3 Tips for Reading at an Open Mic

microphoneHave you ever gone to a conference and attended any pre-conference events, such as an open mic where you can read from a selection of your own work? The prospect is both exciting and terrifying. You don’t like to speak in public, but… you want to read something.

What do you do?

First of all, don’t panic. Here are some tips to help you successfully make it through an open mic reading.

  1. This isn’t a competition. An audience at an open mic is friendly and supportive. They want to hear what you have to read and they want you to do well.
  2. Don’t apologize.
    I don’t know when it became a trend to apologize for a work not being completely finished or for not being “as good as” someone else, but it is a trend that needs to stop. Don’t apologize for your work. Don’t apologize if you stumble over words because you’re nervous. Again, remember the people attending an open mic want you to do well. They will forgive you for things you think are unforgivable. There is no such thing as “unforgivable.”
  3. Have fun.
    The idea of open mics at pre-conference gatherings is to get to know your fellow conference-goers. No one expects a professional-level reading. You are there to network, learn, and have fun. This all starts at the open mic.

I can’t promise that these tips will completely get rid of your nervousness when you step up to the mic, but they will help. If you were to follow one tip at the exclusion of the others, that would be “have fun.” If you do that, the other two are pretty much moot.

What Is Life About?

(c) 2013 Jen Nipps Photo courtesy of Jen Nipps Photos
(c) 2013 Jen Nipps
Photo courtesy of Jen Nipps Photos

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” – George Bernard Shaw

This is my favorite quote of all time.

To me, it embodies the essence of creativity. If we don’t have a hand in creating ourselves, by our likes and interests and people we spend our time with, what would we be capable of creating?

Yes, we are made by a Great Creator and he created us. But we also have free will and minds of our own that we are capable of using. We can decide our own likes and dislikes. We shape ourselves, we create ourselves, based on these.

If we are made by a Creator, if we create ourselves, why, then, would we not be creative?

This supports my theory that everyone is creative but some of us just don’t know how to tap into that innate creativity. Often, some of us regularly use our creativity and don’t ever realize that’s what we are doing! Many of us continue to claim we are not creative when that is exactly what we are doing!

How many times have you heard a master cook say they’re not creative even while in the middle of cooking (creating!) some wonderful dishes? Or a teacher claim they are not creative when in the middle of coming up with (again, creating!) lesson plans? Or even a parent in the middle of making up (yes, again, creating!) games to play with their children?!

We create every day, often many times throughout the day. We might not call it that, but that is what it is.

Consulting a Calendar

Creative Commons via catchingcourage.com
Creative Commons via catchingcourage.com

How many of you write things on a calendar? Over the past year, I’ve found my calendar is one of my most valuable tools.

I know many people have kids they have to schedule for as well. I don’t know how they can do it without a calendar. It seems like it would be a necessity for keeping up with dentist appointments, soccer practices, t-ball games, and work requirements.

Like I said yesterday, putting things in writing has helped me remember things. So has using a calendar. Back even a year ago, I could keep track of deadlines without one. I can’t do that anymore. There are too many things going on for me to know exactly when one thing is happening when compared to another one that is in a similar time slot on a different day.

I know people who swear by Google Calendar. If you have an Android smartphone, this will put your Google Calendar on your phone as well and keep the two synchronized. I’ve used it. I’ve found that it’s not for me. When I go to look at a calendar to see what’s coming up I don’t tend to turn on a computer, go online, or look at my phone.

I look at a paper calendar. It’s what works best for me. My current calendar is an At-a-Glance 2014-2015 calendar with one day per page. It’s what works for me.

What works for you?

Putting It in Writing

I know and understand the need to put things in writing. So why don’t I do it more often?

For me, writing things out serves a variety of purposes.

1. It helps me to plan.

When I need to think things through and make a plan, it helps me to write it all out. I don’t mean type it on a computer. I mean get a notebook and pen and physically write it out longhand. Handwriting. Cursive.

There is something about the flow of the pen on the paper, the scratching of the nib, the feel of the pen in my hand and the paper under my hand, that ties me to the moment. It’s very tactile. And that becomes very important in the planning process. I can touch something and feel connected, down-to-earth instead of pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking.

