Sold one “Schiz.”
The buyer was an 80-something woman, in town from the Upper West Side (“near Lincoln Center”) for a grandson’s bar mitzvah. The book was for her son, a physicist at UCB. She had me sign it, with maternal pride, for “Dr. D____ R____.” She was at the next table in the café and explained that she believed “in omens,” but what omen had led her to select this book from my others was kept to herself.
All other news was about “I Will Keep You Alive.”
Even though it is not officially for sale, we decided it would be kosher to sell copies to people who hadn’t come to the launch but would have bought it there if they had. So we moved another half-dozen – and gave one to the fellow who designed our invitation. (The one exception was the sale Adele made in the health club locker room to a woman from out of town, who overheard her discussing it and found the topic irresistible since she had been born with a heart defect left undiagnosed until she was 25.)
Responses have ranged from raves to people who found the subject too anxiety producing. One woman flagged us down in a parking lot to thank us for our “contribution.” An e-mailer called the story “terrifying and deeply moving.” Then there was the woman who said, while passing my table, “I started your book” – and kept moving.
“And…?” I called after her.
“And then I started having chest pains.”
One couple has thought enough of the book to recommend it to several book stores, all of whom then ordered multiple copies. Which made me wonder what the distributor’s sales representatives had been up to. It also embarrassed me enough to raise the subject with the Berkeley Public Library.
“Are you giving us this copy?” the clerk said.
“No. I want you to order it.”
She showed me a form to fill out.
This week it was all about the “I Will Keep You Alive” Launch.
By all accounts the party was a great success. We drew a SRO crowd of about 70 and sold about 40 books. (Many people attended in couples and some already had copies.) (“Fabulous,” “Beautiful,” “Courageous,” “Intense and intimate,”early readers have said.) Everyone was someone we knew personally or was a friend of someone we knew. (In other words, our FB notices drew zero. So much for the power of the Internet.) All pockets of my life were represented but one. Lawyers basketball guys, the café and health club and Mended Hearts. (Unrepresented was the comix world. You know how shy those folks are.) Demography-wise, 94% of the attendees were over 60 and white.
The five best reasons people gave for not attending were: (1) I had a book group meeting. (Book unspecified.); (2) I went to a reading by a friend at UC. (Author unspecified); (3) A five-way tie between “You mean it was last night? I thought it was today” (Two people), “You mean it was Wednesday. I thought it was Friday), and “I thought it was in April.”; (4.) “My wife’s cousin came in unexpectedly from New York”; and (5) “S____’s mother died.” [Then there are those who have not even acknowledged there was an event to which they had been invited, including two who asked multiple times when and where it would be. The customs and behavior of human beings, even to someone my age, remain of interest.]
One fellow who hadn’t come asked if the prevailing mood in the room had been one of “empathy.” Adele agreed that was so. “Everyone had similar experiences in their lives – or worries about future ones.” I suggested “love” and “terror” too. It was present in small doses in the portion we read [pp. 8 – 13 (top)] and came across more strongly in the questions and discussions that followed.
I should admit that I spent a lot of time in my head afterward going over the people who’d said they would be there and weren’t, and the people who did not buy a book. Then about 4:30 a.m., it dawned on me, What about “gratitude”? What about “forgiveness”? That seemed a better way to carry on, and I have had it by the handle since.
P.S. Two days later, a second cousin e-mailed that IWKYA was #1 in an Amazon category. What category, I wondered. Best book by septugenarian Jewish couple?
Nope. I found it at “Heart Disease.” But in two hours it had dropped to #9.
Which wasn’t bad, considering it won’t be on sale for 10 days.
In other news…
The editor of the university press book to which I had been proposed by the authors to write the introduction has replied, “It would be nice to have someone like him.”
Someone like me! That’s the nicest thing anyone in mainstream media has said in years.
Gave away two “Best Rides” and a “Fully Armed” though. The BRs went to the cartoonist and writer whose collaboration I’ve been asked to introduce. (See previous “Adventure.”) The writer had generously sent me his book from which the story to be adapted had been taken, and the cartoonist had been the one to suggest me for the gig. (He got the FA because we’d long admired each others’ work, and he needed it to complete his “Levin” shelf.)
