The Dead Tree Firestorm (No trees were killed in the distribution of this blog.)

When I sent out the newsletter this week, I didn’t mean to set off a firestorm, but I did.  A whole bunch of my non-e-book readers wound up and let me have it with both barrels, taking issue with my referring to them as Dead Tree Readers or DTRs. One woman was so put out that she was threatening to stop reading my books altogether which was certainly not my intention in writing the newsletter.

First and foremost let me say, that when I use that terminology I am in no way being disrespectful.  I appreciate ALL my readers—print and non-print. I suppose I could refer to the paper only readers as PORs or as NEBRs (Non E-book Readers) but neither of those really grab me.  Instead, I thought I’d use this space this space to explain the origin of that tongue-in-cheek phrase.

When you’re an author doing a book signing, you become a target, plain and simple.  Most of the people coming to have books signed are ordinary, nice people, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few Lulus thrown into the mix now and then.

One of the scariest of those was the guy who came dashing up to me at the grand re-opening of the Smokey Point Safeway.  My book rep had put brochures advertising the event on the windshields of cars in the parking lot.  He rushed up to the table waving one of those and said, “Are you the woman who writes murder mysteries?” When I told him yes, he continued, “I’ve just been acquitted of murdering seven people.  Do you want to write my book?”  Well … actually … as a matter of fact … NO, I did not.  What I told him instead was, “I don’t do true crime.  You need to talk to Ann Rule.”  Ann was not amused.  She told me later that she knew he got out on a technicality, and she wanted nothing to do with him, either.

And then there was the woman in the back of the room at the library in Pinetop, Arizona, in 2001.  Throughout my presentation, she stood there with her arms crossed, not smiling, not nodding, not laughing at any of the jokes.  When it came time for me to sign books, she made sure she was at the back of the line.  That’s where the difficult cases usually turn up—at the end of the line.  When she stepped in front of me she asked, “Was your husband a witness in a series of homicides that took place in Tucson in the late sixties and early seventies?”  Of course that was true, and here’s how I answered, “Yes, he was.”

While we were on the reservation, on Friday, May 22, 1970, I had to stay after school to decorate for the prom. On the same day my husband and I were expecting out of town company at our home thirty miles away.  At lunch we discussed the situation and my husband decided that he would leave the car for me to use and would hitchhike home after school to await the arrival of our out-of-town visitors.  He went out to the highway, stuck out his thumb and was given a ride home by a guy, who half an hour earlier and ten miles farther down the road had forced a woman off the highway at gunpoint, shot her, raped her in front of her two small children, and left her to die. When details of the homicide emerged, my husband realized that the killer was most likely the guy who had given him a ride home.

The details my first husband was able to provide to the investigator, Pima County Homicide Detective, Jack Lyons, helped identify the man who murdered people at twenty minutes after two on the twenty-second day of the month by shooting them off moving vehicles—a sixteen year-old girl off a bicycle, a forty-something year-old man off a bulldozer, and the twenty-eight year-old woman on the reservation who was his third and final victim.

Back to the book signing, more than thirty years later, and to that very unhappy young woman standing in front of me.  As soon as I acknowledged that my husband was indeed a witness, she launched off into her story, speaking as though we’d been having this conversation for more than thirty years.  “My father was the man on the bulldozer,” she said with no additional introduction.  “My mother would never talk to me about it.  What can you tell me?”

Whoa! Her father’s homicide was and, I’m sure, still is the central issue in her life, and yet the only person she could discuss it with was a total stranger.

So yes, for good or ill, authors at book signings are targets.  But I digress.  It’s my blog, and I have full authorization to digress to my heart’s content.  And back to the DTR issue.  (I’m also authorized to begin sentences with conjunctions if I feel the urge.)

Very early on, as a beginning author with a single book in print—a slender paperback called Until Proven Guilty—I did a signing at a bookstore in Eugene, Oregon.  I was sitting there at the table, minding my own business, when a very scary looking young guy came sauntering over.  “How many trees had to die in order for you to publish this book?” he demanded with a sneer.  “How many?”

I was very new at doing book signings at the time.  I have no recollection of how I replied, but his words have stuck with me ever since.  It turns out, I’ve been a Dead Tree Writer, a DTW, for thirty plus years.  If you find my use of the term DTR offensive, I’m very sorry.  It is a reflection of my own writing history rather than a reflection on you.

By the way, when I use that term, I’m not implying that my paper-only readers are any less important to me or that they’re somehow over the hill.  In actual fact, it’s most likely just the opposite.

My own gradual migration from paper to e-books happened because of my eyes—because, as a woman of a certain age, having the ability to make the fonts larger really helps me.  And then there’s also a question of convenience.  The ability to travel with seventeen or so books packed away in my iPad really works for me.

Here’s the deal.  If you want me to ditch the phraseology DTR, then you’ll need to come up with something better.

And next time you see the term DTR in print, just consider the source—it’s not you; it’s me.