Y’all getting tired of hearing me talk about Book Bash yet? Well, it’s just a minor player in this post.

I want to talk about my friend, Katie.

When I found out about Book Bash in January, I knew that the chances of me not backing out would be a lot better if I had a friend go with me. I had a few friends in mind – and a few friends that would have done a similarly great job in their own ways – but Katie was at the top of the list, and I was happy to hear she was available (and really wanted to go see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter).

Katie and I met a few years ago at Apple and had an almost immediate close bond over a shared interest of ours. She’s like the little sister I never had. She doesn’t remember the Challenger explosion (because she was barely alive), but we get along great. She’s helped me realize that age really is just a number, and while I’d like to think that I’m not immature for my age, I will say Katie is wise beyond her years.

Being my “assistant” was not going to be an easy task, and I think we both knew that going into it. She’s known me long enough to know that I’m not great at handling disappointment or large crowds or being the center of attention (or alcohol). I’m an introvert, but I think a few experiences in life have helped me to step out in front of strangers and ‘perform.’ Being in show choir and high school musicals was a start, and working in a thriving retail environment did, too. As a fiction writer, you have to be able to ‘act,’ as well – at least in my estimation of things. That’s why my books are super emotional, I think. I live them (in my head).

Back to Katie.

She. Was. Awesome.

First of all, her dad was kind enough to get us to the airport and back, which was the first ‘relief’ for me. I hate parking. Katie is well aware of this.

Anyway, she has a very calming aura, which is good to balance out my hyper-nervous/worried/scared-outta-my-mind aura. Although air travel isn’t her favorite thing in the world, she even held it together through take off and a blip of really bad turbulence. That’s how much effort she was putting into this.

Katie knew I had many, many fears going into this book signing. Neither of us knew what to expect, and I was busy reciting my worst-case-scenario situations most of the time, to which she’d tell me (very politely) to shut it. She was good to remind me of the positives every step of the way.

After we had visited Hogwarts, we went back to the hotel and rested… and a few hours later, Katie offered to paint my fingernails. Now, I am not a girlie-girl, and my nervous tendencies do encourage me to bite my nails. I knew that my hands would be on display at a book signing, so it was kind of important that they didn’t look mangled. Even when I messed up a nail two seconds after she finished, she laughed and sat right back now, fixing it for me. She then reminded me not to touch anything for the next hour… because my always-thinking-of-something-brain was being even more of a distraction that afternoon.

That night, I had to go to an author reception. I was a wreck… so we made a slight detour and went to the hotel bar first. She walked the bartender through how to make some drinks for us (the bartender was having a worse night than me, I think), and gave me a good pep talk and provided a nice distraction by discussing Dr. Ivan Rusilko’s hair. Was it a mullet, or wasn’t it? (At the time, I’ll admit that I didn’t know who he was… but he was there to sign things, just like me. Oh, and no, it wasn’t a mullet.)

At the actual reception, Katie kept the wine coming… and when she noticed I hadn’t eaten anything, she force-fed me some cheese and crackers. (I had to be force-fed CHEESE? Yes, I was that nervous.) She helped to keep the conversation moving, and made some friends that quickly became a safe little circle of people that I came to feel comfortable around. Somehow, we all gravitated to one another, and most of us were actually seated in the same area, so that was a big advantage on the following day at the signing.

After the reception, we were invited to go meet some of the readers who had lined up for early registration. Most of my readers that I knew were coming to the signing had planned to pre-register, and I couldn’t wait to meet them. Of course, I was worried they wouldn’t like me… that I wouldn’t live up to their expectations… that I wouldn’t be interesting at all. I mean, I’m not super social. In fact, I’m rather socially awkward. Katie reminded me that my attendance at Book Bash was one of the reasons that these readers were coming. When I finally got to meet those readers (who were truly incredible), Katie took pictures and documented those first moments for me. I never would have thought to do that.

The readers pretty much fell in love with Katie instantly. You just can’t not like Katie.

The next morning, we were up at the crack of dawn to set up my table. Katie has a lot of experience with store visuals, so even though I had drawn a floor set for my table, Katie thought of the logistics of the actual signing, and set things up practically and beautifully. I couldn’t have been happier with the table. I didn’t see all the tables, but of the ones I saw, I really think mine was the best.

When the volunteer part of the signing started, I think we both realized that my expectations weren’t going to be met.  I think two volunteers came to my table in that first hour… one had actually started my books, and the other was just trying to get as many autographs as possible. Katie and I exchanged a lot of glances through that first hour, and she continued to keep my spirits up.

