It was a dark and stormy night...
Well, it wasn’t night. It was the middle of the afternoon but the rest is true. My first book had been out for about a year and I was doing book signings at a series of small chain bookstores in Wisconsin and Michigan. Anyone who’s familiar with the upper Midwest knows that on summer weekends city dwellers flee their homes like rats abandoning a Warfarin-dusted high rise. They jump in their cars and head for the quaint and charming tourist towns along the shores of the Great Lakes. It was the middle of June and I was scheduled to appear at a bookstore in one of those quaint and charming lakeside hamlets. It wasn’t an unreasonable assumption that I would be able to sell a case of books that weekend and go home happy. You know the adage about assumptions so I won’t repeat it.
I will, however, repeat the opening line of this post. It was dark and stormy. In mid-June at high noon the temperature struggled to reach a soggy sixty degrees. This is never a good sign when one is counting on a large turnout. In retrospect, the weather proved to be the least of my problems.
As I entered the bookstore trailing a case of books, the clerk looked puzzled. “Can I help you with something?”
“I’m here for the book signing,” I said cheerily.
“What book signing?”
I patiently led the clerk to the plate glass window at the front of the store where my announcement was displayed. I tapped the page for emphasis. “This book signing.”
“Oh jeez, that was supposed to be today?”
I nodded gravely.
“Wow, I’m so sorry. We don’t have anything set up for you. We didn’t run any announcements in the paper either.”
The clerk scurried over to a kiddie table near the front of the store where a Harry Potter display was arranged. Shoving the books aside, he said, “You can set up here.”
I looked at the table dubiously. It stood two feet high and two feet wide. I’m not a tall woman so it wasn’t an impossible situation, just a mildly uncomfortable one. I sat down on the kiddie bench that accompanied the table and set up my wares.
The store, which had been empty until now, began to fill with people. Very wet people who felt the need to shake rain droplets off their slickers and umbrellas as they entered. Positioned as I was, most of the rain fell on me. Over the course of the next fifteen minutes, people continued to trickle in, shake themselves dry, and browse. One gentleman stopped at my table. I looked up at him hopefully, thinking he might have a question about my work.
“Harry Potter, huh?” He pointed to the books stacked beside my own. “I bet you wish you had her sales.”
I smiled and nodded thinking, “Today I’d be happy with anybody else’s sales but mine.”
He moved on. I continued to watch the traffic ebb and flow for the next hour. At first I felt badly that nobody was buying my books until I noticed that nobody was buying books period. About fifty people had come through the store by now. They stamped their feet on the door mat, flapped their umbrellas in my general direction, then formed an impromptu conga line that snaked around the aisles and terminated at the exit. They all left without buying a single book.
“Is it always like this?” I asked the clerk in disbelief.
He shrugged. “We get a lot of browsers.”
At that moment a teenage girl walked up to me. “Where do you keep the books on Ed Gein?”
For those not familiar with Wisconsin local history, Ed Gein was a ghoulish murderer in the 1950s. Aside from a few killings and dismemberments, he exhumed corpses from the Plainfield graveyard and fashioned trophies out of their bones and skin. Gein served as the inspiration for no less than three movies (Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Silence Of The Lambs).
I smiled wryly at the girl for a moment. Ed Gein was the perfect exclamation point to my own personal day of horror. Instead of telling her I didn’t work for the store, I stood up and said, “I think I saw some titles about him down this aisle.” I was determined to sell at least one book that day. Even if it wasn’t my own.