The Kingdom 13: Kimberling

Here we go again. Welcome to the blog blast of the section that I call The Kingdom from the book Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 3: The Keep. The Kingdom is an explanation of the work itself. You can’t understand any writer unless you know their work. So Friday we began at 6 p.m. and I will release one blog every two hours and fifteen minutes. That means we’ll finish the story of my work and its future, my work and its past, at 7:30 on Sunday evening. There are some crazy things in here. Some setbacks we never could have made it past without the people who care about me. There are some crazy things in here. Plans that I have and things that I’m doing that, simply put, are impossible. But everything’s impossible until it’s finished, until it’s been done or accomplished. There are some crazy things in here. Dreams so wild and so immense that to think they’re within reach you have to be a little unhinged. And while reading this small collection of blog posts, you’ll hear the rantings of the Lunatic of Fantasy. You’ll find in these posts the past, present, and future of the writing of Jesse Teller.

“I’m setting up next to Digger,” Adam said. He looked Digger in the eye and the man took a deep breath and sighed.

Wait. I’m jumping the gun. First I have to show you how I was invited. Then I have to talk a little shit about The Gunslinger. Then, and only then, can I tell you about the day my writing life changed forever.

The Gunslinger and I still hadn’t gotten together. It was November and we had met online in the summer. Set up after set up had fallen through. I wanted to meet on his turf, about an hour away, for dinner when I was done with Writers’ Group on a Thursday. Then it was a Tuesday. Then he had to admit to me that he lived in a tiny town called Kimberling City and as he put it, “they rolled up the sidewalk at nine.” His town shut down early and there was not a single restaurant open after ten.

We decided to move on a Thursday night. He promised a bag full of fried chicken from the restaurant open latest and a bottle of whiskey. But the night it was about to happen, his parents came into town on a surprise visit and threw the whole night in the trash.

When November came around, we were having little conversations like: “When are you going to stop fucking around and get over here so I can meet you?” from him.

“Did I see on your fucking Facebook that you were in Springfield this weekend? Why didn’t you call? We could have gotten this shit done,” from me.

Finally we set a date. A book fair was hosting authors at a library in his town in February, and he wanted me to come, set up with him, and sell our books.

I had never done any shows. A matter of fact, I had sworn I would not ever do one. I balked at the invitation for a full minute. “I can’t. I am not good around people, and talking about my books makes me nervous, and—”

“Bullshit,” The Gunslinger said. “They have us sharing an eight-foot booth. Everyone gets four feet. You come down, we set up, and we hang out. Bring your woman and we make a day out of it. We can go to this restaurant I promised you a while ago and you can finally get that fried chicken.”

“I don’t know.”

“You’re doing it. Plan on it, and send them your info. I will email your wife. See you there,” he said.

By January, he was moving out to Phoenix.

Well the book fair was in February and I had decided not to go. But every time Bekah mentioned canceling on them, I shrugged and said something non-committal. I was curious. Maybe it would be fun. And it was a small town. They wouldn’t be expecting much. I had the books, or could order them. And Bekah could tell after a few days that I was wanting to go, just unable to take the step. With a little nudge from her, we were planning to go to a strange town where I had never been, meeting people we had never met, nestled in a crevice of Missouri where we had never been, at a time in my career when I was not ready. I was going to talk about my books to strangers and have a panic attack for about four hours.

Sounds great, huh?

I remember I was not going to sleep. I went around the horn, and by the time I was supposed to wake her up, I was a trembling sweating mess. I took a shower and I could tell right away Artist was nervous. He was not coming out at all back then, but he could still sense my anxiety, and he set the shower water on fire. I tried to get myself together wreathed in flame, and in a few minutes I was out, steaming and unprepared.

The drive there settled my nerves. I like to drive, and I let it calm me as I tried to get ready for what, I did not know. We stopped at a gas station for breakfast and I grabbed hard boiled eggs in a strange little bowl. They were a little tough but they are one of my favorite foods, and I was encouraged that the day was not going to be a nightmare. The eggs I took as a sign. Have you ever taken breakfast food as a sign from God? I know I can’t be the only one. When I walked into the place, I was getting it together.

