A Bookselling Snake

Is it September 15th already?? I spend the whole summer looking forward to Labor Day, and now it’s been two weeks in the rear-view mirror. The island around me may have slowed down somewhat — the traffic definitely has — but my workload hasn’t. Work is good, it’s all interesting stuff, and I do like having enough money incoming that I can pay my quarterly taxes (payment #3 is due today) on time. As the IRS and the Massachusetts Department of Revenue have probably noticed, this was not true (nowhere close) of payment #2.

The Ag Hall, site of the Labor Day Artisans Festival

On Labor Day weekend I got to spend some time selling my books at the big two-day end-of-season Labor Day Artisans’ Festival. My friend the prolific mystery writer Cynthia Riggs had snagged prime space just inside the double doors in the photo (left), and being a generous soul she invited a bunch of her writer friends to play too. These venues lend themselves to authors with multiple Vineyard-related books to sell, like Cynthia herself and local historian Tom Dresser, but even though I only sold a few copies — mostly of Mud of the Place but also a couple of my venerable original anthologies of women’s fantasy and science fiction, which hadn’t been out of my closet in years —  it’s fun to talk book and watch the world go by. The world was especially in evidence on Sunday, which was most emphatically not a beach day.

corn snake

Panthy, aka Suzan’s bracelet

The highlight of the weekend was sharing a table on Saturday afternoon with Suzan Bellincampi, director of Mass. Audubon’s Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary and author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature. Suzan was accompanied by Panthy (short for Pantherophis guttatus), a corn snake who lives at Felix Neck and as an educator is an old hand at public events. Panthy spent a fair amount of time coiled around Suzan’s forearm like a bracelet. Plenty of book browsers didn’t notice at first that the bracelet was a snake.

Snakes are cold-blooded, so it’s almost certainly warmth that so attracted Panthy to Suzan’s arm, but as the afternoon sun streamed through the window to the left of our table, she did a little exploring. (Determining a snake’s sex is an intrusive process, so Panthy’s actual sex is not known. Suzan refers to Panthy with female pronouns in part because the usual default setting is he, him, and his.)

Panthy goes exploring.

I was close enough to see Panthy’s tongue flicking in and out to explore her surroundings. Here she checks out my novel, The Mud of the Place. I’ve been known to refer to one of the villains as a snake in the grass, but I will not be doing that again. (The other villain is anything but subtle.)

Plenty of adults were at least somewhat leery of the bookselling snake, but the kids were mostly fascinated. Like this guy, who went eye to eye with Panthy:

More kids than adults took Suzan up on her offer to let them touch Panthy, as long as it wasn’t close to her head, which she might take as a threat. Several noted how surprisingly soft she was. For the first time in decades I remembered a grade-school kid I knew as a teenager. As well as being an avid horsegirl, she had a pet boa constrictor. Snakes being cold-blooded, a heated cage was a must. Once when power was knocked out by a storm, this kid induced her dad to sleep with the snake’s cage on his chest. I’m not sure how he managed it, but I still think he deserved a Father of the Year award for that one.

When selling books at the Artisans’ Festival, I not infrequently manage to spend more money than I take in. I avoided that this time by not lingering over any earrings, and though I was much intrigued by a woodworker’s gorgeous pens, so many others were crowded into his booth that I managed to walk by without opening my wallet.

I did, however, buy a copy of Suzan’s Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature. Along with lots of info on the Vineyard landscape and half a dozen guided walks, it includes chapters on identifying island flora and fauna, with drawings and photos of leaves, ferns, frogs, shells, and yes, a snake. Not a corn snake, though, because they aren’t native to the island. If you want to meet one, a trip to Felix Neck is in order.

About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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2 Responses to A Bookselling Snake

  1. SO this would be, like, the most exciting book signing event E-V-E-R!!!! What an idea… and what a wonderful picture of the little boy locked in his serpent stare-down!


  2. Jennie says:

    Sounds like a wonderful day, Susanna. I think the corn snake helped make the books enticing. It’s a beauty, and so is the photo of the big barn. Happy weekend.


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