Having written and published two novels over the past year has produced some interesting effects on other people. On me too, but first, other people. These effects range from a sort of hushed awe by some folks who have never been in the presence of a living, breathing (usually) writer whom they elevate to the lofty realms of author. “Wow, you’ve really written two novels?” they gasp, looking at me with the kind of adoring gaze generally reserved for celebrities. They invariably buy a novel from me. The other end of the scale goes more along the lines of “Oh yeah? Two books, huh? Got an aunt who writes stuff for greeting cards. Makes pretty good money, too.” In other words, “So what?” They invariably don’t buy a novel from me. As I say, a wide range.
Most people fall into the middle of the range; they want to know what the novels are about, how the process of writing them came about, and what prompted me to write them in the first place. Answering these and other questions about plot development, characters, setting, and how these intertwine becomes the usual conversation at what are called Author Signings.
Two of these are coming up. The next one will be on Saturday, July 3 at 1:30PM at the Café Libertalia, 3834 5th Avenue in Hillcrest, and another at the Lemon Grove Public Library on Saturday, July 10 at noon.
I like these events very much. They provide a forum for me and prospective readers (some arrive having already read the novel) to discuss the nuts and bolts of writing. Some have useful and thoughtful comments to make about some aspect of the novel if they have read it. Others want to hear some part of the novel read aloud, something I’m happy to do. All in all, it’s a good time, folks leave happy that they have participated in something literary, I feel good that I have entertained them with some prose, and I’ve sold a few books.
Now for the effects on me part of this blurb. I can best illustrate this with a story. One man bought my first novel, The House on Shadow Lane, read it, and then was kind enough to write a review of it on the Amazon.com site, praising the novel for what he felt were its various attributes. He lives in Palm Springs, and by chance, I found his e-mail address and wrote to thank him for his kindness. He wrote back asking when I’d be in the desert. “Next week, as a matter of fact,” I replied. A dinner date was set and I met up with him and his partner. Off we went to their favorite restaurant where he introduced me to the owner, all of the waiters, the chef, and everyone else whom he knew there including quite a few diners.
“This is Robert, our author friend. He’s written a wonderful book…” my new friend went on. My head was getting bigger and bigger; I was eating this up like crazy and feeling like a latter day E. M. Forster, or Hemingway, or Melville. This went on throughout our meal with people dropping by the table to congratulate me and to meet “our author friend, Robert.”
I returned to my room flying high in the dizzying realms of exalted praise and celebrity. The next morning, I got up and went out to buy a copy of the Palm Springs newspaper. Glancing at the horoscopes, I read “Sagittarius: Beware the elaborate praise of strangers. You may get to believe it and if you do, it will cut into your creativity, finally making you miserable.” My big head from the night before regained its usual size as I sat down to write a thank you e-mail to the Palm Springs fan in which I included the astrological advice.
It’s good advice, and the truth is that I generally don’t see myself as more than a competent writer who merely wants to entertain people with a good story. I don’t have aspirations to elbow out the great novelists of our age by knocking their books off the shelves as mine replace them. But what I tell people at author signings is this: “Just have some love of writing, of telling a good tale, and telling it the best way you can. Make sure that YOU like it, that YOU are happy with it. It won’t be perfect; nothing ever is. Don’t let that stop you if you want to write, but write as faithfully and honestly as possible. If you do that, and you have a story to tell, you’re well on your way.”