July 19, 2014, I did my first live reading from my novel ELFKIND at the most amazing event: Shades & Shadows.
If you’ve never attended a live reading in LA, you definitely need to check one out. The California Institute of Abnormal Arts is a wild choice for this kind of thing—like Beetlejuice’s imagination come to life in a quaint North Hollywood house-turned-venue packed with rare circus artifacts and sideshow oddities. I’d done some dance shows at this location in past years, so I was excited to return to their stage.
Seeing my name on the marquee reduced me to the emotional stability of a two-year-old child, because I honestly thought I’d go my entire life without experiencing anything like it. I had to photograph it for posterity, given the likelihood of it ever happening again.
Our hosts, Xach Fromson and Lauren Candia, are fantastic writers in their own right. And I’ve just adopted Lauren as my new style guru, with her retro chic hair and makeup, and flirty fifties dresses. She’s the pride of pinup girls around the globe.
Bram Stoker award winning author Eric J. Guignard was first up at the microphone, reading an excerpt from “Midnight and Jefe Bowman”. Rather than me tell you about it, I suggest you experience it for yourself on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVJi5NXIXOs. He was terrific with his narration and the many voices of his characters.
It intimidated me to follow such a talented artist, and this was my first time reading. I also made the fatal mistake of practicing one excerpt during the week, only to change my selection immediately before taking the stage, thinking it would be more exciting. This only added to the butterflies tearing up my stomach. And needless to say, I completed a seven minute reading in under six. My apologies to the audience!
After my six minutes, it was nice to relax again, and enjoy Scott Tarbet read from his story “Tombstone”. It was another inspiring performance with Scott’s great voice and fun characterizations—definitely something for me to strive for.
Our host, Xach Fromson, read from one of his new shorts next. I enjoyed the story a lot. He’s a great writer. And considering it was only his second time reading, he did so well I was convinced that I could come back for a do-over that I could be proud of.
Jeff Eyres can easily double as a standup comedian. The man is completely entertaining, and utterly funny. The pages you see him holding here are blank, as his first instinct was to complete the audience’s expectations for a “reading”. But since his printer prevented the actuality, he gave us a rote recitation of his short story “Bugs”. I promise you the entire audience walked away feeling like kings and queens of the cockroaches.
I warmed to Mere Smith the moment I saw her, because she is the spitting image of a dear friend of mine. I almost grabbed her into a hug before remembering my friend had moved away. And if that wasn’t enough, the woman wrote for one of my favorite shows, Angel. At CIA, she read “Dead Girl” from her book COWFACE and other hilarious stories about death. I laughed the whole time and freaking loved it.
Suffice it to say, me and my girls were mesmerized by the talent surrounding us Saturday night.
My author friend, Sophia Ann Montoya, later commented she’d never seen me nervous before, despite the many times she’d seen me take the stage as a performer, speaker and show producer. I pondered this further, and came to the conclusion that I should have approached the reading as a performer rather than as myself at a mic, exposing something as personal as my own words.
Perhaps only another writer can understand how daunting it is to strip away everything else so as to bare one’s soul beneath a spotlight. We publish our books in hopes of everyone reading our stories, after all, so what is the fuss over reading a few pages, right? But I think there is something more to reading your own pages than there is to bringing any other kind of performance to the stage.
Theatrical productions require the performers to don a persona, complete with costuming, hair, makeup, and more often than not, someone else’s words. Tribal style dancers sport ten pounds of hair and makeup, and lavish costuming that would make anyone feel like a completely different person. We use props and layers of silk fabrics in every color you could imagine. Story-telling dance takes it a step further as the performers bring fanciful tales to life. And announcers are still a part of the act, with their own personas to share.
Public speaking strips a lot of that away, yet still, you step out of yourself a bit into the story of whatever topic you’re presenting, and again it feels like play-acting. For us teacher-types, sharing what little knowledge we possess, the stage becomes a mere broadening of the classroom.
In the end, I discovered something as a result of this new experience: I have a profound and unmitigated respect for anyone willing to step in front of a mic with their own words. Each and every one of my fellow readers impressed the hell out of me Saturday night. I’ll definitely be back for more. You can count on that. I may or may not bring it to the mic again myself (hold the applause, jokesters), but I am certainly down for more of them.