Wow. I am experiencing quite a boost in book sales from my townspeeps, and it’s pretty darn awesome.
This really happened: Last week I took a walk across Berkeley to drop some letters off at the post office, return some videos, and pick up some bagels. On the main drag, I passed a friend who had just left Pegasus book store carrying two copies of my book, one for herself and one as a gift, and was excited to run into me at such a serendipitous moment. After a hug of gratitude, I signed the books, and continued on, soon to be hailed by another friend from the past who spotted me from an ATM machine. He asked whether my memoir had been published yet, and when I said yes, he said, “I’m going to Pegasus to buy it right now!” So we walked there together, and there were two copies on the shelf. As I was signing his copy, three different customers overheard that I was the author and came to see what the book was about. I told them, “It’s about my large Catholic family who fled the country when the Catholic Church modernized, and then came back broke and joined a conservative cult from Brazil.” Two of the three people wanted to buy the last copy in the bookstore, and ended up flipping a coin over it. At the counter, the clerk said, “You’re the author of Waiting for the Apocalypse? That book has been flying off the shelves.” After I signed the store’s last copy, my friend and I parted ways, but before I went home I took a detour and dropped into Black Oak Books to visit the store manager who’d booked me for a reading a couple of months back. She said, “You’re book has been doing so well! We’ve sold over a hundred copies!” (Half of them had sold the night of the reading). After we made a date to have lunch together (she wants to discuss the future paperback, which will be the “next phase”), I finally headed home. When I got home there were three emails waiting for me, one from a friend asking me to donate a signed copy of the book for her school’s silent auction, another asking me to do a reading for a fundraiser for Writer Coach Connection (which I volunteer for at Berkeley High School), and another from an old school friend who’d heard me on the radio, read my book, and wanted to meet for coffee. A fourth email was a facebook message from my son’s teacher at Berkeley High friending me on facebook with the message: “I received your book from Amazon today and I’m already halfway through it. Prepare for a thousand comments!” Not long after, the phone rang. It was a colleague of John’s, who’d bought two copies as gifts—one for his Protestant mother-in-law’s birthday and one for his wife’s ex-Catholic boss who was retiring—and wanted to swing by the house so I could sign them. By the time my kids came home from school I was feeling somewhat overwhelmed by all the attention, so I suggested to Cameron, who’s gotten into baseball lately, that we go play some catch. Walking down our street, I was stopped by a neighbor who’d heard I’d written a book and wanted to know the title so she could buy it. At the park, I saw a parent from my kids’ elementary school, who said she was reading it with her book group. Ten minutes later I saw another school parent who she was writing a memoir and maybe we could get together and talk about the process. When a third school parent waved from across the park and started heading our way at a trot, Cameron slumped onto the grass in a pout. “All I want to do is play catch with you. Is this the way life is going to be from now on?” I apologized, but had to laugh.
I honestly don’t know if this is normal. All I can say is it must be a local thing. People in Berkeley and the Bay Area in general have been incredibly supportive about buying my book. Some of this is probably due to my kids’ wide range of friends whose parents know me, and to John’s loyal clients at Chater Camera who’ve known me over the years. But I hadn’t quite expected this level of support. Honestly, when I wrote the book, I’d entertained the modest hope that it would reach Catholics and ex-Catholics around the country, and maybe even make a hit with the odd atheist and agnostic, too—or anyone, really, who’s ever wondered about the effects of dogmatic religion on the family and on the individual. And truthfully speaking the book has been doing very well nationally if my Amazon ratings are to be believed (today it's at 95,000, but yesterday it was at 17,000). Still, I hadn’t anticipated being so utterly and completely embraced by my own town and community—religious and non-religious alike. Every day I seem to come across someone who’s read my book and passed it along, or someone who wants to know where he or she can buy it, and all of them seem interested in what I’m going to write next and when it will be published. At Kyle’s cello recital yesterday an audience member actually thanked me for writing the book (as if I’d done her a favor), saying she’d learned a lot of things she’d always wondered about, and the cello instructor had it in her purse to give to her mother (who was the pianist at the recital and who’d been waiting for her daughter to finish it). I’m telling you, this kind of thing just keeps happening, and for someone like me, who tends to keep a low public profile, it can sometimes feel a bit daunting to be in such a bright limelight. Nowadays when people pass me on the street and look at me a certain way I wonder if they know who I am, and whether they’ve read my book, and if so what they thought of it and what they think of me personally. And if they continue to stare back at me over their shoulder, I sometimes feel a little exposed and more than a little vulnerable, certain that they must know I authored the book. But generally I just feel humble and grateful and quite frankly elated by the amazingly positive reception I’ve been getting from friends and acquaintances. I can’t help but think this must be what success feels like. And even though it’s success on a local level, it feels very, very real—much more real than the success I’m having online with bloggers and reviewers, and of course the omnipresent Amazon ratings. Of course, “success” is also highly subjective, and somehow I don’t quite trust my interpretation of it, and so I tend to push the whole concept from my mind and force myself to keep working on my next book to see where it takes me—if anywhere.
In the meantime, I need to find a place where Cameron and I can play catch uninterrupted. Because, quite frankly, he’s getting annoyed.
Causes Veronica Chater Supports
Sierra Club; Public Library; Public Schools; Crowden Music Center; Women's Cancer Resource Center; Democratic Party