Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Dianne: A Strange (and Wonderful) Public Reading
Anticipating the release of a novel, an author might imagine the first sight of the book on a store shelf, the first signing, or the first interview. But I, for one, never imagined reading my book on stage -- in a corset -- to an audience of 200 people wearing steampunk attire.
I was invited to a reading at Dorian’s Parlor, a Steampunk Ball held monthly in Philadelphia. WE HEAR THE DEAD isn’t steampunk, but it’s set in the 1850’s, and Gil Cnaan, one of the organizers, thought the subject would interest Dorian attendees.
The guests arrived that night in lavish costumes featuring top hats, frock coats, goggles, aviator caps, mechanical wings, fangs, dueling pistols … and lots of corsets! Meanwhile, I was suffering from a bad case of stage fright. Climbing on stage, I knew why those corseted Victorian ladies fainted so often! I’m not sure how I convinced my legs to carry me to the microphone, where I stood under a spotlight. The ballroom faded into complete blackness. I couldn’t see anyone, but I could hear them … talking, laughing, clinking their plates and glasses. As near as I could tell, nobody was paying any attention to the stage.
Trying to gather my courage and catch my breath in that blasted corset, I reminded myself that I’d been asked to come as part of the evening’s entertainment. I was there to do a job, and it didn’t matter if anyone listened or not. So I read a passage from my book in a voice that didn’t shake nearly as much as my knees. Ten minutes felt like an hour.
Then, the master of ceremonies invited questions from the audience I couldn’t see. Nothing. Just the sound of people going about their conversations, while I stood on stage quietly dying of embarrassment. Finally, a bold voice called out: “Where did you get your inspiration for the book?”
I knew that voice; it belonged to my 11-year old daughter. (Technically, she wasn’t supposed to be at this 21+ event, but Gil said she could watch my performance as long as she promised not to order any beer.)
That did it. If my daughter could walk out in front of 200 people and ask questions into a microphone held by a steampunk vampire, then I could stand on stage and answer them. I started to relax, and there were plenty of other questions. People had been listening. It was only my nervousness that had me convinced I was boring them all. After I left the stage, I discovered how friendly and well-read the denizens of Dorian’s Parlor were and spent the rest of the evening conversing with the most fascinating (and bizarrely-dressed) array of people I’ve ever met.
Late in the evening, a fellow in a leather jerkin apologized for missing my reading. “My plane was late,” he said. “Luckily, while we were sitting on the runway, I caught most of your reading on the live pod cast.”
That was the second time I nearly fainted in my corset.