Saying “no” to TED, which I should have said was TEDxSantaClara WAIT! No! SantaCruz! Jeez Louise…

NOTE ADDED ON 12/11/19:

As requested, I’ve changed the title of this blog to clarify that I was not invited by TED but by TEDxSantaCruz. See this post for details.



The Women of the Copper Country was published on August 6, and the novel has done well — we’re in a second printing for the hardcover. Thank you all for your orders and support.

(I pause here to note that books make good gifts, and you can have my books signed and/or personalized if you order from my local independent store, Mac’s Backs/Books on Coventry.)

The response to this novel has been real surprise. I never expected much interest in a 1913 strike against a copper mining corporation in the Michigan U.P, but I’m glad I was wrong about that! The story of Annie Clements and so many other women activists of the early labor movement has struck a chord. The right book at the right time, I guess.

And now, for something completely different…

Last year, I wrote 30 pages of a story I had to set aside while finalizing The Women of the Copper Country and doing the publicity work for that book. I’ve been dying to get back to the new story and I’m happy to report that Corpus Christi is now well underway: 150 pages written, probably a third of the final novel.

Having a writing routine is important to me, and the components of that routine have changed over the past 30 years. When I was younger, I had four good hours in any given day when I could concentrate on high-level work. At 69, I’m down to two hours of useful focus and I have to guard those hours like a Rottweiler.

Which is why I’ve turned down an invitation to Santa Cruz to give a TEDx talk.

I was flattered, I truly was, but accepting the invitation would mean putting Corpus Christi aside again. I would have to write a new talk that would be “curated” by a TEDx person. In December, I’d be flying to the venue for a couple of days to be “coached” as a speaker. There would also be time spent “interfacing” with my fellow speakers.

Curating and coaching and interfacing? Seriously? I was already thinking, This sounds like a giant energy and time suck.

I wasn’t wrong. For three weeks following the invitation, the TEDxSantaCruz event dominated my waking hours — which were, incidentally, expanded by the inability to fall asleep while worrying about what I’d gotten myself into.

See, I already spend a lot of time developing a talk for each book. I edit and refine each talk before and after each event. I have 5-, 15- and 20-minute versions of each talk for each book. Because I go over the wording so much, I’m liable to screw up the narrative if I’m ad-libing, and I don’t like to bore an audience by backing up and out of the verbal weeds I just wandered into.

So I use a script and I need a podium to put it on. I am a good enough actress to make the talks sound spontaneous and engaging, but TEDxSantaCruz’s organizer believed that a podium “puts a barrier between you and the audience.” My performance would be coached and rehearsed until I could recite a 12-minute presentation while walking around the stage.

“Nope,” I said. “Script. Podium. That’s just how I roll.”

So. Okay. Podium. Then we came to “curating” the talk itself.

I was never clear about which idea I was supposed to be “pulling forward.” Was I supposed to talk about The Women of the Copper Country or the work of women activists or the role of labor unions in the modern American economy? I’m not a historian or an economist. I’m a novelist. I can only talk about my books. Maybe I had misunderstood the whole thing from the start?

Anyway, after a couple of weeks of back-and-forth, the immortal words of Danny Glover came to me: “I am too old for this shit.” I told the organizer what I’m telling you: I’m genuinely flattered by the invitation, but my time and energy are better spent writing the next novel.

Which isn’t to say that you can’t get me for a library or bookstore or organization event! I do, in fact, have a really good presentation about The Women of the Copper Country:  already rehearsed, edited and honed by moi.

We’re booking dates in 2020 now. Contact us at and we’ll make arrangements with you.

No curation, coaching or rehearsal necessary. I just need a podium.

19 thoughts on “Saying “no” to TED, which I should have said was TEDxSantaClara WAIT! No! SantaCruz! Jeez Louise…”

  1. Hello, Bravo to you for saying, “no”. It has been awhile since last I wrote to you, but I love all your posts and I look forward to reading the new book and the one to follow. I was in Las Cruces for about eight years and we are now in Hixson, TN, quite the change but a good new adventure.
    My husband, David Fishman, is a painter, was an illustrator, you may remember.
    All the best to you,
    Zuki Landau Fishman

  2. And THIS is just another item being tucked into my “Reasons I Appreciate MDR” cabinet .
    TED has become full of itself and if the people of TED are using “curated” in their communicating, they are most probably “gifting” their friends and I’m too tired to step around the muck. Glad you turned them down.
    I am so looking forward to reading your next wonderful book, Mary! (tapping my foot, glaring at the empty space on the Mary Doria Russell shelf, preparing the candles and incense for Corpus Christi’s arrival). Love you!

  3. Podium. I’ll remember that when we see you at the Romeo District Library in 2020. I look forward to it so much!

    When I told my book club last month that you are coming to our library, we decided to read THE WOMEN OF COPPER COUNTRY in 2020 before you come. I already bought the book, but I am waiting to read it with my book club.

  4. I heard you speak at the Virginia Festival of the Book several years ago and you were wonderful! Attending your talk and meeting you afterward was a highlight of my reading life. I hope our paths will cross again. Who needs TED talks?

