Adventures in Marketing: Week 171

No sales.
The closest was the fellow who showed interest in my books (“You wrote these?”) but seemed challenged to come up with enough for a cup of coffee.
Then there was the 80-something ex-therapist who said he’d buy “I Will Keep You Alive” once he’d read his stack of other books and “New Yorkers” and sections of the “New York Times’ “if I am still around.”
I know the feeling.

In other news…
1.) The painter/teacher (See previous “Adventure”) e-mailed he “LOVED” “Cheesesteak.”
2.) A woman at the health club told Adele her husband enjoyed IWKYA so much he read portions of it to her aloud. (Who he is and how he got it is unknown.)
3.) My tcj.com piece about Casanova Frankenstein drew limited but high quality – two fine novelists, two edgy cartoonists – praise.

Addendum
Sometimes, when I ask myself why I continue writing, I recall the Iranian woman who told me that the Koran instructs our full measure is only taken when the Book of Life has closed on the last of us. With the Internet, you can be regularly surprised by whom a ripple you have cast has reached. Some decades ago, I wrote a piece about a B-movie actress of the 1950s, and since then I have regularly heard from others, including her nephew, who Googled her name.
One of these, a woman in Georgia, sent me links to films in which the actress appeared besides the one which had interested me. We remained in correspondence for a year or two until she fell silent, and I learned little about her, except that she wrote e-books for the Christian bondage market.
This week she sent me an e-mail which stated she was unemployed, hoped to begin a state-run job training program but until then was asking all her friends to Pay Pal her $1.
This request stabbed my heart.
“Why,” I asked, “$1?”
“Because,” she replied, “to most people it’s trivial. But to me it seems something.”
I doubt it meant more to her than this exchange meant to me.

The Purpose of Shittiness

Here’s the link to my latest article: http://www.tcj.com/the-purpose-of-shittiness/

It begins:

I can’t think of another one-page story – and I’m a guy who’s read “The Complete Lydia Davis” – with more concentrated truth or – okay, queasy-making – laughs than “Why Comics Are Better Than Films,” on page 2 of Casanova Frankenstein’s “In the Wilderness” (FU Press. 2019).
Here’s the thesis, delivered by a single character roughly resembling the author, in nine panels straight to the viewer. In a movie, bite off a dog’s penis, or lick the seat of a filthy toilet bowl, or fling a baby against a wall, you catch flak from an animal rights group, or risk fatal disease, or get busted for snuffing an infant. But in comics… ART!

Adventures in Marketing: Week 170

[Author’s Note: Since last week’s “Adventure” was devoted to “Dane,” I have covered two weeks of less momentous – and less entertaining – encounters here.]
Adele sold two “I Will Keep You Alive” at the health club. The first was to a practical stranger who’d heard her discussing it in the locker room. The second was to a couple who had been unable to attend our reading because of preparations for the four-day (Iranian) wedding of their daughter.
I sold a “Cheesesteak” to a painter/teacher/A’s fan at the café – and gave him a “Best Ride” after he’d noted a fondness for Pat’s (“Bat’s”, therein), developed when he and his ex-wife lived in Princeton.
I also gave a “Cheesesteak” to the poet who’d recently revealed himself as coming from near Philly.
Then there was the fellow at the club who told me how much he’d enjoyed our reading. This is a fellow who goes to many readings.
“How many copies did you buy?” I said. I already knew the answer and had been holding it against him.
He explained he has terrible insomnia and can only read light, amusing fiction. Plus, he’d had his own M.I. and pace-maker, and his partner’d had open heart surgery. That was enough. “But you and Adele were truly wonderful.”
I felt such a lout.

