I had a lovely book signing this week on the corner of the bread isle and the refrigerated blackberries.
It was in a grocery store.
Yes, I was embarrassed, but we’ll move past that.
I had a high table and chair situated close to the front, just behind the place where they display the store specials. I was the special that day, I guess. The special before me was the caselot sale, and I spent the three hours I had there watching a young man shift the leftover caselot goods to a different location. He wore a white shirt and tie, with jeans. An apron covered the front, and an official-looking walkie-talkie dangled from his holey back pocket. Poor guy didn’t know he’d have an audience when he went to work that day. I found myself wondering if he ever got backaches from lifting boxes into a cart only to take them back out again somewhere else.
Since my chair was barstool height, I looked into most customer’s eyes as they tried avoiding me. To be fair, not everyone tried avoiding me. Some gave me shy smiles, or apologetic ones. Some stopped to ask “What’s your book about?” before moving on. And then there were the chosen few who bought.
I met a woman from France on a backpacking tour around the Americas. She started in Guatemala, then came North. She was in Utah staying at a Hare Krishna Temple just up the road from the grocery store and took pity on the freezing girl in front of the blackberries. We talked for a good twenty minutes or so, and I’m sure my inner wanderer was showing.
I had a redneck stop and tell me he used to be a writer too, but he only wrote country songs. He hadn’t written anything since getting out of the slammer.
But the customer that really threw me, was a young-ish man who stopped by to tell me was a writer. He then asked, “In your opinion, what should I do to become a better writer?” I don’t know if I looked as nonplussed as I felt. I hope not. Without stopping to consider, I stammered a few seconds, then said, “Read a lot. Read in the genre you want to write.”
I think that was good advice, but maybe I should have said, go to such-and-such website and take their courses, or take a class, or practice, practice, practice. (I always hear that with a rolled r, as in prrractice.)
I really hope that was the advice he needed to hear, or that I needed to give, or both. I think everyone who finds joy or creative release in writing (or in anything really) should be encouraged. Creativity is such a big part of who we are as human beings.
I thought about him as I watched more customers pass or stop or avoid. Perhaps with the next person who asks (if any soul is brave enough) I’ll be more confident in the answer they need to hear.