2. It helps me to remember.

Up until about a year ago, I didn’t have any trouble with my memory. But the last six months at one particular job changed that. It was high stress. OK. It was always high stress, but the last six months were more high stress than usual. I started forgetting things. Simple things. And, honestly, that scared me. So I started writing things down that I absolutely had to remember.

I’m out of that job and no longer have such high stress levels, so my memory has been improving, but I guess writing things down became a habit, so I still do it.

3. It helps with my writing.

That sounds silly. Writing helps with writing? Of course it does! But let me explain.

There are some things that I cannot just type on the computer as I think them up. Poems are in this list. I have to write poems out longhand first. Then I revise them. Then I type them in the computer and revise as I type. And they will probably go through another revision after that.

There are also some story segments that are sticky, meaning they don[t really want to be written the way I’m writing them, so they go into a notebook first, too. If I’m writing nonfiction (like I’ve been doing a lot lately), sometimes I have to write around the subject before I can get straight to the point. It helps to write that out longhand, too, instead of dumping it all into a manuscript and then having to edit it out later.

These are my main reasons for putting things in writing. Do you have any to add to it?

An Unintended Experiment

Image used courtesy of The Public Speaking Project under a Creative Commons license.
Image used courtesy of The Public Speaking Project under a Creative Commons license.

Did you see my post yesterday that included a short story? No? Don’t worry about it. You don’t have to go back and look at it. It’s OK.

It actually worked out to be an unintended experiment. And it showed me a few things.

While there are blogs where short stories are posted and well-received, this is not necessarily one of them. It does not mean it was a bad story or that no one liked it. It does mean that when you visit this blog, that is not the kind of content you come here to read.

I have worked to make my mark in two distinct niches: Creativity and social media. Over time, I have discovered that I am making some pretty good progress in those two areas. They are broad enough that I can write about many things that fall under those two umbrellas. They are also what I need to focus on here.

So let’s call yesterday’s post a social media experiment. It may have been an unintended one, but that is what it was. After all, isn’t that what most, if not all, social media is? An experiment to find out what works? It’s kind of like throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks.

For me, creativity and social media stick. Thank you for helping me figure that out.

 

Short Story: Chez Morte

Photo used under Creative Commons from wwarby
Photo used under Creative Commons from wwarby

Today I have been going through some of my short stories and poems looking to see if I have anything suitable for an anthology I’ve been asked to submit to. In the process, i cam across this short story. It’s too long for the anthology and has a little bit of language that isn’t suitable, but I like it.

It’s centered around Halloween, but it’s not spooky-scary. I’ve decided to share it with you. This is something I would ordinarily publish under my pen name, Kat O’Reilly, since it is fiction. Here it is.

CHEZ MORTE

  “Come on, Crys,” Donna said from the ticket booth. She and Adam had already paid for their ticket.

“I hate haunted houses,” she said, joining the group under the black awning.

“It’s not that bad,” Adam added. “You’ll be fine. We’ll all be in the same group and make sure you’re in the middle.”

“Haunted houses are great,” Tonya said behind her. “I used to run one. It’s fun. You’ll like it.”

“I doubt that,” Crys grumbled, getting her money out of the front pocket of her jeans to pay the ghoul guarding the door. “Anyone who enjoys haunted houses and being scared spitless has something seriously wrong with them.”

“Welcome to Chez Morte, where your worst fears will come true,” the ghoul said as the door opened.

Tonya, Doug, Angie, and Chad joined them before entering the dim interior.

Worst fears, huh? Crys thought. What? Are they going to make me think I’m blind? Can’t happen. She pushed her glasses up on her nose and wound her way through the roped-off lanes.

Another ghoul wearing a top hat made them wait at the gate. Beyond it, Crys heard screams and laughter–both nervous and sinister. A chainsaw revved in the back.

Crys, positioned in the middle of their group along with Chad, shivered and crossed her arms. “I wish I didn’t already pay for this.”

“You may enter Chez Morte,” the top-hat ghoul said, opening the gate. “Only five at a time.”

