Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The tao of booksignings

"Excuse me. Can you tell me where VC Andrews is?"
And so begins another adventure in the wonderful world of booksignings. Here I am at a major chain bookseller, sitting at the little table they've set up right in the pathway to not only the information booth but the bathroom--because people WANT you to interrupt their mad dash to pee for the chance to buy a suspense novel about New Orleans(they're probably just sneakinging in from the arcade down the hall anyway). Even better, right in front of me is the package-wrapping booth, which means that a shopper doesn't see me through the snaky line until she barks her knee against the aforementioned table. But me? I'm smiling.

"Hey," I say, trying very hard not to sound like a carnival barker with a waxed mustache and a megaphone. "Do you know someone who likes suspense?(I assume you know somebody who likes books, because you are, after all, in a bookstore). This is a really cheap Christmas present. The autograph is free(if I could have figured out how to charge for it, I would have)(only because I'm supporting pagan babies in Africa)."

Rubbing at her sore knee, she checks out the geometric patterns of the ceiling lights rather than make eye contact. She might have the courage to shake her head as she scuttles past, obviously afraid I'm going to take her to the floor and force her name from her so I can personally inscribe a book she'll then be forced to take home.

Me? I smile. First of all, because I know exactly how she feels. I'm not any happier than she is. I am TERRIBLE at promoting myself. Every time I even think of saying, "I highly recommend this book. I think you'll love it and want to take it home," I can feel Sr. Mary Alice, my gradeschool Dominican nun teacher standing over my shoulder all set to smack me for the sin of pride. Now, I can promote anybody else. Sit me at that table with another author and I'll sell them til they don't have a book left.

That's actually the secret to any booksigning. Bring friends who are also selling books. It's amazing how much more fun it is. There's someone else you can talk to in the lag times, so you're not just watching the crowd like a drowning woman hoping for a rope. You have someone else to play fashion police with(one of my favorite pasttimes at signings. For instance, today what I notice is that about a third of women over the age of 30 are wearing the wrong size jeans. And I'm praying that I don't look like that from the back). And there's somebody there in case you're the one who desperately needs to pee, so you don't miss even one customer.

Never forget. No matter how happy and relaxed we look, most of us would rather be dancing naked down Fifth Avenue than sit at that table(well, there are some of us who really would rather be dancing naked down Fifth Avenue. That's another topic altogether). Not because we don't want to meet you, the reader. Dear God yes, we want to meet you. We love book people. We positively yearn to talk to book people about books, about authors, about genres or LIT-rature, about anything. The problem is that not even Nora Roberts gets to spend all of a signing visiting with book people. Well, okay, maybe she does now. But I've actually been to a signing with her(my job was to clean off the clump of ink from the end of her pen), when not ONE person showed up.

It was my most important lesson in booksignings. Murphy rules. Just cause you're there, just cause you've done everything to let other people know you're there, maybe even unto radio shows and TV and newsletters, it doesn't mean you're going to have a good showing. That part really doesn't bother me at all. I still get to talk to the booksellers who are, after all, book people. But there is still that part about sitting at a table right in everybody's way waiting, hoping, PRAYING somebody just comes up to talk to you so you don't look like such a big loser. And then, finally, somebody comes up to you, smiling. You smile back. Your heart flutters. Your palms sweat. You straighten and hope you don't have any foam on your lip from the latte you've just scarfed down instead of lunch. And then, she opens her mouth. And she says,

"Excuse me. Can you tell me where VC Andrews is?"

And I say, "She's dead. Buy my book instead."

Okay, not really. But it would have made the time go faster.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Cristophe the cab driver

To preface this, let me say that when I set out to write SINNERS AND SAINTS, I knew that my heroine was going to be a classic fish out of water. A certified forensic nurse who worked in St. Louis, she has to wade through the good old boy network of New Orleans politics and police to find her missing sister. Well, I love writing both a heroine and a hero. The dynamics are always fun, and each brings a unique perspective to the story. And I didn't want to fall into the cliche "she's dating a cop who can get all her info". But who would she--a trauma nurse--trust in a strange city? Easy. A firefighter. Only this guy couldn't be on the job. He had to have lots of free time. So I created James Guidry, a scarred ex-firefighter-turned-New-Orleans-cabdriver. He's a native, Chastity can hire him to help her, and he knows the city. Voile! The problem was, I didn't know any cab drivers. I knew forensic pathologist, forensic nurse liaisons(that's another entry), cops, authors, artists and tarot card readers. And it seemed not one of them knew a cab driver either. So I went searching.

It was 2AM on a weeknight that I hit the jackpot. My friend Karen and I had been doing research out at one of the lakeside bars that probably isn't there anymore. A great place with beer and boots and a surfeit of Dwight Yokum. After a few hours, we needed a ride home and called a cab. And who we got was Cristophe.

