The One with Frodo

Last weekend was the eighth Brooklyn Book Festival, and every year the event gets bigger and better. This year attendance was estimated at 40,000 people throughout the day, and it gives me some small hope that reading is alive and well. I spent a good chunk of the afternoon checking out nearly 200 booths lining the courtyard of Borough Hall. The booths featured small presses (like Graywolf Press based in Minneapolis and Akashic Books here in Brooklyn), literary journals (like the esteemed Tin House and One Story), indie bookstores (like my favorite Greenlight Bookstore) and authors (like The Subway Chronicles alumnus Yona Zeldis McDonough).

Brooklyn Book Festival

Brooklyn Book Festival 2012

Hands down, the panel discussions are always my favorite aspect of the festival. More than 250 authors from around the world participated in programs on thirteen stages. To get the opportunity to hear (two years ago) Pulitzer Prize-winner Steven Millhauser discuss magical realism in his stories or (last year) Karen Thompson-Walker tell what inspired her to write a novel about the slowing of the earth’s rotation is like being on the red carpet at the Oscars.  I’m completely star struck.

This year I waited in line (!) to get into the auditorium where Colum McCann (I highly recommend his latest book, TransAtlantic), Amy Brill (The Movement of Stars — about the first woman astronomer) and debut novelist Montague Kobbe (The Night of the Rambler — set in Anguilla) discussed incorporating real people into fictional stories, and how the authors approach those characters with certain sensitivities. This topic was incredibly interesting to me, but mostly I just watched them and thought, These writers get up every morning and power up their computers and type words on a screen, just like I do. Rightly or wrongly, I think about the possibilities for me.

IMG_0918

L. to R. Debut novelist Montague Kobbe, Amy Brill, and National Book Award Winner Colum McCann at the Brooklyn Book Festival. Sorry for the blurry image!

But none of that is the reason I’m writing this post. I want to take you back to August 2006. My book had just been published and the first festival was held a few weeks later. I had no idea what to expect, but I decided to rent a booth anyway. This would be a good time to mention that I’m not really a “people” person. Sitting alone at a table and convincing folks to part with their (I assume) hard-earned cash to buy my book ranks below both getting a root canal and eating chocolate-covered ants. I tried though. I bought some balloons. And a colorful tablecloth. And a fancy pen for all the books I would sign.

But it looked like none of that would be a problem. The festival opened at nine o’clock — except for a few people still out partying from the night before and those on their way to church, the sidewalks were empty. I sat on my little folding chair and waited. I spent an inordinate amount of time positioning my books on the table. Should I fan them out? Stack them? Horizontally? No, vertically was more whimsical.  I looked at the four cartons of books I had had shipped to the festival. It hadn’t crossed my mind that I would have to carry home the unsold books on the subway and find a place to store them (for eternity!) in my tiny apartment. I shouldn’t have ordered so many. What was I thinking?

Within the next hour, a few folks trickled past the table. They paused and I gave them my winningest smile. And they kept walking. Then, as if I was selling the last Tickle Me Elmo on Christmas Eve,  people began crowding around my table. They were buying my book! I was signing away! That part always gets to me. I understand why people want their books autographed by the author — I’m one of them. But why anyone would want my signature is beyond me.  I’m not J.K. Rowling or David Sedaris.

A few friends popped by to offer moral support, one of whom had his own book scheduled to be published the following spring. He’d brought a couple of his friends along.

“I’ll take a book,” one of them said. I got my special pen to sign it. Things had gotten busy and I was distracted, but still, I had a familiar feeling. I must have met this friend of a friend sometime before. I was embarrassed. You know, the feeling you get when you should know someone, but you can’t quite place him? It’s like an itch you can’t scratch.

“Do you want me to make it out to you?”

“No, that’s okay.”

Then he took off his sunglasses and I thought, Oh, I see. Please let ground open up and swallow me whole. Because I was autographing a book for Elijah Wood. I’m one hundred percent certain that was supposed to work the other way around.

Does Frodo read a copy of my book on the way to Mordor?

Does Frodo read a copy of my book on the way to Mordor?

