Tag Archives: Borders Books

Wil Wheaton’s Book Event, 2005

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Like many, I first saw Wil Wheaton in Stand By Me (1986), then watched him mature on Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-94).   He dropped off my radar for many years after that.  I gradually became aware that Wheaton was writing and blogging.  When I started working at Borders Books, I spent a lot of time browsing the entertainment section.  I knew of Wheaton’s Dancing Barefoot and Just a Geek.   One day, Wheaton visited the store as a regular customer.  Whenever we had a famous person came into the store, the news spread quickly.  From a distance, I watched him talking animatedly to a co-worker.   He looked friendly and approachable, but I didn’t go over to meet him.  Later, I started reading his blog and leaving the occasional comment.  I also read his books and enjoyed them.  When he posted on his blog that he was appearing at the January 2005 MacWorld convention here in San Francisco, I left a comment encouraging him to visit my Borders again.  He messaged me about doing a book reading.  When I asked the area event coordinator, she told me I would have to organize it myself.  I’d been assisting with lots of events, so I felt ready to take it on.

I had to make sure we had enough copies of Wheaton’s books in the store, although I had no idea how many fans would turn up.  I posted flyers at nearby computer stores to get the word out.  The hardest part?  Getting the event added to the Borders website and automated phone information line.  I don’t think those ever got fixed.  Of course, the most effective promotion was Wheaton’s own blog post about the event:

“Good news, everyone!

When the press release went out about MacWorld, a lot of WWdN readers asked if there would be a reading or signing for people who were unable to afford admission to the conference.

Well, it turns out that we have a mole at Borders in Union Square. She made an introduction for me, and I am super excited to announce that I’ve been invited to their store for a reading and signing when I’m in town!

It looks like the Borders website hasn’t been updated yet, but I’m scheduled for Friday January 14th at 7pm.

Oh! I just got a Really Big Idea™, that could be a whole bunch of Supercool: I have a short list of stories from Just A Geek that I choose from when I perform at bookstores. Based on comments and e-mail, I know there are a lot of WWdN readers in NorCal. How about, instead of me choosing what to read, I let you guys pick what you’d like to hear? If you’re planning to come out on the 14th, say so in the comments, and leave a brief description, or chapter number, or page number, or whatever, and the majority will rule.”

I was excited and nervous when the day arrived.  Once the chairs were in place, the book displays set up, and the posters hung around the store, I just had to wait.  Some enthusiastic fans showed up really early to get good seats, and one of them came up to me to complain.  He’d heard a skeptical employee making snide comments about Wheaton.  It was just the kind of attitude that Wheaton was writing about, coming from people who thought of him as “that guy who played Wesley Crusher.”  I let my supervisor deal with the situation and went off on my dinner break.

When I got back to the store, a co-worker told me that Wheaton had arrived and was waiting in the employee area.  I rushed down and found him alone, sitting on a desk.  I felt bad, because the people who came to do store events were often given the manager’s office and some VIP treatment.  I presented Wheaton with some gifts and introduced him around, and he signed my copy of Just a Geek.  Then we took the elevator upstairs to find a big crowd waiting.  In fact, it was standing room only.  I got to do the introduction, and somebody took a photo and posted it on the internet the next day.  I can’t believe I wore that sweater!  Oh well, nobody was there to see me.

Wheaton had the crowd right from the start.  He’s a great reader.  Somebody posted a brief video of his reading on YouTube:

After the reading, the folks waiting to get their books signed were in good spirits, and it was obvious that Wheaton was enjoying himself.  I should have ordered more copies of Dancing Barefoot, because we ran out. Wheaton was also a great salesman for his favorite poker books.  I kept myself busy taking lots of photos of everything.  The event coordinator dropped by to check things out, and it seemed to me she was basking in the glow of a successful event that wasn’t her own.  Several of my co-workers told me that it was one of our best, including the skeptic.  After it was all over and I was saying goodbye, I finally got awkward talking to Wheaton.  It’s always easier when you’re kept busy!  I was excited to see how he would describe the evening on his blog.  As far as I know, he never got around to it.  It only took me seven years to get around to it, but I’ve got an excuse.  I haven’t been blogging that long!

