Friday, October 14, 2011

A speech with no naughty words? Better fix that.

I'll admit I was stunned when Making Waves started racking up reviews from publications aimed at libraries. First it was Booklist who wrote, "A zany caper...Fenske's off-the-wall plotting is reminiscent of a tame Carl Hiaasen on Cupid juice."

Library Journal followed with a starred review that called Making Waves, "[An] uproarious romantic caper...great fun from an inventive new writer; highly recommended."

I was thrilled. I was also a little dumbfounded when librarians started contacting me about speaking. At first, I misunderstood and thought I was being scolded for not using my inside voice. Then I realized they wanted me to talk. Out loud. Like, in front of people.

Which is how I ended up scheduled as the keynote speaker for the Lake County Library's annual Endowment Dinner this weekend.

Well, that's not exactly how. The how happened sort of like this:

Library person: We'd really like you to come say intelligent things for people who are paying a lot of money to attend this swanky event, and we'd be happy to put you up at Summer Lake Hot Springs since it's close by, but we're really hoping you'll be worth it.

What I heard: wordswordswordswordswordswords Summer Lake Hot Springs.

And then my brain drifted to this:
An actual photo of Summer Lake Hot Springs by ridiculously talented photographer Tyler Roemer. That shot originally appeared in Outside magazine, and I've been dying to go there ever since. I've also been dying to own printed copies of every photo Tyler Roemer has ever taken, but I digress.

Library person: This is kind of a big deal with a lot of people attending and we'll be selling copies of your book and scheduling you to speak for a full hour, so we want to make sure you have plenty of time to prepare.

What I heard: wordswordswordswordswords...
Another Tyler Roemer pic of Summer Lake Hot Springs. Seriously, are those photos gorgeous or what? How could you NOT be obsessed with going there after looking at those?

It's possible I'm making up the stuff the library person said, but I'm pretty sure the sentiment was there. And the end result is that I've spent a lot of time picturing myself relaxing in the hot springs with a glass of wine, and not a lot of time picturing how I'm likely to make a total ass of myself if I don't prepare a @#$% speech!

So there's that.

I've written it. I've just never spoken the words aloud, which is probably a very bad thing. I've got all day today to sit here reading it to my dog until I've either memorized the words or the dog has run yelping from the room.

The plan is for me to deliver this speech (or something like it) for 10-15 minutes, followed by reading a short scene from Making Waves, followed by a Q&A. That should be about an hour. The latter two things I can handle with ease. The speech? Well, I'm not so sure.

Keeping in mind that I don't have time for a total rewrite at this stage, care to weigh in on what I've got? Any tips for delivery or suggestions that I should consider calling the library association and letting them know I've just lost all four limbs to gangrene and will be unable to attend? Please share your feedback!

Here's a draft of the speech:


Hi! I’m Tawna Fenske, and I’m a romance author. Sounds like an introduction at an AA meeting, huh?

First off, I’d like apologize for forgetting my sequined bustier and feather boa.

I’m also kinda wondering where they’ve stashed the shirtless man with greased abs who’s supposed to be up here turning pages for me, or why I wasn’t brought here from Bend on a private plane with pink plush seats.

OK, the reality is that I drive a 13-year-old car with a smushed bumper, and am a lot more likely to run around in unwashed sweatpants than a feather boa and jeweled stilettos. In fact, I almost killed myself walking up here in these shoes.

There are a lot of stereotypes about romance authors and the romance genre, and I’d like to set the record straight about a few of them.

To the best of my recollection, I’ve never written about ripped bodices, heaving bosoms, or plundering warriors. I’ve never used the phrase “quivering mound of love pudding,” or referred to male body parts using awkward sword metaphors.

I write contemporary romantic comedy, so my books have scenes with people playing Strip Battleship and characters like a former Seattle Seahawks tight end turned corporate customer service rep turned cross-dressing gourmet chef on a dysfunctional pirate ship.

My second romantic comedy comes out in March and it’s being marketed as “your typical ‘reluctant fake psychic’ meets ‘jaded owner of a male strip club’ love story – with a twist.”

The fact is, there’s not a lot of “typical” when it comes to romance novels. It’s true the stereotype depicts them all with Fabio on the cover gripping a woman with heaving bosoms and mysteriously huge hair, but these days you’re as likely to see a cover with a woman in combat boots gripping an Uzi.

The romance genre runs the gamut from historical to sci-fi to action/adventure to Christian to young adult to (my favorite) romantic comedy.

Let me throw a few statistics at you just to be a total geek:

In 2010, romance fiction generated $1.358 billion in sales, with 8,240 new romance titles released. In 2008, 74.8 million people read at least one romance novel that year. Romance fiction was the largest share of the U.S. consumer market in 2010 with 13.4 percent.

Know what’s funny? When I tell people I’m a romance author, I’d say about nine out of ten get this funny look on their faces and kinda shrug. “I don’t read those kinds of books.”

So who are all these people reading and writing romance novels? Perverts? Sexual deviants? Lonely, frustrated women with twelve cats and inflatable boyfriends?

