I’ve been asked the question many times, as I’m sure other authors have as well: what was your worst book event?
No contest. My worst signing occurred in the months after my second book, Dem Bones’ Revenge, was published, at an LA-area Barnes & Noble. I’d rather not get more specific than that because, although the store in general did nothing wrong, some employees didn’t acquit themselves too well.
When I arrived I was thrilled by the turnout. I was scheduled to present a workshop on getting published. This was before the self-publication explosion when people still wanted to know the how-tos of getting an agent and finding traditional publication. Some of my established readers who lived in the area and a current student were in attendance, along with about forty or so strangers. The evening’s prospects looked good.
Then a wackadoodle wandered into our midst presumably to hear the talk, wearing filthy clothes, with snot running down his face, and clutching a messy, yellowed manuscript to his chest.
While I spoke to the audience, the wingnut began mumbling some nasty neo-Nazi crap to himself, just loud enough to be heard. Well, he was either saying it to himself, or me, or the audience, or the universe in general — I was never sure about that, but while it was a low mumble, people around him could hear well enough.
I kept trying to make eye contact with the CRM, who was seated in the first row of chairs, looking for some direction about how I should handle this situation. She mostly kept her eyes on me, though not intently, wearing a vague benign smile on her face that never changed, which told me she was off in never-never land somewhere. I’m sure she never heard a word I said, and she really didn’t pay any attention at all to the Aryan disaster.
I’m not sure I made the right choice, but since he kept his diatribes mostly at a muttered level, I carried on as if he weren’t there. I don’t think I would do the same today — I’m a lot more outspoken now — but I was newer to book signings then, and trying to make the best choice for everyone.
Throughout this, though, my anxiety spiked off the charts. At one point, he placed his manuscript on the floor and began reaching into his pants and grabbing something there. He was probably just grabbing what men have in their pants. That would have been gross enough. But I secretly feared he might have been reaching in for a weapon. I kept expecting him to pull a gun out. This was a really scary wackadoodle.
Obviously, he made others in the audience as uncomfortable as me. People began to get up and leave. Some of them were nice enough to grab a copy of my book and, with a little wave, took off. Mostly, however, they simply left. I didn’t know that some had stopped at the front desk and suggested they call the police and have them get rid of this guy. But the employees chose not to.
Towards the end of my talk, he quit mumbling and groping, picked up his manuscript and wandered off. By the end, two-thirds of the good audience I started with had left. My fans and my student had stayed, as had some strangers. I ended up having adequate sales to my surprise, given the diminished crowd. But fear had turned my legs to rubber, and I thought I might have developed an ulcer during the prior hour. Thankfully, that didn’t actually happen.
While I signed books, all my customers could talk about was the wingnut and the stuff he was saying. The CRM claimed not to have heard any of it, even though she only sat two seats away, and people much farther away had heard plenty. I wish I could turn off my hearing like that.
Since then, I’ve had great signings and I’ve had crummy ones, as all authors do. But none of the so-so ones have ever been a fraction as colorful. Never before or since have I ever seriously believed that someone might shoot me. Books do tend to bring out more cerebral people, though not exclusively that day.
I can laugh about it now. I’ve actually laughed about it for years, just not then.
It’s on my mind because next week, I will soon be taking off for my latest Southern California signings for Revenge on Route 66, and that memory always reminds me that no matter how my signings go, they’re always better than that. But no matter what happens, there will probably also be less to laugh about, too.
Mind you, I expect my SoCal events to be great because they’ll be at some of my favorite stores, including Book ‘Em Mysteries in South Pasadena, and the two Mysterious Galaxy locations, in Redondo Beach and San Diego.
I am saddened that two of the other stops I’ve always made there — Mysteries to Die for in Thousand Oaks and the Mystery Bookstore in Westwood — have closed their doors. As an independent bookstore owner myself, I know what a challenge it is keeping an indie store going today. Boy, will I miss those stops.
If you read below, you’ll see my schedule. If you’re in the area, I’d hope you’ll stop by one of my events. It would be great to connect with you.
But if anyone there, or at any future signing of mine, sticks his hand in his pants — this time, I’m ducking.
Saturday, June 8, 2 pm: Book ‘Em Mysteries, 1118 Mission Street, South Pasadena, CA. (626) 799-9600.
Sunday, June 9, 2:30 pm. Mysterious Galaxy – Redondo Beach, 2810 Artesia Blvd Redondo Beach, CA. 310-542-6000. I’ll be signing there with Kate Carlisle.
Monday, June 10, 7 pm. Mysterious Galaxy – San Diego, 7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., Suite #302, San Diego, CA. 858-268-4747. I’ll be presenting a writing workshop, Creating Memorable Characters, in addition to signing copies of REVENGE ON ROUTE 66.