When I was waiting tables at the Red Lobster in Colorado Springs, I ran into a psychic who was standing in the restaurant lobby, next to the live lobster tank. He was called "The Cowboy Psychic," and that’s no lie [I know it’s true because he handed me a business card]. He stared at me and said, "You have an energy that tends to scare people." Before I could say, "Excuse me but table 2 is waiting for her strawberry margarita," he added, "But deep down inside, you have a fragile ego."
So this week my Quibbles and Bits is: FRAGILE EGOS R US
Upon meeting a stranger–and in most social situations–the conversation frequently goes like this:
"What do you do, Deni?"
Several interesting images flutter through what’s left of my mind but I usually say, "For a living?"
"I’m an author."
"Are you published?"
"How many books have you written?"
Written or published? "My 14th book will be out next spring," I reply.
"Have I ever heard of you?"
What I want to say is: "Sure, if you track the N.Y. Times bestseller lists, peruse airport kiosks, and read the ‘from a book by Denise Dietz’ in the credits of a popular movie starring Tom Hanks or (be still my heart) Johnny Depp."
What I do say is…
Well, to be perfectly honest, after 20 years in the book biz, I haven’t doped out the quintessential response yet.
Writers tend to have fragile egos. Yes, I know that’s hard to believe. But all you have to do is attend a mass booksigning and note the line in front of…oh, say, Mary Higgens Clark, and then look at the expression on the face of Mary Midlist.
Surprisingly, my most successful mass signing was at Houston’s Murder By The Book. To my right and sitting across from me was Sue Grafton. The line for Sue wended down the aisle of the store, out the doorway, down the block, around the corner (and for all I know, all the way to the Astrodome). As a fan, I was awed to be in the same room as Sue Grafton (for the record, Sue is very, very nice). As an author, I decided to make lemonade…
When the people in line halted in front my table, I said, "Why don’t you read this while you’re waiting?" and offered a copy of my latest book. Bravely, I added, "If the first page doesn’t make you laugh, don’t buy it."
I sold out in less than an hour. Thanks, Sue, sincerely.
During a lengthy layover at the Ft. Worth/Dallas airport, a young woman noticed my T-shirt–dark green with FOOTPRINTS IN THE BUTTER in white letters on the front, an Ingrid Beaumont Mystery co-starring Hitchcock the Dog on the back. The young woman commented on the shirt–a surpisingly large number of people do that in airports. I explained that I was an author and she said, "Have I ever heard of you?"
I had been traveling since 5 a.m. I was tired. I said, "Probably not."
She said, "What have you written?"
I said, "Well, my first mystery series stars a diet club leader. The titles are ‘Throw Darts at a Cheesecake’ and—"
"’Beat up a Cookie’!" she exclaimed. "I loved that book. But I had to wait until my dad finished it. He loved it, too."
She asked for my autograph.
The above happened 5 years ago (6 years this November, but who’s counting?) and I’m still living off (and high on) the ego gratification.
Some authors may not have fragile egos, but I compare my ego to Humpty Dumpty’s cracked shell.
One "shattered ego experience" resulted in my funniest booksigning anecdote. I was scheduled to sign at a bookstore in California. The store owner had advertised in the L.A. Times. He’d handed out fliers (for weeks) with every book purchase and had a professional MEET AUTHOR DENISE DIETZ sign at the front of the shop. Refreshments included real wine, non-alcoholic wine, cookies, punch, brownies, and various hors d’oeuvres.
I arrived early to find the store empty, except for the owner and his assistants. I was scheduled to give a talk before the signing. The hands on the clock moved as slowly as the hands on the clock in an Orson Welles flick. No one showed. Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. The store owner began to sweat. Then apologize. Profusely. I tried to ignore my shattered ego, but all I kept thinking, over and over, was: All the king’s horses and all the king’s men, couldn’t put Denise Dietz together again.
Suddenly, from a small office in the back of the shop, a voice said, "C’mere, you guys. You’ve got to see this."
Inside the office was a tiny, portable TV. On the screen, in living black and white, L.A. cops were following a white Bronco…
Unlike Mr. Dumpty’s shell, I carefully glued my broken ego back together and subsequently wrote the following:
THE NIGHT NO ONE CAME
I’m really sorry, Deni dear,
I cannot fathom why no one’s here.
We put the date in ‘Main Event’
And hundreds of invitation were sent;
The wine is chilled, the cookies baked,
Your books are stacked, the yard’s been raked!
Oh wait, there’s John at the TV;
He’s calling us to come and see
A car chase…cops…a celebrity.
I have other "shattered ego stories" — if you want to hear ’em — but I’ve been thinking of contacting several authors and putting together an anthology.
Maybe Mary Higgins Clark and Sue Grafton would like to contribute.
Maybe Johnny Depp will star in the film version.
Why yes, I write fiction.
Over and out,
Deni, it’s been a long time since anyone’s made me laugh this early in the morning. Love the Bronco story. You are a resilient soul, lady. Thanks for sharing!
