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A Book Signing, A Crematorium, And Me
Or, editors should always research their authors before taking them out in public.
Whew, it has been a while. But I’m back and am just about completely back on track. Here’s the Reader’s Digest version of what has been going on.
In early December, I had a heart valve replacement. And when the surgeon said it would take a good 2-3 months to get back to something approaching normal, he weren’t kidding. The first two weeks I still had enough of the anesthesia surrounding my brain (who knew??) that I had almost no ability to concentrate for more than 15 minutes. (Note to Dean Koontz: I read page 18 of Midnight 11 times the first week).And for those who said prayers and wished me well, thank you. It means a lot. I have made steady progress.
The surgeon cleared me for a 2 week vacation in the Caribbean. My wife and I had booked back-to-back cruises before I knew I was going to have surgery. I was strong enough (and finally off of most restrictions) that the doctor said, “At this point, do pretty much whatever you want to. If your body tells you that you jumped on an activity too early, just back off for another week.” So hot dog, we were off and running…uh…cruising.
The good news: I lost 5 lbs on the cruise! The bad news: My wife contracted some upper respiratory bug the end of the first week, and I either contracted norovirus or a demon infestation toward the middle of the second week. We stayed in Puerto Rico for two days when the ship docked, and the was, uh, fortunate. ‘Nuff said.
But we still have a fairly good vacation, and it’s good to be back in the saddle again.
My view the day before the demon infestation.
My view the day I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to assume room temperature.
My mom became ill in January and my brother and I took turns living with her until last month. We both (and our wives) moved in with her and were with her until the her death a couple of weeks ago.
I finished all the contracted work I had but didn’t do much with the newsletter until now. Thank you for understanding. I think I’m back on track finally.
My name is Thomas Smith and this is Whistling Past The Graveyard; an occasional newsletter about what I’m working on, any book/other writing projects coming out in the future, and anything else that strikes my fancy. And I’m honored to have you taking this walk with me.
Book Signings and a Crematorium
When my novel, Something Stirs, was published the first time, it was to be the first book for a new fiction imprint. The thing I realized a little late is that a publishing company that only published non-fiction might not know exactly what to do with a story about a house that has all but come to life. But I have to give the company (I will not name them*) credit. They tried their best.
More about this in the next issue.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the book was set to be released at a large regional book event in Virginia. They had great speakers, lots of good authors, and a big signing area. All-in-all, a good start. There were copies of Something Stirs in prominent locations, and even the hotel where I was staying had it on display at the check-in desk.
Once I checked in and was taken to my room, I called my editor. She had set up a special visit/event for us before the event began, so I put a pen in my pocket, grabbed a few business cards, and went back down to the lobby. Fifteen minutes later she arrived and we headed toward whatever this visit/event was.
After about ten minutes we came to a “T” intersection. She stopped, looked to make sure there was no traffic coming, and pointed to the top of the hill ahead of us. “Check that out.” I look-up and saw a rather impressive (almost space-age) building with a digital marquee which read in a constantly moving red display: Welcome Thomas Smith. I will not lie. That’s pretty heady stuff for a guy who was out promoting his first novel.
“That’s where we’re going,” my editor said. And off we went. Right turn, drive up the hill, and there we were.
The brand-spanking-new funeral home/crematorium facility.
I looked at my editor and said, “I know this might be a stupid question, but why are we at the funeral home?”
“They wanted to meet you,” she said. And as I sat there and took in the look on her face that said, this is a real marketing coup, the part of my brain that handles rational thought rolled it’s eyes and said, “Uh-huh,” while the other part…the part that generally gets me into trouble, was already grabbing its hat and hollering, “Hot Damn! Let’s go!”
That second part won out, and we went in.
And while I’m sure my editor thought this was the height of marketing a horror novel, the owner and his staff were great people. Very nice, and quite excited to have their “first real writer” come to visit. and shortly upon meeting everyone, the owner (we’ll call him Mr. Barnes) noticed the copy of Something Stirs that my editor was holding.
“Oh, is that the book?” he asked.
When my editor said it was, he looked the book over, then handed it to me and, well, you know what he said.
“Would you sign this for me?”
“Absolutely. I’ll be happy to.” And as I took my pen from my pocket and started scribbling, my editor whispered, “That’s the only copy I have with me.”
That other part of my brain just snickered.
Then Mr. Barnes asked the question that made my day.
“Mr. Smith, would you like to see the facility?”
“I would indeed. Thank you very much.”
My editor grabbed my sleeve like it was the last life jacket on the Titanic, and that other part of my brain snickered again.
