First, let me say that I’ve had plenty of amazing audiences and great experiences reading. This isn’t about wallowing in the hard life of an author. I’m lucky, I know that. What I mean to do is share a few awkward reading stories in the spirit of fun. So here’s a recap of five of the more nightmarish ones, in no particular order:
1) The readings I gave with Bronchitis (in Texas) are right up there…I’ll lump them all together because the whole week was a blur, anyway. I was away from home, sick, and expected to socialize after it took everything I had to read without coughing, to force my battered voice to be loud (again!) without a microphone. That was also when I got viral induced asthma that made me think I was dying. Generally a whole big barrel of laughs.
2) The reading at a small feminist bookstore was sort of fun in an awful way–with all of two people in attendance and the Madonna of lesbian porn looking over my shoulder as I read.
3) There was that reading at a Polish conference where…well…not to overshare, but Aunt Flo made an unexpected visit and I had NOTHING in my purse, and so I’m desperately feeding quarters into a broken down machine that turned out to be empty, (while a line forms outside the door), and I’m wearing the absolutely wrong undergarments for this whole enterprise anyway…and well, that one was nightmare #3.
4) The reading to the “writers group” that told me only after I’d said yes that they meet at a Waffle House in Buffalo and so I had something like fried liver and onions and sat beside the only “published author” who had written and self-published the story of his mother’s cat (or some such) and we read while the waitresses all cleaned up around us, clanking dishes and walking in between us as we read, and not one person bought a book but everyone was crazy talking endlessly about themselves and their projects and standing too close while talking earnestly and rapidly, even talking while following me out to my car.
5) But today may have taken the cake. (Here’s a quirky preamble: I decided to run a quick mile on the treadmill before getting ready–take the edge off my nerves. As I’m running, I entertain this morbid fantasy about tripping and knocking my front teeth out and then giving a toothless reading. Haha, right?) So, I shower and try on ten different outfits before I settle on the right one, change shoes (and socks) four times, print out directions, and then go, narrowly missing a collision when Humboldt Parkway–on which I need to turn–is UNMARKED and I dash across two lanes of traffic to get there (sorry white Corolla). The reading is for a group of Western, NY Food Bank folks, and is to take place after lunch (served by them). Always careful about what I eat immediately before giving a reading, I take a bit of salad and a tuna salad croissant. That seems safe. As I’m eating the salad, though, I crunch down on a rock (or something) and get the heebie-jeebies (I’m really fond of my whole, healthy teeth), but everything seems okay, so I take the rock out (which is oddly white and shiny) and set it on my plate and keep eating. Then I take a nice cold drink of Sprite and HOLY CRAP! That was no rock, that was what was left of my tooth and now I have this bizarre, jagged hole that my tongue keeps finding and obsessing over and this Buddhist monk is talking to me very intently about something and I can’t hear a word he’s saying because my brain is screaming TOOTHTOOTHTOOTHohmygodTOOTH and I have to go on in less than five minutes. So I excuse myself and go the bathroom and check the mirror (sigh) and quickly call my husband to see if he can get me an appointment at the dentist for tomorrow morning, and then I perform with this half-tooth distracting me with its sharp edges and aching pain and I’m certain I’m now lisping and every time I take a big deep breath at the end of a paragraph, yowza! I muddled through it, but I was not at my best and really just wanted to curl up in the corner and cry for my poor little lost tooth. (I still have it in my pocket. It’s so pretty.)
The things we do because the show must go on…So…come on. Someone must have something bigger and more horrendous to cheer me up with…please?
5 responses to “5 quick horror stories for authors”
Sorry I can’t make you feel better with a more tragic tale. I actually went to reading today with one of our authors and 60 people showed, we sold over 30 books, and they fed us. And the dessert was damn good. Sorry, Mary. Hope you get the tooth thing taken care of. Damn.
Oh, Kevin, I can’t believe that’s all you’ve got for me. No food poisoning? No broken high heel? No fatwa? Sheesh. Well, I guess we still have AWP…
You poor thing! I’ve had nightmares about that kind of thing!
One thing that did happen to me, many, many years ago, was not at a reading–I wasn’t writing yet–but when I was teaching English overseas. My teaching partner and I had only been in Russia a few weeks when one of the teachers asked us to sing at a “small party.” Sing?!? Us?!? We were young, stupid, and eager to please. So, we prepared “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and, even though we both had horrible colds, we arrived at the “little party” and found an auditorium crammed full of people!! Oh, it was awful…but very, very funny…
Hahaha, I love it, Susan. I least I haven’t had to sing yet. 🙂
Oh no!!!!! You are amazing for soldering on like that!
In grade school, I made it through an entire chorus concert with my dress completely unzipped – whole backside showing – and no one told me. So I have some long lingering zipper related fears and always need to double check my clothes before I get up in front of people. Amazing how hard it is to shake stuff like that.