In late 2010, I’d decided to try my hand at writing for real. I spent a lot of time tapping away behind the keyboard (just as I’m doing now, coincidentally), and I’d had a short story or two published in small press anthologies. I was having fun, and suddenly Facebook seemed the place to be. I’d had an account for a couple of years and never done a thing with it, but now . . . now I was finding people on social media with the same interests as me; the same focus. There were other writers out there working on the same things I was. I discovered a fairly large group of people calling themselves the New England Horror Writers (NEHW), and I thought Hey, I’m a horror writer, and I’m in New England! I should see what these folks are all about!
I saw Facebook postings about an NEHW reading in a town within easy driving distance, and decided to go check them out. I contacted the guy running the reading, and told him I’d be stopping by. I didn’t want to bother anybody, I just wanted to sit in the audience and show my support—sort of check out what some of my contemporaries were doing. I got a quick “Cool, we’ll see you there” sort of response, marked it on my calendar, and waited for the day.
The day came and—this being New England, where if you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute, it’ll change—brought with it a hurricane. I looked out the window, saw it didn’t look like a full-blown (pardon the pun) storm, and decided to chance it. What the hell, I thought, at least there won’t be a lot of traffic.
I was right: I had the roads pretty much to myself, but for the leaves and downed limbs blowing along the tarmac, and I made good time. I arrived early (if you know me, you’re aware what a rarity that is) and had time to introduce myself to the NEHW crowd—the first time I’d been with a group of writer people. That day’s group was a little smaller than I’d expected from what I’d read online, and the event coordinator told me some of the authors designated to read wouldn’t be making it because of the storm.
“Oh, that’s too bad,” I said, and it was: I’d been looking forward to meeting as many of these new acquaintances as possible. That wasn’t really this guy’s concern, though: he had an event to put on, and some of the talent had taken a powder. The local folks, none of whom had all that far to drive, were braving the poor weather, and he was eyeballing the filling audience seats.
“Hey,” he said, as if the idea were just occurring to him. “We might have some space in the program. Do you think you might have something you could read today? Maybe fill up five minutes?”
“Uh, well,” I said, thinking Oh, there’s no way I’m getting up there in front of twenty or thirty people to read anything aloud. “I have my tablet here—I guess I could look through it and see if there’s anything to share. Can I let you know?”
“Sure,” he replied, then went off to join the authors in the back of the room. I strolled over to join the audience and took a seat, second row, right in the middle. I had a great view of the podium, and the coordinator would have a terrific view of me as I swiped idly through my tablet: I was ostensibly looking for something to read, though in reality I was just stalling until the reading began.
Then the house lights dimmed, and the coordinator took the podium. I began to relax as the people about me settled back in their chairs. The coordinator introduced all the participating authors. I had never been to an actual reading before, and I remember being fairly excited. This is going to be pretty good, I thought.
“And then,” said the man behind the podium, “we’ll have a reading from author Rob Smales.”
I’m certain my eyes bugged out so far they actually struck the woman sitting in front of me. I looked up to see the coordinator leaving center stage as the first author took the podium, reading matter in hand. I stared at the coordinator as he walked toward the back of the room—but just for a second. Then I was eyes down, paging furiously through my Nook and thinking five minutes—I have to find some passage that’ll take five minutes!
My turn came, and I excuse me and pardon me’d my way out of the audience to take the podium. I introduced myself, explaining that this was to be my first public reading ever. Though the podium hid my knocking knees, I nonetheless pointed to my own face and announced, “See this? This is what nervous looks like.” They gave me some smiles and nods of understanding, and for the first time I actually thought I might get through this experience unscathed. I quickly explained the beginning of my story, Photo Finish, bringing them up to the point where my chosen excerpt took place, raised my Nook, and began:
Frank followed Billy out of the pharmacy and toward their bikes.
“Dude, I can’t believe that guy ripped you off like that!”
Billy shrugged. “Maybe he didn’t know.”
“Oh, he knew. I know he knew! You heard—
That was the point at which my Nook, which had waited so patiently while I made my way to the podium and addressed the crowd, decided to time out and turn off.
Well, the audience had another laugh while I vamped for time and pushed buttons, but after that I was a bit more relaxed, and the rest of my reading went just fine. I mean, what else could go wrong, right? Thinking back on it, remembering how nervous I was waiting to be called up in front of a crowd, that strong-arming event coordinator may have done me a favor: if I’d had time to think about it, I would have been a lot more nervous, and for a lot longer. I only got to panic for a little while, and despite something going wrong that I’d never even considered—my own equipment working against me—the reading turned out just fine.
Am I still nervous before a reading? You bet. Every one. But then I think about that first reading, when I was taken by surprise and didn’t know what I was doing, and I feel a little better.
. . . And I always swipe my tablet live and make sure it’s awake right before I start. Just in case.
Rob Smales is the author of Dead of Winter, winner of the Superior Achievement in Dark Fiction Award from Firbolg Publishing’s Gothic Library in 2014. His short stories have been published in two dozen anthologies and magazines. Most recently, his story “A Night at the Show” received an honorable mention on Ellen Datlow’s list of the Best Horror of 2014, and was also nominated as best short story by the eFestival of Words. His most recent work, a story collection titled Echoes of Darkness, is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble from Books & Boos Press.
For more about Rob, including links to his published works, upcoming events, and a series of very short—but free—stories, please visit him at www.RobSmales.com.