Later, I received a delightful email from Wheaton:

Hey Stacey,
I have this horrible habit of getting so overwhelmed by everything, I do 
nothing.

. . . like remember to thank you for sending me the amazing photos you 
took when I was up in San Francisco. Oh, I've looked at them and I've 
showed them off to my kids and my friends . . . and I've said, out loud, 
"Stacey was so cool, and look at all this great stuff she helped me get 
done . . ."

But I kept forgetting to just sit my stupid ass down here and type it 
out to you.

Thank you, so very, very much, for making it possible for me to read in 
your store. 

I owe you, big time, and I won't ever forget it.

So thank you for sending me such great photos, and thank you for all 
your support.

I hope this finds you well,
Wil

I saw Wil Wheaton again in fall 2009, at his first wOOtstock performance in San Francisco.  He remembered me, but I made a big bOO-bOO.  I went up to say hello while he was tweeting (bad twitter etiquette?) right before his performance.  I couldn’t stick around after the show, but it’s not cool to bother a performer before they go on.  Anyway, wOOtstock was great, and I’d love to go to another one.  I very much enjoy Wheaton’s guest appearances on The Big Bang Theory.  Did he influence me to start blogging?  Maybe just a bit!

Other reports of the event:      stomachpains      brainwagon

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Celebrity Encounters at Borders Books

I worked at the largest Borders Books in San Francisco from 2002 to 2006. I started as a Christmas temp, hoping to be offered a permanent bookseller position. I moved into store security instead, and I was simply the worst. I never caught a single shoplifter. Fortunately, before my self-esteem was completely shot, a bookseller position opened up. I was assigned to the children and teen section, my favorite, and I was finally where I belonged.

Through the course of a working shift, we would be rotated around the store every hour. The store took up four floors, so we did an awful lot of running up and down the escalators. We’d staff the cash registers, the various information desks, and then organize our own sections. There were frequent book signings and special in-store performances, and I was often recruited to assist the special events coordinator. Because the store was located in Union Square, surrounded by big hotels and expensive department stores, we often had celebrity shoppers. Word would spread quickly through the store when one arrived, especially in my last year, when we all wore radio headsets. Authors would come in to sign their books, even if they had no scheduled book event at the store  When we were at an information desk and somebody walked up, we’d never know if they were a reader or a writer. It kept us on our toes!

Eddie Izzard DVD Dress to KillThe first big celebrity store event I experienced was a visit from Eddie Izzard, who came to sign his Dress to Kill DVD.  I was very excited to meet him. All the employees on break or starting their shifts got to spend a little time with him in the basement employee area, before he went upstairs to do his signing. He was very cool, and I got an autographed DVD. Just before I left Borders four years later, Eddie Izzard came back for another signing. He was obviously more tired this time, probably at the end of a long public appearance tour. He was just as cool, though, and even more famous. I enjoyed meeting singers Dar Williams and Joan Baez. When Jane Fonda came for a book signing, I helped to mind her dog. There were a few times when the events coordinator was busy at another store, so I was put in charge of events with author Laurell K. Hamilton and Blue Dog artist George Rodrigue.

It was fine for us to get autographs when a celebrity came in for a signing, but it was not cool to ask for one from celebrities who were there as customers. Too bad, because my collection would be awesome. I was still working store security when Alex Rodriguez came in to browse  I was at my usual position by the door, where he stopped and looked outside, clearly annoyed at the rabid baseball fans who were waiting with their binders full of memorabilia to sign. I only knew who he was because of the store grapevine, since I don’t know much about baseball. Still, I nodded at him and tried to appear sympathetic. He was handsome, he seemed a little arrogant, and I could tell his watch was very expensive. That’s all I had time to observe before he walked out to be mobbed.

One of the nicest people I helped as a bookseller was actor F. Murray Abraham. He was energetic and friendly, and I was determined to find something for him. I took him to three different floors, trying to find a book in stock that he’d find interesting. It was one of those days when we seemed to be sold out of every title I looked up. Still, he was full of good humor, and I may have surprised him when I said I enjoyed his performance in the miniseries Dead Man’s Walk. Maybe he gets tired of hearing about Amadeus. I had good luck with actors. I was delighted to find Bill Irwin in the children’s section one day, and we had a quick chat. I’d worked with him in 1985 at the La Jolla Playhouse, and I’d recently met him again at the stage door after a performance of his stage show Fool Moon. He’s got to be one of the sweetest people in show business.

