Terror in Music City

JT Ellison

No, not that kind of terror.

The terror that comes from facing an unknown. The terror of
speaking in public. The terror that precedes my very first public appearance on
the teaching side of a panel at a writer’s conference. It happens tomorrow, and
I’m scared to death.

Saturday, August 4, 2006 marks the very first writer’s
conference where I’ll be facing an audience. It’s called Murder in Music City and is
sponsored by the Southeast Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. The goal is
to help aspiring authors gain knowledge and skills to assist in the journey
toward publication. And somehow, someone thought that I’d be a good person to
have for this.

What were they thinking? What was I thinking to agree?????

Okay, true confessions time. I have a little public speaking
fear. In graduate school, we had to get up in front of a class and a video
camera and do a 30 second political spot we’d written. Writing the copy was a
no brainer. But as I watched my classmates parade, one by one, up to the
podium, launch into their campaign ads, my palms started to sweat. My head
started to hurt. By the time it was my turn, I was feeling a little panicky. I
got up in front of the group, the light of the camera went on, and I FROZE.
Heart in my throat, black spots in front of my eyes, the works. I took a couple
of shallow breaths, mumbled my way through and got the hell out of there. Hubby
was there (boyfriend at the time) and he was shocked. Here I was, this well put
together woman who could jaw with Senators and Congressmen all night, but a
little 30 second camera spot unglued me. He should have run then.

I’ve been worried about this for a while. What in the hell
am I going to do in front of an audience now? I’ll tell you. I’m going to
panic. I may not show it, but my heart will be racing, I’ll stumble over my
words – in short, it’s not going to be pretty.

Facing an audience is the one thing I didn’t sign up for
when I decided to become a full time writer. I love my computer, my desk,
email, the phone. I love critique groups, going to Sisters in Crime meetings.
Hell, I had a ball at ThrillerFest (with a little help from my little friend
for the first couple of days, if you know what I mean). Just don’t ask me to
speak to the group.

So I’ve been fretting for a solid year about this moment. I
know myself, once I get used to it, I’ll be fine. Practice makes perfect, all
that good stuff. It’s the initial events that are going to be rough. I’m never
going to have the style and panache of J.A. Konrath, who can crash a meeting of
Sisters in Crime Middle TN Chapter and talk for an hour, off the cuff, about
his long road getting published. I’m never going to have the charm and grace of
a Tasha Alexander, who captivated an audience I was in for an hour. We wanted more.
I’ll never have the laconic coolness of Lee Child, the off the cuff humor of
John Connolly, the gravitas of Jan Burke. I don’t even worry about that,
really. Why set yourself up for failure, you know?

So here’s the set up. I was supposed to be on a panel with
several other SEMWA mystery writers. A bit panic inducing, but my most
excellent friend, JB Thompson, was tapped to moderate. I knew I could manage
that. I talked myself through it and knew I would ultimately be okay.

The there was a schedule change. And don’t get me wrong, I’m
thrilled about this, just a wee bit nervous. The esteemed P.J. Parrish (the
Kelly Nichols half) is the headliner, doing a presentation on writing
thrillers. The powers that be decided that I’d fit better with her, an old pro
v. new kid on the block set-up. So it’s the two of us, with a killer PowerPoint
presentation, in front of the audience, for 90 minutes.

Can you say stomach cramps?

I’m going overboard here. I’ve never met Kelly but have
heard amazingly wonderful stories about both her and her sister, Kristy. She
has been so gracious, forthcoming and damn helpful getting this presentation
together. She’s a cool cucumber, has done this a million times, and will
certainly be able to cover any flubs I might make. Personally, I plan to sit
back, click the mouse to change slides and pray no one knows I’m there. Vanna White, anyone?

If you’ve met me, you might not believe this deep rooted
fear is possible. I’m a bit chatty, actually. I enjoy meeting new people. I’m
generally a pretty outgoing, laid back kind of girl. It’s the audience that
scares me.

So I have a favor to ask, my fellow scribes and readers. Can
you share some embarrassing moments you’ve had or witnessed? Please tell me I’m
not the only one who’s ever had this mind numbing feeling, and I’ll go into
tomorrow with my head held high.

And a plastic bucket under the table, just in case.

Wine of the Week: Red Guitar Navarro Tempranillo Garnacha

 

P.S. For yet another chance to see me flub my lines, KillerNashville is just around the corner, September 15-16. If you’re in the Southeast and want a great conference to attend close to home, come check it out. Click here for more information.

BIG P.P.S. Just found out one of my most favorite authors will be the special guest ON THE BUBBLE tomorrow. You DON’T want to miss her. Hints? NEVER! You must come back in the morning for your treat.

22 thoughts on “Terror in Music City

  1. Tasha Alexander

    JT, you are going to be fabulous! You’re smart and articulate and you know what you’re talking about.

    I wish I was going to be there so that I could report first hand on your triumphant debut!

