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I was terrified.
I’ve done over 100 book events all over the US; I no longer get nervous. So why was I so afraid of this event in Spain? I wouldn’t have missed the experience for anything, but I felt this balloon of anxiety growing in my belly. I was on edge for days leading up to the event.
Would a book event in Madrid be the same as one in Oxford, Mississippi? No one would ask me to read in Spanish, would they? If I spoke — in English, obviously — how would the audience understand me? I knew my Spanish translator, Pedro Santamaria, would be there, but I didn’t know if he would verbally translate for me or if he was only a written translator…
I was also nervous because I wasn’t in “show mode” anymore. This spring and summer, when I was doing events every day, I was emotionally ready to perform. But this fall, I haven’t done as many events, and I’d slipped back into my natural self: determined introvert. I was feeling protective of my personal space and overwhelmed by contact with other people. How would I handle being on display again?
When I arrived, my fears were quickly allayed. Pedro, my Spanish translator, had a perfect British accent. He would translate for me. The publisher Carlos Alonso Paimes would be joining Pedro and I at the table. It wouldn’t be all up to me.
When the presentation started, a hearty, engaged crowd gathered. I was ready.
Carlos introduced the novel, then Pedro spoke. He did a beautiful job of simultaneously translating for himself… a phrase of Spanish, followed by a phrase of English… the two languages melding together into poetry.
Then, it was my turn.
And in a flash, those horrible, overwhelming, terrifying nerves returned.
See, I want everyone who comes to one of my book events to experience my passion for Leonardo and Michelangelo. I want my audiences to get swept up in my love for them, so they fall in love a little, too… Only by feeling my passion will people be inspired to read my novel, and therefore meet the Leonardo and Michelangelo who live in my head: the real human artists, not the untouchable icons of history books.
In America, I’m confident in my ability to lure people into my story. I talk and laugh and tell stories of angsty Michelangelo and eccentric Leonardo clashing in the streets of Florence. It’s exciting… but how was I supposed to communicate all of that to a bunch of people who didn’t speak English? Yes, Pedro would translate my words, but it would be a bit like watching a TV show with a bad satellite delay, wouldn’t it? Pedro would be whole words, phrases, sentences behind me. How would I reach across languages and cultures with that kind of delay?
Besides, Pedro couldn’t translate my passion. I had to do that for myself.
During book tour, I’ve been grateful for the two years of acting classes I took in Los Angeles at the Actors’ Workout Studio with Fran Montano, Irene Muzzy, and Rickie Peete. The craft of acting taught me how to honestly tap into my emotions and express them on my face, on my body, and in my voice as though it’s the first time I’ve felt those things… A great skill when doing the same readings and speeches (and answering the same questions) over and over again on book tour.
And suddenly, in Spain, those skills were more important than ever. I’d lost my language. Words were not an option. I had to show genuine passion without being able to express it in words. I needed to truly blush at my love of Michelangelo, to become teary over my novel being read by strangers, to laugh at Leonardo for his flights of fancy… I had to communicate my love, angst, fear, adoration, frustration and joy without words. And it couldn’t be fake. It had to be real because who wants to read a book by some fake author who has fake love for fake characters?
There is nothing fake about my love for Michelangelo and Leonardo, so there should be nothing fake about the way I talk about them in front of an audience. Every emotion must be genuinely felt or else this audience would walk away unmoved, unengaged, uninspired…
And so I tapped into those feelings, and I spoke. I talked slowly, pausing so Pedro could translate. As he wrapped up, I picked up again. There was a kind of musical rhythm to this dance of translation…
And, then it happened… People started laughing and gasping when I spoke; they didn’t need to wait for Pedro’s translation to have emotional reactions (yes, they nodded along once he translated the words, but the emotions were simultaneous). People strolling through the store stopped to listen (and yes, later bought a book). And just like in America, after the presentation was over, people gushed about my passion, laughed at my obsession. Pedro was off greeting friends, so I was often left to communicate alone. Some of us had no words to exchange, just looks and smiles… but we got it. We hugged. One woman even shed a tear. At least I know the word, Gracias.
It was a gift to be in that room and share that experience with those people. Without Pedro (who did a marvelous job), the audience would not have known about my research, or the writing process, or which facts were historically accurate…
But I am quite confident they would have felt my fear, joy and passion. And because of that, I’ll remember this one night in Spain forever.