Sunday, December 15, 2013

Lucky Guy, Lovely Night

I'm so very grateful to the talented actors and friends who helped make my book reading shine last Sunday evening.  

It's one thing to see your stories on the page, but to hear them -not just read aloud - but performed with such heart by such high caliber talent, storytellers who know how to bring characters to life in such a powerful manner, it's incredibly gratifying. 

So, thank you to Rochelle Barker and Theatrical Outfit for inviting us, thanks to all 100+ folks who came out on a soggy, messy Atlanta night smack in the middle of the busy Christmas season, and thanks to these gifted friends who helped make my humble words sing and soar in a way I could've only hoped for: 

Mark Kincaid, who brought the compassionate cowboy character in "Dry Lightning" to radiant life.  As I listened to Mark read, even I wasn't sure what this man was about to do at the end of the story, and I wrote the damn thing.

Tara Ochs, who was my frequent companion, muse, and critic over cups of coffee at Dancing Goats, when this book was actually a novel (abandoned 120 pages in), and read about half these stories in their first draft form over the past year.  I knew I could trust her with Lena, my heroine in "Jigsaw Falling," the book's longest story.  I was right.

Rob Lawhon, who added music to the evening.  Music plays such an integral role in these stories, it only seemed befitting to have a troubadour join us.  Rob selected "Still Be Around" by Uncle Tupelo to perform.  Given former Tupelo mates Jay Farrar (Son Volt) and Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) were constant sonic companions during my writing process, it seemed a perfect fit.  It was.  Thanks, Rob.

Steve Coulter asked if he could read an excerpt from "I'm Your Man," a sort of mystical tribute to Leonard Cohen in the form of a comical fictitious tale.  It's a story I wrestled with mightily, right up to whether or not to include it in the collection.  Steve's performance reminded me why it stayed.  He gave it humor and heart.  Great job, my friend.

And David Silverman made "Traveling Light" sing like a train whistle.  A very short piece, reflecting on the simpler, yet more challenging life of riding the rails in comparison to our soft 21st century lifestyles, had no business being as amazing as David made it sound.  He didn't just read it, he preached it.  He embodied it.  Amen, brother. 

I read two pieces myself, a short piece of free verse that opens the book ("Chasing Cassiopeia") and one of my favorite stories, one I hoped a lot of folks in the audience would relate to as fellow artisans, mainstream misfits, and music lovers.  With a nod to Gram Parsons, the piece is titled "The Grievous Angel and His Ramshackle Cathedral."  

It was truly one of the most joy-filled evenings I can ever remember.  Wendy, Grady, and Maggie were there.  So many dear friends were there to cheer us on.  A number of people I'd never met were there and told me they were very moved by the stories.  That's all I could ever hope for.  

That's the secret I've been keeping all along this full-court press of inviting people to read the book, to come to the signing.  It's not about royalties (believe me!), it's not about making a name for myself as a writer. It's about one thing.  One very simple but very important thing.  I want to connect with you.  I want to move you.  I want to attempt to lift your heart and, yes, I want to devastate you just a little.  To quote Wilco, "I am trying to break your heart."  That's all it's ever been about.  Telling stories I love, in hopes you'll love them too.  Making myself laugh or cry at a revelation I carve out on the page and then find out that you had the same reaction to it.   

Last Sunday evening, I felt those connections.  I heard it in the gasps, the little exclamations of recognition during a passage of a story.  I heard it in the laughter and the applause.  Mostly, I heard it in your kind words, in person and in the days that followed as you reached out and shared your thoughts on some of the stories.  

So, thank you.  I'm a lucky guy.  It was a lovely night.  I'll carry it with me always.

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