In the fall of 1997, I published a YA title—Jack London: A Biography—with Scholastic Press. (I used to love telling my students, later on, that J. K. Rowling and I had the same publisher!) As soon as the book was out, I called some local bookstores (when there used to be such things) to arrange signings; one that accommodated me was Waldenbooks at Akron’s Rolling Acres Mall. I was excited about the date they gave me, 14 December 1997—prime Christmas shopping time. Surely, I would sell scores of Jack Londons!
When I arrived, I was even more hopeful. There were rivers of shoppers flowing up and down the mall corridors; the stores were crowded—Waldenbooks was crowded. The manager had set up a little table for me at the entrance—more good news! Even the shoppers who had not intended to enter Waldenbooks would see me there with a stack of Jack Londons and, curious, would stop and buy a (priceless) signed copy for every YA in their extended family. I felt my heart synchronizing with Scrooge’s—with both versions of him: the greedy old guy who loves money; the reformed old guy who loves Christmas.
I sat there for two fucking hours.
I didn’t sell a single fucking book.
Okay, my son, bless him, stopped by and bought one.
I did not speak with a single fucking (non-family) shopper.
Okay, one mother and daughter, who seemed about ten, floated in the flow a moment when the girl cried, “Look, Mommy! An author!” Mommy glanced at me and the books—she was only feet away—then said, loudly, “Keep moving—he’s not famous!” And she grabbed the little girl’s arm and dragged her back into the torrent.
I thought of many bad words. And wished much ill upon her (the mother).
Rolling Acres closed in October 2008, its Waldenbooks dying with it. Later, of course, Waldenbooks itself, a subsidiary of Border’s, passed away with its parent in 2011.
So … that humiliating mall-memory is fresh when taxi-driver Brian asks me if I am famous (it remains fresh, really), so I smile and tell him no, I’ve published a couple of books, but I am famous only in my own house—and not always there.
Kind and savvy enough to show no disappointment, Brian roars off to show me Shelley’s Horsham-Warnham world—or what is left of it.