Sunday, October 20, 2019

Author Events

Last week I was one of a dozen local authors who participated in an event at the local bookstore. Although I’ve not had the greatest success at these type of events, since it was only for a couple of hours and just a few miles away, I decided to give it a shot. Besides, it would be a good opportunity to catch up with some of the other authors I knew and perhaps meet a few new ones.

Despite the fact that this is a good size store, part of a national chain, they opted to jam everyone into one long table down the central aisle.  Authors were given two feet of table space, directly in front of your chair. No room for banners, displays, or even swag beyond bookmarks.  There are sections in the store for different genres, but management wanted to keep all the authors tightly together. Picture sardines in the can. You get the idea.  Maybe they were concerned we’d get too rowdy and make a mess of their displays.

There was little attempt to help promote our appearance. I saw a sign about the size of a sheet of paper that said “Local authors” and the date and time. This was visible only as you were leaving the store.   No photos, no book covers, no list of attendees, no pizzazz to draw your eye. 

During the two hours, I talked briefly to three people who were perusing the table. I was sitting beside a young author who writes speculative fiction and a woman who wrote a children’s book.  I did have the opportunity to chat with Rachael Brownell, who has written more books than there was room to display.  We compared notes about previous events, both indoors and at festivals and gauged our success. 

At the end, we packed up and headed out. I’m unaware of anyone actually selling a book to a stranger. A couple of sales were made by others whose family and friends stopped by.  

But this is a part of the writing life. Unless you’re an international bestseller, like John Sandford or Stephen King, you have to spend some time in the trenches, participating in these opportunities and hoping that you’ll have the chance to engage potential readers. 

Sometimes it works. 

Sometimes it doesn’t.  

One of the people I did talk with that night was Olivia, an acquaintance who works out at the same local gym I go to. She glanced at the books in the Jamie Richmond series, and picked up “Fleeing Beauty”.  

‘Where do you get the models for the covers?’ she asked.

‘At the gym” I quipped.

She burst out laughing and replaced the book. ‘That was very quick.’

I shrugged and explained the publisher works with artists and models. I had some input for the artwork and have final approval. But I’ve yet to meet the models.

Here’s an excerpt from “Fleeing Beauty”.  In this scene, Jamie and her young friend Ian are on their way home from her late father's art studio.  They were surprised there by the appearance of Vera, Jamie’s mother, who has invited Jamie for dinner.

We were almost back to the house when I heard a phone ring. I’d been so preoccupied with thoughts of Vera’s sudden appearance that I’d forgotten Ian was with me. It took a moment to realize it was his cell phone ringing. Sheepishly, he pulled it from his pocket and glanced at the screen. A flush of crimson colored his cheeks as he answered. I tried not to eavesdrop. The conversation was brief. I glanced at him as we exited the freeway.

“That was Brittany. She just invited me and Logan down for a barbecue.”

“And I suppose her parents will be there?” I tried to make my voice sound stern.

He fidgeted in his seat. “C’mon, Jamie, be real. Her whole family is going to be there. They have a pool too. I’m sure you can come, but I thought you were going to dinner with that Vera lady.”

“That is no lady. That’s my mother.”

“You call your mother by her first name?” His expression was questionable.

I blew out a breath and eased the car into the driveway. “It’s a long story. What time is this barbecue?  Does your mom let you go to things like this?”

“Brittany said six. And my mom is cool with it. She and Caitlin are doing some movie thing tonight, just the two of them. I’ve got time to get cleaned up and take Logan for a walk.” He was giving me the same kind of hopeful, sad puppy look with those big brown eyes that Logan would use when he wanted a treat.

“Okay, you can go. But I want to meet this family before I leave.”

Shortly before six, we walked down the block to Brittany’s house. I met her parents and her younger brother and sister. An above ground swimming pool dominated the backyard. Tucked into a corner by the rear of the house was a large charcoal grill. A thin ribbon of smoke rose from the chimney. 

“Don’t worry about Ian, we have enough food for an army,” Brittany’s father, Tom, said.

“That’s good to know. I’m still getting used to how much this kid can eat.”

He nodded. “With three kids of our own, we always stock up. What time does Ian need to be home?”

I was unaccustomed to this maternal role. But I knew he had a game in the morning and he needed a good night’s rest. “Eleven. I should be back by then as well, but he has a key.”

