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Learning to listen at a southern book signing

Here’s what I learned this past week (besides not giving your dog a piece of your spicy black bean burger, no matter how much they beg): if you’re going to do a book signing, you’d first better know how to write, and secondly, you’d better train your ear to pick up strong southern accents.

Launching ones first novel is a heady experience, made even more exciting by seeing an actual line forming, snaking around the length of the room. The relief was palpable as I hadn’t slept a jot the night before, kept awake by nightmare scenarios of tumbleweeds blowing through a thoroughly empty Hub City Books, along with a cacophony of crickets. I imagined myself sitting alone at the signing table, deliberating whether I should tackle any of the pedestrians passing by on the way to the Hogfest, being held on the same day.

But, lo! Here were ardent readers ready to have copies of my book inscribed personally or to a friend and it became at once apparent that as I do all my writing on a keyboard, my hand not only needed to be reminded how to physically grasp a pen, but how to write cursive again.

“To?” I smiled at the first woman in line who smiled back encouragingly.

“Elisabeth,” she said.

I carefully wrote, Elizabeth, only to be corrected, “With an s, not a z.”

“Oh,” I grimaced, “I’m sorry.” And after a sorry attempt to turn the z into an s, put the book to one side and said, “Let’s just do that over with a clean book.”

I figured there might well be an Elizabeth, with a z, standing elsewhere in line so no problem.

“And how would you like this signed?” I asked the next person, a cordial gentleman who told me he enjoyed reading about the animals in my columns and proceeded to tell me about his eight cats, including their ages, names, and recent vaccination records.

“Can you make it out to my wife, Katharine?”

“With a C or a K?” I asked, heading off another mistake before I put pen to paper.

“K.” he replied.

“Great!” I chirped, and dutifully wrote out Katherine.

“There’s no e,” he observed.

“I’m sorry?” I frowned, “It doesn’t end with an e?”

“It ends with an e,” he pointed out, "but no e after the h. An a after the h.”

“No problem,” I said and it was easy to turn the e into an a but then my rusty handwriting made my pen attack the r, bumped into the i, and turned it into a name I think I’ve only seen in the Czech Republic.

“Let’s just put that book aside and start over with a clean slate,” I said, reaching for another book, my hopes dim that there might be someone else in line named “Kathevzine.”

Wishing desperately that the next person might request a simple, ‘Bob,’ or ‘Mary,’ each without silent consonants tacked on somewhere, I glanced up and smiled at a friendly faced woman who began to regale me with tales from her upbringing outside Valdosta, Georgia.

Ya’ll. I’m from Georgia and I could barely make out a word she said. She may have been speaking Welsh for all I could discern and I stumbled along in her fast paced wake of story telling, aided by her extravagant expressions and hand gestures. Able to snatch every third or fourth word, I think she was explaining she had once eaten a mollusk or a possum by mistake on Arbor Day. But don’t quote me.

“And who should I make the inscription to?” I said, somewhat dazed, pen at the ready.

“Fer my huzbun,” she chuckled, “Raid.”

I nearly asked if I could buy a vowel but chuckled back and said, “Raid? Like an air-raid?”

“Nah, nah!” she slapped the table laughing, “Ain’t no a. E! Raid!”

“Oh!” I said, the name beginning to dawn on me, or so I thought. “Red?”

“Honey,” she spluttered, “Don’t you speak Aynglish? Raid!” and seeing I was still completely lost, she took the pen and wrote his name in the book, herself:

Fred.

Well, of course.

The rest of the signing was quite uneventful and sixty people left with over eighty books. It had been a long morning after a sleepless night and there was nothing I wanted more than a cup of strong coffee and an aspirin.

For my haid.

Reach PAM STONE at pammstone@gmail.com.

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