Friday, November 11, 2011

Sign of the Times with Guest Blogger: John Banks

Meet author John Banks
today at the Book Boost!

Here's what he had to say about his book signing experience...

It was the best of book signings, it was the worst of book signings. The “best” part of this scenario was the fact that the book store was packed, holding more customers within its walls this evening than perhaps it had ever before. The “worst” part was that I knew the store’s standing-room-onlyness had absolutely nothing to do with either the presence of me or my novel. The fact was, the store was in the last throes of its gigantic going-out-of-business sale. Everything must go! Up to 80% off!

While I welcomed all the extra foot-traffic flowing past my little set-up off to the side of the check-out queue, its most conspicuous result was my having to spend most of my narrow window of opportunity for sales explaining to everyone that, no, my book was not 80% off – it wasn’t even 1% off, at least not yet. Trying to sell at full retail in the midst of a liquidation blowout was perhaps not the best marketing strategy I could have come up with. It was actually quite uncomfortable. Despite all the people in the store and the long lines at the checkout, the mood of the place was really rather gloomy, especially among the employees, many of whom had no doubt worked there for many years. It’s never a happy time when a bookstore closes its doors. While I smiled from behind my table, acting all authorial and happy to be here, I felt like someone who had decided to open up a hotdog stand right outside of a funeral parlor, bellowing, “Get yer footlongs! Get yer footlongs here!” as a parade of weeping widows shuffled past.

It’s never a good idea for me to have too much time to think. My thoughts usually become quite rude. Tonight, as I sat behind a stack of my books, with -- more often than not – nothing much to do, I started thinking about the ironic fact that the night that this once-thriving bastion of middle-brow culture was shutting its doors was the night of its greatest sales success. “So where have all you people been for the past ten years?” I snarled, sarcastically but silently. “Too cheap to buy retail? Too lazy to get off your butts and come downtown? Order everything from Amazon and let every local merchant go to hell! Like a bunch of vultures – waiting for the victim to die a slow, painful death and then swooping down to pick at its bones.” And, continuing, “Why don’t you do this with all your other precious commodities? Refuse to drive your cars – walk, bike, ride the bus, whatever it takes – until all the gas stations start to go belly-up and start selling their petrol for 25 cents a gallon just to get rid of it. Then you can all fill ‘er up and drive to California and back like a flock of damn bats out of hell!” Like I said, it’s not good when I have too much time to think.

Anyway, back to the book signing. Let’s just say that my sales were not brisk. I knew that I had shot myself in the foot, merchandizing-wise, when I made the artistic decision to name my novel Glorify Each Day – a title that was sure to make people who would love my book hate it and make people who thought they would like it hate it. Writers don’t make the best publicists. When I wasn’t busy explaining to people that I wasn’t having a personal going-out-of business sale, but rather, a trying-to drum-up-business sale, I was busy trying to explain the novel’s title. Again, with too much time to think, I gave serious thought to the idea of reprinting the book jacket as Glorify Each Day (Not a Religious Book) as its new title. Not as catchy, perhaps, but certainly time-saving in situations such as these.

One strategy that I did hit upon that I thought might work was to lie through my teeth to every pretty young female who happened to stop by. It’s important for readers to identify with a book’s characters, and while I made no effort whatsoever to help the young male readers identify with the novel’s main male character, Tommy, I tried like hell to convince the young ladies that the character of Cait was "Just Like You!" Admittedly, it’s possible that I could have had an ulterior motive or two for speaking in such a way to only the college-age girls in the store, but I will stick by my assertion that my primary motive was financial. “You know, the way I describe Cait in the book, I think she looks a lot like you,” I said to four brunettes, five blondes, two redheads, and one chick who was either recovering from chemotherapy or was playing the lead in an all-girl production of The King And I. At any rate, my smooth-operator approach wasn’t as effective as I had hoped.

The other highlight of the evening was the scruffy kid who grabbed a copy of my book and, rather than thumbing through it while standing in front of me, whisked it away and stopped several yards distant, but still within my line of sight, and began slowly skimming its pages. This kid, I immediately decided, was up to no good. He was a teenager, maybe a local college kid. I kept my eyes on him the best I could. I expected him, at any moment, to stuff my 6x9 perfect-bound paperback right down his pants and head for the exit. (My wife, upon reading a couple of sections of Glorify Each Day, once commented, “You really have a thing for people sticking things down their pants, don’t you?”) Anyway, I wasn’t about to let this joker out of my sight.

As my book signing wound down, with only a couple of sales to two elderly ladies whom I suspect are in for big surprises, I started to pack my unsold books away, all the while keeping one eye on the kid who, by now, had had time to read half the damn book, or, as I imagined, to somehow portably scan a PDF-version into his cell phone for pirating on the internet.

Soon, as I tried to decide how to confront this young goon, he sheepishly came back to my table and handed me his copy. “Great book, man,” he said. “Sorry I can’t buy it – I’m a little short right now. My mom works here. I’m just hanging out till closing time. She’s worked here a long time, man. This whole thing sucks.”

“Do want to do me a favor, young man?” I asked him. “If you’ll grab that other box and carry it out to my car for me, I’ll give you a free copy – on the house. I’ll even sign it for you – so, you really liked it, huh?”

(Not really. I just make this stuff up.)

A Note from the Book Boost: I have so "been there done that". Well, not at a book store closing but at a book signing where I had to work really hard to sell a precious few copies. But I'd really like to know what those little old ladies thought about your book after they had a chance to read it! LOL Thanks for stopping by!