The place opened at eight, but when I got there, a lot of booths were already set up. The entire room was set up like a squared-off question mark and when you walked into the door and turned into the first aisle, you immediately saw a table in the corner. Standing at the table was a very well put together man, with a standing banner behind him, with his face on it and words above it saying, “Book signing today!” He wore a trim multi-colored vest, had a tight, well-manicured beard and he looked pleasant. He also looked professional.

His set up included a crimson table cloth and three stacks of books. They were small, maybe five inches by six and they said How To Overcome Your Problems In Forty Days. His name was The Digger and as he was the most professional looking writer there, I decided to sit next to him and learn from him and fuck up his whole esthetic.

I had four printed pages, eleven by seventeen, three with my book covers on them and one with my upcoming release cover printed on it. I had a stack of loose pages where people could sign up for my newsletter and nothing, I mean nothing, else.

I was a mess. Never been to one of these and it showed. My showmanship was a nightmare, and all I had was my book covers to loop people in, and my terrifying demeanor.

I was wearing what my niece likes to call “The Outfit of Doom.” Black button-up-the-front shirt, black pants, stainless steel chain. Two stainless steel skull rings. A stainless steel onyx ring. A leather wrist band with stainless steel. And a, you guessed it, stainless steel chain bracelet. I also wore a black do rag to cover my shaved head. I had a beard and I looked like I was panicked.

It was not a good look.

I looked over at the table across from me and saw The Raven. She was also dressed in all black, with a red table cloth and wooden accessories. She had a wide wooden platter that her books sat on, a wooden business card holder and a wooden sign holder. Her books had beautiful colors and amazing illustrations. It was the Evershade series and she was, at the time, two novels in. She looked at me and I could tell that peopling was not really her thing. She kind of gave me a miserable “shoot me” look and I decided I should have set up next to her.

I was selling the only true series that I had out at the time, which was The Manhunters series, and Legends of the Exiles was about two months from dropping. We had some business cards, but no holder for them, and they had been printed out by us. They had been printed out on business card paper that you had to punch out, and though they were thicker than regular paper, they were not as thick as a business card. I set my books at five dollars, which was cost. I was not going to be making any money, and I just wanted to see if this was something I was wanting to try.

We were a disaster.

“Your covers are going to draw people in,” The Digger said. “They are magnificent.” He smiled and me and said, “Breathe.”

And they opened the door.

For the first two hours, I had my panic scowl on. It is like a scream with the eyes, wide and frantic and the eyebrows raised. But the mouth is bent in a rictus smile. If you look at it quickly, then you don’t notice the horror resting there, but if you stare for any real amount of time, you can see that I am about to come untied and break out with crazy all over the place.

I asked so many questions of The Digger while I sat and he stood. He always stood. I remember him telling me I had my book prices set too low. I remember him telling me that if I sold one book an hour at these events, I was doing good. I remember him telling me that all I had to do was talk for a few minutes and they would either buy or walk on and I could catch my breath. And I remember him asking me about my books.

Everyone asked me about my books. They were all up in my business as if they were there to talk to authors. It was ridiculous. I was about eight books sold, and I was talking to a potential buyer, when I saw a blonde head bent over on the edge of the table talking to Bekah about my covers and how beautiful they were, and asking who did them. Bekah was talking to her and I was scowling through a conversation with a nice older woman.

She bought all three books, and I looked over to the blonde bent over signing up for my newsletter, and I saw her name tag.

“Is your name Sunshine?” I said in a nerve-rattled, sleep-deprived, panic-induced daze.

“Yes, Jesse. Give it a minute. You will get there,” she said. She looked up at me and it was her. It was the one who had saved my life so many times. The one who had found a stack of unpaid bills behind an end table. The one who had marched me, pregnant, with that look she gets, into a lawyer’s office. “Not you. They don’t get to deny you.” Had braved the darkest moment of my past and had held me together when that was an impossible job. This was Sunshine. And the legend of her was so great that Adam had begun to question whether she was real or not. Now she’s asking about my book covers. And I am staring in the warm face of Sunshine.

I burst into tears.

It was fine though. We never expected for me to get through the day without a breakdown. At least this was a breakdown for a good reason. I could live with that. There were only about sixty people and a very professional traditionally published author to see me. I stared at her and whispered, “Thank you.”

“Do you want a hug?” she said.

