"You were busy," I say. "We were outside-" But Jacki is already talking to Eric again. I do not have the energy to fret about this, as I am mentally preparing myself for the reading I will be performing at Inquiring Minds in New Paltz. All I need is to eat something not-too-heavy, drink something not-too-caffeinated, and get to the store with ample time to quietly panic. I had already dropped off two boxes of my books before coming to dinner, but won't feel truly unburdened until I leave in a few hours, hopefully several books lighter.
Half an hour before the reading is to begin, I pay for Amber and my meal and tell Jacki and Eric I will see them at the reading, but they should not feel the need to rush. As I am getting change at the counter, Daniel walks in. I make a quick apology but, since Jacki and Eric remain, direct him to the table. Reportedly, I am barely out of The Bistro before Jacki complains about my poor manners in leaving them while I go prepare for an event.
I am far more nervous now than for my Half Moon Books reading. Inquiring Minds required wrangling about percentages over cost and hoping I could finagle a deal with my publisher for the return of unsold copies (something that my publisher doesn't allow, which is a sticking point for mainstream bookstores). The business aspects of writing still give me a queasy feeling. I would be delighted to hand over ten percent to an agent so I these events just involved me lumbering in, yammering a bit about the genre and my novels, and answering a few questions before dashing away to decompress.
I planned tonight months in advance and, thanks largely to the venue, more than six hundred people are invited. As I scanned through the list earlier, I noticed most are locals. If I get even a fraction of that six hundred, I will be thrilled enough to justify my current anxiety.
When I enter the bookstore, the organizer is busily setting up fifteen chairs and a couch around a plush chair. As fourteen people I know personally have said they were coming, this seems prudent, if a bit intimidating.
Before Daniel, Jacki, and Eric show up, I receive a call from my mother, saying my father and she will not be coming for reasons of inebriation. I slouch in the chair and bite the side of my cheek, hoping with declining confidence people will soon fill the empty seats in front of me.
An older man sits in one of the chairs ten minutes before I am to begin. Men in their late sixties are not precisely my target market, though I would not presume to deny a paying customer. A sale is a sale, but perhaps he simply saw a seat and decided to rest. A woman about his age joins him after a few minutes, cuddling a small dog in her purse, but none of the three seem to notice I am sitting before them.
Amber busies herself trying to set up my digital camera so some of the reading can be recorded and gives me the occasional pat on the head and assurance that this will all be fine.
When the clock strikes seven and the only six seats are filled, the organizer suggests I may want to pause for another ten minutes. At seven fifteen, there are still no more people seated, so I begin reading.
The older man lasts through much of my reading. I would like to say he sits enthralled and then asks dozens of questions, but the truth is he passes notes to a woman beside him and titters at the wrong moments. Several middle age women appear noisily and take seats during my first reading, but whisper to one another and then, just as noisily, leave when I am ten minutes from being finished. People in the back pretend at falling asleep, which I can't ignore since they are only fifteen feet from me and it is all too obvious and ungracious a criticism. The purse dog, at least, is the very epitome of good manners.
When I take questions at the end, the only remaining person I don't know is a likely student at SUNY New Paltz, who becomes distracted from the topic of my books midway through her first question and then transitions into figuring out how she can steal my day job away from me once she is a certified teacher. Talking of the civil service list is not how I want to spend my evening, though I am courteous to her.
Though I didn't expect to sell out my books, I did hope to at least sell the five copies of We Shadows Inquiring Minds bought for my reading. No one buys anything. I am left feeling embarrassed to the organizer, who I think had slightly more faith in my marketability. She is kind enough to tell me that this seemed like a success because my name got out there and I now have another event under my belt.
Yet I feel this slimy sort of disappointment leaving the store with my boxes of books, casting a guilty glance at the the five copies of my book they had purchased from my publisher. I feel a bit like a fraud, as though I am pretending at being an author, no matter what my bibliography might say. Intellectually, I am aware that this is simply how it is going to be in the beginning. I am going to work hard getting my name into the public eye, acting as my own agent and publicist because I involuntarily skipped that step (I applied to agencies, but I either got months of run-around or stonewalled). One day, because of these efforts, I will reach the tipping point where my books are known and purchased without my having to force them upon people and remind people that I am still an author. That day is not today or tomorrow, but the organizer is right to assure me that this event - however much I feel it is a failure - brings me one step closer to that goal.
Soon in Xenology: The Discontinuity.