So I was sitting at a table with two writers I’d just met.It was at the Easton Book Festival and since I’m new to the area I was very aware that I didn’t know anybody.I was also aware that my book, Holy Horror, wasn’t on anybody’s radar screen, despite it being mid-October.As we were talking my two interlocutors mentioned the advances they’d received for their books, one of whom was able to buy a house with said advance.As I listened I kept my mouth shut, because that’s polite, even though my jaw was slack.The other person hadn’t been able to buy a house, but after writing on a topic so obscure I can’t remember it, had been able to do something noteworthy with the advance.My royalties from Holy Horror wouldn’t have covered the cost of this dinner.
In the weeks following the festival—always busy with AAR/SBL looming, then Thanksgiving, then December—I began some soul-searching.What was I doing wrong?I also did some web-searching.One of the articles that came up, written by a business writer, suggested pulling up your socks and getting to it, demanding money for your writing.I don’t see anywhere to put a coin slot on this blog, which is more of a labor of love than anything anyway.Then the kicker came.This business writer cited Hosea 4.6, “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge,” as the basis of why people would pay for content.Now pardon me for taking things a little literally, but I doubt Hosea was in the business of giving business advice.The knowledge people lack, in context, is knowledge of Yahweh.
Now here I was back on familiar territory.I’ve taught classes on Hosea, and this intriguing prophet was commenting on Israel’s lack of knowledge of God’s ways.There were some folks akin to prosperity gospelers back in the pre-Gospel days, suggesting that if you kept God happy rewards would roll your way, but history had other plans.Israel fell to the Assyrians shortly after Hosea’s time, his writing advice apparently unheeded.As I revise Nightmares with the Bible for publication—the reviewer felt it was too tradey—I have to wonder about my conversation back in October.Neither book of my conversation partners was one of broad appeal.In fact, the second was rather technical.They had, however, been paid for their work.Academic publishing is built on the paradigm that the writer already has a university job and doesn’t need the money.Hosea also said, if I recall, something about what happens if you sow the wind.
It’s sitting on the table next to my chair and I’m afraid of it.It all started during the Easton Book Festival.I feel sorry for those people who have to stand on the street corner and pass things out for a job.In Manhattan I used to see them being completely ignored by swarms of people passing by.They’re only doing their job.I made a habit of accepting their chits, and even if they didn’t mean anything to me, I felt that the person handing them out might have experienced a small measure of satisfaction that someone accepted what they were offering, and had said “thank you.”In Easton back in October, my wife and I were heading to one of the venues to hear an author talk and a guy was passing out paper, and I accepted one as a matter of habit.
It was a Chick tract.If you’ve been reading this blog a while you’ll have run across the concept before.Jack T. Chick was a cartooning evangelist.He drew hundreds of tracts and comic books that formed a steady diet for me, growing up.Although they looked like cartoons, these intolerant, Fundamentalist tracts were quite often very scary.Especially to the young.More than once I’d spiral into a childhood depression after reading one.Although it seemed simple—say the prayer at the end and you’d be saved—how could you be so sure?The disturbing contents stayed with me long after the sixteen pages were done.Now, as an adult, I was being offered a road back to a childhood I fervently wished to avoid.
I stuck the tract in my pocket and forgot about it.When I got home I emptied my pockets and found it again.Curious, I was tempted to read it.I know, however, that doing so will only drag me back to a memory of younger days when a kind of terror permeated my days.And nights.My theology, which was formed of a mosaic of these tracts (what child really listens to sermons?), was a scary one indeed.It was populated by demons, Catholics, and servants of the Antichrist.Anyone who wasn’t straight and pretty waspish was a threat to my eternal salvation.Is that somewhere I want to go again?The tract sits, unread, on my table.It reminds me of the abuses to which religion might be put.And I’m thinking I might start refusing free handouts on the street once again.
I’m still recovering.The Easton Book Festival was a fine example of liminal time.Ordinary time—the day-to-day, or “workaday” variety of time—may pay the bills but comes up short on meaning.Literary time is rare and sacred.No, there weren’t great crowds at my two sessions.In fact, the crowds were modest.More people showed up for my church presentation on Sunday morning than came to either of my more “secular” presentations.The festival, however, wasn’t about numbers.It was about the love of books.Much of the time those of us who love reading are perceived as “Poindexters” who deny the excitement of a life spent in sports and adventure.There’s no reason, however, that the two can’t get along.After all, authors write about adventure and sports as well as religion and philosophy.