I came around the corner and she hugged me and I sobbed. The last words I had said to her passed through my mind and I just held her in shock. She had been walking out and I had said, “How are we going to see each other again?” She had been very professional with me as a case worker, but I also knew that we had a connection that was beyond that professionalism.

“We have met up twice, Jesse. If we are meant to be in each other’s life we will find each other again.”

Well, here she was.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“I’m a literary agent now. And a bit of a book doctor. I help people get their books ready for publishing and I help them write them.”

“Still helping people,” I said.

She smiled. “It’s kind of my thing.”

I burst into tears again.

She hugged me again and I said, “You saved my life.”

She nodded solemnly.

“No, you saved my fucking life.”

“It was kind of the job, but you were special. I have to go. My writer is over there and she is not good with people. But I have your information and I would love to catch up.”

I sold a few more books and business was winding down. I walked over to her table and I said, “I gotta tell you about my Goats.”

She laughed, “Your what?”

“My barbarian drinking song.” I smiled. “It’s about goats.”

“Jesse, before you get started on what I know will be a fascinating story, I want you to meet The Zombie Queen.” She motioned to the woman she was sharing her table with. “And this is my author friend, The Romantic.”

The Romantic could not make eye contact for long, until I got into my story and she sat grinning and occasionally giggling.

The Zombie Queen was all in. She laughed and asked questions, and Sunshine just smiled at me. I told her about the song, all 65 verses of it. Told her about the party and how we sang it every year. I told her I would invite her, then I saw more people at my table and I rushed off to sell a few more books.

I sold nineteen books that day. Part of it was the price. Part of it was the books. A good chunk of it was that I was located at the end of the first aisle so that when you walked in and turned the corner to start your journey, the first thing you saw was my book covers. But most of it was, I was meant to be there.

Talking about my books was pretty easy. Laughing with people was fairly easy, too, and even though I did not have a sales pitch yet, I did have Adam and he is the best of us. Once he got past the initial panic of the first two hours, he was in a zone.

I might have a home. I might have a home on the road.

I designed a professional quality booth, since my wife is a graphic designer and one of the companies she works for designs convention booths. I’m gonna tell you, we had plans for moderation. The stoics of the Roman Empire will tell you, everything in moderation. Did Marcus Aurelius say that? I don’t know. It’s not important. Everything in moderation. We decided every time we did a show, we would take the profits from that show and invest in the booth. It’s a good plan. You guys should be proud of us. It’s fiscally responsible. It’s how businesses run. Jesse Teller was being professional.

We sat down on a trade show booth site, to price the dream booth. We just wanted a price. It’s professional to have a goal to aim for. I’d like to repeat, it’s professional to have a goal to aim for. We put together a cart of what we would need with the artwork she had already designed, to make our booth exactly what we wanted it to be. We had our number. In order to make Jesse Teller’s booth exactly what he thought it would need to be, and exactly what Bekah’s years of graphic design experience said would be perfect, we needed $800.

I had sold a book every twelve and a half minutes at Kimberling. I was ready for that. It was 10:45 p.m., somewhere between the months of February and May of 2018. Let’s just freeze here for a moment. Everything is gonna be fine. A booth built by profits. Invest in the business slowly. Now we look up in the corner of the screen, and it says, “Order by Midnight and Everything is 50% Off.”

You know, credit cards can be a very bad thing. They can get you in a lot of trouble, they can pull you out of a lot of trouble. Credit cards like to save you from drowning in the shallows then drop you into the depths. Half price on a booth and business cards? With banner, runner, and tablecloth? Are you serious? $400 off? Well, we ordered it. We ordered it somewhere in the months between February and May. By Geeky in July, we had paid it off. A 50% sale, a graphic designer with 18 years’ experience in designing trade show booths, a man with a vision, and professional covers. Selling at cost in Kimberling became hundreds of dollars in sales that year. Sometimes things just work out. Sometimes everything is chopping and chopping through the weeds, but other times you break through and there’s a path or a road. And you look up, and all you see is flat, straight, and the rising sunshine.

We went to a big convention in May and I sold about 28 books. That was in Springfield. When we went to a convention in a town in Arkansas put on by That Geeky Shop, I had my sales pitch down. I called it my spiel and I opened with, “You want to hear my spiel?!” Real energetic and excited.

