Better to not know.

Saturday, I left the house for Davis-Kidd with my bag of books. I planned for a couple hours of sitting at a table with those books and a pen, and watching people walk by. You know – just like I did at Books-a-Million a few weeks ago. (Only, when I went to Books-a-Million, I thought I’d be doing a reading and had spent a good amount of time agonizing over which passages to read. My uncle even got involved, helping  me out by marking passages and pages he thought he, as an audience member, would like to listen to.)

When I got to Davis-Kidd, I walked around upstairs, didn’t see a table, went downstairs, and saw a bunch of chairs set up (for a children’s storybook reading, or a later author event, I figured). I went back upstairs and asked where the local authors would be sitting and signing.

The woman at the counter directed me downstairs to another woman, and the other woman told me I and another local author, Shawna M. Harrison (author of My True Soul Exploited, Apprehended, and Broken Within – nonfiction story of Shawna’s experience with so much abuse it hurts to imagine), would be at that table in front of all those chairs.

“Are we supposed to read?” I said.

“Oh, you can do whatever you want. I know Shawna plans to read.”

Oh. Uhhh…

Reading terrifies me. Being in front of people, talking in front of people,  is terrifying. I am not unique in this, I know – I’m just saying. In grad school, writers I took a workshop with would read their poems and prose in coffee shops. While they read, I’d sit at a table by the wall with a big cup of coffee. In support. Always in support. I tried to weasel my way out of reading when it was time to present my thesis, but the MFA director wouldn’t have it. “You have to do it,” he said.

It was a disaster.

That was in 2003, and between then and now, I’ve not read a thing to anyone. Until the WKMS interview, when I read a paragraph of Homefront for Mark Welch (and the listening public). But that was different, because there weren’t people sitting in front of me. Looking at me.

And yes, I used to teach classes, but throwing general information at students is not quite the same experience as sitting in front of people – peers, even -  with your own writing and reading it to them.

Before it was time to read, Shawna was walking around the store somewhere, and I sat behind the table flipping frantically through Homefront until I found the passages my uncle and I had picked out.

When it came time to read, Shawna and I muttered, “You want to go first?” “No, you can go first,” and before anything was really decided, Shawna announced to the four people in the audience that I would be reading first. (Thaaaanks…)

So, I did. The first passage, I shook a lot and didn’t breathe very much.  I had to inhale somewhere toward the end. The second passage, I was a little better, and by the third (and final), I was reading the paragraph I’d practiced for the radio. I had that one down.

Shawna was brilliant. She seemed comfortable reading, comfortable talking, comfortable simply being in front of people. (I haven’t mentioned, yet, how cool she is…I couldn’t have been paired with a better person for my first unexpected,  and therefore impromptu, reading.)

After the reading, people started showing up and sitting down and taking part in a discussion about what influenced the books, what our next books were, what advice we had for writers.

Then, when it was time for people to come forward and snatch up all our books, there was an incredible cluster imbalance: Shawna’s side – cluster. My side – empty.

Totally empty.

Luckily, I’d stood alone at tables with my books before, so it wasn’t a big deal. And Bev, who works at Davis-Kidd, was kind enough to walk over and ask me questions so I’d look occupied (thanks, Bev).

In all, it was a great experience. I got to meet Shawna, first of all. She even touched my arm at one point to tell me something, and said, “Oh! There’s muscle there.”

“Yes. Yes there is,” I said.

Second, there’s no better way to get a dreaded reading out of the way than to do it without knowing it’s coming.

And, bonus – I got to go home with this (unframed, however):

(What came to my attention when I saw this sign is that there’s a recurring liberty-taking with my name. Here, they leave out my middle initial. It doesn’t matter (seriously), but it’s interesting, because they left Shawna’s in. The name on my book is written as Kristen J. Tsetsi. So…where’s my J? Also, when fiction writers submitted their stories to American Fiction, some of them would address their letters to “Kris.” When I write reviewers (or when, in the past, I sent letters to agents), they often respond to me with “Kris” even though I sign my name as “Kristen.” [Note, in response to Robin's comment left on my WordPress blog, where this is cross-posted: funny thing is, I actually prefer Kris! I just find it funny when, in written correspondence, people assume the nickname.] And the Army Wife Network, in their advertisement of my book for their book club, calls me “Karen Tsetsi.” Right next to the cover image of my book, upon which is written “Kristen Tsetsi” It’s just strange!)

P.S. Some copies of  Homefront came home with me (the store bought the rest for their shelves). If you’d like a signed copy, click here.

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2 Responses to Better to not know.

  1. Bonnie says:

    Dear Kristen J. Tsetsi …

    I can empathize. I had my first ever book-signing a couple of weeks ago at The Mysterious Bookshop in New York City — and although I didn’t “read”, I was “interviewed” — thoroughly! I was nervous about speaking in front of “all those strangers” until, as luck would have it, a raging storm broke over the city about an hour before the appointed time, which left me nervous that not a single “stranger” would show up. Fortunately, a few people braved the storm and since I was crazy about the interviewer, I got pretty comfortable … until, while autographing books the manager marched up and announced for all to hear that he would sell me back any of the “left-over books” at half his cost. “Gee, thanks buddy,” I felt like saying. Instead, I think I just tilted my head and blinked … like maybe he was speaking in tongues … or at least a language I didn’t understand. Anyway, I applaud your bravery. It’s not easy being fearless.

    Bonnie Kozek

  2. Kristen says:

    Bonnie –

    I like the blinking trick. I MUST try that.


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