So on Monday night I left work and drove up to the Mounds View Public Library to give a little talk. I was looking forward to this one, because instead of just droning on and on about myself and my book I'd been asked to talk about the craft of memoir.
There was a group of five women who met regularly at the library to discuss their memoirs-in-progress, and they had teamed up with the library director to invite me. They had had visions of great publicity! Posters, advertising, notices in the newspaper! But through no fault of their own, publicity had been minimal. For one thing, I couldn't put notices about my own appearance on the pages that I edit, so Strib publicity was out. The rival paper has not paid any attention to my book, so they were out, too. And the community paper the women sent the notice to had somehow lost it.
When I got to the library, there were four women there, and rows and rows of empty chairs.
The organizer came up, clearly worried. One of the five memoirists was ill, she said, so there might just be the four of them. "That's OK," I said, eyeing the side table where the four women had placed rows and rows of Tupperware containers, packed with homemade cookies. "We'll have a nice conversation."
Since I'd missed dinner, and since I wanted to put them at their ease, I walked over and took a cookie. Oh, yum. Oatmeal with chocolate chips. To be polite, you know, I took another.
And then a remarkable thing happened. The room started filling up. Credit the cookies, credit word-of-mouth, credit the little posters that had been hung all over the library, credit my endless reminders on Facebook, credit the announcement over the PA system that used the word "refreshments," but within just a few minutes, nearly every last chair was filled. OK, it was a small room and there were no more than 20 or 25 chairs, but still, it was lovely.
We had a great talk, discussing structure and reporting and how truthful memoir needs to be (as true as you can make it) and how do you find the arc of your own story (very difficult--sometimes you write entire scenes or chapters that you then must throw away), and they asked wonderful questions, lots of them, and our conversation went on well past the allotted time.
When it was over, as I was packing up, one of the women--the oldest, the whitest-haired, the most hunched-over--came up to me. She was holding out a big Tupperware container. She said, "You seem to be very interested in cookies. Would you like to take some home with you?"
And so, of course, I did.