One of the perks of being on the road is hearing stories from booksellers and escorts about authors behaving badly. Oh, sure, there are the occasional tales of greatness, like when Dolly Parton encouraged a blind drummer to "see" her new and improved bust. Or how famed cook and former spy Julia Child exclaimed, "that's why I never cook the f***ers" when a well-meaning chef trying to impress her ended up dumping a whole cooked trout in her lap.
Those are inspiring, absolutely, but what I crave are the dirty secrets about the famous and mega bestselling: the superstar author so drunk that she couldn't go on A.M. television, choosing to toss ashtrays at her publicist instead. The primo don who at signings insists on ice for his wrists, cigarette breaks every ten minutes, perfect quiet and five Sharpie fine points, black. Or the hunky author who, famous for writing sensitive, weepy tales, ordered his escort to drive him across the street to a gym, wait while he worked out, and then drive him back across the street to the hotel, noting, "N.S. (he spoke in third person) does not take shuttle buses."
So imagine my surprise when the latest story about authors behaving badly involved none other than...me!
I found the news quite by accident while looking for a review. Let me just say this: I do not recommend Googling your name along with the word "bitch" unless you happen to be very thick skinned.
It was a blog written by an employee at a local mall chain bookstore not called Barnes and Noble (which leaves____.) It was entitled, Weekend & Bitchy Authors, and was one long rant about my visit to his small store last month in which I a) complained that the book was out before its drop date b) "demanded" I sign the copies on hand c) "Insisted" on finding autographed-by-author stickers and put them on myself and d) asked to move the books down one shelf so they could be eye level, even though corporate had not signed off on them being one shelf below. Then, apparently, I left in a huff when he said I could not move my book.
"Everyone at the store hates her," he concluded, adding that it didn't matter because they never sell any of my books there, anyway.
But, wait, that's not all. It gets worse. The piece d'resistance was that a reader standing behind me in line apparently vowed never to buy one of my books again because I was Such A Bitch! This according to his post.
Okay, granted, I get a little crazy when a new book drops. There's so much pressure to do well on that first week of sales even the most self-aware, centered author can't help but be, shall we say, shrill. And, yes, I did ask to move the book down to eye level and I was annoyed that he couldn't be enough of a human being to say to a local author, sure, what the hell. Dutton's paid for you to be on the hardcover display anyway. I don't think Jane Green will care. Go ahead, sport.
But the whole store hating me? I mean, I spend tons of money there. All my chick lit (and I buy a LOT of chick lit) I get there because Bear Pond, our local independent, is more, uh, highbrow. Those series my son reads? The YA stuff for my daughter? I must ring up close to $1,000. Plus, I ask how their new babies are. What they're reading. Harry Potter. How business is. I thought we were great friends.
And all along they...hated me? Why? I mean, what, exactly have I done wrong?
Needless to say, it was a blow. It was a five-minute time travel back to junior high and walking into the girl's locker room to find a cluster of my friends gossiping about how much they couldn't stand my guts. (Not sure that ever happened, but it felt like it did.)
What to do? What to do? Well, there was only one option. As soon as I read the blog, I got me some serious chocolate and then, feeling better, made a beeline for the store. Just my luck, there was "Kevin," we'll call him, standing behind the counter reading. He looked up from his book and swallowed.
"Kevin?" I said.
He swallowed again. "Yes?"
"I'm Sarah Strohmeyer. Remember me?"
He squinted as if trying to recall.
"You should remember me because you just blogged about me being a bitch."
"You read that?" he said, swallowing one more time. (Poor Kevin.)
"Yes, I did. And you know what I think?"
Kevin didn't answer. His mouth was too dry to swallow.
"I think you deserve...a box of chocolates!"
Whereupon I thrust into his hand a deluxe box of assorted Lake Champlain specialties before launching into one of the most painful, embarrassing and, honestly, sincere apologies of my life. By the end, I was near tears and Kevin was assuring me that while some people at the store hated me, the store was undergoing a staff turnover (Kevin included), and the manager who was staying had a really high opinion of me and my work. Also, I did sell. Sort of.
"No, no," I said. "Don't lie.I get what I deserve."
Here's the thing. No matter how stressed I am about sales or if my kids are driving me nuts or if I got on the scale and found I'd gained two pounds, that my Visa bill was overdue, that my car had engine trouble...There's no excuse for being mean. Especially to a bookseller. Not that I meant to be mean, but I wasn't paying attention to whether I was being nice, either. And sometimes that looks like the same thing.
Usually, I pride myself on being overly solicitous to those who help me make my living, whether they're editors, agents, publicists, publishers or booksellers. I would not be here today writing this without them. Last summer, I visited 23 Barnes and Nobles with goodie bags as a way of saying, "Thanks!" I send Christmas cards. I write thank-you notes. I'd get down on my knees and kiss their rings if I could.
But all it takes is one incident (see above) to get a reputation as a bitchy author. And while I might not be on the New York Times bestsellers list, I'd like to be thought of as a nice person, someone who answers fan email gladly and who is eternally grateful for the series of events - my great readers! - that have given me this wonderful opportunity to write what I love.
And you better believe I am.
Here's the other moral as I explained to my son. We're in a war right now because Certain People lack the humility to question their actions. Moreover, they attack their critics unflinchingly. I suppose the two - knee-jerk defensiveness and lack of introspection - go hand in hand. It'd be a much nicer, much safer, kinder world if there were more mea culpa and less youa culpa. Hence, the apology.
And those stories about authors behaving badly? I'm giving them up. Now I see how easy it is for an otherwise normal and nice author to get a bad rep simply because he or she made a snide comment or issued a crazy request. We all have bad days. All of us. We can all be bitches. Even men.
Though, I'm not sure I'd ever ask an escort to drive me across the street to wait while I worked out.
Yours from the doghouse,
PS - If I have been a bitch to any of you reading today (or whenever), I apologize. Like Richard Scarry said about the Naughty Bunny, I try to be good, but sometimes it is very easy for naughty bunnies to forget.