“We’ll take good care of him,” Tom said. He glanced over at Ian. He and Brittany were standing close, petting the dogs and talking quietly. “I’ll keep a close eye on him.”

“Now that sounds like a very good idea.”

I was heading out the gate when Ian called my name. I turned as he approached with Logan tagging along. Without a word he wrapped his arms around me in a quick hug. I hesitated for a moment and felt my arms go across his back.

“Thanks,” he whispered in my ear.

“Have fun, but not too much fun.”

Walking away I realized that was the first time he’d ever hugged me.   
 Two hours later I was in the Hotel Baronette’s dining room. Recalling Vera’s reaction to my shorts and T-shirt ensemble earlier, I’d taken some time to get ready for dinner. I was wearing a sleeveless linen dress in a pastel shade of turquoise along with a pair of black leather sandals and gold dangling earrings Malone gave me for my birthday. I’d curled my hair, applied some lipstick and a touch of makeup, and spritzed on just a little perfume. This was about as feminine as I get. The restaurant manager, acting as host, steered me to a special table and informed me Vera would be down shortly. She appeared ten minutes later.

“Jamie, darling, you look so much better. But where is this new man I’ve heard about? I expected him to join us for dinner.”

“Malone’s working. He’s on afternoons.”

Vera perused the menu. As if by magic, a handsome young waiter appeared at her elbow. She flashed him a smile, ordered a vodka martini and the Lake Huron trout.  I opted for tonic water with lime and the farm salad, which included apples, walnuts, and cherries. She raised an eyebrow at me as the waiter departed.

“No wine or alcohol with dinner?”

“I don’t drink anymore, Vera. And before you ask, I don’t miss it.”

She considered it and gave me a slow nod. “Very well. You do look good, Jamie. I think your life agrees with you.”

“I’m happy with the way things are.  Are you happy, Vera?”

“Yes, I am. I get to live the life I’ve always wanted. I’m surrounded by friends, by people who share many of the same interests and desires. Some of them are very generous. They enjoy my company.”

My eyes flicked to her dress. It was probably from some French or Italian designer and worth more than my entire wardrobe combined. It was a soft red number, with a tightly cinched waist and a flared skirt. I didn’t know if it was a combination of diet and exercise or the result of a plastic surgeon’s knife, but she wore it well. 

We were quiet until the waiter returned with our drinks. Vera sipped hers and nodded her approval. The dining room around us was busy, but there were no occupied tables close by. She was staring at me with what could only be described as a smirk on her face.

“Go ahead and ask me, Jamie. It’s obvious that you have something on your mind.”

“How come you never told me more about Peter?”

Vera took a moment to choose her words. “It was too difficult. He meant so much to me, and to have him taken away so suddenly, I’ve never been able to get over it.”

“Even after all these years, you’re still not over him?”

“People deal with grief in different ways. You might say Peter ruined me for other men. I think that’s why I could never stay in a relationship very long after that. I was always afraid of having my heart broken again.”

“What about you and Bert? You were married to him for more than five years.”

The mention of Bert brought a genuine smile to her lips. Her entire face glowed. “Bert was my favorite man. He captured a special place in my heart. I think he still has it.”

“So you never talked about Peter because it was too hard. But why didn’t you ever tell me about the estate?”

She paused as our entrees were placed before us. The waiter hovered while Vera tasted the trout. After bestowing a smile on him, he disappeared into the background. 

“Lincoln Banning helped with the estate. Once he assured me that there was enough money to take care of us each year, I never gave it much thought. Until you turn thirty-five, everything remains in the trust. I have no idea how much that is worth or what impact these new works will have on it. That’s still three more years before we have to know.

“Once you were off to college, I thought about telling you. But you’d earned a partial scholarship and I was pleased to see you willing to work for your spending money. I just told you the rest of your tuition was covered. The estate paid for it. When you graduated and started working, I didn’t see the need to burden you. Peter would have wanted you to earn your own way.”

“So you were protecting me?”

She reached over and took my hand. “No, Jamie, I was protecting me. I can’t think about the estate without thinking about Peter and our lives together. He was everything to me. You were everything to him. His whole spirit lit up whenever he saw you.”

“Will you do something for me, Vera?”

“Of course I will.”

“Will you tell me about him now?”

What looked like tears formed in the corners of her eyes. “I’ll tell you everything.”

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Music this week is an old favorite from Sting.

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