It took you four years to cobble together enough half-hour time intervals to complete a two hundred fifty page novel. You painstakingly crafted such an intricate plot that Amazon user CrazyMogambo said it reminded him of something he had read somewhere. The writing was so nuanced, said Twitter user @death_skull, that it compelled her to try harder to see the good in others, except for her younger brother who is a “total waste, let’s face it.” It’s time for your first bookstore reading.
The first thing you have to do is find a bookstore. You thought you could walk into any bookstore with the word “Indie” or “Independent” in the name and hold a reading there. That was until the owl-eyed woman behind the counter told you that there were more books published last year than there are stars in our galaxy. You chuckle at the hyperbole, but she doesn’t break and instead holds the face of an oncologist who has to deliver some really bad news. “No, I’m serious,” she says. “There were 100 billion books published last year. I’m sorry, but I don’t have the shelf space, as you can see.”
Undeterred, you keep at it until you find the perfect place to read your YA, coming of age novel: an anarchist bookstore whose proprietor says you can pretty much do whatever you want with the place except burn it down. All you know about anarchists is that executing them was the favorite past time of the United States in the 19th century, but he seemed nice enough on the phone and didn’t ask any questions or test your anarchist IQ. When you arrive to inspect the store you are disappointed to see how normal-looking he is. No wire-rim glasses, no handlebar mustache, no beret. You try to start a conversation about Sacco and Vanzetti, but his phone rings and he walks to the back of the store speaking in a hushed staccato. The only words you can make out are “pepperoni…sausage…”
The next thing you must do is decide who you want in your audience.
Four weeks before the reading you decide that audience members must be literary people, those who can see the layers in your story and catch most of the literary and biblical references. Oh, and you don’t want Chuck there. This is very important.
It’s three weeks before your reading and no one from any of your writing groups has gotten back to you. Well, they must be busy. Maybe they are at the beach. It is February, after all. Maybe you sent the emails at the wrong time. Scientists discovered that the best time to send an email is 8am on a Tuesday. You sent yours at 7:53am. And which timezone did the scientists mean?
Two weeks before your reading and you’ve received 3 RSVPs. It’s time to extend the invite to your drinking buddies and jewelry party girlfriends. Upon hearing that you are an author, many in this crew bragged that they haven’t read a novel since high school. They will have to do. One thing is for sure, you’re going to have to buy a lot more wine because they will provide the cheese.
One week before your reading and you will accept anyone who has a rudimentary understanding of the English language. You invite Oleg from work, a brilliant network engineer whose English is not quite as clear as someone who doesn’t know English at all. During one conversation you asked him to speak in his native Russian and it helped. You’ve also invited extended family members, the kind you’ve met twice in your life and with whom you could make a normal-looking child. You double your email efforts, saying “Spam engines be damned!” while also promoting heavily on Twitter. @tap_squeanies from Ireland swears he’ll be there, but you believe him to be disingenuous at best.
One day before your reading and twelve people said they are probably coming. You will no longer wake up screaming in the night. Everything is going to be fine so long as Chuck doesn’t show up.
Chuck is your best friend. The two of you grew up together, you know all the same people, and share many of the same experiences. Chuck is is a smart guy, but he’s not a big reader or interested in artsy things. His is a left-brained, sequentially processing, analytical mind, which isn’t a bad thing. It came in handy when he fixed the computer in your car. Still, Chuck is the last person you want at your reading due to his annoying habit of viewing your work as a puzzle for him to figure out. Mostly he tries to find out if you’ve based any of the characters on him or other people you know.
The hour before the reading is here and you want to throw up. You were never good at public speaking, which is why you prefer private writing. You planned on having one glass of wine, but that was half a bottle ago and you look back enviously on that time when you were just anxious and not borderline drunk and anxious.
It’s ten minutes before the start of the reading and the first person has arrived. It’s Chuck. You are so happy to see him that you feel ashamed you didn’t want him to come. He may be the only one in your audience, your one true friend. You are a horrible friend by comparison. Who cares if he asks annoying questions? He showed up, and as he likes to remind you, “Ninety percent of life is showing up.” God, how you hate him.
As more people enter the book store, your spirits rise. Then, you see her. Mindy Blah-de-da-blah from [insert name of local free rag here] kept her word and showed! What a break! You could actually get some sales momentum from her terse reviews of locally grown fiction. She takes a seat right next to Chuck. He strikes up a conversation with her. He talks to her and she laughs. She seems to laugh at everything he says. He keeps whispering in her ear and then they both look at you and laugh. What is he saying to her? Has he no idea who she is?
You take on last swig of wine, say “She sells seashells by the seashore” five times, badly, and start your introduction with a heart that is beating in your eardrums.
You ask if there any questions from anyone who has read the book. Chuck’s hand shoots up. It is the only one raised. You can’t ignore him.
“Yeah, um…is that…is that main character, um, is that you? Because, you know, it kind of sounds like you, so I was wondering if it was you.”
You think you hear your underwear rip as your butt cheeks clench together.
No, it’s not me, you reply.
“Really, ’cause it sounds just like you.”
He continues as mercilessly as a Viking colonization jaunt.
“The character who owned the ice cream store…is that Derek? ‘Cause the way you describe him it really looks like Derek.”
“Is that scene in chapter five based upon that time you and Schmitty got really drunk and swam naked across the pool at the One Star motel?”
Mindy blah-de-da-blah writes furiously onto her notepad. You can see your fantasized interviews with Steven Colbert and Jimmy Fallon drifting off into the black hole of your dreams, the one that will swallow the earth.
“That guy who was weed whacking all of the flowers in his neighbors flower bed to get back at him…was that me? Because if it was, I don’t even own a weed wacker.”
The weed wacker did it. You slowly walk toward Chuck, with all 37 years of your friendship flashing before your eyes like a bad movie. You put both hands around his neck, and you strangle him until he is dead. You return to the front of the room and finish your reading with a confidence you haven’t had since you were five years-old. You are going to prison, but the important thing is that Mindy loved your book. It is to be her last book review because you have inspired her to become a forensic journalist. The proprietor of the bookstore testified against you in court. Anarchists are such killjoys.
P.S. After reading this article, my real-life friend asked me, “Um…that guy in the article…Chuck…um, was he supposed to be me?”