Monday, July 16, 2012

Popping My Cherry at ToastWriters

Cherry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I'm shy, therefore, I write. Yet I know I need to learn how to pitch my work. In Person. (Especially with RWA Conference coming up!)

And my work, erotic fiction, can be kind of hard to talk about (pun intended).

So yesterday I made my virgin (aka Ice Breaker) speech at the Toastmasters group I joined a few months back.

Among the other things, the Ice Breaker speech is supposed to last 5-7 minutes, include an opening, body, and conclusion, and a few personal anecdotes.

Well, I did it - and lived to tell about it.

Here now my speech (as prepared):

Greetings. fellow ToastWriters and honored guests. My topic today is Learning the Ropes: Erotica and Erotic Romance. Why does reading this kind of material make the world a better and happier place? What is erotic romance, anyway?

My childhood included parents who were very open about sexuality. My dad subscribed to Playboy, and as a very little girl I was allowed to look at the covers to try to find the bunny that was hidden on each one. Sometimes it was the way the model spread her legs... Where’s Waldo before we had Waldo.

I found out later that not all children enjoyed this freedom, after my embarrassed mother told me it was not okay to share this game with the neighborhood.

If you didn’t grow up with that kind of openness, how do you learn? Reading erotic material offers a safe way to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. I’m not suggesting that people need to have anything more than what they call “vanilla sex.” Personally, I love vanilla.  I’m not even suggesting people have any sex at all. I’m a firm believer in people choosing to be celibate for however long suits them, for whatever reason.

Reality is, most people will have at least one romantic relationship at some point in their lives which includes physical touch. It’s scientifically proven that when there’s an exchange of bodily fluids, whether that’s sweat, saliva, or... other fluids, there’s an actual chemical bonding that takes place. The other person literally gets under your skin. This is yet another reason you should choose your partners with care, and why it’s so hard to break up with someone, even when you know you should.

Porn is mostly about the sexual acts, themselves; Insert Part A into Slot B. Erotica and erotic romance explores the emotional change, growth and feelings that come about before, during, and after sexual activity. In romance, you must have love, and characters who come together at the end in a Happily Ever After, or at least a Happily For Now. 50 Shades of Grey features romantic interactions between the two main characters for most of the book, but in the end of the first book, the girl is alone, crying into her pillow. (Sorry if I spoiled that for you.) Because we don’t have a Happy Ending, that makes 50 Shades erotica, rather than erotic romance.

Most people simply get slammed up across these feelings in real life. Often people become sexual partners with someone without fully understanding their own feelings, boundaries, and desires, or those of their partner, until they are approached to do something... unusual.

Let me give you an example. A friend once described to me her boyfriend’s kink. He frequently liked her to be on all fours.

Wearing an actual dog collar.


Isn’t that the kind of thing you’d like to find out before you married or moved in with this person?  So you could say, okay, I can work with that, or, that sounds like fun, or, not in this lifetime!

I recently read an erotic romance called Crash Into You. One reviewer loved the bondage, the spanking, the Dom/submissive vibe, but when she read up to the ménage scene, aka a threesome, she totally freaked out, hated it.

For me, that was the best part. It reminded me of my first kiss.

I was five or six years old, and I was playing with Billy and Tommy Schmidt, my age, in my backyard. We were playing “wedding,” and they took turns playing the groom and the minister.  Of course, the only part we remembered was, “You may now kiss the bride.”  One of them would kiss me, then switch places.

It wasn’t too long before we got bored and went to go ride bikes.

So for me, ménage isn’t scary. Kind of a warm, fuzzy memory. Being beaten with a cane, or that whole dog collar, barking thing...

There’s not a bone in the world that could tempt me into playing Lassie.

