Sunday, June 15, 2008

Signing in the Rain

There must be something about the combination of outdoor book signings, Chicago and me that courts disaster.
BLUE SCHWARTZ AND NEFERTITI’S NECKLACE came out in September. It takes place in my Chicago Hyde Park neighborhood and the release coincided with a local children’s book street fair. The fair was even sponsored by 57th Street Books which happened to be Blue’s favorite bookstore. It would seem that all the planets, or whatever it’s supposed to be, were in alignment.
I remember that afternoon thinking how this was to be my very first time on the other side of the signing table. My friend Judy Libby even drove up all the way from Springfield to share the moment.
My signing time was toward the end of the fair and it was to be at a table on the street. The sky was white, but non threatening so I wasn’t worried. This is no lie, but as Judy and I walked the two blocks to the fair, something happened in the last half a block. It started to pour. Not drizzle, not light rain – pour. The kind of rain where it seems someone unzipped the sky and let a deluge fall out.
By the time we reached the signing table, it was covered with a tarp and frantic people were carrying books inside. Most of the fair goers were fleeing for someplace dry. The bookstore people were very nice and moved my signing inside. Meanwhile Judy troweled the bookstore for customers. She found some wet girls waiting to be picked up. They were just the right age for the book and several of them got copies.
When the mother’s showed up and the only shoppers were a couple of men, Judy and I left and went out to dinner. When we walked outside, the rain had stopped and the puddles were already drying up.
Flash forward to last weekend and my first signing of another book in Chicago at a street fair. This time it was the Printers Row Fair which is held in the South Loop. Julie Hyzy, the president of the Chicago area chapter of Mystery Writers of America as nice enough to give me a signing slot for HOOKED ON MURDER, a crochet mystery in their booth.
The sun was shining when I arrived at the MWA sideless tent. I took my spot at the table and all four of us signers had a stack of books and a ready pen. Lots of people came by and many of them stopped. My friend Mike Caselman came by with his family. Things were looking good and books were moving and then the wind started. Someone mentioned a coming storm and that we should cover everything with plastic when it came. It was hard to believe bad weather was on the way. The sky was still blue, though there were some big clouds.
The thing they say about Chicago weather – if you don’t like it, wait a minute – is no joke. Within minutes the dark turned dark and ominous. The wind snapped all the tarps people were putting over their booths, and the doors on the porta potties blew open and shut. A garbage can did cartwheels past our booth.
And then it started to rain. No drizzle or a few wet spots, it went directly too pouring again. It was raining so hard, it honestly looked like a sheet of water.
We covered our table with plastic and bravely held our signing spots. Though by now most of the people going by were running.
When I looked around, there were clumps of people under the canopies, and huddled under building overhangs. We all had the same idea. It rains, it pours, it stops.
Not today.
When the lightening started, a fair official came by and told us we had to evacuate our booth. Apparently the metal rod sticking up in the middle did a good job of attracting lightening and could have fried us if we stayed put. I found an awning on a building and hung out with one of my signing mates.
Could it get worse? The tornado siren sounded and then I heard a lot of emergency type sirens in the distance. The woman from the next booth, also under our awning screamed every time the lightening flashed.
As the rain finally began to let it, there was another tornado siren, but this time further away. When the rain turned to drizzle and people began to come out of their shelters, I looked at my watch. My signing time was over. I headed for the train and went home.
It turned out there was a damaging tornado on the south end of the city.
The funny thing is if both signings had gone by without incident, they certainly wouldn’t have been as much of an adventure or given me anything to write about. Who ever wants to hear about a good time? I guess there is definitely something to be said for disaster. But next time I do a signing, I think I’ll try inside.


Anonymous said...


I just had this image flash into my brain--you at a signing out here in California. The books stacked in neat piles or fanned out in cool displays. And then...the earthquake!

At least the books probably wouldn't get wet. :)

Linda O. Johnston said...

I empathize, Betty. I was at the Printers Row Book Fair last Saturday, not Sunday. The very nice bookseller from Big Sleep Books kept moving me out of the beating sun during my early afternoon signing at her booth. When I got to the Mystery Writers of America booth later in the day, the sun was behind clouds. Before my signing time was up, rain started pouring down--no lightning, though, I believe. We all covered our books and hid inside the tent for a while till the rain let up.
And, Becky, I live in L.A., too--and would rather not sign books during an earthquake!

Monica Ferris said...

I have never done a signing outside. Came close once, but it got cancelled. I will try to remember to refuse if I'm ever offered a chance to sign with you, Betty! LOL

Oh, and meanwhile, "trowled"? I'm trying to think what word you meant to put in there. I kind of like it, as if your friend was out there with a putty scraper, scooping up prospective book buyers . . .

Betty Hechtman said...

Becky: I'm with Linda on the signing during an earthquke. Having gone through the 94 earthquake here, the only thing I'd like to do during another one is be somewhere else.

Linda: I'm glad your signing time went better. I actually signed most of the books before the rain hit. The whole storm thing was really kind of exciting and fun.

Monica: Troweled probably isn't the right word. I'm afraid I wrote the blog as I was getting ready to leave Chicago and posted it somewhere around 2 a.m. when I got home to L.A.. Whatever the right word is, I was trying to say she scraped up some potential readers. And thankfully succeeded.