This will be a strange post in many ways, because I didn’t ask people about using their photos or their names. This means that most photos won’t be identified and several of my friends are not included here because I didn’t want to violate their privacy.
The conference holds a writing contest as one of its events; there are cash prizes for first and second place, and there are several categories. This year a couple of categories added Honorable Mention. It’s a great contest.
The people who place get a certificate and a check, and that award is made at Open Mike. They also get to read for five minutes. After the contest winners read, anyone who signed up for Open Mike gets to read, for about three minutes. Conference staff are appropriately stern about tracking time, and they yell out, “Time!” when you hit your limit, even if it’s in mid-sentence.
This year there was a glitch with Open Mike Night. At opening remarks on Thursday, we were told that contest winners were already signed up for Open Mike. I took this to mean that I didn’t need to sign up. So did everyone else. On Friday morning, Fran, the volunteer who staffed our room, issued a clarification. Prize winners were already on the list, but we needed to sign the list to confirm that we planned to read. In other words, we needed to sign up. Our workshop got this word, but a few others didn’t. This meant winners who planned to read weren’t on the list, and didn’t get to until very late in the event (after the break). At least one of them got cut off at three minutes, when she should have had five.
I’m sure staff will make sure this doesn’t happen next year.
Over forty people signed up to read. As is always the case with any microphone I’ve seen anywhere, there were technical nits with the sound system, but those were taken care of and we were on our way.
The conference provided a “performance coach”session for readers, which was probably pretty
good (I didn’t attend it). I think this is a great idea, especially for people who are new enough to be nervous about reading out loud in front of 50 people.
A couple of tips about reading out loud, especially at this conference. As I’ve stated, they will hold you firmly to your time and they didn’t give anybody a one-minute warning. You should read your chosen excerpt to yourself at least once and time it. Include your introduction. Try to come in a few seconds short of 3 minutes if you can. Reading it out loud to yourself lets you know how long it is; it also lets you practice breathing and figuring out where the pauses should go and so on. It seems obvious. When you’re really, really nervous, it’s not. A couple of rehearsals really help with that.
Here are some examples of what we heard at Open Mike:
- Three poems about the mother goddess.
- An excerpt from a work of fiction about a young southern woman in an institution in the 1970s.
- A section from an historical novel set in 12th century Europe, and one set in prehistoric times.
- A poem about ending an abusive relationship, and one about time.
- A passage from a speculative fiction novel set in 17th century London.
- Memoir, about a woman who worked at a galactic-themed pizza joint in the 1980s.
- A shivery ghost story, flash fiction.
I love Open Mike. It reminds me that reading aloud, even your own work, is a separate skill from writing. Some great writers are poor readers. Some adequate writers are brilliant performers. Many people read too quickly. Eye contact with the audience is nice, even if it’s risky.
Open Mike, one of the fun events I always look forward too.