Me and Tom Hanks Selling Our Books

WW authors at Wordstock
Kerry Blaisdell, Jack Estes, John Dover, and Sue Fagalde Lick at the Portland Book Festival      Photo by Gail Pasternack

 

It’s 5 p.m., and the Portland Book Festival is winding down. Where once one couldn’t move for the crowds, now there’s space between the bodies. Formerly known as Wordstock, the festival has once again drawn thousands of book lovers to the Portland Art Museum and surrounding venues. Everywhere you turn, someone is giving a talk, reading from his or her books, offering services for writers, or selling books. People bring their babies and their kids, hoping to turn them into readers. Food carts line up selling tamales, pizza, donuts, and other goodies.

In a world where half the people say they never read books, it’s wonderful to see so many celebrating the written word, even if they wander around in a word-stoned daze, making it hard to move. We stand in line for the readings and talks, for food, for coffee, to buy books, and to use the restroom.

Now, with the festival ending in one hour, it’s getting easier to breathe, but it doesn’t bode well for sales. With several other Willamette Writers authors, I have drawn the last shift for selling and signing my books. My book bag is heavy coming in, but I hope it will be much lighter going out.

We stand behind the table, behind our piles of vastly different books and exercise our best selling techniques. Debby Dodds flashes her technicolor smile and plays her connections with seemingly everyone in Portland to sell her young adult novel, Amish Boys Don’t Call.

Jack Estes, whose wonderful books are about soldiers, shouts out, “Do you know any veterans?” because, well, who doesn’t, and tomorrow is Veterans Day. Sometimes the question backfires. People are like “What? Why?” Plus, people don’t give Veterans Day gifts. Maybe they should.

John Dover, creator of the “jazz noir” Johnny Scotch series, plies his local connections and offers readers a good time with his books and stories. Kerry Blaisdell hands out free calendars to lure people to her urban fantasy novel, Debriefing the Dead.

Me, I pass out postcards with the cover photo from Up Beaver Creek. “Would you like a pretty picture, something to look at and de-stress?” Mostly women accept it. A few turn it over, read my pitch and come back to take a look at the book. Success.

Since our table sits under the Willamette Writers banner, we give out information about the organization, about the various branches, our program for young writers, and our literary magazine the Timberline Review.

But it’s a tired crowd, with going home on their minds. It’s getting dark outside. Their bags of books are already too heavy. Many don’t even glance in our direction. Some dart in to grab the leftover Halloween candy set between the books. And some stop to chat. And chat. And chat. I want to scream, “Move on. You’re blocking my books. I don’t want to carry these damned things home.” Just as I wanted to scream when I was on the other side perusing the booths, “Pass on the right!” and, “If you’re going to stand still, get out of the way.” But I don’t scream any of those things. I smile and offer up pretty pictures.

My photo technique works. I sell a book. The buyer hands me a credit card. It’s the first time I’ve used the credit card app on my phone. Will it really work? It did when I practiced at home, but . . . Look! It works! I hand her my phone. “Finger sign here, please.” How crazy is that? In a minute, I get an email saying $15.00 has been deposited into my account. Magic. Somebody else buy a book. Let’s do it again!

Up until this year, I have not accepted credit cards. Cash or checks only. But that’s old-fashioned. Now we all have our little card readers on our phones. Zip, zoop, sold.

That one sale is it for the night, which is as good as any of us except Debby does, but as John Dover notes, this is not about sales. It’s about shaking hands and making connections. It’s about getting people to take our cards and our swag so that they might go home and order our books or at least remember our names.

It’s also about being with other authors after the solitary process of writing our books. We compare notes. Best and worst selling experiences. Bookstores that treat authors well or treat them badly. Places we might give talks. Favorite flavor of Ghirardelli chocolate squares. (Mine is mint.)

And it’s fun. I think of myself as shy, but I have spent the day talking to strangers, putting myself “out there.” “Hey, you need another book!” I hear myself shouting. I’ve turned into a huckster.

Afterward, walking the six blocks to the parking garage, my bag is no lighter than it was coming in. I couldn’t resist purchasing one more book from a Facebook-only friend I finally met in person. I don’t mind. My feet hurt, but my heart feels good.

