"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

I had a moment and I liked it

I can take credit card payments!

April 30th - May 1st: Where were you on the weekend in question?

I was at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, held on the USC campus for the first time ever. The bad news is, I didn't see any of the festival. The good news is, it's because I was in a booth, selling my books.

I've been to the festival once, two years ago, when Karen Syed of Echelon Press called and said, "I've got 20 copies of your book handy. Want to come and sell them?" (See that post here.)

Last year's festival came and went without much fanfare in my household, mostly because I didn't have a new book out yet, and partly because I was buried in obligations to two booster clubs at my son's school, plus that whole, pesky, He's Graduating business.

Imagine this with one more author!
When Pam Ripling emailed me this year and asked, "How about a bunch of us renting a booth at the festival," I answered in a heartbeat: "I'm in."

There were supposed to be six of us: Pam (aka Anne Carter), Jen Hilborne, Tee Burrell, Joel Fox, Jeff Sherratt, and me. At the very last minute, Jeff had to cancel due to illness (we all hope you're on the mend, Jeff), which left five. This was probably a good thing, although I love Jeff's company and of course don't want him to be sick, but five authors in a booth is a little tight. Jeff's got a lot of books out there, and a big presence.

We might have had to put an author in the tree next to the booth.

L-R: Alyssa Montgomery, Sydney Fox, Pam Ripling
 When you're selling your books, you are constantly talking to everyone who comes by the booth. "Hi, how are you today? Do you like mysteries? What kind of books do you read? Weather's a little warm isn't it? Let me tell you about my books…"

Yadda yadda yadda blah blah.

You also learn to profile people. You somehow instantly recognize That Person Who Likes Mysteries, as well as That Person Who Wants You to Shut Up. And, sooner or later, you learn to recognize people who are just "different."

In my youth I thought of these people as "crazy", "clueless", "avoid-at-all-costs" folks. Now that I've been around the block a few times (mostly because I can't follow directions), and thanks to the world of behavioral analysis, I see these people as just being different than me, in terms of how they process and respond to the world around them.

A man wandered toward our booth. I hadn't paid much attention to his stops along the way, but he was coming toward me, so I greeted him. He was a pudgy man, dressed too warmly for the day, and although he was not odiferous, he had that look about him that said his hygiene was casual, at best. He wore thick glasses over slightly-crossed eyes, and had bad teeth. And when I say "bad teeth", I'm talking spectacularly, intriguingly, bad. Not only were they brown, every other tooth appeared to be missing (at least in the front), and they were skewed in his mouth, as if they were half-a-tooth off from where they should be located.

He spoke quickly, in a kind of thick-tongued way, all about his obsession with movies of the 30's in general and Republic Pictures in particular. He attended their 75th anniversary celebration and got to meet some of their stars, including Peggy Stewart. Within the space of ten minutes, he told me all this and more, about the movies he liked and the stars he recognized in other movies that are now doing bit parts in TV shows. I also learned he has a girlfriend who he likes to talk to using Red Ryder quotes and when she "gets out of line" he threatens to marry her.

Yeah, I'd straighten up and fly right, too.

His eyes had a way of focusing upward as he spoke, so that he never made eye contact for more than a wisp of a second. After about ten minutes, he kind of ran out of steam and moved down the booth to the next person, until he'd exhausted himself and all of us, before moving on.

In the old days, I would have labeled him "odd", or possibly even "crazy." Now I saw a man within the autism spectrum, and understood. No, I didn't want to stand for ten minutes and listen to his turbo-talk, especially when there were people coming up to the booth wanting to know about my books. But he's a human being, and he's socializing the only way he knows how, and I'm a Christian who believes in karma. Either that, or I'm a doormat.

Karma blessed me the very next day. I was driving to Palapas in Fullerton to have a drink with my hubby, thinking about my experiences at the festival, and all of a sudden, it dawned on me:

This weekend, I met Benny Needles.

No, I don't picture him physically like this man, but this is the awkwardly social man who is obsessed with something. Benny has actually been able to rein in his desire to tell everyone everything about Dean Martin. Unless something happened to him, something that caused him to retreat into the only thing that matters: Dino-world.

And in my third Peri Minneopa mystery, that's just what's gonna happen.

Life is good. As Will Varner said, "I feel so good, I might just live fo-EVAH."


Anonymous said...

Love it. Fiction bleeds into life -- vice versa. Great post, Gayle.

Gayle Carline said...

Thanks. The funny thing is, an editor suggested I tone Benny down in the first novel, because he was too "over the top." He's absolutely RESTRAINED compared to the guy I met.

Perhaps the problem with basing fiction on real life is that no one believes in real life.

dino martin peters said...

Miss Gayle Carline, what a truly heartwarmin' story you have told..and likes 'cause I so relate to Mr. Needles...with Benny I woulda ask..."Is it possible to have too much of our Dino?" Likes of course, Ben and I woulda answer, never! Keeps lovin' Benny, keeps lovin' our Dino!

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