Monday, January 29, 2007

"Rogues, Desperados and Cutthroats"

Participating for three hours in a mass group booksigning at Barnes and Noble Saturday somehow reminded me of the weddings arranged by Sun Myung Moon: everybody hoping for the perfect match, but knowing it would be provided by somebody else, a god figure who meant us well. (I'm an agnostic who thinks there's nothing wrong with magical thinking -- go figure.) There were 12 of us lined up at tables at the front of the store, each supplied with a Sharpie, a pile of our "product," a glass of ice water from the cafe, and, of course, our respective hungry looks and desperate hopes. I was dreading it; I'd had lunch at the mall's Ruby Tuesday with my dear friend Professor Teddy beforehand, loading up on appropriately healthy food (grilled chicken salad) and yielding at the last minute to a limey Kamikaze from the bar.

I knew a couple of the other authors -- for one, the gregariously satirical Andy Heller ("Come Heller High Water") and Tom Powers, the retired Flint Public Library research librarian who'd been the demented brain behind the rowdy Julia A. Moore Bad Poetry Contest for which my former husband and I served as judges for years. Also in the lineup was a romance novelist (selling her 11th book -- impressive -- I bought the big type edition for a mere $4.95) a vampire novelist (sexy and predictably ebony-haired), a historian, a self-help writing neurologist, two children's authors, and a manly adventure novelist whose fans lined up the whole time.

My friends materialized and I sold 10 books -- apparently not a bad result, three per hour. If I did that well on Amazon I'd be doing a hell of a lot better than this morning's depressing sales rank of 641,000 -- but then, we're not supposed to obsess about such things, are we? I was the only author there visited by TWO sets of twins, and adorable ones at that, the boys of Jake and Helen Blumner and the girls of Dave and Jen Larsen.

This is my first novel, and I'm trying to learn post-publishing etiquette. Being a poet most of my writing life, I conscientiously walked the gauntlet buying the other authors' books and requesting their autographs. I'd brought extra money just for that. It's the way I've been "brought up," so to speak -- poets are supposed to support each other. We're always talking about "the writing community" and how we have to stick together. We know nobody reads us; we're lucky if other poets read our slim volumes. Nonetheless, we make our friendly gestures; we do what we can. In poetry, of course, there isn't enough influence, power or money to go around, and there'd NEVER be a 12-poet lineup at any Barnes and Noble. Here's the thing, though: not one of those authors on Saturday bought mine. What's wrong with these people? Who's their mother? I went home feeling peevish and wounded.

That night I was depressed and keyed up, and, the temperature outside plunging to a life-threatening 9 degrees, I snuggled into bed early. But I but couldn't sleep. So I reached for Tom Powers' exuberantly colorful 2002 book "Michigan Rogues, Desperadoes, Cuthroats." I immediately felt better. He says P.K. Small, "the Ogre of Seney," became a "gastronomic adventurer" who, for the promise of a drink, would 'gulp down horse manure, either fresh and still steaming, or as a tooth-busting, dried up horse apple." And here's my favorite -- Powers describes T.C. Cunyan, "the Man Eater of Peterborough" like this: "short, squat and tough, he looked like a 170-pound piece of gristle." I still laugh every time I read this amazing sentence.
So I'm grateful to Tom Powers for saving me from middle-of-the-night novelist angst. At least I didn't have to eat horseshit, and even though I heard a major brawl broke out somewhere in the mall just an hour after all of us literati had packed up our Sharpies and left, I understand that the world I'm in is basically benign.


Bob Forbes said...

Hi Jan - I wanted to use this blog post to drop you a line since I liked its title so much, and I'm sure I'd enjoy the book too. Anyone who describes a guy as "a 170-lb piece of gristle" must know some of my fishing buddies!-). Speaking of books, I looked for Night Blind on Amazon earlier today and it seems to be doing better - was flirting around the 100,000 rank, when I spotted it at least! If I recall correctly (I know all I have to do is check your events posting) you will be reading in San Bruno CA in a couple of weeks. Here's hoping you can split a Steinlager w/ Emile and toast some of your PC pals from days gone by. Let us know how it goes...
Alu a e!
Lopeti F.

Macy Swain said...

Hi, Bob! How great to hear from you this way. Yes, I'm reading at the San Bruno library March 1 and having dinner with Emile beforehand. Can't wait. I hope some Tongans show up. Thanks for keeping up with the blog! I hope you're doing well.