In other news…
1.) I sent my article on Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Tour and the resultant books (3) and films (2) to “First of the Month.”
2.) I sent a short story to a literary journal for the first time in 30 years. This journal notes receptivity to “systemically silenced” writers: people of color, immigrants, the queer and trans, the disabled, the fat. I am hoping my heart qualifies as a disability. (I have parking placard documentation from the DMV should anyone ask.) Or maybe the fact that Adele had registered at this journal from our shared email address previously, so that while I registered as “Bob,” it replied to “Adele,” may get me in the trans- door.
3.) I heard from Hollywood – well, the Mission District. A documentary maker is working on a film about a cartoonist, where an article I wrote 15-years ago remains the definitive work. I love meeting with film makers. (This is my eighth.) It is always exciting. Twice, I even saw money. (Not much). Once, cameras rolled. (Not for long.) So I brushed up on options and floors and ceilings and recalled the producer who said, “You know how it works. I tell you how much I love your work. Then you never hear from me again.”
I got lunch – and the buzz – and promised full cooperation.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 169

This guy came into the café looking for Spiro, who had been his best friend for 40 years but was no longer talking to him. He explained this in great detail to the barrista, who said Spiro wouldn’t be in for an hour. The fellow said he’d wait. Then he told his story to a couple other people in about as much detail before he reached me. “D’you know Spiro?” he said,
“Maybe,” I said. Like a lot of people came in named Spiro.
He was about the size of a silo. He’d hired a woodchuck for a beard. He’d rented spades for hands and was missing an eye. He wore a fedora off some scarecrow, an Indian trader’s coat, a vest from a prehistoric pig, an American flag scarf.
“You write all these?” he said to my books.
“Yup,” I said.
“What’s this one about?”
I told him.
He told me about his father’s quadruple by-pass and the 10 years of hell that followed. He told me about being Italian, Irish, Jewish, Cajun… About when his family’d owned half of Contra Costa County. About them killing Indians and buffalo and cows.
“They killed cows?” I said.
He told me about playing harmonica with Elvin Bishop and getting hit in the head by an iron pipe but mot getting hurt because he’d learned how to fall when he’d studied karate with a sumo wrestler at 14. “What’s that one about?” he said.
I told him.
He told me about his years playing center and his deal with the maker of Mick Jagger’s boots and his scourings of flea markets and antiques shows and garage sales with and without Spiro, and how he’d been the biggest estate liquidator in NorCal and wanted to quit but all his friends were of the age where they wanted him to handle theirs. He told me his name was Dane or Great Dane or Real Deal Dane and said he was bi-polar.
We still had four books to go, when he admired my bracelets and asked if I’d trade books for jewelry. My last bi-polar customer had given everyone in the café a Meyer lemon from her tree, bought four of my books, and taken eight from the Free Book shelf. After I’d learned she was bi-polar, I thought of giving back her money. But I never saw her again.
“Which one?” I said.
“All of them,” he said.
Now I was in that café, instead of the other one, because, the day before, another fellow’d wanted two of my books but hadn’t the cash and said, “Will you be here tomorrow?” I was curious about this fellow because, one, he was African-American, and I don’t sell to many African-Americans, and, two, he he’d wanted “The Schiz” and “Most Outrageous,” and it takes a rare sensibility to choose “The Schiz” from my books, and I sell about as many “MO”s as I have African-American buyers because of you know, the subject (“Timely,” this fellow’d said); so I’d said I would.
But he hadn’t shown, and six-in-a-bi-polar’s-hands being worth two in an intriguing bush… “Sure,” I said to Dane.
He said he’d get his stuff from his car.

I waited…
And the other fellow arrived.
He was a CFO from Cleveland, it turned out, settling in his daughter, who had a full-ride PhD fellowship to UC. I gave him my card, so he could tell me what he thought.
By the time we were done, Dane was sitting curbside, two trays of jewelry before him – and Spiro was sitting near me. “Stay away from that guy, Bob,” he said, when he saw where I was headed.
“But we’re doing business,” I said.
Dane seemed undisturbed that my stock had diminished by a third. I picked a flat-linked titanium-and-brass (or copper) bracelet. I have no idea what he would have sold it for or what he paid for it. But he had no idea what I paid for my books and only some idea for what I sold them. We exchanged cards too.
“Lemme see that,” Spiro said, when I got back. He narrow-eyed it, then nodded like I had been treated fair.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 168