Crys looked over her shoulder at Tonya and Doug. That left her at the end of the group.

“We’ll catch up as soon as we can,” Tonya said as the gate swung shut.

Crys followed close behind Chad and stepped on his heels. “Sorry.”

After a long, sloping passage with flickering lights, they entered the first room. Spatters that looked like blood dotted the walls. A man and a woman sprawled on the once-white sofa.

Crys smiled slightly as she neared the door leading out of the room. That’s it? she thought when the woman jumped up off the sofa, yelling and screaming.

Crys yelped and ran through the doorway, bumping into Chad.

The next room turned into a maze of cells with monsters banging on the bars. Around the next corner, a Frankenstein lay on a table. He sat up as Crys walked past. She breathed a sigh of relief when he didn’t reach for her.

“Maybe this isn’t so bad,” she admitted to Chad. Donna and Adam walked ahead.

“Hold hands, everybody,” Adam called.

Crys swallowed and reached for Chad’s hand. It felt clammy.

When they were all together, Adam pushed the door in front of him open. All Crys could see was black. She shrugged.

The rest has been okay. It can’t be that bad.

When the door closed behind her, they were plunged into complete darkness. Crys’ breathing became quick and shallow.

“Oh, God,” she whispered. She clung tight to Chad’s hand. She swiped at unseen cobwebs. She bumped into things she preferred not to think about.

Immediately to her right, something screeched and cackled. She thought she could have touched it if she moved her right hand even a little bit.

“Oh, God,” she repeated. I can’t see anything! This wasn’t part of the deal. I want to get out of here.

She pressed forward, trusting Chad’s grip on her hand to lead her out.

Where are Tonya and Doug?

They stopped.

Ahead of her, another door opened. She let out a shaky breath when she saw the sliver of light grow.

Her relief lasted only long enough for the door to close behind her. The light began to flash. A strobe? She wished she could close her eyes. This could well give her a migraine.

A man in a gorilla mask lunged at her.

She screamed.

Chad let go of her hand.

Around the next corner, they walked in complete darkness again.

Crys wiped her hands on her jeans. Oh shit. She pushed her glasses up and inched forward, straining to see anything. Even at night, she had never seen it this dark.

Her breathing came quick and shallow again. “Let me out of here,” she whispered.

Something brushed against her shoulder and she yelped in surprise. She reached up and felt the plastic leg of a mannequin.

“Let me out,” she said again. She knew she was breathing too shallow. The room started to spin.

She shuffled forward and ran into the wall. Tears formed in her eyes.

She turned around. “Chad? Donna?”

No one answered.

“Oh, God. Let me out of here!”

The spinning in the room increased. She heard someone scream but thought it was another guest behind her somewhere.

She shuffled forward again. The toe of her shoe hit against something.

“Chad?” she asked, sobbing. The tears came anyway.

I can’t see. Why can’t I see? Where the hell am I? I want to get out of here.

Someone put a hand on her shoulder and guided her out of the room. The tears blurred her vision so she didn’t notice the door they went through or the behind-the-scenes activity.

She still breathed too fast.

Someone gave her a paper bag and spoke to her. She didn’t understand them. She held the bag numbly.

The cool October air brought her to her senses when they stepped outside.

She took a breath and tried to steady herself. “Thanks, Chad. I don’t know what…” She screamed when she looked up and saw it wasn’t Chad or anyone else from her group. A man with a hockey mask and Freddy Krueger claws on one hand still gripped her shoulder.

“Hey! It’s all right,” he said, pulling the mask off. “Sorry you got so worked up in there.”

“Yeah, well. I….” Crys let out a shaky laugh. “I really don’t like haunted houses. I didn’t even know we were coming to a haunted house.”

The man smiled. “I’ll wait out here with you until they come out then.”

“Thanks.”

He led the way to some folding chairs. Two monsters, minus their masks, smoked cigarettes.

“Just finishing up, boss,” the taller one said, dropping his butt on the sidewalk and crushing it with his foot.

“Good. Next group should be in place pretty soon.”

“How can you do this?” Crys asked, sitting in one of the chairs. Her knees still shook.

“Scare people?”