Yeah, just the name probably says it all. A man of more than one race, although I didn't closely quizz him on which ones, he was slick and sleek and handsome, with long hair tied back in a queue, skin the color of cafe mocha and a delicious New Orleans accent. He had statues of saints on his dashboard and jazz on the radio. And he said he'd be happy to answer my questions. We went over schedules, maps, routines, problems. We reached my friend's house. Cristophe wouldn't let us out. Not yet. "I cannot tell you all about my beloved N'awlins in ten minutes," he protested. "I'll tell you what. Let me take you to my favorite restaurant in the Fauberg Marigny, and we'll talk, and I'll tell you all about my life, and we'll watch the sun come up." And that's just what we did.

Of course the longer we talked, the more I learned about New Orleans. Not just what Cristophe said. What he didn't say. The statues on his dashboard weren't saints. They were his loas of voodoo, there to ensure him safety, money and success. He wasn't really from New Orleans. He was from Queens. And I have a real suspicion that his name wasn't Cristophe(it was a while later before I found out that Cristophe was also a character in an Ann Rice novel). But he was the epitome of the best of New Orleans; its whimsy and creativity and bravado. The fact that anybody(but a local, evidently) can remake themself into whatever image they please there. A lot of the flavor of SINNERS AND SAINTS came from that cab ride. And not a little of James Guidry. I have two grease-stained place mats from La Peniche,crammed full of notes. I have material for more than one book. And I have the satisfaction of knowing that I mortified my daughter.

As Cristophe dropped us off, we exchanged phone numbers in case there were any more questions. The next day, my daughter called me from St. Louis. "Mom," she said, sounding truly bemused. "Some guy named Cristophe called? He said he has some great places to show you?" You can imagine how confused she was by a hot young guy calling her MOTHER. "Yeah, baby," I said. "That's right. I'm cool." I'm not sure she's gotten over it yet.

Next I'll tell you about the lovely, inimitable Kareena Boudreax.

eileen\kathleen, the evil twins

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the blog

I swear I was going to be posting sooner than this. But you see, an ice storm hit last week, and I was without power or access to my internet for five days. FIVE DAYS. Did I tell you I'm a lousy refugee? I spent all that time rotating through siblings and trying to keep my house warm(temps dropped near zero each night) with a barbecue grill(I told my husband I was NOT going to tell my firefighter friends that I burned down my house with a barbecue grill in the living room)(then, of course, he decamped to Chile, the rat bastard--on business. Uh huh). And, of course, right in the middle of all that, SINNERS AND SAINTS hit the bookshelves. I'm just getting around the St. Louis area to do drive-by signings (that's when you stop in the store, sign stock, gab with the booksellers and then run on to the next place). And here I'd promised to tell you a bit more about SINNERS. Well, and so I will.

Here's the thing. I've been fascinated by New Orleans my whole life. When I finally got to go, I fell madly in love with the city. There's just something there that makes me feel at home; an energy, a unique spell the city casts over you. I love the color, the characters, the lazy, kind pace of the place. Yeah, okay, and the food and music and architecture and...you get it. Well, finally I had the chance to set a book there. That was about three years ago, when I first started collecting research information. Now, I'm a rabid researcher. I don't want any of those emails that say, "You're such an idiot. Don't you know that it's the MIssissippi that runs through New Orleans, not the Missouri?" (not that I'd ever say that). And, of course, it gave me an added excuse to spend time in New Orleans. Which was just fine. Can you think of a better way to research a book then singing in the back room of Jean LaFitte's Blacksmith Shop at two in the morning? Or driving to every cemetery in the city limits? Or driving through the good and bad streets with one of New Orleans finest(all cops tell great stories. New Orleans cops are in a universe of their own. You can read one of the best stories in my OUTTAKE section of my website). I almost didn't stop researching at all. In fact, I ended up taking out over a hundred pages of the finished manuscript."Eileen," my editor said with great patience. "This is a suspense novel. Not Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." Fine. Just fine. I cut some of the stories.My cop friends and nurse friends and CSI friends have told me I got it right anyway, which makes me very, very pleased.

Fast forward to last summer. The book comes out--five days before Katrina hits. Yeah. I have great timing.It absolutely killed me. Not just because I'd just written a love poem to a city that had just been destroyed. But because I felt that destruction like the grave injury of a loved one. The good news is that all my friends are now back home and working. The bad news is that the city still struggles. But I do believe in her. I believe in her people, who are the greatest survivors I've ever met.

But now, the paperback is out, and I hope you'd enjoy visiting with me in the New Orleans of my heart--okay, even though there are some grisly murders happening, a heroine who is in terrible peril, and--did I mention this?--a level 5 hurricane bearing down on the city. (considering when the book first came out, I've decided to take contributions to NOT write about earthquakes in California). Next blog, I'll introduce you to the inspirations behind one of my very favorite heroes, James Guidry, and the unique, the wonderful, the lovely, Kareena Boudreax. Til then, stay warm. I'll try and do the same.

eileen\kathleen, the evil twins