Odd, but it’s where you’ll stumble across Readers and Writers.
It may seem like such a coincidence, that the odds are stacked against it happening, perhaps a million-to-one shot. However, I believe there are two major factors swaying the odds in your favor. 1) God. 2) People.
For those of you who don’t subscribe to belief 1), try considering it as “a higher power” involved, guiding you into a situation where a propitious meeting takes place. Random chance? Yeah, right. Proximity? Okay, that’s likely, as well. A little nudge in the circumstances, a decision made one way instead of the other, the courage to speak up and reach out to another person? Sure, it tips the scales for an incredible event to occur.
For me, not just once today, but twice.
I agreed with a friend, Dave Brownawell, to set up a tent at the Fulton Farmers Market on 5th Street on Saturday. He hand-crafts wooden bowls: beautiful patterns of wood, turned on an old lathe he got from his father, each one uniquely shaped, carefully milled, and sanded for a smooth tactile sensation. He also takes large craft beer bottles, cuts off the top with a diamond-tipped saw, smooths the lip so it provides a safe drinking surface. They’re usually the bottles with adhered paint, but sometimes he’ll do the ones with paper labels, covering them in a protective coating so they can withstand washing. He also went to Keokuk with a mutual friend and they garnered bucketfuls of geodes, which he cracks open to reveal hidden secrets. My part in the street-side sales? Be a presence as an Author to display and sell copies of my books. Simple.
It was a marvelous day to be out on the cobblestone streets of the Brick District. We enjoyed a leisurely morning of sunshine, blue skies, and moderate temperatures in the 70s. Dave had been getting a lot of lookers and a few buyers. I wasn’t getting anywhere near the interest I’d hoped for. My attention kept drifting around the crowd, though I was pretending to write another chapter of the sci-fi novel I anticipate publishing before the end of the year. The Seeds of Mankind: Universe 242 is moving along, but completion will require more diligent effort.
I noticed the vendors across the street had brought their teenagers along to help. I also noted the guy and the gal seemed to be getting bored between customers. When I saw the young gal plop into the back of their van and flip open a book, an idea struck.
I pulled copies of Chasing the Dragon and of Dark Attic Manuscripts from my inventory. It was easy to pique their interest, handing the fantasy novel to Sierra and handing the compilation of scary tales to Jon. Their parents were appreciative of my kindness and we struck up a conversation. They jointly run a homemade baked goods business in their spare time, called Jenny Bakes. They give a portion of their profits to benefit the local Serve Inc. organization, which helps provide transport, meals, clothing, school supplies, and other life services for the elderly and for families in need. It depends heavily on community volunteerism, and the Milligans are doing their part.
It was just as folks were beginning to break down their stalls and pack up, that Jon walked back over, followed by Sierra, and they returned the books. Jon asked about the pricing on the books, then they both went back across the street. Moments later, he ambled back and handed me cash for a copy of DAM, acting kind of shy to be asking. I swapped book for cash, then followed him a few moments later. His parents chuckled when I admitted to not having done due diligence to autograph the book, and Jon was ecstatic when I made good on it.
We chatted for a few minutes and I worked in the question “Do any of you write?” The husband, the wife, and Jon pointed in unison to Sierra, who demurred at being outed. So…I launched into the spiel about NaNoWriMo. She had heard of it, but had not yet participated. I adjured her to try it this year, extolling the virtues of the challenge to write 50,000 Words in 30 Days with 0 Excuses. As we talked, she began to realize she could take the ideas in her head and tip them out onto “paper” in order to make them a reality, to breathe life into them, to share them with the entire world. We even talked about Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing as a way to take a final, edited, complete manuscript and turn it into a physical book people can hold in their hands. She seemed pretty jazzed about the concept, and I anticipate her being at the local Write-Ins during November.
Another friend, Terry Showers, is a man of many hidden talents. He coordinates our church fellowship; that and a couple of other minor details are all I really knew about him until he retired a couple of years ago. When NaNo rolled around, he told me he’d considered tossing his hat in the ring and writing a sci-fi story he’d been working on. What? I asked, and he averred he’d been a sci-fi / fantasy novel enthusiast from way back. What-What?! I never knew. And…later in the year, he springs on us that he’s into rock collecting. Who is this guy? Why did I never think to ask?
So…get this…he is heavily involved in the Central Missouri Rock & Lapidary Club, and was responsible to organize the Rock & Mineral Show in Columbia this year. About a month before the event, he started talking it up. Last week he gave us a final invite, since he was going to be busy with set-up and coordination of the vendor booths. (And, yes, he’s the guy who got Dave involved in hunting geodes at Keokuk.) Dave and I determined to attend the event, as a show of support, and decided on Saturday after the Farmers Market. We went separately, and I brought my wife, AngieMae, along for the ride.
I’ve been building this up in such a way you might think Terry was going to spring another surprise on me about writing, but that’s not where this was headed. While browsing the different vendor tables, AngieMae found several nice pieces of stone turned into jewelry. She got a few items and we called our daughter to find out if she would like a token, as well. We sent phone pix and she made a choice.
