Book readings. The month of February was my month to get out and do a lot of them. And do a lot of them I did. At least to me it was a lot. Six in all, not including my interview on NPR’s Forum. In one of my previous blogs I promised to write about my “ride” through the landscape of book writing and promotion, so let me just tell you about last month.
My memoir, WAITING FOR THE APOCALYPSE, came out on February 2, and my first reading was a week later, at Reader’s Books in Sonoma. I will never forget the hour-long drive out there. I was alone in the car (John stayed at home with the boys because it was a school night) and as I drove I practiced my public speaking voice. “Hello, everyone. Thank you for coming.” I pondered that word “everyone.” It seemed overly optimistic. I only know one person in Sonoma (my sister Tarri’s boyfriend), and although he’d promised to come, I wondered if he might be the only one in the audience. I practiced the alternative. “Hello, Ryan. Thank you for coming out on this rainy night to hear me read. It’s a pleasure to see you.”
I arrived in Sonoma half an hour early, just to be on the safe side, and went into Murphy’s Bar around the corner from the bookstore, where I sat at a wobbly table, drank half a pint of pale ale, and reread the excerpts I’d bookmarked in order to be fluent. It was pouring rain outside, and there were only a few patrons in the bar. They looked tired from work, and ready for a hot meal and a good night’s sleep, and not at all interested in checking out the local literary venue. I tried not to fixate on how dark and cold and rainy the night was, or let myself worry about whether that would stop people from venturing out to Readers’ Books, but instead tried to imagine some of the questions I might be asked by the people in my “crowd.” Opening my spiral notebook, I jotted down some thoughts and a few amusing anecdotes I might share. That’s when Ryan showed up, looking tired from work, and ready for a hot meal and a good night’s sleep.
“I just came from the bookstore,” he said. “It doesn’t look like they promoted the reading very well. Hardly anyone is there.” I smiled and shrugged, pretending to be above caring about such a small thing as an audience, and said, “Oh well. At least you came.”
I finished my beer, and we walked to the bookstore together where I introduced myself to the owner. She was a pleasant woman, who’d read my book and loved it and gave me a lot of good vibes. I scanned the reading area. There were twenty chairs set up, and only four people sitting in them at opposite ends. I sized them up. There was an elderly woman with a frayed knit cap, voluminous skirt, sneakers with holes, and a small stack of books covered in saran wrap against the rain (polymath). There was a well-groomed man who looked to be in his early fifties, wearing a pastel checked shirt and khaki pants, his weatherproof jacket folded neatly on his lap (lonely bachelor who reads a lot), and a Vietnam vet (it was obvious) with long hair, a scraggly beard, and American flag pins all over his denim jacket (not sure why he was there. . .). And there was a middle-aged Church-lady with a velvet hat, low-heeled pumps, a dress suit, and knees pressed together (my mother's spirit sent her). Okay, the truth is I'd set my heart on at least ten, and now I felt extremely unpopular. But then, from one second to the next, I had a massive change of heart, and felt very, very grateful to those four people who’d left their homes on a cold rainy night to come see me. When the owner introduced me, I walked up to the podium and thanked them with all my heart. And I meant it.
The people were attentive and polite. Even though I kept mentally comparing myself to Spinal Tap playing to a beleaguered bunch of parents at Fairyland (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch “This is Spinal Tap,” a hilarious mocumentary about a rock band that loses its popularity), I was happy to see that at least my “crowd” was glad to be there. They had amused expressions on their faces. They chuckled at the right moments, and when I was finished, raised their hands with questions. And they had lots of questions. Everyone participated. Surprisingly, I didn’t miss the “crowd” I’d hoped would be there. I liked our small, intimate group. I liked how I felt less as if I were onstage, and more as though I were part of a circle of friends. And I sold four books!
After that, I read at Kepler’s in Menlo Park, then at Copperfield’s in Petaluma, then at Books Inc. in Mountain View, then at Black Oak Books here in Berkeley, and then at The Booksmith in the Haight/Ashbury in San Francisco. Each reading brought a larger audience than the last (probably due to my Forum interview, and to the fact that my book reached #3 on the SF Chronicle’s best seller list one week!), but no matter what the size, I found that I continuously sought out the intimacy I’d originally had with my little group in Sonoma by leaning into the podium and making eye contact with the person who asked me a question, and by sometimes asking a question back.
All in all, it’s been an interesting month. I met some great people, got a lot of support from friends, and best of all, impressed my kids by dressing up and going “to work” instead of sitting at my desk in comfortable sweat pants and working in unrecognized isolation. I even managed to learn some things about myself—such as how badly I get butterflies before giving a talk, but that no matter how nervous I feel at the start, I soon relax into it and lose my nervousness, and even end up enjoying myself.
So I have one more event scheduled, for Wednesday, March 4. It’s an interview for an online podcast called Psychjourney which will be interesting to say the least. And then I guess I’ll just sit back and watch my Amazon ratings fall slowly back to a reasonable number. (Today they’re at. . . let me look. . . 8,994. Still good, but down from last week.) And then I’ll stop following the Amazon ratings altogether. To be honest, book promotion has been more than a little distracting. I didn’t write a word the entire month of February, and I miss writing. And I’m way behind where I should be with my next book. Way, way behind. So I’m going to get back to work now. No more messing around at bookstores. And no more blogging. At least for a few days. . .
Causes Veronica Chater Supports
Sierra Club; Public Library; Public Schools; Crowden Music Center; Women's Cancer Resource Center; Democratic Party