The sound of my voice

I just had an amazing experience reading at Borderlands Books during LitCrawl to a crowd so large people in the back yelled for everyone to move forward so everyone could fit into the store. My friends showed up, I signed a copy of my novella for a perfect stranger…it was a night of so many firsts–but to backtrack.

It’s been a struggle to make progress on my writing this year. My day job is the best kind of challenge. I work with smart people that I respect and I get to do creative work, but it’s a big, complicated place and it’s always go go go and I never get to take a breath. In order not to sink under the load and be able to continue to bring creativity to my design and my writing I’ve been throwing things out of my ship to keep myself above water. I’m neglecting the yard. It’s now a jungle–albeit a pretty jungle–and I’m not cooking as much as I used to. My husband is dealing with home repairs–a job I used to handle.

Every time I go to a talk by writers and the question arises as to how they find time to write, the answer is either, “I get up at 4am,” which is NOT going to happen for me, or that you have to let other things go. I’m trying that route and trying not to feel guilty that I can’t do it all. Some things I won’t let go include friends/family, exercise, and chill time. I need to relax, have a drink, chit chat with my husband and watch some silly TV. I know that highly successful people probably don’t do that last bit but I can’t get up and face the day cheerfully without knowing I get a few hours of fun at the end of it.

That said, all my must-haves leave only a few hours for writing. I get home from work and try to settle in. Sometimes I can get right to it, other times I’m distracted. I’m tackling a tough project and that is to edit my too-long novel, which means I spent the last year in the attic with nothing much to show for it. Yes I’ve made good progress and my novel is in so much better shape than it used to be, but there won’t be any WOO moments until this draft is finished.

That said, I did get some WOO!! moments thanks to writing I did before this year. The Shoreline of Infinity, the first magazine to publish one of my stories, won the British Fantasy Society award for the best periodical of 2018, and subsequently released an anthology of the best of the first 10 issues, which included my story “See You Later.” That anthology was reviewed by The Guardian, and my story got a mention. My first review!!!

In April, “The Obscurists,” a story I wrote in 2018, was published as a podcast on The Overcast. I love this story and J.S. Arquin really brought it to life.

While all this was great news, I felt like I was getting by on things I’d written in the past and that I wouldn’t have much new to show for 2019, which bummed me out. But I did the best I could this year, including continuing to help record and produce the SF in SF podcast.

Thanks to this, I had the idea to pull together a group of women writers to read at LitCrawl.

“One of the most anticipated literary nights of the year, San Francisco’s Lit Crawl is a massive, one-night literary pub crawl throughout the city’s Mission District. Lit Crawl SF brings together 500+ authors and close to 10,000 fans for the world’s largest free pop-up literary event. Started in 2004, Lit Crawl cultivates a unique, resonant brand: smart and silly, worldly and wacky events presented in venues usual (bars, cafes, galleries, and bookstores) and unusual (police stations, tattoo parlors, barbershops, and laundromats).”

My writer’s group read at LitCrawl twice, but got rejected last year. I’m not sure why. The acceptance process is a bit of a black box. Because of the rejection, I decided to try something new and recruited women who’d read at SF in SF, with the theme, “Women Imagine Different Worlds.” We were accepted! I’d invited women much more famous and accomplished than myself and was so happy to be in a group that was completely out of my league! I was also really excited we would read at Borderlands Books – the best science fiction and fantasy bookstore in San Francisco, and that Richard Kadrey and Annalee Newitz were going on right after us!

I needed to up my game. I asked my writer’s group which of two stories to read, and it was unanimous that I should read “The Internet of Things That Care.” I worried it would be too techie but everyone is so much more tech-savvy then they were a few years ago, they were sure no one would have a problem.

