Monday, October 29, 2007

For Reading Out Loud

For a Friday evening's reading at Good Vibrations, San Francisco's venerable feminist sex toy/sex book/sex education/sex-everything store, what does a writer of "erotic literary delights" wear?

Well, if you're this particular writer -- moi -- who'd just celebrated her 38th wedding anniversary the night before, a red silk scarf around the neck seemed like a good idea (a la Nora Ephron's essay collection I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being A Woman). And I did, at least, wear high-heeled boots. But otherwise, I'm afraid I had to leave the glam standard-bearing to my beautiful and talented young co-readers and co-conspirators, Eden Bradley, Lillian Feisty, and our own Lacy Danes (who looked fantastic in -- well, what else but lace? -- black lace and fine black wool and fantastic stockings with straight straight black seams).

In any case, it was great appearing with these hot and elegant, charming and fun creatures. Great to be reading and listening too. Because reading out loud in public isn't as much a part of the romance-writing culture as it should be. I'm not sure why this is, though I'm guessing that it has something to do with mass-marketing. We sign and sign and sign, but (as with Jane and Colette last week) usually only read aloud as part of the erotica scene. A pity, that. I hope it changes.

I drank too much wine, but my husband (who was there) told me I managed to read clearly, and even slowly enough. Unlike my three co-readers, I've read a fair amount in public, but I still haven't completely learned to swallow the ends of my sentences. I think I'm improving, though. And Friday night was the first time in more than a decade that I read something not yet published -- which I think I'm going to keep trying to do. Even though I read out loud a lot as I write, there's something different about how one's words vibrate in the air when there are listeners around.

And what can be great about reading with a group (especially if it's a simpatico bunch), is to hear the themes and variations that weave themselves through the very different pieces the writers choose to read.

For us four last Friday night, negotiation was one of the themes. I found it interesting how seriously our work took that particular element of eroticism. For a certain sort of female erotic imagination, exotic, kinky sex seems to need a certain modicum of rule-making between participants -- and the talk, the working it out, the exchange of power and the exposure of desire are all definitely a part of the turnon. I read a little bit from the beginning of Carrie's Story where the talk of rules and procedures suddenly makes the adventure she's entering seem realer to her.

And it seemed that we writers also shared certain fascination with -- well, if not bondage, at least immobilization. It's been a perennial theme in my work, this fascinating business of, as essayist Sallie Tisdale put it, "the dream of being dominated by sex itself -- being forced, as it were, by the intensity of the sex to submit to and accept sex, be bound by sex, mastered by sex," of somehow needing to be forced to do what you most want to do.

My own contribution, from the novel I'm working on now (which still must not be named), was about the possibilities for immobilization that a tight corset might provide, for a woman in the right position (the book's set in 1829, and styles aren't really Regency anymore -- waists are getting longer and tighter by the minute). I loved trying out the images in front of an audience, and I also loved hearing how the other writers handled the situations they'd imagined their heroines into.

Anyway, it was great. To meet the readers and other writers as well. To hear our contrasting voices. Oh, and to find out when I got home, that my husband had managed to buy me a little anniversary present at Good Vibes when I wasn't looking.

So... writers, what kinds of experiences have you had reading your work in front of audiences?

And readers, do you enjoy going to this sort of event?

Why do you think romance writers do so little reading out loud?

And... (off topic but oddly important to me), what was your response to J. K. Rowling's announcement that Harry Potter's Professor Dumbledore is gay?


Sharon Page said...

Great post, Pam, and I do wish I could have been at the event to hear you, Lacy, along with Lilian (who I met at Romantic Times) and Eden. But I'm waayy up in Canada.

Why don't romance authors read in public? That's an interesting question. And it's true that romance, when it's erotic, seems to be perfectly fine for readings--I did some on a local university radio station. And a fellow Aphrodisia author, Kate Douglas, took part in a group book signing event where actors acted out parts of the books.

Unfortunately I wonder if the reason romance isn't read aloud is because romance gets the snide snickers, and clubs or bookstores are too afraid of the eyerolling to give it a try. Even though, I'm sure that many authors reading from mainstream works are reading from books that have relationships, love, and passion within them.

Jane Lockwood said...

I really love reading my work aloud and I don't understand why more romance writers aren't into it. I'd suggest a couple of reasons. One, there is so much variety in romance, that you can never be sure that you're providing what your audience wants. With erotica/erotic romance, you have a much better idea of what they're expecting.

Also--trying to put this tactfully--in romance, I've been told dozens of times that the emphasis is on the story and the language, use and play of it, comes second. If you're going to read aloud, you have to have an excerpt that will stand alone and with language that will sing. I think we erotic romance/erotica writers are very conscious of the power of words and how they work together--we have to be.

Pam, I uh, hope he remembered to get batteries too. What a sweet gesture.

Pam Rosenthal said...

Wish you coulda been there too, Sharon.

And I think Jane's got part of the answer -- or 2 parts, actually. And that they go together.

One, there is so much variety in romance, that you can never be sure that you're providing what your audience wants. So by choosing a certain romance writer reading aloud and not another, it would be like assuming that everybody is buying Julia Child for the coq au vin recipe (oh dear, that just slipped right out; unintentional, sweartagod; maybe I better stop while I'm ahead).