Sold an “I Will Keep You Alive” to 80-ish retired architect at the café. He’d had heart problems since childhood, seen another regular reading it, and bought it on his recommendation.
Sold another to a flea market antique dealer whom I’ve known since pick-up basketball days. I guess my presence at the café wore him down. (His problem’s been prostate cancer.)
Sold a Cheesesteak to a retired math professor. (No health problems there that I know of.)
Gave one of those to a journalist-turned-attorney I first met in college. He wants to give it to friends who are moving from Oakland to Philly. (Eight stents for him.)
And a fellow in New Zealand said he would order an IWKYA as soon as he had some money in his Pay Pal account
But in my most interesting interaction, no book – or promise – changed hands. Ida, a tall, white-haired woman, explained she was occupied reading Gail Collins’s latest. When I agree Collins was a fine writer, she sat down. We exchanged where-we-were-from’s and how-we-got-here- when’s. On her side it was Minnesota in ‘65, because she’d “had a brown daughter” with her blues drummer husband, and figured the Bay Area would be a better environment.
She looked longest at my and Adele’s book, but, she said, she’d been a nurse “keeping people alive for 50 years and wasn’t ready for another story about that. She was caring for three people now and “just lost a younger brother to Viet Nam. I hate was but I love veterans. You can’t send people off at 19 to kill and expect them to come back. He never did.”

In other news…
Our Books, Inc. reading was a success. We drew many more people (40) than we’d expected, including one ex-client and several strangers, and sold 10 books. That was less than we hoped but pleased the Events Co-ordinator who said that, no matter how famous (or unknown) the author or large (or small) the crowd, one-person-in-four will buy a book. So we were right on the O/U – and the bookies made out like bandits.

COMING ATTRACTION: Wait’ll you see what I’ve already got in the bag for next week!!!

Adventures in Marketing: Week 167

First let me descibe the café. (Actually there are two cafes, but in these reports I merge them.) Anyway, I sit at one of its two long tables, which can comfortably seat three on each side and one at each end. Usually I have it to myself. I sit on the center chair on the side facing east, with my lap top and legal pads in front of me, my display and “Buy Bob’s Books” sign to their left facing north. I think of it as “my” table, but I am willing to share.
Thursday, Adele came with me. A Chinese woman who never stays long and with whom I have a nod “Hello” relationship was sitting at the table’s south end, and a man I’d never seen before sat across from my customary seat but to my left. He had a short white beard, a zippered wind breaker, a ball cap of undecipherable inscription. He was on a lap top; his back pack was on the center chair; there was no third chair.
Adele, who likes to face me, asked him to move his pack.
He told her to get a chair from another table.
Not a gentlemanly response, I thought. But I’d had a spat the day before with a fellow outside the Cheeseboard who took offense when I got too close while tacking up a poster advertising Adele’s and my reading. That was enough aggression for one week, so I let it slide, except to nudge his water bottle back across the mid-line when I laid out my books.
Adele – noisily – dragged over a chair. We did our work and went to my cardiology appointment.

Friday, I had the table to myself.
But after I’d been there 45-minutes the fellow arrived. He took the same chair and put his back pack on the chair to his right. I moved my books back across the mid-line toward me. We both did what we did in silence until I was preparing to leave when he said, “Bob, do you write screenplays?”
I said I did not and asked if he did.
He said he did not but had an idea which he wanted someone to develop into one.
I said that would probably be expensive and recommended Syd Field’s book on the subject.
He then asked me which of my books was funniest.
That was a new question. I didn’t have a ready answer, so I described each of them. iefly.
He became most interested in “The Schiz.” He asked if the Berkeley Public Library had it. (He said he could not buy it because he did not own a bookcase.)
“Let’s see,” I said.
I googled, and not only did they not have it, they seemed to have de-acquisitioned the books of mine they used to have. (Their goes their charitable donation, I thought.)
Then I checked Worldcat to find the closest library which had it. UC Berkeley won. (Also the LA Public, and five other libraries in the U.S.)
He took a picture of the cover and said he would ask the public library to order it. Then he asked me if I’d read “Anna Karenina.”
I said I had.
“Is it good?” he said.
“It’s better than mine,” I said.
“Can you recommend one that’s shorter?” he said.
“Most of the Russians are pretty long,” I said. “But I know people who think highly of Chekhov’s short stories.”
“Short stories are probably a good idea,” he said.
I gave him a flyer for the reading. He was unlikely to buy an “I Will Keep You Alive,” not having a book case and all; but we wanted to fill the chairs, and, with his backpack, he seemed good for two..

