This past weekend I did my very first reading from “The Swan Harp”. No, it’s not published yet, nor do I have any news about whether or when it might be. Yes, other people have read it already. But Saturday night was the first time I’d read to an audience other than the people who participated in writing binges. This was the first time I’d read it aloud outside of my writers’ group.
I spent the weekend with my friends Jennifer Bulman and Henry Troup. I’ve been friends with each of them for over thirty years, coming up on thirty-five, I believe. All of us were members of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a mediaeval recreationist group. We also went to science fiction/fantasy conventions. I hadn’t seen Jennifer and Henry since last year, when I stopped overnight on my way to Montreal, and all of us wanted a longer visit.
They invited two other longtime friends for Saturday night dinner. Judy Reynolds is the very first person I ever met in the SCA, and Joan and I used to be mistaken for one another and so call ourselves half-sisters. After supper (elk sausage, potatoes, beans, all locally grown or produced, and homemade elderberry tarts) we gathered in the living room and I got out the manuscript.
I read the scene where my protagonist, Kiar, is challenged to a duel by a neighbouring prince who has trespassed into her country. That episode also happened to be the entry that got me the grant. After that I read a very short bit from “The Last Black Swan”.
When I finished reading, Joan said, “Well, you were definitely in the SCA.” That was so gratifying, because I’d been a fighter (using rattan weapons, not live steel), and I’d drawn on my experience to write that episode. All of that experience, however, was twenty years ago, and it was very good to hear that I’d remembered it well enough to write it convincingly.
Having a good reaction from your writer friends to a first draft is one thing. As writers, we understand how tender a first draft is, and that’s not the time for critique. We also understand the process.
Having a good reaction from a reader is better. I’ve had that, too, and it really boosts my confidence to hear “I saw it like a movie in my head” or “I didn’t want it to stop”.
Getting to be in the room with an audience is a different level. There’s a reason rock singers yell, “I love you all!” at their audiences. An audience feeds a performer energy, just with their attention. I felt that on Saturday night. I felt like the friends I was reading to believed what I wrote, were engaged, and wanted Kiar to win. It was an unbelievable buzz, and I’m still a little high from it.
I’m sure I’ll be reading from “The Swan Harp” to other audiences in the future. But I’ll never forget this first reading, and this first audience.