by Maria Geraci
As a writer, I sometimes get requests from book clubs or writing associations for speaking engagements. These occasions are always met first with a "You want me?" to a "Of course I'll come!" to "Oh My God. What am I going to say to these people?"
Recently, I was contacted by a lovely person who started off by telling me she had just purchased my latest book A Girl Like You. She said she was loving it and that she was a professor of English at one of the local colleges. She went on to say that she had a masters degree in Creative Writing and a PhD in English and was teaching a continuing education class for the over 50 crowd about the significance of the romance novel and would I like to come speak to her class? And perhaps do a reading?
"You want me?" (I only thought this aloud in my head).
"Of course. I'd love to come speak to your class!" (or something like that).
We exchanged a few emails and she said she would like to take me to dinner before the class so that we could get to know one another a bit. She allowed me to select the restaurant, where we met on a Friday evening. Meeting a complete stranger for dinner can always be a bit daunting (sort of like a first date) but within minutes, I was completely at ease. The conversation flowed. I found out that one of her favorite romance authors was Madeline Hunter (mine too!) and that she wrote poetry and was fiddling with the idea of writing a romance novel. Yes, we were kindred spirits.
Then I asked her to tell me a bit more about the class. That's when I learned that it was a dissection of the romance novel and feminist theory and that...well, a lot of the students were not fans of romance. Gulp.
"Oh my God. What am I going to say to these people?" (yes, I wisely kept that thought to myself).
She went on to explain that I would be speaking at the last class and that their discussion would be centered around Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. For some reason, this relaxed me a bit. Yes, it's been years since I read Jane Eyre, but as a writer, there's nothing I love better than to discuss good books, so I was in.
The day came and I packed up a bunch of my books to give away as freebies and drove over to the continuing education center. I was a bit early, which gave me an opportunity to meet a few of the students before the class began. They all seemed genuinely glad to see me. These were people who enjoyed reading. And read a lot. But in my scattered discussions, it didn't seem that they were big fans of popular romance. In preparation for the class, I had thought about what I would read. I've written 2 contemporary romances and 2 romantic women's fiction books, but I'd decided to read an excerpt from my latest work-in-progress which I'd recently completed--a contemporary romance (after all, this was a class discussing the romance novel, so I thought, why not?) They could be my guinea pigs.
I have to admit to squirming in my seat as the class began and the discussion of Jane Eyre ensued. I'm surprised the ghost of Rochester didn't spin in his grave. Yes, I do remember him as a bit of a creep, but modern film has tended to romanticize him a bit and I think my rose colored glasses needed a firm cleaning. They discussed the modern stereotypical romance hero and heroine and how romance was a fantasy. Yes, this might be a tough crowd.
Soon, it was my turn. Then someone came out of the blue and put a mic on me (I've never been "mic-ed" before) and the few times I've spoken into a microphone I've hated how my voice came out. But I tried to ignore the awkwardness of it as I faced my crowd. A lovely, warm, smiling crowd, but nevertheless, these were people who seemed to be eager to hear what I had to say only I wasn't sure that anything I could say would impress them.
I thought I'd start off with the reading, but instead I decided to tell them how I began to write romance. My love of romance novels. How I thought the genre was special. How the character growth in a romance novel was superior to other genres. And before I knew it, almost an hour and half had gone by and no one had fallen asleep. On the contrary, they seemed engaged and asked lots of questions. Then came my reading. I prefaced it by saying that the work had not been copy edited. Heck, it hasn't even been edited yet. But it didn't seem to matter. They listened attentively, laughed in all the right places and in the end, a lot of them said they wanted to read the rest of the book. Yes! (mental fist pump!)
After the class was over, many of the members came up to me to thank me. I found myself smiling and thanking them. Yes, I hoped they learned a little something or maybe I inspired them in some way, but afterward, I remembered why I will always yes to a speaking engagement. In the end, I'm the one who's inspired. I'm the one who learns something. And all that only makes me want to be a better writer.
Maria Geraci writes fun, romantic women's fiction. You can visit her website at www.mariageraci.com