Thanking

Just a few miles away from my destination—the Ovitt Library in Ontario, California—I found myself thinking about what a friend had reminded me to do in approaching the presentation I was about to give. I blogged just a couple of days ago about my fears as I neared this moment. My friend, who knew she’d be out of the country and unable to come, had called me before leaving to wish me luck. I mentioned that I’d given a whole slew of speeches in my teen years in my church and had even competed and won an award. She said, “Find the girl. Remember the girl.” I knew that girl still lived on somewhere inside me, so I wrote my friend’s words down and kept them close.

I drove past Chaffey High School.  It’s a very large campus on Euclid Avenue, the main drag through Ontario and Upland. I never attended school there; my alma mater is in Pomona, a couple of cities away. But Chaffey remains an important part of my personal story. At the age of five, I appeared as one of the kids in Finian’s Rainbow at the Gardiner W. Spring Auditorium on the campus. I have few memories of those moments, but I have been told that one night a piece of scenery either fell on me or knocked me over.  I ran off the stage crying with many commiserating mumblings following from the audience. I recovered quickly and returned for my final scene, and the audience applauded my spunk.

So, as I drove, I remembered the girl—the girl who gave speeches, the girl who played the secondary lead in the high school musical, the girl who walked back out onto a stage at the age of five after an unpleasant encounter with scenery—and I knew I would do well this day when I was about to test that public person.

And I did. There were at least 30 people in the room, a room with bad acoustics, and I connected with many, if not all, of them. They laughed in all the right places. They smiled and I smiled back. I made eye contact. I spoke clearly and relatively succinctly about a 37-year journey making Lisen of Solsta happen. I spoke mostly about self-publishing, something I’ve done through three incarnations and 20 years.

I ate lunch with several of the club members afterwards and enjoyed the company. Being an introvert, it’s hard for me to spend much time out with other people, but I managed to stay for nearly an hour, and that’s pretty damn good for me.

I only sold four books, gave out many bookmarks, lost all four pens I’d brought for people to sign a mail sheet, but three of the pens mysteriously returned before I left. But the fact that I, the zaftig writer, got up in front of people, without a podium, stood for nearly an hour as I talked in clear and ringing tones about a subject both near and dear is where I claim my success. Next time I won’t fret, at least not anywhere near as much as I did this time.

Oh, and did I mention my posse? Several members of my writing workshop who’ve provided valuable critique of everything I write (except for most of what I post here) showed up to cheer me on. My sister came as well. At this time of giving thanks, I give thanks for this day in which I proved to myself I could do it and thanks for the people who helped make it happen.

Shaking

Tomorrow I greet a bunch of strangers and hopefully regale them with the story of my 37-year journey writing the Lisen of Solsta series. This is hard for me (like it isn’t hard for everybody?). It’s hard because I have an anxiety disorder. It’s hard because I’m a zaftig woman, a very zaftig woman, and people tend to judge me as not terribly bright on first impressions. It’s hard because I’m an introvert who is uncomfortable in groups of unknown people. It’s hard because… Oh, damn, it’s just hard.

I’ve prepped my presentation. I’m planning on speaking off the cuff, but I’ve written out notes to keep me on topic (and not wondering off on some tangent or other and using up valuable time—an hour is a lot but not unlimited). I’m taking a few props. I chose not to use PowerPoint this time as I’m not familiar with it and couldn’t think of more than one slide I’d actually want to put up for this particular “lecture.” So I’ll be passing around the various self-published versions of the story—one of which I actually printed and bound myself with the help of my father—for them to ooh and ah over. (I’m not actually expecting oohs and ahs, but a little appreciation of my commitment would be nice.)

I’m taking a sign-up sheet in case they want to be notified of the publication of book 3 (hopefully near the end of December). I have a hand-out of my web sites and sites that might be helpful if any of them want to self-publish. I have four pens, a sign that says “Please make checks payable to…,” and a butt load of book marks. Oh, and books. Yes, I’m taking plenty of books. Just in case, you know. And a single printed-out manuscript copy of a scene from Fractured.

