15 Minutes in the Spotlight

Yesterday evening I stood on a raised platform before rows of seats and read words I’d written out loud to few friends and mostly strangers. The light was on me, on the square where I stood, but not on the people in the audience, so when I looked out I saw only the faint outlines of their heads, the sense of them out there in front of me, waiting for me to say something. So I read. I read though my throat was dry. Read though I couldn’t see my E, and so our hand-signal arrangements would not help me now. Read without microphone. Read while standing instead of sitting on the stool for fear (realistic), that I might fall. Read though my left leg was inexplicably shaking. Read for 15 whole minutes—I know because I’d timed it beforehand. Read.

Then done, then actual applause.

Sounds terrifying—it actually wasn’t. I think I was more anxious beforehand wondering if anyone I knew would show up. My friends didn’t—busy or bad timing or sick. My family didn’t—too far away. But two VIPs did come, two people I most wanted to come: my DANI editor and her husband. Can you believe they came! I was so touched.

Not so terrifying when you’re up there. Not bad once you open your mouth and the words start pouring out. The words in question were from a short story that was once a part of a novel. I’m turning it into a story so I have more things to send out on submission. (I’m also toying with the idea of a page-1 rewrite with a kernel of the idea, turning it into a YA novel.) I should have said, before I started reading the pages, that I was reading an excerpt. Not a whole story. But I don’t know what I said. I was just suddenly standing up there reading. I looked out for E in the darkness—pretended I could see him—and just read to him.

People came up to me after to say nice things. That’s what happens when you read: Strangers hear you. They hear you. They comment, and they ask questions, and they tell you to make a movie based on your story, and they ask if it was real. So you can’t throw it away, can you? Thanks to yesterday, I am not going to throw those pages away.

(Fact is, some many months ago, I almost did.)

There were three other readers too—all so talented, and such good readers, I hope I held my own. Thank you to the magical person who organized this reading and asked me to take part. I am so thrilled I did it.

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