The Devil’s Alphabet author Daryl Gregory on preparing for a reading

 

daryl_gregory.jpgAs you might have gathered from our prior interrogation interview with him, author Daryl Gregory is getting ready for a reading with Peter Straub at New York’s KGB Bar. Hosted by Ellen Datlow and Matthew Kressel, this is surely an event that you won’t want to miss.
With only a couple of days until Gregory’s KGB debut, he recently took a break and spoke with us about what’s involved in getting ready for a reading.


UNBOUND WORLDS: How do you choose something to read out loud? Are there certain qualities that you look for?
Daryl Gregory: A reading is a performance, plain and simple, and the goal is to entertain. So my first inclincation is to go for the funny. Find a humorous scene, one that will break up the audience, and perform the hell out of that. Unfortunately, I never remember to put one of those scenes in my books.
So my next move is to find something with dialog and action, something that would benefit from being performed. The piece also needs to be able to stand on its own, without a lot of setup or explanation. It’s much easier for me to read an entire short-short, or the majority of a short story, than to find an entertaining excerpt from a novel.
I recently wrote a short piece just to have something to perform. I was invited to read aloud at a kind of music / art / literature performance this April at Fractal, the science and science fiction conference in Medellin, Colombia. The short story I wrote is pretty silly, and I think works better read aloud than on the page.
Then again, most of the audience will be Spanish-speakers. I may not have thought this through.
UNBOUND WORLDS: What’s the most interesting thing that ever happened to you at a reading?
Daryl Gregory: Nothing remotely interesting has ever happened to me at a reading. I have a friend of mine who’s both a fiction writer and the front man for a rock band, and I tell him he’s crazy to want to leave rock and roll. Nobody in the audience of a reading will ever throw their panties at you. Unless, perhaps, you’re Neil Gaiman.
UNBOUND WORLDS: What is the best reading that you’ve ever attended?
Daryl Gregory: Did I mention Neil Gaiman? I heard him read at the WorldCon in Montreal last year, and he had the audience eating out of his hand. Literally. I think he had smeared it in peanut butter.
But probably the best reader I’ve ever heard is Andy Duncan. Line by line, he’s a fabulous writer, but when he reads one of his southern stories and turns on that down-home dialect, stand the hell back.
UNBOUND WORLDS: Got any tips for authors doing their own readings?
Daryl Gregory: Just remember that the spoken story can’t be the same as the written one. Treat the reading like a performance. After I finally decide on a scene to read, I begin editing, and try to make it work as much as possible as a standalone piece. I cut out exposition that doesn’t matter outside the context of the novel, and then trim other distracting details. I’ve cut entire characters, added descriptions from earlier in the book, and combined scenes–any hack to make it work.
Then I print out the pages in a big font and practice reading it aloud. I always have to line edit, deleting repeated words, or altering near-rhymes I didn’t catch when I wrote the scene. If I’ve really marked up the page, I’ll make the changes in the file and print again. I practice a couple more times. Even after all that, when I start reading it live, I usually realize that there are yet more changes that I should have made. If I’m feeling jazzy and confident I’ll make those changes on the fly.
My last piece of advice is ignore all my advice if it stresses you out. You don’t have to sweat this stuff. If you’ve got people coming to a fiction reading, they’ve already demonstrated that they have a low standard for live entertainment. They’re *readers*. They’re on your side. So relax and enjoy yourself.
You can see Daryl live this Wednesday, February 17, at the KGB Bar in New York. The reading begins at 7:00 p.m.
KGB BAR
85 East 4th Street
New York, NY 10003