I didn’t mind the weekly lessons --- quite enjoyed them for the first few years, in fact, although I don’t think I ever had a huge passion for the guitar, and any skill I developed was technical rather than from the heart. It did involve my first real taste of independence, as I had to take the bus downtown on my own from our house in the ‘burbs, my guitar in its case securely held between my knees while the old electric trolley bus jounced along. My father would often meet me after the lesson to accompany me home from work on the bus, and I have memories on those trips of him reading to me little episodes he had written down of his rural English childhood. (Which may well have contributed to my early passion for writing, so that’s justification for the guitar lessons right there.)
The only thing I hated about my guitar lessons --- with ‘the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns,’ to quote cartoonist Jeff MacNelly --- were the periodic recitals and ‘test classes.’ And perhaps it wasn’t so much hatred as fear… although the white-hot intensity metaphor still applies. Test classes occurred when my instructor, a remarkably gentle, soft-spoken man who bore none of the outward hallmarks of a sadist, rounded up a bunch of his students to play pieces for each other in preparation for the yearly exams. Bad enough, but recitals were waaay worse: they were more formal twice-a-year affairs, involving students from the entire conservatory playing all manner of instruments before an audience of perhaps 200 mommies, daddies and assorted siblings.
And crap (almost literally, come to think of it), talk about mental torture.
It’s a little nostalgically amusing to gaze through the lens of 45+ years now, but I well remember the terror of recital days. Being before an audience wasn’t really the key thing --- after all, I have enthusiastically and confidently taught secondary school for over 30 years, and spoken to groups as large as 2000 people. No, it was playing an instrument. Solo. A very technically demanding instrument. In a fairly unforgiving environment. (I refer not to the mommies and daddies, who were very supportive and wanted you to do well, but the fact that if you made a mistake --- or, horror of horrors, forgot the music --- you were literally on your own, in an atmosphere so charged with agony you could cut the tension with a knife. The fear of failure could be almost paralyzing. Oy.)
So, what dredged this hoary little reminiscence of adolescent rite-of-passage scarring from the vaults of memory today, you ask?
Well, yesterday I had my first book signing for my debut novel Gryphon’s Heir --- although, I should quickly add, it didn’t produce the same depth of terrors of 45 years ago. Faint echoes, perhaps, but not the full-blown sweaty terrors.
The funny thing, I think, is that most writers are introverts --- I’m a Myers-Briggs INTJ, myself, which I suspect is a fairly common writer’s profile. And as such, we don’t like putting ourselves ‘out there’ on display, hawking our wares, do we? But We Have To. Because the Damned Book Is Not Going To Sell Itself (Writers’ Painful Lesson #1).
Quite a few book buyers must be introverts, too, because the Second Lesson I quickly learned yesterday was that many would avoid making eye contact unless I smiled and said hello so they couldn’t pretend they hadn’t seen me without appearing rude. (Ha! Gotcha, Potential Buyer!) I also learned the other end of the spectrum is represented, too, by people marching right up to you who say, almost challengingly, “So what’s your book about, then?” (Hmmm. You want me to condense into a paltry 25-word summary 186,000+ words of prose so breathtakingly magnificent they could make Mark Antony weep, as when he beheld the glories of Egypt? A SPELLBINDING 25-word summary? Are you out of your cotton-pickin’ MIND?) Well, yes, they may be, but --- Lesson #3 --- yes, you need to be ready to do exactly that, because there are thousands of other books calling to them from the surrounding shelves, and you’ve got about 15 seconds before their eyes glaze over and they aimlessly wander off to the biography section --- non-fiction freakin’ biographies, fer cryin’ out loud! --- and the opportunity to thrust your magnum opus into their hot little hands has evaporated forever, with you plaintively, fruitlessly calling after them like Catherine Earnshaw imploring Heathcliff to return. So carpe the freakin’ diem, boys and girls, hard as it may be for all us IN-prefix Myers-Briggs types.
Well, there you are. Actually, it was a great experience --- once I overcame (minor) cold collywobbles. The good folks at Owls’ Nest Books were very supportive and nurturing of a new fledgling and we actually sold a decent number of books.
In a perfect world, I’d like to be able to say it’s about ars gratia artis and all that… but one truth I think we need to acknowledge is we write stories, at least in part, to be shared, and that can’t happen without a little self-promotion.
Shameless or otherwise.