In other news…
1.) Taking the advice of the café’s in-house design consultant for enhancing visibility, we sunk a few bucks into color photocopies of our flyer and replaced the black-and-white ones we’d posted previously.
2.) Word has reached us of a second forthcoming review, this one in the monthly newsletter of the Atlanta chapter of Mended Hearts. (“Terrific story,” the reviewer leaked to me.)
3. ) But a dyspeptic writer/friend said he stopped reading IWKYA because “…it got too happy.”

REMINDER: See/hear Bob & Adele Live. Books, Inc., 1491 Shattuck Berkeley, August 6, 7:00. PM.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 166

Just when it seemed I would go a week without one, up stepped a curly haired young man in a t-shirt on which were two mushrooms which could have come from the studio of Vaughn Bode.
“Which one costs least?” he said.
I pointed at “Best Ride.” “My first one.”
“Because it’s the oldest?”
“Because I have boxes of unsold copies.”
He settled on “Cheesesteak.” He wanted something ‘60s flavored for his father, born in ‘47 in Great Neck, five years and 90 miles from me, but it should fit.
While he helped me work my Square. I asked if he wrote, a question I often put to customers.
“Off and on.” But mainly he was art director for a new Berkeley free paper.
I perked up. “Hey, maybe, you can review my new book. My wife and I are reading at Books, Inc.”
He said he would discuss it with his editor. Maybe a review. Maybe a plug. Maybe an interview with this character who sits in a café peddling his books.
It was all okay with me. Cracks in the media black out were appearing. I sensed how Dalton Trumbo felt when asked to write “Spartacus.”

In other news…
Nine days until the aforementioned reading. August 6. 7:00 p.m. 1491 Shattuck.
We have posted flyers in two cafes, and spread them on tables at the health club. Adele put one on the club’s on-line message board, and I just tacked one outside the Cheese Board.
One person has reported seeing our poster in Books, Inc.’s window.
So tell your friends.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 165

Gave a “Schiz” to a fellow who had previously bought several books from me.
Gave an IWKYA to a woman who… (Well, see below.)
Oh, Wayne, the homeless guy who bought a “Schiz”, (See previous “Adventure”) came up to my table in the café holding a crumpled bill. “Sir,” he said, “I owe you $5.”
“Forget it,” I said. “We’re square.”
“You’re sure?” he said.
“Sure,” I said. “Any friend of Duncan’s…”
“Well, thanks,” he said. “I’ve started it. It’s going. You have an active mind.”
We were both pleased.

In other news…
1.) I went to Books, Inc. to introduce myself and show support for its having scheduled Adele and I for a reading. (FRIENDLY REMINDER: August 6, 7:00 p.m., 1491 Shattuck (at Vine). It seemed to have sold one IWKYA – and stocked two “Cheesesteak”s.
I brought the new Jackson Brodie novel and two greeting cards (one birthday; one get-well) to the counter. “My wife and I are going to be reading here,” I said.
“Bob Levin,” said the young man taking my VISA card. “I’ve read one of your books.”
“‘Cheesesteak’?” I said.
“The one about the Air Pirates,” he said.
It was the first time, literary-wise, outside of the comic book world, my name had meant something.
2.) It looks like IWKYA may be reviewed.
The woman (See above), who is editor of a journal on women’s studies, was visiting a mutual friend and picked up our book and was knocked out by it.
“You ought to review it,” she told our friend.
The review is done. The focus is “strong women,” Adele and “Dr. Fleur.”
The next journal is devoted to Mary McMcarthy, and we may be the following issue.

