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The Balancing Act | 2013 | The Return of the Meli


Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.  

-Mark Twain


Empty Chairs

Author talk.

"I'm a simpleton, but I'm a complex simpleton," the dingy man says, repairing the floppy sole of his shoe with duct tape.

"That seems to be a good sort of simpleton to be." He has directed his attention largely at me for nearly five minutes. A moment ago, to punctuate his statement that he is a fighter and not a thinker, he threw some sloppy punches my way. I didn't feel threatened by them - he has admitted several times to being intoxicated, as though his stumbling and nearly falling on me when he entered the library were not indication enough - but I am prepared to escort him away should he go after Amber or Veronica, the librarian who facilitated the reading. My day job forced me to learn physical restraints before declaring that teachers are not allowed to use them. I don't wish to find out how rusty I am, though.

He leaves before the reading, for which I am glad. I do not know if he fully understands in his current state the concept of inside voices. I watch him toddle outside the library and chat up people on the streets, who all seem to know him by name. Then, I watch a man wearing boxers and a t-shirt repeatedly whack a driveway with a pair of jeans, which Veronica labels "classic Tivoli".

Aside from Amber, whom I dragged here and who sits in the far back and draws naked women for her gallery show next month, no one who RSVPed makes an appearance. I always find this deeply awkward, as I assure the places where I read that I have some fanbase. The Tivoli Library bought my first three books, which have rarely been on the shelves since arriving, and took out an ad in a local newspaper in preparation, though Veronica is as apologetic to me as I feel to the library. A reading without an audience seems unnecessary and masturbatory.

Ten minutes after I am to begin, I relent to the fact that no one else is going to show. Beyond Amber and Veronica, my audience is three women in their fifties to late sixties. I do not presume my books are intended for a specific demographic, though I am billed as an author of young adult fiction on the bookmarks and ad produced by the library, but I feel as though these women may not be my target. I glance over at the wine, cheese, and crackers provided by the library and sigh in acknowledgement of the real draw. At least I won't have to water down some of the naughtier bits of my selections.

I read for half an hour, a couple of selections from Danse Macabre and one from Artificial Gods. I believed I do a better job than prior readings, possibly because I am not simply reading from the beginning of the novel but instead sections that are compelling in isolation. There are a few titters in the right places and I consciously pace myself. One benefit to such a small turn-out is that I feel far less nervous as there will be fewer witnesses to any screw-ups.

When I finish, there comes the question of how I got into writing paranormal fiction about the Hudson Valley. I give the diplomatic answer that I am not out to prove or disprove anything, simply tell a good story and make some use of a childhood drenched in nonfiction about UFOs and ghosts. I hope that this will satisfy without turning into an interrogation as to my personal beliefs on the matter, since these have dwindled as I have aged and figured out philosophical and scientific issues that outweigh my fun in believing in something strange. In short order, the women tell me about the multiverse, shamans, and how Earth is a battleground for the good and bad aliens, who want to save our souls or plunder our psychic resources, respectively. I don't wish to make it sound as though I am mocking anyone, certainly not sweet women who sit through my reading. As an author, I can appreciate a convoluted theology and am mentally scribbling down things they say, filing these away for future use. But, as I've written, I've carved out a chasm between what is fun to discuss with friends who I may believe are all in on the joke and that I will admit to investing with my philosophical currency.

Amber and I leave a bit after eight in order to find food, but I am in a sour mood and nothing in Tivoli sounds good. We end up in Red Hook, in a restaurant called Two Boots, where I feel disoriented and sad. These events require so much of my hope to be built up. Even putting myself out there like this required a leap of faith and it is dispiriting when it goes unfulfilled. I genuinely do not care much that I have over a thousand dollars worth of my books taking up space in my home. Lugging cardboard boxes seems to be the wages of authorship and I will bear that burden without complaint. The heaviness is more feeling that I am not worth the attention paid to me, all those venues that set up chairs and bring out crackers.

I know I am better than much that gets attention, but it does start to get to one who reads mostly to empty chairs. I know it isn't forever, that these things take time to amass, that Neil Gaiman and David Sedaris probably sat bored at bookstores early in their careers, that the point is that I am getting out there, but I wish I could montage through this to being able to fill up twenty seats at a free reading with snacks and alcohol.

Soon in Xenology: Summer. Melanie. Amber's show.

last watched: World War Z
reading: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
listening: Colbie Caillat

The Balancing Act | 2013 | The Return of the Meli

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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