    Reply
  2. Alexandra Sokoloff

    The supreme embarrassing moment of my life was on stage. I was in a really spectacular and unique production of ONDINE, playing the Queen and other roles, and there was a royal court scene that the whole cast could never, ever get through without collapsing into hysterical laughter. A lot of this was because of the King, Reed Martin, a brilliant comedian who every rehearsal went out of his way to find new ways to make the rest of us break.

    But of course you always somehow pull it together for opening night, and we did a week of performances without a hitch. And then – one night when the King rose grandly from his throne, one of the pearls from his ermine robe caught on the mesh train of my gown. And as he started walking downstage, both our robes rose like the wings of giant swans.

    Well, the courtiers almost lost it. The audience totally lost it. But hey, we were professionals, or aspiring, anyway, and the courtiers got hold of themselves and somehow Reed and I did a little shimmy and two-step to get unhooked, shooting each other marital looks of annoyance, and we resumed the scene.

    And it happened again. Same pearl, same mesh, same swan wings.

    It was pandemonium. We could not stop laughing. Literally. Could. Not. Stop. I know from this moment what it means to be rolling on the floor laughing, because half of the actors on stage were. I was doubled over on my throne, laughing my guts out. The King was collapsed in my lap. The audience was shrieking. We could hear the director out in the house just wailing with laughter. It went on for minutes, which on stage is eternity. I don’t know how we finally pulled ourselves together, but somehow we did. And after the show I have never had so many people thank me for the best laugh of their lives.

    Now, you may be thinking – “But that’s not embarrassing, that’s priceless.” Well, yeah – it was. But for us, the actors, at the moment – it was the most humiliating thing that had ever happened to us. It’s perception, right? We were so worried about doing it RIGHT that we almost missed the moment of transcendence. And it was such a huge catharsis that I’ve never really been embarrassed by anything since.

    What I’m trying to tell you is that the goofs are often the best part. An audience loves to see that you’re human, and that mistakes are just a part of life. Laugh about it and they’ll be laughing with you – and with your wicked sense of humor, JT, you will have them eating out of your hand.

    And as I said before – you will be FABULOUS. Wish I could be there!

    Alex XX

    Reply
  3. Patti abbott

    It’s the ones who think they’ll be great, that never are. They don’t try as hard and you can feel it. You’ll be terrific.

    Reply
  4. Dave White

    I’m usually a pretty good public speaker, but a few years ago I was the best man in a wedding. When I got up to give the speech I lifted the champagne glass and my hand started to shake. And not just minor shake, but champagne nearly splashing out the glass noticable shake. My first thought was “Crap, my hand’s shaking, I can’t stop it and now I’ve committed to raising the glass. Can’t pull it back now.”

    Reply
  5. patry

    Oh, JT, you’ve elucidated my fears so perfectly! My first public speaking engagement is months away, and I’m already losing sleep over it. In fact, just thinking of YOU doing it made my palms sweat–even though I know you’ll be better than fine. You’ll be marvelous!

    When I wrote about this on my blog recently, one of the readers suggested something called Bach’s Flower Remedy.

    Reply
  6. B.G. Ritts

    Where to begin?

    For the junior class play in high school, I was the girl engaged to the hero. We had to kiss at play’s end. I didn’t really like the boy and our ‘kiss’ was bend-at-the-waist and come close. There were snickers in the audience as the curtain closed.

    I’m really a backstage person, but once, because of a casting necessity, found myself onstage at the end of a community theatre play. I had four short lines. My prop flashlight didn’t work and while I fought with it, I managed to totally forget about two of the lines. I couldn’t make that flashlight work and that’s all I could focus on.

    In the early 90s, I found myself driving my older car to a concert and, unexpectedly, having to pick up Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax to take them to the university auditorium for the program. Now it was not just a 12-15 year old car, but a two door, with ratty vinyl interior, with an old, torn apart computer in the trunk. Mr. Ma climbed into the back seat and pulled his cased cello into his lap like a guitar. Mr. Ax sat in front, on a towel thrown over a large section where a chunk of vinyl and foam was missing. They had had to put their performance clothes in the trunk on top of the assembled junk. And here I was representing (though a substitute) a university and decent sized city in the process. I still cringe when wondering what stories they tell about their transportation that evening. Why hadn’t I driven my better car?

    I’ve also been in a theatre audience when Maggie Smith and her costar couldn’t for the life of them figure out what needed to be said/done next. It was an eternity – for them I’m sure – but also for the audience. As Ms. Sokoloff has said, the audience loves that you’re human, but they also empathize with you and are out there trying to help you with as much positive energy as they can generate.

    The audience is out there helping you with as much positive energy as they can generate. Don’t worry, that positive force will carry you along and you’ll be fine.

