The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is where my writing career took really its first major turn for the better… at the same time it almost fell off the rails and never happened. Calamitous emotional experiences often push people to their limits and you get to see what you are made of. For me, the very first time I attended Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, well… I almost didn’t make it home I was so abysmally distraught.
Now The Festival of Books is an extraordinary event. Over the course of two days, more than 150,000 people will come to, well… buy books. And hear authors. And stock their shelves with reading material. From the very famous (to list the top authors who have been a part of this even would be superfluous – it’s just immense; so, so many of the biggest writers have appeared) to the “I have never heard of you before” first-time writer, it’s literally an author’s soup type of event.
It was my experience meeting one of these “I have never heard of you before” first-time writers that nearly broke my emotional back – or rather lit the fuse of my professional writing life, depending on which way you look at at. See, as I was walking the rows and rows of booths where you can find everything from cookbooks, to picture books, to mysteries to cultural heritage titles (there’s gotta be a half-million titles on display at the Festival, if someone had the temerity to count them all up), I stumbled into the the back row of one of the corridors.
The cheap seats, if you will. As with all sales events, the old adage about how, “Location, location, location! is everything” applies. To be in the dead center of the event guarantees hordes of people will see your book. (It’s literally, at the height of the day, wall-to-wall with people, as crowded as Times Square in New York City… just mobbed.) However, to be in the back corner on a row way off the main drag, well… let’s just say that it could be easy to turn green with envy about NOT having attained better real estate for the Festival.
And that’s where I saw “Him”. I don’t know his name, I don’t know the title of his book, I only vaguely recall a few scant details, but meeting Him changed my writing life.
See, Him was a self-pusblished author who had just written his first book. (I believe it was a dark mystery/fantasy type of thing.) And he had an absolutely crappy location for his book booth. And he had an absolutely crappy banner to promote his title. And, in my opinion, he had an absolutely crappy looking book cover, an absolutely crappy sounding title and an absolutely crappy attitude. When I walked up to check out his book, the bitterness of the world not appreciating his genius as an author oozed from his pores and as I perused his title, the negative vibes radiating from Him immediately turned me off.
Him was pathetic. Him was miserable. Him had written, in my opinion, a total piece of crap.
And that’s when it hit me… at least Him had written a piece of crap. It had always been my dream to be a published writer and what the hell had I done? I mean, Him was horrible – and yet he was about 400 rungs on the ladder higher than I was in the world of writing. At least he’d written a piece of crap – I hadn’t even done that with my sad, pathetic, what-the-heck-am-I-doing-with-my-days life.
And once I had that realization, I sulked away ready to find a bridge off of which to jump.
Remember, that quote at the top: For all sad words of tongue and pen, The saddest are these, ‘It might have been’. John Greenleaf Whittier
Well, I ended up not finding a bridge. Instead I found a wellspring of “Screw-it-ness” which lived in my soul. I may go down, but I was not going down without a fight. I didn’t care whether it brought me to my last breath… I was going to write and publish a book. Life had rolled up its shirt sleeves and called me into the middle of the ring to have a knock-down, drag out bare-knuckles back-alley brawl.
And seeing Him made me realize, “Ya know what? I’m gonna fight!”
And that’s the event which triggered my career. And now that I have published 16 different writing projects – I’ve published with Disney, Scholastic, Penguin, Longstreet Press and RB Education – I gotta say, I wish I could find Him and go thank Him.
Because that day at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books changed my life.
Note: I will be signing books at the Festival at the University of Southern California booth on Sunday, May 1 @ 1:00 – prime time (in so many ways).