It has been a long day, which started with standing in line with approximately 2,000 people for over an hour in 36-degree weather outside the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall to see and hear Tom Hanks talk about Uncommon Type, his new book of short stories. The ticket price included a copy of his book. We grab our books from the thousands piled on tables in the theater lobby and cuddle them like kittens. Tom Hanks does not have to stand behind a table with postcards and chocolate bars trying to get people’s attention. It helps if you’re an Academy Award winning actor.

Tom Hanks’ hour-long talk was fabulous. It was funny, sweet, loving, and wise. I’m in love. We all are. Last night, I dreamed about Tom and his big gray dog walking up my driveway. I greeted them like old friends, casual, not star-struck at all—until my sweet Annie dog turned into Cujo and attacked his dog.

I’m so sorry, Tom. Would you like a pretty picture of Beaver Creek?

***

  • Fun fact: Back in the early 90s, Tom Hanks spent a night camping in an Airstream trailer on my grandfather’s property at Seacliff Beach, California. Or so says my father, who is not impressed with all this book nonsense, but thought it was pretty nifty that I got to see Tom Hanks.
  • The Coast branch of Willamette Writers meets this coming Sunday, Nov. 18 at 2 p.m. at the Newport Library. Rachel Barton will lead a free poetry workshop. Everyone is invited to join us for lunch at the Chowder Bowl at 11:30 that day where we can chat and fill up on chowder. PM me or email me at coast@willamettewriters.org if you’re coming to lunch so we can save you a seat.
  • I just discovered this is my 500th post! That’s a lot of blogging.

 

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The Trifecta of Technology Failure

IMG_20160425_124252092_HDR[1]Sometimes I really miss the days of typewriters and saving our words on paper. Yes, I’m old, so old that when I had to use an electric typewriter in my college typing class, I walked up to the teacher and said, “Ma’am, I can’t do that. I’m used to a manual typewriter. These keys move too fast. I’m going to flunk this class.” Her response was something along the lines of “get over it.” And I did.

At my early newspaper jobs, I typed on manual typewriters, using leftover sheets of newsprint and carbon paper to make copies. We edited with pencils, and typesetters retyped our words into long strips of heavy paper that we pasted on cardboard and marked up with blue pencils that didn’t show when the pages were photographed. I also took pictures on film and developed them in a darkroom, but that’s a whole other story.

Over the years, I’ve gotten used to electric typewriters, word processors, my first Radio Shack computer (a $1500 box with no connection to the Internet), Apples and IBMs, DOS and Windows, disks as big as dinner plates, disks down-sized to cake plates, and floppy disks that could double as coasters, CDs, DVDs and flash drives, portable phones, cell phones, smart phones, Kindles, iPads, iPods, Etc. None of which lasts more than two years.

On Friday night, when I turned on my computer, the screen was blank. The power light was on, and the computer seemed to be on. The computer is relatively new, sold to me by Staples, which just happens to have closed their local store last month. I didn’t do anything different to it. I had simply turned it off before I went to my weekly jam in Waldport. Of course you know where the user’s manual is these days? Right. Online. You can’t read it if you’re staring at a blank screen. Note to computer makers: Bring back printed manuals. Your online help is not that helpful. 

Luckily, I have a laptop as well as a desktop computer, and I managed to find some suggestions for my dilemma. Lots of unplugging and restarting. Ultimately, I unplugged the monitor and went searching in the garage for the ancient 50-pound monitor that I had never gotten around to taking somewhere to recycle. It had been there for years. It just about killed me lugging it from the garage to my office and muscling it into place. But guess what? It worked. I’m using it now. The print is too small and kind of fuzzy. My new monitor, ordered online from Staples, should arrive today. None of the coupons they keep sending me in the mail applied to this purchase. They charged me extra for insurance I did not buy. The Staples guy insists I did. I give up.

But that wasn’t the end of the weekend’s technical difficulties. Nope. I went to Corvallis yesterday for a Timberline Review reading at Grass Roots Books and Music, to be followed by a meeting to decide which poems to publish in the next issue. At a rest stop on Highway 20, I glanced at my phone and read DEVICE LOCKED. I had recently installed McAfee antivirus protection on the phone, and they had decided that it had fallen into the hands of a criminal. I could only unlock it with my pin number. My pin number was at home. I could not use my phone for five hours. At home last night, I found the pin, got into the phone and uninstalled that SOB program. I can’t believe an outside force could keep me from my own phone.