Hey, statistically speaking, we’ve probably got a couple in the audience – I’m not judging.

But they’re not the core of romance readers.

It’s true women make up 90.5 percent of romance readership, with men rounding out the other 9.5 percent. Interestingly enough, my own fan mail reflects about a 30/70 split, with a number of men writing me notes like, “I’ve never read a romance novel before, but I took yours on a hunting trip and laughed so hard I scared the deer.”

I should use that as a marketing hook – saving Bambi one naughty joke at a time.

The heart of the U.S. romance novel readership is women ages 31-49 who are currently in a committed romantic relationship. Not quite the “lonely spinster” stereotype, huh?

The makeup of that group represents a huge cross section of political, social, religious, and economic groups.

Romance Writers of America likes to trot out the statistic that one in five people reads romance. I think they’re full of crap. I think the number is a whole lot higher than that.

Part of it comes down to how we define “romance novel.” Probably the number one comment I get in reader fan mail is something along these lines... “I don’t like romance novels and I never read them, but I sure liked your book. Are you sure it’s really romance?”

It’s sort of a backhand compliment. Kinda like me saying, “I hate baseball and don’t know much about it, but I sure enjoy watching the Mariners. Are you sure they’re not a badminton team?”

If you think about it, almost any work of fiction has a romantic element. It might not be the primary focus, but it’s usually there. The Odyssey wouldn’t be the same story without Odysseus and Penelope. What would Don Quixote be without Dulcinea?  The Hunger Games would fall flat without its Katniss/Peeta/Gale love triangle, and how boring would James Bond be without his evolving cache of busty Bond girls?

I see a couple people just woke up out there – Bond girls? What? Is she taking her clothes off now?

My point in all this is that it’s tough to judge a massive genre based on one or two books grabbed from the ten cent bin at the neighbor’s garage sale.

And while it would be nice if romance authors were saucy vixens with pool boys and private planes, most of us are just average folks with mortgage payments and a houseful of flatulent pets.

Oh, and my third point – a story without at least a hint of romance in it isn’t much of a story. I think that pretty much sums it up.

So now is when I step off my soapbox and tell you about my book and then read a little bit of it...


And then, of course, I launch into my elevator pitch about the book and read the Newlywed Game scene and then answer questions like, "are you stoned?" 

Piece of cake.

Oooh, cake. Think they'll let me eat cake in the hot springs?

15 comments :

Curtis Moser said...

After reading your speech, I have only one question for you...

Are you stoned?

But seriously, your speech is great. You're going to kill them. Bring a shovel. It looks like there will be lots of places to bury them at that hot springs place.

Anne Gallagher said...

Great speech. And I use the same statistics when I get on my soapbox so...

Have fun romping in the Hot Springs.

Karla Nellenbach said...

great speech. you're going to kill it this weekend...er...yeah what curtis said about bringing a shovel. it always pays to be prepared.

Kristin said...

This had me busting up:
"Most of us are just average folks with mortgage payments and a houseful of flatulent pets."
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH

Sarah W said...

My favorite line: “I hate baseball and don’t know much about it, but I sure enjoy watching the Mariners. Are you sure they’re not a badminton team?”

You're going to rock this, Tawna.

Enjoy the Springs!

Tina Moss said...

Love the speech! I wish I could hear it in person. Your natural humor comes through and you bust the stereotype of the "romance author" and the genre. Nice work!

Julie Glover said...

Great speech! I'm actually one of those "I don't read romances but I loved your book" people! But you're right about the romance factor. Even my middle-grade novel has the element of romance, even if it involves 13 year olds sharing a peck. It's a great reminder and a wonderful way of encouraging people to open their minds to a genre they might not gravitate to.

Best wishes with the speech, the scenery, and BOOK SALES.

Rick said...

Oh, Tawna. Only you would be the keynote speaker at something called an Endowment dinner.

Ruth Madison said...

I love the speech! You're going to be great.

And, by the way, put me in the sexual deviant category ;)

Skye said...

Awesome awesomeness! Wish I could be in the audience when you speak. There are definitely people who are going to take a few minutes to get up to speed, but you are definitely going to kill a few people. Remember which of your friends are the kind who will actually help you hide the bodies!

Good luck and have fun at the truly wonderful resort!

jill said...

The speech sounds awesome, I can almost hear it in your voice (having gotten to hear you read your Newlywed Game scene once now).

Read it to your dog once or twice, remember to pause for the audience to finish laughing, and enjoy those hot springs.

Linda G. said...

You're going to be brilliant! :)

widdershins said...

Congratulations on being ASKED to deliver a keynote speech!!! WTG.

What do dogs know, read it to a cat, then you'll get some really constructive criticism!

Remember to breathe.

Therese said...

wordswordswordswords
Hot Springs! Wine!

Applause, what's her name again? Hot springs. That her book? The chicken tonight wasn't too bad. Good speaker though, laughter is good for digestion.

Yeah, give me one of those books, she's got great boobs.

Christina Auret said...

I don't know if this is to late to help, but practicing a speech while looking in the mirror usually works.