Friday, August 17, 2007

Flacking The Book

As we move closer to the release of Bad Girl, my calendar gets more interesting. On Monday night, I'm giving a talk to the Greater Dallas Chapter, an offshoot of The Writers League of Texas. I have half a dozen other talks lined up over the next six weeks.

Lots of things to do beforehand: had to find a P.O. Box so I'd have a physical address for my new business cards and needed to contact the publicist at NAL to send a "higher resolution tiff" of the book's cover to the printer who is making up the table top display.

I'm a very comfortable public speaker with years of experience. My nearest and dearest pointed out recently that I'm a total ham, happiest with a mike in my hand.

It wasn't always that way. As a teen, I had tons of attitude on the inside--all covered by a heavy coat of shyness on the outside. My mother found my first job for me because I was too afraid to go on an interview.

All that changed when I was nineteen. In the spring following my sophomore year in college, I made the mistake of whining to my father that my college classmates were going on exotic vacations to Europe, California, and even Maine, while I was going to have to get a stupid summer job.

Daddy refused to rise to the bait, merely saying it was a shame I had so little imagination that I couldn't figure out how to find a way to travel and work at the same time.

Of course, proving him wrong became my raison d'etre. I sat down with the yellow pages and wrote a dozen letters to the first twelve travel agencies in the phone book, extolling my virtues as a tour escort.

It so happened that Amazing America Tours was a division of Greyhound Busline. When they called to invite me for an interview, I almost passed out. I had no idea what a tour escort did, but I was determined to prove my father wrong.

Before I knew it, I was hired as an escort to lead forty elderly tourists from St. Petersburg, Florida to New England, Quebec, Montreal, Niagara Falls and back. Over a three-week period. There was no script, no instructions beyond a list of hotels and tourist attractions we were scheduled to stop at along the way.

I was cute with my curly red hair, freckles, and little short skirt that wasn't much longer than my navy jacket. Old people weren't threatening to me and, over the next 21 days, I became a microphone whore. I introduced bingo games, I played books on tape, I offered puzzles with dime store prizes for the winners and I had pages and pages of historical facts on every state we passed through.

At every tourist attraction, I met escorts from other travel agencies. I made dates with tour escorts and bus drivers to meet in cities ahead of us for dinner and sightseeing. After my little old people were tucked in for the night, I ate lobster in Bangor, rode the ferry back and forth across the St. Lawrence River in Quebec and toured the Thousand Islands of New York.

Greyhound got so many compliments on me as an escort that I had a job waiting whenever I had a break from school. I did the Canada run three times and the Mardi Gras run twice. One of those times, my aunt and uncle were visiting New Orleans. My aunt still talks about the time I made a date for beignets with one guy, for a luncheon po'boy with another and for shrimp creole with a third. I explored New Orleans with each guy, but then brought him back to my aunt and uncle's hotel room and explained that I had to spend time with my relatives. These guys were a lot older than the boys I was used to, and I wasn't confident of my ability to manage them.

Once the coast was clear, I headed out again to meet the next date. I don't think my aunt ever told my parents. If she had, I'd have spent the next five years in a convent school.

Those two plus years with Greyhound cured me of my shyness and guaranteed that I would always head straight to the front of the room where the microphone was. Coincidentally, I've had jobs that required a fair amount of public speaking.

So, no, I'm not worried about doing my own little local book tour. I'm actually looking forward to it.


Stephen Parrish said...

I really enjoyed this post. I completed my "basic training" in public speaking as a classroom teacher---arguably the best way to do it (although "tour bus guide" has moved up the list). Whenever I teach I require my students to give oral presentations; it's hard to make it in any industry nowadays if you can't stand and deliver.

Maya Reynolds said...

Stephen: The funny thing was, six months before my first tour, I had to take "Speech" in my sophomore year of college. I can still remember the absolute terror of standing up in front of an auditorium of fellow students.

I've always loved children and my plan was to teach. Fortunately, the bus tour occurred before my practicums so I was far better prepared for my high school students than I might have been otherwise.

Thanks for your post.



Tena said...

Great post, Maya.

As a sometime actor I've had to memorize scripts for commercials that were written by the legal department. You know, the "cover our ass" stuff. I really dislike it because it's never natural speech. If only they'd allow the actor a tiny bit of leeway they'd get a much better product.

Maya Reynolds said...

Tena: You're absolutely right. I can extemporize for an hour without getting tired, but ask me to read from a script and I break out in hives.

David Roth said...

My first was to for my dad's swing band. One of my earliest memories is standing up literally on a soapbox singing... - not Old Macdonald....

...Mood Indigo while Dad's sumptuous horn crooned along in the background.

After that it was Tom Sawyer in 4th grade, and little more again until I was a senior in high school when I played the lead part of Noble Pureheart in the senior class play, sang with the select ensemble, and was chosen to introduce and MC the end of the year concert. I've spoken in front of and/or trained groups ranging from a single person one-on-one in a class to over 10,000.

The one on one is scary because there's no where to hide. It's easy to hide in a large crowd - heck - if the lighting's just right you can't even see them! But one-on-one? You actually have to be interesting for that!

Maya Reynolds said...

David: You were the star in your fourth grade play!! I never got beyond the Sugar Plum Fairy in my school's second grade version of "The Nutcracker."

And my largest audience has only been between 350 and 400.

So, you leave me in the dust :)