Monday, June 28, 2010
Some of TG's readers are not writers, which means they can afford to take summer vacations. TG assumes they spend their time lolling on the beach, soaking up the sea, sand, and sun and reading. While the term “summer reading” usually canotes books that are trashy, TG offers three thrillers that are excellent, suitable for any time of year.
Rules of Betrayal by Christopher Reich
Reich's latest, Rules of Betrayal, follows the first two of this series: Rules of Deception, and Rules of Vengeance. One could start anywhere in this series, but TG suggests that thriller readers begin with Deception and work their way through the trio. Reich's hero, Jonathan Ransom, is a Doctors Without Borders physician whose wife, Emma, is killed in a skiing accident. While looking into this accident, Jonathan finds that his wife has a deep, dark past and was, in fact, a secret agent with the mysterious organization known simply as, Division. Soon enough, as in each of the series, Jonathan is on the run and finds himself utilizing instincts and skills that he was not aware he possessed.
The general organization of these books hew to the standard Thriller template (this is a good thing), his writing is perfectly fine, (TG himself delights when reviewers describe his own writing as “workmanlike”) and Reich is well grounded in the genre. In a small essay on Amazon, Reich lists his five favorite books: The Day of the Jackal, Eye of the Needle, The Bourne Identity, Noble House, and The Spy Who Came In From the Cold. TG suggests that any writer who wants to work the genre would do well to read and study all five of these books as they are excellent examples of what can be done and should be done. Many new thriller writers these days, particularly those from Europe, show a distinct lack of knowledge of the canon. There is a certain arrogance that comes across as, “We don't need no stinkin' American rules, we do what we want.” Unfortunately, many of these books suck because of this attitude.
The Reich books are particularly good because of Jonathan's wife, the mysterious Emma. She is sui generis in thrillerdom and each new entry in the series shows a side of her that leaves the reader gasping and wondering what the hell this amazing character is going to do next. And in fact, she goes so far at the end of Deception even TG was left shaking his head in admiration.
They're Watching by Gregg Hurwitz
TG has reviewed a number of thrillers by Hurwitz. He's an old pro who can always be counted on for a decent read, but in this year's entry he's upped the ante on sheer creepiness. Disgraced screenwriter Patrick Davis is in trouble professionally and personally. One morning he picks up the paper from the front porch and finds a mysterious CD inside. He plays it and finds silent footage of himself, shot from the outside through the window, entering his bathroom and using the facilities. Other DVDs follow, each more disturbing than the last, intil he receives a phone call that asks him, “So, are you ready to get started?” It's a clever, compelling premis that is followed by plenty of twists that at times left TG, a veteran, in the dust. The shoot-em-up ending was a little disappointing in light of the sheer originality of the rest of the book, but didn't really put a damper on what was a nail-biter of a read.
The Extinction Event by David Black
Black is a well known screenwriter, Broadway play and film producer and novelist. He knows how to create interesting characters and keep the suspense pot boiling. Mycenea, New York, lawyer Jack Slidel gets a call one night ordering him to go pick up his boss at a no-tell motel. There, Jack finds, you guessed it, his boss dead, and an unconscious prostitute laying on the floor with a fair amount of crack cocaine scattered around. Jack takes three beatings in quick order and finds himself being chased by a malevolent figure known only as The Cowboy. Jack's attempt to clear his name (he's a suspect in the murder, natch) is long and complicated but always interesting. This all leads to an ending that comes so far out of left field that it will leave some readers delighted and other's cursing the David Black name. TG still isn't sure how he feels about it and would be interested in someone else's opinion. TG will send the book to the first commenter who promises to write back and give an opinion on the ending.
So that's it, folks. TG encourages you to buy one of these or any other novel at your favorite local bookstore and drag it with you when you head out to the beach. TG will be at home, scribbling away, trying to patch together some sort of a living.
Posted by Allen Appel at 2:39 PM
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Thriller Guy's pal Syd Jones over at The Scene of the Crime has a very cool blog up that seems to be about Syd being recruited by the CIA back in his salad days as a young man in Vienna. Check it out. Syd's not saying that's what is going on, and I know for sure that the man is an excellent fiction writer, but still it sure sounds like, well, never mind, read it and see what you think.
