Wednesday, August 13, 2014
A saucy reading at HNS conference
A year ago, I attended the Historical Novels Society conference (then held in St. Petersburg, Florida; the next stateside one will be Denver in 2015). It's an infamous custom that Diana Gabaldon hosts a Saturday Night Sex Scenes Reading where participants gamely step on stage and read a short sex scene from their fiction (no memoirs please!)
Diana selected a bunch of us randomly and emailed us to let us know we'd been picked. I never got a chance to say hello to her before the night of the proceedings. I sat at my table between Kathleen Kent and Alison McMahan (Xina Uhl was there too), nervous beyond measure. I wasn't going to permit myself a (badly-needed) drink until after I had gone up to the stage, and wouldn't you know it....I was picked second to last! I was a frayed nerve bundle sending random neurotransmitter blasts by the time my name was called.
So, picture the scene. We're in a hotel ballroom that holds 600 people. The acoustics are tough, and let's face it: a sex scene read into the vastness has special challenges as opposed to one read from a pillow. I knew that from the last Sex Scenes I'd watched in San Diego a few years earlier, so I'd deliberately chosen a funny scene. Many people can get away with breathy voices into the microphone (including La Dame Gabaldon herself) ...but I knew I couldn't. My best best would be to go with a scene where the sex didn't go right.
Although it was nerve-wracking for me to wait so long to be called, it was ultimately in my favor as many people had imbibed generously and were, let's say, receptive to my reading in a way they may not have been an hour or so earlier. My friend Alison offered to tape my reading on her phone and I shuddered as I declined. I would come to regret that, though, since the official conference video left an unused microphone in the middle of the shot... but at the time I didn't know the performance was being taped.
Diana introduced me and I climbed the steps to the stage without tripping (it's things like this I worry about) and began my little jokey introduction, channeling Justin Timberlake.When I sang the first line of "I'm bringing sexy back" there was one beat where no one laughed and I died a million deaths in that interstice. People were just not expecting something funny as previous readings that night had been intense, romantic, sexy, hot...everything but silly. And then, thank God, laughter came and I launched into the scene.
To be honest, I was surprised by how much people laughed (I've consulted with experts and we all conclude: alcohol), but it made me feel great.When I finished, one person sprang to his feet and gave me a standing ovation. It was C.W. Gortner, a writer I absolutely admire and look up to, and to get his endorsement meant everything. I'm thinking about engraving him clapping on my tombstone when that sad piece of rock is eventually required. Whatever ills may befall me in the coming years, you can't take that away from me.
I went back to my table where congratulations happened, so I didn't hear what Diana said in response. It was only after I got a copy of this tape that I realized she said, "Well, I hope that book's on Kindle so I can read it on my way home tomorrow."
Oddly enough, the book was not on Kindle. It had been published by a small press in Berkeley and the subsidiary rights still belonged to me, so I thought, wow, maybe I should release this as an ebook. And maybeeee that wonderful Diana Gabaldon would be willing to blurb it?
I sent her a copy, and she read it in the midst of all the hurricane of the Starz casting and filming. I can't to this day believe her generosity in taking the time to read my book and to give such an extravagantly kind blurb. I'm going to need a second gravestone to engrave her on, or maybe I should install some Scottish standing stones, some dolmens, maybe a variation on Stonehenge to thank her. (Yes, I'm morbid; this is the way I roll.)
Diana, if you read this long-ass post, thank you a million ways to Sunday for your hand extended to me. You are a rock-star author and you act like you're in the slushpile: humble, kind, giving, warm, real.
So, the last thing I have to address is, why did I not release the video until literally a year later? One might think I waited to time this with the Outlander Starz release, which would have been smart of me, but the reality is far sadder. The conference was in June 2013, and it took me a while to figure out there was a tape, order it, and then get working to have someone edit it down from literal hours to a brief clip (thank you, Jai Jai Noire!). I'm a natural procrastinator. And so by the time things were underway, I had learned about Jennifer Kranz's diagnosis with DIPG, a fatal brain tumor, in October. Jennifer was a six year old, the daughter of a friend. And suddenly promoting my video seemed endlessly vapid and stupid, so I put it aside and grieved along with everyone who followed Jennifer's rapid decline. She died Feb. 12, 2014. I hope you will watch my video, but I hope even more strongly that you'll visit www.unravelpediatriccancer.org to learn how you can help combat this vicious, despicable disease.
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