I was wandering the aisles when a particular stone sculpture caught my eye. The piece spoke to my sense of craftsmanship and artistic flair. There was a fossilized shell embedded in a large stone. The artist, from Africa, saw the potential of the juxtaposition and formulated a vision of striking aesthetic. He chipped and carved away everything that didn’t look like an alien flower stem suspended on a slick rocky ledge. In some small way, the composition reminded me of Rodin’s “The Thinker.” I couldn’t tear my gaze away; I was mesmerized, so engrossed in thought that I didn’t realize someone else had stepped up beside me, until she spoke.
“That’s a very interesting piece,” she said. “Yes,” I told her, refocusing, “it’s got a particular styling that reminds me of Maori fish hook carvings.” The lady reached out and traced the lines of the sculpture in the air with her finger. “What do you suppose that is?” I told her what had come to mind for me and she gave a slight nod. “Are you thinking of buying it?” I sensed there was more to the question. “I’m considering it,” I told her. Her eyebrows arched, “Do you think the vendor would give me a discount if I bought something?” Now I understood where this was going. “Only one way to find out. Let’s ask.”
I turned to the man between the tables and noted he was Oriental. I inquired about his pricing and if he ever reduced them. Glen Su cocked his head, furrowed his brow, and asked, “Are you both buying something?” “Yes,” replied the woman. “But separately,” I interjected. “It is Mother’s Day this weekend,” the woman put forward. “And you’d have two sales,” I appended. Glen’s cheeks got rounder with a smile. “Sure. I’ll take ten percent off…each purchase. Let me get my ledger.” The lady looked over at me. “We double-teamed him, didn’t we?” I nodded. “S’pose we did.”
When Glen came back, the woman had an intriguing rectangle of stone in her hands. It was rough and chalk white on one side, dappled with dark splotches. The other side had been cut and planed flat, exposing a beautiful filigree of purple flower-like crystals, seemingly growing in a field of silver. She told me the mineral names, that she’d truly wanted the stone, and said the contingent discount could have been a deal-breaker. Glen told me his final price and I hesitated, thinking it was still a bit more than I’d like to pay. When I glanced at the lady, she wore a look of “if you don’t buy, he may cancel the discount.” Couldn’t have that, now could we?
“Let me consult with my wife,” I told Glen, and flagged her down on the next aisle over. “AngieMae, could you come take a look at this?” I pointed at the wares on the table.
She came around and asked, “What did you find?” I put my hand on the sculpture. “What is it?” I explained its composition and its artistic merit. She leaned closer. “Is that the price?” I told her the discounted total. “I don’t know. That’s a lot. We can’t do it.” I slouched and gave her a look with my puppy-dog eyes. “Hmm… Okay, but it has to come out of your side account.” I tried not to seem over-eager. “Yeah, sure. That’s fine by me.” She tilted her head and squinted at the thing. “Where are we going to put it?” I hadn’t thought of that. “I’ll show you when we get home.”
“Who’s this?” she asked me. I engaged my manners and said, “Another buyer, who wanted a bargain. Didn’t catch her name. We kind of made it worthwhile for Glen and he offered a lower price to both of us.” AngieMae reach out to shake hands and I caught only bits and pieces of the introduction, because the vendor was ready to conclude our transaction, now that it was confirmed as a GO. It was a good solid ten minutes before the prize was safely wrapped and we’d finagled the technology to process payment. By that time, AngieMae had held an entire discussion and was ready to move on. She excused herself and caught up with Terry to talk with him.
“That worked out well,” said the lady, indicating her colorful stone and my bagged sculpture. “Yes, and I never would have stumbled across it if Terry Showers–the man over there AngieMae is talking to–if he hadn’t invited us out to this Rock Show.” I paused for a second, then held out my hand. “I’m sorry. In the midst of all this, I completely forgot to introduce myself. I’m TJ…and you are…?” She shook my hand and said, “Virginia Almon. Good to meet you. And who is Terry…?” I explained he was the one who’d coordinated the whole event for the Rock Club, that he is our church fellowship coordinator, and that he was also working toward becoming a published Author. At that, Virginia raised an eyebrow, leaned closer, and tapped me on the arm. “I’ve also done a bit of writing, but I haven’t published any books. I’m listed with Psychology Today. Does that count?”
I laughed, then launched into the NaNoWriMo thing. She listened as I painted the challenge in glowing terms. When I wound down, she told me, “That sounds interesting. Perhaps I’ll look into it. I’ve got so many ideas, it’s just a matter of making time to organize them and write it all down.” I suggested, “Eight to ten minutes a day–every day–and before you know it, you have a large and growing novel.”
She seemed to consider the idea, weighing the merits of taking bite-size chunks out of the project, as opposed to tackling it like a mammoth undertaking. I handed her a business card, then told her, “If you ever want to chat about writing in general, NaNoWriMo in particular, or how to tackle self-publishing with Amazon Kindle Direct, drop an e-mail or call me. Happy to help.” She examined the golden card, then stood back and said, “Let me consider it. Perhaps it would be better for you to call me. Your wife has my number–we swapped–so if you want to talk about writing, call the number on the card.”
So…twice in one day. Once at a Farmers Market on the cobblestone streets of Fulton; and again in the midst of a Rock Show in Columbia. Either I’m getting some guidance, or the number of “closet writers” is much greater than anyone has ever suspected.