This reminded TG of long ago in the days of yore when he was a long haired hippie with a wife and small child. TG's days were spent roaming the streets of DC looking for work, anything to pay the rent. TG saw a small ad in the Washington Post for an editor's job, just a bare bone's notice with a phone number. TG called, a resume was requested and sent (snail mail, this was the olden days) and pretty soon a note came in the mail offering a time to show up for an interview. The address was in Virginia. TG fired up the old Ford wagon (bought for $200.00 off a lot in West Virginia some months before. When asked about a guarantee the salesman sneered and gave TG two and twenty. That was two miles and twenty minutes once he got it off the lot. The car ran for four hard years. Take that, sneering used car salesman.)
So on the appointed day, TG drove to Virginia. When he arrived at the given address he found a large empty field. There must be some mistake. TG called the phone number (after finding a public phone, remember, there were no cell phones in those days) and received a new set of directions. After bumbling around the countryside for awhile, TG found himself in a small town in front of an abandoned building. Another mistake, right? No, a voice said after another phone call, TG was doing fine, here's a new set of directions -- which eventually led to another vacant lot. Another new set of directions and a half an hour brought him to a large, square, black concrete and glass building perched atop a giant mound of raw dirt. No grass, no trees, no greenery of any kind. The exterior was ringed with high powered lighting. On entering the lobby, TG was pointed toward an elevator with no buttons, which seemed to ascend upward several floors and opened on a plain hallway and a waiting soldier dressed in some sort of generic fatigues and carrying what looked like a light machine gun. By now, even the clueless TG (hey, TG was just a kid) knew something was up. This was not your standard job interview.
TG was escorted down a long hallway lined with oil paintings depicting every kind of military combat imaginable. Lots of explosions rendered in violent oranges and yellows. Finally, TG found himself in a strange dark office with a pudgy little man seated behind a grey metal desk that was piled high with file folders. In fact there were file folders stacked on the floor, windowsill (the windows were heavily curtained) and just about everywhere there was floor space. There then ensued an interview that TG can no longer remember, except for two bits of information. The pudgy man said if TG worked out editing raw material into readable reports, in time he might earn a spot in “the field” rather than behind a desk. Great. Then the pudgy man leaned over the desk, smiled and closed by saying, “We don't actually kill people here, but we certainly hope we're helping to.” TG was offered a job on the spot. TG demurred, saying he needed time to think about it. And fled.
It took hours to figure out where he was and wend his way back home to the safety of Dupont Circle. Early the next morning a city gas man showed up saying there had been a report of a gas leak. TG, wife and child were told to wait outside on the street while this was checked out. After an hour the family was allowed back inside. False alarm. That afternoon a man showed up from the electric company to check out the wiring in the hallways and our apartment. Everything appeared to be in order.
You have to understand, these were, in many ways, simpler times. John LeCarre was just beginning to publish his great spy novels. There was no archive of espionage literature. TG and his friends spent their days protesting the war in Vietnam and attempting to create great art; the nights were occupied with drinking. Lots of intense conversation. We were young, and TG now understands, foolish.
That evening, when the wife and babe were tucked away in the back room, sleeping soundly, TG sat in the only chair in the apartment, an old beat up kitchen chair that had been found abandoned on the street. The only real amenity in this sad apartment was a big bay window on the second floor that looked out onto P Street. TG left the inside lights off. The street was lined with cars, as always. Two shadowy figures sat in a blue sedan half a block down the street. Their cigarettes glowed, tiny red dots behind the dark windshield. Finally TG grew tired of watching the watchers and went to bed.
In the morning, TG called the number he had used to find directions on his odyssey of the day before. He wished to decline the job offer. He had no desire to kill anyone, or even to help to kill anyone, no matter how good the pay might be, or how hungry he and his family became.
The number rang and rang, then was finally picked up by a hollow, disembodied voice that said, sorry, the number had been disconnected. Hang up and consult your directory for the correct number.