As Halloween nears and November encroaches on the days of trees losing their leaves, I reflect on how my entire October was leading up to this.Half a year ago I was contacting libraries and bookstores about doing Holy Horror presentations in the autumn.Only the Moravian Book Shop and the Easton Book Festival took me up on my proposal, but they allowed me, as my wife expressed it, “to put myself out there.”To be part of the conversation.People are busy, I know.Still, I came away with the business cards of a few more successful writers, and I gave away a handful of bookmarks for my too-expensive tome.I was after conversation, not fame.
Although I met the director of the festival a couple of times, I don’t know the results.I do sincerely hope that another will be offered next year.Gatherings of the bookish are dicey affairs.I attended the banquet not knowing a soul, but left having learned of others nearby who practice the craft.Many had made that transition from workaday to writer.I learned that getting the pennies I do for my books is, really, an aberration of the academic publishing scheme.Most academics have good paying university jobs and don’t really need the cash.Book festivals are opportunities to learn, classrooms in everyday life.I met authors of topics more obscure than my own who’d earned healthy advances.This was liminal time indeed.I feel honored to have been included among those feted for putting their words out there for reading and possible rejection.Books are conversations, and in a world far too busy, book festivals are a source of truly significant discussions.Long may they continue!
A huge shout-out to Andrew Laties for conceiving and organizing the Easton Book Festival!Easton may not be the largest city in the state, but the Lehigh Valley is Pennsylvania’s fastest growing area.As we discovered when we moved here almost a year-and-a-half ago, it is a region that supports bookstores.Even before the Festival we’d explored some six or seven and after moving from central New Jersey—where keeping a small shop or two open was a struggle.We’ve become spoiled for choice.Writers may not be the easiest people to herd—many of us are quiet and tend to live in our own heads quite a bit—but the festival has brought some 200 of us together, and we write on all kinds of things.
Although the panel on which I participated had religion as one of its themes, my wife and I noticed that at each session we attended religion was mentioned.Either it was in an author’s background, or it figured into their writing, or most embarrassingly, it objected to and tried to silence them through censorship.Although my book’s subtitled The Bible and Fear in Movies, it was evident that I wasn’t the only person who found the Bible’s effect on people scary.And the theme continued into the evening as I attended the author’s banquet solo.Many of the people I met had religion in their background or in their present motivations for writing, and not one of them was judgmental toward a guy like myself who’s trying to find his way.
The Easton Book Festival is in its first year.Although by late afternoon the weather had deteriorated into the rain we can’t seem to shake around here, it was wonderful to see people walking around with festival booklets (there are enough events to warrant one) and not bothering to conceal and carry.Books, that is.For a moment, they were cool.My second session is this afternoon.As I learned both last weekend at my book signing and at sessions yesterday, a sell-out crowd is unlikely.This is a free event and even authors who had more fingers than attendees were gracious and glad for the opportunity to explain what they were trying to do with their writing.And they unstintingly shared what they’d learned with one another.This was community, centered around books.It was a small slice of what Heaven could be like, if we’d all just take an interest in each other.Even if we’re shy and secretly would rather be home writing.
So it’s here. The Easton Book Festival begins today. The weather? Partly sunny, temps in the mid-60s. There’s no excuse not to go! (Well, actually, there are plenty of reasons, but if you’re in the area please consider it!) I have to admit that my involvement with it was opportunistic. I contacted the organizer because I was looking to promote my autumnally themed book, Holy Horror, in the season for which it was written. I understand delayed gratification. What author isn’t delighted when her or his book arrives? Thing is, mine came around Christmas time, and, while a wonderful gift, nobody was thinking about scary movies during the joyful winter season. My observation is this: books are lenses to focus thoughts. I enjoy Halloween, but I also enjoy Christmas. One follows the other. The Easton Book Festival just happens to be during the former rather than the latter.
My own involvement with the festival doesn’t start until tomorrow. Today’s a work day, after all. Employers don’t give days off for self-promotion (or even for writing books) so festivals are extra-curricular activities. I’ll be on a panel discussion tomorrow at the Sigal Museum and on Sunday afternoon I’ll be doing a presentation on my book, same venue. Maybe I’ve got this backwards (nobody tells you these things), but I’m not doing this primarily to sell books. I’m doing it to promote dialogue. During my less-than-stellar book signing last week at the Morvarian Book Shop I had only one brief conversation of substance. It was with a scientist who pointed out that science and religion had nothing to do with one another. I guess my hopes for the events of the next two days are that folks might want to discuss the ideas in the book. Or at least think about them.
