Breaking the Shell: Sharing my Work in Public (Again)

Writing takes time.  Good writing takes even longer.  If you do any writing for leisure, you can consider yourself a writer.  My grandfather often points to me, out of his eight grandchildren, as the writer in the family, because I write novels in my spare time.  He writes memoirs, and these are a gift to his grandchildren every Christmas.  He may not think of himself as such, but he is a writer, too.  Of course, there are certain aspects of the craft that he might not do as much as a typical fiction writer, such as editing or fretting over word choice, but he certainly can write.  His memoirs are frequently entirely in capital letters, but that’s a different story altogether.  He is a writer because he shares insights about a world that are lost to people of my generation; he has a tale to tell, and he uses the written word to tell it.

In this way, my grandfather is much more of a writer than I am.  I have written fiction for many years.  Many of the short stories that I’ve written are lost due to the burnt silicon of years past, and other works are still floating around my hard drive, looking for an ending.  I have two completed novels, one that has been edited, and one that is in need of a 33% reduction in length.  I also have enough incomplete novels to keep me busy for years. Outside of me, my wife, and a number of beta readers, I have not leaked any of these projects out to the public.  In fact, not counting the time I read a portion of my current work-in-progress to some fellow writers in a crowded restaurant, I hadn’t publicly shared any portion of my writing projects for about five years — that is, until yesterday.  For the first time since college, I’ve joined a writing group that has a regular meeting schedule, established rules, and a consistent following.  Yesterday, while most of the poets in the group were likely attending a festival called “The Celebration of the Muse,” I stood up in front of a sparse crowd of memoir writers and poets and shared my current work in progress, tentatively titled “Their Sharpest Thorns.”

I was one of the last readers of the day.  Considering how much others had shared, and how much free time we had, I could have read much more, but I kept myself true to the group’s designated time limit of 5 to 8 minutes.  As the new guy, I stuck as close as I could to the five minute mark.

Before I go on about my own writing, I’d like to share some thoughts about what I’d previously heard.  Before I got up to the podium, I’d heard one woman describe living in abject poverty in the midst of Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl era, another woman described learning to drive on one of the most treacherous roads in the region with her three siblings in the back seat, and a third described having her wallet stolen from her hostel on the first morning in a strange land.   These are three experiences that I have no real grounds for understanding.  California, and particularly the Bay Area, was booming throughout my childhood. I learned to drive on an empty country road, and waited months before I drove down Highways 5  and 99 for my first long trip by car.  I’ve never been out of the country on my own, and never spent the night in a hostel.  I’ve heard several people state this, but there is an entire generation that has never experienced war of the magnitude of WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.  There is still a lack of social justice in the World, but the fight is different than what the world “we” saw in the 1960s, even if it is the same fight, but a different venue.  Sharing those differences, whether it is a difference of time, socioeconomic status, gender, race, or anything else that makes you unique is one way of providing others with a perspective of what it means to be you.

As for my experience, it’s a little different.  When I write, I attempt to convey stories and illustrate characters.  On Saturday, I was the lone fiction writer, and my reading was nestled between two expressive and enthralling poets.  These two men, like most of the others in this group, are each at least twice my age.  They lived through the Summer of Love, and they saw friends and neighbors go off to fight battles on foreign soil.

The man immediately preceding me has a wry and capricious wit.  The other poet jokingly categorized his friend’s work as almost pornographic.  I wouldn’t go that far, but it was something that my parents wouldn’t have wanted me to hear when I was a child.  That said, it was very clever, and his use of wordplay, and the absurd personification of an MP3 player, was a treat.  “Ike,” or whatever his actual name might have been, served as a gentle reminder prior to my own presentation of the power of timeliness in wording.

After Ike presented, I stood up.  I was already talking, sharing a little bit about myself before I made it to the lectern.  This, is a presentation no-no, as a pregnant pause at the lectern reminds people that the chatter has ended and the presentation is about to begin.  It reminds you that your time as the audience has ended and that it is now your time to shine.  I forgot that, and needed a gentle reminder, after the fact, that I needed to do this in order to have better command over the room.

When I started, I blew through introducing myself and introducing my work so quickly that I was easily ten seconds ahead of when I’d timed myself earlier.  I was stumbling over words that I’d read several times (out loud to my wife, out loud to my cat, and in my head multiple times).  I knew that I needed to slow down.  I think I gained a little more command of the piece as I went through, but the nerves and “rust” were slow to slough away. By the time I’d run out of words to say, I felt spent.  I think the only adverb that I could use to describe my amble back to my seat would be “drunken.”  I was humbled as I took my seat in the midst of the seasoned vets, but their applause and comments were very supportive, and I knew that I hadn’t completely swayed from my intent.

After I sat down, the moderator, poet Keith Emmons, had a few kind words, and began reading from his own work.  As a spoken word poet, Mr. Emmons is enthralling, and it reminded me of how a talented rhapsode can evoke such interest in their words based solely on their delivery.  Through his poetry, as well as his delivery, he shared the essence of what it is to live the bohemian life in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  He was also there to pitch his book of poetry, Moondrifter Reverie.  I have heard Keith speak several times, enough to become familiar with his style.  I was happy to order his book.  I’m not a poetry critic, but I may share some of my findings once I receive my copy.

Moondrifter Reverie is available from Red Mountain Press of Santa Fe, NM.

—-

You may be curious about what I’ve shared.  At this point, I’ll just leave you with a synopsis of this scene from “Their Sharpest Thorns”:

An aging small-town sheriff is faced with his first major case in years; several people have died due to particularly grisly, ritual murders in his town.  He has just come from the scene of the first murder, where he recovered the body of a backpacker.  He already has another backpacker in his custody.  Is she the killer? He sincerely hopes that the answer is no.

—-

On a somewhat unrelated note, my company is hosting a conference this week.  For this reason, I may not be able to get to comments or follow-up posts until later this week. Wednesday’s blog post may be delayed. I hope that this conference will generate some useful tidbits that will cut from my career to my passion.  We’ll have to see.   I will announce my next blog publication through the appropriate channels as soon as it occurs.

Photo courtesy of Congerdesign via Pixabay. Creative Commons license.

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