Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Why I Am Not Shy

by Jami Attenberg

I will be reading at Book Passage in Corte Madera this Sunday at 4 pm - that's why I was so kindly asked to write on this blog. (I will also be reading at the Writers With Drinks series at the Makeout Room in San Francisco on Saturday; please come to both events.) Public peformance is one of my favorite parts of being a writer. I know it's not so for every writer. I have one friend who is sick to her stomach for an hour before, and an hour after her reading. She always wears a pretty dress and hopes no one will notice how badly she reads.

But me, I'm an attention addict. I'm at home all day by myself working and if I don't make the effort, I might end up not speaking to another person for days. So when I have the chance to go out there and talk to people and share my writing, I eat it up -- even when no one comes to the readings. That's an excellent way to get humbled right quick, reading to an empty bookstore. It's only happened to me once - five people showed up, six and a half if you count the guy I dragged in off the street who hovered in the corner with his baby, shushing him the entire time. I hope that never happens again, but every writer I know says it's happened to them at least once.

But most of the time people come and are attentive and enthusiastic and I really like to give it my all. I practice a lot at home and I am always trying to think of new ways to invigorate my performance. I also like to test out new material when I do readings. Reading something out loud helps the writing process in a lot ways. For example it helps me to see if something is funny (or unintentionally funny), or if the dialogue sounds like something someone would actually say out loud. I've changed entire chapters based on a positive or negative response by an audience.

It's also nice to meet new people, even if they are sometimes kind of crazy. I live so much in my own little world with my characters that I forget that the real world is much more eccentric. But I really thrive on it when someone says something completely wacky to me at a reading, even if it's not that positive. Sometimes people come to my readings thinking I have written a guide about love, which is pretty charming. I can tell you what I don't know about love, if that helps, but I'm no expert on happy, healthy anythings.

And then there was the reading I did in Philadelphia a few weeks ago in a rock bar, where a drunk old man ("I'm drunk because I had a bad month," he said mournfully. "April is the cruelest month, that's what they say.") came up to me, talked about Patti Smith for about ten minutes, and then told me I could be doing more with my life than what I had just read. Apparently I have a big future ahead of me. If I could just find something else to write about.

All of this is so much better than sitting at home slogging through another book, I swear to you. It's grist for the mill at the very least. I hope that I'll get to see some of you this Sunday. Tomorrow is a travel day for me (JFK to OAK) so I suspect I will not have time to write, but I will try to post one more time before the reading - a list of my favorite books from the past few months.

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