The double closet doors stand open, hangers displaying a variety of appealing colors, textures and styles of footwear, shirts and cardigans. The bureau drawers are open, too, showing pants of many colors. Which will be chosen for the upcoming author event for which I am the main attraction? I must choose soon. It’s nearing show time.
I’ve already rehearsed bits of my spiel in the mirror. Gone through what I will say, what feelings I will project for the hordes of adoring fans (if only!) that will attend to my every word and gesture. Why do I get the feeling that this bookish outing in which I surely will be judged, is eerily like competing in a horse show? Like riding in the spotlight, trying to stand out from the herd of other contenders, trying to look happily competent and sure of winning while my gizzards flip like a landed trout?
I’ve already flailed away at the mirror. Fluffed recalcitrant locks. Blushed my cheeks. Filled in eyebrows, eyelashes and eyelids with a dizzying array of crayons and potions. Applied with a discerning hand, of course. At my age (72) I don’t want to resemble a lavishly tended grave!
This outfit is tried and discarded. Then that one — “too dressy,” “too warm,” “too tight” (I’m cutting back on Cheezits tomorrow). I choose one, appropriately feminine and Western. Yes, that’s the look I want today. Then I hold out a book. I say a few words about it, trying to look as if I think this is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Cubed hay?
The Honda is packed and ready to hit the road. Books, posters, bookmarks, pens, goodies and guest book. And finally, so am I. Ready. Maybe. I’m sure I must have forgotten something. But I cannot for the love of Mike remember what. I can barely remember my own name, let alone salient points I want to mention about my “New West Mysteries with Heart.”
On the road again, driving to the bookstore (or library, reading group, literary festival), it feels as if I am warming up. I again practice saying my main points, running through the coming gig mentally, visualizing perfection. That, too, is what I did those wonderful years showing my horses in various events — Western pleasure, horsemanship, trail, hunt seat and showmanship. A confident calm settles over me. I really am ready.
The bookstore looms ahead. The “arena” where the magic happens. I park, bring my gear inside, set up at the table, adjust the microphone. Listeners trickle in. A tingle riffles through me. I review my points. A hint of stage fright — just enough to put me on point, with all my prep set to peak at the right time. Breathe, breathe. Cue energy. Do it like you did at home. Only better.
“Hello, it’s great to see you here today,” I begin, making eye contact with the two or twenty that have set aside part of their day to see me and hear about my books. “I hope you’re ready for a good ride — or, read — with my amateur cowgirl-sleuth in the modern West.” Or words to that effect. Keep it natural, make it easy for “judges” to like you and your books. Win that class!
I loved showing horses. A bit of a wreck beforehand, a bit overwhelmed by all the elements that went into preparing for those few minutes on the spotlight. Obsessed with this or that detail of outfit or presentation. Afraid of bombing, of going over like a dead horse.
But you know? Once underway with people watching, judging, responding, I come out a winner no matter how many judges like me, how many ask great questions, how many listeners buy my books. Really. It all depends on how you define winning. And believe me, I have a very broad definition of it!