Thursday, May 30, 2013

Autographed Copy

When It Started with Dracula was published, I ordered a pack of 1,000 circular stickers that bore an image of a fountain pen (you remember those) and the words “Autographed Copy” to use during my book signings. They came twenty to a sheet, and in the last year and a half I’ve probably used…well, let’s just say it isn’t time to reorder.
The other day I was browsing through a tome I’d ordered from England. One of the two authors had started his own publishing company, and this title was the company’s first. He had signed my book before personally wrapping it for shipping to the United States. I know this because the handwriting on the package matched the signature on the title page.
It made me think: How many signed books did I own, and how had I come by them all?
I looked through my bookcase and pulled the books I thought had been signed by the authors. My idea was to label each of them with an “Autographed Copy” sticker so they could be easily identified in the future; after all, I had stickers to spare. The stack was about ten inches high; seventeen books.
An author picks up autographed copies at conferences and book fairs by meeting other authors or hearing them speak. I have a personalized copy of Rick Bragg’s memoir, All Over but the Shoutin’ because I was present in 2009 when he accepted the Harper Lee Award for being named Alabama’s Distinguished Author of the Year.
The seating arrangement often influences whom we meet and what books we buy. Last fall I was excited to obtain a copy of the werewolf novel Bestial signed by William D. Carl, whose signing table at a book fair was two rows behind mine. That same day I skipped Gillian Flynn’s table because I was counting my pennies and chose not to buy her best-seller, Gone Girl, in hardcover.
Professional affiliations can bring us books from authors who become our friends. My collection includes signed copies of Bram Stoker Award winner Michael Knost’s compilation Writers Workshop of Horror, Lee Maynard’s novel The Pale Light of Sunset, and G. Cameron Fuller’s chiller Full Bone Moon, all because of our affiliation with West Virginia Writers, Inc.
Several dear, long-time friends have signed their books for me. Anita Skeen, whom I met in college, is a wonderful writer who has published five books of poetry. Former newspaper columnist Ina Hughs signed my copy of A Sense of Human at a conference. Catherine Watson, who writes stunning travel essays, mentored me online as I was writing the Dracula book. I gladly buy their books and, when possible, attend their readings.
Through Anita I was introduced to the poet Andrew Hudgins, whose American Rendering is among my signed copies; but this isn’t a chronicle of the famous. I also have autographed copies of books whose authors may never make it. I may never make it. We don’t always know who will and who won’t.
Sometimes we find autographed copies by accident. Once in a Barnes & Noble I opened a Willie Nelson memoir to find the author’s signature. I didn’t buy the book, but I did buy the Writer’s Digest publication 2011 Guide to Literary Agents, which happened to be signed by WD Editor Chuck Sambuchino with the generic inscription “Good luck!”
If I treasure a signed copy, it’s because the book or its author has meaning to me. The book from England is that way: “To Jane,” it says, “Best wishes.” Opening that book to Wayne Kinsey’s note was a thrill. I’ve never met the man and may not, but nobody is going to get Hammer Films on Location out of my hands.
Joe and I have signed a few copies of Mr. Joe so far and hope to sign a whole lot more once the printed version is available to the public late this summer. With luck, Mr. Sambuchino, I’ll run out of stickers.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Barbara Walters

This morning I read the story of Barbara Walters’ impending announcement that she will retire in 2014. The news was no surprise; after all, Walters is 83 years old, far past the age when most people retire. Of course, she is not like most people. Barbara Walters has made a lasting imprint on us in her 52 years of television journalism.
As I read the story, I was struck by the pattern of the quotes. I’ll isolate some for you.
BW: "I am very happy with my decision…I do not want to appear on another program or climb another mountain…"
President of ABC News: "There is only one Barbara Walters. We look forward to making her final year on television as remarkable, path-breaking and news-making as Barbara herself.”
BW: "I want instead to sit on a sunny field and admire the very gifted women—and, OK, some men, too—who will be taking my place."
ABC: "We look forward to a year befitting her brilliant career, filled with exclusive interviews, great adventures and indelible memories."
Was he even listening?
Yes, Barbara has another year to work, and maybe she and Mr. ABC News actually are on the same page, but that’s not what I got from the article. I wanted to say, “Let her alone.”
We work for a living, if we’re lucky, most of our lives. Work gives us purpose and an income. We help others by using our special talents. We take pride in our accomplishments and learn from our failures. But then the time comes to move on.
Each of us has earned the right to define our retirement, in my humble opinion. I struggle with that every day. While I don’t want to spend my days watching television quite yet (maybe never), I am no longer employed in the traditional sense. I have projects, and some of them pay, but I decide which ones to pursue. That’s the status I’ve earned.
There is a state somewhere between climbing that mountain Barbara Walters talks about and retreating to a desert island a la Howard Sprague on the old Andy Griffith Show. Howard left his clerking job in Mayberry to gaze at the ocean and run barefoot across the sand, only to find out that complete inactivity didn’t suit him. It doesn’t suit me either, but I will fight for the right of anyone to make a choice.
Everybody has to explore the options when the time comes to retire. Barbara Walters, you, me. And then we choose which mountains we want to climb.
Best wishes to Barbara. May she enjoy her transition and have many happy years of retirement.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Hell's Bells

