Thursday, December 1, 2016
Book signings: Mine & Springsteen's
The midnight text message was perfectly enigmatic: Could I be in Cincinnati in 12 hours?
It was from my buddy Quinn. He lives in Columbus, owns a bar, knew Stones saxophonist Bobby Keys, has a kick-ass band and remains single (one divorce) at the age of 50.
If there was a Quinn poster it’d be hanging in my office and I’d right now be staring dreamily at it.
Why Cinci? I texted back.
I told him I was flattered, but I didn’t think driving five hours would be worth it. I doubted I’d sell 10 books.
I didn’t learn ’til much later it was not my book signing.
It was Bruce Springsteen’s.
Quinn’d snagged some tickets to meet Springsteen while he’s promoting his new “Born to Run” book, currently ranked No. 21 on amazon or 139,920 slots higher than my new book.
So I snoozed through a chance to meet the Boss.
I tried in hindsight to think of what could have happened had I been more spontaneous.
Bad things could have happened: My vehicle could have bombed. My wife would have been furious at my perpetual whimsy. I could have gotten really drunk with Quinn.
Good things could have happened: I could have met Springsteen. He could have taken a shine to me and written a song about “The Last Baby Boomer.” I could have gotten really drunk with Quinn.
Good and bad things could have happened: I could have been enslaved by a roving band of gypsy hookers who were fond of Quinn and were driving me to his bar where we’d all get drunk together.
Instead of any of that I stayed home and composed this tweet: “I have to imagine any nation named Togo has really great take-out food.”
It’s no “Jungleland,” but it only took me a sec.
Would I drive to Cinci to sign books?
I would not. It wouldn’t be worth it.
I will drive to Altoona tonight. I’ll be at the area Barnes & Noble from 6 to 9.
How many books will I sell? Maybe 10. Maybe 3.
When many people say they want to be writers, what they really mean is they want to be John Grisham or J.K. Rowling.
No one says they want to be me.
By coincidence, my favorite cinematic depiction of an actual book signing was just on and — surprise! — it’s part of a horror movie.
It’s “1408” starring John Cusack as spirit-debunking writer Mike Enslin. It’s a very good scary flick about how a skeptical Enslin stays in the purportedly haunted room 1408 in New York’s Dolphin Hotel.
It’s a Stephen King story, scary as hell.
But I find one part of it very funny and relatable.
It’s an early scene where Enslin walks into a big chain book store for a heavily promoted book signing.
The scene shows an engaged Enslin explaining how hauntings often have reasonable explanations. The next shot is from Enslin’s POV. His audience is four people scattered among about 30 empty seats.
Boy, does that ring a bell.
I remember one other time the store manager took me clear to the back of the building where they kept unsold volumes devoted to things like Mayan architecture.
Not one person stopped at my table for three hours.
If I hadn’t become an expert on Mayan architecture it would have been a complete waste of time.
So why keep doing these signings?
Because sometimes you sell 20 books or sometimes you sell just one, but it’s to the right person.
That’s what happened in Greensburg two years ago. A woman heard me speak at the local library. She was one of about a dozen people on a miserable February day.
She liked what she heard so much she bought 250 books to distribute to WVU students the day she hired me to come speak to her students. Got a hefty speaking fee, too.
Maybe something like that’ll happen tonight in Altoona. Maybe not.
But I can pretty much guarantee I’ll sell a bunch of books Friday at the Tin Lizzy (5 to 9 in Flappers; party upstairs afterwards). And it’ll be a lot of fun.
Some writers are born to run.
Some of us are content to slump in our bar stools.
Tramps like us hope we’ll see you Friday at the Tin.