“THOSE Books” – More Humiliation Stories

Who knew so many great stories lurked out there? Here’s another one from a host….

Back then, I owned a bookstore, Book Heaven. Down at the end of the building was a genuine Old Mill. It had been converted to shops. The new people who were setting up a high end guitar shop claimed to play in Dolly Parton’s band, and be good friends with the likes of Waylon and Willie. The newbies wanted to have a grand opening, with music and stories. Dolly was booked, Waylon and Willie were doing something else.
A wonderful Storyteller and her Musician husband who happened to be in this neck of the woods from across the waters were available. Newbies were very happy to have them come. The date was set, I posted posters,  I sent bios and photos to the local paper. Of course, I was excited. I was looking forward to a parking lot full of audience and customers. Not to mention great stories and songs.
Storyteller and Musician were there well ahead of the crowd. Not only did the crowd not show, the Newbie owners didn’t show up either. When I frantically called the Newbies, on several different cell numbers, they claimed they forgot. He’d  booked a show half way across the country. He didn’t know where she was. It was no consolation that the shop closed within a week. Newbies lost their shirts on expensive guitars. The wife got busted for pharmaceutical abuse. Maybe it was an old Scottish curse.


And one from an author…..

You can summarize every attempt I’ve ever had to do a local booksigning this way:
“Sorry, but we don’t host signings for—ahem—THOSE books. Please leave.”
(I write erotica. That is, I used to, until EL James ruined things for everybody. I like EL James, but I hate what all the copycats have done to my market. Sigh.)
Now I work for a bank.


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Shopsitter Janelle says Farewell

We’re running a bit behind on timing because of the author humiliation contest – more entries posted Friday! This is our first shopsitter of the summer’s farewell post, and Kelly, our second shopsitter will be sending a post next week. (BTW, if you’re interested in shopsitting, we are looking for a week in October and a couple of weeks in December.)

Sadly, our shopsitting visit is soon coming to an end already.

We are excited about the potential of our final day sitting the shop, and we are tickled to have company coming for lunch tomorrow, too…folks that moved from our home area near Green Bay, Wisconsin, to Chuckey, Tennessee, several years ago. We just now realized how near to them we are while here.

To be honest, this shopsitting gig has been far more like a vacation than work. We have come to feel far more like family than “hired” help. And we have done more reading and relaxing than we have work. The latter I understand, I think. If I were home I’d find plenty to do (I’m pretty sure I have weeds waiting for me in my yard, taller than I am) but no matter how much work I invent for myself to do here (like re-organizing book stacks or putting sections of books back into alphabetical order or sweeping the front porch or doing dishes or laundry) I’ve still been getting to read and visit with guests (and Facebook) more than I would if I were at home this week.

And as for relaxing vacation, I’m not completely sure what to make of that, but I think it’s the Wendy factor. She has told her local people to make us feel welcome, and they sure have. We have been included in invitations to dinner and swim aerobics and church and told where the local walking/running trail is numerous times…and been included in pretty much all else that has gone on while we have been here. We have eaten nearly every meal offered (that will need to be addressed when we get home, too!) and, when I think about it, taken up very few of the exercise offers presented us. But Wendy threw out on Facebook that we wanted to do some local hiking, and after all sorts of suggestions for where we should/could go, kind friend Destiny simply said she would come and lead us, and she and her son Jack did!

I learned a lot while we were here; there is no question. I go home no less eager to one day have my own bookstore, no less eager to have Natalie bake and maybe cook for me like Kelley does in the Second Story Cafe here. Wendy and Kelley make that all look like a very easy, symbiotic relationship, not a “tough” job at all.

Wendy does, indeed, make it all look enjoyable and easy…although I do fear that I’d find in my own shop lots to do instead of this relaxed “I could do that” style. We prevented Wendy’s work from getting done sometimes with plenty of conversations, several good meals, a mutual glass of wine or bottle of beer here or there. Sometimes I really wanted her to go “make stuff,” assured that we could manage things here, and when she did, that’s when I felt I was contributing the most.

Otherwise, let’s be honest: I’d far prefer to hear her conversation with a guest to the shop–the exchange of local chit-chat, or updates on pet adoptions or procedures, or discussion of a new book, or valuing of books brought in for trade. If she wasn’t really “gone” from the shop, it was too easy for her to step in and do those things, and I seized the opportunities, then, to learn from the master.

I’ve very much enjoyed this adventure with my two youngest daughters, watching them melt kitten hearts and make new friends, devour books (Natalie stayed up until 2:40AM Saturday night…err, Sunday morning… finishing Water For Elephants, which she had started only the night before. It’s one of my all-time favorite books! How can I be upset with that activity?!) And I loved us getting to see, together, parts of the country we had not previously visited. Delaney’s determination to be THE one to get to “do the Square” any time a customer paid with a card or to be the one to take their cash, for that matter, showed me she has those super original cashier skills, communicating clearly and doing math in her head to make change (rather than NEED a cash register to do it for her). We go home with a new bond of mutual adventure and with many memories to share.