My “business” did bring one surprising visitor to my table. youang woman looking over “The Schiz,” which was not that surprising, but when I asked “Wanna buy a book?” she said she already had it. It turned “had” did not mean “own” but that she’d obtained it from the man from whom she is renting. (Who he is or how he got his copy remains a mystery.) She has been here seven from months from Turkey, studying at Berkeley City College, sharpening her English. She says once she finishes the book she is reading, she will read mine. That will be a response to which I look forward.
Also a friend just back from Ashland, reports that, on his and his wife’s recommendation, Bloomsbury Books has ordered THREE copies of “I Will Keep You Alive.” My gratitude to it and them.
Finally, a previous customer (“Cheesesteak) stopped by to say his 16-year-old son, an aspiring screenwriter, loved it too. I invited them both to IWKYA’s launch party, at which the boy may be the only guest under 50.
In other news…
Well maybe this is marketing too, but…
At the suggestion of another friend, I stopped by the cardio-rehab facility I had passed through in 2011 to leave announcements of the launch, figuring current enrollees would find the book of interest. While there, I ran into a nurse from my time. (Only one other I knew remained, the others, she said, having “got old.”) She and I had “met” when I was in a coma in the ICU, just before she transferred after 20 years there to rehab. We had a lovely chat about health and life and things. She doubted she could make the party but the other nurse I knew might. I promised to give each a copy of the book, in which she appears. on p. 111, under another name.
As for the launch (FINAL NOTICE: March 20, 7:30 p.m., Berkeley Espresso, SW cor. Shattuck & Hearst), attendance continues to grow, despite a couple cancellations. One fellow will be out-of-town. The other, expressing his regrets at missing the affair in a sort-of “On the whole, I’d rather be in Philadelphia” vein, will be having a camera stuck inside him to take pictures of his penis. “Sounds like an invasion of privacy,” I said. “And I really don’t want to see those films on Facebook.”
No sales in either café.
But two checks in POB for IWKYA, one from an old pal from my pick-up basketball days, one from a fellow who left Berkeley decades ago for a town outside Philly.
(Also a promise of purchase, which I normally wouldn’t report, but it’s from a second cousin who’s a regular reader of these tales, and I promised him a salute.)
In other news…
In one of those events which can leave you wondering why you engage in this business, I was informed that “Cheesesteak” had sold so few copies, it had failed to offset the distributor’s costs, and I might never see a check. Costs? Who knew distributors had costs? I have been promised further information.
Offsetting this for my ego – if not my checking account balance – was an invitation to write the introduction to a collaboration between a cartoonist/philosopher correspondent-buddy and a novelist of undisputable colorful (at minimum) cult status which is to be published by an actual university press. They need a “bridge” between the literary and comix communities and aim to propose me to the editor as their guy. Totally flattered and totally on board if it materializes.
Then on a whim, I checked to see if any libraries had stocked my recent works. I was astounded to see “The Schiz” was in a dozen, including Penn, Columbia and UC Berkeley, and, while “Cheesesteak” was only in three, one was Stanford and one The National Library of Israel, my first appearance in the entire middle east.
Finally, fare has been set for the launch party at Berkeley Espresso. (See earlier “Adventures” for details.) We will provide pastries, fruit, cheese. Beverages will be on the guests. Concern has expressed about the sufficiency of parking, seating, places to hang coats, but my attitude is more like “Hey, it’s not a fucking bar mitzvah!”
Sold three books at the cafe(s) and received one check in the POB.
(Must be the benefit of the tax cut.)
The check was from a cartoonist/writer and was for “I Will Keep You Alive.” Copies, by the way, should ship this week.
The first sale was of a “Schiz.” It went to an UG-connected woman who’d sent me a correction for “Pirates & Mouse” after it came out and with whom I became FB-“friends.” When I saw there she was in Berkeley, I invited her to drop by. Usually I give “trigger warnings” about this book, but after a couple minutes conversation, I turned straight to Shary Flenniken’s illustration for her. (She’d been a pal of Dori Seda’s, so I sent her a gift “Outlaws, Rebels…” too.)
