I had a dream the other night that I showed up to one of my book events totally unprepared. I had no notes for the presentation, nothing printed for a reading, and no time to cobble anything together at the last minute because the event was starting RIGHT NOW. You could hear the announcement over the PA system.
Oh $#%@&*! What did I write about again? Was it some kind of a cookbook? Help! For a few terrifying minutes, I waited it out, hoping the nightmare would do its usual shape-shifting with regard to scenery and time and logic, but it never did. Want to know why?
Because it was REAL!
There must have been some kind of miscommunication with the events coordinator. My understanding was that I would have a small table set up at the front of the store near the door so people coming and going could see my book, have a cookie, and chat if they wanted. This format had worked well in the past. It's not terribly stressful because you're dealing with a few people at a time and who doesn't like free food?
What I ended up walking into, however, was a full formal talk with a podium and row upon row of chairs. And there I was arriving just five minutes before show time with zero backup plan and, more importantly, no astronaut diapers for when the stress finally got the best of me. Would a tampon work instead, I wondered? A cork? Dear god, where are the restrooms in this place??
I've given several presentations as part of my book tour. Some of them were even pretty good. But that was after lots of practice and serious pre-game mental preparations not unlike how Rocky trained for a big fight. By the time we got around to this event, I hadn't given a talk in over a month. Not only that, but those five days in the hospital with the 11YO had something of a lobotomizing effect on me. As I situated myself behind that podium, I realized I had nothing. My mind was a total blank. I could feel the panic rising. In fact, I was so focused on trying to manage my internal nervous breakdown that I didn't notice one tiny detail: nobody was sitting in any of the chairs around the podium. That didn't necessarily mean anything, though. I've had events before where people didn't start filtering in until 10 minutes after it was supposed to start, and we eventually ended up with a full house. I was always very surprised at how well attended my events were.
But in this case, those 10 minutes flew by and there still wasn't a soul around. The cold hand of terror gradually started to loosen its grip. After all, who in their right mind wants to hear someone talk about winter desserts in the back of a store at the mall on a dark night in the middle of the week with the wind chill below zero and only a few days left until spring? Maybe nobody would show up and then I could go home and go to bed!
Eventually, four people wandered out of the woodwork and sat down, more out of sympathy than anything else I can imagine. I ditched the podium entirely. I ended up talking to a pair of vegans about sugar substitutes and spent 45 minutes with a 14-year-old discussing how to get a sci-fi book published.
I've never been so grateful for the poor turnout in my life.