Monday, August 24, 2009

Galena, the Author Fair ... and Canned Poop

“Hold out your hand and close your eyes.”

I was standing in front of an art gallery in Galena, a beautiful tourist town in the rolling hills created where Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois all wrestled for the same terrain.

Now if … say … popular author Joe Konrath (JA Konrath) had asked me to do hold my hand out and close my eyes, I’d have run screaming like a little girl after being invited to lock lips with a garter snake. But it was Marie, his wife, the alter to his ego. So I was safe, right?

I obediently held out my hands, squeezed my eyes shut and clenched my butt in case Joe was sneaking on behind me with intent to pants me, and heard the hiss of aerosol. Great, she’s spaying on some stinky perfume.

I was right and wrong. It was stinky, but it wasn’t perfume. When I opened my eyes, I beheld a brown slime, resembling what a snail might leave after a Taco Bell dinner.

“Smell it!” she giggled.

The giggle should have tipped me off, but I raised my hand to my face, and … well ...

I’ll cut right to the chase. It was from a can of liquid poop Joe had bought in a toy store. Smelled like poop, looked like poop. Half a dozen flies were drawn by the smell and milled about in buggy confusion.

So of course I wiped it off on her.

Not. I still enjoy life.

The reason we were in Galena was because author Barbra Annino had a brainstorm during lunch at the Love is Murder conference this winter. She and I each have stories in the anthology “Missing,” a book where each of the stories are about missing people or things, and all of the profits go to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Yeah, we’re going to heaven.

“Are you willing to come to Galena for a book signing?” she asked.

“Sure. Galena. That’s about half an hour away, right?” Fine, I didn’t grow up in Illinois. I don’t know all of the towns yet. I mean seriously, there are towns called, Nunda, Tana, Paw Paw and Mineral in Illinois. You all knew that, didn’t you? How am I supposed to know where Galena is?

She laughs, “No. It’s about three hours away. But here’s the thing. We own a bed and breakfast there, and you can all stay for free.”

For free? Heh, heh. That hooked me. I’m so cheap, I’ll just about take anything for free, with the exception of canned poop, of course.

Anyway, Barb went on to explain that she wanted to put together the first ever annual Galena Book Festival and she wanted to know if any of us were interested.

We were.

So she got cracking. Soon she was sending emails saying she’d lined up two events, one at the restaurant Fried Green Tomatoes and the other at Brio Art Gallery. She picked the weekend (August 22 and 23), coordinated all of the authors’ arrangements, and encouraged us to pitch in for refreshments (I think I still owe her).

She printed up brochures, handed out handcards and footcards at the local businesses, put it in the surrounding towns’ newspapers … and worked her butt off so much the Atkins Diet was taking notes.

I didn’t do much, other than noting the event on my calendar. Hey, I’m a guy. Shallow and all that, you know.

So the date rolled around, and the authors got on the road. We came from Wisconsin, Texas, Illinois and probably other places … I didn’t take notes … so, (shrug).

I’ve lived in Illinois for more than twenty years. And my experience with Illinois can be summed up with three words: traffic, flat, corn. As I got closer to Galena, the land started rumpling into hills and valleys and finally after a rollercoaster couple miles, I drove up a large hill, and when I crested the hill, my mouth dropped, my eyes bugged and my feet did a little happy dance on the brake pedal.

I turned to my wife in wonder, “Look at that!” I gasped. Well. Not exactly. She hadn’t come with me, but if she had, she would have been amazed, too.

A huge, wondrous vista of green valley was spread out before my stunned eyes! It was simply gorgeous.

The next thirty miles were more of the same. Wondrous mixed with hazardous, with me looking left, right, everywhere except where I was going.

Somehow I made it to Galena which can be described with two words: picturesque and hills. Well, that’s three words, so don’t include ‘and,’ okay?

My car somehow made it up the precipice of the small cliff laughingly called Dodge Street (I know I passed a couple of angels halfway). Anyway, I found Barb’s bed and breakfast, where the authors were congregating.

So here’s a roll call of the authors from who participated in the anthology “Missing.” If I miss anyone, it’s because they’re Missing from Missing, heh … sorry, no, it’s because I’m a guy, remember.

Here goes: JA Konrath (known by other names, including “Owner of Can of Poop”), Henry Perez, Barb Annino, Gayle Carline, Margot Justes, Mary Welk, Amy Alessio and Luisa Buehler. We were also joined by Christine Verstraete and JD Webb.