A couple days later, I sold a “Cheesesteak” to a guy who’s been a café regular longer than me, but with extended absences due to his work – computers, I think – which often take him abroad. We rarely talk, but he was jet-lag wired after flying in from Sweden. “Philadelphia,” he said. “I had two car batteries stolen there in 24 hours.” That got us started. When he got to my opinion of cheesesteaks, I read the first sentence, which sealed the deal.
My third sale was my most astonishing ever. I had a five-book display, instead of my usual and noticed a young woman (20? 21?) in a hijab looking at them. My God, I thought, what do I have she would not find blasphemous? Luckily, she chose “Cheesesteak,” which contains nothing I would think X-rated. Usually men and women, even if much younger, connect to this book, but I imagined our backgrounds were w-a-a-a-y different.” (She is Bay Area born, but her parents are from Yemen.) “I really hope you’ll tell me what you think,” I said.
I have to say, my old liberal family-of-man feelings were touched.
In other news…
1.) Received my 2018 royalty statement from my old publisher. “The drinks – I mean, the drink – is on me.” I said.
2.) “Best Ride” has made it onto the Authors’ Shelf in the café. (It was delayed because the manager was reading – and liking – it.)
3.) Attendance for the launch party grows. Discuss eats/drinks with the café owner.
No sales. (Not even a check in the POB from those who had promised one.)
I did have a visitor to my table pick up a “Schiz.” She had dyed black hair – maybe not her own (or maybe I’ve been watching too much “Shtisel”) – and had fled where she had been sitting because another woman had been “staring daggers” at her. She was impressed I had a cover quote from R. Crumb, but mainly, she said, she had been interested in my attire (khaki sport jacket over black sweat shirt, jeans, and cowboy hat). “Very GQ,” she said.
For the record, I did not feel sexually harassed.
In other news…
The meeting with the Russian publisher (See previous Adventure) is set. (Expect “glacial” progress, Mary cautions.) And Adele and I have been invited to pitch IWKYA to the Oakland Mended Hearts chapter to which I belong at its monthly meeting which I have never attended.
And despite three people thinking our launch party had already occurred and one thinking it is to be at a place it isn’t (seemingly representative problems with members of our core demographic) and other invitees already committed to Baja and Yosemite and one fellow who doesn’t like books about illness-and-recovery (“Would you prefer I didn’t recover?” I said. “Wait for the sequel.”), we expect to crack the 50-person barrier. (May have to order more cheese dip and Ritz Crackers.) One fellow is inviting his entire book group.
Finally, one of my biggest kicks from writing comes when when something I’ve written long ago clicks with someone in the here-and-now. This just happened with a piece I wrote over a decade ago about the comic book artist Alex Toth. An artist/critic whose work and writing I admire tells me he will be teaching this piece in his course at SVA. I see two angles. Toth was a magnificent artist – and a miserable human being. And his magnificent artistry was put in service of stories that were anything but. My money is on the second.
Sold one “Cheesesteak.”
Well, not exactly a new “sale.” More a consummation of an old one.
Remember that fellow who didn’t have cash when I couldn’t get my Square to work? The other day he was driving by the café, spotted me through the window, dashed in, and paid. (He loved the book, too.)
Restored (partially) my faith in mankind.
In other news…
RSVPs to the launch party for IWKYA put the attendees at over 40. (Friends and cafe-mates predominate. Those from my law and comix world are under-represented at this writing.)
REMEMBER: Berkeley Espresso. SW cor. Shattuck & Hearst. March 20, 7:30 pm. (A retired rabbi has regrettably declined, this being the start of Purim. Who knew?)
AND a publisher in Moscow has asked if Russian language rights are available. We due-diligenced via Wikipedia, and it seems legit, the only rap against it being its soft-on-Stalinism line. (Sample Title: “Beria: Best Manager of the 20th Century.” Seriously.) Anyway, our people (Mary) hope to meet their people (Tatiana) at the London Book Fair.
Three expressions of interest; three cards given out; zero expectations.
The first was a 20ish, slim, dark haired woman with rings on most fingers. A first grade teacher, she drove a red mini-Cooper. Her name was Emerald.
