Thomm Quackenbush, author

Ivan the Marriageable | 2011 | Outside the Cave

08.13.11

People in their right minds never take pride in their talents.  

-Harper Lee

 


Book Signing

Xen  
Yes, yes, I wrote a book. Can we move on? No, buy it, then we'll move on.

I am flummoxed as to what to wear to my book signing and so seek out pictures of other authors. To my lack of surprise, they largely adhere to a uniform of jeans and t-shirts because many male writers shy away from sartorial fanciness (with the notable exception of Tom Wolfe in his white linen suit, though I cannot be certain this is not the equivalent of casual for him). I opt to follow suit, as it were, but then throw on a jacket so I look slightly more professional, even if it is the middle of August.

My signing is being held at Notions-N-Potions - the same store where I attend circle - because I barely have confidence enough to tell people not already connected to my life that I am a published author. If I did not believe events like this signing were necessary publicity to sell my books (and if I did not feel indebted to my father for purchasing boxes of them to resell), I would be spending this Saturday at home with Amber. However, pestering people on the internet is hardly an effective way to make sales and I will get nowhere if I donít make appearances (at least until I am famous enough to pull a Salinger).

I have heard that most artists never stop feeling like frauds, like they are going to be called to task for the sheer ego of trying to trick someone else into consume their creation. I am almost positive no author worth their royalties feels the need to talk up their books much beyond the basics, if how I feel is at all generalizable. I can hardly stand to look at something I have published, even though I am pleasantly surprised at its quality while I am doing final edits (or I would not have deign to have it in print). None of this is meant to signify that my novel is not a very good book. I poured years of myself into it and learned how to write in order to bring it into the world. Itís my baby. I wrote the book I would want to read. However, I feel almost as though it were channeled and that I shouldnít be taking credit for transcribing dictation.

Jacki suggested that I perform a reading from We Shadows or offer wine and cheese to sweeten the pot, but the former would involve people congregating at a fixed time (they don't) and Notions-N-Potions having enough space for me to read aloud (it doesn't), to say nothing of the fact that there are only a few bits in my novel that would make sense out of context. The latter would involve my going into the negative to bribe people to read my book, since I am only making about $1.50 in royalties for each book sold (the difference between the price paid, including tax and shipping, and the price sold for goes to my father for investing).

In essence, I am asking friends and strangers (but mostly friends) to pony up cash for my book with the understanding that I believe it is worth their time, but the entertainment value is not apparent before the purchase - a few make comments about the potential salaciousness of the cover and note a typo on the back cover that the editor missed. At the time of my writing this, I can only think of a dozen people outside of Double Dragon Publishing, Inc. who have read my novel in its entirety. Its Amazon page has zero reviews. My last royalty check showed that - aside from copies my family or I bought to sell or give away - I sold fewer than ten paperbacks and six ebooks. Despite occasional compliments from Melanie or Kate while reading previous drafts, I have yet to have runaway success that would inspire in me the sureness that others will appreciate what I have written (however fond my publisher is and despite the fact that they are continually gambling increasing amounts of money and effort on my writing). On the other hand, I am reminded of an apocryphal interview with some band, asked what it takes to be an overnight success. The response was that it took years of long days, that they had been recording music and touring for a decade before one of their songs was finally noticed by the right person.
Xen  
The sandwich board is a nice touch.

I have trouble with the very idea of my having signings. This is not to say I would not stand for an hour to watch Neil Gaiman, David Sedaris, or Terry Pratchett scribble on some paper I could keep. I absolutely would jump at the chance. Though I am keenly aware that they all had first signings at some point in their lives, signings that likely were almost entirely peopled by friends they had invited, I cannot help but feel a bit awkward today. (This is not helped by that fact that, though I can type a fairly insane number of words in a minute, my handwriting has never risen above that of a grade schooler, no matter my efforts. Should I become especially famous, one could no doubt forge my signature by thrusting a pen in the hands of a toddler who has had too much caffeine.)

When I enter the store, Cheryl, the proprietress, dotes over me and then shows me to a corner table that usually hosts tarot and other acts of divination. This feels right given that I am forcing myself into yet another discomfiting situation that will serve as the foundation of my future as a writer.

My friends arrive in clumps. There are some surprises in the hours before I have sold as many copies as I am going to today, such as a guy I knew from my freshman year of college and Jacki's mom and her friend, who have driven two hours to buy a book.

"It's very nice to meet you," I assure Jackiís mother, shaking her hand. It is a bit strange to be meeting a friendís mother in this setting, but she is warm, especially as we briefly bond over her daughter's inclination toward lateness. I want to apologize to her for making her come all this way and almost offer her the book gratis in thanks for her apparent dedication. All day, I wrestle with the clumsiness of asking people to give me money, but the copies I have are simply not mine to give away. I am grateful that Cheryl begins taking money for some copies, as that introduces an intermediary between giving people copies and signing them.

This brings about my other difficulty. Though I can scribble my name with relative ease, I know I ought to inscribe something more personal along with it. For some people, it is easy enough and I write approximately what I would in a yearbook, aside from assurances that we will totally be friends forever and hoping they enjoy the summer without Mrs. Hawkís physics class: "I love you", "Thank you for believing in me", and the like. For others, I flip through my book as though to find the perfect inscription via bibliomancy. This does not work especially well, as you might imagine, so I end up coyly summing up one of the themes of the book by writing that pretending to be normal is never very good cover.

