A round of books for the house

Published 2:04 pm Friday, March 16, 2012

My friend John knew about free popcorn and hotdogs and $1 PBR draft at a friendly bar on the corner of Elysian Fields, so off we went, with high hopes and a small box of books.

John also knew there’d be a crowd — he’d invited half of it — and the new kind of line dancing with a jazzy beat. I’d never been to a book signing quite like this, but it worked reasonably well. I left John Paul’s with an empty box and a few extra orders.

Beats sitting in a bookstore waiting for someone to get past the cookbooks and mysteries.

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John always tries to think of ways to sell my books, which don’t exactly hop off the shelves. In the past he’s rented a Unitarian church, hauled French bread from Bender’s Bakery 300 miles, browbeat friends who haven’t picked up a book in 30 years, done more than anyone almost to make my book-writing viable.

It’s not that John doesn’t have his own fish to fry. He’s just that nice, and generous, and a true patron of the arts. Dozens of hungry musicians in New Orleans will attest to that, I’d wager.

This latest effort might have been his most valiant. Certainly it was the most interesting.

You meet the most fascinating people in New Orleans’ neighborhood joints. And with the John infusion to boot, things were rocking.

There was the perky redhead aptly called “Lips,” centerpiece of the band “Lips and the Trips,” known for rock ’n’ roll, rhythm and blues and something they call “swamp throb.” Lips used to be called DeeDee and work in a used bookstore in Washington, D.C., until she found a more interesting name and calling.

There was Kathy, who grew up in New Iberia, the Cajun part of Louisiana I love the best. We talked about writing and food and lesser passions. Greg and Naomi from Memphis were in town visiting his brother Cory. Dan looked dapper in a cowboy shirt. Chris and Cliff and other neighbors in the Marigny neighborhood showed up and talked about books and Hank Williams and other of life’s essentials.

There were engineers and musicians and accountants and artists and a pizza house waitress who, until recently, was an architect. It was, in other words, a typical, doctor-lawyer-Indian chief, New Orleans gathering.

At one point a fellow sitting at the bar called me over and allowed as to how the regular denizens had been trying to determine who the visiting author might be. They thought they could guess by appearance. I’d been their last guess, he said.

I thanked him for that.

“What are your books about?” he asked. I longed to tell him they involved an Iuka, Miss., detective named Bart Bozeman, or a Natchez madam named Delight Dupuis. For a moment I thought about denying I was the author, that they’d gotten it wrong again.

I guess my books are about all the things you can’t put in a newspaper column, I said. And he bought a book on the spot.

(To find out more about Rheta Grimsley Johnson and her books, visit www.rhetagrimsleyjohnsonbooks.com)