Still, this (to me) rather maddening notion that "the emphasis is on the story and the language, use and play of it, comes second" probably also means that the recipe for fantasy depends upon a certain speed and interiority of the experience.

Strange, tho. Because, for example, the simple SM dynamic of increasing outrageousness and what-will-she-have-to-endure-next has always to me been related to the my experiences of 4 am page-turning, reading master story-teller Stephen King. My husband used to call me "the slave of narrative." And yet I read aloud from Carrie's Story all the time.

(Oh, and btw he didn't buy me that. Something more recherche, actually.)

Lacy Danes said...

It was a blast Pam! Though I was a bit upset they didn’t have your books as they said they would.

I have some wonderful photos of all of us that I will put up on my blog this week sometime. Loved having drinks with you before hand and sharing stories of writing challenges.

I was nervous. Very. Mostly because I was reading my work in front of you! Though going last had its advantages. I could drink wine and chill out!


You are by far one of the loveliest people I know. I loved the red scarf and you and your husband are simply adorable! Where can I find a man like him? Wink.

I will let you all know when I get the images up on my blog.

Hugs and Kisses,

Pam Rosenthal said...

Thanks for all the sweet words -- it was wonderful, Lacy, you were terrific. And do send the blog some links to the pix. (Tho I wish I had been lovelier when I'd found out Good Vibes didn't have my books -- the person there's pretty new to the job, and I should have taken that into account).

Eden Bradley said...

The reading was a wonderful experience-my first (the first 'first' in a very long time!). And wonderful to be able to sit and talk with you earlier in the evening.
I think with any group reading you're going to have some variety in what is read and what the people listening are interested in. But it also seems to me that romance authors are often a shy bunch, and perhaps it hasn't occurred to many that they could/should read their work in public. I'm pretty outgoing and I was terribly nervous. Mostly because I had to read my smut in front of my brothers, which just seemed wrong somehow-lol! But now that I've done it, I'll be much more likely to do it again. *Note to anyone considering their first reading: a cocktail shortly before is quite helpful.
Hmm...trying to think if it was only by chance that all four of us explored some power dynamic in the pieces we read...? I loved the different takes on power play, and realized that even in reading from my upcoming book, Exotica, which is not a BDSM-themed book, as some of my others are, that dynamic is very much present and is integral to the relationship. Which has me thinking about my work and how I view relationships in general and...and now I'm babbling...
Anyway-thanks so much for reading with us, Pam! Oh-and I'll post some pics on my blog soon, too.

Jane Lockwood said...

Re Dumbledore... my reaction is "so what?" It sounds to me like one of those writer-things where you know information about your character that will never appear in the book.

The people who think Rowling is a spawn of Satan will receive great satisfaction; a new branch of fanfic and/or scholarly speculation will begin; possibly it will bring in new readers looking for gay clues.

Pam Rosenthal said...

I think you're right, JaneGeorge re Dumbledore -- and I liked Edward Rothstein's piece in the NY Times, about how it doesn't matter, because for the most part Dumbledore has lived a life of renunciation and atonement.

Still, I do think she had it in mind all the way along (do you remember the suit he wore in a flashback toward the end of Vol VI?). I guess it touched me when I first learned about it, for the sake of my niece and nephew, Harry Potter scholars both of them, growing up in a lesbian household.

And I love Rothstein's observation that Harry Potter is at heart a world where outsiders can feel at home.

Eva Gale said...

I WISH I could have been there! And I would love to, and hear, other authors read their stories. I would actually be able to peek in and see how they 'hear' their own words.

How do you swallow the ends of your sentences?

Pam Rosenthal said...

I would love to... hear other authors read their stories. I would actually be able to peek in and see how they 'hear' their own words.

That's it exactly, Eva. How an author 'hears' her own words.

As for how I swallow the ends of my sentences -- hmm, I'll ask Michael when he gets home for what it sounds like.

Lacy Danes said...

Oh Eva I would have loved it if you had been there! Though, you have read all my stories before they hit my editor’s desk anyway. Grin.

I wonder if my words sound the same to me, as they do to you?


I finally posted about my trip to San Fran over on my blog.

I got carried away with photos though. There are four up from the reading, and Pam you look so HAPPY in the one of all of us. (Let me know Pam is you would like copies or if you would like to see the rest of the ones I have.)

Hugs and Kisses,

Pam Rosenthal said...

swallowing my sentences -- Michael says -- as in not having the guts to read them slowly enough, sort of running to hide in the middle. But I'm working on it.

Lillian Feisty said...

Pam, you really are an inspiration to me, in so many ways. As I'm sure you were well aware, I was by far the most nervous of the group. I have very little experience speaking in public, and to jump right in with the first anal sex scene I wrote, was, well, stressful. *Grin* But you were so gracious, and I learned so much just from listening to you. Thank you for letting me join you! Next time I will need much less vodka before I read. : )

Pam Rosenthal said...

Feisty, it was a delight to meet you and you looked adorable and sounded terrific. Thanks for the nice words -- a challenge to figure out how to measure up to "gracious."