Why memorizing a one-sentence pitch is so important

Whenever I meet somebody new, New Person and I exchange the requisite getting-to-know-you questions.  The number one question is, of course:

"What do you do?"

An easy enough question to answer, and I've gotten a whole lot better at answering it than I did when I wrote this post over a year ago.

But 99% of the time, New Person throws a follow-up question at me:

"What's your book about?"

And here is where I choke.

Yes, I've written a novel.  Yes, I remember what it's about.  I've spent so much time with my characters and plot that I damn well have the whole thing memorized by now.

But ask me to verbally explain to you what my book is about, and I sound worse than Porky Pig.

I stutter.  I stammer.  I avert my eyes.  I babble.  I trip over the words sex and addict and serial and killer.  I feel my face turn red.  I giggle even though nothing's funny.  I speak in run-on sentences with no pause for breath and I talk and talk until I can't breathe and the New Person I've just met is wishing she'd never asked the damned follow-up question in the first place because it clearly pains me to answer it.

And when I finally stop talking, I see three expressions flit across New Person's face.

The first is relief, because she was really uncomfortable watching me go through that, and she's glad it's over. (Not that I blame her.)

The second is that falsely bright look, the look that says, "I'm interested, really I am, but I have no idea what the hell you just said." (Again, I don't blame her.)

And finally, we come to the third facial expression.  Whether it be the skeptical brow furrow or the slight twitch of the lips, it's the expression that very clearly says (without actually saying anything at all):

"You're a writer?  Seriously?"

And of course, I don't blame her.  Because let's be honest... after thirty painful seconds of stuttering and quite possibly showering New Person's face with my nervous spittle, I sure as hell don't sound like a writer.

But I am a writer.  I swear.  And I really did write a book.  A big, fat book with a title and words and chapters and everything.  It's a real book.  I promise.

Just please, don't ask me to talk about it.