I rolled into Leavenworth for a book-signing event in my 5.6 L, 381 horsepower, 4-wheel drive Tundra, side panels road-splashed with mud. It was the first week in December and the Bavarian-theme town was lit up with a million lights for tourists looking to celebrate the Christmas holiday. Leavenworth is one of my favorite places to visit. A foot of fresh snow had brought stocking caps, wool-lined boots, and hooded parkas out of the closet. Clean mountain air and outdoor spirit makes for pleasant company.
I’d been practicing my pitch to potential customers on the 150-mile drive from the Tri-Cities. “I’ve written three books. One is a natural history guidebook for the angler naturalist in your family. It’s both informative and educational. Or if you know someone who likes to fish, I have also written two short-story collections about the fishing experience. Not how to or where to, but the human behavior part of fishing.”
Parked alongside the snow-crusted steps leading to the bookstore entrance was a light blue Fiat-500L wagon. The latest model of Italian inspired automobiles offered by the Chrysler Corporation. A former flagship American company whose recent design inspiration has been reduced to re-issuing the 300 series and the PT Cruiser. Thank goodness, the infamous K-car line was gone and forgotten. I couldn’t help but think that Fiat wagons are a New Yorker’s idea of an SUV. Or maybe a Seattle-ite’s idea of a European automobile that is not a Mercedes, BMW or an Audi. They’re sporty in a retro way although not something you would tow a boat with. Or even camp out in. The back seat folds down conveniently, but there’s barely enough space for a tiny person to lie down. But it reportedly gets 30 mpg on a flat road if you drive 50 mph.
Reaching into the back seat for a box of supplies was a well-groomed man in his mid-forties wearing blue jeans, low-cut tennis shoes, and a long-sleeved cotton sweater. Environment-controlled attire. I rubbed my gray-flecked goatee and wondered, was this the marquee author of our multi-author event?
Taking a chance, I walked over and introduced myself. We shook hands briefly and I said, “Howdy. I’m Dennis Dauble. Another author at the signing.”
“Nice to meet you,” he replied politely, as if I already knew his name which I did, but only because I had read it on the bookstore website along with the fact he wrote a New York Times bestselling book from the perspective of a pet dog. Maybe we could get together afterwards, I thought. Hoist a mug of “Heffie,” and discuss trade secrets? Or maybe not, since Nancy and our Corgi, Lucy, waited patiently back in our motel room. For sure I didn’t need his help in translating what either one of them would be thinking if I showed up late and two sheets to the wind.
After that uneventful start in the bookstore parking lot, here’s how the rest of the evening went down for those of you who are interested in highbrow literary happenings. Three children book authors sat side-by-side, their backs against the wall, in the narrow hallway leading from the front door to a crowded maze of shelves lined with books. More books than would ever get sold, most whose spines had been turned to the light for more than a year and a day. Some nestled permanently in deep dark places where wolf spiders visited.
Don’t let all those unsold books bring you down, I told myself. Come up with a new title every few years and your signature writing products will remain viable. (Dwelling on negative thought does not bode well for authors whose main goal is to sell out their book’s initial print run.)
To the left of the local trio specializing in children’s literature was a card table that held holiday snacks: assorted cheeses, salami, crackers, veggie platter and dip, cashews, mint cookies, brownies. Open bottles of red and white varietal wines were evident, as was a bowl of holiday punch. It was the bookstore’s 25th anniversary and the owner was not holding back.
The best-selling author held center stage at the intersection of the main entrance, back door, adjoining coffee shop, and cash register. You couldn’t miss him, which of course, was the point. Big time authors sell lots of books of the hardcover variety, which yield a higher profit margin for bookstores than the trade paperbacks I offered.
Shunning the claustrophophic nature of the center aisle and the choice of being isolated in a back room, I organized my books and audience attraction items (e.g., free book markers, jars of fish, photos of my grandkids holding up fish) on a TV tray-sized table within spitting distance of the cash register. Attired in outdoor author clothing (actually my everyday cold weather wear: wool cowboy hat, flannel shirt, lined Carhartt vest, button-fly Levi jeans, cowboy boots), there was no mistaking me for anyone other than who I was: a guy who writes about fish and fishing. Unfortunately, the only thing that distinguished me from a cowhand was no cow shit on my boots and no plug of chewing tobacco in my cheek.
Lack of genre overlap meant no competition among authors. People arrived to either load up on free snacks and wine, purchase bedtime reading material for small children, rub elbows with a best-selling author, or tell fishing stories. What worked for me was the small sturgeon I exhibited in a two-gallon museum jar. It attracted attention. “Is it alive,” young children often asked.
“It’s preserved,” I would reply to soften the fact that the fish was dead and hopefully generate more dialogue. More dialogue sometimes leads to a book sale, assuming the checkbook-carrying parent did not wrinkle their nose in disgust, blurt “ugh,” and wander off to the other side of the store. Worse case, having the sturgeon at my side allowed me to entertain myself answering questions, talk about my books, or swap a fish story or two.
As for rubbing elbows with the marquee author during the event or afterwards, it didn’t happen. As I later explained to a friend, “He wears tennis shoes and writes novels. I wear cowboy boots and write stories. We don’t have much in common.”
During one lull in action, I introduced myself to two of the children book authors. “Oh, you’re the fish guy,” they said. Which led to one woman sharing a story that involved her grandmother, a flounder, and a cigarette butt.
As things turned out, that exchange was my favorite moment of the evening. It goes without saying that I’m far better at swapping fish stories than I am at discussing secrets of the writing craft.