    Reply
  7. JT Ellison

    Gosh, guys, I don’t know what to say. Thank you all — the advice, the stories, I’m feeling a little more confident this morning after reading all of this.Tasha, you’re a doll. I wish you’d be there too — the pressure is less with familiar faces.Alex, I love that story. I can envision the setting perfectly. See folks, the girl can write!Dave, I know the feeling. Too well, unfortunately. It’s crazy too, how it can hit you out of nowhere.Patti, you darling, thanks for that. You raise an excellent point.Patry, I’m hoovering peppermint tea as we speak…Naomi, thnk you. I bet you’ve never had a qualm about anything, you’re so polished.And BG, great stories. YoYo Ma in the back of your car? Priceless!!!Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  8. JT Ellison

    You know, Eric, that’s an excellent point. I guess I’ll find out tomorrow.I have a reporter friend who’s planning on doing some work with me camera wise, just to get me prepped for upcoming publicity. I’m curious to see whether it is the audience or the camera.

    Reply
  9. Elaine

    Aw, shucks, J.T. You’ll be fine – your joie de vivre will shine through. Do like actors do – step outside of yourself. Right, Alex?

    Reply
  10. Sandra Ruttan

    Okay, it wasn’t an author, it was grade 10 science. A boy in class was to read part of the textbook outloud. He substituted orgasm for organism.

    See, you can’t do worse than that!

    Reply
  11. Beatrice Brooks

    Oh, gosh, JT, I have too many “flubs” to fit here (I’ll have to do a blog on it someday). I’m fine once I’m in front of an audience. It’s before I reach the stage that I desperately try and ignore the fluttering stomach-butterflies. But if you count theatrical flubs…

    1) In my fifth grade’s “Salute to Stephen Foster” I played the guitar and sang Camptown Races (in minstral makeup, yet). A girl payed piano as background. She raced through the song like a gushing faucet, making it impossible for me to strum or sing. I have a photo of me, sitting on a chair, holding my guitar (which was practically bigger than I was), tears washing a trail through my dark makeup.

    2) I was in Bus Stop. During one performance my co-star skipped approx 3 pages of dialogue. Heart racing, I adlibbed the whole scene, asking and answering my own questions.

    There’s more, but that’s enought for now, although I should mention the Bouchercon where a wedding party took over our room and the panel [on Promotion, if I recall correctly, and *I do*] was moved poolside 🙂

    Hugs,Deni

    Reply
  12. JT Ellison

    Naomi — but of course… Brown palazzo pants, a multicolored tunic and a tan soldiers jacket, with these adorable flip flops that have jute soles. Phoenix folks might remember that one, it’s utilitarian but cute. And COMFYYY.Deni, you just crack me up. All of those moments sound hysterical.See, if my parents hadn’t made me get up on stage one New Year’s Eve when I was 6 and sing Yankee Doodle Dandee to their friends, I wouldn’t have these woes.

    Reply
  13. JT Ellison

    Naomi — but of course… Brown palazzo pants, a multicolored tunic and a tan soldiers jacket, with these adorable flip flops that have jute soles. Phoenix folks might remember that one, it’s utilitarian but cute. And COMFYYY.Deni, you just crack me up. All of those moments sound hysterical.See, if my parents hadn’t made me get up on stage one New Year’s Eve when I was 6 and sing Yankee Doodle Dandee to their friends, I wouldn’t have these woes.

    Reply
  14. Naomi

    I like, I like. I’m doing a lot of brown this season, too. It’ll look great with your hair and skin coloring. I’m jealous about the flip-flips. With my height, I have to make sure I wear heels–ouch!

    And don’t forget about the accessories. One-of-a-kind accessories are key.

    Reply
  15. JT Ellison

    I bet all the boys are rolling their collective eyes on this one.I’m sadly not much of an accesorizer. Give me my wedding ring and a nice silver cluncker from my parents, diamond studs, and I’m about done. I just don’t have that flair. Methinks someone needs to take me shopping…

    Reply
  16. Pari

    J.T.,Don’t fret . . . you’ll do fine. I’m positive. You see, I’ve met you. The only thing you need to remember is to be yourself; don’t try–just be.

    You know me well enough to know that I like being in front of an audience and enjoy being on television. Well, the most loved anchor in Albuquerque loved BELEN invited me to be interviewed on the local news. What an honor.

    We chit-chatted before the camera went live–then he said, “Well, Pari, tell me about your books.”

    I sat there for, maybe, two seconds–a deer in the headlights–before recovering and answering.

    The thing is, most people won’t remember a rocky start–or even a rocky middle–just end with a flourish.

    Reply
  17. JT Ellison

    Tribe,Damn straight, man. I’ve singlehandedly killed country music. Before I opened my mouth…Pari, you’re the greatest. I can’t imagine you ever being a deer, but a beautiful doe you make. Thanks for the encouragement.

    Reply
  18. Robert Gregory Browne

    Come on, JT, you’ll do great. Hey, if *I* can do a panel and ThrillerFest, anyone can. And you’re a naturally vibrant, intelligent person — you won’t have to fake it. 🙂

    Trust me, two minutes after you’ve started you’ll feel just fine.

    Reply

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