On Saturday, I was supposed to drive to a bookstore about an hour away to sign books during their holiday party. It would have been fun, and I had promised long ago that I'd be there. But Friday, of course, was the funeral, and by the end of the day I was wiped out and sad. Not only that, but the forecast for the next day was calling for a blizzard.
And so I begged off.
Instead, Doug and I hunkered down with the dogs, did a little shoveling, did a few chores, sorted through pictures and sympathy cards, talked about his mom. It was a much-needed day of calm and reflection after a very tough couple of weeks, and I do think I did the right thing.
But I still feel guilty. They were so kind to invite me! And I'd promised! And then I reneged. Blizzard or not, the unwritten rule of these book appearances is that I am supposed to show up and stay for the duration, even if nobody else does. And there's always a possibility that nobody else will.
In early October, I was scheduled to do a reading at Micawber's, a beautiful cozy little bookstore not far from my house. When I got there, the owner was setting up rows and rows of folding metal chairs. "When we schedule these events, we never know what we're going to be up against," Hans said, continuing to unfold chairs. "Don't take it personally if nobody shows up."
What he was referring to, of course, was the opening game of the playoffs--the Twins-Yankees game was scheduled to begin right around the time I was scheduled to begin reading. I wanted to tell Hans, enough with the chairs! It would be far worse to face 40 empty chairs than, say, 10 empty chairs.
In the end, though, the room filled up and Hans even had to bring out extra chairs. So that was not the night when nobody came. And so far I have not yet had a night when nobody came, though I came fairly close a couple of weeks ago when I sat in a bookstore for an hour and signed, over that time, just eight books. (Given that it takes less than five minutes to sign a book and make small talk with the buyer, that left a lot of awkward down time.)
Still, I think I am reaching the end of bookstore appearances. I have four more--three here in the Cities in December, and one in Duluth, and then I think I am done. I keep thinking that everybody who wants to meet me has already been given ample opportunity, and I dread the day (inevitable, other writers tell me) when I am sitting all alone for two hours, trying to look anything but pathetic next to a stack of unsold books.
What I hope continues, though, are book clubs--I've done two, and both were wonderful, though very different from each other. Last Sunday I met with a small, fiercely intelligent group of women (and one man) who wanted to know about the writing process, and focus, and why there was no sex in my book. We sat in a great old St. Paul house at a wooden table with candles and tulips--tulips, in November!--and drank wine, and one woman brought home-made brownies that she said were inspired by my book, though I can no longer remember precisely in what way.
And in October I met with twenty or twenty-five women (and one man), where we had a passionate discussion about the veracity of memoir. Some of the women insisted that memoir must be literally and factually true, while others were content thinking of memoir as "essentially" true. This is my favorite kind of discussion, and one of my favorite topics, and the argument went on and on, and when the night ended they gave me a lovely pot of blooming russet mums to take home with me.
So bring on the book clubs! Great discussion, great food, lovely wine--and you know going into it that at least one person (the host) is going to show up.