Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Peep Show

If sex sells so well, why don't we see more pictures of authors naked?

I mean, they have the firefighter calendars (no, evilkev isn't allowed to pose) and they have policeman calendars. Why not author calendars? I could just imagine JA Konrath holding the manual of his words of wisdom over his...what's the phrase de jour? Manhood? Is this where I say it's a good thing he doesn't need mu...

Okay, maybe I'd better not say that. Not where he can read it, anyway. But aren't you all dying to know if Stuart MacBride really does have both nipples pierced, or just one?*

Now, if you're wondering where this is going, and if it's anywhere intelligent, likely not. But I've had a lot of things going through my mind the past few days, and one of them is about the extraneous job requirements authors face.

When you start out, usually it's the love of writing, of storytelling, that's compelling you. But when you start to think about selling work and being published, you have to think about book signings and speaking on panels, public readings and such.

People who know me reasonably well usually can't comprehend how shy I can be, especially with strangers. The Blog is one thing - I can say anything here. I'm not making anyone read it. I don't have to see how you react (unless you kindly leave me a comment). But this is a very controlled medium of communication.

I was recently on a panel, talking about Harrogate, and one of the questions I was asked was how you could register to just go to one session instead of the whole thing. I was sitting there thinking, "Why would anyone from Canada go to the UK for one panel? WTF?" See what I mean? Public setting = no control. And then you say things, like Mark Billingham's admission that he generally leaves about 15 minutes for sex on a panel at Harrogate, and people never forget.

Which made me really unsure how to respond when he said he'd give me 15 minutes this year...^

I did a reading of my work last year and it was brutal. As much as I "can" put it on and perform in public, this was my work and it was the first time I was reading from a manuscript of my own. I had classic verbal diarrhea and the front row was sweating profusely from the amount of heat in my cheeks.

And lucky them, I've signed on to do it again.

Now, I think we've all heard the old saying "picture the audience naked."

Is this really helpful? What if you look out into the crowd and see John Rickards in a tutu? Would the thought of him naked help me relax and enjoy the reading experience?

I think I'd be trying to stifle the laughter, reach for the water and snort it through my nose, just for good measure.

Which reminds me of one of my most embarrassing moments. My 16th birthday party, my cousin, his girlfriend, a guy I had a crush on all at my house pre-party. We're having dinner. I'd just taken a sip of coke and someone made me laugh.

I sprayed pop all over the floor. Yep, that Sandra, she's one classy chick.

Why is it I can be such a total performer with a group of children and I can turn into a quivering idiot around adults?

This year, I've had to do a lot more public speaking than usual. Introducing speakers, some teaching again, including teaching adults. Oh fun. But it has really helped me mentally, as I start to think about reading from my actual book in public. And facing those completely off-the-wall questions.

Fortunately, I know I'm not the only one who goes through this. I was surprised at how shy Michael Connelly seemed last year at Harrogate. And when Ian Rankin was in Calgary in 2004 he put his foot in his mouth and there was probably a solid five minutes of laughter over the slip of the tongue.

It helps when you have a supportive crowd of admirers. But I think when you're able to laugh at yourself, like he did, you can also win sympathy.

At least I hope so.

Though I'm definitely not picturing the audience naked. Or co-readers or co-panelists. Or interviewers.

So what strategies do you guys have to help you get over your nerves?

Now I'm off to learn a new signature so that anyone who should ever ask for a signed copy of my book can't forge my cheques.



^ For an interview. Really, you people are just disturbed, always twisting things.
* No, I'm not telling how I know. I don't tell everything!

28 comments:

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Love the picture...wonder why she didn't feel a draft?

Don't worry about the coke snorting thing, I'm 56 and I still do it on a regular basis!

To control nerves...pick out one friendly face about half-way back in the group and talk to that particular person...and pray that they don't fall asleep!

Bernita said...

I relate.
One, I tend to swallow the wrong way rather than spew = 3 minutes of choke, hack, and fear one is going to hurl over the nearest - or pass out.
Two, I get adrenalyn shakes.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Bonnie, I'd forgotten all of what I wrote last night, and I looked at "coke snorting" and thought "what the hell???!!!"

Um, yeah, okay. My mind isn't in a good place this morning!

And Bernita, you know what else? The feeling that you'll have to go to the bathroom. 5 minutes in to an hour thing. Oh boy.

And swallowing the wrong way is no good either. Though neither is taking that 'swallow the wrong way rather than spew' comment.

Erik Ivan James said...

Before I got drunk, and stayed that way for a few years, I did a fair amount of public speaking to crowds ranging in size from a few to a thousand or more. One technique that helped me a great deal was to immediately pick out three or four 'friendly' appearing faces located at various points in the crowd. I would start by speaking to them instead of the mass. If each of the three or four seemed to stay interested in my talk, I would continue to speak to each of them in turn. If one or two began to waiver their attention from me, I would remove them from my focus.

The bathroom issue is real when we are in a heightened state of nerves. Some may find it humorous, but it can be a legitimate concern. I solved the problem by being very careful with my food and liquid intake both the night before, and morning of, my speaking engagements. A partner of mine wore a type of absorbant underwear during lengthy presentations "just-in-case".

Nice picture.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Absorbant underwear? Hmmm, I think I'll pass!

