Tag Archives: Author appearances

Lunchtime with Nucky Johnson

For the past year I’ve been all over the place talking up my book American Dictators: Frank Hague, Nucky Johnson, and the Perfection of the Urban Political Machine, but I’ve never done a book talk anywhere near Nucky’s old power base, Atlantic City. I’ve been to Jersey City and Hudson County many times to talk about Frank Hague, but up to now Atlantic County and Atlantic City — nada, Nucky or no Nucky

I’ll remedy that Friday, Nov. 14, when I set up shop on Atlantic Avenue at 12:30 p.m. to give the lunchtime crowd a taste of old Atlantic City and the colorful career of Nucky Johnson, the city’s best-known political boss. It’ll be in the NJ350 Pop-up Store that will appear at 1125 Atlantic Avenue, a short walk from the Boardwalk.

There will be a good-sized stack of American Dictators for sale, and I’ll be hawking some of my other titles as well. Prominent among them will be my new title, Let the Devil Speak: Articles, Essays, and Incitements. History and a visit to the Jersey shore all at once. How can you resist?  

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Remembrance of book tours past

Also known as: Never let a bunch of anarchists do your organizing.

Someone recently asked me about my experiences on book tours, good and bad. I’ve had lots of good ones, but the worst was really bad. A perfect storm of wasted time, squandered money, and missed opportunity.Let other authors take heed and learn from my experience.

When The Last Three Miles came out in the spring of 2007, a friend insisted I call an indie bookstore in Philly because she loved their politics. I e-mailed, I called, and weeks later one of the staffers called back. “We’re an anarchistic collective, so I’ll have to talk this over with the other members at our next meeting.” A few more weeks passed. I’d almost forgotten them when they finally called back and said, “We’d life to have you come speak.” I agreed, asked them what publicity they would do, suggested a few places they could notify. The only date they had open for me was mid-week, so I had to leave my Hoboken job a little early to go to Penn Station and catch an Amtrak to Philly in order to be on time. It wasn’t cheap. When I arrived, I found their only “publicity” had been to put out a sandwich board in front of the store. Nobody showed and I ate the cost. I also ate a delicious cheesesteak at the nearby Pat’s King of Steaks, which was pretty much the only good thing I could say about the trip.

Moral of the story? When somebody tells you the store is run by an anarchist collective, heed that warning.

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Snobbery is its own punishment dept.

Here’s an amusing (in a sour kind of way) item on fantasy author Terry Pratchett and the “problem” his popularity caused at a recent Washington D.C. literary festival, noted in the winter issue of The Author and picked up by Ansible:

He ‘had a queue of fans stretching round the block; the poets weren’t so lucky. The organisers “were absolutely desperate for my signing queue to finish — ‘you mustn’t have it sticking out of the tent because it upsets the poets’,” Pratchett says. “We all made our decisions, they chose poetry, I can’t help it. There’s another 600 people in the queue, what do you think would happen if I put my pen down?”‘

Goodness gracious, those poor versifiying dears, dying a little inside every time they saw the line of readers waiting to get autographs from a mere fantasy writer. O the horror, the horror, of the poet’s life in a realm of crass commerce. Doesn’t your heart go out to them?

organ-grinder2No, actually, it doesn’t. When I write, I write, and when I hustle, I hustle, and if you aren’t at a literary festival to hustle your book, then exactly why are you there? If I were sharing festival space with a bigfoot like Terry Pratchett, you can bet I’d be out there with a sandwich board and a bell, or a barrel organ and a monkey on a chain, telling the people on line that Pratchett is great but man does not live by Discworld alone. Yeah, a lot of the people on line may have been fantasy nerds who wouldn’t dream of buying something without a dragon on the cover, but not all of them were. In a world dominated by non-readers, anybody who cares enough about reading to come out to a book fair is somebody worth getting to know. If you’re at a book festival where 600 people are lined up to see somebody else, then that just means you have 600 opportunities to make a connection with somebody who’s never heard of you. Unless you’re a snob about mingling with such people, in which case I have no sympathy for you at all. Snobbery is its own punishment.

When I was at the Collingswood book fest a few months ago, I had the good fortune to get a spot near the food court. Should I have stayed in my booth and pouted because people were lining up for chili dogs instead of The Last Three Miles? Hell no — I was chatting with people, telling them about Frank Hague and automobiles, and if they still weren’t interested then no hard feelings. I’d see them off with a little flyer that had a picture of the book and my Web address, against the possibility that some other time they might get a hankering to read themselves some history.

Part of it is that I’m an incurable ham, but in an age when the odds are heavily stacked against writers, there’s a lot to be said for making like the organ grinder in the picture and getting in touch with your inner huckster.

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Me in 3-D

Goodness, how my fall schedule is filling up. In addition to my Oct. 4 visit to the Collingswood Book Festival and my Oct. 28 talk in Jersey City, I now add a speech and book-signing gig set for Sunday, Nov. 16, from 2 pm. to 4 p.m. at the Woodbridge Public Library, 1 George Frederick Plaza off Route 35 North, Woodbridge, N.J. 07095. Call (732) 634-4450 ext. 7126 for more info.

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Mark your calendars

Looks like I’ll be hanging out my shingle at this year’s Collingswood Book Festival, set for October 4 in the South Jersey burg of Collingswood, near Camden and Cherry Hill. Not only have I heard many great things about the festival, but this will be my chance to check out Collingswood, which has been described to me as a very fun and interesting town.

I realize that October is still a ways off, but it’s never too early to start lining up your fall calendar. These things have a way of creeping up on you, you know. I’ll be selling and signing copies of The Last Three Miles: Politics, Murder, and the Construction of America’s First Superhighway, so drop on by if you want to get some early Christmas shopping done, or if you just want to say howdy.    

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