Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Bad Ass Author Blast! Southern Gents

In this age of rapid technological change to reading experiences, we've decided to highlight one of the ways that remains constant--readers and authors connecting.  Books can be purchased in almost any format--as I (Liz) sit here in my hotel room tonight I am aware that I could currently have access to books in paper format, on my e-reader, on my iPhone, on my computer...I could probably load one on my iPod if I so chose.  What I can't do from my hotel room is encounter an author in the flesh.  (If Gianna were allowed to do the posting on our blog, there's little doubt that she'd make a snide comment about authors, flesh, and my hotel room.  I'm sorry.  Know that I bear the burden of her dirty mind every single day.)  Bookstores, libraries, schools, and festivals still offer an experience unavailable online, and are one of the reasons we love our jobs and know how fortunate we are to meet the geniuses who create some of our favorite works.  We are starting a new series on our little blog here--the Bad Ass Author Blast--to highlight these special moments that separate the virtual from reality.


I was working at a bookstore in Hollywood, Florida (take a moment to be jealous…it's okay), when Rick Bragg’s All Over But the Shoutin’ was published. The staff loved the book; we were selling it hand over fist and we begged the publisher (they would soon be employing me…those silly fools!) to send Rick to sign stock. We were told, “ No, it was impossible, his schedule was absolutely crazy.” So we did the tactful thing and begged some more. This time we were told, “ No, its not going to happen and you know…lose our number.”  

We gave up, and we only resented Random House a little bit. About two weeks after we were told no for the second time, a very scruffy but oddly sexy man walked in our store. Wrinkled T-shirt, jeans that had seen a better day, his hair was crazy messy, yet he looked oddly familiar.  Yes, so familiar, like 300 copies sold at our store familiar. Holy shit! Yep, it was Rick Bragg. I walked up to him and he introduced himself and said in that sweet sweet accent that I will forever and always love, “Well, when I heard what y’all were doing for my book I just had to stop in.” He signed several hundred copies that we had been hoarding for the holidays in the back room. If memory serves we sold over 700 copies of the book that season, and I’ve been a huge fan ever since.


It was November, about six years ago, and normally bookstores shut down their events for the year in December in order to clear space, time, and staff to deal with the holiday rush.  I was a buyer and inventory operations manager at BookPeople, and by that November, I had perused hundreds of catalogs, ordered tens of thousands of books, sat in on a few hundred meetings, and was barely reserving enough energy to make it through the holiday insanity.  When a publicist calls and offers a President, though, you don't say no. 

The President was Jimmy Carter.  When I was four, I was interviewed by the podunk Woodville, Texas, radio station (along with 30 other four year-olds) in an informal Presidential poll, Reagan versus Carter.  I'd never heard of Reagan.  I told the radio guy--with a heavy Texas drawl that only existed for about a year--that I would vote for Jimmy Carter because he's "cuuu-uuute."  Seriously, there's a recording of it.  And because everyone else in the world knew who Reagan was, and that he was an actor, I was the only kid who voted Democrat. I have been a Carter fan (and a Democrat) ever since.  I have great respect for his diplomatic efforts post-Presidency to try to bring peace and alleviate suffering around the globe.  Also, my father loved Carter and his books.

So the whole staff rallied to the cause of hosting a former President--no easy task any time we're talking about the Secret Service, and particularly for this tour since the book involved discussed the Palestinian/Israeli conflict (Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid) and had generated protests at earlier tour stops--and my task on the day of the event was to stand next to the President and take books from him after he signed.  It's generally accepted in the book industry that Jimmy Carter is the fastest signer in the business.  That day he signed 1,500 books in about an hour and fifteen minutes.  He was the octogenarian but we the ones who were exhausted.  What's truly remarkable, though, was that Carter managed to talk and make eye contact throughout the signing.  He greeted the customers who'd waited in line, some of them all night, and he didn't take any flak from the obnoxious, confrontational guy who wanted to talk about 1970's politics. 
Photo: Austin Chronicle
That's Carter in the chair, and that's me with the
dark hair to his right.

What made my day, and the memory that stays with me, was that the former President and Nobel Peace Prize Winner also talked to me throughout the whole event.  Our event was on December 13th, the last stop on his tour, and he told me about how he would be taking his great-grandson out to cut down a Christmas tree after he returned home to Georgia.  He talked to me about his family.  I'll never argue that Carter was the most effective President, but as a man of principle who attempts to live honorably, I think he's one of the greatest world leaders of the last century.  


  1. Awesome. We begged for Alan Alda to come sign stick of his most recent book & were told no way. But then his handler snuck in a trip to our cafe to have brunch and he was kind enough to sign what we had.

  2. I discovered Rick about 1997, with All Over' I was a grown woman of 37 and honestly believed he would make his way to me and marry me. I believed it with the conviction I had in my teens of Prince Charming. Whenever I hear Rick's name or come across his book on a shelf it's a bittersweet memory of what SHOULD have been. Liz, this is exactly how I imagined we would meet, hair/tshirt/scruff and all. Thanks for the story.