Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?
There's this hilarious--to me--thing that happens when you're sitting at a table in public, available to sign books but not the reason that people might be in the same space as you. If they've come into this bookstore or Costco or church or whatever and encounter a person with a Sharpie and the vaguely needy air of a dog at the ASPCA, the people act a little shocked and then a little confused. They look closer like Joaquin Phoenix watching the TV in Signs and then they suddenly draw back and avert their eyes, realizing--too late!--that the person is there to offer them something--a book with a signature!--and they are not there for that at all.
They are there for anything but that. Detergent or a candle or confession or whatever. And they don't have any problem with books or this book--they've never heard of it but God bless!--it's just that they weren't expecting to have this kind of interaction and it suddenly feels--to them--like they've happened upon a person who wants to collect signatures for a political candidate or someone who wants to know if they have a moment to spare for the environment or a group that's offering a Dianetics test.
People think they're about to be sold to. Like I have a brochure for bath fitters and a quota. And I always want to shout, "I absolutely do not want to offer you a new bathtub! I don't even understand how bath fitters work. So, your ugly old tub is just sitting underneath this tub shaped shell? Forever? Like a mummy? No, I am not trying to sell you anything. I think this book is very good but no one is more embarrassed to be surprising you with it than me. Please go about your day and feel free to google it when you are out of my sight. You will enjoy it but you don't have to enjoy it in my presence."
I absolutely love this experience and I love every single time I am privileged enough to have it, as I have a little this week while promoting my new book, Congratulations, The Best Is Over! I also was lucky enough to get to do tour stops and readings in Baltimore, Philly, and Nashville, which were fabulous--check out my IG (@oureric) for pictures if you'd like!
On Saturday, I went down to the National Book Festival to sign copies of my YA novel Kings of B'more. Maryland Humanities and the Maryland Center for the Book had chosen Kings as one of two books to represent the state in "Great Reads from Great Places", a section of a huge room in the DC Convention Center where 56 states and territories were each given a table. They had me come sit at the table from 12-2pm and they'd made a very big, lovely sign to tell people to come by and see me.
I was thrilled about all of this. When I got there, I found out that another aspect of "Great Reads from Great Places" was a map people were given and told to get stamps from every state and territory's table. Little kids would come up to me and silently foist the map at me and I'd have to say "I'm so sorry; I am unfortunately a person with a Sharpie and not a person with a stamp and therefore I cannot help you. I am very proud of this book but I will confide in you that no one is more embarrassed than I that my life choices didn't lead me to having stamp privileges."
There were some people getting their books signed but I had quite a few lulls and I volunteered to also take a stamp as the flow of map-holders was constant. The folks at the table told me not to worry about it. "You're our special guest!" they said, which was very kind but I absolutely was not just offering to stamp to be nice or to save face. I want to stamp things! I want to live life like an old school librarian processing checkouts! I want to be a passport agent in a black-and-white film. I aspire to the glamour of a notary public! This is the dream!
I had to find another tactic. I started making conversation with the people with maps. I asked an adult what the prize was for getting all the states filled in. They said they had no idea but they were deeply committed to doing it anyway. I identify so much with this energy. My whole life can be boiled down to "I don't even know if I want this prize but I will do anything to get it."
I kept asking adults and kids and not a single one knew what the prize was. But they desperately shoved their maps on to the table and then looked at me with vague disappointment when I told them I didn't have stamp privileges yet but I was hoping that by my next book I would.
Finally, when one of the volunteers left, I seized my opportunity... by just picking up her stamp and starting to stamp things. I was like "A-ha! I am Arthur! I am Thor! I am a third person who picks up something and is thereby ordained by its possession. I would think of one but I refuse to because I am not R. Eric Thomas, author! I am R. Eric Thomas, Stamper! I have found my true calling. I can bestow upon you a little ink image of a crab. There is no higher honor!"
Let's hang out!
In case it wasn't clear, I am so grateful I get to come do readings and signings and stampings and anything else. I don't take this career for granted and I really appreciate every person who came out to see me and every stranger who kindly averted their eyes.
If I didn't come to your city or favorite bookstore it is definitely not because I don't want to. I VERY MUCH DO! But a lot of it boils down to logistics. Bookstores don't usually have funds to bring authors so either the publisher has to make it happen or the author has to bring themselves to town or another organization has to put the event together. The upcoming events are a mix of all three.
If you'd like me to come to your neck of the woods, I'm booking speaking engagements through the fall and all of 2024 through Penguin Random House's speakers bureau. Send an email to Stasia Whalen (email@example.com) if you'd like to talk about your organization booking me.
East City Bookshop in-store and online
RESCHEDULED TO AUGUST 24, 2023
East End Books – Thursday 8/31/23
Bookmarks Festival of Books & Authors
September 22 & 23
Live Wire Radio Taping at the Alberta Rose Theatre
NPR! ELLE! GARDEN & GUN! SHONDALAND!
By the way, the prize for the stamp map was a book light! A precocious 11-year-old who talks in long sentences and seems like the kind who has a lot of facts about space or the deep sea or something and is very dear came back and told me. When I found out, I realized how much I wanted a book light! Oh, to go back in time and get a map, not knowing where it would lead!
I absolutely do not want to offer you a new bathtub!