The Night You Read with One of Your Favorite Authors

I wanted to tell you about last week, Wednesday night. It was probably the best experience at a book event that I’ve ever had.

I was excited to be invited to read at the wonderful Fantastic Fiction at KGB reading series, hosted by Ellen Datlow and Matthew Kressel and held, once a month, at the awesomely red-tinged KGB Bar in the East Village. It was such an honor to be asked to read in the series, and all the more so because the author I’d be paired with that night is one of my absolute favorites… an author whose books I love, who actually (this really happened) blurbed my own novel and has taught me so much about this industry, this complex and crazy life of being an author, and inspires me as a writer: Libba Bray.

Libba, as sweet as she is, decided to read new work in solidarity, since I’d told her I would be reading an excerpt from my novel-in-progress. Plus, she was kind and accommodating when I begged to go first. (All the better to get it over with, and sit back and relax after, and enjoy her reading!)

Here we are in the nerve-wracking moments before I took the podium to read my pages:

(Photo by Ellen Datlow)
(Photo by Ellen Datlow)

Here we are trying to be frightening (I am not so convincing):

with libba scary
(Photo by Ellen Datlow)

Here I am reading, though doesn’t it look like I’m singing an aria here?

(Photo by Ellen Datlow)
(Photo by Ellen Datlow)

Here I am reading in the red-tinged light—this gives you a sense of the mood of the place, which I loved:

(Photo by Matthew Kressel)
(Photo by Matthew Kressel)

And here’s the wonderful moment in which I can breathe again and relax and listen to Libba read from The Diviners #2: Lair of Dreams—and she was phenomenal. Truly phenomenal. I absolutely cannot wait to read this book when it comes out. If you haven’t read book #1 yet, you must remedy that right now.

libba reading

I should explain why this felt like probably the best book event I’ve ever done: I love readings. I love to do them, and I love to hear them. Reading with Libba was thrilling, comforting, and exciting. KGB was the perfect space. And, most of all, I’d chosen to be brave this night—I’d chosen to read new work never before uttered aloud in front of other humans. I took a risk. And I’m so glad I did.

After I read the last words on my page, I remember how everyone broke out into a wave of applause, embarrassing but also delighting me. The response after my reading was incredible. The comments I got, the emails, the wonderful things people said. Thank you. E at my side, telling me I did good. And most of all: my own sense of accomplishment. I’d done a scary thing—and I even enjoyed it.

After, one of the kind people from my literary agency who came to see the reading said to me: Didn’t I say I get nervous? I mean, I blogged all about my nerves over public events and my deep shyness, didn’t I? That’s all true. But also true is that I’ve worked hard to be able to stand up in front of a room full of people—friends and professional contacts and fellow authors I so desperately want to be like and strangers among them—and be able to read words I wrote. It’s taken years to be comfortable in my own skin doing this (or at least comfortable enough to hide the nerves so they don’t show!). And I’m really so proud of how far I’ve come.

Readings are easier for me because the words are all down there on the page. I don’t have to improvise; I already did all the work of writing it. And when I say the words out loud, it sounds just like the book sounds in my own head.

I followed my own advice in that post I wrote, and I also didn’t. I did get a new shirt (though kind of hilarious that the shirt is a lot like other shirts I have already…) and I dressed for comfort; I did practice beforehand, at home in my apartment to the walls; I did eat a few hours before so I wouldn’t be light-headed; I even sent out that cringe-worthy email to friends and acquaintances telling them about the reading and hoped against hope that a few of them would show up so it wouldn’t be an embarrassment that no one came to see me. (Some friends did come; they actually did! Thank you, friends!)

But the advice I didn’t follow was this: I didn’t give myself options in what to read. I had a feeling that if I walked up to that podium with two choices: the scary new work that’s never been read before and the published work I’ve read and talked about numerous times, that I’d, well, I’d chicken out. I’d show myself to be a coward. I would have panicked in the moment, and I wouldn’t have read those new words.

So I left 17 & Gone and Imaginary Girls at home and I walked up to that podium with only one possible thing to do and say.

An added bonus: Thanks to this night, thanks to the response and the fact that I was actually courageous enough to do it, I feel a new sense of excitement about this novel. As I said at the reading, The Walls Around Us is due to come out in 2015. I’m still writing it. Everything can change between then and now, including every word I read that night, and even the book’s title.

But the electricity I felt while reading from it for the first time will never go away.

Thank you to everyone who came to see me. Thank you to Ellen and Matt for inviting me to read. Thank you to KGB Bar and WORD Bookstore for selling books. And thank you to Libba Bray.

The Fantastic Fiction at KGB series recently held a Kickstarter and now has enough funding to run for the next five years! It’s held the third Wednesday of every month at the KGB Bar in the East Village, and next month, on September 18, the featured readers are Christopher Barzak and Catherynne M. Valente.

As for me, it’s now time to relax and focus solely on writing, because I have no more public appearances until February 2014. I’ll be on a panel (with fellow authors Stephanie Kuehnert, Micol Ostow, Laurel Snyder, and Sara Zarr!) at the AWP Conference in Seattle, so maybe I’ll see you there and then.

Extra Little Announcement:

Do you want to take a YA novel writing class with me? I am leading a workshop and retreat in February 2014 at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in Northern California. Applications are now open—and the deadline is October 18. APPLY! 

If you have questions about the workshop, feel free to email me directly.

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