I worked up the courage to read a short piece of my fiction at the 2-minute open mic at the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference last month. I stood up in front of 150 people, all strangers, and read something I wrote that I hoped would paint a real scene in the minds of the listeners and elicit a laugh or two. Though I’ve spoken in public before, though I’ve advocated for clients when I was practicing law, though I don’t mind speaking up at meetings and gatherings, still I felt very afraid. This was my first public, in-person “outing” of my fiction writing; my first attempt to put myself in front of a roomful of strangers and include myself in the category known as “writer.” I could be well received. Or not.
So I stood up on the stage, the mic in front of me, facing the crowd, holding my paper, acutely conscious of the 2-minute time limit for my reading; not wanting my voice to shake; not wanting to fumble my words; not wanting hear the dreaded gentle “ping” of the wooden hammer on the brass bowl that says your time’s up and shut up; not wanting to to rush through and give that flat sing-song schoolchild-style reading that I know only too well from listening to the Superintendent read the speeches I wrote for her when I was Communications Director for a public school district. I’d tried as diplomatically as I could to suggest improvements in her reading skills and her delivery, but her ego prevented her from listening. So she stood at the podium time and time again and said what I’d written in an “I’m reading to you” voice whose inflection had nothing to do with the message that she was delivering, while I cringed in the back of the room. It was awful to hear. And those were only speeches, mind you; not fiction that’s supposed to move you, make you laugh, give you pause, somehow touch your emotions.
I had practiced, using a timer. I had remembered the advice that Linda Lowen, a fellow writer and Women At Woodstock alum, had given me a year ago; I made myself read the words as they should be heard – with pauses, with clear enunciation, with inflection. Linda had said, if doing all of that makes you go over the time limit, then don’t talk faster: edit. Edit brutally. Edit mercilessly. She said, “I know you love your words; we all love our words when we write. They’re your darlings. Kill your darlings. It’s the story, not your words. The story.” (At the end of the Women At Woodstock Writers Retreat last year, where Linda had coached our Writers in Process track, we all considered ordering commemorative t-shirts, with “Kill your darlings.” emblazoned across the chest.)
I had edited down and down again so that I could get all of my story said without running out of time. And now it was time to do that reading in public. Other than feeling out of breath for the first few lines because of nervousness, I read it as I had wanted to. And the reaction of the room was great. Good laughs. A group-wide “Ohhhh!” when I finished.
What a great experience.
Then a couple of weeks ago, I received an email from Susan Bono, the editor in chief of the Noyo River Review, who said the journal wanted to publish my piece in a new section they’ve created, called “A Good Two Minutes.” She also invited me to read my piece at the book launch reading/reception next May at Gallery Bookshop in Mendocino. So – I am proud to announce that my 2-minute story, my micro story, will be in print soon – my name above 334 words of fiction on the page, and (if I can make it up there again), I’ll have a public reading as an “official” author. I’ll keep you posted.