Have you met someone you should have known, but didn’t remember? Authors, how do you feel about autographing books? 

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

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28 comments

  1. I am horrible at recognizing celebrities. Years ago, on separate occasions Richard Lewis and George Stephanopolus hit on me. They struck me as familiar but both completely flat lined with me. My being gay of course was yet another factor in the disinterest. As for signing books, something I’ve done barely a half dozen times, I feel pressure to perform i.e., write something pithy and witty. Unfirtunately this is when the croaking side if my inner Michigan J. Frog surfaces. That festival sounded great. I should make an effort to be less Manhattan-centric.

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  2. I would love to be able to picture Elijah Wood, sitting in bed with a hot beverage on the nightstand, reading a book I had written! Very Cool. Have you seen any episodes of Wilfred? The first few episodes had me almost in tears laughing, but then it kind of got old.

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    1. I hadn’t seen Wilfred, but your assessment is right on with the others I’ve read. There are quite a few shows like that, aren’t there? Maybe they should be one-time movies instead of a series.
      Hope you have a great weekend!

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  3. And when you are the famous person buying books from newly published authors, there will be people scattered all about bragging to their friends that they have a signed copy of your first book. How exciting!

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  4. No way!! That is so cool. Now I know why impersonators get away with it–celebs look a little bit different in person.
    Man, you were brave to sit out there, but it paid off!

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  5. Great story! I think I’d love attending one of these book festivals. Funny that you mentioned Karen Thompson-Walker. I was thinking about some of my favorite books of the year the other day and for sure The Age of Miracles is one that has really stayed with me.

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  6. I think book signing would be excruciating. Just reading your description of the first part of your day made me all squirmy and anxious. You must have been so relieved when people started showing up, Jackie! Have you done any book signings since? And did it get any easier? (Pretty cool, about EW!)

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    1. It was definitely hard to sit at that table when no one was stopping by. But you know what was even harder for me? Talking about my book and why it was so great that people needed to buy it. But the day ended on a very positive note — I sold out of all my books and didn’t have to take one home. 🙂

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  7. So hard to believe you don’t consider yourself a people person, Jackie. You seem soooooooo much so to me–to Sara, as well.

    At any rate the event sounds amazing. Gosh, how fun to be there, and to promote your own book. I love your autograph experience. Funny thing is, if I met almost any famous person, I wouldn’t recognize them, sunglasses or not.

    Hope you and Reggie have had a wonderful weekend!

    Hugs from Ecuador,
    Kathy

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    1. That is so nice of you to say, Kathy. I usually run screaming from large crowds, especially if I have to do any sort of self-promotion. I think you and Sara are just so welcoming and inclusive, everyone feels immediately at ease.

      It’s not often that I recognize celebrities either — I usually have my nose in a book! 🙂

      Say hello to Sara for me. I hope your pigeon population is doing well!

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  8. I’m not a people person, either, Jackie, so I can really relate — I’d have been totally out of my element. That said, lately I’ve forced myself to put on my people-person-persona and be more outgoing, though, and I’ve realized the more I do it the more outgoing I am. It’s kind of fun! (And Elijah Wood? THAT’S AWESOME that he’s read your book… although I’m not surprised. It’s a wonderful book!)

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    1. I do have to encourage myself to get out there to events like this. It’s not that I don’t enjoy them. I’m just so out of my element I feel awkward. But I think we’ve both come a long way!

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  9. OMG… I know I’m late to the party, but WHAT FUN that you were signing one of your books for Elijah Wood. I got goosebumps.

    And I have to say that 1) I am jealous that you were at this event and were privy to so many great speakers and books galore and 2) I really related to your thoughts: “These writers get up every morning and power up their computers and type words on a screen, just like I do. Rightly or wrongly, I think about the possibilities for me.” Yes, yes … when I go to a conference, I feel the SAME way, always buoyed for what could be!

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    1. The book festival can be a bit overwhelming with all the booths and speakers, but it’s a lot of fun to walk around and take it all in. The possibilities are endless.
      Are you able to get to any book festivals in your neck of the woods?

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