When the signing started, and the doors opened, we both watched literally hundreds of anxious readers pass right by the table. We were positioned very near the opening (which we didn’t realize would be happening), and the readers had been given maps of where all the authors’ tables were. Those readers were on a mission. (I can’t blame them, either… some of those lines were crazy long and crazy slow.)

When people finally started approaching, I think it was the beautiful table that initially drew people in. People saw the small tchotchkes on display, and just started taking things. Things that I had intended to sell. Things that I had meticulously set up in my Square Register store and gone over with Katie. Wanting to make people happy, I let them take things in those first few minutes until the chaos died down a little.

As time went on, though, I was so grateful when people stopped by that I decided to let them have the smaller items. “We’ll sell the books,” I had told Katie.  “Let them have everything else.” In her eyes, I could see her measuring my disappointment. I had to reassure her with a nod, and then she went with it.

When people came up to my table who had actually planned to stop by, Katie was mindful enough to take pictures of the scrapbook pages many readers had made for me. Many featured quotes, or the book covers, or my picture. It was kind of surreal, but again, taking pictures of anything was not something I was remotely thinking of. I’m so happy I have those little reminders that I was actually on some people’s agendas for the day.

It was probably an hour after the doors opened that I realized my strategy had to change. If people weren’t going to come to me, we were going to have to go with them. I asked Katie if she could take some of the printed-at-the-last-minute excerpts and hand them out to people who were in line at other authors’ tables. Without hesitation, she did. Now, had I not been expected to stay at the table in case someone came up to ask for my autograph, I still wouldn’t have had the guts to approach people and hand out my samples. I have never been able to ‘sell myself,’ and I have a lot of anxiety when approaching strangers. Katie’s very soft-spoken – I might even call her shy (even though she’s not around me anymore) – but she ended up handing out all 400 of the samples I had brought. Later in the day, she went out and distributed postcards featuring the book covers, and then actual books that I had wanted to sell. It was a literal free-for-all at the end. Of the 250 books I brought, I think we ended up giving away half of them. The only books I sold were the full-length novels. I wasn’t budging on charging for those. (I made one exception late in the day with a woman who had read my books, loved them, and truly related to parts of them. Since she hadn’t read Contessa, I sent her home with a signed copy. I really wanted her to read it.)

There was the aftermath of the signing to deal with next: boxing up what was left (she rocked at that) and then waiting with me in awkward silence at the FedEx station. I think she knew I would cry if I had to talk, so we kept talking to a minimum so I wouldn’t cry in front of these other readers and authors who were in line with us. We went to dinner after that in the restaurant bar, and I put her on the spot and asked her to talk about anything BUT Book Bash, and she did. And I listened. And I was pleasantly outside of my head for about an hour.

It didn’t end there. We had to go up to our rooms, and I had committed to going to one of the after parties. I wanted to back out so badly, but she encouraged me to go. I covered up my tear-streaked make-up and put on a happy pink shirt, and went downstairs. I think I could have stayed at the party longer if the music wasn’t so loud. After all the chaos of the day, my nerves couldn’t take anymore. I really needed a small venue with less-stimulating surroundings. Fortunately, my readers were on the same page (no pun intended) and we left the party for a quiet(er) night at CityWalk. It was hot as hell, and Katie endured the sweltering heat with me, although I knew she was miserable. My readers really took us both in, and they included her in everything, which was awesome. A part of me was worried she’d actually feel like an assistant, but I don’t think she really did (except for the receptions and signing). I didn’t want her to, because she is and always will be my friend first.

On Sunday, as you all know from my previous post, I was not in a good frame of mind. I was sad and back ‘in my head,’ and Katie stepped back a little and let me be there. She probably needed a little escape from my emotions, too. It never felt awkward with her, though. It was what I needed. So was the ice cream we noshed on at the airport. 🙂

After we got home, she gave me a big hug and told me she was going to give me some space for a few days… but that she’d be there if I needed her. It was the perfect thing to hear, and I just thought that I was so lucky that I had a friend that knew me that well. As I started feeling better later in the week, we started communicating again as we normally do.

I think friends like Katie are hard to come by, but I’m happy to say I actually have a few of them. With people like her in my life, I know that I’ll be able to handle whatever disappointments come my way, and I look forward to celebrating all the successes with those friends someday soon.