“Are you sure about this?” she whispered rather urgently.
“Oh yeah. I’m sure.”
And off we went.
She made it through the casket showroom, the room with the urns, and the room with the suits and dresses fine. Then Mr. Barnes asked if we’d like to see the embalming room. “I’m not working on anyone just now, but I can show you the layout.”
My editor gripped my arm like an eagle hanging on to a slippery salmon.
“That sounds really interesting.”
I’m not sure she had her eyes open for that one.
Then came the question that was to pave the way for the best part of the day. “Mr. Smith, would you like to see our crematorium? It is the most state-of-the-art unit of it’s kind in the state.”
Well, how could I turn that down?
I think my editor moaned a little and her grip slipped. So I figured she was all set to go as well.
I have to say, the facility was amazing. It was as clean as an operating room and it appeared to be just as advertised. State-of-the-art. And we were informed the crematorium required no cool down required between “cases”, could handle in excess of 1,000 pounds per “case”, could handle up to ten “cases” in a 12 hour period, or could run continually for 24 hours.
And it had a 15 inch touch screen interface.
But one thing in particular caught my attention. It was a sign. Over the crematorium doors. Just three little words.
Caution: Confined Space
The “other” part of my brain almost wet itself.
“Mr. Barnes,” I said, “this is all fascinating. Honestly. But I feel, as a layman, I should point something out.”
“Of course, Mr. Smith. What would that be?”
I pointed to the sign over the doors of an oven that goes from zero to crispy critter in a matter of seconds. “If someone complained, you didn’t do it right.”
He looked at the sign…back at me…then at the sign again.
My editor looked shocked.
The “other” part of my brain had just officially wet itself and was rolling on the floor, ROFLing.
I was looking innocent.
Then Mr. Barnes, who had been the epitome of grace and dignity through the entire tour, abruptly cut loose with a laugh that was part Canada goose honk and part donkey bray. When he could finally breathe, he said, “Oh my Lord, Mr. Smith, that’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard. You are so witty. I am going to have to tell the manufacturer’s rep that when I see him next.” He laughed even harder. “He’ll just die!”
The “other” part of my brain snickered.
Even my face-just-turned-the-color-of-cotton editor snickered.
And our tour guide realized what he said. The goose/donkey laugh exploded from him and the two of us laughed like loons, holding onto the crematorium so we wouldn’t fall on the floor. My editor used my arm for the same purpose.
When we finally regained our composure, our host said, “I believe that is the most fun anyone has ever had in this facility.” The “other” part of my brain heard that and passed out. So I just told him if that was indeed the case, I was glad we had been there for it.
We chatted about the book convention and some of the events scheduled for the rest of the weekend as he led us back to the front door of his facility. Then we said our goodbyes, I thanked him for his hospitality and the best laugh I’d had in weeks, and we made our way down the steps. When we reached the bottom, he called out, “Oh, Mr. Smith, I just remembered there are some cremains in the cremated remains processor [imagine the machine at the paint store that shakes paint cans in a thirty gallon size, filled with bones (leftovers from the cremation process) that it will shake into dust in a matter of minutes] and I could show you how that works.
I felt the circulation stop in the arm my editor was now squeezing like an anaconda wrapped around a goldfish. I looked at the watch on my one good arm. “I wish I could, but we can’t be late for the opening events. But thank you again.”
Once we were back in her SUV and she had returned my arm to me, I buckled up, put on my most innocent expression and said, “Wow, that was great!”
She just put the SUV in gear and drove to the convention site, mumbling something about weirdo authors and whatever idiot thought it would be a good idea to start a fiction imprint.
All I know is I was witty and had my name on the digital sign and was still able to walk out. All-in-all, a good outing.
Something Stirs (the Cemetery Dance reissued version) continues to do well. It has cracked the Amazon Top 100 3-4 times. And as always I appreciate your support whether you bought a copy, talked it up to your friends, or retweeted and reposted it on social media. Thank you.
On a similar note, there is talk of a special limited hardcover edition in the works from a second publisher (working with CD). More on that as there is something more to tell.
As always, thank you for wandering past the graveyard with me. I appreciate you all. Yeah…even you there with the mismatched socks. You probably have another pair just like them somewhere. And if you like these ramblings, be sure to subscribe (it’s always free), share, and keep your eyes peeled for the next issue.
* I won’t reveal the publisher because they did the very best they could, so please be kind and don’t start searching the Internet to find them. I have no axe to grind. They DID produce a great book trailer. But more about that next time.