We endure the hard plastic chairs as we anticipate the opening of the 2016 Tucson Festival of Books. The sign in our author tent states: “Autographs available.” Both Julie and I have our pens ready for the signing spree we expect to happen the moment the book lovers flow through the gates. Julie and I display our books on stands along with a sign stating a raffle for a packaged set of our books.
In my rush to pack for the two-day festival, I had forgotten to apply half of my make-up and hardly combed my hair. I also forgot the Panama hat I had purchased specifically for the event. When you forget to comb your hair, a Panama hat works wonders.
I consoled myself, reasoning people don’t expect authors to look put-together because we writers are known for eccentricities and sleepless nights of writer’s block, wandering our hallway at 3 a.m., gnawing on pencils and petting our 52 cats.
Suddenly the crowds file in as Irish fiddle music adds a joyful mood of celebration. The intoxicating aroma of caramel corn puts my senses on a delicious overload. People in baseball caps or sun visors, carrying backpacks or swinging tote bags with the lettering “I’d rather be reading” parade past our booth without stopping. Obviously they’d rather be reading other books than the ones authored by Julie and myself. Do they not notice our colorful display?
“Hello, Happy Saturday,” I say with a smile as festival-goers pass by us without a word. Some gaze in as they continue on. “I feel like I’m in an aquarium,” I say to Julie. “People are looking at us like we’re fish in a tank. Maybe we should start making fish-mouth sucking motions with our lips to make this more real for them.”
Ha, ha,” Julie laughs and then decides a more aggressive approach is needed. She asks the people as they walk by, “Would you like some candy?”
Ahh, now we’ve got their attention. Julie brought a huge basket of candy full of Sugar Babies, Sugar Daddies, lollypops in every flavor. Realizing the candy is free, the stampede to our table begins.
Forget books, they want food that contains sugar. As they dive for candy, Julie uses the moment to ask if they know of children dealing with divorce or bedwetting, since her books are designed to help children deal with the shame often felt from either issue.
Yes, people say, then tell her personal stories of someone they know divorced, or confess they’re in the midst of divorce. Julie suggests her book as a help. But it’s too early in the day and no one wants to buy a book right off. One lady says to us, “I have to check out all the books here before I decide what to buy.”
More people pass by our table without stopping. I mention to Julie that Jerry would refer to our treatment of the passers-by as a “drive by snooting.”
Julie laughs and says, “Jerry is funny.” A man with orange, windblown hair says to us, “Have a blessed day” as he passes by.
The Muslims for Peace, the booth to our right, offers free Henna tattoos. Julie takes a break from the sad divorce stories and wanders next door for a Henna tattoo. She returns with a beautiful design of a hollyhock on her hand.
Meanwhile, people pick up my book and flip through the pages. They read the book’s back cover as they lick their grape lollypop. Hopefully they understand a sticky book cover means an immediate sale. Many people think my book is about France and when I explain that France plays a role in the story, but it’s not about France, they appear disappointed.
Julie adds, “Bronwyn has written an entertaining story.” No wonder I love Julie.
The lollypop-licking people place my book back on the table and say with a sigh, “Oh, I thought it was about France.”
Julie and I stand, hoping to seem more approachable. We talk about our books to every person that stops at our table. “My husband has anxiety really bad,” one woman says and then slowly disappears. Two twenty-something girls confess they have anxiety and I explain my book could help them in dealing with it and overcoming it. “Those are big words,” says the one in the fancy Kim Kardashian sunglasses. They wander off to a table where big words like “overcoming” aren’t spoken.
In reference to Julie’s book on divorce, people say, “Oh, that’s so sad.”
After the people move on, Julie says to me, “My book is supposed to be encouraging, not sad.”
A man in a cowboy hat with puffy cheeks like glowing moons announces he’s a poet. “Would you like to hear my poetry?” he asks. I want to say, “Only if you buy our books.” Yet…What else did I have to do? With much dramatic effort and voice inflection, our cowboy poet recites his poem.
