The day before yesterday, I received Roald Dahl’s manual on how to spot a witch (titled The Witches). It arrived about five hours too late, but at least I was able to understand, in hindsight, that my writer friend Connie Kirchberg and I had spent our entire morning and afternoon in a witches’ coven. We thought we were at a simple Christmas bazaar where we took either half of a six foot table to display our books, hers and mine (and for me, a few of my handcrafted dolls).
Home again much disappointed, I found Dahl’s words took a few moments to penetrate my skull: “REAL WITCHES dress in ordinary clothes and look very much like ordinary women. They live in ordinary houses and they work in ORDINARY JOBS.”
Most of the women at the bazaar did wear ordinary clothes, not a dead giveaway in itself, but bright hypnotic, sparkling jewelry dangled off many of their necks and earlobes, the kind of baubles you don’t see on real shoppers. The jewelry left Connie and me stunned and mute.
Dahl writes, “A real witch spends all her time plotting to get rid of the children in her particular territory.” Indeed, there were no children present. There was another writer, of children’s books, who like us had innocently ambled into the so-called Christmas bazaar. The fact that she was not a witch was demonstrated by her being able to pick up our (Muggle) books in her hands. She bought a single book from each of us.
She had to be human. You see, witches will not open a Muggle book, just as vampires do not like to pass before mirrors. A witch cannot see herself with her nose in a book (if not about magic) any more than a vampire can cast a reflection in a mirror. Why didn’t I think of that? Sometimes you forget things. (I need to bone up on my Rowling.)
More than one table at the bazaar had women offering to stick needles into my face. One woman crept up behind me with the offer, crouched in a squat, whispering her indecent proposal with a polite simper: “We sell botox by the unit.”
Connie adds her comments:
The witch thing does explain a lot.
I would estimate approximately 150 women attended the bazaar; of those, perhaps half a dozen actually touched a book. The others either smiled and averted their eyes as they passed our table, or frowned at the strange combination of subjects our books presented. Who, after all, would want to read a biography about two of the most famous men of the 20th Century, Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon? A book that continues to find shelf space in some of our most prestigious universities in the country some 14 years after its commercial publication? What in the world are schools such as Stanford, Harvard, and USC thinking? And who would dare delve into a beautifully written, honest memoir of an American woman’s experience in Saudi Arabia? A book that doesn’t exaggerate the facts to make it more worthy in the eyes of today’s publishers, even though a high brow literary agent requested she do so?
All sarcasm aside, Tuesday presented Julia and me with yet one more reason to believe the old ways of doing business for writers are over. No one wants to buy books from local authors unless said authors are famous. Like it or not—and most of us do not—the future for the majority of writers is Kindle. And on further thought, maybe that’s not so bad. We have a place to sell our books, we just have to figure out how to build an audience there. That’s no small task of course, but no one ever said being a writer was easy. Well, no one who actually tried it, anyway.