Today’s the day. The beginning of my book tour for my new Ethan Benson thriller, Live to the Network. It’s my first chance to stand in front of a live audience, to talk about my new book, to explain my forty year career as a writer, producer, and director in television news, and to discuss how the people I worked with and the stories I told back then, inspire the characters and story lines I tell in my novels today. I should be excited, ecstatic, honored, and thrilled to be speaking about my life, about my books, and about my love of writing.
Instead, I am absolutely terrified.
In fact, I have always been terrified to stand in front of a group of people and to talk about myself. Some of this abject terror stems from insecurity, some from anxiety, and some from the basic fear everyone feels when they’re making a speech, or in my case, lecturing about one of my books. But for me the terror goes much deeper than just having a simple case of butterflies. And why is that? Because I am a stutterer. Yes, a lifelong stutterer, who worries all the time that my affliction will raise its ugly head and leave me speechless in front of anyone and everyone I’m talking to. Now most people who know me will scratch their head and say, “Jeff, a stutterer? I’ve never heard Jeff stutter.” And, you know, they’re right. I rarely stutter anymore and haven’t for most of my adult life.
But when I was a kid way back in elementary school, I was a profound stutterer, a knock me down dead chronic stutterer—especially when I was talking to large groups of people. Example: I’d be sitting on the floor with all my classmates in front of my teacher as he/she was reading us a book, and then he/she would ask each and every one of us how we felt about the story we’d just heard. Well, I would sit there sweating, fidgeting, panicking on the inside as I waited my turn, and then when the teacher finally called on me, I’d lower my eyes, screw up my face, and then try to talk, and nothing, absolutely nothing, would come out of my mouth. I’d just sit there frozen in place, a lump of anguish, embarrassed, as all the other kids just laughed and laughed and laughed at me. My stuttering got so bad that my second grade teacher, Mrs. Benjamin, thank God for Mrs. Benjamin, called my parents and told them I was withdrawing from the other kids and falling behind in my studies and that they needed to find a way to help me get past my speech problem or it would drag me down for the rest of my life. So my parents hired a speech therapist, and I spent over five years learning to overcome my stuttering, learning how to speak in front of groups of people without faltering on every other word. But the psychological scars from all those years being ridiculed by my classmates run deep and still burn inside me more than sixty years later.
So as I prepare to begin my new book tour, I am running through all the lessons I learned as a kid from my speech therapist—how to enunciate slower, frame the words and sentences in my mind before I say them, and if I feel that physical warning sign as I approach a word that’s going to trigger my stuttering reflex, to simply pause a moment, search through my mind for a replacement word that I know won’t give me a problem, and then to continue on with my lecture. It has worked through the years, and hopefully, will work, once again, when I stand up in front of a group of people at a bookstore, and begin my lecture by saying, “Hello, My name is Jeffrey L. Diamond, and I’m very glad to be here talking about my new thriller, Live to the Network.