I have already confessed that I am a shameless author groupie. Probably this goes back to a brief magical encounter with Madeleine L'Engle twenty years ago. ML did not give a talk or mingle. She simply sat, imposingly but also adorably, behind a large table and signed books. When it was my turn, she smiled at me. It sounds weird, but I like to think in that moment we had a connection. In my head I was gushing to ML, telling her how much her book A Wrinkle in Time meant to me, how many times I'd read it, and for the childhood me--a sad little waif, but fierce reader--that book, (which is sometimes banned?!) may have saved my life. It further cemented my love of reading and in a roundabout way led to my becoming a writer. But all I said to her was "thank you," and she gave me the smile.
Author book tours have come a long way since then. Last night I went to the latest signing at Cover to Cover Bookstore in Columbus OH (best bookstore ever, btw, and I say that as someone who once clerked at a pretty awesome bookstore in Memphis TN). Some people question the value of book tours. Readers and writers can "connect" virtually, they say.
It's true. Writers keep websites and many respond to emails and tweets and Facebook comments. They also do skype visits and vlogs and webinars. Social media is definitely an easier (and cheaper) way for writers to promote their books and gain new fans, but I wonder if it really beats an actual person-to-person meeting. Look, I'm still talking about my ten-second encounter with Madeleine L'Engle 20 years ago. Not sure if 20 years from now I'll be telling you about the time I tweeted John Green and he tweeted back. (Okay, maybe I WILL be bragging about that in 20 years...)
But back to the cool author tour I attended last night. It was called the Fierce Reads Tour (for some reason they name these tours) and it featured four young adult writers: Leigh Bardugo (Shadow and Bone), Caragh O'Brien (Promised), Marie Rutkoski (The Shadow Society) and Gennifer Albin (Crewel). I confess that I haven't read any of these books, and until last night, had not heard of the authors, but I can tell you that I will be reading their books now. Which come to think of it is why they DO these tours.
Traveling with the writers was a publicity manager from Macmillan, the publishing company of all of these books. She posed questions to the panel and got the ball rolling for the 20 or so people there in the audience. What's your book about? What's fierce about it? Which led to more questions from the audience (a mixture of older women and college-age types, and a handful of kids. Also one token guy, but he seemed cool.)
Who's your favorite character? What's your writing process?--These are questions that come up at every writer tour but somehow the answers are always interesting. I'm not sure how long the ladies on the Fierce Reads Tour have been traveling together but they seemed like they were good buddies, joking and teasing and having a grand old time with each other and with the crowd.
The question about characters had Gennifer Albin confessing that her characters sprung out of her head fully formed, which probably seemed a little crazy. The other writers nodded and said yeah, maybe it was a little crazy. Leigh Bardugo said she knew of writers who had whole binders full of characters, which got a chuckle out of the audience. (In battleground state Ohio no less). Marie Rutkoski and Caragh O'Brien broke out into song at one point. Rutkowski, whose book uses the Chicago Fire as a plot point, mentioned that Mrs. O'Leary and her cow got an unfair rap, and she said, don't you all know that song? We didn't, so she started singing and O'Brien joined in energetically, while everyone clapped. Yes, things can get pretty raucous at one of these book signings.
But there were serious moments too. The question about the writing process led to a discussion about how each author wrote and revised. Bardugo is a meticulous outliner; O'Brien does not plan ahead but revises multiple times; Rutkowski, a literature professor, does lots of research; and Albin has an idea of the beginning and the end but writes to figure out how to get from point A to point B. She was the one who mentioned murdering trees. She said that she likes to print out her drafts so many times she feels sorry for all the trees she kills in the process.
At the end of the discussion, the authors signed books and took their time chatting with their readers. I talked to the Macmillan publishing rep, because coincidentally, that afternoon I got a book in the mail from someone at Macmillan--The 50th anniversary edition of A Wrinkle in Time. I'd won a copy because I commented on a Macmillan blog about banned books. (Still can't believe this is a book that gets banned!) We had a nice chat about Wrinkle and of course I had to tell her about my brush with fame 20 years ago meeting Madeleine L'Engle.
It occurs to me that any one of the writers (or all of them) on the Fierce Reads Tour may someday have Madeleine L'Engle stature and I can look back at last night and say that they smiled at me when I met them. Okay, it probably does sound weird, but there is something true and meaningful about this kind of connection. Writing is a solitary activity. Reading is too. But put the two together, writers and readers, and what could be more cool?