Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

Comedy Corner at the Virginia Festival of the Book

On March 21, I went to Charlottesville to participate in the Virginia Festival of the Book, an annual five-day event that draws thousands of readers. Renowned authors like John Grisham, David Baldacci, and Rita Dove lead panel discussions about their writing while authors like yours truly set up tables at the book fair outside and try to hawk their writing. We authors of lessor renown get the panel experience, too, it’s just that ours is more of the Two Men And A Truck variety.

The book fair was scheduled to go from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m., which struck me as an awfully long time. In my wildest dreams, the 50 books I brought to sell would fly off the table even before the first panel discussion began and I would suffer a terrible case of autograph-induced carpal tunnel syndrome. My more modest dreams conjured up a day where the books would saunter off the table at a 20-books-a-day pace, leaving me with perhaps a mild case of signature fatigue. My humblest dreams, which we might as well go ahead and call nightmares, painted a picture of a 7-hour slog where I would try to spread the joy of my book to people who reacted as if they’d rather experience the joy of colonoscopy.

Reluctant to brave such uncharted territory alone, I brought my mother for backup. A cheerleader, publicist and Sherpa all rolled into one, I figured at least she would buy a copy of my book. Mom and I strolled into the atrium of the Omni Hotel at 8 a.m. that Saturday, found the half-table reserved for me, and began to set up our little bookstore that could.

I soon learned the other half of my table, as well as the whole table next to it, belonged to Cedar Creek Publishing, an outfit that publishes Virginia authors. When the owner of Cedar Creek found out that I’d written a collection of humor essays, she decided to station her humorist next to me, probably using the same logic that compels parents to set up a kids’ table at Thanksgiving.

Copies of her humorist’s book arrived at the table before he did, so I knew the book had an excellent title (Ads For God) and that the author had the kind of name humor writers routinely make up (Tony Vanderwarker). I flipped over a copy of the book and read the Kirkus review about this “snarky, rollicking” comic novel in which “a jaded adman gets a chance at redemption when God taps him for his marketing campaign.” Sounded like a terrific premise, though I wondered what it said about Tony himself. I could only hope I’d be in for a rollicking day of snark.

While I waited for the book fair to begin I introduced myself to Rick Britton, another Cedar Creek author who writes about Virginia history. I’d watched him meet a few of his readers, greeting each one with a huge smile and the easy warmth of a lifelong friend. He gave me the same treatment, making me think he’s simply a kind soul who likes people, the sort of person you just want to know.

Tony showed up moments later and a morning rush began. (We had the good fortune of being situated near the coffee station, guaranteeing constant foot traffic, if not actual transactions.) If Tony had any qualms about being stuck at the kids’ table, he hid them well. In between greeting his readers, he asked about my writing and my book, touching off a conversation that would last all day.

After watching me describe Good Luck With That Thing You’re Doing to prospective readers a few times, Tony decided to take me under his wing. The wing was a nice, sheltered place in which he told me in the kindest terms that my pitch pretty much stunk. Tony knows a thing or two about life under the wing, having been mentored by none other than John Grisham. I decided to implement his advice right away, which elevated my pitch from “stinks” all the way up to “still smells, but almost in a good way, like bacon.”

I must have been doing okay, because pretty soon, Tony was telling his prospective readers about me and my book (and vice-versa), and the kids’ table had morphed into Comedy Corner.

Our next triumph was conscripting Rick. At first he dealt with me and Tony from the safety of the grown-ups table, tossing the occasional witty comment in our direction. But pretty soon he couldn’t help himself and came over to slum it up on the Corner. I soon learned that, though Rick writes about Virginia history, he can trade jokes and one-liners with the best of ‘em. I tested some standup comedy material on him, in exchange for which he did a bit about Olestra that caused Comedy Corner to lose all semblance of structural integrity and collapse into a useless heap of laughter.

I was still trying to recover when I was visited by a childhood friend who happens to live in Charlottesville. We hadn’t seen each other in over twenty years but he’d been cheering on my book ever since he heard about it.

“I’m really proud of you,” he said, his words bringing tears to my eyes for a different reason.

I sold only ten books that day, but I left with those words in my heart and two more cheerleaders than I came with, along with the realization that I’ve gone so much further for so much less.


Me and my new cheerleader, Tony Vanderwarker







  1. Minnie Wheats, Boy, are you good! Knocked it out of the park. Your voice is so terrific and when you team it up with your honesty, it’s a marvel.

  2. Very cool. I’ll have to head over to the side bar and get your book. Gosh and it sounds like we all need a little TonyV. action in our writerly lives. Congrats on the book! That takes a huge commitment. It sounds like you has a great day. And 10 books sold is 10 more than I.

    • Thank you so much, Jamie! And I’m so touched and honored by your support of my writing. It means a lot! We do all need a little Tony V. I’m glad the Universe put me in his path. (Who knows how he feels about it! 🙂 )


  1. […] the lower half of the East Coast. It connected me with readers at a beer garden in Arlington and a book festival in Charlottesville, as well as bookstores in D.C., the Northern Neck of Virginia, and Elizabeth City and Charlotte, […]