Subtitle: Fun With Foot in Mouth*
This weekend, I was a panelist at Murder in the Magic City and Murder on the Menu. I had a ball, and I made tons of friends, so I must not have been too weird. But there were some cringe-worthy moments, as well.
Here’s some of the crazy shit I said…
On the Murder in the Magic City panel, when asked what social justice issues I liked to see in fiction as a reader, I said autism. I had the questions in advance. I had planned my answer. But I proceeded to give huge compliments to The Mysterious Case of the Dog in the Night and insult the fuck out of House Rules. The ideas fuelling the statements were true. The wording was unintentional.
Later, another panelist with an autistic character in her series said, “Now I’m kind of worried.” I had to find her and reassure her that her character sounded three dimensional and well-rendered, all the while wondering who the fuck died and made me queen. Oops.
On the Murder on the Menu panel, we were asked what books we were reading now. These were murder mystery conferences y’all. Murder mystery. I had been reading obsessively for the entire weekend to calm my nerves. (If you saw me scrolling through my phone Saturday? I was reading Jim and Joyce Lavene’s Be My Banshee. Urban witch fantasy mystery. Totally enjoyed it.)
I had started and completed four books since Friday. One of those was by a keynote speaker. (Greg Hurwitz’s Orphan X). And Goddamn, I could not remember a single mystery author or title, not even Hurwitz.
“I yearn for good space horror. Alien set the bar high, and that was the seventies. John Scalzi’s The God Engine is amazing.”
That was the only book I could even think of. Again, utterly truthful. Horribly timed.
Sorry … well, everyone.
One last example. This one not, thank God, from the stage with a microphone in hand. Murder on the Menu was in nearby Wetumpka, and there were a couple of friends and fellow authors in attendance. I introduced one of them to a new panelist pal as, “Here’s a guy who doesn’t have his head up his ass.” Yes, I did. (I’m so sorry, Kirk!)
What the fuck?
What the fucking fuck?
Where did that even come from?
Yet another completely true statement worded in the least desirable way possible, and carrying all kinds of unintended implications.
I’ll stop there, with the funnies. But I assure you there were more, most of them inane and, mercifully, small. I’ve learned I’m usually the only one who notices my inappropriate word choices in a crowd.
I don’t want to make myself sound like a total misanthrope, because obviously I’m not. Or to come off like I’m incapable of carrying myself in a presentation, because overall, I think I did well. Lots of people wanted to talk to me. I remain unshunned. I’m Facebook friends with my fellow panelists, now. And I had a glorious time at both events.
Picture an office.
Think about someone who introduces well-liked peers as people who “don’t have their heads up their asses”.
Imagine that person in a meeting.
With the company president.
Who happens to be a dick.
And you’ll understand why I have massive workplace anxiety and am employed at an online university. I love to show off my writing, and I get a huge kick out of author events of all sizes. I’m fine whether composing or speaking.
But when I’m not in writer mode, that awkward voice, the one that that blurts out inexplicable things, juxtaposes ideas, and trumpets insults, becomes my only voice. I never know what I’m going to say. It’s like I turn on the “Fire Me” target before the group is called to order.
And that, my friends, goes to the heart of this profession.
I can’t edit my speech. I can only hope it doesn’t offend then apologize after-the-fact when it does.
But I can edit, prune, and clarify my typing. I can perfect my message until, instead of saying something vaguely rude, I craft a message brimming with double-edged snark. And then I can delete the fucking thing before I make an ass of myself.
Because that’s what it means to do what I do, to be a writer.
*Spoiler: In case you were either worried about fistfights or looking forward to violence, you can go ahead and be relieved or bored. The foot in my mouth was my own.
**Amazon’s “thou-shalt-not-compose-reviews-for-authors-thou-dost-know” rule means I’m not able to say so over there. Grrrr.