Lesbian Cops will be out in less than a month, and I'll be posting details about a blog tour here soon. I'll also have details about a contest for a free book, and an additional prize.
For now, I'm sharing another column I posted recently on Women and Words. This one is about doing erotica readings.
Most folks get nervous about reading their work in public, especially the first time, but when it comes to reading erotica out loud there’s a whole extra world of panic. Writing erotica is a very private, very personal process, at least if you’re doing it well, and if we thought then about speaking those words in front of an audience, we might not have the courage to write them down at all.
A chance to read in public, though, isn’t something to be turned down lightly. Besides the potential promotional value and the socialization with other writers and readers, it can feel like a validation of yourself as a “real” writer.
Another way to think of it is as a validation of your characters. You gave them life on the page; now you channel their voices with your own. There was a time long ago when all stories were transmitted orally, and there’s something about the spoken word, with its intonations and modulations and changes in pace, that adds another dimension to the written word.
But…erotica? Those kinds of words? Yes, but I’ll let you in on a secret. You can give a good erotica reading without actually speaking those words unless you want to. If you’re reading from a novel, you won’t have time for the whole thing, and if you’re reading short stories with a group from an anthology, you’ll be lucky if you can fit in more than half of your own piece. If there’s some humor in it, include that; your audience may well find it easier to share a laugh than to show a reaction to steamy bits. When it does come to steamy bits, it’s okay to set the scene, raise the tension, tease them with foreplay, and then leave them wanting more. Once you’ve got a few readings under your belt (so to speak) you may find yourself itching to take the audience all the way over the edge with you, and that’s even better.
But…audience? Reading in front of other people? Look at it this way. The women coming to an erotica reading are not going to be judgmental about erotica, or about you. They’ve come to support their friends who are reading, to have a good time among women of similar tastes and inclinations, and to celebrate the very existence of events like this. They’re glad of the chance and happy that you’re there. But if the thought of an audience still makes you nervous—well, in this particular case I’d better not give you the traditional advice about imagining that they’re all pantsless, or even naked, although if that works for you, go for it! One thing you could try is focusing on a single person, someone you know, or, if you notice a few people reacting especially well, laughing in the right places, nodding at things they identify with, reward them with eye contact from time to time. A reading is a group event, and the more participation, the better. (A brief anecdote here. I once read with a group from Best Lesbian Erotica in New York when they’d brought in a sign language interpreter. When it got to the sex scenes, her signs necessarily got very graphic indeed. Everybody, including the readers, gave her all their attention. It was a strange experience, but definitely a bonding one for everyone concerned.)
I hope you potential audience members got that part about reacting to the readers. Reward those who are putting themselves and their characters on the line up there by letting them know when you enjoy something. And writers who are considering doing readings can learn a lot, and get some confidence, by attending other people’s readings first. You can take note of their successes and mistakes (which nobody minds,) and find out what the audience side feels like. You’ll understand then why some listeners show reactions, and some just look down or close their eyes, preferring a private, possibly more intense, experience. There’s nothing wrong with that, either.
Just in case all the readers you hear are old hands at it and don’t make any mistakes, here are a few pointers to make sure you don’t make the obvious ones, either. Print out your story in a slightly larger font than usual if you have any doubts about how good the lighting will be where you’re reading. Practice reading out loud, marking places where you’ll need to take a breath because the next passage is so long. Underline words that give you trouble because they’re hard to pronounce, or have alternate acceptable pronunciations, or are words you really don’t want to say so you hesitate and that makes it worse. Figure out where your problems might be, deal with them, and mark up the paper with reminders. Just the process of doing this will probably fix things in your mind, but you’ll feel more confident if you’ve got it in hardcopy. The point is not to let your text surprise you, except by how good it really is.
A question now for audience members at readings; what do you hope to get out of attending? Do you feel cheated if we don’t always read the most explicit parts of our stories? (If you feel cheated when we don’t look like our characters, I don’t want to know about it.) Wouldn’t you like to be up there doing readings yourselves? If you write, and give life to heartfelt, engrossing characters, one of these days your characters just might make you do it.
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