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Meeting fellow bookworms at autograph sessions

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Dolly Withrow Dolly Withrow

A retired English professor, Dolly Withrow is the author of four books, including The Confident Writer, a grammar-based college textbook. Contact Dolly at

"I shot my husband, and I need something uplifting," said the red-haired woman standing in front of my autograph table. "You what?" asked I. 

"I shot my husband," she repeated.

"Did you kill him?" I asked. By this time, passersby who had overheard her were gathering around us. To say she had captivated her audience is an understatement. 

She said, "No, but I wish I had killed him. We were married only a short time when he began cheating on me, and with my best friend, too. The bullet just grazed him right here." She moved her right hand diagonally down across her stomach. 

I assured her my books were just what she needed to cheer her. She told me she was on probation and had never done anything like that before. I believed her, and when she left the store a short time later, I noticed she held the door open for a woman in a wheelchair. Apparently, that pistol-packin' mama was a good person, despite her fit of passion and Bonnie-and-Clyde moment. 

Anyway, I liked her and suggested that she should try pinking shears should that ever happen again. 

My book signings became a Christmas tradition of sorts. During the Christmas season for approximately four or five years, I spent several days in a Charleston bookstore, where I signed copies of "More than Penny Candy" and "Beyond the Apple Orchard." Both books are now out of print. While attending those autograph sessions, I learned a great deal about people and about the art of selling. My experiences were both bizarre and wonderful, but they were consistently entertaining.

 The next year, two women approached me. One was middle-aged, and she introduced her mother to me. Wearing a plaid pants suit, the daughter was tall with long, brown hair. She said, "I never thought I would need therapy, but I do. My therapist said I should read only things that would make me laugh. Will your books make me laugh?"

I told her that the last part of each book contained humor, and I explained which stories she should avoid until such time she no longer needed therapy. 

Another day in the same year, I inscribed a copy of Penny Candy to three cats, and the petite white-haired lady spelled the cats' names because each had an unusual spelling. I asked if I should write Merry Christmas. 

She said, "Oh no. Write Happy Hanukkah."

"Oh," said I, "they're Jewish cats."

She smiled and nodded.

Another year, two women approached my table, and one saw Penny Candy and began crying. She picked up a copy and showed it to her friend. Then she said, "When my dad was in intensive care, a nurse brought this book to me."

She told me to begin reading it to my dad. She said the last sense to go is hearing. 

The woman looked at me and said her father had died while she was reading my book to him. She asked me to autograph Penny Candy to her father. I did.

Several bookstore visitors were wannabe writers. During each year, they asked me how I got my books published and often asked for my publisher's name. Seldom did such persons buy books. They wanted information to help them fulfill their dreams, dreams probably stemming from romantic notions about authors.

At each signing, I greeted customers as they entered the store and asked if I could tell them about my books. Looking back, I know I was pushy, but I learned a good salesperson can't be shy. I sold so many books the store manager gave me large mugs of love-you-latté, a sweet concoction that kept me wired. Sometimes, though, all a customer wanted to know was the location of the restrooms or if the store had a book by, say, John Grisham. 

Writing is hard work, but during each autograph session, I was far removed from the cynicism of the pseudo-intellects. I was listening to fellow bookworms who shared with me their fascinating lives. 

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