Thursday, August 14, 2014

Bikers, Pine-Sol and Money

Where is the best spot for a book signing?
    Writers debate this question endlessly. When we’re signing in a bookstore, should we have a table by the door? A quiet alcove? A special room?
    How about when we give a speech? Should we have our own table piled with our books? Where should it be placed? By the door? Near the podium?
    Sometimes, the best spots are the most unexpected. 
    My first mystery series is the Francesca Vierling novels, and they’re still in print as e-books and paperbacks. My heroine is a six-foot tall St. Louis newspaper columnist, which is what I was, until I got fired from the paper for insubordination.
    “Rubout,” the second book in this series, takes place at the annual bikers society ball in St. Louis, where one thousand Harley riders gather.

It’s called the Leather and Lace Ball.
    The ball is not open to the public, and the bikers wear the wildest outfits you’ve ever seen. One year, the queen of the ball wore a black lace body stocking and cowboy boots. That was all.
    And she was a natural blonde.
    The king wore a black leather vest, black chaps, and a G-string. We women were trying not to stare at this G-string, because his girlfriend was an over-the-road trucker. We were afraid she’d beat us up.
    One woman was foolish enough (and drunk enough) to dance with the king. They were dancing cheek-to-cheek, so to speak, and I’m not talking about his face. The king’s girlfriend saw them, grabbed the poacher by the hair and said, “Leave him alone.” Her voice was so flat and scary, I backed away.

    What if the poacher turned up dead? This became the basis for “Rubout.”
    The St. Louis bikers helped me with this book, on the condition that I not make the killer a biker. These were members of the Kirkwood HOGs, which is short for Harley Owners Group. Despite the way the bikers looked, these were not Hell’s Angels. Most were family people, working men and women who liked to dress up in biker leather and wear tattoos that didn’t wash off.

    I asked them about their favorite T-shirts. One guy told me his, and his wife hit him on the head. The T-shirt said, “If you can read this, the bitch fell off.”  
    When “Rubout” was published, the bikers gave me a signing at their meeting in a VFW hall.
    They said, “Don’t worry, honey, we’ll put you where everyone can find you.” 
    It wasn’t by the podium, either.
    The bikers put me at a table way in the back, between the men’s and women’s restrooms.
    I sat there and wondered, “Does John Grisham sit between the bathrooms to sell books?” “Does Mary Higgins Clark get stuck by the johns?”
    Then I didn’t have time to brood. The bikers drank a lot of beer, and soon they were heading for the restrooms.
    They noticed the books on their way in. And bought them on their way out.
    You never know what’s going to be a good signing site.
    Now Pine-Sol smells like money. Cheers!


  1. And I've been in the front of the store where people stop to ask, "Where's the restroom?" and don't buy any books.

    1. That is the most common question at any book signing, Nancy. Even more popular than "where do you get your ideas?"

  2. Let's hope they washed their hands.

    My weirdest signing location was in the vegetable section of a grocery store. The chain of stores had me at several locations. Some were better than others & one was a real home run.

    One good point: I got my grocery shopping done.

  3. So did the produce department produce, Jordan? If so, you'll find me sitting with the spuds.

    1. I only did it once. I'd wager more brussels sprouts moved, but the store that had the book section near the cash register made the sound of music, "Cha-chinggggg."

  4. They're playing my song, Jordan. I'm sure you outsold any brussels sprouts.

  5. In the 1990's I had relatives in the metro east area of st. Louis who I visited often. they couldn't get enough Elaine Viets or Bill McClellan. I'm sure you're missed. Big Sleep books was a must visit on every trip.

    1. Big Sleep is still going strong. I miss St. Louis, but come home two or three times a year. My newspaper readers have followed me to my novels. St. Louisans are loyal.

  6. Some years ago, I sold books outside a gift shop in the Fort Myers, Florida airport. I learned a lot, and it was also a humbling experience. Any number of times people heading up the concourse would turn my way, seem to see the poster blowup of my book's cover, change course and walk toward me. Ever hopeful, I would ready my smile and pitch--until the person sidestepped my table to reach for the display of fudge nougat googoo clusters.

    1. I feel your pain, Barry. I've had two airport signings. One taught me the virtue of humility. But the other took place when the airport was closed due to lightning. People stood in line to buy my books. My flight was grounded, but I was in heaven.

    2. Some people get lightning closures, others fudge nougat googoo competition.

  7. Zoo volunteers also report that "Where's the restroom?" is the most common question -- Maslow was right about that hierarchy of needs . . . Thanks for writing to answer some of our higher-up needs as well. ;-)

    1. Gla d you enjoyed it, Mary. You always come to my signings and ask the best questions.