This was a weird one for me. Not just because it's the first time I've had a solo reading at Readercon, but because what I usually read at cons is so much different. "The Library, After", which I read at the Mythic Delirium/Goblin Fruit reading, is more along the lines of my usual - I generally alternate flash and poetry, and always have some silly there. Makes it fun, and also makes it easy to gauge if the audience is along for the ride; if they laugh when previous audiences have, they're with me, good. Plus by doing flash and poetry, I get to break it up and make eye contact and banter a bit. This wa the first time I'd ever read any one thing straight through for the full half-hour, and it is... different. It is not wistful, though it's terribly longing in places. It's definitely not silly. I don't think I'd do it again.
This is not a lack of faith in Cicatrix. Or in reading just one thing, or in lack of comedy beats. It's just the nature of Cicatrix itself that, with the benefit of hindsight, does not lend itself ideally to this sort of reading.
Cicatrix is a hard book. When it begins, my protagonist is profoundly dissociative and so depressed that she can't conceive of the idea of depression; it is just her natural state. It's a very dark place. The segment I read dealt with her encountering Aaron for the first and second time, and I think he comes through as something that will relieve that darkness, but it doesn't get relieved in the few thousand words I read. Especially as you then meet Kai as well, which throws Ash into the turmoil that wakes her up a bit, at least.
This is a novel, not a short story. It takes time for Ash to find her way. The beginning of the book is one of its two darkest places, and there absolutely is redemption, there is progress, there is grace...
...but I couldn't get you there in those first few thousand words, because if she was well enough that she was going to be made happy in two days? Well. That's not Ash.
And I think that with something that goes to these dark twisty awful places in the psyche, it is important to know that you won't be living there for the entire book. I don't think I'd pick up a book that is a Grim Meathook Portal Fantasy all the way through. And much like the healing process itself, I want people to know that there is a way out of this and I will show you the path, I will walk three steps ahead and light the lanterns for you, and we will emerge.
And you don't get that in the first few thousand words. Which is fine and necessary for the book. But I think it's not what I want to do with readings.
The reading got compliments along the lines of it being gutsy and tough, and Ash's dissociation came through, and the thing in the flashback that was hinted as being sexual assault was totally read that way. The latter is absolutely a sexual assault, but the thing is that though Ash knows and recalls what happened, she herself never says to herself that that's what it was. So it's an interesting experiment to me in what the reader/listener takes from it: whether they're seeing through how Ash compartmentalizes it. Also because the perpetrator is female, which a lot of people automatically classify as "not sexual assault".
Also I apparently pulled off the flashback-within-a-flashback just fine verbally, phew. Three simultaneous narratives, one voice, victory! And I had a decent number of people in there, including several people I didn't know who I hope I didn't traumatize.
But yes. I don't regret having done it, because we learn from everything; the flash/poetry wist/whimsy thing is very much my comfort zone, and I wanted to do something not in my comfort zone. I will do so again, though not this exact piece, I think. I am a work in progress. I am always learning.