But, all you writers and authors out there, just how many book signings have you actually been to? C'mon, be honest. Maybe you stood in line for John Grisham, or E.L. James, or J.K. Rowling or Jim Butcher or Joss Whedon (I'd totally stand in line for them), but mid list authors? local authors? people you've never heard of? Unless the author in question is friend or family, you probably haven't shown up. I'm fortunate to live in a town with a vibrant cultural life, and I see listings in the newspaper pretty much every week of local author appearances, but I admit that the only one I've gone to was for a friend in my writing group.
I'm going to be doing an "appearance" (that's what they call these events, apparently) at Broad Street Books, the official bookstore cafe from one of my alma maters, on May 9, 2013 at 5:30. Having picked a date and begun the appropriate publicity, I'm now facing yet another existential crisis (jeepers, how many of these can creative people endure?): What on earth do I do when the actual event takes place? Do I show up, Sharpie marker in hand, and grin like a stupid idiot (yes, apparently)? Do I try to read from the book? Do I just drink coffee and try to blend in and hope no one actually tries to talk to me? We're told that readers want to "interact" with authors these days. They want contact, they want to know that the author is a "real" person. Except I'm not entirely sure they really want authors to be "real" people. I think they might possibly want authors to be more than real people with silly foibles and mixups and what did I do with my phone and why is there a stain on my sweater? I think that people want contact, yes, but they want contact with the magic-making that is storytelling.
Once upon a time, the bards and singers and storytellers of a culture were revered because they could weave magic into words and conjure reality out of memory or legend. They were thought to be a little odd, a little fey because they were in touch with the invisible, and formed a lifeline to the world of the past or that of the gods or ghosts or supernatural that their listeners craved to know.
Is it so different today? Think about it - if you could meet your favorite author or movie maker or actor for drinks on your porch, would you know exactly what to say? Would you want to know that this person who connected you with something outside of reality accidentally put a dark sock in the white laundry yesterday? Or are you really looking for a conduit to that magic that reshaped your perception and left a mark on your soul? Why would you collect that signature on the title page if it weren't some kind of totem, ensuring that you will always have that connection, no matter what else changes?
Pity us poor authors, who flounder and dread this moment when we come face-to-face with a reader. We don't know what to do or who to be in order to meet your expectations. I've gotten lost in a parking garage (on numerous occasions), so how on earth can I be your bridge to another world? I'm terrified that you'll come, and I'll be brutally disappointed if you stay home. I'll smile, and be shy all at once. After all, I put part of my soul out in the world for you. I hope you like the book.