When people come to these conventions, they want to have fun. They want to talk to other fantasy buffs and they want to spend their money. The first day, I sold 42 books and it was only six hours long. Bekah and I talked about packing it up and going home. Fuck the last day, we had done great the first. And most likely, with an area this small, we were going to be seeing the same people we had seen the day before. But we were sharing a table with The Zombie Queen, and that is always a good time.

We stayed and three hours into the next day, we sold out by pushing 46 more books. The second day I pulled out The Goats of Breastion and put it at the end of my spiel. It lends itself to a lively conversation and my sales went crazy.

When I was done in Arkansas, I was so blasted that I could only walk around and twitch. The guy next to me selling wooden wands and staffs was a pro at fantasy conventions and he looked at me and said, “Your Goats are gold. That is where you are going to be made.” He stepped forward, “But don’t sell out.” He leaned over his table. I stared with wild, dazed eyes, and he said, “Never sell out.”

Before the pandemic dropped, we did a seven-hour convention in a tiny town in Missouri that happens to be nestled between about three big cities. In seven hours, I sold 74 books. That’s a book every five and a half minutes. Digger prepared me for one book an hour. This is a book every five and a half minutes. I’m way off the map now. Here there be monsters.

A seven-hour con is one thing. But I went to Geeky this year, and it was fourteen hours. I averaged a book every six and a half minutes. I hope you can see how insane that is. I hope Digger will tell you how deep into the waters of the Lunatic we’re in. Here there be monsters. And I am protected by the Leviathan.

At Visioncon this year, a girl, fifteen, maybe sixteen, showed up at my booth while I was talking to her mother. She looked at one of the books on the table and said, “This is a Jesse Teller book.” Her eyes scanned my booth and said, “These are all Jesse Teller books!”

Her mom smiled, because moms love moments like this. She pointed at me and said, “That’s Jesse Teller.”

This girl broke down. She started whimpering and crying and, “Oh my God, you’re Jesse Teller,” and “Oh my God, I want to be a writer,” and “Oh my God, I’ve read your books.” And she looked at me and said, “I wanna be you.”

And how is X’s packmate supposed to deal with that? How does the Street Rat even talk to this girl? But let’s be as cliché as we can be. Let’s go to the Bible, let’s go to Jesus. Because the mind in Jesse Teller is legion. His mind is legion, without all that evil monstrous, wait…without all of the monstrous, wait…Jesse Teller’s mind is legion. It’s filled with shades and motives, and when I go to the Desert, I hope God doesn’t run me off the side of a cliff.

In the face of the Mushroom Girl, Adam stepped back, trembling in terror and overwhelmed, as Guardian rose and took a step to the left, Prince smiled at her. The foot on the gas pedal, the gunslinger behind the revolver who spoke of Seven Spanish Angels, looked at this girl as she trembled and cried, and Prince said, “It is so nice to meet you. Tell me about your work. Maybe I can help.”

She turned, “Can you buy me a book? Can you buy me one of these books?”

Her mom was enjoying this, sooo enjoying this. She pointed with a cocky finger and a loving smile and said, “He’ll even sign it for you.”

And Mushroom Girl broke. But Prince is smooth. He’s a man in a black three-piece suit, and he gently talked the Mushroom Girl back.

Her mom bought a book. She may have bought a few. I say she may have bought a few because I can’t be sure. Prince was focused on the girl, talking to the girl, and I signed the book, and I said in that inscription, “Please don’t give up. Readers need you.”

I call her the Mushroom Girl. Bekah gets no end of joy when she throws the Mushroom Girl in my face while I am wallowing in self-doubt. You can see the spark in her eye, “Ah, but the Mushroom Girl.”

Mushroom Girl taught me that I have a home. A home on the road.

As Sunshine was walking out the door in Kimberling City, she bent over the table, pointed at me, and very quietly and very aggressively said, “Your life is the most inspirational story in this whole fucking building!”

So about eight months later, I started Reality of the Unreal Mind.

I sent it to her about nine days ago. She is freaking out about its quality and she is working Sunshine magic on it. She has vowed that she can help me get it published. And you never doubt Sunshine.

She will always have her day.

This chapter is from Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 3: The Keepavailable on Amazon.

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