Sunday morning I’ll be giving a church presentation on the book as well. Being in the publishing biz I’ve learned the importance of authors getting out there to talk about their books. Hands up, who’s read a McFarland catalogue lately? Case in point. The only problem with all of this is that I still have to get my weekend errands done. My daily schedule doesn’t allow for trips to the grocery store or even putting gas in the car. And no matter how much time I put into work, there’s always more to do. Festivals, of course, are intended to be time set apart from regular pursuits. So I’m going to put on respectable clothes and I’m going to speak about what’s on my mind this time of year. If the Lehigh Valley’s in your orbit, I’d be glad to see you there.
I’m a small-town boy.Having the opportunity to hold a book signing, even if nobody requested said signing at the event, in the oldest continuously operated bookstore in the country was an honor.This is a prelude to the Easton Book Festival next weekend, in which I have two roles—part of a panel discussion and an individual presentation on Holy Horror.Putting yourself out there when you’re a writer is important, even if nobody pays attention.I thought quite a lot about it; horror movies are almost always successful, but do people like reading about them?Well, some of us do, obviously, but the average viewer, probably not so much.And then there’s the somewhat embarrassing juxtaposition of the Bible.People know what it is, but don’t want to talk about it.
Two people stopped to chat at the signing desk.One was an adjunct geology professor.We discussed science and religion, which is something on which I used to teach classes.He thought the book idea was interesting, but not enough to read it.The Moravian Book Shop scheduled this on the evening of their sold out ghost tours.Quite a few people came in for a Saturday night, mostly for the haunted Bethlehem walks.The second conversation was with a ghost tourist who thought the book idea was unusual.It is.I admit it.As I say in the book itself, “If you see something, say something.”So it was with me, with Bibles in movies.The bookstore did a nice display, but then, I have an awareness of the smallness of my impact.No surprises here.
The thing that really struck me was just how many people avoid looking at you when you’re behind a table with your books.I know I’ve done the same thing.I’ve gone into bookstores when an event was going on, not knowing about it and having no interest whatsoever in the book being presented.That’s the way these things go.I wasn’t doing this to make sales.McFarland isn’t the kind of publisher you use to make money.For me it was all about the experience.It was like seeing my name outside a church in Manhattan.It doesn’t do anything for you materially, but at least you can say you had it happened to you once.The signing was advertised in the local paper, and on its website.Maybe someone out there took a glimpse and saw something that sparked their curiosity.It doesn’t matter if they buy the book.As a teacher at heart, it is simply the interest that I’m hoping to raise.
Now that it’s October, it’s officially okay to be scared.Determined to fight my fright of hubris, I make brave to mention that I have two appearances scheduled for the first ever Easton Book Festival, coming up from the 25th to the 27th.The Festival has turned into quite an event, with some 200 writers taking part.I got involved by being in the right place at the right time, for a change.Authors are being brought in from as far as New York City, Vermont, and Massachusetts. I know from experience that even Manhattan is a trek.I contacted the organizers back in the summer since I have an autumn book that came out in late December last year.For the festival I’ll be involved in a panel discussion “Poets as Prophets—Merging Art and Religion” on Saturday, and a presentation on Holy Horror on Sunday.
Like many people who write, I’m shy and not naturally good at promoting myself.The other day while out for a walk my wife and I were run by by a group of shirtless high school guys, presumably on the track team.It felt like the gallimimus scene from Jurassic Park—we’re smaller folks, and these confident, athletic sorts were not.It felt like an object lesson to me.Some of us are born with genetic dispositions to grow large and to feel confident.Others not so much.When we watched the caber toss at Celtic Fest last weekend, the contestants were all well over six feet tall, which I suppose makes sense if a caber is in the cards for you.As they showboated for the crowd, I knew a small display with my book was just up the hill in the Moravian Book Shop. Like me, in the shadows of the shelf above.
Perhaps my only regret about the Easton Book Festival is that I don’t have a fictional novel to present.Well, I do, but it isn’t published.Lately I’ve been exploring that wall of separation between fiction and non.In the kinds of books I read in the fall, the wall is more of a hurricane fence.And it’s only about waist high at that.Holy Horror isn’t an academic book, it just plays one on the market.If it were a standard academic title I wouldn’t have put it forward for the Easton Book Festival; people come to such events to be entertained as well as to learn.This one will encompass pretty much all of downtown Easton for the weekend.And that weekend is just before Halloween, when the wall between worlds is especially thin.