I have been remiss in writing about writing, but that’s because I have been writing, specifically a sequel to Two Birds, about which I spoke March 10 at Graves Memorial Library in Kennebunkport. The original, not the sequel. Just want to make that clear. So there’s my excuse.
Here’s my report:
The speech – or event, or reading, or blathering – was part of the Pasco Lecture Series, and it was my first time doing that sort of thing. In public. A fine milestone, considering the turnout (about three dozen) and reception (rapt attention, save a snoozer or two, but who doesn’t want to drift away in a library on a sunny Sunday afternoon? And in their defense, I should point out that I regularly employ my “mellifluous vocal tonings” to read my wife to sleep at night; it’s hard to resist their effect).
Arranged by library director Mary-Lou Boucouvalas, the event got under way with an introduction by Josh Bodwell (director of the MWPA and a former newspaper colleague), who said several nice things about me in an attempt to soften up the crowd. It’d odd when that happens – hearing about something you did for someone years ago – and I found myself feeling surprised and thinking, “Did I do that? Really? I guess I must have,” and for a brief spell all that self-deprecation goes out the window. Don’t worry, it comes back. It always comes back.
Before getting to reading from Two Birds, I meandered through introductory remarks, a brief history of my sentimental association with Graves Library, a story that linked me with authors Michael Kimball and Stephen King (a non-fiction story, I’ll have you know), one of my old humor columns from the York County Coast Star, an excerpt from Dashiell Hammett’s influential classic Red Harvest, and a segue to Two Birds involving Hammett and Hemingway (aim high, I always say).
I usually do fine speaking in front of the public. It’s a widespread and age-old fear that I managed to conquer a long time ago. And I was doing all right that day, except for the first couple of minutes when I finally started reading from my novel. That’s when I became acutely aware that I was reading from my novel – that I was doing something I had dreamed about for many years – that I was acting like an author. That realization had a dizzying effect on me. The only way I could have felt more off-kilter is if someone had pointed out to me that I had a stain on my tie (which somehow became really, really obvious when reviewing photographs taken that day).
The original plan was to read a lengthy section of Two Birds, but a half-hearted attempt to find such a passage led me to believe that that would reveal too much of the plot. So, taking a cue from an event listed in the MWPA’s weekly newsletter, I decided to string together several excerpts so as to give the audience a flavor of the book. I may do that again, though with different passages. I’d hate to repeat myself. I would seriously hate to repeat myself.
What made the day so special was that a bunch of friends showed up, including some old colleagues (e.g. Louis Rizzo) and classmates (e.g. Alan Carter) I hadn’t seen in years, several having driven an hour or two to get to the Port. Maybe that’s what made me so self-conscious when I started reading the excerpts from Two Birds – I wanted so badly for them to like it.
I hope that was the case. If not, perhaps they were amused by the stain on my tie. Which I’ve had dry-cleaned.
Oh yeah…the surreal nature of the reading was trumped by the signing afterward. Yes, I sat at a table and signed copies of Two Birds for people who actually wanted it. I tried to be clever and/or warm-hearted with my inscriptions, but I’m afraid my anxiety may have rendered them illegible. I’ll have to have a stamp made up, but instead of saying “Cancelled” or “Rejected,” it can read, “You’ve made my day.”