Wednesday, March 19, 2014

I Once had Stationery Stamped Elf-Extraordinaire!

By Laura Spinella

Just like that! But a deer!
Years ago, when I was first married, we lived in rural Georgia—and by rural I mean a place where our beloved first child, a golden retriever named Daizy, once dragged a deer’s head home. Actually, it was a beautiful slice of the South, set on a lake that made you feel okay about time drifting by. Conversely, employment was scarce (read couldn’t get hired at local newspaper) and I took a job substitute teaching. Now, you may ask, what does this have to do with authors in public forums? Well, not much. Not until I thought about how that first “speaking engagement” compared to one I might take on today.
            In my youthful (read naive) twenties, I could envision myself dazzling an audience, captivating a crowd. It turned out that my imagination produced a better effort than the actual result. I was quickly mowed over by a room full of third-graders. Truthfully, my public speaking skills scored only slightly worse than my natural awkwardness with children. Still, I needed the job. Initially, things didn’t improve much. I choked every time I stood in front of a classroom. I didn’t come across as a teacher, and they knew it, outing me faster than a store-brand Oreo. Eventually, it occurred to me that if I couldn’t be a teacher, maybe I could be a character, one with persuasive credentials.  Welcome to the classroom, Mrs. S., Santa’s all-knowing
Apparently, I was the original elf on a classroom shelf!
elf-extraordinaire. I began each morning by explaining that while my job was to cover the day’s agenda, I was also there on behalf of Santa. I’d be taking names and doing a quick onsite surveillance. Things like behavior, deportment, school work, and attitude would all be reported back to the North Pole. Nowadays, grade-school minds are probably too savvy for the tactic and my methods surely too politically incorrect. But back then, it worked like a charm in Baldwin County schools, making me an in-demand substitute for a teacher.
            Fast forward a couple of decades into a world grateful—and rightly so—that I did not go into education. However, years removed from the experience I found that published author brought me right back around. Clearly, I missed the clause in my contract stating: Oh, BTW, you may get tapped, now and again, to share your knowledge (likely for almost free) on writing, revision, rejection, editorial skills, publishing, self-publishing, promotion while incorporating other areas of interest, including but not limited to agents, editors, and the secret handshake, which is being forwarded under separate cover.
In my tenure as a published author, comparatively short when considering multi-published authors, I have been asked to speak about all the aforementioned categories. My first invite was through a continuing education program our community offers. Could I do a one-night class on publication?  Who me? I hemmed and hawed, and pretended to lose the email, which was followed by another email from the diligent coordinator. I imagined it wouldn’t go any better than that classroom of third-graders. They’d point and whisper; there’d be snickering, maybe a spitball hurled at my head. Eventually someone would raise a hand. My heart would flutter in anticipation, only to be dashed when asked, “Do you know if there’s a refund option for this class?” Honestly, I didn’t think my elf-extraordinaire shtick was going to be of much help. But wait. Hadn’t I become something better?  Hadn’t I become something real?  I’d worked hard for that book with my name on the cover. I learned a lot along the way. I had knowledge and maybe even a little insight. Certainly I didn’t qualify as a keynote speaker, but this wasn’t the ballroom of the Ritz. This was a playing field on which I had earned a starting spot.
            I agreed to the class, which was successful enough that I was asked to repeat it twice, and asked again to plan another one for this coming fall. Overall, my foray into public forums has been positive.  Although I cannot, in all honesty, let this blog conclude without mentioning limitations. Since that first class—now three years ago—I’ve adopted a personal speaking rule: no podiums. If the invitation is a podium kind of event, I’ll pass.  That kind of white-hot light is not for me. But if your crowd is casual, and they can handle an offbeat sense of humor, if your agenda includes a desire to learn a little something from someone who can put published author on her resume, then drop me a line. I just might be your gal.  

Laura Spinella is the award-winning author Beautiful Disaster, a RITA finalist and the newly released Perfect Timing. Visit her at



  1. Very cute post. I'm going to try this with my college students. :)

  2. Fun, Laura! But why don't you go ahead and accept the podium invites and then just slide around and move down front to chat? 'Tis true that some won't cope well with the casual, but most people like the personable touch.

    My greatest failure was in a black church years ago. I was so excited, because those were always the ladies who Amen-ed me when I spoke (and there's nothing more reviving than verbal encouragement). But when they invited me into their home territory, they wanted me to climb Way Up High to a pulpit that was probably fifteen feet above the crowd. I looked at the steps and elevation. Looked at the audience. And said, "Hope you don't mind if I just hang down here with you." Well, they must have minded. I wasn't asked back.

  3. Laura, I had to laugh at the elf idea...would that I'd thought of that with my own kids! And the title~too funny.

  4. I love this idea of the secret elf spy!

    I'm going to try that with my own son. He's four and full of imagination. This could be the single best parenting trick since I learned to use an oven timer for activities!

  5. I am not surprised that, not only are you an elf, but you are extraordinaire!

  6. As I was saying... (blogger ate my first attempt!) Many thanks for the comments, ladies! I'd reply individually, but it's after 5 here and we all know I'm more than a glass in! XXOO ;-)