No thank you.
Posted by Allen Appel at 5:54 PM
Monday, June 14, 2010
In the spirit of having others do Thriller Guy's work, TG is once again turning the space over to his alter ego, Allen Appel. Appel spoke on these pages recently of his lamentable experiences doing book signings; many, many writers wrote in with similar tales of woe. Appel told the uplifting story of Duchess, his small dog who attended a number of signings with him. These were Appel's only successful signings, with crowds flocking to the table to pat the dog and buy the book. Appel offered to post his essay on Duchess the rescue dog if anyone was interested. Many, many people wrote in asking for more info about Duchess (this one's for you, Syd!) so here's the essay. Those of you who are going to complain to TG that this isn't about books or writing, well, TG says the hell with you. And those of you who are going to complain that the essay is kind of sappy, well, the hell with you as well.
Mysteries of the Duchess
Duchess is the second of our two dogs. She came to us with a troubled past, a history that is as twisted and tangled as a ball of cat’s yarn. She has secrets, mysteries, questions that we may never answer.
I didn’t want the first dog. I didn’t have one growing up, and as an adult with a wife and two children I didn’t really see the point. Our lives were full and busy and I just didn’t want the added responsibility, expense and aggravation. But tell that to a nine-year-old boy with tears in his eyes. They ganged up on me. I was doomed.
So I did my research and in a few months we had an eight week old Springer Spaniel puppy named Chip, and you know how it goes, soon I couldn’t remember why I never wanted a dog, or even how I grew up without one. We’ve had three great years throwing the ball, going for rides and walks, brushing bathing and cleaning up the yard, everyone taking responsibility and loving the Chipper. He is as much a part of the family as any of us.
I really, really didn’t want a second dog.
My friend Kathy, who works with the Animal Rescue League called one day, “The sweetest little dog followed me home from the annual meeting. Her name is Duchess. You just have to meet her.” No thanks, I said, knowing what would be coming next. Kathy has two dogs already, Victoria, an ancient West Highland terrier whose memory of house training has faded into the mists of time, and Teddy, a Shepherd-Greyhound type mix for whom the word exuberant is far, far too mild. Her house is adrift in floating tumbleweeds of dog hair and the stuffings of toys Teddy has dismembered.
Kathy doesn’t give up easily. “She’s had a bad life. She’s seven years old. We have to find a home for her, or…" The rest is left unsaid, hanging in the air, like a noose strung over the limb of a tree, swaying gently in the wind.
“Kathy’s trying to palm some old dog off on us,” I said at dinner. “Ha ha. As if we had time for another dog. Chipper here’s enough dog for this family. Right? Right?”
Why were they all looking at me like that? WHY WASN’T ANYONE AGREEING WITH ME!
“Just come look at her,” Kathy said. Several more times. Did I mention how relentless Kathy is? Finally I broke down, I went for a look, but I didn’t take any wives or kids along. I know what happens when you take wives and kids.
Teddy greeted me by ripping the curtain off the front door and racing around the house with it in his mouth. Victoria growled then recognized me through rheumy, aged eyes. And there on the couch, looking apprehensive, but hopeful, was the Duchess, a small Welsh Spaniel with longish fur, white with brown markings. And the saddest eyes you’ve ever seen.
Why do I even bother to fight these things? “She’s eight years old,” Kathy said. Wait a minute, I thought you said she was seven years old? “She hasn’t really been abused, more like misused. I can’t keep her. And if we don’t find a home for her, well…" There's that damn noose again.
“Just get me her leash and her bowl,” I said. I’d lost. It was the eyes. “And tell her she can stop looking at me that way.” And soon enough the Duchess and I were in the car headed for home.
First stop, the vet, who announced, “She’s nine years old. She’s missing a tooth so she’s had some dental issues at some point. And she has a heart murmur. Other than that she seems fine.” And other than a small hole in the side, the Titanic was in great shape.
Once home, Chip made it a point to growl and show Duchess who was top dog until I remind him that I’m the leader of this particular pack. From then on everything went fine.
