This last Saturday was my coming out party.
No, I'm not talking about any deep, dark secrets, but this was the first time I would appear at a scheduled event in a bookstore to talk about and sign copies of the book I co-wrote with Dr. Judy Mikovits, PLAGUE - One Scientist's Intrepid Search for the Truth about Human Retroviruses, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS), Autism, and Other Diseases.
The first bookstore, Rakestraw Books in Danville, CA, had more of a planned feel to it. My in-laws went to college with the owner, and it was the type of prestige bookstore that I'd set my sights on long ago. The owner told me that a Saturday afternoon wasn't likely to draw a large crowd, but when I walked into the place and saw twenty stacked copies of my book I gasped. I'm supposed to sell that many books!
The group was composed of some family members, long-time friends, and a few people that I didn't know, but were familiar with the story told in the book. I'd spent the last week developing "the talk" I was going to use in front of general public audiences and I'm pleased to say it went over quite well.
I began by talking about the writers who had influenced me, like Tom Wolfe, who had written The Right Stuff and The Bonfire of the Vanities, or the works of Dominic Dunne, whose work usually focued on crimes committed among the very wealthy. I told the audience that what I liked so much about those stories is that they were about something crucial; flying into outer space, a crime with racial or class issues at stake, but they also let you to the inner workings of a hidden world. I taked about how one of my favorite lines in The Right Stuff was when a character called the fraternity of test-pilots who put themselves at risk, "a weird mad monk squadron."
I told the audience that when I learned about Dr. Judy Mikovits and the other scientists in and out of government who were trying to find answers to these diseases I felt like I'd found my own "mad monk squadron."
I'd expected I might get the challenging questions, the ones people who have known me for so long know I've been interested in pursuing, but for the most part they didn't come. When it was all finished, eleven books had been sold and the bookstore owner told me that was a good number of sales for a Saturday afternoon. "That went pretty well," said my fourteen-year-old son, Ben, who was accompanying me to both events.
The next bookstore event at Towne Center Book in Pleasanton was more of a slapdash affair. I'd stopped in the bookstore about two weeks earlier, showed the owner my book, and then she said, "Well the town's having a holiday stroll on November 22 from 5:30 to 7:30 with all the stores open and we've got a micro-brew and another author here signing books, so you could just join her."
When we arrived, Ben was carrying the nine remaining books from the previous event (the two bookstore owners had made a deal), and we got set up in the middle of this long, narrow bookstore. The "other" author had the prime spot, a table right at the front of the store where everybody who walked in saw her. At least a few people would see me as they made their way into the back for the micro-brew which was set up in the children's books section.
Nobody here was a friendly, and in fact nobody even knew I was going to be there. This was a completely random affair. As people walked by on the way to the micro-brew I'd smile and if they gave me an opening I'd try to strike up a conversation with them. "Hand the book to them if they look interested," Ben whispered after one such conversation where the patron had then walked away.
I handed a book to the next person who stopped, and sure enough he bought the book. If the person to whom I handed the book was lingering over it, flipping through the pages, I'd pull out another copy, open it to the dedication page with a pen at the ready, and say, "Who do I sign this to?" That brought a few smiles to people's faces, then they'd often look over at my son, and ask, "So, have you read this?"
Ben was a champ, and he'd say, "I did. It's a great story. And the science is easy to understand. My dad worked hard on that." His words usually closed the sale.
I had so many great conversations with people. One guy stopped by, said he had chronic fatigue syndrome, and that he'd read a great book several years ago by a journalist about the disease.
"Hillary Johnson?" I asked.
"Yeah, that's her."
"She wrote the foreword to my book."
That really impressed him.
A nurse that stopped to talk to me listened for a while said, "It's the vaccines isn't it? We all know it's the vaccines."
I smiled cagily. "You need to read the story." I had the book open to the dedication page. "Now who do I sign this to?"
"Carol," she said.
That was the last book I had. All twenty copies I'd started the day with were gone. There was still an hour left of the holiday stroll. And when my son and I walked out, that author at the front of the store still had a large pile of books at her table.
I'd started the day dreading the bookstore shuffle, but at that moment I felt like breaking out into a dance.
Kent Heckenlively is a Founding Contributing Editor to Age of Autism and co-author with Dr. Judy Mikovits of Plague: One Scientist's Intrepid Search for the Truth about Human Retroviruses and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Autism, and Other Diseases. Release date is November 18, 2014. Visit his website at Plague The Book. You can order the book HERE.