I’ll always remember my first day in First Grade.
Back up a bit. Before I was old enough to go to school, my mother used to play the records of Galli Curchi, an operatic soprano from the early part of last century. I used to sing along, loud and high.
That first day of school, our new teacher led us in the National Anthem—“Ohhhh, say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d …” I did what I use to do at home—I sang an octave higher and as loudly as a smelter shift whistle.
My first grade teacher was a very sweet lady, but I will never forget the look of shock and dismay that passed across her face. And I realized right away that I had screwed up—big time.
“No, no, dear. That’s very nice, but why don’t you sing like the others?”
There are moments—seemingly insignificant—that make you what you are. From this experience, I learned to fit in—in a hurry.
But I had a good voice. And an ego like a beach ball—no matter how much you push that sucker under the water, it still pops up at the most inopportune moments. So in high school, when people discovered I had a good voice, I came in for a lot of praise. Naturally, I jumped right in with both feet. Now I could really fit in!
Until I had to sing a solo. All of a sudden I stuck out again, and not in a good way. I developed stage fright pretty quickly. It doesn’t take much. It’s like training a puppy. Give it a couple of mixed signals early on, and you’ve got pee all over the floor. Sentient beings and self-fulfilling prophecies are a perfect fit.
Eventually, I realized I was swimming against the tide and went back to what I really wanted to do: write books. I wanted to hole up in the desert and write. But a funny thing happened in the intervening years. It’s like everything else these days; you can’t just be a writer. You have to be a showman. You have to get out there and talk up your book. And my stage fright, insidious as it was, followed me—morphing as it went. No longer was I afraid of singing in front of an audience; now I was afraid of talking to three people in a conference room.
It’s changed for everybody, in pretty much every field. You can’t just be a writer or an painter or a sculptor anymore. You’ve got to be a performer, too.
I admit to having a weakness for country music videos. I can’t help but notice, though, that that all of the female vocal artists in those videos have been buffed, lipoed, coiffed and botoxed—and very few of them are over forty. Oh, they have good voices, but you have to wonder who gets left at the recording studio door. Patsy Cline packed a little extra weight around the hips and despite the frilly shirts, she looked like a housewife. Would she have made the cut? Would her voice have mattered, or would some PR flack from the record label dismiss her with the assessment, “No way she’s gonna look good with a cubic zirconium in her navel”.
Fortunately, mystery writers don’t have to look too hot. Yet. That’s because a lot of mystery readers don’t look too hot. Bless them.
Doesn’t matter, though, whether you are a svelte beauty or you have three eyes. You have to don an eyepatch on that third eye and get your ass on the plane. You have to take it on the road like a performing monkey.
How do you reconcile the two parts of this business? Do you love booksignings, panels, workshops, and book tours, or do you dread them? Do you have two personalities: one for home and one for away?