I’m often perplexed by other authors who eschew the practice of book readings and book signings, preferring instead to remain anonymous to those who buy and read their work. Not me. After all, what greater privilege could there be than to mingle with the most important people we know—our readers?
Last Wednesday, I had just such an honor when I was invited to participate in a reading (followed by a question and answer period—the “interview”) at a local retirement community not far from my home in Hendersonville, North Carolina. I had been scheduled to appear about a month prior, but was forced to postpone my appearance when an emergency root canal procedure made speaking impractical, if not impossible. After all, who wants to listen to an author read from his latest work with a mouthful of surgical gauze?
The get together had been arranged by an old friend, age 92, who now made his home at the seniors complex. Lately, it seems like this is the rule, rather than the exception (could it have anything to do with the old “birds of a feather” syndrome, or is it due to the fact that I will celebrate my 72nd birthday next month?).
I arrived precisely at the pre-arranged time of 1:30 PM, which was half an hour before I was to start speaking (“. . . just so we can go over the details of your little talk.”). In preparation for the event, I had assembled a collection of PR pieces, including a glossy finish poster displaying cover images of the four previous Matt Davis mysteries and a blurb about each; a supply of bookmarks; business cards; and autobiographical pamphlets. Now, with great care, I arranged them to best advantage on a table put there for just that purpose. Rows and rows of upholstered chairs (not the metal folding kind) had been carefully positioned in at least a half dozen even rows. The only thing missing was a podium, but that oversight was rectified when my host assisted me in bringing in a makeshift one from another room. We were armed and ready.
At precisely 2:00 PM, my host whispered “Get ready. We’ll give them a couple more minutes, and then I’ll introduce you.” Five minutes later, I was presented to my audience. All four attendees clapped dutifully, and I began my presentation—but not before each member of the audience had filled out a raffle ticket for the two signed proof copies of my new book, which were to be awarded to the winners. I rambled on about how my writing “career” had occurred, then read a chapter from my new book. At precisely 3:00 PM, while I was actually in mid-sentence, I was thanked profusely by my host for my gracious appearance, and it was time for the Q & A. I can’t recall how many questions I answered, but answer them I did. I’ve never seen people smile as broadly as those of my audience.
Then, it was time for the drawing. All four slips containing the names and email addresses of the attending members were given to me, and I randomly selected two winners from among them, after placing the slips behind my back (in order to preserve the appearance of fairness). During the process, one woman confessed to me that “I don’t hear that well anymore, but I heard most of what you had to say. I’m 94, you know. But I love to read.” Unfortunately, she was not among the winners. However, one of those lucky enough to secure a copy of my book comforted her by saying, “Not to worry, dear. I’ll lend you my copy—once I’ve finished reading it, of course.”
I confess I was a little disappointed at the sparse showing—after all, we’d had more than two months to gin up the audience. But, whether the crowd had been forty or four (the actual final count is still unofficial) was unimportant to me. What mattered most was that these elderly folks had taken time from their own precious lives to share an hour or so with me, a “kid” of only 71. I can’t speak for my fellow authors, but I believe it was time well spent. In fact, I’ve already been “booked” for a repeat appearance next year, when I hope to have completed still another “masterpiece.” Now, are there any questions?