Here is a true tale for you, set once upon a time when the world was young. You can take some comfort in it when you are feeling shy.
I had just sold my second novel to David Hartwell, and had him lined up to buy my third. He invited me to a get-together with other young authors at Charles Brown’s house in the Oakland Hills. Charles Brown was then the editor of Locus.
I date this by the fact that A Fond Farewell to Dying was the only book Hartwell bought from me. The other deal fell through. No fault, no foul, no complaints; he gave it a fair hearing but it wasn’t ready. That’s a different story for a different time.
I also date that night by the fact that Heinlein had just delivered his first new manuscript in years. Everybody was speculating about it at the party. Hartwell’s assistant, who had read it, wouldn’t comment. It was Number of the Beast.
The year must have been 1979.
That night, I think, or perhaps at one of the Westercons I attended shortly after, I met Marta Randal and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. I went home immediately afterward and read Islands and Hotel Transylvania. I suspect that I will spend the weeks after this Westercon similarly playing catch-up.
I might have met several other authors who were unknown then and are famous now — memory does not record all the faces I saw that night.
I remember Charles Brown’s house, old, wooden, perched on the edge of a winding hill road. He had good bookcases and old bookcases and rickety bookcases and stacks of books and spills of books; more books than I had seen outside of a library. The main room was full too — of writers, most of them new to the business.
Now, here’s the survival guide for the introverted author part.
The room had four corners. Every corner had a young author in it. All the rest of us were milling around trying to find a corner, but there weren’t any more. Every one of us was trying to look like we thought we belonged.
No one was succeeding.
Mind you, we did belong. We had been invited. We were all authors who had made it to at least the bottom rung of the ladder, but nobody seemed to feel it yet.
There were a few more experienced writers, known names who had won awards. They were working the room like a stand-up at Vegas. I don’t think they were showing off. I think they were trying to put us at ease.
I appreciated the effort, but it didn’t work. Introverted is introverted, and a lot of writers seem to suffer from the malady.
A year or two later, I gave a talk at Westercon on “How to Build a Culture.” It went smoothly and I enjoyed it immensely. The difference was confidence, and it wasn’t the year or two that gave it to me. It was the setting. I was on stage, with a microphone, behind a table and they were out there. They means you.
I could speak in front of a thousand of people with no hesitation, but I get tongue-tied in an elevator. I have a lot of non-writer friends, and most of them are of the opposite persuasion. They excel at small talk, at chatting, at putting a new acquaintance at ease. I envy them that skill, but if you put them in front of a large audience, they would freeze up.
Of course, one could try the old chestnut about imagining the audience naked. I’ve never thought that was a good idea. If the audience is full of beautiful people of the gender that interests you, you might get distracted. If they are significantly the opposite, they might scare you.
It seems better to me to imagine that the audience likes you, and wants to hear what you have to say. Whether it’s true or not, that mind-set might make for a self-fulfilling prophesy.
I’m sure that there are people who can talk to one person, then turn around and talk to a thousand, and never miss a beat. We can ignore them. They won’t be found in a room where the panel discussion is “Fake it till you make it”.
This discussion continues next Monday and Tuesday.