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Lit Up OC: Author Open Mic

Kean Coffee Tustin 2
Kean Coffee in Tustin, CA

I drove down the country road with anticipation, a small box of my books in the trunk of my vehicle and wearing comfortable, but nice clothing. I did my best to quell my nerves and remind myself that I’ve done this before, but it had been almost a year since I last performed an author reading in public. I felt that I might be rusty. This was no ordinary author series either. It was Lit Up OC, the series attached to my local writing guild and most of my writer friends attend it. Would I lose my voice? Would I blank out when my friends grilled me with writing questions that would go far beyond a typical layperson? Of the three authors reading, which one would I be? First? Last? I wasn’t sure.

What is Lit Up OC

I stumbled upon Lit Up OC around two years ago. It is a monthly reading series in Southern California located at Keans Coffee in Tustin. Local writers hang out with their coffee and tea while three authors read excerpts from their novels or a short story. Represented genre include mysteries, thrillers, science fiction, fantasy, literary, memoir, you name it. You never know what is coming next. There are many events like this in nearby Los Angeles, but Lit Up OC is the only reading series I know of in Orange County. Our host, Madeline Tighe Margarita is the creator and organizer of the event. She handles the author introductions. Asks questions of the audience afterward about what they heard and what their impressions were in critique style. Then moderates a general question and answer session between the author and audience.

What I Read

Murder They Wrote Book Cover (blog)In December of 2017, I had a story included in a horror anthology called “Murder They Wrote” put out by Serial Sikk Publishing. The theme of the collection was speculative fiction that included a murder. My story, “We Can Rebuild Him” began as a writing prompt from an online science fiction writing club. The prompt was to write a story about a cyborg. I combined the prompt with the feelings I felt when watching the Kevin Bacon movie “Taking Chance”. It features an American escort officer returning the body of a soldier to his family. I combined this with ideas about cyborgs that I had gleaned from panels at science fiction conventions. The result was psychologically dark and although it was not technically about murder, it fits with the bloody theme of the anthology.

I read the entire story to the audience. My goal was not to sell books per se, it was for me to get out and perform a reading for the first time in almost a year. I practiced all week. Developing different inflections for the characters. Where to put in pauses for emphasis. Making sure that all technical terms flowed with proper pronunciations. Everything that I could do to make a good first impression of my writing to my peers.

What Questions Were Asked

Wendy Reads at Lit Up OC - Jan 2018
Wendy Van Camp Reads at Lit Up OC

After the reading, Maddie conducts a question and answer session. The first part of the session she asks the audience about what they heard during the reading and their thoughts about it. Considering most of the audience are authors, some with multiple books, the comments can be extremely technical and difficult to answer on the fly. I prepared to answer typical questions at the reading. The inspiration for the story. My writing voice. Experiences on the science fiction convention circuit. What national author guilds I belong to and why. The audience asked all that and more.

I’m told that I appeared articulate and that my reading was entertaining, even with the dark subject matter. Many were surprised that I had written a story in the horror genre.

I feel that “We Can Rebuild Him” is a good story to perform and I plan on using it as my main piece at the various readings I will do at conventions this year. While I don’t write dark, horror pieces as a general rule, it still showcases my current skill level as an author. If you are planning on attending WorldCon, you will hear me read this story at the Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading.

Kean Coffee Reading Audience 2
Lit Up OC Audience

Why Do Readings?

Many writers are introverts who feel anxiety standing up in front of people. I can sympathize with that. When I was a beginning teacher, standing in front of 30 teenagers and trying to convey English, History or Math to them, I felt challenged. Over time, I learned to be more comfortable in front of a classroom and to speak in a manner that is engaging enough to hold the attention of teenagers. If you can do that, you can speak to anyone! An easier way to learn this skill is to join the Toastmasters in your local area. There will be fewer spitballs on your back that way!

As an author, I like to find opportunities to be in front of potential readers and give them a sample of my work. This is why I attend book fairs, do readings at science fiction conventions, and read at local salons. When you get a chance to meet readers in person, you learn things about your own work or help you match the expectations of your target audience. While these events provide me with a place to do sales of my books, that is not my main focus. I am there to make an impression on readers in the hope that they will remember me later when looking for a new author to read. Not to mention, have a good time.

Final Word

Wendy Van Camp and Maddie at Lit Up OC
Host Maddie Margarita and Author Wendy Van Camp

Being the first to read, I was able to relax and enjoy the other two writers that night.  Both were accomplished authors and I enjoyed hearing their work. Afterward, I met people that came to hear me and to purchase signed books. I’m glad that I finally gave in to Maddie’s offer to read at Lit Up OC. It was a great experience and I hope to be back again once I complete my science fiction novel. However, I will be grateful that the next time I’m at the event, I will be in the audience posing “difficult” questions to the next set of authors!