Duchess ate her dinner and then promptly barfed it up on the sofa. Then she trotted up the stairs and peed in our bedroom. I put in a call to Kathy.
“You did give her canned chicken breast on her dry food, didn’t you?” No, I didn’t. “And I must have forgotten to give you the Tagamet our vet prescribed for the throwing up problem. He said she should be all right in a few days.”
In a few days Duchess was still barfing up her food 50% of the time and had not only peed in the bedroom several more times, but pooped as well. Why? Who knows? Other mysteries had begun to surface. She doesn’t come when called, has little interest in eating, and when taken outside seems to view the very ground she’s standing on with great distrust. I put in another call to Kathy. “Everything,” I said, “I’m not going to bring her back, but I want to know everything that you know about this dog.”
Here’s what we know about the Duchess: Her owner brought her in to the animal shelter saying she was tired of her, they could have her. She has never actually been outside, or at least on the ground. She lived in an apartment that had a dog door that led to a rooftop where she did what she had to do. That’s it. Oh yeah, she’s either seven, eight, or nine years old.
I decided that we had two big immediate problems that had to be addressed and that I would tackle them one at a time. First, the eating.
Our Number One dog, Chip, lives to eat. He loves his dry dog food and eats every morsel in a matter of seconds. We feed him twice a day. Duchess, on the other hand, had to be coaxed into the utility room where we feed the dogs, and even then would do almost anything to get out of eating. My wife had to sit with her with the door shut to get her to even touch her food. We were now putting two tablespoons of expensive canned white meat chicken on her dry food. The barfing went from 50% to 25%, as she grew more secure. I decided that this particular problem was psychological, rather than medical. After a few weeks we could see that she was gaining weight, and my wife didn’t have to sit with her at mealtime. But we still have to shut the door of the utility room, and she still will not eat if anyone is looking at her. And she still barfs every once in awhile.
Next came the house training. Because of the dog door/rooftop routine in her former life, it’s clear that she was never trained, like Chip, to go to the door and whine or bark to be let out when he has to go. So we now take the dogs outside at least every two hours, usually much more often. We have a barrier across the steps to the second floor, which keeps her from going upstairs to relieve herself. But I feel that if I took the barrier down her first act would be to run upstairs and pee.
There are other mysteries. When does she drink? In the first month I saw her drink water exactly two times. I knew she had to be drinking sometime, but I still don’t know when she does it. Why would she never drink water except in secret?
She doesn’t have a clue how a dog is supposed to play outside. We have a large, fenced-in yard. Sometimes she’ll dash around, leaping in the air, looking like a beautiful, if deranged, fox. But usually, she sits glued to my side as I toss the ball for Chip.
Balls? Toys? Bones? Treats? They mean nothing to her.
Sometimes I’ll turn the page of a book I’m reading and at the sound of the paper she’ll leap up and run away and hide. Why? Thunder doesn’t bother her at all, but drop a spoon and she heads for the hills. Lift your foot to tie your shoe and she's out of the room in a second.
She still won’t come to me if I call her. She clearly loves me, follows me everywhere and always lays at my feet, putting her paw on my leg so I’ll pat her head. But if I call her to eat or go outside she’ll not only not come, she’ll turn and run and hide.
But then there was the day she did her trick.
She had been outside with Chip, and was trying to get back in by scratching and flailing at the sliding glass door. I had been trying to teach her that the way to get in was simply to bark once and sit quietly, and then I would immediately let her in. But she was scratching frantically as she watched me standing inside the door watching her. Then she did it.
She stopped scratching, stared at me, and then leapt straight up four feet or more in the air. She never bent her legs or made any other preparatory movement, just somehow levitated herself from standing position straight into the air. I was astounded. And I immediately let her in.
No one in the family believed me.
I put her outside, and gathered everyone to watch. She just stood there. “Jump!” I commanded. “Leap! Up!” I clapped my hands. I whistled. I begged. I leapt into the air. I tried every command, no matter how obscure, but she just stood there. The crowd dispersed, disappointed.
Two days later, she did it again. This time my daughter saw it, and was as amazed as I had been. Since then I’ve seen her do it one more time.
