Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Unfinished Business #8: Other Mistakes That Weren't Made


Last Sunday, I delivered what I hope will be the first in a series of readings and speeches to promote my novel Dragon’s Ark  at the monthly meeting of the California Writers Club—Berkeley Branch.

I’m a trained actor with a Bachelor’s in Speech-Theatre (U.W.-Oshkosh) and I’ve spoken off and on over the years. I spent days preparing my reading selection and speech, rehearsing them once, twice, three times a day, timing them against the kitchen clock. On the last day, I realized it lacked music that would make some parts funnier and edited it some more.

Still, every time I get up in front of a crowd is, in a sense, like the first time. Butterflies stroked their wings against the lining of my belly, a hoard to draw Nabokov’s net from his bag. (Careful with the boots there, Professor!)

Still, it all went all right.

My lips did not freeze. My tongue did not swell and flop from my mouth. I did not forget to zip my fly and did not trip on my way to the podium. I did not forget to thank anyone immediately important, especially Elizabeth. I did not stand too close to the microphone. I did not stand too far away from the microphone. Nor I did I knock the microphone over with a grand, sweeping gesture.

My hat did not fly off to expose my bald scalp. No one demanded I take it off, either. Nor did it catch fire, like straw hats do.

I did not read from one of the more violent, grotesque sections of my book to this comparatively conservative--in the old non-debased sense--crowd. Nor did I read one of the more boring parts.

I did not mumble and I did not drool. Nor did I vomit, shake, cough, sneeze, or otherwise faint. I suffered no sudden muscle cramps.

I did not stumble over or gulp my words. I neither read too fast, nor read too slow. I did not lose my place. My reading did not go over time and neither did my follow-up speech. My explanation for why I wrote a Dracula novel--adapted from here—did not cause apparent offense, draw visible sneers and did not fail to bring at least some laughter where I hoped it would.

My mild Bela Lugosi impersonation did not sound like Sarah Palin’s.   

I do not think I came off as liking Dracula too much. Or too little.

I did not lose my way or stare numbly into space or anytime experience the falling sense of having nothing to say. I was not at a loss for words. I did not pick up too many and throw them about either.

No word was more than ten letters long.

The audience did not snort, they did not boo, they did not throw food. No one attacked the stage. I, in turn, attacked no one.

Most importantly, no one slept.

Not many questions were asked. I did not have to answer whether or not I was a vampire, though I answered anyway for the ten-cent chuckle. I did not have to answer whether I thought Gary Oldman made a better Dracula than Christopher Lee (Answer not given: Are you kidding!?); nor whether Gilbert

Gottfried should be cast as the lead in the movie version of my book.

When they applauded, I did not hit my head on the podium as I bowed. I did not say “Fuck you very much” instead of “Thank you very much.”

Nor did I refer to that day's main speaker, Matt Stewart, as "a hack." I did not trip as I left the podium or rush straight to the men’s room.

Afterward, I did not sell ten books. I did not sell seven. Of the checks made out to me, I altered none of them to pay for a chalet in Switzerland, a dacha in Russia, or a cottage in Somerset. I did not autograph my books with graceful flair, nor did I inscribe them with my initials instead of my long name.

(As Richard Nixon once said to Bruce Springsteen while Springsteen was signing autographs: “You know Bruce, it must be tough to have such a long name! I bet it makes it hard to sign autographs. President Eisenhower had a long name, too, and you know what he said to me once while signing autographs? He said, ‘Dick, you’re lucky you’ve got a short name!’”)

In short, unlike the Nixon Presidency and so much human history, nothing went wrong.

I wonder: Should I do it again?

Copyright 2011 by Thomas Burchfield
Photo by Elizabeth Burchfield

Thomas Burchfield's contemporary Dracula novel Dragon's Ark  is available right NOW, published by Ambler House Publishing and can be ordered through your local independent bookstore, through Amazon, Barnes and Noble and will be available as an e-book by the end of April. Other essays and postings can also be read at The Red Room website for writers. He can also be friended on Facebook, tweeted at on Twitter and e-mailed at tbdeluxe [at] sbcglobal [dot] net.


DorianTB said...

Don't be down on yourself, Thom, this happens to everyone who's just getting into the swing of author signings/appearance. My friend and former boss, nonfiction author David Hajdu, has had these kind of lukewarm experiences when appearing at book signings. One just has to stick with it and not take the frustrating aspects personally. If it's any help, for future reference, contact your local newspapers and Web sites to alert readers to your upcoming signings; they love to cover local folks who have something to say or a book or other product to promote, and you can often get the coverage for free! Heck, even I got covered in my local papers and Web sites back in 2005, when I won tickets to the World Premiere of Peter Jackson's remake of KING KONG. I dined out on that for months! :-) Don't be discouraged, my friend; just keep looking for ways (free, if possible :-)) to draw positive attention to your book and appearances. We're rooting for you!

Anonymous said...

Good posting today. Light-hearted. Glad the reading went well. Seven book sales is good Kemble Scott tells me he averages four. Stay on the job and line up other bookstores. People tell me you have 90 days and then you are old news. Elizabeth took a good pic--one that you could use in your promo stuff. AL

Thomas Burchfield said...

Thanks, AL! Actually I sold three. It was seven *not* sold. I guess all those negative statements get confusing after awhile.

Ninety days . . . ? Really . . . ? That's all . . . ? Yikes, that'll pass quick.