Zoom rodeo), and then I fiddled with the angle since, apparently, the light in my office is directly behind the desk chair, and with the laptop elevated it glared off the laptop screen. Then, since I was sitting in quasi-dark at my new angle, I got creative, and turned on the flashlight ap on my iPhone to light up the front of the desk (and my face). I have to be honest about this brainstorm and admit I read an article on business tips for Zoom meetings. Additional lighting was suggested by them. I totally understand why.
I gave the kids the silence is golden talk, assigned my youngest to mute the barking of our dog should that be needed, and hit "log in to meeting."
And the night was a blast.
It was fun chatting with the hosts and the other readers prior to going live with the event. Yes, I like my recent hermit-esque existence, but I forgot I also love talking shop with others who are also passionate about story-telling and the written word.
I was scheduled to read in the middle of the group -- something, due to my nerves, I was kind of regretting. Go first, get it over with, let nerves dissipate, enjoy listening to everyone else's work. This was not to be. However, my friend Jane went right before me, and part of the substance of her reading was that it is possible to do anything. That reminder actually helped calm my nerves. Also, every single one of the readings was completely different from the previous, and every single person reading showed a lot of skill with the craft. It was awesome. People were making comments, everyone was positive and supportive, it was a BLAST.
I liked something from every single reading. Which is saying something, really, because styles and tastes differ. Yet, all of this was good in one way or another. Mike, with his deep voice, had me wondering how much he'd charge to read audiobooks (and how he'd feel about reading sex scenes. Or for that matter, murder scenes. I've got them, too.). The poets had me drooling with their application of language, and they had me reeling in my chair with jealousy. They had me inspired, too, with concepts like divinity shows up when we do and stuff about breath that I actually took notes on. I'd quote those notes now, except they are on my desk in my office, and I am on the sofa with my dog sleeping beside me. It's not that I'm lazy. I just don't want to wake her. Either way, he said good stuff.
So, in the middle of the pack, my turn came up. Meaghan, our host, read my bio and added a personal comment that she was curious about my writing because she'd seen my posts and I always seem to be up to something. Well, gulp, no pressure! So I read. And you guessed it, I was too fast. And I stumbled over some words. I could definitely have used more practice. Also, although people made nice comments in the margin, I was focused on reading, so I didn't get to see most of them.
People liked it! Apparently, I write good dialogue. :) Also, I was happy that I made it through without hacking out a lung and with the comment by Greg from the Federation that my voice sounded good. Phewf.
Also, people wanted to know where they could purchase my books. Yeah! The kids get Christmas! Afterwards I was contacted and told they actually had gone and purchased -- how awesome is that result?
Also, later in private, another author told me that although mine is not her genre, I'd made her want to read mine. Now, that's what I call a compliment.
So, thank you to Meaghan and to the Federation of British Columbia Writers. This was such a positive experience for me, and I actually learned a lot (Like yes, practice does make perfect), and I'm thankful to have been included. To all the readers out there, thanks for your support. And to other writers/wanna-be writers... I've done a lot of different things at different times in my life. This, writing books, is one of the most rewarding. I've found no other community as supportive of one another as the indie writing community. Whatever writing you hold inside, I hope you put pen to paper/fingers to keyboard, and let your inspiration fly.