We're All Damaged

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Glamorous Life of a First-Time Novelist

I’d been driving in circles like a moron for 15 minutes.  I knew that there was a Barnes & Noble there, I just couldn’t remember exactly where.

“Take the third exit on the roundabout,” my navigation system said for the fourth time.

“Shut up, Tina,” I said.  I named her Tina two years ago, and I have no idea why. Tina likes to do this thing where she gives up one or two instructions too soon, leaving me to fend helplessly for myself in unfamiliar places

I eventually parked—illegally, I think—and managed to find the store on foot.  Inside, it was cold and nearly empty.  Two teenaged boys were looking at a Maxim and some scattered freeloaders were reading from piles of books in the café.

Downstairs, I found my novel, Domestic Violets, piled next to some other new paperback releases.  Amazingly, there happened to be a man about my dad’s age holding a copy, flipping through it.  I stalked him for a few minutes, pretending to be looking at a Golden Retriever calendar. Eventually, without expression, he put the book down and shuffled off.  

Since its release on August 9th, I’ve been showing up at bookstores near my house and signing copies.  I’ve been told that a “Signed By The Author” sticker is good for sales.  There was no one at the Information Desk, so I drifted around awhile until I found an employee.  She was young—maybe early 20s—and she had two lip rings and a nose ring. 

“Hi,” I said.  “I wrote this book.  I was wondering if you guys wanted me to sign all the copies you have.”

“Oh,” she said—and for a good while she said nothing else. She had no idea who I was, of course, and, in her defense, I didn’t look very writerly in shorts, a t-shirt, and a baseball cap.  Next time, my plan is to show up in a tweed blazer and an ascot. 

After getting her manager’s approval and then frowning suspiciously at my author photo for what seemed like a long time, we stood together behind the Music register with ten or so copies of my book between us.  I signed the first one and handed it to her.  As I signed the others, she scanned the back of the book. 

“Sounds interesting,” she said.  But then she had second thoughts.  “Well…amusing, at least.”  She didn’t put air quotes around “amusing,” but she might as well have. 

If I were Tom Violet, my book’s narrator, I’d have said something clever and borderline obnoxious. “Wow, really? Because I was actually just shooting for mildly amusing.” 

But I’m not Tom Violet, and I didn’t have the benefit of 19 months and ten drafts of rewrites to come up with anything good, and so I just stood there, grinning and pretending that I didn’t feel a little wounded.  “Thanks,” I said. 



  1. From one writer to another, let me just say, "ouch."
    PS, I once wrote a short story called "Gratuitous Violets." You and I are quite clever, non?

  2. I was thinking of heading to my local B&N, telling them I was Matt Norman and signing the books too. You need some presence up here in the Boston area! :)

    Btw, am loving Tom and Curtis and Katie and Allie!!!!

  3. I just fixed two typos. I'm an idiot. I need to have my assistant proof these things before I post them. And I also need to get an assistant.

    Christine, we are both brilliant...I can only assume.

    Thanks, Laura. Just put on an ascot and a smoking jacket and you're in.

  4. What a nitwit. The girl behind the counter, not you.

    I finished Domestic Violets last week. In one sitting. Without eating or drinking. It's been a long time since I read something so gripping, something that tangled me up in little knots.

    My favorite part? The fact that a man could write so perceptively about two different women without demonizing or marginalizing either one of them. Even better that you described spot on the way we turn on each other when a man is in the middle (the scene with Tom and Allie in their bedroom after the run in with Katie).


  5. She was an ignorant flake, Norman. She does not belong in the book business - and please, do feel sorry for her, and grateful that YOU are not of her mindset, a devolved girl lacking refinement and manner, who isn't aware of how she's coming across as.

  6. Hilarious post. ... I look forward to reading your book. ... Thanks for the dose of reality, BTW. I have a debut novel coming from Harper Perennial, either Fall 12 or Winter 13. I am thinking of hiring day laborers & teen babysitters to attend my book readings/signings, try to make it look like I'm a big deal.

  7. Nice. Congrats on the book, Greg. Yeah, the thing about first novels is that no one knows who the hell you are. But they will...eventually. Right?

  8. Nice. Congrats on the book, Greg. Yeah, the thing about first novels is that no one knows who the hell you are. But they will...eventually. Right?

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