I had just finished reading an excerpt from Blood Moon Rising at a book store and had invited the audience to ask questions for a few minutes before I started autographing books. An older woman with brightly dyed red hair and lots of blush raised her hand. “Are you related to Ben Turpin?” she asked.
“Ben who?” I asked.
“You know, the silent film star,” the woman said, as if everyone knows who Ben Turpin is.
“No, I’m not,” I said.
She squinted in disbelief. “Are you sure?”
“If I’m related to him, then it’s through my husband. But as far as I know, our family trees don’t intersect.”
After the Q & A, the guests lined up to have their books autographed. Another woman asked, “Did you get your performance skills from Ben Turpin?”
Not Ben again. Maybe I should ignore the comment instead of repeating myself like a broken record.
I kindly smiled and asked the woman if she just wanted my autograph or if she wanted me to address the book to someone in particular.
The woman answered my question, then turned the conversation back to her initial question. “You know, my great-great aunt Joan dated Ben Turpin before he got married. Did you know that? We almost are related!” She beamed like we shared some psychic connection.
“Oh, really? That’s wonderful. But I’m not related to Ben Turpin,” I said, sliding her autographed book across the table to her.
She picked up the book with a look of disappointment on her face. For a moment, I thought she might regret having the book made out to her aunt now that she realized we were not almost related. But she smiled bravely at me, tucked the book under her arm, and sashayed toward the register.
By the time the third woman asked if I was related to Ben Turpin, I wanted to scream, “I’m a freaking Chinese-American whose grandparents came from Canton, not the descendant of a famous silent film star!” But knowing I looked more like my German-American mother than my Chinese-American father, I didn’t want to upset or confuse the audience anymore than I already had by having the last name of “Turpin” so I politely announced, “I’m sorry, but I’m not related to the actor,” and kindly asked who I was signing the book for.
The woman snatched the book off the table and said, “How can you go around making us think you’re famous when you’re not? I bet I couldn’t get $10.00 for your autograph on eBay.”
I flushed with anger. “I never said I was famous, ma’am. And I was unaware my autograph was for sale anywhere.”
The woman arrogantly sniffed before spinning on her heels and stalking out of the book store without purchasing the novel.
Oh, well. Next.
The woman who approached me next apologized for the previous woman’s behavior as if she was inadvertently to blame.
“Don’t worry about it,” I told the woman. “It’s just a matter of mistaken identity. I’m sure it happens to people all the time. I could have avoided all of this by adopting a one word pen name. Like Madonna or Cher or Pink. I could have shortened my first name and gone by Angel. Just Angel.”
The woman cocked her head to the side, considering the possibility. “But that wouldn’t have worked,” she said. “Because then you would have people asking if you really were an angel or if you were a devil in disguise because you write about vampires.”
She’s right, I thought. I can’t win. Angel or Turpin, I would always be mistaken for someone else.