It is clearly a trick. Something she figured out or was taught. But I haven’t the slightest idea what the trigger command is. She may never do it again.
All of which got me thinking: What else does she know? What other tricks does she have? Will we ever know?
Will I ever succeed in solving the mysteries of this complicated animal? Will she ever completely stop throwing up and needing to pee in the house? Will she eat and drink like a normal dog? Will she ever lose her fear of odd sounds? Will she ever come when I call her?
Probably not. Remember, she’s seven, eight, or nine years old. It's not her fault. She cannot tell us. She has had another, secret life, one that we will never know.
All we can do is love her, try to make her secure and happy, and give her peace.
Several years have gone by since I wrote the above. We still know little more about Duchess. She still is suspicious of food, she still wants nothing that you have. Except a pat on the head. The other day I was in the kitchen and she was outside, at least fifteen feet away from the house. I was watching her out the window as I closed the refrigerator door. When the door quietly shut I saw Duchess cringe from the soft noise that she somehow heard. One thing I know for certain, her hearing is exceptional.
She eats better, but she still sees every treat as a potential threat. She barfs in the house once a week. She eats rocks. I find small piles of them in the back yard, like miniature cairns left behind by some race of tiny extraterrestrials who visit my back yard in the dark of night. I've never figured out the command to get her to do her leaping trick. She still goes upstairs to pee on occasion. She still doesn't know how to play.
And that's the thing that bothers me the most. I can see she wants to play. She jumps around and bows down and wags her tail. But we don't know what her game is. It involves no toy, we've tried them all. She doesn't chase or want to be chased. She won't play with Chip or any other dog. She just looks at you with her Lets Play look, while you stand, or leap or jump, or clap your hands, stupidly trying to discover something that will give this little dog some joy. Something that will make up for whatever happened to her over the first seven, eight, or nine years of her life. Something that we will never know.
Sometimes it descends on me, a cold fury, aimed at whoever had possession of this lovely creature and betrayed that implicit trust, broke the bond between man and dog. I feel like putting an ad in the paper seeking out the person who took her to the shelter because he or she was "tired of her". And then going to their home and beating them the way they must have beat her. Am I ashamed of this unchristian, brutish desire? Only a little.
I can only hope Duchess is happy, or as happy as she can be. She gets lots of love and still she drives us crazy at times. Perhaps it's not such a bad thing, though, having a mysterious, difficult dog. The normal ones are so easy to love. Maybe the hard ones bring out what is best in us, makes us stretch and work to make some other creature happy. Maybe the gift that Duchess has given us, for all dogs are a gift, is that we have grown and learned that life is hard and will always be hard for some, and the purpose of love is the giving of love. She gives us back what she can. And that will have to be enough.
Good girl, Duchess, good girl.
Duchess died three years ago. Adios, amigo, you sold a lot of books.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
It seems TG has been stepping on a few toes. Well, it's what TG does best. This in from one of the blog's readers. The writer, Marc S. is well known to TG, being one of the writers in his writers group, The Squatting Toad, which TG wrote about in an earlier entry. Because TG prides himself on his ability to take it, as well as dish it out, he is running the letter in its entirety. And offering the same space to anyone else who would like to take TG to task. The offer is always on the table: Bring it on. (Note: Mark S. is far too modest in his letter: his novel was excellent and should be included on the list of "ones that got away.")
It’s a hot Saturday afternoon and I’m sitting in my leather recliner catching up on your superb blog. I’m reading your recent entry about book signings with a frozen chocolate vodka in my hand. I note this particular flavored brand of alcohol is the subject of an earlier TG composition about the manly virtues of gin. TG implies that chocolate vodka is the preferred choice of men who prefer skirts to pants. “Less than a manly drink,” is what you called it.
The implication is somewhat odd since TG and I, as well as other members of the Squatting Toads, have drained one bottle after another of chocolate vodka over the past year, beginning when TG himself discovered the maiden bottle of chocolate vodka in my freezer and promptly opened it, beginning a trend. I’ve been hooked ever since. To this day, a bottle of the less than manly drink is an essential part of my terrorist survival kit, along with duct tape and 365 cans of tuna fish.