The Pursuit of Happyness was filmed in San Francisco, and lots of locals had encounters with the Smith family. Will Smith came in one evening with an entourage and bodyguards. I walked right up and asked him if I could help him find a book. We wandered around two floors, where I made some recommendations and he asked to see some titles. In the end, he chose The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene as a gift for a relative. Will Smith was very extroverted, and I could tell he was used to being the center of his universe. That’s not criticism, just an observation. A few days later, Jada Pinkett Smith came in to shop, and I brought a book down to the ground floor for her. Our contact was very brief. I didn’t get to meet Jaden Smith, but my brother watched him film a scene for the movie. The author of the book, Chris Gardner, dropped by the store more than once, and I have an autographed copy of his book. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I still haven’t read the book or seen the movie!

Simon Cowell was in San Francisco for American Idol auditions, and when I heard he was in the store, I rushed to the ground floor to say hello. I told him I enjoyed his book I Don’t Mean To Be Rude, But…  He thanked me politely, and I repeated myself, saying I really enjoyed it. Then he really smiled and told me I’d made his day. Standing next to him felt strange, until I realized it was because we’re used to seeing him seated behind a table or desk.

British actor Damian Lewis came to the information desk, and I mentioned his miniseries Warriors.  I went on to gush about his co-star, Ioan Gruffudd. I don’t think that impressed him very much. Of course, he’s got a wry face, so it was hard to tell. When David Sedaris was at the desk signing a stack of his books, I told him I was sorry I couldn’t make it to the event he was doing at a local theatre. He just smirked and said the event was sold out. At least his personality matches his writing style! Then there was the author of new-age spirituality books who refused to ride the elevator with us lowly store employees, so she’s now banned from my reading list.

I often ate lunch at a fifties-themed diner across the street from the store, and one time at the counter, I sat next to actor Chad Lowe.  I tried not to stare, but once I finished my meal, I said hello. He was friendly and didn’t seem to mind the intrusion. Of course, I had to tell him how great he was in Life Goes On. Lowe told me he was in San Francisco to option a story from author Ethan Canin. That explained why he had a copy of The Palace Thief on the counter. I mentioned that I worked at Borders and encouraged him to drop by. He said he would try. I warned everyone back at the store to watch for him, and my co-workers reported that he came in, but it was after I’d gone home. Chad Lowe’s meeting must have gone well, because he produced and directed Beautiful Ohio (2006) based on the short story Batorsag and Szerelem, with Ethan Canin as screenwriter. (My roommate lived on the same block as Canin growing up, but that’s her story to tell!)

Many of our celebrity sightings were just that. We’d see them in passing, but that was all. This was the case for me with Matthew Perry, Nicole Richie, and Rachael Ray. I walked up and said hello to actor Paul Dooley and he shook my hand, but that’s all there is to tell. I met Darren Hayes of Savage Garden a second time, as he passed me on his way to the music floor. (My first encounter with Hayes is included in my previous post.)

Some of the authors I met include Neil Gaiman, Chuck Palahniuk, Temple Grandin, Bret Easton Ellis, Walter Mosely, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Phillipa Gregory, Robin Cook, Cara Black, James Patterson, Tom Wolfe, Gregory Maguire, Peter Robinson, Lawrence Block, Nuala O’Faolain, and Yann Martel. Martel was there to sign his book, but also to insert a small strip of paper at page 317, containing some sentences that had been left out of the first edition paperback. I’m sure he was relieved when his book went into another printing! We discussed the different ways Life of Pi could be interpreted, and he wrote in my book, “May you always believe the better story.”

I left Borders when I could no longer cope with the physical demands of the job, and now the store is closed  It’s sad that the big bookstores killed the small independents, and now the big stores are mostly gone. Kindles and ipods are great, but I can’t help wondering, how do you get a kindle edition or an mp3 download autographed? I guess you just take a photo with your cell phone.

Update: Wow, ask the universe a question, and sometimes you get an answer. Now there is the kindlegraph, modern technology’s answer to the autograph.

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