“God bless you,” the woman said, after taking the money from my hand. “You let me know where I can find you, and I’ll pay you back somehow.”
I first encountered her while I was waiting to make a left-hand turn. Her weathered pickup full of furniture entered the intersection and stalled. She couldn’t seem to be able to get it restarted. I flipped on my hazards, jumped out of the truck, and ran out into the intersection. Other vehicles were honking and swerving around her. I got behind her truck, told her to steer, while I pushed her up the street to the nearest gas station, where her truck jumped a curb, rolled over a sidewalk, and came to a crash landing at Pump #4. That’s where she admitted that she didn’t have any money.
“I mean it,” she repeated. “You tell me where I can find you, and I want to pay you back someday.”
While she filled a gas can with the money I’d given her, I ran back down the block to my pickup, which was thankfully still sitting there with the door ajar and the keys in the ignition. I returned to the gas station with my truck, hopped out, and handed the woman a big stack of M.C. Norris bookmarks.
“Here’s where you can always find me,” I said, “but there’s no need to pay me back. What you can do, and I’d really appreciate it, is hand these bookmarks out to anyone you know who likes to read.”
Every day after work, this week, my daughter and I have hopped into the truck and made rounds to every coffee shop, café, juice bar, book store, and every other venue we could think of to promote my upcoming books. I was a little hesitant when she begged me to ride along. I was a little uncomfortable with the prospect of going door-to-door, pimping myself like some poor peddler with handfuls of cups and rubber-banded bookmarks. It’s the sort of thing no one tells you that you might be doing one day, when you sit down to write your first novel. It’s more than a little ironic that most writers are somewhat introverted; they write to escape, to fantasize, to imagine what could be, and in the end, there we are, if we’re lucky enough to ever reach this point, where we’ve got a book slated for release and we’re suddenly thrust into the public eye, forced to prance around tooting our own horns and pandering for a fan base.
This is exactly why I decided to take my 12-year-old daughter along.
She’s always been obsessed with celebrities and fame, with a keen eye for the end result of the unapparent blood, sweat and tears that most of those stars have to shed to claw their way onto the stage. They don’t show the years of rejections, failed auditions, harsh criticism, and all the nastiness of people in every industry that an aspiring anyone must endure. All my daughter has ever seen is the red carpet, flashing bulbs of the paparazzi, screaming throngs of fans, and exorbitant wealth of the pop culture icons. I thought it would be a good learning experience for her to see the bottom rungs of a ladder that must be ascended, just to put things in perspective.
She and I had a good time with it. I enjoyed the warm receptions from many of the small businesses we encountered, and my daughter enjoyed the responsibility of picking out the perfect places for promotional material, getting it all situated to her satisfaction, and the frequent rewards that I purchased her at these venues to show our support to those joints that supported us. We were riding quite a caffeine and sugar buzz when we rolled into an establishment, and walked into a situation that I’d kind of anticipated.
It wasn’t a simple “no.” We were used to those. We'd already had a few nopes from some of the big chains with their policies, and from some mom and pop joints who kindly declined on account of lack of counter space. This was something new and different from anything my daughter had experienced.
After scrutinizing the cover artwork on my bookmarks, and then quizzing me about my background and the genres in which I worked, I received a small but sanctimonious lecture on while he normally liked to support local, he could not support any writing that fell into the horror genre. As we stood there, with the kid behind the counter glancing uncomfortably over at the situation, I was reminded of some of those bosses with whom I’d had the displeasure of working for, during my formative years, who loved to exert their perception of power over the personal lives and interests of their employees. It felt kind of like a bad job interview. Although I felt compelled to explain to this man that there are in fact lots of varieties of horror, some being far departed from the slasher variety with which he was probably associating my work, I knew that it was not worth the effort to try and change his opinion of what is a wonderfully diverse genre of writing. Instead, I simply shook his hand, and I thanked him for his time.
The door jangled shut behind us, as we walked back out into the hot, summer sun. Our caffeine and sugar high seemed to be gone. It was a different sort of sidewalk from the fun and upbeat fairway on which we’d walked in on. The mood had darkened. As we walked back to the truck, I could feel my daughter’s eyes on me. She had a wounded look on her face. I sensed her uncertainty, and her shame. Those antennas of hers were all the way up. I was being studied intently. It was one of those rare parenting moments when you intuit that permanent memories are being burnt onto their little hard drives that will be filed away forever and ever. She would remember this moment for the rest of her life.
“No biggie,” I said, putting my arm around her shoulder. “Different strokes for different folks, right?”
She nodded halfheartedly.
“You know, what happened back there reminded me a lot of all the rejections that I had to collect to get to this point, receiving all of those letters from people who didn’t want my stories. Sure, it kind of bothers you, at first. But after a while, it thickens your skin. There’s always going to be people standing in the way of your dream, and when you encounter one, you just thank them for their time and move right on. Next.” I pointed to a pizza parlor, across the street. “How about that one?” I suggested.
She glanced at me, with a bit of that twinkle returning to her eyes. “Okay,” she replied.
There, we were met with a warm and welcoming reception. The owner was thrilled to support me. Yeah, I’ll be going back there, soon enough, to treat my family to some terrific pizza—but I doubt that I'll ever be dropping by for a cup of coffee, on the other side of that two-way street that is local support.