So does the preference for a candy-flavored drink rather than gin or scotch whiskey render me unqualified to write thrillers? Should I be writing southern love stories or tales of the Caribbean trade winds instead? If you believe my good friend TG, I should be banished to the Harlequin aisle and forced to wear a dress due to my preference for alcohol flavored by the cocoa bean. Pish tosh! I am quite secure with my manliness (how else would I be comfortable saying pish tosh?) I have a tattoo of a skull with a sword through it, embroidered with the words, Born to Raise Hell. I’m six feet two inches tall and weigh about 240 pounds. I was in a street gang in my youth. I played football in college and later rugby, whose players are known for eating their dead. Later in life I worked as an investigative reporter, pursuing mobsters who killed as a matter of business, and then as a government gumshoe. I doubt that chocolate vodka neutralizes my past. Chocolate, like any flavor, is but a veneer. The test of a man is beneath the surface, at his heart and his soul.
Is it the same test for thriller writers? Must they have the heart of a lion to write about the lion hearted? Are there personality traits common to the great ones? What do they drink? What type of woman – or man – do they prefer? Should female thriller writers be judged differently than men? Lots of question to mull over while sipping chocolate vodka.
I switch to memories of book signings. I’ve had one novel published, an obscure thriller called Dirty Laundry. A New York Times review briefly lifted it from obscurity, but it dropped to its natural level of mediocrity soon after. Maybe this is why I turn so often to chocolate vodka. Anyway, during the moment I hovered above obscurity, book signings were arranged for me. One of them was scheduled at Murder, Inc., a Manhattan book store owned by legendary mystery editor, author and publisher Otto Penzler. My wife at the time was from New York and had many relatives and friends, all of whom were invited to my coming out party at Penzler’s book establishment. But upon arrival at the bookstore there were no signs in the window announcing the book signing. Inside the store, there were no indications that an author, obscure or not, would be signing books that day.
I spoke to one of Penzler’s employees and inquired about my book signing. He said there must be some mistake. We have no book signing scheduled for today. I informed him I had invited more than 100 people. They would be arriving within the next 30 minutes. Didn’t you hear from my publisher? Oh yes, he recalled, someone did call. But the arrangement was for you to sign books, not have a book signing. I told him I failed to see the difference. He explained the publisher delivered a hundred copies of my book, which I would sign, and they would be sold as signed copies. But a public signing, where people stood in line waiting for my autograph was not anticipated. Had I known about chocolate vodka at that time, I might have poured one or smashed the bottle over his head, but instead I demanded that a book signing, not a signing of book, be arranged, and in short order.
Otto Penzler arrived in the middle of the contretemps. He graciously offered his upstairs office, a loft above the store, as the signing area, and personally cleared the clutter from his desk so I could use it as the signing platform. Relatives and friends soon arrived and no one was the wiser. The signing was a success and I slipped back into obscurity, where the chocolate vodka is cold and anonymous, and TG and the Squatting Toads offer comfort, even to a girly man.
One more related anecdote. During my two seconds of literary recognition, I was invited to interview Robert Parker before an audience at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. I brought a signed copy of my novel with me. During the introduction backstage I gave my book to Parker, figuring he would read it that night and call Hollywood the next day, demanding my book be turned into a movie. We went on stage, where I interviewed Parker and fielded questions for him from the audience. I remember Parker wore loafers without socks and I couldn’t decide if he was being chic or crude. I probably stared at his bare ankles too much. Maybe that’s the reason I found my book under his chair when he left the stage. As the audience emptied the auditorium, my dreams of Hollywood went out the door with them, as did Parker and his damn naked ankles.
By the way, vodka comes in all sorts of sissy flavors, including lemon, orange, kiwi, pomegranate and strawberry. Also potato and bacon. You can even mix them all together if you’re a true girly man.