As an added bonus, Sue Peterson, who owns the bookstore Brain Snacks, also came along, bringing an SUV stuffed with boxes of our books and a Visa machine, so the authors could concentrate on just signing and talking. We were showcasing “Missing” since it’s for charity, and because customers could get nine author signatures on a single book, but she brought our other books as well.

A fine group of authors, encompassing a plethora of genres, including romance suspense, horror, mystery, thriller, YA and humor. Something for everyone, except maybe Western and Japanese Graphic. Many of us brought our spouses and laptops and other generally useful things, but we’ll let them remain anonymous. All except Marie, because she pooped on my hand.

So there.

Most of the action in Galena takes place on Main Street, which is, get this, the main street, a narrow one-way street in the shadows of two story brick buildings all stuck together with crazy glue, overlooked by mountain on one side and a river on the other. We weren’t allowed to drink outside the building, er, set up our tables on the sidewalk, so we set up inside Fried Green Tomatoes. They aren’t usually i open at eleven in the morning on a Saturday; but they opened just for this special occasion, and put together some splendid appetizers and opened the bar.

Usually, book signings don’t take place in restaurants, so we knew people might simply be unaware that a dozen anxious authors were inside eager to graffiti our names on books they might buy.

So we sent out the most second most outgoing member of our troop of authors

Yeah, me.

We didn’t send Joe Konrath because, well, the whole poop thing, you know. We wanted people to come in, not run away with the alacrity of a tourist running with the bulls.

Surprisingly, I had showered and brushed my teeth, so was relatively inoffensive. Except my Hawaiian shirt, but that’s another tale.

So I stood on the sidewalk, and ushered people into the restaurant, encouraging reluctant ones with tales of the wonderful appetizers … meatballs, cheeses, veggies, stuffed mushrooms .. good stuff. And we had a good day and sold a good number of books.

That night we … well … authors are supposed to drink, right?

So I’m not going to tell you much about the night, but we did have an off duty Galena cop with us, so we mostly behaved. I’ll just say this, though, Henry, Joe and I started the “Men in Robes” club. Nuff said. Pics later .. maybe.

The next day, we got up way, way, way earlier than we should have, assisted by a loud obnoxious cardinal who decided to serenade us at six in the morning. So I stumbled downstairs past Luisa Buehler, who was already working on her laptop… fanatic … and put out a contract on coffee. After while, Luisa felt sorry for us, or more likely, was annoyed with our whining, and she made a pot. Of course, three cups later, we figured out it was decaf due to our lack of awareness and caffeine buzz.

Anyway, soon it was time to go to Brio Art Gallery. Brio is smack in the middle of town, and is filled with artfully arranged bronze birds and animals, jewelry and a cat (not bronzed) who allegedly was sold along with the store when the owners bought it five or seven years ago.

So we put out some brownies and cheesecake to arouse the hunger of readers and sent Norm back onto the streets.

A few hours later, Marie dumped said poop in my hand. Then she went to a bench, and proceeded to spray a big pile of doo-doo next to her feet, and sat grinning next to the pile for the next half hour. She’s used to that. Hah, sorry, Joe. You’re not poop. You’re a fellow “Man in Robe,” hence cool in a dorky way.

So that’s about it. Before we left town, we found a restaurant that served the Obama Burger (comes with pineapple) and the Sarah Palin Burger (comes pregnant – hah, just kidding. It was big but not pregnant).

We sold a lot of books, laughed a lot and often inappropriately, and generally had a blast with our wonderful hosts Barb, her husband George and the whole town of Galena.
Look for us in Galena next year.

We’ll be the ones with poop.

Norm Cowie

Gotta new vampire humor book out … Fang Face. Check it out!


  1. You are incredibly entertaining. What fun! thanks for making me laugh.


  2. Ah, memories! Thanks for coming out here NORM! You were the belle of the ball!

    Barbra Annino

  3. I think she just called me a 'ding dong'

  4. This sounds like an amazing time! Please post pics! Haha I totally have to see the "Men in robes" secret society.

  5. holy cow, Norm! Didn't think you were writing another book! haa! hey I have some pix - you need to show those green rolling hills! (yes got that one too.) feel free to pick them off my blog soon.
    Chris V.

  6. Great story about your time here in Galena. It sounds like the evevent went very well and we are glad to read that it will happen again next year. Here is to your great success. From your friendly hosts for visitor information, the Galena/Jo Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau

  7. Norm,
    Great blog, and it was a lot of fun, minus the poop of course. Can't wait for next year. Man in Robes? Gotta have pictures. Galena is beautiful, and I'm going back in October just to relax.
    Margot Justes