by John M. Floyd
I'll be out of town most of today, at a booksigning about a hundred miles south of our home. But let me clarify that. If you're picturing a fancy setting with banners and media coverage and screaming fans lined up out the door and around the corner, I'm afraid that ain't the case. This is a regular, no-frills Saturday event at a chain bookstore, where my signing table will probably be about the size of a bicycle wheel and nobody will know who I am and some of the customers might be looking more for greeting cards and Hunger Games T-shirts than for reading material. The only familiar faces I'll probably see are those of the general manager and a couple of his employees.
Sailing the salesman ship
Actually, the GM and his staff might be the only people I see, period. One never knows. (Erma Bombeck said she once had a booksigning where, in the course of the day, only two people stopped at her signing table: one guy asked for directions to the restroom and the other asked her how much she wanted for the table.) But so far this year I've been pretty lucky, in terms of crowds and sales and foot-traffic. The events are always fun, the folks who work at the stores are consistently friendly and accommodating to visiting authors, and I get to meet some really interesting people, many of whom, thank God, buy a book or two. I and my publisher will be forever grateful to these store managers and their regional bosses for allowing me to come as often as I do.
Occasionally I even meet a "fan," although I try not to let that go to my head. Anytime I start to feel the least bit cocky, fanwise or famewise, something always happens that reminds me of my insignificance. True story: a guy rushed up to me at a signing awhile back, said he was so excited to finally meet me, and added, "I've read every one of your books, Mr. Grisham." I almost hated to reveal my true identity, and when I did he wasn't too pleased about it either. He slunk away looking as if I had just foreclosed on his home and shot his dog. The sad truth is, the only things JG and I have in common is our home state and our first name. My books aren't even novels; they're collections of short mystery stories.
The view from the cheap seats
Even though I am but a tadpole in the ocean, I can't help feeling incredibly fortunate. I'm not a famous writer and never will be (I'm not even sure I want to be), but I thank my lucky stars that I'm in a position to do every day what I love to do and that I've been able to achieve some small level of success at it. How many people can make that claim? And now and then--not often, of course, but now and then--someone e-mails me or phones me or sees me at a signing or a conference or our local Wendy's and tells me he or she enjoys my stories. That's a heartwarming thing for any writer to hear.
Besides, I just love the writing process. It's therapy, it's fun, and--let's face it--it's a pleasant distraction from that real world where unpleasant things so often happen. Unpleasant things happen in my stories too, but that's okay--those are things that I make up, and I can deal with them in ways that I also make up. Spinning tales is not only puzzle solving (which I love as well), it's the ultimate power trip. In my little fictional world, I'm the emperor. I can make these people do anything I want them to do, anytime I want them to do it. Where else does that happen?
I heard or read someplace that it is the height of arrogance to assume that anyone would ever actually want to read the things that we dream up and put on paper. Whoever said that was probably right. But the fact is, when someone does tell me he likes what I've created--whether it's an editor or a reader--that kind of validation makes me feel anything but arrogant. It makes me feel grateful, relieved, and humbled. And, at the risk of repeating myself, unbelievably lucky to be doing something that's this much fun.
If writers are really as confident as most readers think we are, why is praise of almost any kind so good to hear? Well, it's because we're not as confident as most readers think we are. Almost all the writers I know, whether successful or aspiring, struggle with self-doubt. Most of them tell me that when they finish writing a story or a novel, they wonder quite seriously whether they'll ever be able to come up with another one--or at least another one that anybody would want to read. We've all heard the adage about only being as good as your latest effort. Because of that, we writers like to be--and need to be--patted on the head regularly and reassured that all is well.
I once heard bestselling mystery author Steve Hamilton (a great guy as well as a great writer) describe the way he felt when, early in his career, he took the stage to receive a prestigious award--the Edgar, I think it was, for his novel A Cold Day in Paradise. He said he walked up in front of the huge crowd, looked out at the vast sea of faces, and thought: What are all you people doing in my dream?
I like that. I can relate to that. Fiction writers not only create dreams, they sometimes walk around inside them as well.
But I do know I'm not John Grisham.
BY THE WAY . . . tomorrow is Mother's Day. Don't forget to set your mothers back one hour.