“Yeah.”

He shrugged and sat in the chair next to her. “Most people seem to like it.”

“Do you?”

“Like being scared? Hell yeah. There’s nothing like it.”

She shuddered. “That’s just weird.”

He laughed then sobered. “Most people don’t hyperventilate, though. Speaking of which–” he indicated the paper bag she still held.

Crys shrugged. “I don’t need it now.”

“Humor me. I don’t need you having a heart attack and your friends suing me.”

She bent over, putting her head between her knees, and breathed in the paper bag for a few minutes. She kept stealing glances at her companion. She guessed he was about five-ten. Bits of dark blond hair poked out from under his ski cap. The Freddy claws were still on his left hand.

“What’s your name anyway?” she asked, sitting up and lowering the bag.

“Kyle.” He looked over at her. “You?”

“Crys.”

“Short for Crystal?”

She nodded.

“You feeling okay now?”

“A little shaky, but better.”

“Cool.” He looked up at the sound of a chainsaw motor. “I think that might be your friends coming out now.”

Crys looked the way he pointed. She saw people running out of the building but not clearly enough to tell who they were at that distance. One stopped.

“Where’s Crys?”

She recognized Donna’s voice.

“I thought she was behind me,” Chad said, looking around.

“Yeah, that’s them,” Crys told Kyle. She stood to rejoin her friends.

“Look, um… I know we almost scared you to death, but what would you say to getting together for a cup of coffee or something?”

She hesitated.

“There you are!” Donna shouted as the chainsaw revved again. Tonya and Doug, along with the people they had been teamed up with, ran into the cool night. They started over to where Crys waited with Kyle.

“I promise to leave the mask and claws at home.” He smiled.

Damn, he’s cute. Surprised with herself, Crys laughed. “Okay.”

“Meet me tomorrow at Main Street Café?”

“Sure. What time?”

“Ten-thirty.”

“I’ll be there.”

“See ya,” he said. He shook her hand and gave her shoulder a squeeze before he put the mask on and went back inside.

“What happened to you?” Donna asked, walking up to Crys.

“I got separated,” she said, starting toward the car with them.

“And?”

Crys shrugged and related what she remembered, which was someone leading her out and what happened from there.

“So it was worth it then,” Tonya said.

“Worth what?”

“You got a date out of it.”

Crys started to protest but stopped herself. She couldn’t deny it. Kyle was nice. And nice-looking. “Well, yeah. You’re right on that,” she finally admitted. “But I don’t know that I’d say it was worth hyperventilating and being scared spitless.”

“Don’t you mean ‘shitless?’” Doug asked, unlocking the door to his car.

“No,” Crys said, shaking her head. “Spitless. Where your mouth is so dry you couldn’t swallow if you had to.”

Tonya laughed and opened her door after Doug unlocked it from inside. “Be sure to tell me how your date goes.”

She got in and Doug started the car. They waved and left.

“Where to next?” Donna asked as she and Adam got in the front seat of their SUV while Crys, Angie, and Chad squeezed into the back seat.

“Home!” Crys said.

“Spoil-sport,” Donna laughed. “All right. Home it is.”

 * * *

Crys waited outside Main Street Café at ten-twenty-five the next morning. She looked in the window but didn’t see him there. She chewed on her bottom lip and looked up and down the street. She didn’t have to wait, did she?

Yes, I do! I said I’d be here and I will be.

She grabbed the door handle and prepared to go in when she heard a motorcycle rumbling up the street. She turned to look as the rider pulled up to a spot not too far from the door, put the kickstand down, and removed his helmet. He wore dark blue jeans, black boots, and a black leather jacket.

He got off the bike, deposited a couple coins in the meter, and looked around. He smiled when he saw Crys. “Surprised?”

She nodded. “Very. You look good.”

“Thanks. So do you.” Kyle unzipped the jacket, revealing a yellow shirt. He opened the door. “After you.”

Crys looked down at her green sweater and absently picked off a couple pills. He looked nice, like he thought about where he was going. She just wore the first thing she found this morning. She didn’t have to go to work and didn’t put much thought into what she wore. Now she wished she had.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said, putting his hand on the small of her back and guiding her through the door.

