UPM Author Holds Book Signing at Funeral Home

The following is a guest post from UPM author John Pope. Last month Pope, author of Getting Off at Elysian Fields: Obituaries from the New Orleans "Times-Picayune," held two book signings in nontraditional, if not unusual, locations—funeral homes. Below he talks about the experience.

In the musical “Gypsy,” three veterans of the bump-and-grind trade give sage advice to Gypsy Rose Lee before her first sashay down a burlesque-house runway when they sing “You Gotta Get a Gimmick.”

Finding a way to attract attention is also vital for promoting a book because you have to make your volume stand out amid the onslaught of books of all sizes, shapes and genres.

I made the right start with the type of book I had written. Getting Off at Elysian Fields is an anthology of 34 years of obituaries and funeral stories I composed for The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune.

Then I went a step further: I held two signings at funeral homes.

That’s not as macabre as it may seem. For starters, the folks who run each mortuary – people who have been sources for my obits for years – asked me to hold an event there, and they said it could happen only on days when neither funeral home had scheduled a service.

That stipulation made sense. Even though I’m eager to promote my book whenever and wherever possible, I’ll concede that it would be insensitive and downright tacky to hawk it to weeping mourners.

At each funeral home – one in suburban Metairie, the other in New Orleans’ Mid-City neighborhood – the event was held in the main parlor, where mourners enter before they head off to a chapel. Each parlor was conservatively appointed, with plenty of comfortable chairs and no displays of such funerary trappings as caskets or cremation urns.

Perhaps because each site is a place where people gather for one of life’s more solemn rituals, it took a while before people felt comfortable speaking in anything but hushed tones.Once people made that adjustment, everything went splendidly, and the signings were no different from events in bookstores and libraries where I have touted my book. People asked questions, and they laughed at my jokes. (I liked that.)

At Jacob Schoen & Son Funeral Home, I signed 28 books on Nov. 1, and people just kept coming in.

In addition to Schoen’s location – on Canal Street, New Orleans’ principal thoroughfare – that signing was on Nov. 1, All Saints’ Day, when tradition-minded New Orleanians are thinking about their dead relatives and friends. They use the day to clean graves, bring flowers and visit with people at nearby tombs who have come to do exactly the same thing. It’s a very New Orleans custom.

Besides being All Saints’ Day, that day was a great Saints day. People felt good because New Orleans’ professional-football team had beaten the New York Giants in a 52-49 nail-biter of a game. (In fact, the signing had been rescheduled so it wouldn’t conflict with the game – a smart move.) I like to think that the victory made people want to buy books.

There was this bit of fortuitous lagniappe, which is a term we New Orleanians use to describe something extra at no extra cost. One of the people on duty at Schoen was Dom Carra Grieshaber Jr., whose father – a man known as “the marrying judge” because he loved to unite people in matrimony – is in my book. At the end of the event, he gave me a big hug.

. . .

John Pope has written obituaries throughout his forty-four-year career in journalism and was a member of the New Orleans Times-Picayune team that won two Pulitzer Prizes, a National Headliner Award, and a George Polk Award for coverage of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.