Look Back and Laugh
My experience as an author at a local art show...
I think every successful writer, or artist, or musician, or even any entrepreneur…I think they all have those stories from their early days. Stories they look back on and laugh about how hopeless it all seemed at one point. When they found themselves playing to an empty crowd, in some ridiculous circumstance…in a situation where some people might just give up and walk away.
I had one of those stories the other day…
I signed up for a free vendor table at the Allentown Arts Walk. The monthly outdoor event sprawls the streets of the Pennsylvania city and consists of live music, vendors and artists of all sorts, and just a nice, chill atmosphere. This was only the second time I’d gone to a show as a vendor, pushing my writing wares. I had my two books for sale. But really, the reason for going was to give away my promotional materials. I had a stack of copies of my mini-book, which includes two short stories and links to all the Dark Fiction Factory social media, and my double-sided bookmarks (credit to Martin Trafford and my old man, Steve Ramer, for all the awesome artwork). I figured I wouldn’t sell much, if anything, but I need to get out and do some grassroots promotion. I know this author thing is a long game, so I’m not really worried about making money at this point. I figured if I could get my mini-book in some new people’s hands I would take that as a win.
My handmade Dark Fiction Factory poster, which is splattered with fake blood, was in the passenger seat on the way to the show. I stopped at Dunkin Donuts and when the lady handed me my Iced Coffee, she looked at the bloody poster and quickly ducked back inside the window.
As I drove to the show I fought the mounting anxiety. I always get anxious, nervous—wanna just flat-out bail—before every event like this, anytime I’m putting myself out there. I used to get the exact same feeling when I was filmmaking, before every single shoot. It’s like you’re going to work, and your Regional Manager is coming to speak with you and you’re not sure if you’re getting a promotion or getting fired. My stomach was in knots, and it didn’t help I had to drive into center city with horns honking and sirens wailing every two seconds.
Luckily it wasn’t hard to find my vendor spot and the parking garage was right next door. I sighed in relief. It was a modest spot in a city alley, with towering buildings behind and across the alley in front of me. I set up my table, my promo materials, my books. I stepped back and thought it looked pretty good except for the odd number of flies buzzing around. The wind suddenly gusted and blew a bunch of shit off my table. The price tags from the vendor next to me fluttered down the sidewalk past me. I looked up into the sky. Grey clouds lingered above.
I stood for a while, then sat down in my lawn chair. I tried to read a book for a bit, but had to keep swatting away the flies, so I stood up again. The only people I talked to were the vendors on either side of me. It became apparent that the main hub of the show was across the street where I could see lots of people and hear the faint music, not in our little offshoot of an alley. But still, it was free to set up there, so I couldn’t complain.
The flies kept swarming and realized I had set my table up right next to a public garbage bin.
I looked across the street and noticed the sign on the building…a nuclear sign with the words FALLOUT SHELTER.
For fuck sake’s, I was set up in an alley between a garbage can and a fallout shelter. I looked down and shook my head and saw an old chicken wing sitting on the sidewalk beside my table. It had been there so long it was growing thick white fuzz.
This all felt like some sort of awful metaphor as I sat back in my seat. Still no people. I sighed and thought, this sucks, this is a colossal waste of time.
I remembered all the stories I’ve heard from successful artists, writers, performers, etc. Stories they look back on and laugh about now.
And that’s when I saw one of the other vendors approaching my table. We talked for a little. He was a nice, young guy who collected interesting historical items. He bought one of my books.
A bird squawked overhead. I looked up and the clouds had drifted away. Baby blue skies draped a soft blanket over the fly-ridden alley.
More people came by, gazing at my blood-splattered sign. I could tell the people who were interested in some dark, weird shit by the smiles of curiosity that lit up their faces. And I could easily tell the people who pepped up their step and looked away as they passed. I chatted with some really interesting folks who did stop, and I handed out enough of my mini-books that I lost count how many. I had, at least, gotten my stories in the hands of some new people.
Finally, the sun slipped below the buildings, and I packed up my things. I said goodbye to the vendors next to me and loaded up my car.
Before I left, I looked at the trash bin, the Fallout Shelter, the moldy chicken wing, and I took pictures so I can remember them later—when I’m an old, successful writer, laughing about this memory.
Special thanks to Allentown Arts Walk, check out their website here!