Confession: I haven’t read my stories in public since 1999. But I’m reading at tonight’s Lit Crawl. So I’m a bit nervous. And I can’t figure out what to read.
The 1999 reading was hosted by the Berkeley Fiction Review at a Barnes & Noble. There was a healthy crowd of erudite folks, most of them wearing stylish intellectual eye wear. I brought two stories: one was a lyrical flash fiction piece (“Heat,” which was later published in Word Riot), and the other was a chapter from a novel I was working on at the time, a gritty urban tale involving lots of sordid activities which befell my hapless, lost protagonist.
I decided to read the more daring piece, the chapter from my novel. I read into a microphone, but I didn’t really think of the sound traveling through the entire store. Afterward some of the folks in fine spectacles came up to me to tell me how much they liked the piece, and all seemed good. But then as I was walking out, a woman tugged my elbow. “Don’t you know there are kids in here,” she said.
She was right. My piece wasn’t the best for those in the kids’ section. It didn’t exactly rhyme with anything in Dr. Seuss, and Babar was long forgotten by my main character. It was a good lesson: always read a story that’s appropriate for the setting.
So I’m sitting here at Philz in an over-caffeinated state trying to decide to read what to read at tonight’s Lit Crawl event. I’m so damn honored to be reading with the likes of Pamela Painter, Meg Pokrass, Frances Lefkowitz, and Jane Ciabarti. I admire their writing so much that, well, it’s hard to imagine reading alongside them.
Since 100 Word Story is hosting the event, I’m not considering reading any novel chapters or longish short stories. The thing is that I’ve written about 150 100-word stories, so reading through them to decide which one to read is one daunting “Sophie’s Choice” moment. It’s hard to get rid of my darlings.
The one bit of advice I received was to read something funny because Lit Crawl can be raucous. Good advice, except I don’t really have anything that’s funny. (Note to self: start writing some light, humorous pieces).
I’m deciding whether to read a sampling of 100-word pieces so folks get an idea of the form or to read The Filmmaker: Eight Takes, a series of eight 100-word pieces that appeared in eclectica a while back.
While reading through my pieces, though, I had an intriguing epiphany: I tell more than I show in these pieces. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad—I don’t necessarily adhere to the “show, don’t tell” school of writing—but it’s something to be more conscious of when I write, as in does telling serve the story or would a little more showing behoove me.
The nice thing about doing an event like this is that the pressure of preparing for them forces this type of scrutiny and observation. I have to think about how I’m going to read each piece, so I notice things I didn’t notice when writing. I wonder if I’ll notice other things while reading tonight.
It’s hard not to be nervous. But the only way to learn is to put yourself out there and risk embarrassment. At least there will be plenty of wine to drink. I know because I’m bringing it.