China World Hotel. Did you see the New York Times today? At left is the cover of the Magazine section, showing congested traffic in Beijing. But that isn’t what I noticed. The shot is taken right in front of the “China World Trade Center,” the complex that houses both the hotel where I normally stay when I’m in Beijing and the World Bank Office. (Also in the paper today was a favorable review of Ivan Doig’s new novel, by Sven Birkerts, Editor of Agni; I’ve twice picked it up in the store and put it down again, but Birkerts may have pushed me over the edge.)
Where the Deer and the Lawn Mower Play. If I were a deer, I don’t think I’d run toward the roar of a lawn tractor, but it happens in my yard a couple of times a year. Yesterday I was mid-mow when two sizable deer streaked through the gap in the hedges (coming, I suppose, from the woods across the street). They got to the big walnut tree and stopped, then looked at me. I kept mowing. One of the deer was uninterested and ran off into the opposite woods, but one just stood there watching me. I wondered if this was the same animal that has been munching on the hosta and day lilies in my yard. Eventually I had to turn the mower down the hill toward her and she didn’t think that was funny at all, bounding away after her friend.
The Twelve Minutes. Because of my Sewanee Writers’ Conference scholarship, I get to do a 12 minute reading (to whomever shows up for these things at, I think, 9:00 am). Picking what I’ll read (the conference is still two weeks away) is fun and challenging. I’ve written only one really short story, the one that will come out in RE:AL this fall, but it took almost 18 minutes when I timed myself reading it this morning. Doing the math, I’m looking now for a 7 page chunk of something to read. Hmm.
>Twelve minutes, Cliff? I see you plus two others scheduled for an hour-long block. More like twenty minutes each?
I’ve got a fifteen minute excerpt from First Husband, First Wife I’m planning to read. Note to self: practice!
>Thanks for pointing that out, Jim. I’ve been looking at an unrefreshed version of the website so didn’t know the schedule was up; interesting to see who is reading when. And you’re right about the block of time, but they told us 12 minutes for Scholars (Fellows get more time) and there is one day when there are 4 scholars scheduled. Guess I’ll have two selections ready depending on how much time I actually have . . .
>You guys will have so much fun! Good luck!
>One thing to consider is editing down a piece that’s all set. I learned this from Maggie Estep at ACA last year. Speaking material needs different pacing and emphasis than *reading* material. She had us do readings for five minutes with a piece that would have taken ten minutes. She helped us edit down for clarity, pacing and audience appeal.
Her theory is the audience still wants to be entertained but getting bogged down in imagery and narrative exposition can be tricky. Also, a lot of dialogue is difficult for readings because the audience can’t necessarily see in their heads who is speaking.
For what it’s worth. Good luck with the workshop and congrats on the scholarship!
Belea T. Keeney
>Yes, Belea, I’ve done that for some other readings, although I think an audience of sophisticated writers does appreciate imagery and language more than a general audience would. And acting techniques help with dialogue, although you’re right, it can be confusing. I enjoy doing it–I wish I had more opportunities!
>I’m shaky as a reader, which is why the note to self about practicing. I’ve edited the piece slightly from the version that’ll be in print. And thankfully there’s little dialogue, and who’s speaking is clear.
I’m afraid the acting business and getting into character is quite alien to me. Still, with luck and practice, I’ll stumble through.
Looking forward to meeting you in person, Cliff. Should be a fun time.
>It will be a great time, I’m sure! I’m no fearless performer, that’s for sure, even though I enjoy it. (I think I might enjoy it more in theory than in practice, come to think of it.) Before I did my longest reading to date–the public “defense” of my MFA thesis–I read a book called Naked at the Podium which had some tips for authors giving public readings.
At the conclusion of Sewanee 2 years ago, after sitting through several pretty stiff readings, I suggested to Wyatt that they include a seminar on how to give readings. Wyatt dismissed the idea, saying (and missing the point by a mile) that the work on the page should stand on its own. (Then why, I wanted to ask, do we do readings? Why not just hand out copies?) I suppose what he meant was that getting too theatrical could detract from the words on the page, and he might be right. Still, a little eye contact, a little voice modulation, a little inflection–it wouldn’t hurt to keep the audience awake!