“These are emeralds,” I said, pointing at my newest bracelet.
“So are these,” she said, pointung at a ring.
The second and third were part of a family in town from Cincinnati for a bat mitzvah. The first was an octogenarian grandfather: tall and stooped; bald; with glasses and a hearing aid; a black-suited ex-real estate developer.
“This one has a chapter on my bar mitzvah,” I said, pointing at “Cheesesteak.” “One of the worst experiences of my life.”
“I don’t doubt it,” he said.
He picked up “The Schiz.” “I don’t think it’s my…”
“It’s not most people’s.”
The third was a grey-haired grand(?)aunt. I told her I had spoken with a grandfather.
“The tall one or the short one?” she said.
She didn’t pick up either of my books. But when I mentioned two of our friends from Cincinnati, she knew both their families.
There must not be a lot of Jews there.
In other news…
This thing I’m writing… It is fiction and non-fiction and investigative autobiography and what passes for poetry. An important character keeps shifting from male to female on me. Either it is going to be something or I am wasting a lot of time.
Finally, to those of you – actually only one of you – who RSVP’d to the launch party, we may be changing the date. Stay tuned.
But two strong expressions of interest.
The first was a fiftyish fellow – grey hair, zipper jacket, khakis.
“Existential sports novel,” I said. “True crime, essays, black comedy, memoir. Five-to-fifteen dollars. Something for every pocket book.”
“I like the fact you’re self-promoting,” he said. “I take it you have a web site.”
I handed him my card. “I also view this as performance art. I write it up each week on my blog. Maybe you will read about yourself.”
“Let me get back to you,” he said. “I can try a little harder.”
He headed up Hearst toward the university.
The second was younger – ginger beard, quilted jacket, jeans. He was German, had worked at the rad Lab for six years, loved Berkeley, and was back visiting friends.
“Really cool,” he said, “but I have to run.”
He asked if I would be in the café tomorrow.
Neither man has been heard from since.
If they were victims of a serial killer and I was the only thing to connect them, would I be the primary suspect?
In other news…
One of the cafes where I hang has erected shelves on which author-customers can display the work. But four authors – some of whom, I thought, channeling my inner Norman Mailer, can not hold my jock strap – have put up multiple books, leaving no room for anyone else.
When I offered the manager “Best Ride,” after laughing at my photo on the back cover and flashing it around (“Look ar Mr. LEV-in”), he promised to add shelving.
And I have pulled out of two comic-related articles I’d said I would write, both of which were virtually guaranteed publication and small checks, primarily because I could think of nothing interesting or challenging to say and plunged deeper into this story with uncertain but stimulating possibilities. Stay tuned
But mailed a gift “Cheesesteak” to a younger cousin with whom I’d had no contact in over 50 years before connecting through FB. Although the entire family convened every Thanksgiving and Passover, I could not recall ever saying two sentences to her. (She put the actual number of words exchanged between us at zero.) Now I know about two marriages, a few children, two careers, and a 1000 mile relocation; and she has my book. If she likes it, she will recommend it to her reading group. (If she’s reading this, I can offer a group discount.)
And speaking of liking my book, the other morning Adele and I stepped out of the café, and a fellow on a bike said, “Bob? I loved your book. ‘Beefsteak.’ Awesome.”
“‘Cheesesteak,’” I said.
He shook his head. “I’m 15 years younger than you. From Jersey. But it was great.”
“Remind me again of your name.”
He told me. “I haven’t read your other one yet. I’m reading ‘Big Rock Candy Mountain.’”
“Stegner?” I said.
“Stegner. But when I’m done… I’m sending your book to my father. He’s older but… It’s great.”
“Anyone who’s ever had an adolescence,” I said.
Celebrity. It’s like you can’t walk down the street.
In other news…
Over lunch, Michael told me he had pre-ordered “I Will Keep You Alive” from his friendly neighborhood corporate behemoth trying to take over the world.
“You are costing me money,” I said.
“I’m trying to create buzz,” he said.
“You can come to the launch party anyway,” I said.
March 21. Berkeley Espresso. 7:30 p.m. RSVP.