Do you know how hard it is to pick a sample to read in front of a group? When an agent or publisher requests sample chapters, they mean chapter 1 through whatever number of chapters they ask for. Easy-peasy. But for a reading, I feel that a true taste of the spirit of the book is required. This meant finding a scene where Lisen was at her outspoken best, but one where I wasn’t giving the bank away by reading it. I tried several scenes from both published books and finally settled on the end of Chapter 6 from book 1. Lisen is telling off the sooth who got her into all this trouble in the first place, and it contains a lot of questions that I do eventually answer (but not until the end of book 3).

So that’s where I’ll be tomorrow (Saturday, November 22)—at a library in Ontario, California, shaking inside but smiling and breathing deeply to keep the nerves from sending me running from the room. I plan to bring my MP3 player so I can listen to Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” before I begin—you know, just to shake out the cobwebs. I’d like to find someplace private, say, the bathroom, where I can dance like white girls dance. And then I’ll step out and shake the room up. Well, at least I hope so. Wish me luck.

A Swann for the Dawn and the Sundown

I cried as I first watched Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End in the theater. Why, you ask? Let me tell you. Forget Jack Sparrow (a stellar performance from Johnny Depp). Forget Will Turner (Orlando Bloom in all his matinee-idol glory). Because the story, contrary to popular belief, is about neither of them. No, the tale recounted in the first three movies of this franchise begins and ends with Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightly in dazzling form).

Remember the lilting voice of a child singing the pirate song at the beginning of The Curse of the Black Pearl? That’s Elizabeth Swann singing her heart out as she and her father sail to the Caribbean. Mother gone, father all that’s left, and she dreams of being a pirate.

The plot twists and turns around a myriad of obstacles and self-serving characters, but watch the movies and you’ll see it. We wander off with an often seemingly lost Jack Sparrow. We follow the perils of Will Turner as he attempts to save both Elizabeth and his own father from doom and destruction. But it is Elizabeth who rises above it all, who, as she matures, gains confidence and the ability to save her own self, thank you. And when we get to At World’s End, she has blossomed into the character most instrumental in determining the course of the conclusion of the story.

I mean, think about it. The battle on the Pearl with Will and Elizabeth almost single-handedly taking on the attackers from the Flying Dutchman, while Captain Barbossa marries the two of them? A girl sword fighting? While sparring verbally with the love of her life? And then marrying him while they’re still fighting the villainous hordes? For this fan of strong roles for women in story-telling and female heroes who aren’t afraid to get dirty, it was heaven. But that wasn’t where I cried. That moment came a little earlier in the movie.

The Brethren Court of the pirates had spoken and named Elizabeth the new King of the Pirates. (I value the screenwriters’ choice of keeping it the “King” even though the new King was not male, but I digress.) As King, Elizabeth leads the pirate lords and their ships into the ultimate battle with Davy Jones and the East India Company. As they face their foe and realize they are massively outgunned and out-shipped, spirits drop.

And then…Elizabeth takes a deep breath, jumps up on the railing and rallies the troops in a speech reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Henry V’s “Once more unto the breach, dear friends….” This young woman—whom some might call a “slip of a girl”—stands up there proud and defiant and smacks these big, strong men around verbally and drags them into fighting mode. I cried.

railing

I literally cried in that theater. Whether consciously or not, the story-by and written-by guys had created the first TRUE female hero to rise to the surface in mainstream popular culture. I know there are many strong women holding their own in movies and books these days, but here’s the thing. Elizabeth Swann seized the mantle of leadership like a man while still maintaining her womanhood, and she did it under the near-impossible odds of a major motion picture with Johnny Depp at the helm of the performance vessel and Orlando Bloom as her love interest. At that moment in time, all eyes were on her, including Johnny’s and Orlando’s, and everyone in the audience knew it. She had commandeered a movie of testosterone-driven derring-do and made it her own.

All hail Elizabeth Swann, the King of the Pirates!