“What are you wearing?” I asked my brother, referring to our plans for Mother’s Day. “Shouldn’t we take it up a notch from our usual attire? We might end up in a restaurant.”
Joe is the kindest brother. Every year he takes me out on Mother’s Day, knowing that my son and his family live in Atlanta. In turn, I treat Joe on Father’s Day if he is available. Both of our parents have passed on.
All of these outings deliver us to the same place: a casino. We can talk it to death, but that’s the fact.
“What time do you want to go?” Joe asked. “I like the early morning, but I want to be able to stay a while.”
Here’s the thing about casinos: You might win or you might lose, thus the term gambling. Joe and I like to go early because it's not crowded. However, if luck isn’t with us, we can be heading home before most folks have their coffee.
“Don’t you need some sandals?” I asked. “We could go to the outlet mall later.” Translation:Let’s make a backup plan in case the casino thing doesn’t go well. I don’t want to sit home all afternoon on Mother’s Day.”
This year, as noted in yesterday’s blog post, we have a mission. The day isn’t all about me. Joe and I are going to remember our mom with a toast at a slot machine called Hell’s Bells. I’m going to suggest that we put twenty dollars in the machine. That was always Mom’s gambling limit.
She was a timid player, but one time she won over two hundred dollars. We had taken a bus trip to Canada. That was back when coins were used in the slots. Mom was playing a quarter machine called Black Tie. Suddenly it got loud, loud. Quarters started pouring into the coin tray and Mom sat back, stunned at her winnings. That was fun.
The same morning I had been awake around 5:00 a.m. I looked over at Mom in the other bed and could tell that she was still sleeping. What was I going to do, stare at the ceiling? I silently dressed, left our hotel room, and headed to the gambling boat in the dark. When I next saw Mom, she let me know in no uncertain terms that I had scared her half to death when I’d vacated my bed without telling her. I don’t remember her tirade exactly, but I’d bet twenty dollars that “Hell’s bells” was part of it.
See? I was probably in my fifties and Mom was looking out for me--or trying to when I didn’t give her the slip. Thanks, Mom.
It’s time to get ready for my Mother’s Day outing. Joe will be picking me up soon. Something tells me this Hell's Bells thing will become a tradition.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

"And Here's to..."

My brother and I are going gambling on Mother’s Day, as we do on many holidays in the absence of traditional family gatherings. On Sunday we’re going to find and play a slot machine called Hell’s Bells in honor of Mom. “Hell's bells” is something our mother used to say when she bitched, for instance, “Hell's bells! How long do we have to sit in this waiting room?”
Would Mom like our tribute? I think she would; in her later years she enjoyed the gambling casinos, where she would play the slots and smoke Pall Mall unfiltered cigarettes until she reached her spending limit of twenty dollars.
Mom died in 2008 at age 89. For most of her life, she was…well, not a mom you’d want. Every year when Mother’s Day approached, I stood in a store somewhere reading every card, looking for one that was not sentimental. It was my goal to give Mom a card that seemed loving, but wasn’t; one she would appreciate but wouldn’t question. I wanted a card pretty enough to display that wasn’t a lie. It couldn’t be too personal, and it definitely couldn’t be one of those cards that said “Thanks for all you’ve done.” Mom hadn’t done much to earn a card like that. The ideal find was large, colorful, and did little but wish the recipient a nice day.
Joe and I talk about the postings we see on social media by people honoring their moms, praising them, and openly missing those who are departed. For a few days now, with the holiday coming up, some have posted their mothers’ pictures in place of their own. That’s the way it should be, but those memories remind us of what we missed. The luckiest people have great moms for life; others are lucky to have them for a little while.
Mom left our hometown of Glen Ferris, West Virginia, and moved to Cincinnati at age 72. By then she had become a better person than the one we had known as children. Mom and I had fifteen years of friendship before she developed Alzheimer’s disease. We did errands together, went clothes shopping, and ate out. In a pleasantly ironic twist, she thought I knew everything.
Yesterday when I was cleaning the house, I thought of her. Physical tasks have a way of activating the brain, and in my case sorting the laundry or wiping a mirror will unleash half-buried thoughts. I thought of Mom in her apartment just a few miles from here, and I almost reached for the doorknob before I remembered. The feeling of missing her was as sudden and sharp as a splinter.
I didn’t miss the Mom it took 30 minutes to find a card for; I missed the one I liked, the one who liked me.
The word Mom still opens up a strange bag of memories, but I appreciate the best things about my mother. Even into her eighties, she was smart, well read, and funny. She won’t be a facebook post, but Joe and I will be smiling as we toast her from the Horseshoe Casino on Mother’s Day. Our toast is sure to include—you guessed it—“Hell’s bells!” I think she'll be watching.