Next, I had to practice reading. I know this is a common problem, but I don’t like the sound of my own voice. I had to record an afterward for “The Obscurists” and all I could think was who is this nasal-y annoying woman who can’t enunciate? BLAH. When I started reading the IoT story aloud, I tried to come to terms with the fact that many people hear my voice every day and live. Then I started to feel annoyed that something that is so much a part of me is so strange to me. I wasn’t comfortable with the sound of MY OWN VOICE. That is nuts. Honestly – it felt unkind. I am working to get over it. I read to plants. I read to the neighbors cat. I whispered the story as I ate breakfast. I warned my husband that I was practicing and not going insane. I started to get used to me being me.

Also, and this is a WOO moment, Borderlands wanted print copies of my book to sell the night of the event. I love that they expected I had a book and thank god I did. Unfortunately I’d just about run out of the short run I’d done at Powell’s in Portland. They no longer had the print on demand book machine, so I had to start over–and sent my files to Ingram Spark. Thankfully, there were zero problems and I got a box of lovely books back. The cost of self-publishing seems to be going down and somehow, magically, my print book is now on sale along side my ebook on Amazon, with the reviews linked and everything!

Friday night my friend invited me to dinner and I read the story to her. I stressed that I was a bit over 10 minutes and she told me not to worry about it. She said the story was great and I shouldn’t cut anything. At this point I was so sick of it I had to agree.

Saturday I did little other than pace around waiting for the event. Despite that I was nearly late thanks to Lyft (cough, I’m usually late). When I arrived, friends of mine were already there and more arrived and I was so touched and happy to hug and greet everyone. Writing is a solitary endeavor and to have real people show up is a big deal. My friends have done so much to nudge me along, including being beta readers and leaving glowing reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

Madeleine, one of authors reading with me, bought my book and asked me to sign it and I was happy/embarrassed as this was only the second time I’d been asked to sign, and the first time was kind of a joke – my friend asked me to sign a manuscript I’d given him to beta read and I was so flustered I signed my real name and not my author name. I was so embarrassed this time as well she said, “I’ll turn away,” so I could do it.

Suddenly, it was 6:30. Jude from Borderlands got up and introduced the event and bookstore, then someone from LitCrawl introduced LitCrawl, then Rina got up and introduced SF in SF and all the readers for the night. Then it was my turn!

I stood there with a wash of color in front of me. Happy faces, books on shelves, cars passing on the street. I began to read and tried to do all the things. Annunciate. Put in emotion. Make eye contact. Not lose my place. And people laughed – right away at the title and every few sentences throughout. Loud laughs that made me take a pause. Really, I thought the story is dryly amusing but the crowd was ready to have a good time, and I guess there is a crowd thing that happens. I don’t know. I’m not an actor or comedian. At a certain point in the story a sad thing happens and everyone in the room said “AWWW” all together and I was amazed.

Yeah I messed up a few times and had to backtrack, but it was an amazing collaboration with a room full of people willing to work with me and bring the story to life. I didn’t have to be perfect; they filled in half the energy.

When I finished everyone applauded enthusiastically and I ran to the back of the room. My friends were back there and congratulated me in whispers as the next reader started.

And – people bought my books (mostly my friends). Borderlands sold out what I’d brought earlier in the week and so I handed over the four copies I’d brought to give away (in some fictional scenario where a famous author loved my reading). In addition to my friends, a complete stranger bought my book and had me sign it! Another first!

When the readings finished, people filed out (many stayed for the next reading) and everyone had kind words. In a very satisfying turn of events, Ransom Stephens, an author I’d heard speak at the San Francisco Writer’s conference way back in the day (2013) and reported on here in my blog, was in attendance, and his friend said she’d really enjoyed my reading and wanted to keep track of me. I gave her my author card. It’s been a long slow turn of the wheel, but 2013 me would have been pretty freaking happy that roles had been reversed and 2019 me was the one “on stage,” albeit not a stage but there was a mic! Progress. Glacially slow but progress!

The after party at The Chapel was just okay, but I did run into friends from my writer’s group who’d also read and everyone seemed pretty jazzed

The evening was so buoying. As I started this post lamenting the things I’d had to throw overboard to continue my writing career, this wonderful evening has put me far enough above water to continue this voyage for many months. Love and thanks to everyone who made this such a great night! (I guess I’ll keep writing.)

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