Preparing to launch Part 3 – guest blog by Rick James

Well, con­trary to Susan and Harold’s exper­i­ences with book signings, I actu­ally looked for­ward to my book launch of West Coast Wrecks & Other Maritime Tales with a good deal of con­fid­ence. Per­haps too much.

For one, I have no short­age of taste­ful, bet­ter qual­ity shirts in my closet. (Christmas presents over the years from Mom and also cour­tesy of Paula’s brother who man­ages the fash­ion­able out­door store, REI, in San Francisco). Plus I had just bought a new pair of black jeans. And since I don’t live in Merville like Harold, my fin­ger­nails stay reas­on­ably clean.

But I do make sure I get a haircut just before a presentation. Oth­er­wise, my unruly, white locks tend to make me look like a deranged Albert Einstein.

Also, I credit my abil­ity to stay relaxed before a group to the fact that I’ve given a fair amount of slide shows and present­a­tions over the years. And for some bizarre reason, I’ve become a more social animal as I age and actually enjoy standing up in front of a group. (This been a sur­prise to Paula who often reminds me that I used to be a quiet and retir­ing Fanny Bay recluse.)

Last fall I had my book launch at the Vancouver Maritime Museum. And, gad sakes! some 60+ people turned up and they were all out there in front of me!! Man, I was pumped and I think my publicist from Harbour Publishing was surprised too. Turns out she mis­judged the num­ber of people who would attend and hadn’t pur­chased enough pastry items; a dis­ap­point­ment for those late getting to the goodies table.

The PowerPoint presentation went over exceed­ingly well. A good indic­ation of suc­cess was the comments afterwards and question period that lasted for about 15 minutes. The worst thing that can hap­pen at the end of a presentation is that every­one sits there with a deadpan, bored expression on their faces.

So I was brim­ming with an over­whelm­ing sense of suc­cess and good­will as I made my way to the book sign­ing table where a crowd had already lined up. Then it happened; about seven signed cop­ies along.

As I looked up at this big, middle-aged, bald­ing guy with a pony tail I asked, “Who should I make it out to?” And he answers, “Rick James!” I did a double take and replied, “No, that’s me, the author, I mean, what’s your name?”

Rick back in the 1970s before he developed his published author persona.

“Rick James!” he declared again. “Don’t you remem­ber me from the old days in Victoria? How could ya for­get, I mean, we not only have the same name…” And con­tin­ues in an overly loud voice, “Oh man! We even used to smoke dope together at Keith’s place on Burdett back in the early 70s!”

Thankfully most of the folks around the table were old friends or work col­leagues who were probably already aware of my past. Still, I could tell some people were startled. You know, the strangers I had man­aged to con­vince over the past hour that I should be looked upon as a respect­able West Coast mari­time his­tor­ian and writer. Who knows what they thought after the other Rick James finished talking?

So there you go, no matter how well prepared – and groomed – a person is for a book signing, some­thing totally unexpected can still bring you to back to reality with a jolt.

Preparing to Launch Part 2 – guest blog by Harold Macy

Whatever the occa­sion, going to town requires thought as to dress, or could require thought if one was given to care. A quick run to the feed store or Central Builders is pretty straight­for­ward. But for such an event as a book launch, espe­cially if it is one’s own book launch, may call for a bit addi­tional consideration.

If it is a high-brow lit­er­ary event, would I wear the tried and true tweed jacket with suede elbow patches, pos­sibly over a sweater vest?—how time­less is that combo? Or is it so dated to be pathetic. Or per­haps I could try the po-mo look—lots of black, maybe even a fake pier­cing and a temp ‘tat.’

My cri­teria are not driven by the whims and caprice of the Style Section of the Globe and Mailwhich we buy each Saturday, but rather by neces­sity. Something that doesn’t show dog hair is high on the list. There is enough black hair in the seat crevices and cranny’s of my truck to knit a new hound. Something that relates to the weather, usu­ally water­proof, rein­forces the gum­boot archetype.

Harold Macy is the author of The Four Storey Forest, As Grow the Trees, So too the Heart

But really, I don’t care. I take les­sons from my Grandpa. His long legs were per­petu­ally clad in blue denim over­alls. Annually, upon Grandma’s urging, he bought a new pair, stiff as boards, which he ini­tially saved for church. After a few months, they became his town and house pair. Eventually they were worn in the shop, on the tract­ors and in the calv­ing barn doing the chores he loved. After a year or so on this duty, they were fit only for wipe rags. Grandma made quilt squares from any sec­tion that was not thread­bare, grease stained or soiled by the wet but messy mir­acles of anim­als, but there were only few.

But it is not your clothes that are noticed at a book launch. It’s your fin­ger­nails.

I gave a talk recently and was set­ting up to sell and sign books to the good folks in line, money in hand. I glanced down at my hands and saw the half-moon of cargo delin­eat­ing each and every nail. Not only that but there was a stub­born smear of chain­saw oil giv­ing the edge of my hand a del­ic­ate blush of purple, not unlike a fresh bruise. Various scratches. Enough grit in my fin­ger­tips to make cop prints and a dust­ing of Merville Silt, appar­ently a par­tic­u­lar nox­ious ele­ment accord­ing to the Sears Carpet Cleaning Technician who does our rugs once a year.

So, as the first pink-fingered, smooth-handed lady passed me my book to sign, I almost felt the urge to make some glot­tal grunt to match what really mattered, my hands there on the page. Now her page. Soiled. She glanced down at the vir­ginal page, at my stub­born grime and made a small silent “Oh” with her mouth. I felt her gaze, looked up, and gave a wan smile.

Don’t worry about the clothes, check your fin­ger­nails first.

Paula’s note: Harold originally sent the above in as a comment to Preparing to Launch, a guest blog by Susan Ketchen. It’s so well written – and funny – that I decided to run it as Preparing to Lauch Part 2.

The subject of clothes, fingernails and potentially embarrassing moments that happen to authors at book signings seems to have struck a chord for many writers. Check back in a couple of weeks for Preparing to Launch Part 3 & 4.