When authors and publishers are high on the commercial potential of a new book, they’re often willing to invest the time and expense necessary to arrange for in-person signings at bookstores, conventions, or other events. Fans can get a (fleeting) chance to interact with their favorite writer, and writers get a reasonable chance of developing early-stage carpal tunnel.
Unfortunately, not all of these meet-and-greets go smoothly. Take a look at six times book lovers and authors got more than they bargained for.
1. THE PALTROW INCIDENT // CHRISTINA OXENBERG
Despite a literally royal lineage—her mother is Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia—author Christina Oxenberg (Royal Blue) was feeling something other than revered during a 2013 book signing at the East Hampton Library. In this multi-writer event, Oxenberg was seated next to Gwyneth Paltrow, who was publicizing a recipe collection titled It’s All Good. The problem, as Oxenberg later noted in a blog post, was that the celebrity of Paltrow totally consumed her immediate vicinity, with fans of the actress entombing Oxenberg’s table and blocking her from the view of passersby. When Oxenberg went to get something to eat, Paltrow’s bodyguards blocked her from returning to her seat. Instead, she crawled under the table and admitted to making "a plate of miniature sloppy hamburgers, stinky steak sandwiches, and the like and hauled it back to my piece of table" in an attempt to annoy her neighbor.
2. THE INK ATTACK // VAL MCDERMID
Scottish crime writer Val McDermid was giving a lecture at Sunderland University in 2013 when she noticed a peculiar woman in the audience. The woman was wearing a wig and glasses, a fairly obvious and clumsy disguise. When McDermid segued into signing books for the crowd moments later, the woman approached the author and asked her to sign a copy of her 1995 nonfiction book, A Suitable Job for a Woman. After McDermid complied, the fan produced a bottle of ink and tossed it at McDermid. At a hearing in which she was found guilty of assault, the woman—identified as Sandra Botham—appeared dismayed at a paragraph in the book that described a person named Sandra as being shaped “like the Michelin Man.” Botham asserted McDermid was referring to her, despite the fact the two had never met.
3. THE SPIT CRITIQUE // JANE FONDA
In 2005, noted actress/fitness icon/activist Jane Fonda released her autobiography, My Life So Far. In it, she details her life and career up and through her public denouncement of the Vietnam War in the early 1970s. The latter apparently didn’t sit well with a Kansas City man, who waited patiently in line during a signing so he could have the opportunity to hawk chewing tobacco in Fonda’s face when his turn came. After being charged with disorderly conduct, the man—a 54-year-old Vietnam veteran named Michael Smith—told the press that he didn’t regret the incident and labeled Fonda a “traitor.” The man was hauled off; Fonda continued to sign books for those remaining in line.
4. A FUR-RIOUS REACTION // KELLY ROWLAND
Former Destiny’s Child member Kelly Rowland published a parenthood memoir titled Whoa, Baby in 2017. Signing the book in Ridgewood, New Jersey, Rowland was confronted by several animal activists who had pretended to be fans in order to enter the store. Once inside, they produced signs and began chanting “Fur trade, death trade,” insisting Rowland “has blood on her hands.” Their ire was directed at the fact that Rowland had been photographed in the past wearing fur clothing. After some awkward discussion between Rowland and her associates, the protesters were escorted out. Singer Patti LaBelle experienced a similar incident while she was promoting Desserts LaBelle at a Barnes and Noble in New York.
5. THE LESSER-KNOWN ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT // MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
In 1958, civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. was signing copies of his book, Stride Toward Freedom, in the shoe section of a Harlem department store when a woman approached. After she confirmed the man was indeed King, she produced an eight-inch letter opener and plunged it into his chest. Surgery saved King’s life, though doctors feared that if he had so much as sneezed, he might have died—the weapon's edge had settled on his aorta. While in the hospital, he told a reporter that his attacker, Izola Curry, was in need of mental help. “I’m not angry at her,” he added. Curry was committed to mental and assisted living institutions before her death in 2015.
6. THE FLYING TOMATO // SARAH PALIN
Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin proved to be a divisive presence during the height of her notoriety in 2009, when she published a book titled Going Rogue. As she signed copies at Minnesota’s Mall of America, a man positioned himself on a balcony near her table. When the moment seemed right, he began lobbing tomatoes in her direction. Instead of hitting Palin, he managed to splatter the vegetable on a security officer instead. Busy autographing books, Palin didn’t even notice the airborne food—she had to be told about it later. The attacker, 33-year-old Jeremy Paul Olson, was arrested. Police discovered additional tomatoes on his person.