Mar 31, 2008

A Day at the Renaissance Festival

by Joyce DiPastena

Through an unexpected series of events especially designed for shy people (i.e., people too timid to initiate face-to-face interactions with such scary personages as bookshop owners!), I found myself, prior to the Storymakers Conference, invited to do a book signing of Loyalty’s Web at the Arizona Renaissance Festival. I received an email (the shy person’s boon) out of the blue by author Ann Chamberlin, who had come across one of my bookmarks and asked if I would be interested in doing a signing at her shop at the Ren Fest. (Like I was going to say, “No, I’m too busy, thanks for asking?”) The only date we could jointly coordinate was March 29, on my way home from staying overnight in Mesa after returning from an after-Storymakers visit with my sister in Salt Lake City.

My signing was scheduled for 2 PM, but nervous energy drove me to arrive at the Ren Fest at 12:30. I had to rent a costume, which I’d never done before. After a series of embarrassing attempts to squeeze me into outfits only a Barbie doll would fit in, an assistant finally found me a loose, flowing, yet beautifully elegant ensemble that they actually had to pin in the back to make it fit. (Oooo, I finally felt skinny after all!) To her credit, the assistant was incredibly sweet and tactful, scolding me kindly whenever I muttered embarrassed apologies for not fitting into the “Barbie” clothes, and by the time two more assistants had successfully “arranged me” into my costume, I was indeed beginning to feel like a princess. (And I finally understood all those movies where multiple servants are required to fit their mistress into her Renaissance dress. It was far too easy to stick my arm through a “decorative” hole, rather than the actual sleeve, not to mention coping with all the lacings of strings that had to be done. I’ll never criticize a Renaissance woman for all her servants on screen again!)

I checked in to Lady Ann’s Bookshop to let her know I was at the Faire, then I had an hour to kill before the actual book signing. Since I’d had my “fun day” at the Festival earlier in the spring, I decided to wander around and take pictures of some of my favorite places at the Faire to send to my sister (who never manages to make it down to Arizona from Utah during Ren Fest season to visit the park with me). Despite the fact that I have been to the park every year since it’s creation and thought I had the lay of the land completely memorized, when it was finally time for my book signing, naturally I became completely discombobulated and suddenly had no idea how to find my way back to the bookstore. (Or more likely, the bookstore had decided to simply change positions on me, just for the fun of tormenting me.) I finally stumbled into another shop and asked for directions. And, of course, the bookshop ended up being about two steps from where I was standing. Isn’t that always the way?

Lady Ann welcomed me warmly and set me up at a table in her shop. Periodically she would announce to people who wandered in that “we have this lovely lady doing signings of her book today”, but of course, most people promptly did their best to avoid eye contact with me and hovered around the edges of the shop as far away from me as possible. (I can hardly complain. I’ve done the same to enough hapless book signers, myself!)

My good fortune came in being the last author book signing of the day. Since there was no one scheduled after me, Lady Ann let me stay as long as I wanted, and since I was enjoying chatting with her and her assistant about Medieval and Renaissance history, the time didn’t drag by nearly as slowly as I thought it would. I had originally planned to stay an hour, but ended up staying a little over two, and interestingly, all THREE of the books I signed sold in the second hour, not the first, so if I’d quit when I’d first meant to, I’d have gone home without any sales at all.

To be honest, I have an odd lack of memory about the first book I sold that day. But the second book was picked up by a very young woman (I’m guessing between 18-20 years old), who read the back and then my prologue, then turned to her boyfriend and said, “I would so totally buy this book.” Which happily for me, she decided to do. I addressed the book to “Josie” as she asked me to, and after she paid for the book, she turned back to me and said, “Your parents were named Louis and Josephine?” I’d mentioned them in my dedication, and said, “Yes”. She smiled and said, “My name is Josephine, too, but people call me Josie for short.” As far as I’m aware, Josephine is not an extremely popular name just now, and I had a sense that finding her name in my book, even in the dedication, was one of the things that drew her want a copy. So honestly, you just never know what might draw a person to a copy of your book!

The other sale that stood out in my mind was by a woman who rushed in just before I started closing up. She worked in costume rental, was told by one of her co-workers that I was doing a book signing, and finally broke away from her job to snatch up a copy before I left for the day. No, she didn’t know me or my work, but she is a writer herself, and wanted a chance to talk to another writer. We only chatted briefly at the bookshop, but I ran into her again shortly afterwards as I returned my costume and changed back into my street clothes. She came into the dressing room and plied me with questions about writing while I changed. I actually ended up sitting down and taking an extra half-hour just to answer her questions. She was so sincere, so earnest in the questions that she asked, I could tell that writing was far more than just a “whim” for her (as those of us in ANWA can relate to only so well!). She seemed so sincerely grateful for the time I took to talk with her, that I pointed out my email address on the bookmark I’d stuck in her book and invited her to email me if she had any more questions or wanted to talk about her writing. (Which she said she might do).

Oh, yes, Lady Ann bought an extra three copies of Loyalty’s Web to keep in her bookshop before I left, which made a sale of 6 books, and invited me to come back again next year. Naturally, I was thrilled that I sold any books at all. But I think what I enjoyed even more were my conversations with Josie and Susann (the writer working in costume rental). For a person as excruciatingly shy as I am, I have to admit, saying even a few words to bring a genuine smile or expression of appreciation from another person feels better than selling all the books in the world.


  1. Brava, Joyce! What a lot of fun you had that day!

  2. If you only could see and hear the smiles and words of appreciation I expressed after reading your book(s)! You are an amazing woman, Miss Joyce and I am so glad I got to meet you in person at the ANWA Conference. I understand the challenge of children laugh at old home videos when they see me. I hear things like, "Mom, you look terrified. You were such a mouse!" I still get such a gut ache when the Bishop hands me yet another list of new sisters to visit. At the same time, it is a joy once I get to know them!

  3. I'm another shy one! I daresay none of us looks shy on the outside. Joyce, I never would have thought you were, nor you, Kari. I think shyness may be endemic to writers--we prefer to do our thing in solitude, but if we want the public to read us, we MUST get out among 'em. I found book signings a lot less like pulling teeth when I armed myself with bookmarks and salt water taffy. I could always call out to those trying to sidle pass without making eye contact, "Would you like a piece of taffy?" That's certainly non-threatening. Then I could offer them a bookmark--again non threatening, and they could, at their leasure peruse it and find what I was about. I'd also roam the bookstore, sticking out my hand to introduce myself and give 'em a bookmark. I called it my 'performance' because the whole thing was totally out of character. But, it was better than sitting for hours at an empty table. And, I imagine I'll be doing it again sometime. Hope so, anyway.

  4. I think I've only been to the Ren. Fest. once, but maybe twice, years ago. It was fun. Oh, I just thought. One of my granddaughters wanted me to crochet her a snood to wear there and I never did do it. Maybe some day . . .

    Thanks for the great description, of the costume, the booksigning, your optomism, and all.

    And on being shy, so am I. Especially when I see someone I think I'd like to know, introduce myself and she says, "Yes, Anna, I met you . . ." and names the place or time or even places and times. I can usually laugh about it now, and blame it on my age, but my inattention to names, and sometimes even faces, has made me shy instead of spurring me on to develop a better memory. Maybe some day I'll do better. Meantime, I'll just stay carefree and shy.

  5. Awesome! Congrats it sounds like real fun.

  6. I wish you had said something earlier, we went to the festival earlier in the month and almost went again on the 31st! We love it too and always spend too much money!


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