Tonight is my first reading, a concept that fills me not so much with panic but I worry that I ought to make this good. One doesn't get a second chance at a first time.
Though I try to in order to be fresh, I can't nap but instead loll in an almost dreamlike state.
When my alarm goes off, Amber jumps in bed to pester me.
"Pick out what I am going to wear," I say to deflect her.
"No, get out of bed!" she says.
"When you pick out what I am going to wear, I will get out of bed. Promise."
"I don't want to," she pouts. "Get up."
I pull the sheets up. "No, the bed is cozy. I will stay here."
"Then I will go to the reading for you," she says. "I will read your books. Badly."
"Will you wear a wig and my glasses? I'm sure no one would know the difference."
She considers this a bit too seriously. "No, I can't see through your glasses. Get up!"
I try to seduce her, but she sees through my ruse after a few caresses and leaves the comfort of the bed. She rummages through the closet, arguing the whole time that I should not grant her such immense power over my wardrobe. She soon throws two shirts at me, both long sleeved despite the heat. I opt for the one she calls TARDIS blue.
We rush to Kingston, as we are meeting up with friends at a noodle house beforehand. Sarah is already there and likely has been for nearly half an hour. Daniel appears soon after. I feel jubilant, whether from my two hours of not napping or because I am about to do my first reading (of which I am sure will be too many; now that I've started, I don't think I am permitted to stop). My head seems to be working in a rare form, as I can find every word I mean and have just the right delivery, something that had better carry over to the reading proper). Over the last week, I had read my books to Amber every other night to hone my intonation and nail down a few characters' voices, though I admit still to being a bit uncertain of at least two. That was the extent of rehearsal I could see as productive.
As we are deciding what to eat, I tell them that we may be joined by a fifth person, one whom I have not met properly. "She looked at my profile on OkCupid and I responded in kind. She said she had a crush on Gadget Hackwrench from Rescue Rangers. Do you remember that show?" I asked Daniel and he nods. "I wrote to her, telling her that I did, too, and that I think Gadget grew up to be Kaylee Frye on Firefly."
"Aren't all spunky girl mechanics like Kaylee?" Amber asks.
"Possibly, but it was a good ice breaker. She, Christina, replied that she agreed and said she would be coming to my reading. Now, I did not say that I was having a reading. In my profile, I do list the two books I have published, so, near as I can figure, she googled the books, got my name, googled my name, found the Facebook fanpage, saw the event, and RSVPed... And there she is now," I finish, looking up at the tall woman entering.
She recognizes me, but it would be difficult for her to know anyone else, unless she read through my site a bit until she saw pictures of Amber, Sarah, and Daniel. I make introductions and Christina sits beside Amber. We continue our conversation nearly uninterrupted and Christina laughs quietly to our points. I check occasionally that she feels involved in the conversation. Meeting just Amber and me would be daunting enough for a new person, as we nearly have our own language. Adding in Daniel and Sarah creates a definite in-group and, though we try to be inclusive, it would be easy to feel left out. At the same time, I don't want to burden Christina with the status of outsider by checking on her every three minutes as though she were an injured bird.
She doesn't say much as we eat, but I think she likes us well enough. She did warn in a message that she quickly judges people and often does so on how they sound. While I do not excel at being mellifluous, I think I am amusing enough to compensate.
I duck out early, leaving Amber with my debit card to pay for my meal, so that I can get the books I will be selling at Half Moon Books. This does involve my carrying 32 books and a camera tripod (Amber wanted to film the reading) down a block while bearded hipsters gawp at me, which I believe qualifies as my exercise for the day.
The owner of Half Moon Books could not be friendlier. She has already set up chairs and jokes with me as I get situated. "Have you done many readings?" she asks.
"No, a few signings. This is my first reading."
She is delighted by this. "You chose the right place, then."
"I think so, too. Did you know that this event is in the Poughkeepsie Journal?"
She did not and I think is a little impressed that I warranted this, though it was little more than sending an email a month ago and hoping for the best.
My people arrive after ten minutes and try to help with the set-up. I wait another fifteen, hoping that a surge of fans will appear. Amber and I had weeks ago put posters in the windows of any storefront we thought might indulge us, so this was less of a pipe dream and more of a theoretical possibility.
My mother calls and, to be jovial with my tiny crowd, I put her on speakerphone to mock-chastise her for not showing up. However, she doesn't care for this and I put her back into normal mode just in time for my friends to hear that my mother is babysitting and would not be subjecting my nieces and nephews to story time with their creepy writer uncle. The perils of live performance...
No one else shows up at first, so I begin with a selection from We Shadows. I lose myself in the telling, though Amber later reports that I was too rushed. I end up reading more than I intended because of the guilt I feel at having made my friends come out for an event that fizzled. Also, other shoppers buzz around the reading without sitting and I want to give them a reason to stick around. I realize later that the point is not to read for especially long, but to read as little as possible to provoke questions and discussion. Readers want to read on thei own.
Midway through my first selection, Ilana and her boyfriend Rob come in. According to Ilana, one of the ways they dealt with the previously long distance aspect of their relationship was to read an early draft of Danse Macabre to one another over Skype, so it is flattering that she shows up. Rob and she shop and coo to one another as I read from Danse Macabre.
In the end, I sell a book to Christina and another to Ilana. I make apologetic eyes to the shop owner, who cleared only a few dollars for her troubles, but she tells me there is no need. I earned around sixty cents for my cut, less the cost of the books, but it seems worthwhile nevertheless for the addition of Christina to my stable of friends and for having made it so I never again have to have a first reading.Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.