Teach first became Teach during his first year at Toxononomonee Middle School. He was the new sixth-grade Language Arts/Social Studies teacher. During his first two months in class, he had tried to follow the advice given to him by every veteran teacher he had talked to: Be mean as hell. Brook no resistance. Give no quarter. The other teachers he observed never smiled, were always gruff to the point of nastiness and tolerated nothing that could be construed as a challenge to their authority. If he had to treat children like hardened criminals to be a good teacher, then he would at least try. But it was an extremely difficult performance to pull off, all day, every day. It was never his natural inclination to treat these kids as anything other than his friends.

This implacable fa├žade crumbled one October morning. After he dismissed his homeroom and his first period class silently filed in under his stern supervision and took their seats, it had become his custom to address the class with a not unfriendly yet unenthusiastic, “Good morning.” The class then dutifully echoed back his greeting in unison. This morning, a young man named Arthur decided to upset the status quo. After a sufficient interval of silence, but before Teach began speaking, Arthur said loudly from the back row, “Mornin’, Teach!” Some in class laughed, but cautiously. The others glared at Arthur, stunned and no doubt fearful his reckless gambit would result in punishment for all (this being the standard form of classroom management recommended to Teach – atonement in reverse: it is all who must suffer to expiate the sins of one). Teach, indeed, did seem to be on the verge of a Talmudic meting of justice; but as he glowered at Arthur he slowly softened his gaze and said, after much tense silence, “I like that.”

Two months of military order-barking, stern task-mastering, insincere sullenness and false, soul-straining misanthropy evaporated with those three words. The class was awestruck, as if they had just witnessed some sort of miracle or religious conversion. Teach smiled in front of his class, probably for the first time. “I tell you what, Arthur. If you can go the rest of the month without my having to call you down for disrupting class; if you turn in all your homework assignments; and if you pass all of your tests – not just in here, but in all of your classes – if you can do all of that, Arthur, for the rest of this month – then you can call me Teach. No more Mr. Morrison. Do you think you can do that?” The class was incredulous. They started murmuring and turning around in their seats, smiling across the classroom to their friends. “And that goes for the rest of you, too. Everybody who does everything that’s expected of you – everything I just explained to Arthur – will have my permission to call me Teach.”

“For how long?” One forward-thinking student asked.

“For as long as you continue to meet expectations. If not, then I will revoke the privilege and you’ll be the only person who has to call me Mr. Morrison. . . . Is that a deal?”

The class erupted into a brief celebration.

Not unexpectedly, Arthur and several others were soon unable to hold up their end of the bargain, but most of Teach’s students were good kids and he didn’t have the heart, or the resolve, to revoke anyone’s “Teach” privileges (even Arthur’s, who was undoubtedly proud to have pulled one over on his teacher).

His name change earned him immediate comradery with his classes. During the first day of the new Teach era, his students ran excitedly to their friends in the lunchroom or at the bus lineup and said, “We get to call our teacher Teach!”

The other teachers and the administration, however, saw this development in a different light.

His more traditional colleagues – that is, everyone else – were aghast Teach would not only condone such behavior, but accept – nay, endorse, embrace – it. Well, Teach was nothing if not an iconoclast. After about a month of Teach’s perversion of the conventional teacher-student relationship, his principal said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Morrison, but the policy of the school is that all staff members must be called by the proper salutation – either Mr. or Ms. – followed by your last name. First names, or nicknames, especially, are not appropriate. Especially derogatory nicknames.”

“I don’t think it’s derogatory at all,” Teach responded. “It’s a wonderful action verb, a call to duty, the imperative of our chosen profession – Teach.”

“Well, at any rate, Mr. Morrison, you will not be allowed to be addressed in that manner. Is that understood?”

Today, Teach would have been more inclined to stand on principle and to defy authority, but as someone coming off two years of self-imposed exile, without teaching experience, needing a job to pay off student loans, lonely, a little unsure of himself, he was willing to stand down. Most people became more accommodating and less idealistic with age; however, Teach’s life was playing out in the opposite direction.

Putting this particular genie back into its bottle resulted in the worst month Teach ever had as a teacher – even worse than the month in which he was fired. Sixth-graders, like adults, do not like to return gifts. Teach explained to them patiently, in detail, why they now had to call him Mr. Morrison again. Not having any children himself, and not having taught before, he saw no reason why they wouldn’t calmly accept his explanations and return to the pre-Teach status quo. When many continued to call him Teach, he was flummoxed. He didn’t want to punish them for not complying with a policy change he didn’t agree with any more than they, but after a few days of gently reminding them of the name re-change he was left with no choice. He wrote up and sent to detention several students who stubbornly continued to call him by a name he had recently encouraged them to use.

He found himself retreating into the pre-Teach bunker mentality he abhorred, of treating children like inmates and displaying an attitude of distrust and menace. It was his first lesson in the perverseness of both sixth-graders and public school administrators.

So he reverted to the role of Mr. Morrison while at the middle school – but as soon as he accepted the job as a GED instructor and realized to his enormous pleasure how much freedom he would have to teach in the manner he wanted, it signaled the triumphant return of Teach. His more elderly students balked at the idea of being so informal with a man of such high authority, but he insisted anyone else he came into contact with call him Teach. His mom and Robbie were willing to make an effort at the name change (though their success rate was about fifty-fifty – twenty-five years of Tommy was hard to overcome). Only his dad, out of whatever unknown motivation he had, refused to call him by his chosen name.

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