Jacki's is not the only mother I meet. This is also the first time I am meeting Amber's mother. Aside from an accidental love bite sustained early in my relationship with her daughter and that I steal Amber away every weekend I can manage it, the fact I have written a book may be the only thing Amber's mother knows about me so far. She may not know - because her daughter has yet to finish - that there are slightly racy bits in said novel. My characters are in college, sex is part and parcel of that experience. This is to say nothing of the occasional bouts of violence. However, one of the more unfortunately popular young adult novels at the moment involves a character chewing a baby out of his wife's womb, so I think I can be forgiven for letting my characters get their hands a little dirty. It remains to be seen if my potential future mother-in-law will be so gracious as to overlook this, though I am hopeful. She buys two copies, one for her book-collecting brother and one for Amberís sister Rebecca.

I am later to find out that several of my friends did not realize they were discuss the minutiae of Doctor Who with Amber's mother. They figured that she was someone I knew, perhaps Amber's sister, which says all that needs saying.

Amber dresses cutely in a fluffy skirt and makes fine authorial arm candy - she delights in telling friends she is dating an author and had once decided (after watching Castle) that this was one of her life goals - especially as she printed out stickers with a web address where the curious can buy a copy on my book, if they currently cannot shell out for one at the signing. (I also intend to sign flyers my brother had made for those who cannot buy books, though no one gives me the opportunity.)

Jamie, who came on time and was thus privy to most other people arriving, rightly admonishes me for neglecting to introduce people. I would like to say it is because I assume everyone knows one another (either from prior meetings or things I have written), but the truth is that I am nervous and preoccupied, so it slips my mind to do my duty as the host.
Jamie and Xen  
Jamie is pretty integral to the fact this book was published.

I am unsurprised as how well my friends - particularly those who are meeting for the first time - seem to get on as they spend hours in this small store, though it is a bit warmly startling when Amanda insists upon buying Jamie an orange rock for its prescribed spiritual qualities.

A few hours into the signing, several of my friends decide that they are keenly interested in having cake a few storefronts down. Though I am sure they glory in my anxious presence, the signing does not present much entertainment value so I cannot fault them. Amber's mother joins them, something I do not quite realize until they are gone.

I settle into my corner to count up the remaining books and calculate how much money I have so far. For a moment, it seems that I have somehow accrued too much money without cause and I begin to fret. Amber sits beside me and scratches the top of my head with the tips of her finger. "Guess what's on your head?"

"What?"

"Brain slug," she says matter-of-factly. "Guess what it's doing?"

"Hm?"

She grins widely. "Starving."

I kiss her and feel more relaxed.

Jacki tries to entice us away to a Perfect Thyroid concert being put on an hour away, but I feel it is likely obscenely bad form to abandon my friends to the vagaries of Beacon after having gone through the effort of bring them here. Also, I do not especially care for Perfect Thyroid and intentionally chose to hold my signing today because it segued into Second Saturday - the evening when Beacon businesses stay open late and galleries tempt philistines in with cookie and alcohol - and gave my attendees something to do once they had each given me a portrait or two of Alexander Hamilton.

In the final hour, since I still have seven books unsold and forty-five flyers left, Amber, Daniel, and I take to the streets. And by that, I mean that Amber and Daniel sit at a table just outside the door and harass me into giving out the flyers to passersby.

"No, you are doing it all wrong," Amber assures me when people fail to walk over to me and ask what I am doing. "You have to get in their faces a little."

I step in front of a couple walking in my direction and grin a touch madly until they take the flyer from my hand. To my surprise, the female of the couple folds it and puts it in her purse, to be thrown out when she is home and has forgotten she took it.

"No, no, like this," she says, taking one. A couple actually veers toward her to take it from her hand.

"That doesn't count. You are a cute girl. Of course they are going to take it. At my next signing, I'll just station you outside to attract customers... except that sounds suspiciously like it might be illegal..."

Amber hands out a flyer to another couple. They walk a dozen steps and then the woman returns to hand it back to Amber, saying, "You should really give this to someone who is going to be excited about it. Not me."

I marvel that this woman ostensibly found this to be more polite than taking the flyer and trashing it out of sight of us, but I have no doubt that she did. I have had too good of a day to let this interaction bother me.

I look over at the table of my friends and Amberís mother eating cake twenty feet away and my eyes suddenly go wide, remembering how they had previously began to explain how each of them had met me while Amberís mother stood feet away. "Wait, my friends are having a conversation with my girlfriend's mother, who knows almost nothing about me? Oh no, this is not good."

I walk over and, master of subtlety, tell them they had better not be telling Amberís mother my secrets.

Jamie says, "Oh, like that time you - "

I hold up a finger. "Yes, don't tell her that."

"Or when the police--"

"Right. She canít ever know."

Amanda assures me that I have not been a topic of conversation, which seems unlikely, but I have no time to worry.

When the final hour of my signing has been completed with no additional sales, I returned to the store proper to collect my remaining books. Cheryl asks if I would like to leave behind some signed books for her to sell and then informs me that a biker who had been passing through gave her money to reserve a copy.

"Oh... yes, actually. That would be great," I say, a bit flustered. Even though she volunteered her store for this signing, the presumption that she would allow this did not occur to me. Somehow, it escapes my awareness that other people care enough about me to help me achieve my dreams.

I take off my jacket and hide the proceeds in my car, then rejoin my friends, to walk through the drizzle of Second Saturday and forget that they all came here because I wrote a book.

Soon in Xenology: Amber. Hull.

last watched: Scrubs
reading: A Walk in the Woods
listening: Edith Piaf

Ivan the Marriageable | 2011 | Outside the Cave

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.



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