It’s like reading a book with someone, only better. The girls and I have shared a tremendous adventure, and I can only imagine how soon we’ll all talk about coming back! I imagine it will come up in the thirteen-hour ride home.Janelle on porch
Thanks for your hospitality, all. We have had a great time!


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The Monday Book: WAITING by Ha Jin

I read this on holiday at a friend’s house, so of course I had to read quickly in order to leave it there. What struck me about the book was how it made you feel you could see inside a China that is usually invisible to guests and visitors, the one that runs on paperwork and bribes. And yet, at the same time, it made you feel like issues surrounding love and human hearts are the same the world over: when you’ve got what you want, you want something else.

WAITING is about a man in an arranged marriage to a woman from his former village. He now works as a doctor in the city, and wants to divorce her and marry a nurse from his hospital. It has elements of rural/urban divisions as well as cultural divides within China.

Some people might find this a depressing read, but I found the buoyant bits between the “well, that didn’t work” parts satisfying. Also, the prose is… stiff, but in a positive way. You don’t notice how Ha Jin writes so much as the story he is telling; the words don’t get in the way. I actually thought it had been translated at first; it had that feel, but he writes and teaches in English – in Georgia.

If Iago is your favorite Shakespearean villain, if you’re interested in other cultures, if you like to read about women’s lives in China, if you plain like good storytelling, this is a good book for you. If you like a lot of zip and action and stiff prose bothers you, you won’t like it.

I loved it, enough to stay up late and finish it the night before we flew out of our friend Jane’s place.

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Author Humiliation Contest Winning Entries

Our first winner is Suzan D. Herskowitz, an attorney from Winchester, VA.

Sometime in the late 1990s, I was asked to speak about my scintillating book, on writing your own will (yeah, I know, didn’t even make the top 1 million list for non-fiction). I showed up at a mega-bookstore that is still in business somewhere in South Florida and 1 person showed up…and it was my mother.

Thanks for letting me share.

And in equal first place is Steven Friedman, of San Rafael, California, whose entry is titled


My first (and only) book was published in 2000 by a small press in South Carolina, owned by a bigger concern in England. Their marketing and sales team arranged for the book to be sold in a few large bookstores and even one notable big box store. But the responsibility for promoting Golden Memories of the San Francisco Bay Area was largely mine.

So I arranged a speaking engagement at a national book chain in Berkeley, CA, on December 7, a perfect day of history and infamy to showcase a book of oral histories from nine Bay area elders of varying ethnic and religious backgrounds.

It was a Thursday evening, rain slashing outside, as I arrived at the store. There was a 20×30 poster with a photograph of me on it, advertising my book talk, and I heard someone announce over the loudspeaker that tonight’s event was going to start in 30 minutes. I felt the chill of excitement.

There were probably ten rows of chairs and a podium in front. At 7 PM, there were two men, who I guessed to be homeless, dressed in torn overcoats, warming themselves away from the frigid late autumn air, seated in the middle of the room.

I had a copy of my book, which was filled with several yellow post-its, so I could read a few passages. I’d picked one from Berenice, who’d been a civilian during WWII, about how she’d kissed her then boyfriend, an officer, underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. And I’d picked a second story from a Japanese-American woman whose family owned a hotel in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Her husband had later served in the Army after Pearl Harbor and after being forced into an internment camp.

So I was ready to share history and discuss history on a day when we remember such a tragic time in America’s past.

I started talking with Karen, the author-events coordinator. She was, like me at the time, the parent of a toddler, so we exchanged war stories.

By 7:30, the two homeless guys had left and the room was empty. Karen and I kept talking and talking and talking. Until 8:30 when I decided to drive home. So I ambled out there door, carrying the poster of my ‘book talk’, and returned to my wife and sleeping son.

I was bummed out for sure, but I realized or rationalized later that why would anyone go out on a Thursday evening, a school and work night, in a downpour to hear an unknown author?

I’ve passed that bookstore in Northern California many times and have even been in there with family and friends. And I always tell them about my day of not actual infamy when I gave a book talk and nobody came. And they chuckle a bit, and so do I. But it still stings, too, even after 14 years.

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Crossing the Topiary Chessmen off my Bucket List

The winners of the AUTHOR HUMILIATION CONTEST in the author category will be posted Friday. Meanwhile, enjoy Wendy’s adventures in Scotland!

Digital CameraI hadn’t seen my friend Bun in eight years, since leaving Scotland for the States. We used to run a storytelling club together, and like me she is an avid textile artist.

So when she said she had promised to take her mother on a garden tour Sunday afternoon (the only day I could see her) I–who can’t tell an onion from a lily–said sure, I’d tag along.

“Great!” Bun said. “It’s at Leuchars, Earlshall Castle.”

Could it be…? Leuchars was only a few miles from New Gilston, where Jack and I used to live in Scotland. As a bride my first year there, I’d tried several times to visit a famous garden in Leuchars, listed in the guidebook just before the new owner had shut it up and installed security cameras.