A white-haired lady sporting a floppy hat flutters up to our table and daintily snatches candy from the basket. “Hello,” Julie and I say. “Hello, I’m Georgine,” she replies with a smile. “But today I’m Georgiana because I feel like a butterfly.” Does Georgiana feel like buying a book? Before I can ask, Georgiana flits away.
Some people actually purchase my book and ask for my autograph. These dear people appear out of nowhere. They march up to the table, pick up my book, and hand me money. Then they ask me to sign it. Why don’t all people understand this is proper behavior? It would save me the time of giving canned sales pitches. One lady bought two of my books, one to give to her daughter. One man bought one for his wife. A woman with a sun dress and wide-brimmed hat says, “You had me at your subtitle. I have to buy this.”
The festival offered all kinds of things to see and do in addition to books. I joined a conga line while a mariachi band played, snapped a picture of Julie standing next to a giant puppet, had my picture taken with Llama Llama (from the children’s book series). I observed all kinds of interesting sights such as a lady pushing a bulldog seated upright in a baby stroller. A woman with a painted-on mustache, attired in men’s clothing blasted through the women’s restroom door and hollered, “It’s okay. I’m a woman dressed as a man!”
A few well-known writers at the festival like Paula McClain who wrote The Paris Wife and J.A. Jance who pens detective mysteries appeared at author events. As a whole, I never heard of any of the authors I met and their books weren’t selling. The author in the booth on our left, who writes “humorous mysteries with a bite,” dropped her book price to $5 each. “I’m not hauling these books back to Illinois,” she says.
Julie and I were handed author vouchers for food. “How nice,” we thought. I tried to cash in my author food voucher at the Beyond Bread sandwich booth. “Oh we don’t take that author ticket,” says the sandwich salesperson, adding “We take different author tickets.” I ask, “Are there other authors more special so they get better author tickets?” She smiles and says, “All I know is we don’t take those author tickets.”
Maybe you have to be on The New York Times bestseller list before you get a voucher for a sandwich? I trekked a mile to the other side of the festival and used my less-special ticket for a bottle of water and a blueberry cereal bar.
That night at my budget hotel, I utilized one of the hotel’s amenities so graciously offered, the package of earplugs. I could hear college students in the next room blasting the TV to high volume and hooting with laughter. Spring break didn’t stop there. More college students compressed their bodies like packaged sausages inside the hot tub below. Many hooted with drinks in hand. Thank goodness for ear plugs and drugs. Still, I didn’t get much sleep.
The next morning, I drag myself to the Denny’s-style restaurant located next door to my hotel. I order coffee and it arrives, a gourmet blend of lukewarm motor oil. I sit alone because Julie and I had mistakenly registered and paid for rooms at two different Best Westerns. We had taken separate rooms when we registered in December, each ordering online and believing we were staying at the same hotel. At that time, we planned on more people joining us. I never thought to check with Julie to make sure we were booked at the same Best Western. Alone at breakfast, I text Julie that I miss her. Two retired couples stroll in and seat themselves at the table next to me. They chat with me, maybe sensing I could use some company. Or maybe it was me chatting with them because I needed company. They ask me why I’m visiting Tucson. I tell them about the book festival and they say they would like to buy my book. “Oh, I don’t have my books with me, they’re at the festival,” I say.
Then Raul (we introduced ourselves so I know his name) hands me cash for four books. He trusts me to send the books. They print their individual addresses on paper and ask me to sign each book to the persons named. Wow, I thought, you mean you don’t want to look at the book cover first? You don’t want a free sucker? You don’t want to tell me that you never worry so you don’t need my book? Or show me your exotic bird from Australia?
What I took away from the festival is this: the hardest part of writing a book is selling it. But if you happen to meet new friends in a family-style restaurant, then the life of a writer isn’t so bad.
Actually, it makes the pencils taste a little sweeter at 3 a.m.
Now! Where’s my kitties?