I went to my family reunion yesterday. It was incredible, of course--everyone's cousins and their cousins and second cousins...et cetera.
However, my dear, sweet first cousin once removed, Irene, is also a writer. She confronted me with a question that, before you ever get asked, seems so simple.
Irene writes real-world, non speculative fiction. She asked me where I get the ideas.
I, of course, answered as honestly as I could--the world.
Now, in an ideal fantasy world, people would just stop the question there, but Irene is insatiably curious, so she didn't. She pointed out that these things aren't in the world.
That's not something I ever thought I'd have to deal with. I fumbled through with copious, confusing hand-gestures and vague answers, but I didn't know what to say, really. Now, I've posted on where to get ideas in the past, but for some reason, my inability to answer her effectively nagged at me the whole time.
So, rather than carrying on talking about where we get ideas, this is more about the lesser thought of social side of being a writer--the side that, by definition, we are bad at. Writers are nice, solitary people, normally with a streak of insecurity and agoraphobia three miles wide and deeper than the Mississippi River. That's why we choose to write--it lets us remain sort of faceless and not real people. That's why we contact people through letters, blogs, email--it doesn't involve real socializing.
So, when we have to go out with people--people that want and expect us to talk to them in an engaging manner--what are we poor people to do? No, we can't be giving in to the urge to hide under the table and only pop up momentarily to sign the ocassional book. We have to overcome. Now, I don't know about specifically writing oriented events very much, but in general, here are things that help out a lot.
1: A script. I don't mean read off of cards, I mean an internal script. Something that more or less just lays out the major points you need to cover about this, while leaving enough room that it's a little bit different.
2: You have to realize that, in a situation where you're the big writer, the reader is probably more scared than you are. Look at it this way--how absolutely terrified would you be to go up and engage Rowling, Butcher, Lem, or any other author you love in any type of conversation? That's similar to what those crowds feel.
3: People won't know what to expect, beyond how you write. If it helps, play that up. If you let yourself talk closer tot he way you write, not only will it probably be more eloquent, but it's easier to be something you're not. I don't reccomend that, necessarily, but it can help.
4: Finally, know that people that are around authors a lot are going to be fairly well aware of these little problems we tend to have with people. They can be sympathetic and, the more kindness you're receiving from the crowd, the less intimidating it will seem.
I don't know how much this will help, but hey--it couldn't hurt too much. Also, note that I didn't tack a number on the hiding under the table option--DON'T DO THAT!
Peace, love, and chicken grease,