During OryCon 29 this year (Portland, Oregon's biggest and best annual science fiction, fantasy and horror convention (but mostly science fiction)) I've decided to do something brave and stupid. Well, maybe not so brave because I do fine in front of even relatively large audiences, thanks to belly dance. Once you've done a belly roll in front of a few hundred people wearing, well, not a lot, public speaking isn't so bad. I don't even have to picture everyone naked. And as for the stupid part, I suppose this could be considered a cheap marketing ploy.
I've grabbed a short short story, I think it's just under 500 words right now, and offered it up for public slaughter. In other words, a bunch of pros will sit in front of an audience, I'll sit to one side, and they'll proceed to shred it in front of everyone. I'm sure part of it will be a serious critique, but bear in mind too that panels are also designed to be entertaining, and many of our regular pros turn their panels into a venue to elicit laughs. So there I'll be with my hapless short short, and there they'll be, getting chuckles out of the audience at my and my manuscript's expense.
But that's okay! Because it'll all be in good fun. And it'll be educational for everyone.
Because the audience won't have had a chance to read the manuscript in advance, I'll have to read it aloud. That should be interesting, and it's the one part I'm a bit nervous about because I haven't had much practice reading manuscripts aloud. See? It's educational already. I've made it easy for myself, though, in a couple of ways. The first is obvious--I picked one of the shortest stories I've ever written. The second is a little more subtle, if you consider pouring a teaspoon of honey into a cup of tea subtle. I chose a humor piece.
Yes, I picked Calling In, which has been critiqued in group before. If nothing else, I'll get a head start on the chuckling part of the evening, and besides, I want to be entertaining too. It wouldn't be nearly as fun watching a piece of heavy drama get wrung out. Can you imagine a work about suffering and pain and sorrow and panelists trying to inspire laughs out of that? They'd feel guilty, I'm sure, and the audience would be appalled. So let's just take the guilt out of the darned program from the very start.
After the panel, I get to edit it super fast, and the next day I'll submit a submissions package to yet another panel where those who are editors or have been editors can comment on everything from my choice of envelope to whether I should have written The End on the last page. It was funny one evening, drinking wine in the Green Room with a mess of pros, when Jay Lake mentioned that if he gets a submission printed on really cheap paper it leaves him with a bad impression. Immediately three people whipped out the paper they used for submissions--we're talking seasoned pros here, not newbies--and demanded that Jay fondle their paper. If I'd had my paper with me, I'd be right there with them fluttering my paper in his face. Jay dutifully fondled and held the pages up to the dim hotel suite light and declared every single page offered to him sufficient to pass muster. It didn't have to be great paper, just not the crappy see-through stuff where you can often see the print on the page beneath it. Very white paper is preferable too, and the cheap stuff tends to have a yellowish cast to it, as the producers cut costs anywhere possible, including the bleach.
That moment was what inspired this madness, this tom-foolery, this public torment that will stretch over two hours in two days. Everyone has insecurities about their writing. People who haven't been in a writer's group wonder how a critique works and if they can handle it. Nearly everyone wonders what goes through the editor's mind when the editor opens an envelope with your humble offering in it. Now they'll know at least a bit of it, the bit that we'll all admit to in public, and I'll know first hand what the reactions are to Calling In.
And what will be going through my mind between blushes?
Free advertising! I just hope it's good advertising.