And I meant to say that comment wouldn't be good taken wrong (Bernita's.) I'm going back to bed!

Stuart MacBride said...

Wow – serendipity! I’ve stripped off more than my clothes for my latest author pic...

And what happened to the pierced-nipple footnote, eh? Aren’t you going to guess which one?

Sandra Ruttan said...

Footnotes added. Ooops, sorry.

JamesO said...

I'm terrible in crowds of people - shy to the point of making myself physically ill, and I sweat copiously, which makes my handshake moist, compounding my sense of embarrassment until I really want the floor to swallow me up. Going to parties was always a nightmare, and it's no guess why I choose to live in the middle of nowhere.

And yet, when I have to give a presentation to a group of businessmen or worse, politicians, I seem to be able to cope. I can prepare for that (though I rarely script presentations beyond a sequence of pointer ideas), and I can make it happen on my terms. And I think that's the answer, really, to try and take control of the situation. Sounds easy, doesn't it.

Being on a panel would be hard for me - it's too unpredictable - but reading to an audience and answering questions I could probably cope with, especially if I knew that most of the audience had come to see me. Who knows, one day I might even get to find out;}#

John R. said...

I don't get much in the way of nerves. I figure there's a limit to how badly wrong it can go and that it's nothing a medicinal trip to the bar afterwards can't fix, so speaking doesn't bother me at all.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I am soooo looking forward to asking you questions when you're on a panel at Harrogate John.

M. G. Tarquini said...

Um...would it be too forward to admit that I'd like to know which nipple, Stuart? Also, it it hurt to get it done and if it ever pulls?

You know that mental image of JA with the book in front of his you-know-what reminds me of that Howard Stern book, Private Parts. I couldn't even crack the cover on that one for fear of what I'd find between the sheets.

All right, that's my sexual allusion quota for the day.

Trace said...

Sandra, 15 minutes is never enough *grin* And when I was 14 years old I went to my boyfriend's house for dinner for the first time. Somebody said something funny and I sprayed coke all over the table. ALL OVER. Food, some people, everywhere.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Must be an Ontario girl's thing Trace!

JA Konrath said...

I'd need a really big book.

Boy Kim said...

Absorbant underwear ain't so bad.

In the right circumstances of course.

And at my age, 15 minutes might very well qualify as a season's best.

Sandra Ruttan said...

JA, so your autobiography My Words of Wisdom is out then? XO

Kim, what? 15 minutes is the best you can do?

Dear me. May as well not waste the time taking the depends off.

Stuart MacBride said...

Well, M.G, you always know when it's cold... 'PING!'

Vincent said...

I've had nerves when public speaking, but when I did the best man's speech for my brother's wedding, I still got a slightly attack of the shakes and I was nervous beforehand, but once I got up there I was fine. I think the reason for that was because I'd played through the act of speaking in my head many times beforehand and every time I made sure I imagine it going well - from people laughing at the jokes to me standing up there confidently addressing the crowd.

We tend to mentally rehearse things all the time, but so many people rehearse things going badly and it trains the brain to do all those things we fear will go wrong. If we 'practice' being nervous beforehand, our brain will fall back on that training when faced with the real thing. Practice being confident and confidence comes much more easily.

There's also the hypnotists' trick of anchoring (not to be confused with wankering, which has lead to certain hypnotists being chased out of town). Remember an event when you felt particularly assured and confident. Picture it as vividly as you can. Hear the sounds, smell the smells, see the colours. Now press your thumb and index finger together as hard as you can - keep picturing the scene... and then relax, breaking the thumb finger connection.

You've just created an mental association between positive feelings of confidence and pressing your thumb and forefinger together. Repeat that exercise a dozen times and then you'll be able to call up that feeling of confidence simply by the act of pressing thumb against index finger. It's basic psychology, but it works - and the more vividly you recall your confident memory, the more effective the association will be.

Apparently you can use a variation on this technique to pull women, but I haven't tried that out yet.

Boy Kim said...

So if, in your younger days, you could run a a 3-hour marathon, then you didn't run any marathons for a while, you could still run a 3-hour marathon with no practice? I think not baby puppy.

So 15 minutes it is. And that includes foreplay, you lucky girl.

But once I get my second wind? Woo hoo!! Look out honey!! We're talking 17, maybe 18 minutes.

Now where did I put that damn oxygen cylinder?

Sandra Ruttan said...

To rephrase an old joke, "What's the most useless thing on a woman?"

An old man with an oxygen tank and no stamina.

Maybe someone should create a fitness program...

S. R. Hatcher said...

I went straight from Sportsmanship of Mystery Writers to the Peep Show. Your tag lines are great.

jason evans said...

Geez, I'm not touching this conversation with a ten foot--

oh, nevermind.

Stephen Blackmoore said...

"what's the phrase de jour? Manhood?"

Actually, I believe the phrase is currently, "tumescent manroot," but that's only until midnght.

M. G. Tarquini said...

Oh, fer, crismassake, it's a penis! Can't we just say penis?

PENIS PENIS PENIS PENIS PENIS.

Sheesh! You'd think half the population of the world didn't have one.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

They don't!!!LOL

Sandra Ruttan said...

Stephen, that's too bloody hard to remember!

MG, I know a joke about a penis...

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