That’s still not the end of it. Our poetry meeting had to be aborted because the WiFi didn’t work in the café where we planned to have our discussion and the folks at the bookstore next door didn’t know the password to their WiFi. Our only copies of the poems were online, so we gave up and went home. If we’d brought them on paper, our meeting would have happened and we’d have our final list of poems today. Grumble.

Today, at this moment, everything is working, but I have no confidence that when I go into the kitchen to make my lunch, the microwave will work. I miss the good old days. How about you? Feel free to comment on your frustrations or joys with technology.

PS. Lunch went fine, but I just got an email from Staples. They no longer have the monitor I ordered, and it will not be coming. Is that smoke coming out of my ears?

I Should Have Listened to My Mom

When you visit the doctor’s office complaining of chest pains and pressure, people tend to panic. Even when you tell them you’re pretty sure it’s gas. Driving to Portland, stuck in traffic, thinking I should have gone to the ER because it hurt pretty bad, I sent up a prayer for God to tell me what to do. He sent me a giant burp. Which made me laugh and say, “Thank you!” But doctors still think, HEART ATTACK. And I kept thinking of how Rosie O’Donnell described her own heart attack and how women experience heart attacks differently from men.

But I was on my way to a conference in Portland, middle lane of I-5, cars not moving. I was going to teach a class, pitch to agents, represent the Timberline Review, attend workshops and network, network, network. Meanwhile people from my church kept dying, and I would be playing music for a funeral the day I got home. I had received a scary recall notice for the car in which I was sitting. I had nonstop music activities, Writers on the Edge president duties, and a troublesome situation with a certain someone in my life. Plus I had to leave my dog behind. A little stress?

I don’t do well with stress. Neither did my mother. As I took my troubles to Google that night in my hotel room, I suddenly remembered the night she went to the hospital with similar pains. Forever after, whenever my brother and I misbehaved, my father would scold us with the words that our mother was sick because of us. Dad never beat us, but he sure could pour on the guilt.

Anyway, Mom’s pains were exactly where mine finally settled, top of the stomach just below the ribs. There’s this valve there, the pyloric sphincter, that was the source of her troubles.  When I read the name, I sat back on my cushy bed and thought, “Oh my God. That’s exactly what I have.” Yes, I’m a little bit of a hypochondriac, but I think this will turn out to be the diagnosis. It’s a chronic pain at the entrance to the stomach that happens when it doesn’t open and shut properly. Like mother, like daughter.

When we’d start to get upset, Mom used to say, “Don’t get your bowels in an uproar.” She wasn’t kidding.

So I showed up at the doctor’s office a week after the original pains had settled below my ribs. She went into hyper-drive, ordering an EKG (normal), chest X-ray (normal), blood and urine tests (normal), and an ultrasound (not till Thursday). She put me on Prilosec, one pill every morning, and took me off foods like spices, tomato sauce and—say it ain’t so!—chocolate. A week later, I’m feeling better. I’m probably going to live.

Meanwhile, Annie had to go to the vet. She had a fungal infection in her girl parts. For the last 10 days, I’ve been hiding antibiotic pills in her food and massaging said parts with cream. Fun! She feels better, too. Or at least she has stopped licking down there. Now I think she has fleas.

After the conference, I rewrote my entire novel in two weeks and sent it to two agents who were interested. Cross your fingers. I have a pile of Timberline Review submissions to read, another pile of authors to consider for the Nye Beach Writers Series, songs to prepare for church and for the kids in religious education, another book to finish writing, and a dog that wants to walk at precisely 3 p.m.

Stress? What stress? I saw my shrink on Wednesday. She upped my meds and had me do breathing exercises. In, out, in, out.

Too much information? I know. I was going to write about the fires destroying huge swaths of the western U.S., including big chunks of Eastern Oregon. The smoke has made its way to the Willamette Valley and points west. Terrifying. None of my troubles compare to this. Please pray for rain.

And if you have chest pains, don’t wait a week to go to the doctor, even if you have a busy schedule. It might be gas, but it might not. I was lucky.