Inside the café, a few patrons sat at the bistro tables. This time of morning was too late for the early-risers but too early for the lunch crowd. Crys’ shoes squeaked on the black tiled floor.

“What can I get you, folks?” the barrista asked when they approached the counter.

“A chai tea latte, regular-size,” Crys answered. She reached in her pocket for her money.

“This one’s on me,” Kyle said, making her pause. He addressed the barrista then, “I’ll have a tall mocha latte.”

“That’ll be seven-sixty-three.”

He gave the barrista the money, got his change, and led the way to a table farthest from the other customers. She went to work on their order.

“What time did you get done at Chez Morte?” Crys asked after they sat down. The table was chrome and black.

“About two o’clock.”

“And you wanted to be here this morning?”

He shrugged. “Why not?”

Crys could think of about a dozen reasons, the least of which being she wasn’t a morning person. “So…do you own Chez Morte? The guys last night called you ‘boss.’”

“Yeah.” He smiled and waited while the barrista put their drinks down on the table. “Really, I don’t have to be one of the actors, but I like it so much, I do it anyway.”

“Why?” She gingerly sipped at her hot chai.

“I was a drama geek in high school. College too.” He held up a hand as though to stop a protest. “I majored in business. When the old auditorium came up for sale, I bought it, gutted it, and opened Chez Morte.”

“What about when it’s not in season?”

“We’re always working on what’s next. Plus there’s the website and store.” He warmed his hands around his latte. “What do you do?”

Crys laughed. “You don’t really want to know.”

“Yeah, I do. You ask questions like you’re a reporter or something.”

She felt her face burn. “Is it that obvious?”

He leaned back, a smirk tugging at the corner of his lips.

Briefly, Crys wondered what it would be like to kiss him. You don’t even know him!

“Why didn’t you get a press pass instead of paying to get in?”

“I could do that?”

“Sure.” He took a drink of his mocha latte. “Tell you what, why don’t you come by tonight. I’ll have a pass waiting for you at the ticket window. No. Wait. Come early, that way I can give you a behind-the-scenes tour of everything.”

“You’re not afraid of being exposed in some sordid tell-all article?”

He laughed. “You don’t write that kind of article.”

“How do you know?” She tried to act offended.

“I know,” he said and winked.

Crys stuck her tongue out at him. “What time should I be there?”

“We open up to customers at seven-thirty. Any time before then will be fine.”

“Six-forty-five?”

He nodded. “I’ll have the pass for you at the ticket window. They’ll page me when you get there. What’s your last name?”

“Shannon.”

He grinned. “I knew you didn’t write sordid exposes. I’ve seen your work.”

“Fine. But I could, you know.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“I might!”

“Only if you used a different name.”

Crys shrugged. He was right, but she wouldn’t tell him that.

“Can I give you a ride back to your place?”

“You have another helmet?” She stood when he did.

“You bet.”

 * * *

“That’s pretty well how it all comes together,” Kyle said at the conclusion of the tour. “If you were to go through it now, knowing all that, I don’t think you’d be quite as scared.”

“It would still be pitch black in those two rooms. That’s what did me in.”

He frowned. “Would you still scream at me if I helped you through?”

“You can’t do that.” Crys felt an odd warmth in her stomach that he would offer.

“I’m the boss,” he said, putting the Freddy claws on. He already had the ski cap. “No one would question me about it.”

She looked at him for a long minute. “Okay.”

He pulled the hockey mask down over his face. “I’ll even make you a deal.”

“What’s that?”

“You make it through the dark rooms, I’ll buy you dinner.”

“And if I don’t?”

“I’ll buy you dinner anyway.” He laughed.

“You just want me to go out with you.”

“Can’t blame a guy for trying, can you?” he asked.

She couldn’t see his smile behind the mask but she heard the humor in his voice.

“Go to the front so you’ll be in the first group. I’ll radio that you’re coming. I’ll be waiting for you. Just don’t try to split my eardrums.”

Crys laughed. “Sorry about that.”

“Don’t be. I’ll pick you up tomorrow at five-thirty for dinner.”