Man of mystery

Man of mystery

Dear Ace: Who’s that guy who’s always holding book signings in front of Café
Cubano?—John Lee Booker

John: Wait, you’re telling Ace that’s not John Grisham? No wonder the dude looked unnerved when Ace said, “A Time to Kill” with a knowing wink and walked away. But no, not only is he not Grisham, the mystery man tells Ace, he never even wanted to be a writer.

According to the voice in Ralph Barnett’s head: If you write it, they will come.

The “mystery man” is Ralph Barnett, and the book he’s signing is called Spiritual e-Soup. Its introduction tells the story: Barnett was one of those guys who forwarded every lawyer joke that landed in his e-mail inbox until one day, “a small, still, but elusive, voice muttered, ‘Ralph, maybe you should not forward vulgar jokes.’ I stopped forwarding crude jokes.” Eventually, the voice commanded Barnett to stop forwarding jokes altogether (maybe it was just an annoyed friend?) and to focus instead on forwarding Christian-themed letters. How did that Jesus-mail (like G-mail? Stop groaning) become a book that Barnett’s always signing?

Barnett tells Ace that it started when he got laid off from his corporate sales job and decided to write a book about sales training. He spent two years writing it and was ready to publish, when the voice came to Barnett again (at least it wasn’t telling him that the CIA puts mind-control serum in our water supply). It told him that the book he’d written was just a warm-up and that he should use his new-found skills to write a compilation of the e-mail forwards circulating through his so-called “e-Soup Ministry.” Six months later, Barnett had a book.

With the help of Anne Louque, who designed the book’s cover and managed the publishing end, Barnett got his book printed and began his grass-roots efforts, which he admits are unconventional. On April 17 of this year, he held his first signing at the Starbucks on 29N— that’s where he’d written and edited the bulk of the book. He quickly moved on to other coffee shops, gourmet gas stations, and finally, his bread and butter, restaurants. Comparing his method to converting the “unchurched,” Ralph Barnett says his signings are an attempt to bring his message to the “unbookstored.” These days, he’ll have two to three signings a day at Downtown restaurants and various Starbucks, and Barnett says he’s sold over 400 books since April. But hey, if you want more information, just stick around Starbucks for a while. Ace is sure Barnett will show up eventually.

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