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About Yesterday's Reading

Before I say anything else, I do have to mention that it was enormously fun. I really do like being on a microphone, having the attention of people who aren't expecting to interact with me, just to listen. That's great.

The whole thing just...wasn't what I expected.

For one thing, before the reading I interacted with Ann Arbor barely at all. I got there at about five minutes of seven, and for the twenty-five minutes before I went on, we exchanged about five sentences. She was spending her time looking over music, and while she was effusive that I had brought my own soundbed, she really didn't ask me many questions. That wasn't terrible, as I'm not really terribly civic-minded that early in the morning. It was just, as I said, not what I'd expected.

The other thing was that I was a dj at a college radio station years ago, and my recollection was something like this: I got in at five for my six-to-ten shift and filled in my sheet with all the music I was going to play. I had a format I was roughly supposed to follow, and our sheets were color coded to match the stickers on the albums we played from. We had to play pink stuff in the 00-20 segment, green stuff in the 20-40 segment, purple stuff in the 40-00 segment. We had to play two PSAs per hour (quarter past and quarter to) and do station identification at the top and bottom of every hour. So, by six o'clock, I knew EXACTLY what I was going to be playing. Once my shift was over, I listened to new tracks, cut commercials with my producer, etc.

The format at this station didn't seem so...formal. It seemed much more like Strong Bad's assessment of college radio: "Dead air. Um. Dead air." There were long, awkward pauses where she was staring at the cd case trying to figure out the name of the album she had just played. I thought that, considering that she's been doing this a while, she'd be better at it. Again, not terrible, just not what I'd expected.

The part that made me the most uncomfortable was the fact that I hadn't gotten one sentence into my story when she left the booth entirely, and didn't come back until after I was done. I didn't expect that at all, and for the last two paragraphs of my reading I was distracted by thinking "what am I going to do if she doesn't come back before my music ends?" I was prepared to vault over the board and just take over.

Once the reading was over and a guest dj came into the booth, she came out and made me a cd and was really friendly and nice. We had a good chat and I was a little more awake and relaxed. She made the very observant comment that the Nanos as a whole weren't really doing a very good job of selling their stories, meaning that we weren't describing them in a way that really did them justice. All of us had told her one thing about our stories, but the readings themselves revealed them to be something very different. That made me think that it might be instructive if, when doing our submissions, we get some other of our number to help out with the description part of the story.

The only other weird thing was that at one point, I asked her how many more Nanos she had on the schedule. She told me she had four more, and then added that "some girl" had written to her late wanted to be included but told her that she hadn't won this year, and she had told the girl thanks but no thanks because she didn't want anyone who hadn't won. She wanted "the real deal." I read the posts that "Song" had put up in the appropriate forum, and she said that Ann Arbor had told her that there wasn't room in the schedule. I was a little discouraged that she wasn't honest about that. I think that it's a perfectly legitimate criteria, and that she could have put it to Song without being nasty about it. Lying about it took her down a peg in my estimation.

All things considered, I'd do it again. And again, deluxe bonus thanks with cheese to lunacow for her diligence in putting up the MP3s.


Jan. 20th, 2005 07:40 pm (UTC)
Thanks for posting about your experience. I'll calibrate my expectations accordingly.

This was interesting:
She made the very observant comment that the Nanos as a whole weren't really doing a very good job of selling their stories, meaning that we weren't describing them in a way that really did them justice. All of us had told her one thing about our stories, but the readings themselves revealed them to be something very different.

I find that I don't do a very good job of describing my novels, despite the number of times that people have asked me what they're about. I think the description is sometimes biased by what I originally thought a story would be, rather than reflecting what it actually turned out to be. But in generally, it's just really hard to summarize an entire book in a sentence or two.
Jan. 20th, 2005 07:51 pm (UTC)
Exactly. I really consider my stories to be direct retellings of Greek myths, but apparently they don't come off as that.
Jan. 20th, 2005 11:23 pm (UTC)
And you might not want to market them as that anyway. You'll get a niche with that pitch (oh, lordy, I made a rhyme and didn't mean to!) but you'll turn off more, IMO.

Although, I have to say I thought your intro was great (haven't listened to the reading itself yet) and I thought you did a great job of selling your story. I was thinking, "Wow, that's interesting!" But if I were to pick up a book in a store that touted the stories inside as direct re-tellings of Greek myths, I'd put it down and move on.

I have a hard time selling my stories, too, and I agree it's very difficult. But it's also very necessary. In the paper today was a column about coming books for the year, and nearly every title was accompanied by a single sentence description (ex: "the tale of a woman who must raise her child alone while her husband spends decades in prison", "the struggles of a woman bereft after her husband's death in a traffic accident", "the story of a rural family in Depression Era Vermont", "[a story] set amid a massive London peace demonstration") You can bet these stories are far more complex and contain far more than these phrases would have you believe.

I think having someone else encapsulate the story for you is a good idea. Maybe a few someones, and then you can pick and choose the words and phrases you think fit best.
Jan. 20th, 2005 11:51 pm (UTC)
I wonder whether the whole "write what you know" thing is biting me in the ass. To me, Greek myths are as familiar and boring as the family stories that you hear over and over and over until when someone starts "Remember that time when..." you roll your eyes and groan.

But when I did a reading of Orfeo at my stepmother's birthday party, I found out that nobody knew the story. I don't know why this is the case, but it is. Maybe people think that they're hard or boring or too highbrow. But I see them as really amazing stories that are alive and interesting.

Maybe that's what I need to do. Peel it back to the stories themselves and let people figure out the obvious for themselves, like Apocalypse Now.
Jan. 21st, 2005 06:43 am (UTC)
My Maui writing teacher told me that she blatantly steals plots, but people rarely notice. I think that's a good trick.

Still haven't listened, but once I do I'll let you know if I recognize the story ;-)