I'm most recently a writer. In the six plus decades of my life, I've been a wife, mother, grandmother, Jill of all trades though mistress of but a few, and most of the time pretty content with my lot. As a much younger person, I believed I was called to write, but life and living distracted me for most of those decades. An unwilling transplant from the South, twenty years ago I unintentionally landed in the geographical center of the US. Writing came about in part due to the unwillingness, I expect. When caring for family, gardening, and renovating a century-old house failed to provide sufficient creative outlets, I turned to the one thing I always intended to do. Eight titles later, I'm grateful I found myself while Lost in the Plains!
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Are You Out There?
Beginning in grade school (that's what we called it back then, sorry) and on through high school, I admit I grabbed every opportunity to put myself in that spine-tingling, stomach-twisting position of performing before a live audience. I loved the preparation, learning lines, developing the nuances of a character, becoming someone other than myself. I became addicted to the adrenaline rush of curtain time, the nobility of abandoning my fears for the sake of art, and most of all, listening for the audience's reaction.
In the case of drama, the response is more of a spiritual thing, a spell which, with any luck, falls over both performers and audience with the same degree of intensity. It's the stunning silence, the breathless, riveted focus and finally, it's that moment of absorption preceding the thunderous and respectful applause. I haven't done much drama, but I recall the few instances I felt that communal gasp at the end, and my own gasp of relief that the audience was indeed still there.
Now comedy, with which I'm most familiar, is a different bird entirely. The comedic actor feeds off his audience, lives and breathes for those laughs or even the occasional derisive snort. Whether they are laughing at you or with you makes little difference. Any sound at all means they're still hanging in there, willing to give you a chance to do your thing. As an actor I counted on the audience to fuel my performance, to enable my abandonment of any sense of dignity and give it my all. Without them, I wasn't funny. With them, I was. Simple as that.
I recall a particular matinee at the end of a very satisfying run of one of Neil Simon's comedies. For three nights, my co-star and I had enjoyed the lively response of our audiences, been pushed to new bounds by their unrestrained laughter and obvious appreciation of our modest efforts. Sunday afternoon crowds are by nature less boisterous. A matinee often follows morning worship and a visit to the local brunch buffet. The crowd frequently includes ladies of a certain age who attend in groups, still dressed in their Sunday best. They are more likely to smile when amused, and applaud politely. They are frankly more likely to nod off during long passages of dialogue, as well. Halfway through this performance, I recall feeling completely alone, save for my on-stage companion. If the audience was even still in the house, they were at best chuckling softly or at worst staring with glazed expressions or disapproving boredom. Either way, I threw more into that performance than into any of the others, on the off chance that someone out there was still awake and had a sense of humor. Why not? I had nothing to lose now. I'd already lost my audience.
Surprisingly, the applause at the end was much more than just polite and we were greeted with numerous warm compliments after the curtain dropped. But it wasn't the same, was it? What we needed to make the show memorable for us was their instantaneous reaction, their participation in the magic of live theater. It's lovely to have someone thank you for your work, but it's better by far to know they're nudging the person in the seat next to them as they share a laugh.
So, back to my original point. You write a book, or books, you put them where they'll be seen and hopefully read. You know people are buying them, you even know people who've bought them, and it's safe to presume a certain number are actually reading them. Then you hear from someone, a nice email or message on Facebook, even the occasional surprising letter or phone call, and the response is overwhelmingly positive. Like that first laugh from the audience, you begin to relax, to feel you've found your stride. It's all downhill from here.
And then silence. The reviews, which may be positive, even glowing, are a slow trickle. Sales are sporadic. Have you lost them? Was that first wave just a fluke and now the reality of mediocrity is settling in? If I were on stage in front of my potential readership, I could broaden my gestures, extend my double-takes, maybe even try a pratfall. Anything to shake you from this unbearable quiet! As a writer, the deed is done, the books are written. I can only wait, hoping one happy reader will nudge the person next to them and pass the word. I have no choice but to spam my Facebook friends, hand out my business cards, and wait. It's torture, frankly, relieved only by those miraculous moments when a reader throws me a lifeline in the form of a "Thanks for the wonderful books," or better yet, "I'm recommending this to all my friends."
I know you're out there, silent as you may seem at times. I guess the old actor in me still craves the beautiful noise only an enthralled audience can make. I love to hear from you, whatever you have to say, just to let me know you haven't nodded off!