June 15, 2009

Better to not know.

Saturday, I left the house for Davis-Kidd with my bag of books. I planned for a couple hours of sitting at a table with those books and a pen, and watching people walk by. You know – just like I did at Books-a-Million a few weeks ago. (Only, when I went to Books-a-Million, I thought I’d be doing a reading and had spent a good amount of time agonizing over which passages to read. My uncle even got involved, helping  me out by marking passages and pages he thought he, as an audience member, would like to listen to.)

When I got to Davis-Kidd, I walked around upstairs, didn’t see a table, went downstairs, and saw a bunch of chairs set up (for a children’s storybook reading, or a later author event, I figured). I went back upstairs and asked where the local authors would be sitting and signing.

The woman at the counter directed me downstairs to another woman, and the other woman told me I and another local author, Shawna M. Harrison (author of My True Soul Exploited, Apprehended, and Broken Within – nonfiction story of Shawna’s experience with so much abuse it hurts to imagine), would be at that table in front of all those chairs.

“Are we supposed to read?” I said.

“Oh, you can do whatever you want. I know Shawna plans to read.”

Oh. Uhhh…

Reading terrifies me. Being in front of people, talking in front of people,  is terrifying. I am not unique in this, I know – I’m just saying. In grad school, writers I took a workshop with would read their poems and prose in coffee shops. While they read, I’d sit at a table by the wall with a big cup of coffee. In support. Always in support. I tried to weasel my way out of reading when it was time to present my thesis, but the MFA director wouldn’t have it. “You have to do it,” he said.

It was a disaster.

That was in 2003, and between then and now, I’ve not read a thing to anyone. Until the WKMS interview, when I read a paragraph of Homefront for Mark Welch (and the listening public). But that was different, because there weren’t people sitting in front of me. Looking at me.

And yes, I used to teach classes, but throwing general information at students is not quite the same experience as sitting in front of people – peers, even –  with your own writing and reading it to them.

Before it was time to read, Shawna was walking around the store somewhere, and I sat behind the table flipping frantically through Homefront until I found the passages my uncle and I had picked out.

When it came time to read, Shawna and I muttered, “You want to go first?” “No, you can go first,” and before anything was really decided, Shawna announced to the four people in the audience that I would be reading first. (Thaaaanks…)

So, I did. The first passage, I shook a lot and didn’t breathe very much.  I had to inhale somewhere toward the end. The second passage, I was a little better, and by the third (and final), I was reading the paragraph I’d practiced for the radio. I had that one down.

Shawna was brilliant. She seemed comfortable reading, comfortable talking, comfortable simply being in front of people. (I haven’t mentioned, yet, how cool she is…I couldn’t have been paired with a better person for my first unexpected,  and therefore impromptu, reading.)

After the reading, people started showing up and sitting down and taking part in a discussion about what influenced the books, what our next books were, what advice we had for writers.

Then, when it was time for people to come forward and snatch up all our books, there was an incredible cluster imbalance: Shawna’s side – cluster. My side – empty.

Totally empty.

Luckily, I’d stood alone at tables with my books before, so it wasn’t a big deal. And Bev, who works at Davis-Kidd, was kind enough to walk over and ask me questions so I’d look occupied (thanks, Bev).

In all, it was a great experience. I got to meet Shawna, first of all. She even touched my arm at one point to tell me something, and said, “Oh! There’s muscle there.”

“Yes. Yes there is,” I said.

Second, there’s no better way to get a dreaded reading out of the way than to do it without knowing it’s coming.

And, bonus – I got to go home with this (unframed, however):

(What came to my attention when I saw this sign is that there’s a recurring liberty-taking with my name. Here, they leave out my middle initial. It doesn’t matter (seriously), but it’s interesting, because they left Shawna’s in. The name on my book is written as Kristen J. Tsetsi. So…where’s my J? Also, when fiction writers submitted their stories to American Fiction, some of them would address their letters to “Kris.” When I write reviewers (or when, in the past, I sent letters to agents), they often respond to me with “Kris” even though I sign my name as “Kristen.” [Note, in response to Robin’s comment below: funny thing is, I actually prefer Kris! I just find it funny when, in written correspondence, people assume the nickname.] And the Army Wife Network, in their advertisement of my book for their book club, calls me “Karen Tsetsi.” Right next to the cover image of my book, upon which is written “Kristen Tsetsi” It’s just strange!)

P.S. Some copies of  Homefront came home with me (the store bought the rest for their shelves). If you’d like a signed copy, click here.

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Join the conversation! 3 Comments

  1. Kristen:

    Decades ago, in another life, I was instructed by my superior to attend a meeting of juvenile probation officers. It was my first time. When I arrived and settled down in the conference room, one of them asked what I, as a representative of another government agency that dealt with juvenile offenders, planned to discuss that day. Nonplussed, I probably laughed a little, until the person told me I was their featured speaker that month. Fortunately, it was a small group and I was able to bluff my way through the talk. As you said, the lack of warning kept me from being nervous. In retrospect, it was probably a good thing.

    I’m sure my former boss had become accustomed to slackers who used every possible excuse to avoid the meetings. He might have felt his strategy was justified. Otherwise, he was a nice guy. I forgave him. Not that I had a choice.

    Great job on all the recent book publicity! I think you’re beginning to enjoy it. (smiling)

    Thanks for clearing up the matter of how you like to be addressed. In Microsoft Outlook, your email address automatically displays on my screen as “Kris Tsetsi,” and sometimes you sign email that way. Those of us on the receiving end might take that as a cue to refer to you as Kris.

    I usually rely on a person’s email signature, which is often automatically generated along with a mailing address, phone number, URL, and tagline. When I have multiple choices, I tend to pick the name most prominently displayed in the email message or the paper correspondence. In fact, if I’ve received printed and electronic communication from someone, you can bet I’ll go back to the electronic messages when I need to confirm spellings, URLs, etc. The digital copies are easier for me to retrieve.

    Your previous posts were fun. Another blogger once suggested old diary entries as blogging prompts. I looked at mine and found absolutely nothing worth sharing, which makes me wonder what sort of teenagers are prodigious fiction writers. Any ideas?

    Reply
  2. Probably the teenagers who think they have things to complain about. 🙂

    Reply
  3. This reminds me of the 1994 World Horror Convention in Niagara Falls when I accidentally signed myself up to give a reading from Night Watchman. I didn’t even know I was scheduled for a reading until I got there, without any material with me (it was unpublished at the time). I got someone in my office to fax me the first several pages and read them, but I was a wreck the whole time. I haven’t done any readings since then.

    Reply

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About Kris Tsetsi

Kristen J. Tsetsi is the author of the novels "Pretty Much True..." and "The Year of Dan Palace" and the short fiction collection "20 Short Stories," all published under the name Chris Jane. Website: http://kristenjtsetsi.com

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