Deni,We all have those horror stories — like the time I had one woman at a little bookstore in Austin. Sure, I’d driven nine hours to be there . . . but she’d sacrificed going to Rosh Hoshannah services to meet me.
Or the time I actually scared potential audience members away.
Or the time I almost showed up at the wrong time.
Or, or, or . . . but, most of these events have a way of working out in the end. They just might not work the way we want them to.
As to fragile egos — yes — we all do have them and I think that’s a good thing; humility is always preferable to arrogance.
Funny, if somebody said to me, “Have I ever heard of you?” my response would immediately be, “I don’t know, have you?”
Hilarious, Deni. Great post. It’s good you can laugh at your low moments, and even better that you can share them with us. The anthology ideas as good one.
My response to the “Have I ever heard of you?” question would probabaly been much the same as Rob’s. How do we know if someone’s heard of us or not?
…and…eh…being an L.A. guy…my apologies for the Bronco incident…I promise it won’t happen again. Well, at least not too often.
Thanks for your “have I ever heard of you?” responses, Rob and Brett. When I’m asked that question, many answers come to mind, most a wee bit snarky. But you see, I want to sell my books, so I usually swallow my clever retort and hand out promo material (and tell them I’m booked for an appearance on Good Morning America, but I’m not sure exactly when). If I’m at a formal social event, say an Edgars Awards dinner or something, and someone says “Have I ever heard of you?”, I merely reach into the pocket of my cutoffs and retrieve the bookmarks and promo cards and, of course, the fridge magnets and pens with my titles on ’em. Whatever works…Deni
Nice post, Deni. If it’s any consolation — I’ve heard of you. I knew of you long before I got involved in the mystery community. As a matter of fact, you were the first non-mainstream, like Patterson or Cornwell, that I delved into. So there.
Seriously, Deni, the only possible answer to the question, “have I ever heard of you?” is, “yes, you have.” Then you walk away as quickly as possible.
Fantastic post Deni. If it makes you feel any better, last year I was having a conversation with a woman and had no idea who she was until she gave me her business card (Margaret Murphy) and I had several awkward moments like that at Harrogate. Like standing outside the locked bookstore with someone who turned out to be Reginald Hill. The one thing it persuaded me to do, as a writer, was pay more attention to the business side of things.
I had that happen once – at my first con. An attendee grabbed me by the arm as I was leaving a panel, read my name tag, and in a loud and rude voice announced, “I’ve never heard of you.” I smiled, looked at her name tag, and replied, “Don’t feel bad, I’ve never head of YOU either.”
LOL Elaine — nice one!
Deni, what a great post. Apropos. Fragile egos? Yep, over here. The ups and downs are what do it. The glowing email from a fan who loves, loves, loves your books and says the next can’t come out fast enough, to the Amazon reviewer who trashes you and says they wish they could give no stars. Wheeeee, what a roller coaster . . .
Some people get off on trashing authors on Amazon. I think they feel ’empowered’. Don’t you just love that word?
Wonderful post, Deni! And I loved the poem. Have you ever heard Parnell Hall’s song about signing at a bookstore with Mary Higgins Clark? Maybe you two should sing a duet.
I’ve heard Parnell’s song a few times, Lonnie. In fact, I moderated a humor panel at Malice that included Parnell and Murderati’s own Jeff Cohen, and I asked Parnell to sing. Also, in CHAIN A LAMB CHOP TO THE BED there’s a cat named Stanley Hastings (I kid you not). I donated a pet character to a charity auction and Stanley was the highest bidder. Well, actually Stanley’s “mum” was the highest bidder. I checked with Parnell to see if I could use his character. He said okay. Then I asked him to blurb the book – heh, heh, heh.Deni
Oh, Deni, we have all so been there!
But last week, in a whirlwind of family crises, book deadline and plain stupidity, I simply FORGOT TO GO TO A BOOKSTORE WHERE I WAS SUPPOSED TO SPEAK TO A BOOK CLUB. Just forgot. However, I bet every single person in that store will remember my name for decades to come—as the author who didn’t show. Yeesh.
Nancy, I’ll match your forgetfulness and raise you a blizzard. When I waited tables at an Olive Garden, I’d send people across the street to a B.Dalton’s to buy my first book, THROW DARTS AT A CHEESCAKE. There was a Waldens in the same mall. One morning the Waldens manager called and said people were asking for my book and would I come in and sign copies? I glanced out the window where snow was blanketing the world (well, Colorado Springs, which at that time WAS my world)and said okay. The mall’s parking lot was virtually empty – who in their right mind would go shopping during a blizzard? I walked into the store, looking like a snowman…er, snowperson…and the manager handed me three books to sign.
The happy PS to the story is that the B.Dalton’s manager had ordered 100 books and he sold 98 in the 6 weeks, and I made my first bestseller list. But had I been researching and writing EYE OF NEWT at the time, that Waldens manager might have awakened one morning as a toad! And not a kissable one, either.Deni