Joe and Me

I just found out I played high school football against Joe Biden. (We murdered ’em.)

I was reading “The New Yorker” profile of Hunter (the “bad” son), which said he and Beau had followed their father to Archmere Academy. I had practically forgotten Archmere was regularly on our schedule, but, I figured, even though the media had Joe as “old” and practically in his dotage, while I was, as far as I could tell, vital and wise, maybe we overlapped. So I Googled him.

Sure enough, Wikipedia has him born November 1942, which means he should have graduated in 1960 like me (DOB: March ’42); but, for some reason, he was Class of ’61. Wiki said he was a star halfback, who, as a senior, led a perennially awful team to an undefeated season. (Could be. I didn’t check further but I remember they had a good QB, and that extra year’s growth must have helped Joe.)

Anyway, I’ve asked teammates if any wish to go public with recollections of his having groped them in pile-ups. I figure that would derail his campaign and give my gal Liz a leg up.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 164B

Sold an “I Will Keep You Alive” to my former secretary.
Swapped a “Schiz” to a lawyer/poet in exchange for his new collection.
Sold an “IWKYA,” a “Best Ride,” and a “Most Outrageous” to a lawyer from Sacramento who comes to the café when he is in town visiting his grandchildren. He is originally from Philly and, after buying a “Cheesesteak” for himself, bought five to send to friends. (I would have sold him a “Schiz” too, but I hadn’t put another in my bag since selling one to to Wayne. See: “Adventures in Marketing: Week 164A”)

Another morning a fellow was giving all my books a favorable once-over, but I couldn’t engage him in scintillating patter because I was occupied by Knut. I knew of Knut – and he of me – because he had occupied Adele similarly when she had taken a stab at selling our book in a different café several weeks earlier.
Knut, a thirtyish, Norwegian-born snowboarder and real estate developer, had been excited to meet Adele – and now me – because he too had suffered serious bodily injury. Eighteen months before he had fallen at Alpine, suffering a concussion, his third. Whereas, one might say, my injuries had left with no sequelae any more peculiar – or obvious – than sitting in cafes selling books I had written, Knut’s had left him with the inability to stop talking. His conversation was friendly, bright, engaging – and unceasing.
On and on he went. On and on and on. About meeting Adele. About the cover of our book. About the flyer announcing our upcoming reading. Analyzing the text: “Alive” and “Romance” and “Doing Everything Right.” He explained concussions: the physical mechanics; the neurological aspects; the brain rattling back and forth within the skull. He reported on the concussion-sufferers support group he had walked out of because he was so much more fortunate than the woman upon whom the air conditioning unit had fallen.
Much of this I already knew from Adele. I also knew that, no matter how long he talked, he would not buy a book.
Nevertheless, I thought, Compassion. Reduce suffering.
I also thought that, if he came to the reading and raised his hand, I would not call upon him for a question – and whatever that brought with it – unless he showed me a receipt as proof of purchase..

In other news…
1.) I’ve basically sold out of “The Schiz” and have ordered a box from its distributor. (I’m also almost out of “Outlaws, Rebels…” and have been buying used copies on-line to sell as “previously owned.”)
2.) We’ve printed out flyers announcing our Books, Inc. reading. [AUTHOR’S NOTE: August 6, 7:00 PM, 1491 Shattuck, Berkeley.] I’ve posted one at the café and left a few on a table at the health club. I’ve also handed some out. The first person said, “I’m teaching a class that night. Maybe my wife will come.” The second said, “I’ll be on the east coast.” The third said, “‘A Cardiovascular Romance.’ I love Romance Novels.”
3. I have also received free advice. One person said I should punch up the copy. “I died twice; yet here I am,” he suggested. The second said we should focus on the “we” of the group, not the “I” of us. The key words, he said, were “sharing,” “relationship,” “spirit,” and “love.” I said we had most of that covered.

[FURTHER AUTHOR’S NOTE: All of Bob’s books – even the pre-owned ones – are available from this very website.]