Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Talk, Talk, Talk

I’ve been giving talks lately. I talked to WOW, Women of the West, a big quilters guild, a week ago Monday, and tonight I talked at a library in West St. Paul to a much smaller crowd. Both audiences asked good questions after the talk. One woman at the library, in a wheelchair and with both vision and hearing problems, suggested I use someone like her as a character. I thought about that and said that people with impairments are often dismissed as incompetent witnesses, but they see and/or hear more than many suspect. Or they use their remaining senses in ways not apparent or thought of. So yes, it would be interesting to use a character like that.

I’ve done enough of these talks that I now have a speaker’s fee of $200. It started out at a hundred, then a hundred and fifty. I raise it when I get too many invitations. I forget who advised me to do that, to set my speaker’s fee at a price that brought me just about as many invitations as I could comfortably handle. I thought I’d have to write a new speech at frequent intervals, but so far all I’ve done is refine my one speech, using audience reaction to know when I’m getting it right. It’s mostly humorous, with a few serious points. I bring along a couple of models of the patterns from the backs of my novels and – when I’m speaking to quilters – the magnificent chicken-themed quilt I recently had made for me.

Yes, I’ll confess it, I bought the wonderful, incredibly-varied fabric printed with chicks, hens, roosters, even eggs and fried-chicken legs, in cartoon, impressionistic, and realistic styles, large and small patterns, bright and subdued pastels and primary colors – but all about chickens. And a few yards of fabric printed with a chicken-wire pattern to be a frame. And I stitched needlepoint, counted cross stitch, punch needle and other kinds of needleworked pieces for it, too. All of which were sewn into a crazy quilt by Karen Kerner of Radisson, Wisconsin, when I discovered that (surprise!) quilting isn’t as easy as it looks, either. My description of my discovery of this often brings the biggest laugh of the evening.

Actually, I do have a second talk, one on how to plot, write and sell a mystery story. I’ve got handouts and funny stories and everything. But I haven’t been asked to give that one in a long time.

I recently added the serious point that I think we should encourage tales of heroism -- which mysteries are, really -- because people need to be uplifted, encouraged to do brave things, to act in hope that they can make things better. There are an awful lot of novels out there – it seems to me – about sad people living hopeless lives. Worse, many of these are aimed at young and young-adult readers. Children of divorce living in uninspiring neighborhoods with friends who steal or do drugs or both are features of these novels. Surely a steady diet of unhappy stories would discourage anyone from reading. And even if it doesn’t, such stories can easily convince a young reader that anger, dissatisfaction, and “acting out” are normal or even recommended ways to react to the normal disappointments of life. And that life is full of disappointments, if we look for them.

Not true, children! When you wake up in the morning, you are the one who gets to decide what kind of a day you’re going to have, whether you’re going to make it a positive or negative experience. In the words of the old song, Would you like to swing on a star? Or would you rather be a pig?


Terri Thayer said...

I'd love to see a picture of that quilt. It sounds amazing.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...


Would you share with all of us how you went about getting your speaking engagements initially? I think that would be very useful.

Monica Ferris said...

Let's see: trying to remember how it started. I had a friend who was a schoolteacher. She asked me if I ever spoke in the schools. I said I'd be willing to try. She asked me what my speaker's fee was. Speaker's fee? What a delightful idea! I decided not to charge a fee when speaking in a classroom, but anywhere else . . . I was approached at a needlework gathering, where I was doing a signing, about addressing a needlework group. It all started with others asking me. I think if I were starting out, I'd put an announcement up on my web site that I was available to give talks.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

That's very helpful, Monica. That's how it started for me, too, but I've been out of speaking for a while, so I thought I'd ask you about your "path." You've inspired me to think about where I could "drum up" an appearance or two locally, as I always found it a great way to sell books.