I donít get stage fright. After all, one way or another, Iíve been on a stage since I was four years oldóballet, playing the flute, ballroom dance, a brief theater period in college, teaching in a classroom and privately, and of course singing. But when I went to that historical novelistsí conference, lo and behold, I got a little stage fright.
It was standing outside the room where everyone pitched their books to agents and publishers that did it. I was fine, didnít expect much, thought of it as a way to suck information out of people more than a way to get into print. I got to the room in plenty of time, signed in, and then lurked, listening to the others talk about their books, their pitches, or the weather. Suddenly, my stomach lurched up into my throat. Apparently, it showed on my face, as the nice woman signing us all in came over to me and asked if I was okay.
Hereís the thing. Iíve been around plenty of people who get stage fright. You can feel it, almost smell it on them, a kind of quivery stomach, heart in throat extravaganza of sweating palms and loose bowels. But *I* donít get it. Nope. If youíre prepared, even if you make mistakes, you will recover. Heck, as I always say after singing a solo, ďno one was killed.Ē You just canít take it so seriously.
But I did. I seriously did.
I pulled myself out of it quickly enough, though. Hereís the tale.
The night before, there was a reception, and we all stood around pitching our books to one another while we sipped adult beverages. This nice young man, a graphic novelist specializing in the Trojan horse era, he asked me what it was that I thought would go wrong. I realized that I couldnít explain. So then he said to meóand hereís the really clever partógive me your bad pitch.
So I did. I slumped my shoulders. I pinched my voice up into my nose. I whined on academically about the driest aspects of my book. I pretended that I was proud of how LONG the book is. I used long words and foreign words to make myself seem smarter. I checked my teeth repeatedly for savory morsels.
Those were all the things I didnít want to do. So then, he saidóknowing I was ready nowógive me your good pitch. And I did. I was funny, engaging, and told my story with light in my eyes. I could feel myself just flat out enjoying that Iíd come up with this idea and seen it through. I mentioned my second draft trimming efforts and my plans for the next book.
So there I was, getting nervous in the line to present to important dignitaries, and I just ran that little exercise again. I got all the ickies out before I went in to see someone who could decide whether or not I really did have a good idea.
You know, this works, or so Iím told, for proper stage fright as well. Iíve read that if your hands are all sweaty and your heart is pounding away like itís a conga drum, you try to make your palms sweatier and your heart beat harder by just willing it so. Apparently, that makes these unpleasant fight-or-flight instincts quiet right on down.
Youíll have to let me know though. Even though Iíd only known about the solo for four days (someone had to bail at the last minute), I got away with it at this weekendís concert extravaganza without a peep of stage fright. After all, no one was killed.