As the regular host of Noir at the Bar LA, Eric Beetner is frickin’ funny. He has the delivery and timing of a stand-up comedian, and it really brings the room to life. At last Sunday’s event, I read from my novel, A Negro and an Ofay. I decided that, as I was in the room with well-liked and respected authors, I’d try to appear as one myself. Then Beetner’s introduction landed, and it was hilarious, and for a comedian who’s trying not to be funny, that’s like cocaine in a dressing room. “Who left this here? For me? Ah well.”
When I was first learning how things work in published fiction, I made note of behavior. I’m a multi-talent with a delivery that can easily fill the room; however, the readings I attended seemed like sober affairs and no place for a ham. An author is introduced and then reads from his or her own work, which is normally followed by a polite Q&A session. Books are signed and attendees disperse. To this old performer, it’s rather straightforward and appropriate, as it’s a lot to ask someone to take a chance on a book. A bad movie only lasts 2 hours. A bad TV show can be deleted from the DVR. A bad book just sits there, where it ruins the decorum and provokes buyer’s remorse. Perhaps it would be better for me to keep it simple. I’d let folks get on with reading my novel in their own space. If my work wound up atop the toilet tank instead of the nightstand, at least it wouldn’t happen out of annoyance.
Before my turn at the mic, my thought was to go about it all regular. I would just be a good author and respect the craft of writing. I played Eric’s hilarious and warm introduction off with a quip, then lead with, as Travis Richardson says, my “Chicago credentials.” I pulled out my glasses, which I’m still not used to wearing, and I thought I may have come off as pretentious. It felt awkward enough that it provoked a visit from him.
“Now I have to put on my old man glasses…so I can be all Masterpiece Theater ‘n shit…”
The crowd laughed, loudly. Dammit. No! Not now!
You see, the thinking me, while always willing to take the credit, doesn’t make all the decisions. The feeling me generally wins all arguments. Earlier that day, I spent a few hours timing out passages I thought would work within 5-6 minutes. Just before the get-down however, I spontaneously chose a few pages from Chapter 5, where my protagonist, Elliot Caprice, finds stable professional work for the first time since leaving the Chicago Police Department in a hail of bullets and blood. It is a very dynamic and unintentionally funny piece. What’s more, it’s FILLED with characters.
I’ve trained and worked well as an actor. It’s not easy to be dedicated to it, and I’m proud of it. I just had this idea that it wasn’t appropriate to be a thespian in this context. But that passage, man! It was as tempting to me as Frito’s are to a fat kid. I couldn’t resist, same as I couldn’t resist another comparison/contrast metaphor in this story.
Comedian Gardner played keep-away with the mic so Author Gardner couldn’t get it back, and he handed it to Actor Gardner, who brought two different accents, two different genders, action, drama and comedy to the packed house of genre enthusiasts, friends and supporters. Author Gardner was horrified but was shouted down by the rest of us, because together, we were all having way too much fun. My time was done, and Eric came back on with more jokes, citing my ‘ballzy author choice’ of being my own cover model (Stop snitchin’ Beetner!). He was a riot. The applause was big. Folks enjoyed it. They dug me and my work. It felt good not holding back.
After I perform, it usually takes a few days for my bones to settle and my self-accusing spirit to stop talking. By the way, my self-accusing spirit sounds like a crotchety old fart who eats polish sausage and happily watches the Chicago Bears lose every Sunday. Normally, I’d feel like a low-rent James Lipton who interviews himself, or Felix Unger, who consistently belts out prose in the middle of card games. It’s the last vestiges of my Midwestern blue collar conditioning, telling me how performing is for attention seeking bozos. This time, though, that voice inside didn’t tell me to quit bein’ mannish, or stop being so out there.
It said, “You keep doin’ that, you just may sell some books.”
Well alright then. I guess we’ll all do it together. All Masterpiece Theater ‘n shit.