Friday, November 2, 2012

A Reading?

As some of you may know, I am a member of New England Horror Writers, a loose, multi-state organization of people who write of things Dark and Scary. Last Sunday they had a reading/signing event in Billerica Massachusetts, and I went down there to see what was what and meet a few people. I’d never been to a reading before, and I wasn’t sure what to expect — the intent was to go there, support the organization, and see just what went on so I’d be a little prepared for the next one, where I’d participate.

That was the intent.

The reality, however…

…okay, here’s the story:

Saturday night I’d decided I was definitely going to the reading, and I sent an email to J.H., the Director of Publicity for the NEHW. He’d been sending out the word that he was looking for a head-count, trying to see how many readers he would have and allocating space at the sale table. I wasn’t looking to do any reading or selling (I had no idea how the sale table would actually work), but I wanted to let him know I was going to be there to meet and support the people who would be reading and selling, and maybe help out behind-the-scenes. He sent back an email saying he’d be glad to meet me, and not to be silly, just bring down what, if anything, I had to sell.

At the last minute I did grab a box of books I have — five copies of The Ghost IS the Machine — and tossed it in the back seat.

When I got there I wandered about a little, met a few people, and checked out the situation. If you were hoping I’d be going off on how odd someone looked, you know, all goth or tattooed or something (I mean, this was a gathering of Horror writers, right?), well, I’m sorry to disappoint you. Everyone looked surprisingly normal. J.H. was glad to see me, as apparently a few people who had signed on to be there had failed to show up, citing the imminent arrival of Hurricane Sandy as their excuse.

Did I mention that? There was a hurricane on the way? Couldn’t turn on the television or radio all that day without some talking head going on about it, so I guess they had a pretty good excuse there. It did mean, however, that the reading was a little short of actual readers.

For those of you who have never been to a reading/signing event (and as I said, up until last Sunday that group would have included me) and might not be sure what I’m talking about, it’s rather simple really. A group of authors get together and read excerpts of their work to a watching audience in the hopes of enticing the audience to purchase some of the books they’ve carted along.

Now, thanks to J.H. I had brought my five books, and what with the dearth of participants there was plenty of room on the sale table. He explained how everything worked, and sent me out to the car to get my books. It looked like I was going to be taking part in the sale after all! I brought them in and we set them up on the table… and then J.H. asked me about a reading.


“Yeah, just something, if you like.”

I looked at the gathering audience. “Well, from this?” I pointed at The Ghost IS the Machine.

“Yes. Something about five minutes, a little less, something like that? Maybe?”

“Well…” I picked up my Nook. “I have the book in here too. I’ll have a look and see if I can find something, okay?”

That was the end of it. I looked through the book, looked through my story in the book, trying to locate a suitable passage. Something of the proper length, maybe with some good dialog, and a nice sort of cliff-hangery spot to stop. I thought I had found one, possibly, but before I could really think about it they were calling the audience to take their seats. I went with the crowd, choosing a spot in the middle of the audience with a good view of the podium. J.H. stood up there and got things started.

“Hi everyone! I’m J.H., and welcome to this reading by the New England Horror Writers.”

He told us that there would be a few authors reading from some of their works, and that said works would be available for purchase at the sale table. He began mentioning each author by name as he held up their books, so they would be more easily identifiable for later. Some of the book covers looked really cool, and I was looking forward to hearing the excerpts the individual writers had chosen. I was wondering if there was some way I could let J.H. know that I might have found something to read myself when he held up one last book.

“…and Rob will be reading from his story in this anthology, The Ghost IS The Machine.”

Whoa! So much for just quietly watching the proceedings and getting a feel for the thing! I was selling! I was reading! In front of an audience!

Terrific. Good thing I had found a bit I thought would work.

The reading progressed, and everyone’s work sounded great. Everyone seemed comfortable behind the podium, everyone looked relaxed reading in front of a crowd.

I, on the other hand, felt slightly nauseous.

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Suddenly it was my turn. I stood and made my way from the audience to the podium, Nook in hand. I had made certain it was on and set to the correct page, which was about as much preparation as I could think to make — other than a trip to the bathroom, which had suddenly become a somewhat urgent need, but it was way too late for that. I introduced myself to the audience, and told them this was my first public reading. I then made a circular gesture to indicate my entire face.

“This is what ‘nervous’ looks like.”

That got a laugh. I described the book, saying it was a collection of stories from different authors, all about haunted things. Everything from typewriters to pianos to a pair of futuristic cybernetic eyes, these stories would make you think twice the next time your phone dropped a call or your computer went on the fritz.

“My story,” I told them, “is about a camera.”

I opened the cover of the Nook and started reading. I was about a third of the way through the section I had chosen and just hitting my stride, doing pretty well I thought, when right there in front of the audience, in the middle of the reading, my Nook shut down.

Queue the flop sweat.

“Ha-ha, that’s terrific,” I said to the waiting audience, “my Nook just shut down. Just a minute…”

I was frantically stabbing at buttons and screen, trying to bring the machine back and certain this was turning out to be a minor disaster, when J.H.’s voice piped up from the back of the room.

“It’s haunted!”

Hell, even I laughed at that.

By the time the audience had finished laughing my little screen was covered with words again and I picked up where I had left off. The crisis was averted, and I think the audience liked me all the better for the stumble. Eventually the reading ended and the sale table opened, and I actually sold some books. I wound up having a great time, and met some terrific people, and it was quite a different experience from the one I’d expected when I walked in the door. I’m looking forward to the next event I can attend.

Thanks, J.H.

Talk to you later!

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