Tuesday, August 19, 2008

master of disaster

Inspired by the generous response to my last book reading story John Cleese Again (below)I thought I'd give you another. The Place: Boulder, Colorado (right). The Time: November 2003. I'm at the Boulder Book Store to read from my debut crime novel Dead I Well May Be. Pre pub I had lunch with the buyers, owners and manager of the Boulder Book Store, introduced myself, talked up the book, was super charming, all that jazz. September 2003 DIWMB gets reviewed in the trades. Publishers Weekly is ok, but Booklist, the Library Journal and Kirkus all give me starred reviews. (PW gives starred reviews to my next 3 books so I dont hold a grudge.) A great review comes out in the Rocky Mountain News 3 days before my reading. Also the Boulder Bookstore says it proudly promotes local authors and I'm as local as it gets from Denver just down the road. So the signs are good right?
It's my first (or possibly my second) reading so I'm a little bit nervous. Its for 7 pm on a Thursday and I turn up at 6:45. Boulder is a student town so there are a lot of youngsters in the store, getting coffee or browsing, another good sign, I think. I go to the information desk on the ground floor, which has a big poster for Carrie Fischer who is either coming to Boulder in December or came last December. Either way it's not tonight. I tell them I'm here for the reading and the hipster behind the desk says "oh there's no readings on tonight, just a massage clinic on the ground floor."
"But I'm supposed to be GIVING a reading," I tell him. He looks skeptical. Calls his boss. The boss comes, also looks skeptical, but finally they send me upstairs where thirty chairs have been set up in front of a podium and a small display of DIWMB. I sit there in one of the empty chairs, stomach churning and finally an employee comes with a note for me. Its from the Simon and Schuster rep, apologising that she can't make it. (She's the one that set the reading up.) More waiting. More churning stomach. (Dont worry this story doesnt end with me puking.) Time passes. There are groans from the massage clinic downstairs and furtive looks from staff members shelving the books. 7 pm comes. At 7:05 my wife's cousin Michael shows up. Michael has a type of leukemia and has literally dragged himself from a sick bed to hear me read. I tell him I think we'll just go to a pub, but cousin Michael - one of the zenest people on the planet - says he really wants to hear me do my thing. So I go to the podium and start reading chapter 1 of Dead I Well May Be. I get to the bottom of the first page and another hipster from the Boulder Bookstore interrupts and asks me if I want to stop the reading so they can tidy the events space before closing the store. Humiliated and confused I say ok, but Michael stands up and says that they should let me finish, especially because one of the browsing patrons has sat down now and she is listening too. A crowd of two is by definition infinitely better than a crowd of zero so I'm feeling ok. Sighing like a teenager whose playstation just died the hipster flounces off downstairs for reinforcements. A minute later he comes back with two other members of staff and they begin systematically and very noisily folding away the empty metal chairs as I attempt to read. Chapter 1 mumble mumble, CLANG CLANG CLANG, hipster laughter, chapter 1 mumble mumble, CLANG CLANG CLANG. They fold about fifteen chairs before Michael stands up, glares at them and does some kind of (to continue the Star Wars theme) Jedi Mind Trick that sends them scurrying downstairs. Thanks to Mike I finish the reading and end up selling a book to the young lady who was browsing!