Digital CameraHot diggety! In one of those rare coincidences life sometimes hands out, I not only got to spend a happy hour with my friend Bun, but she led me straight to something I’d wanted to see for more than ten years: the Topiary Chessmen.

Hey, I don’t make comments about what’s on YOUR bucket list.

Digital CameraThe pieces are laid out in mid-play. Allegedly, one king is under some threat; to really appreciate their positioning, you have to view them from the tower window of the castle. As the family weren’t offering that option in their Open Garden for Charity day, Bun and I contented ourselves with running about screaming, “Oh, here’s a knight! This must be the queen! Look, that one’s a Dalek!” and generally acting like school children.

Digital CameraMost of the people attending had come straight from the Church of Scotland’s Sunday Service, and were dressed in expensive shoes, sweater sets, and suits. Bun was wearing a lot of her own handiwork, plus a poncho. I was wearing “tourism casual.” We attracted several stares.

Which made us cut up more. “You will be exterminated!” Bun intoned in front of a Dalek-esque pawn.

Digital Camera Digital CameraA man in a flat cap with tweed patches at his elbow stopped, looked at us, looked at it, and said in a posh English accent, “Blimey! THAT’S what it reminds me of. Ta, ladies!”

Tis true that some of them required more benevolent imagination than others, but I’d been wanting to see these things for ten years. In fact, I suggested a run out in the last week Jack and I lived in Scotland, just to see if perchance we could get into the gardens.

Digital CameraJack does not share my fascination with hegemonic sculpture.

And now I’ve seen them. And Bun and I will remember our day out among the topiary chessmen for a long time. About as long as the owners of the garden remember us racing ’round shrieking in nasal drones, “Exterminate!” and doing mouth music versions of the Dr. Who theme.

Isn’t that what friendship is all about? Silliness, long-lost dreams helped to come true, and a really good cup of tea in the garden?Digital Camera




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embarrassedKaren Spears and I had a grand time reading the entries for the AUTHOR and HOST HUMILIATION contest. All we can say, dear authors and booksellers, is hang in there.

Who knew angst could be so very funny?! Many thanks to all who entered; I’ll be posting  several of the write-ups over the coming weeks.

Just so they’re not on tenterhooks, the dual winners of AUTHOR HUMILIATION are Stephen Friedman of San Raphael, CA, and Suzan Herskowitz of Winchester, VA. Each will be invited to choose a date for spending a week in Wendy’s Writing Cabin, no expenses paid, but the place is free and we comp you a couple of kittens. (Jack and I rescue cats, in case anyone’s wondering.)

We’ll be blogging Stephen and Suzan’s entries this Friday.

Congratulations, Kathy Siress, on winning the HOST HUMILIATION category. We literally spit tea across the keyboard, reading this one.

Seattle, large chain bookstore, 1997.  Celebrity chef, (now deceased) long running PBS show, recently subject of a number of sexual abuse allegations by young boys.  

He showed up to book signing with his (very young) male assistant, and they immediately demanded a bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin.  (I was dispatched to the local liquor store.)

Both filled their tall water glasses with gin (STRAIGHT!) and set themselves up at the signing table.

Turnout for this heavily promoted event was very poor – he had been in the news a lot lately. We also had a small but vocal group of protesters outside.

Bookstore manager was embarrassed,so she had all the booksellers take off their name badges, pretend to be customers, and line up for books.  He caught on pretty quickly since we all asked for generic signatures – no names, just “Best Wishes…” etc.  Weirdly, he had his assistant sign all the books too.

long uncomfortable evening for everyone.  and yes, they finished the gin bottle.



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So Happy Together

Don’t forget the Author Humiliation contest ends Sunday, June 29. Send entries to jbeck69087@aol.com. Scroll back to Monday’s blog for the rules, and have fun!

I have arrived in Scotland, with many thanks to Kelly and Rachel Saderholm, the mother-daughter team minding our bookshop while Jack and I are making holiday.

First thing Jack and I did was make a bee-line for Jean and Davy’s place. Jean and Davy served as second parents to me during the seven years (and a day) we lived in Scotland, and I was so delighted to see her again.Digital Camera Jean is the woman who advised me, “Be yourself in Scotland. People here will be seeing ‘an American.’ Just be Wendy, and let them figure it out.”

Time has taken its payments; Jean is moving with difficulty and the aid of wheeled things. Her husband Davy has left behind this mortal coil in all but body; an artist whose paintings were exhibited internationally, Davy’s mind is now living in some of the abstract worlds he brought to canvas.

As Jean and I joked, talking to him now isn’t that different than talking to him then.

Skipping the part where one pontificates or waxes philosphical on the ravages of time, or the lasting bonds of friendship – it was just ever so lovely to see Jean again. I look forward to the rest of our holiday, but when your best day is the first, because it mattered most, well, icing on the cake is very sweet.Digital Camera


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