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Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Ed here:

A few years ago I met an attractive, fortyish, bright woman in a bookstore where I was doing a signing.

My presence create the usual problem--crowd control. But it's not what you think. The owner was in desperate need to FIND a crowd so I'd have somebody to talk to. I think there were maybe eight people there.

The owner explained it by saying that it was because of the weather that so few people had shown up--sixty degrees, a fine sunny April Saturday, who would want to come to a mall on a day like this (well, apparently a few thousand people wanted to because the other stores were packed). This was the same very nice store owner who'd told me a couple years earlier that it was the "weather" then too--a balmy forty-three degree February afternoon--and only a pittance of people for my signing. Who'd want to venture out on a dangerous winter afternoon like that one? He was trying to save face--mine.

Anyway, after the little talk I gave (as I recall I was discussing quantam physics and the history of Aztec art) the fortyish woman stepped up to the table and bought two of my books and then sort of hung around to talk to me. She said that writers never seemed much like their books. My books, she said, were so dark and brooding and yet I'd basically done fifteen minutes of standup comedy a few minutes ago. She said it didn't make sense that I'd be one way in person and another way in print.

I mention this this evening because Sarah Weinman's blog had an interesting discussion on a similar topic this morning.

When I explained to the woman that I always wore a masque at book signings, she said she didn't believe me. I don't think I ever did convince her.

But it's true. In person I'm usually doing gags because it's one way of keeping people at bay. It covers my shyness. I've seen a number of writers at signings whom I suspect do the same thing. So I question people's ability to "judge" a writer's real personality by his books--or even by meeting him in person.

"Do not understand me too quickly."

I guess we all make assumptions about creative people based on their work. But the work is not always a reliable or even safe path to the secret heart.

As Thomas Gifford--a Dubuque man and international bestseller and one of the most fascinating people I ever met--always wrote in the front of his books: I am not I; they are not they.

Fair warning.


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