Like many cities, Placentia holds summer concerts in one of their parks. The city's cultural arts group finds money in the budget somewhere, hires bands, then convinces non-profit groups to come and sell food. They also have opportunity drawings to get some income and give away donated prizes.
This year, Placentia decided to try an experiment and offered booths to craft vendors. The booths were cheap beyond reason - $25 per event. Since I had convinced the Placentia Heritage Festival that I was a craft vendor, I signed up for four of the eight evenings. I mean, I may not press the paper and bind my own books, but I created them. I wrote them, I worked with an artist on the cover and editors on the content and got them published.
After doing the math, I figured if I sold four books at each event, I'd break even. More importantly, I would be in a Placentia park meeting the residents, some of whom read my column. I would be with my people.
The first evening, I sold four books. I also met some lovely readers - they were so excited to meet me, it gave my heart wings. I also met a man who runs a singles group in Orange County and is always looking for speakers. Some of the singles are writers, so he asked if I'd be interesting in giving a talk on some part of the writing process.
"How much do you charge?" he asked.
Without hesitation, I told him, "I don't charge a fee as long as I can bring my books to sell."
Will I make as much money as if I charged a straight fee? I don't know. I do know that I become known to more people, and my books can get into more people's hands.
The next week, I was back at my post. It was a nice, if smaller crowd, and not many people came by the booth, although I met even more readers of my column and shared some laughs with them. Then a man walked up and introduced himself as a member of the local Rotary Club. Would I come and speak to them and sell my books?
Hell, yes. (Okay, I didn't say that. I said, "Absolutely!")
The bad news is I must be alive and perky at 7:00 a.m. The good news is they hold their meetings at the Alta Vista Country Club, which is one of the main settings for Hit or Missus.
I also met Jeremy Yamaguchi, our Mayor Pro Tem. He's such a fine young man, running for City Council when he was just old enough to vote. I like to see young people take an interest in how their town works. Maybe they'll move up the food chain, to how the state works, then the country.
Toward the end of the evening, I saw a pair of familiar faces, Mayor Scott Nelson and his wife, Robin. They had purchased my book, Freezer Burn, two years ago at the Placentia Heritage Festival. I showed them my two new books, and Mayor Nelson bought both.
"I hope you like Hit or Missus," I said. "It's set at the Alta Vista Country Club"
That seemed to tickle him. "It is? Tell you what. Give me two more copies. I'll leave them at Alta Vista for other people to read."
Suddenly I sold four books. Once again, I broke even, financially, but I had another speaking opportunity.
After awhile, Robin came back with another customer, a friend of theirs who bought Freezer Burn and Hit or Missus. We joked about setting the book in Alta Vista.
"You sure I won't recognize anyone from the club in this book?" he asked.
"If you do, it's by merest accident. I like to make up my characters." I did alert him that when I think of Peri's friend, Blanche, I always see Suzanne Pleshette, and I did give my late father-in-law a role as the bartender. "But other than that, I like to have characters I can do anything with. Real people tend to complain when you make them the killer."
And just like that, I had made a profit. Who knows if I'll break even on my next two nights (the last Thursday in July and first Thursday in August). But it's not about the money. It's about the people all the time.
"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
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times