This was a working weekend, and I don’t mean mowing the yard, even though it does need it badly. I spent the past two days at the Mississippi Petrified Forest in Flora. For those who don’t know, this is a privately owned park at a spot where, about 300,000 years ago, some really large trees got swept down a river in some past deluge and deposited to turn into stone. There’s a stone and fossil museum, gift shop, and a nature trail that takes you past some of the logs that have eroded out of the loess cliffs over the centuries. If you’re at all interested in such things—I am—it makes for an interesting walk.
This weekend they were having their 50th Anniversary and celebrated with crawfish, live music, and…book signings? Yep. Part of the eclectic assemblage of all day events. Along with flint-knapping demos, geode cracking, and sessions with metaphysical and holistic healers. I was dubious of course. I always am, about pretty much anything. It’s my nature and annoys my wife no end. But she was participating and I was invited too and I thought, why not?
Okay, for those who have not done this before, a signing can take many forms, but usually it will involve you, in a more or less trafficked spot, behind a table piled with your books—a small pile or a large pile, depending—being friendly and talking to people, two things that everyone who knows me will concede are not my inclinations. It doesn’t even necessarily involve selling and signing books, though that’s the premise and the way it tends to work with the right venue and the right crowd. I knew going in that this was not my venue or crowd, but I didn’t mind. I figured that the worst that could happen was that I’d have a couple days to catch up on my reading, and at least I’d get some practice at self-promotion under less than ideal conditions.
Which just goes to tell you how little I know. It went very well, but it also went about the way I expected, at least in some regards. I mean, there are certain clichés about book signings, except possibly at the high tiers where they’re scheduled far in advance, and the fans are prone to line up for the author in question. For most of us, signings involve a lot of sitting, and occasionally serving as the information desk, though at least I wasn’t directing people to the bathrooms. Though I did direct several to the nature trail and the healers, and told them where the food was and yes, it was okay to bring their dogs out on the grounds.
I also talked to a lot of people about books. That’s where some of the other clichés came in: there were those whose daughter/son/cousin was a writer, and had I heard of them? There were the ones who looked at my book covers, shook their heads and pronounced them “too scary.” There were several who were impressed just at the number of my books, and how anyone could have written all those (should have told them about Isaac Asimov or John Le Carre). I think my favorite conversation of all –and I’m not being the least bit ironic here—was with the sweet old lady who came up and demanded to know if my books were about truthful things, because she didn’t have time to waste on “made up stuff.” We spoke for about twenty minutes, and she still didn’t buy anything, though the conversation was interesting. There seems to come a time in some people’s lives, and I think it may even apply more to women, when they’ve done all they were expected to do, outlived everyone they had obligations to, and now they basically don’t give a damn, by which I mean they say what they think and do what they want. Such people are always worth talking to, even when it stings a bit.
Upshot? I had a good time. I sold a few books, met some interesting people and, yes, even got a little reading done. I also got to listen to some talented musicians. Say what you want about my home state–and there’s not much you can say that I haven’t said myself, and you’ve probably missed a few—but we can do music. Or at least some of us can. And if you’re a fan of the Blues, one you might have missed is Jimmy “Duck” Holmes of Bentonia. Check him out.
(PS: I apologize for the poor quality of the photos. They were taken with my camera phone just before the battery died. Otherwise there would have been more, and maybe better composed.)