Wednesday, September 15, 2010

We Need a David Thompson Writing Prize

From two years ago, an "On the Road" piece TFA did for Liz Clifford.

HOUSTON, TEXAS -- Beside me is a friend, a writing chum, but I’m still nervous, apprehensive. Murder by the Book on Bissonnet Street here is rated one of America’s top mystery book stores. EVERYbody comes here. Michael Connelly, Carolyn Hart, Janet Evanovich, James Patterson, Anne Perry, and--today only--Jack Getze. Gulp.

Thanks to some fancy gab by PJ my PR Lady, I am talking today about my new novel at the center of American Mystery Fiction. Well...it’s a big, famous store, anyway. And The Big Stage is certainly what it feels like, shaking hands with storeowner David Thompson, and my co-author at today’s event, Baron Birtcher.

“Tell me you had Chinese for lunch,” Baron says. “Because if that’s not a noodle on your beard, I don’t want to know.”

My gaze finds an intimidatingly large stack of books David has pre-ordered for this event. A fine sheen of moisture dampens my collar. Hopefully, I’ll sell a few books for the store, get a few new readers for myself. My business plan calls for early round losses. I’m not worried about making money yet.

Good thing.

I wander toward the table where Baron and I will blab about our new releases. First time ever, there are more than 10 people gathered. Baron must be a hit.

“I loved your first book, Big Numbers,” a man in the front row says to me. Baron and I aren’t even seated. “I can’t wait to read this new one. Big Money. It’s a great series.”

I swoon. The store’s floor-to-ceiling racks of multicolored books swirl in a blurred jumble. The floor rolls like a Jersey Shore amusement ride. Baron has to grab my shoulder.

“It’s a fan, dude,” Baron says.

When it’s over, I’ve sold and signed more books than I’ve ever sold in a bookstore. Ever sold anywhere, really, except for the kickoff I threw, where purchase of the book was the price of admission to a cruise ship, with steak and lobster dinner, all-you-can-drink open bar, and a live concert by Madonna.

I did well at Murder by the Book, but I didn’t entirely deplete that stack of pre-ordered books.

“Sign what’s left and send me some bookmarks,” David says. “Why don’t you have bookmarks?”

“I thought they were like, for collectors. Not much good, really, there being so many other bookmarks around.”

He hands me the book I’ve just purchased, Megan Abbott’s Edgar winner, QUEENPIN. “Look inside,” he says.

Oops. Now I get it. Bookmarks with enticing blurbs about Megan Abbott’s other two books are stuffed between the pages. Duh! Bookmarks are a great form of one-on-one advertising--for the bookstore, AND the author.

“When a customer buys a book by another funny mystery author, I’ll stick one of your bookmarks inside,” David says.

My knees tremble. I almost pass out for the second time in an hour. “Expect a box next week.”

David Thompson was the nicest book store owner we ever met. Our whole genre suffers with his passing.

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