  5. I am finding it more difficult on a regular basis to find books that I enjoy. Never a problem with an MDR book. Copper Country was every bit as good as anything I have read in a very long time. Thank you for doing what you do!

  6. I graduated from Columbine 35 years ago. Even though I wasn’t anywhere near the place when the shooting happened, it left a deep scar. When I heard that a mother of one of the shooters recorded a TED talk I was horrified. It took me months to work up to watching it.
    But I really wanted to see what she’d say. And I was surprised.
    Her appearance broke my heart, even if she seemed weirdly rehersed. Almost like she was reading a script where the character she was playing was herself.

    I think someone like her benefits from the “curated” approach.
    But you? Why? This isn’t your first rodeo, for heaven’s sake. If I were to watch you give a TED talk I wouldn’t watch in anticipation of you acting and sounding like every other video they’ve produced. I’d want to hear YOU! Your unique energy, your take on the events of the day, your message. Which is a long way of saying I’m glad you turned them down. They don’t seem a good fit for your style.

    I dropped a note to the email address above about coming to Denver. The Tattered Cover is our big indy bookstore. Generally it’s where authors stop in to promote something. They said they’re booking something like 4-6 months ahead but hey, Colorado is gorgeous in the spring! I hope you can stop by.

  7. Mary,
    I’m looking forward to reading “The Women of Copper Country” — your work on the historic subjects you choose are always brilliant. I was surprised that you said you were not a historian, but a novelist. With the historic research you have done on your books (and your obvious attention to accuracy) for many decades, I think you qualify as both a novelist and historian.

    This year I said “no” to Thanksgiving — I love food don’t get me wrong, but no one out there ever fesses up to how much work that one meal is to pull off. It’s a 3 day process of shopping, preparation and organization, and requires a masterful juggling act to get the homemade gravy done to perfection, while you carve the bird on a fancy platter, lay out the fresh cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes, and organize the many side dishes in and out of the oven to make sure they are still warm. And let’s not forget there is the dessert to follow soon after, and the hunt to find clean forks and plates to accommodate the pies. Oh, and the clean up requires hours of scrubbing with an anti-grease detergent and hot water.

    Is it my nearing 70 years old that has pulled the veil off my eyes and brought on this “no” thank you? This year, my husband and I packed up and went to the mountains for a little skiing and a change. Anyway, bravo, TED will manage just fine without your talk I’m sure.

  8. Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness. Bravo! to you, Mary Doria Russell! I mean Bravo Bravo Bravo! How I relate to the lost hours getting to the place you did. Our next books (projects in whatever form) will shine because of what it cost us to get back in our playgrounds whenever we get ‘talked’ away. (Or maybe it’s enough to just be gloriously ‘home.’)
    At 72 I honor up what you have done. I admire how you found your way to organize your presentations for your books. And in the way that works for you!
    I love that I set about and did spend four years inside the writing, finishing and publishing my fiction series for older readers like myself. “through the lane to St. Anne … One” through “… Four” is ‘out there’ but without a readership. I finally said no to the pressure to market myself. Selling myself to whomever however I would need to cost me too much. Though I would love to have others climb in with the characters who orbit Celeste, especially getting to spend time with Lorena, and Chet, I am at peace and happy to have given that cast of characters their story.
    Thanks for your post here, Mary Doria Russell. I will be smiling in my quiet world, and in my new experience of working on a project with a small team through this winter, a group who ‘gets’ that knowing and asserting what works for each is sacred and truly of value.
    E. Sandy Powell, but primarily aka Sparky

  9. Thanks for saying NO! Too many things this day and age need to be programmed and rehearsed to death, such that all spontaneity is sucked out of them. Your time is much better spent working on Corpus Christi, which your readers will be most eagerly awaiting. (Not that you refuse any moi presentations on The Women of,the Copper Country.)

  10. Sounds like they were turning you into a show pony. TED also has a radio show that mixes snippets of TED talks with interviews with the speaker that sound more natural than the “curated” talks.

    I agree that “TED has become full of itself.” Glad you took Danny Glover’s advice.

  11. To quote one of my favorite musicians, “Time is the final currency.” Brava for taking hold of your time and guarding it so.

  12. Have “surprisingly” loved each of your books since I was encouraged/coerced to read the Sparrow. As a native of the UP I couldn’t wait for your book about the Copper Country and now a possible new book about Corpus Christi, another precious home. Thank you.

  13. I’ve been to the TC for every novel since The Sparrow, but Simon and Schuster’s accountants have decided that tours don’t pay, so they went all-digital for The Women of the Copper Country. Maybe they’re right. The sales have been ahead of Epitaph’s at the same stage, and the tour for THAT book damned near put me in the hospital. (I pause here to say GET A PERTUSSIS shot if you’re over 60; the vaccine wears off.) I can’t just show up at a bookstore. I have to be invited and if it’s more than a 100 mile drive from Cleveland, there has to be sponsorship to cover costs. Bookstores don’t have a budget for that. See if your Friends of the Library has a budget for bringing in speakers.

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