A version of this essay, with photos, can be found at my official web page, A Curious Man.
“Come, Watson, come! The game is afoot!”
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
“The Adventure of the Abbey Grange”
My wife’s smoke-sweet voice sings through the door ahead of her one cold mid-November night: “I say, Thomas! You’ve got a package!”
The package--ten uncorrected, advance review copies (meaning mistakes remain) of that roof-breaking bestseller that I know you all will line up in twos around the block to buy when it bangs into bookstores on March 15, 2011—Dragon’s Ark.
(At the exact same moment, servers everywhere will melt down into gooey rivers of silicon as you e-readers download it by the hundreds of millions, enough for me to build my mansion on the highest hilltop on Mars).
Cathi Stevenson’s cover--the snare that will grab your eye in the bookstore--is a sensation far beyond my original, clichéd expectations, an illustration so close to a scene in the novel—one she knew nothing of--that I tweaked the episode once more so cover and moment would entwine to shiver and twirl down your spine: His face, his eyes, hungry on you, a moon watching coldly as you scream, trapped, knowing it’s over, that it will be horrible and the only afterlife will be your screams. Joel Friedlander’s interior design is perfect for a story like this-elegant font, well-spaced, seems error free but for my own oversights. They both make me look so good, I almost want to write the whole damn thing one more time, but I can't.
I gasp and sprawl on my back upon the cold terra-cotta tile floor, struck down by the reality of my actions. Fear and Thrill roust about like monkeys around my heart, as though it were the highest tree in the forest.
Everything can go wrong. Nothing can go wrong. The book is great. The book is terrible. The book is everything in between, gray and forgettable. The book will sell a million copies and be despised. The book will sell zero copies and be loved. All possible movies reel through my mind, except Oprah, the Pulitzer and a visit from Homeland Security.
My wife’s fine pretty face shines upon me where I lay: “Come, Thomas, come! There is much left to do! The hunt most go on!”
The hunt for the reading world’s attention; the hunt for readers. I hunger for them. I'm looking at you.
And remember: even I was with Random House, I'd still likely be doing this all myself.
That Saturday morn we tuck the box into the back seat of the RAV4. Elizabeth chauffeurs me to five bookstores scattered around Oakland-Berkeley, all indie stores, cozy enclaves where beloved antiquated objects still thrive.
A long line stretches along the street outside the first store. I ask someone in line the score. “Cookbook signing” and a name and title not Amanda Hesser, not The New York Times.
“Let’s go,” I growl like Parker. “They’ll look right through me, resent the interruption and forget me like flat beer. Come back later.”
But as we leave the line behind, I wish I had my postcards to pass along the row while I slap their surprised faces with the novel. Maybe it wouldn’t get me more than a shove on the beezer, but there’s no bad publicity. Not now. Not until I throw up and pass out at my first public reading (if I get a first reading; if every Bay Area bookstore doesn’t lock its doors and pull the shades against me: NO BOOKSTORE HERE!).
The next bookstore goes bingo. They’d just moved to a new spot, I haven’t shopped there in years and the place looks swell though still unpacked; the owners, friendly and interested; their duo of cats bow before me. My gut clenches when I hear I missed an event on vampire fiction the night before, the kind of happening I need to know if, to be at. I buy a John Dickson Carr novel as a token (tokens are all I have to pay in return).
On the way out, I say hopefully, “At least you’ll find me a competent writer.”
“Already looked inside.” Owner smiles. “Yeah, you are.”
Another solid drop at the next store, another famous genre shop and the most book-jammed of them all, so booked up, I tremble. What if mine gasps, suffocates, disappears beneath the roiling paper-and-board sea of stock, like a small child in a big swamp? Oh well. I buy Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts.
Store number four, late afternoon, rain low across the sky. I walk in, start my spiel: “ . . . and it’ll be out in March 2011 and it’s available through Ingram—”
“Ingram” is a black magic word. The store owner’s head balloons and explodes the second it’s spoken, a match to a short fuse Bone, blood, and gray everywhere, windows shatter, shelves topple.
I stagger out the smoking door, my garments charred and shredded: “Mmm. Guess not everyone gets their books through Ingram.” Can’t know everything, can I? I say, my chin aloft, chipper with hope. Onward, Jeeves, onward!
By the time I cross the street to the next, last store, I’m miraculously cleaned up. It goes so smoothly, I now remember nothing of what I said, probably a good thing. By now I’m out of money, the only real book I want is Le Carre’s latest, but I must walk out one book less and pray I haven’t left a retailer’s resentment behind with my creation.
On Thanksgiving, I drop a copy at an excellent store in Burbank and later, back up here, leave one at my favorite independent local store, then another at a store in downtown Berkeley, which may not work because the store’s new fiction section is a small, discrete, huddled, facing away from the
waves and walls of used books rising behind it.
You try this, you try that. If something works, you try it again. If it doesn’t, try something else. It’s not the falling down, the slammed doors. It’s the not getting up, not knocking at the next
door. Sometimes they say yes. Nobody loses all the time.
Checks from my business haven’t arrived in for awhile, so spending is a frozen stream, but the hunt goes on, the free things I can do, whether by strung-together tin cans or Internet. Bloggers and bookstore sites, each gets the news release, then is placed on two lists, on in Word, the other in the e-mail address book. I’ve received my first blurb, into the news release it goes. I sit at a bar, my book and cards displayed. Like the hunter, I watch for movement, my ears open and perking: “Say, pal, what’s that you got there?”
Maybe you’ll see me, my eyes fevered and focus, my hidden tale curling a grin my face, eager to be told. Maybe you should ask. Many have. Get in line. Maybe I’ll buy you a beer.
Copyright 2010 by Thomas Burchfield
Photos by Author
Thomas Burchfield's contemporary Dracula novel Dragon's Ark will be published March 15, 2011 by Ambler House Publishing. Other essays and postings can also be read at The Red Room website for writers. He can also be friended on Facebook, tweeted at on Twitter and e-mailed at tbdeluxe [at] sbcglobal [dot] net.
Causes Thomas Burchfield Supports
The Nature Conservancy; Africare; Capitol Public Radio