Two days ago on June 10th, I officially spoke about Daughters of Silence in a public setting for the first time. Of course I’ve chatted with people about the book pretty much since I admitted I was working on one, but it’s always been in safe private scenarios, with no more than a bunch of people present, at most, or just in casual conversation. But this was my first EVENT. Ever. The occasion was the London Bookfair, in London Ontario (about two hours west of Toronto), which is attended by booksellers, librarians, etc. from throughout Ontario and organized by the Hornblower Group.
Basically it is a sales shindig. I was one of three authors who were present to give a short 5 – 10 minute talk about their upcoming book, not so much what their book is about as the ‘behind the scenes’ of what inspired it, its personal significance to us, real life influences, and so on. The idea is to entice the gathered buyers to not only grab the advance review copies available for the taking, but also read them, then be compelled order the book for their bookstores, libraries, etc. afterwards.
No small stakes those! And all I had to do was summarize a nearly 10 year creative and personal journey into minutes.
So, being incapable of going unprepared to almost any situation involving ‘the work’, and being of a theatre background as a writer and an actor (plus dabbling in stage managing), I rehearsed the shit out of my bit. I whittled it down to five key points I wanted to hit, and I had it down, the order, the key words, the accompanying anecdotes, etc. I rehearsed it in my sleep, in the shower, while cooking, etc., etc.
As the room filled up with potential buyers and the moment of speaking drew near, I remembered to breathe, feel my feet on the ground and more or less the rest of my body above, and most of all to focus on what was going on at present, not what I would have to do minutes from now. Oh, and I mentally patted myself on the back for accepting only water to drink until after my talk. I actually said no to wine. Hello, maturity!
First author spoke, a very well-known author who clearly had done this plenty of times, then it was my turn. I got up there and the moment I saw the roomful of faces that looked nothing like me, not in my peripheral vision anymore but all looking directly at me, the silken flow of words I had planned to say flew out the window.
And out came one completely unplanned bomb of an opener.
Which was understandably met with an awkward silence. CRICKETS.
Short-lived crickets, thankfully. I recovered within moments, and salvaged what was left of my little spiel, and even lived to genuinely listen to and enjoy the third author’s flawless presentation. Because the ‘me’ of a few years ago would have beat myself up over my having given a less-than-perfect performance, over my failure to think while a couple dozen people watched me expectantly. But I know that, given that it was my first time out, I didn’t do that bad. Thank you, therapy!
If nothing else, my opener (which shall forever remain unrepeated, by me anyway), was certainly memorable. I thought of how comedians bomb over and over again before they start to hit the sweet spot. (Let’s overlook the fact that I am not gunning to become a professional comedian!) And I thought also thank God there’s no videographic evidence! So what if I had a bumpy takeoff in perfect weather? Buyers still took all the review copies and asked me to sign them, and I had great conversations that indicated to me that people related to what I said after all – about webs of silence, about regaining one’s voice, about all the pain and secrets women take to their graves, about the mystery behind their life “choices”, and about parts of my personal history that I shared which I was afraid had been TMI but I guess it wasn’t. Chalk that up to habesha-ness. Our TMI meters are way on the side of TLI.
Lessons learned? Don’t change the game plan at the last minute based on what someone else is doing! Stick to what you have prepared! Don’t suddenly decide to improvise, this ain’t SNL! And, go all out and be a gleeful geek until your book is old news. Stop caring how you’ll look. Stop trying to play it cool. You ain’t no cucumber. You’re a pot of popping corn (notwithstanding your tendency to start fires whenever you try to make popcorn). Enjoy this time however you see fit! First-book-time will only come around once in a lifetime, like first love, first marriage, first flight, first dentist visit, first food poisoning, first high, first pap smear, first earthquake…
Hey even the Raptors missed glory by one point that night.
In closing, if you’re looking for me on a Monday night from now on, you’ll find me at a Toastmasters meet!