I welcome guest blogger Mark Barnes, fellow writer and author of The League. Barnes will take the helm here at the Owner's Manual while I frost cupcakes, muse over which dryer sheet has the most attractive scent and service my Dearly Beloved.
So I am at this book signing, seated next to Erin O’Brien and Grant Bailie, which is strange enough. But I noticed some other very unusual things while signing books (or, more accurately, not signing books).
The event included such Cleveland luminaries as Sam Fullwood, Bob Dolgan, Connie Schultz and Dennis Kucinich – all known for their work in a metropolitan newspaper or political circles. In their effort to get close to these celebs, the throng galloped hurriedly past Cleveland’s best-kept secrets (namely, me, O'Brien and Bailie). After all, we secrets are not buoyed by the power of the press or Capitol Hill. And to make matters worse, O'Brien was cackling like a she-devil all day long. Bailie and I couldn't do a thing with her.
Some readers, though, did stop, and it was at this time that the theater of the bizarre turned up the lights.
First, to get a clear image of these encounters, you have to visualize the would-be book buyer. They approach by stealth, sauntering furtively toward the author, as if eye contact would blow their cover. When they’re finally close enough for conversation, their reluctance continues, until the author speaks.
"Hello," says O'Brien to one woman as she peers down at the stack of books in front of O'Brien.
"So, is this a romance?" she asks, picking up a copy of O’Brien’s Harvey & Eck and sniffing.
"I suppose you could call it that," says O'Brien.
"Oh, well in that case," says the woman, tossing the book back onto O'Brien's table, "forget it. I don’t like romances."
She glides over to me (Bailie garners none of her lush attention). "Oh, your book must be about baseball," she says, despite the football helmet on the cover.
"Um, not really," I say, "although many people ask that." (They don't.)
"It’s sort of thin, isn’t it?" she says, gauging the book betwixt thumb and index finger. "I like thick books."
"Perhaps Harry Potter is a better option for you," I offer.
"Or you could buy two of Mark's books and hold them together," says Bailie.
"I’m sorry," says the would-be buyer. "I didn’t mean to be mean to you guys."
"Don’t worry," I say. "We’ll say mean things about you when you leave." (We do.)
Another prospective buyer approaches and hovers silently over Bailie’s table, apparently contemplating something far more profound than actually buying his book Cloud 8.
Bailie swallows and politely averts his eyes while waiting patiently in the awkward silence for a question or any sign of intelligent discourse.
"This book must be about Abe Lincoln," says the buyer, tapping the cover, which features picture of Lincoln on a billboard.
"Not really," offers Bailie. "Well, there are some references to Lincoln, but it’s really about-"
"Nevermind,"says the man, waving a hand in Bailie's face as he turns to walk away. "I thought it was about Lincoln."
But perhaps the best performance comes from a man who recognizes O'Brien as the author of an essay about an adult website that appeared in a local paper. "And will I find any pictures of you on that website?" he asks O'Brien with a lascivious smile and arched eyebrows.
"No," she says. " ... erm... Sorry to disappoint."
In total, I sell one book. O'Brien sells two, as does Bailie.
Bailie buys one book (mine). I buy one for me (Bailie's) and one for my wife (O'Brien's).
"We need to work on our pyramid scheme," observes Bailie.
"It is not based on the sort of architecture the Egyptians had in mind," adds O'Brien.
"Our pyramid wouldn't last ten days," I say, "much less ten thousand years."
Book sales were vigorous for the local celebs. Obviously, me and the other best kept secrets couldn't say the same, but at least I scored a couple of new buddies.
Photos: upper left, Barnes and O'Brien looking good but not selling many books. right, Barnes and Bailie. Barnes holds a copy of Bailie's novel, Cloud 8