On May 7, eleven other writers and I took turns standing behind a podium in front of some fifty folks seated around tables in a large room. We read from our poems, short stories, novels or narratives for five minutes max. The excerpt my writer’s group had helped me select sizzled with suspense. In the same way investors listened when Charles Schwab spoke, I listened when these discerning writers advised. And why wouldn’t I? Their skillful editing helped midwife my newborn book into a healthy memoir rather than a sickly one.
Like Frank Sinatra, who used to throw up before strolling onstage, I suffer from performance anxiety. As my grandmother used to call it, butterflies in the stomach. When I speak in front of more than two people, my gut knots up and my throat tightens until I squeak rather than speak.
My fiancé, Barry, also known as Ashtar the Magnificent, assured me practice made perfect, and perfect would go far toward erasing my anxiety. So the night before the day of saw me practicing for hours, recording my words, varying my intonations, and gesturing in front of a mirror. Finally, my voice hoarse from yelling during the episode where the killer sends his thugs to hunt me down, I rasped, “No more rehearsing.” My Magnificent One tucked cool sheets around my tired body. I dreamed about sweating beneath a spotlight.
A husband and wife mystery-writing team sat beside me at a table close to the podium. I had listened to them read at the Hawai’i Book and Music Festival five days earlier, on May 3rd, and admired their unruffled delivery. I asked the husband, “How do you avoid shaking when you speak to a crowd?”
He smiled and shrugged. “I don’t. I just shake.”
Lyrics from a song sung by rock and roll legend Steve Winwood played in my mind: “You just roll with it, baby.”
I was third to read, immediately after a poised, relaxed, engaging speaker. The moment she stepped down, my heart sped up. I hobbled to the podium, knees wobbling.
In one long breath, I said, “Aloha, everyone. I’m Lizbeth Hartz, reading from my memoir Angel Hero, a true love story and murder mystery.”
Fortunately, I’d memorized the introduction. The tremor in my voice didn’t worry me much because it matched my subject matter perfectly.
I continued reading, “During a tropical storm on April 23, 1985, at half past midnight, I left work 30 minutes late in a borrowed Ford with bald tires. The heat was on, with the killer, Jaku, searching for me, and the Homicide detective, Jet, pressuring me to testify against Jaku.”
My heart pounded like a big brass drum. Would I make it through the reading?
(To be continued on my next blog post)