Whence the Author Abandons his Computer for the Streets
I’m a day late because yesterday was a really full and rewarding day with no time, either real or thoughtful, to write this blog. It was Arlington (Massachusetts) Town Day, held each fall as a sort-of contemporary version of the ancient human ritual in which a community gathers to celebrate the crop harvest. (I had the great pleasure of experiencing the German fall festival as a young man – boy, did those folks party!)
As a member of the Independent Publishers of New England, I was invited to the Arlington community celebration. Massachusetts Avenue, which we local folk call “Mass Ave,” runs through many towns from Boston to Lunenburg, was blocked off downtown for about six city blocks and lined with exhibitor tents on either side to celebrate Town Day activities.
Among the many exhibitors were local businesses, social clubs, banking and investment firms, schools and colleges, the library, the Minuteman Bikeway, and food purveyors from fried dough to pizza. One I was unable to identify served free water and iced coffee.
We couldn’t have asked for better weather, or better attendance. Thousands of people swarmed Mass Ave hour after hour. Uniformed Arlington High School girls wandered through the crowds selling pastries and performing gymnastics for a buck each. In the booth next to ours, an artist painted children’s’ faces with all manner of caricatures and creatures, from frogs to elves to cats.
Ours was the only bookseller, and we had more shoppers than I would have imagined. Charlotte Pierce of Pierce Press encouraged us to sell our books at a special discounted price, so I put all four of my novels and a copy of the Fictional Café anthology, The Strong Stuff, on sale for five bucks apiece. I think it was an effective strategy for I sold 11 books, a record for one of these events. Two sales were for the three-volume Nathaniel Hawthorne Flowers trilogy.
My fellow author-boothmates were Sheila Cordner, whose children’s book Who’s Hiding This Book? Meet Ten Famous Authors looked so good (illustrated by Daniel Fiore and published by Pierce Press) I got a copy for my grandsons; Lyssa Black Fassett, a memoirist and author of Tracking Light Through the Wilderness of Grief about the loss of her 22-year-old son; and Shawn P. McCarthy, author of “The Puzzle Box Chronicles,” a six-book series set in the 1890s.
One of the greatest things about hanging in a booth to hawk your books is meeting people. A special bonus was meeting Lyssa’s husband, Dan Fassett, who is a genealogist with whom I plan to have a serious conversation about his services. Sheila and I found we both have teaching in our blood. I met a warm, loving mother in Lyssa; her journey reminded me of how great is the loss of a family member. Shawn and I discovered a shared past, working for the same high-technology research company!
And the visitors! They didn’t have to buy a book to be fun to talk with. One guy and I had great fun just talking about the novel he’s working on. Some were shocked to learn I was an author; these days we’re a dime a dozen – at least apparently to publishers.
I toured the entire assemblage and met several more interesting people. One, (whose name I couldn’t pronounce), stood beneath a skull-and-crossbones poster that read “Sugar Kills.” It was one of a set of Care Cards intended for self-help healthy living. I learned the work of his group is raising public consciousness about personal health. We agreed the healthcare system itself is a trainwreck. Another poster at the booth was “Determinants of Health,” which I subsequently learned is a field of study itself, from the World Health Organization level and propagating out. Everything I learned from this man – the booth – the impetus – is for public consciousness-raising and is not (apparently) monetized. I hope this reflects some new directions for our American consumer economy.
As I left, a band named Air Traffic Controller was playing. They’re a rock ‘n’ roll band and very good. I stayed long enough to decide I wanted to buy their record if they had one (they have two), but not long enough to learn there was an after-dark fireworks display. Instead, I climbed on “Big Dog,” my bike, and headed up the Minuteman Bikeway. Unfortunately, the Bikeway was as busy as Monday morning rush hour traffic, so I jumped off and rode the streets home. All things considered, it was a very good day.