Saturday, June 5, 2010
Parnell Hall is a mystery writer who has been around the block about as many times as Thriller Guy. Parnell began his career in 1987 with a mystery, Detective, featuring a reluctant private eye named Stanley Hastings. This is an ongoing series with 17 entries so far. Parnell shared a publisher with TG, Carroll and Graf, for a few years back at the turn of the century when the estimable Kent Carroll was running the company. Oh, those were heady times. TG hasn't read a Parnell Hall book in years, not since TG became the goto thriller guy for many, many review outlets and hasn't had the time to read for pleasure. TG assumes that Parnell is just as funny and astute as he was back then, and recommends his books without reservation. All of this is leading up to a very funny film/tape/internet clip where Parnell sings a song about the trials of the book signing. It always sounds somewhat churlish to complain about this aspect of Big Time Book Publishing, at least to those who would sever any number of appendages just for the opportunity to publish a book with a regular book publisher, but, really, and TG would never lie to you, doing a book signing can be one of the most excruciating experiences that a human writer can experience. And TG, in the guise of his alter ego, Allen Appel, has done plenty of them. More than he can remember. More than he wishes to remember.
TG can relate many stories of sitting in bookstores with a monkey-like grin plastered on his face, watching patrons entering the bookstore and scurrying along the edges, hiding behind shelves, staying as far away from the dreaded author table as they could possibly get. God forbid they would engage the author in conversation, find him and his book interesting and actually buy a copy. A signed copy. Civilians hear about Stephen King and Neil Giman and other Triple A authors making bookstore appearances and having buyers line up around the block. But the norm is that the lonely author sits there in the bookstore for two or three hours and if you sell ONE book it's deemed a success. Welcome, Little Ones, to the world of Big Time Publishing. The experience is mortifying and boring in equal parts; the bookstore owners look at you with pity and sometimes anger at having shelled out for a crappy cheese, salami and Triscuit plate that no one, not even the most underpaid staff is interested in. On more than one occasion when there was cheap wine, TG has been known, sadly, tragically, to get drunk all by himself, watching the slices of American cheese begin to curl and the salami sweat. All alone at his stupid table, books piled high around him, has favorite pen at the ready.
One of the worst was an interminable hell TG spent in a downtown mall in Charleston, WV, at a table off to the side on the basement floor under an escalator where there was absolutely no foot traffic, where there was only Bob Denver, the guy who played Gilligan on Gilligan's Island. He was flacking some book he had written about his experiences, (TG is not going to bother looking this book up for a link, anyone who feels they want a copy can do it themselves.) Gilligan was wearing his stupid little hat and every once in awhile someone would wander up and shake his hand, and finally he sold a book. TG didn't sell any. Denver spent his time sort of talking to himself, striking odd poses in his chair, and acting as if he were drunk, which he may have been, or maybe he was just goofy. Hey, you wanna be a writer? Do you really want to sit next to Gilligan? And have him outsell you?
Any professional writer can tell you any number of these stories. The only time TG ever beat this system was when his alter ego, Allen Appel, wrote a book called Old Dog's Guide to Young Pups, which sounds dumb but which is actually very funny. It's out of print, of course, but can be found on the Web and TG recommends it as a great gift for any dog owner or dog lover. TG even has some copies lying around that he'd be glad to sell you. First person who requests it gets a free copy. Anyway, for a brief period, Appel would do signings for this book and take along his old dog, Duchess, who was a rescue dog and a real mess (if anyone expresses interest, TG will put up an essay about this crazy little dog.) Duchess would sit in a chair alongside Appel in a bookstore and people would flock in and crowd the table to pet the dog and buy the book. Appel sold a ton. He even had a little dog footprint stamp so Duchess could sign as well. Cute! Then the publisher discontinued the book, because that's what they do. God knows why.
Does TG sound a mite peevish? Ungrateful? Let's hear from some other authors out there. Writers who have sat at the Table of Shame. Who have been scorned and shunned by those who slink by, looking at you as if you should have a bell around your neck. Leper! Leper!
TG's advice to author's contemplating a store signing? Adopt a dog.
That way you'll have at least one friend at the table.
Posted by Allen Appel at 8:32 AM