You might be sitting there thinking you want to stop at Petco on the way home from this meeting. I’m not judging. More power to you!
English: Petco store, Lewiston, Maine.
English: Petco store, Lewiston, Maine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Obviously, not everything you read about is even possible. I’m not expecting to commit a murder, visit outer space, or engage in hot lesbian vampire sex. But if you’re accustomed to exploring your feelings through reading or writing, you’ll be better able to talk about them. I believe if more people could clearly express their feelings, it would lead to fewer unpleasant surprises, less cheating and fewer divorces.

Let me repeat, I think celibacy can be a great choice. But if you belong to the vast majority of people who are sexually active, it’s a very good idea to understand what makes you tingle, and what makes you want to toss your cookies.

So, I read and write erotic romance because I see it as doing my part to make the world a better and happier place.

Did I deliver it exactly as prepared? No. I had planned - and hoped - to deliver it without notes.  I did tell, rather than read it, which is what you're supposed to to, but in the days leading up to the meeting, I kept reading it out loud, timing it, trimming and rearranging parts.  I started out okay, but experienced brain freeze, and could not deliver it without looking at my notes from time to time. (Guess I should have started on my new Gingko Biloba regimen sooner than the day before my speech.)

It is allowed, though, to use notes when delivering a speech. Therefore, I did not have to cry and run out of the room in shame.

I ran slightly longer than expected (7:23). I had been timing it at 6:30, but though I wrote bits that I thought (hoped) would have the audience laughing and/or commenting, and built in some "beats" for that (and they did laugh, mostly where I expected), I didn't build in quite enough time.

There was a big Toastmasters event the day before, so attendance was light (something I had cravenly counted on when signing up, heh heh heh) - only about 17 other people were present (which feels like a LOT when you are giving your first speech).  I did remember to prepare an introductory bio to be read when I was introduced (and now I have it done, only needing tweaking, for future speeches).

I had not expected but I was unsurprised to experience a major face breakout beginning on the Wednesday before my Sunday speech. Nothing like stress zits to add that extra note of confidence!

Directly before the meeting, I attended my LARA meeting, where the awesome Dee J. Adams gave an incredible presentation on pitching. Many things she said stuck with me (plus I am gleefully delighted to have a fabulous handout that I'll be using all week), but one tip that really helped, was not to mistake nerves for fear. I realized, as I was sitting in my chair at ToastWriters, heart racing, that I was experiencing nerves, not fear. I knew I could do this, and that every person on that room wanted me to succeed.

Toastmasters International
Toastmasters International (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Toastmasters is a very successful and supportive organization. Lots of clapping, all the time (no matter how lame something you say might be). This particular chapter, ToastWriters, is organized specifically to help authors pitch their work, and in every meeting there's occasion to stand up, give a brief bio and do your elevator pitch.  (And what author can't use that practice?) After my speech, people gave me many encouraging notes, plus I received a formal evaluation from one of the members.

The evaluations are pretty much a praise sandwich - they look to tell you many things they liked about your speech, so that you'll want to give one again, slipping in perhaps a few pointers for areas that could be improved. Brent Ramirez (thank you, Brent!) evaluated me and (as is appropriate when dealing with a nervous virgin) he was quite gentle with me. He liked that my speech had a moral, so to speak, that while my subject matter had the potential for being quite embarrassing even to listen to, I skirted the edge of being provocative without quite crossing the line.  I did need to make better eye contact with the audience, spend less time with my hands knotted in front of me (when I was not glancing at the table behind me for my notes).  Generally there is a podium; there wasn't this past time. People said they liked the humor and the childhood anecdotes.

So now I am buzzing with happy "It's Over and It Wasn't A Total FusterCluck" vibes. I don't know that I will ever love giving a speech. I'm still a writer, and it's much easier for me to hide behind a keyboard until my words are polished and shiny. But now I know I can do it, and live to tell the tale, and (joy of joys!) I will never, ever have to give a VIRGIN speech again.

Have you ever given a speech?
What was your first speech like?
If you haven't, does my account make you even a little less terrified at the thought?
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