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Valley author goes viral

Best-selling authors support lament over book-signing event

Submitted photo Best-selling authors have been sharing their book signing horror stories after local author Chelsea Vandergrift Podgorny tweeted about her poorly attended book signing over the weekend.

Chelsea Vandergrift Podgorny has something in common with some of her literary idols — a humbling book signing.

But in her case, it turned the Howland native and Girard Free Library young adult librarian into a viral sensation.

Best-selling authors such as Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman and Jodi Picoult have been sharing their own book-signing horror stories after a tweet by Podgorny, who used the pen name Chelsea Banning for her debut novel “Of Crowns and Legends,” went viral.

Less than 48 hours later, she’s been interviewed by NPR, written about on several major websites and watched her novel skyrocket to the top of several Amazon specialty book categories.

Her book signing was scheduled Saturday afternoon at Pretty Good Books in Ashtabula.

“It’s one of my favorite bookstores,” she said. “I thought it would be somewhere friends could get their books signed. I had a pretty good response to the event on Facebook and was pretty excited.”

Only two people showed up.

On Sunday morning, she posted on Twitter: “Only 2 people came to my author signing yesterday, so I was pretty bummed about it. Especially as 37 responded ‘going’ to the event. Kind of upset honestly, and a little embarrassed.”

She picked Twitter to vent because she doesn’t use it often, and she didn’t want to call out the people who said they would show up but didn’t. If she hoped to keep her hurt low key, it had the opposite impact.

When she came back home from a day of running errands and turned on the computer, she couldn’t believe what she saw.

“It was pure shock, just pure shock,” Podgorny said. “Just staring open-mouthed at my computer. Is this really happening right now?”

Picoult, the best-selling author of “My Sister’s Keeper,” “Nineteen Minutes” and many others, tweeted, “I have sat lonely at a signing table many times only to have someone approach … and ask me where the bathroom is.”

A who’s who of literary giants followed. Gaiman, who Podgorny paid to see speak in Cleveland earlier this year, tweeted, “Terry Pratchett and I did a signing in Manhattan for ‘Good Omens’ that nobody came to at all. So you are two up on us.”

King, one of the most successful authors of all time, responded, “At my first ‘SALEM’S LOT’ signing, I had one customer. A fat kid who said, ‘Hey bud, do you know where there’s some Nazi books?'”

And it wasn’t only people known for their literary contributions who came out in support of her. She got retweets from everyone from ’70s pop star Shaun Cassidy to actor Henry Winkler, who also shared a link to purchase her book.

She doesn’t know the full impact yet — “It takes a couple of day to report. Sales don’t count until they get shipped,” Podgorny said — but Tuesday afternoon “Of Crowns and Legends” was listed at the top of Amazon’s Kindle Store sales in the category of Dragons & Mythical Creatures Fantasy and in both Kindle and book sales for Arthurian Fantasy.

She described the self-published novel as a re-imagining of the King Arthur legend focusing on the twins he was never supposed to have who now live in their father’s shadow 20 years after his death.

“It’s full of adventure and lore and political intrigue,” she said, and it’s the first book in a planned trilogy.

Podgorny started the novel when she was a student at Howland High School. She graduated in 2007 and earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Youngstown State University. She revisited the idea after college, and her pen name, Chelsea Banning, is an homage to Peter Banning, Robin Williams’ character in “Hook,” Podgorny’s favorite movie.

Since Sunday morning, her Twitter followers have gone from about 100 to 8,000, and those following her Chelsea Banning-Author Facebook page have jumped from about 200 to 1,700. She’s already using those pages to promote the work other independent authors.

“The writing community has always been so supportive of each other, and I’ve had some shares and encouragement from friends made (on social media),” Podgorny said. “I had this big thing happen to me and I want to help them as well. I want to share the limelight, I guess.”

agray@tribtoday.com

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