My legs shook as I stood in front of the others in my 6th grade class to deliver a mandatory speech, every bit as hard as they shook the first time I stepped onto the high diving board at a swimming pool in West Des Moines.
The sheer terror of being in front of an audience somehow evolved – slowly, so slowly – into nervous excitement at the prospect of talking about something I love to do. The debilitating fear of heights is now a healthy respect for the law of gravity that keeps me a safe distance from sheer mountain cliffs and other high places.
Lately I’ve found myself actually going out of my way to get in front of people as an author, to do some readings and even sell and sign a few books. Three more events scheduled! Details sometime soon.
I’m surprised at how much fun it can be.
How about you? Are you comfortable in front of an audience or not so much?
I think I’ve led an interesting life so far, but I wouldn’t expect anyone to buy a book about it. Most of my writing has been nonfiction based on research and interviews on various topics. Still, I’ve made use of what I know from experience in my Detective Red Shaw novels. The following excerpt from North of Grand is one example, which draws on my love of bicycling as well as other lived experience. It’s my favorite way of writing what I know.
In which Detective Red Shaw visits a bike shop…
…while investigating the murder of a cyclist.
Half an hour later he was parked outside the place watching a middle-aged couple load two new bicycles on a brand-new rack on the back of a shiny, black SUV. They chatted with a young blonde woman who he guessed had just made the sale. The scene took him back to the time he and Sally bought new bicycles at a discount store and rode them three times one summer. He wasn’t sure where they’d ended up.
Inside the store he took a few minutes to browse, inspecting the lines of sleek, pricey road bikes and rugged, shock-equipped mountain bikes. He wondered how many of them ever actually saw a mountain. Assorted helmets hung on one wall near displays of water bottles and gloves and seat bags and other paraphernalia. There were hard, narrow saddles that weighed nothing or close to it. He could buy balm and padded shorts for his butt to ward off pain and chafing, then spend more bucks on tight, techno-wonder jerseys to keep him cool as he sped down some road in the sun. He picked up a coffee-can-size container of powder from a nearby display. The label claimed it would keep his electrolytes in balance and help him stave off dehydration if only he would mix it properly and drink the proper amount every hour during a long ride, then mix and drink more later to make sure he’d gotten enough.
The only employee in sight was adjusting
the brakes on a bicycle in the shop area. A surly type with long, graying hair,
he looked over once then turned back to the brake job without saying a word. He
seemed to assume that Shaw wasn’t going to buy anything. He was right.
“Can I help you with something, sir?” The
young woman from the parking lot appeared beside him. Up close, he guessed
she’d be in her thirties, a little older than she looked outside. Attractive
and obviously fit. Tess, her ID tag
“Thanks, but I’m just kind of looking
around. Some people I work with swear that riding a bike has been all kinds of
good for their health, mental and otherwise.”
She smiled at that. “I’m sure it has. It’s
a great way to spend some time, get some exercise, get to work, whatever. I
ride here every day, eight miles each way, unless there’s snow and ice.”
“You’re kidding,” Shaw said. “That’s a
long way, isn’t it?”
“Not really,” she said. “If I wasn’t
working I’d be out with my club for about fifty miles, and we’re doing a metric
“A metric century?”
“A hundred kilometers. Sixty-two miles or
Shaw grimaced. “That doesn’t sound like
all that much fun.”
Sometimes the mind wanders and a guy starts to wonder about things like, say, how a search engine finds images that have a lot in common. You never know when something like that might come in handy in a plot or even just in real life.
Unable to focus on anything else for a few minutes, I grabbed my phone and tried it with my own face, the one that shows up on my new About me page.
What to expect?
I remember a woman on an airplane once asked me if I was Richard Dreyfuss. Me?
Then just the other day, I’m told, my sweet granddaughter saw a picture of Brahma, the Hindu god of gods, depicted in a children’s book sporting a white beard. Papa!
Needless to say, I had high expectations for my little experiment. I tapped the phone.
In the blink of an eye I was scrolling through the “similar images,” which turned out to be a diverse collection of men and women – some of them bald, some clean-shaven, dark hair, white hair, curly and straight.
Update 4/28/2019: I came across a tweet that linked to a blog post about “writer’s-block shaming.” I read far enough to answer the question it asks at the end about if the post made me think. Yes, it did. The following still works for me.
This is like asking me how I deal with the Great Pumpkin, the imaginary character that Charles M. Schulz created. I don’t accept it as a real thing.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t times when it is difficult to sit down and write. Sometimes doing something else is just a choice, a matter of procrastination or distraction.
An absence of discipline.
If I somehow found myself going weeks or months or longer without writing anything, I wouldn’t consider myself a victim of some imaginary blockage. I would quit calling myself a writer.