Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Why Go?

by Elizabeth

Two nice East Coast girls, masters of historical fiction both
Yup, that's Joan last Sunday night with Anita Diamant, author of The Boston Girl and most famous for The Red Tent. Joan was able to make the private reception at 6 p.m., and I managed to get to Highland Park United Methodist Church in time to hear Diamant speak at seven. We had a great time.

As I drove home, I thought about the many book signings I've been to with Joan, the other members of this blog, and a few by my lonesome. It's always interesting and fun, but I began thinking beyond just the good time of going to a signing and instead about why I go.

Years ago, when Joan and I were both regulars at the critique group where we first met, we skipped the first couple hours more than once to sit in a church's sanctuary and hear writers pitch their work. In recent years, I've met my fellow bloggers at the Dallas Museum of Art (and have taken each of my kids to boot) for writer talks, and I've schlepped over to Richardson High School several times to revel in the community of Richardson Reads One Book. I guess I've made a point of seeing authors speak whenever I can make it for going-on ten years now, and after Sunday, I was already plotting my next opportunity. (Kate Alcott! Dave Barry!)

But again: why?

I mean, I hustled to get there. I have to get on the second-worst freeway in Dallas to get to HPUMC, and to get to the DMA I have to drive downtown. Sometimes rain is pouring down, sometimes the dog throws up on my shoe as I head to the garage. Why?

The responsible answer, and one that is true, is that by attending writer events, I am part of the writing community. Wait--better still, it's to support the writers. Years later I'm still telling strangers what a great time I had listening to Amy Tan speak at the Eric Johnsson Library in, what? 2004 maybe? and thrusting her books into their hands. Elizabeth Strout? Please, that was just terrific. Oh, and I missed the official Marcus Zusak speech, but a kind librarian invited me to join a crowd of high school juniors the next day to hear him talk in an even more intimate setting--a morning I'll not soon forget. And what I'd like to think of all of these writers, is that while they made a big impact on me, I have made a small impact on them by telling other people about them and their books and hopefully selling a few copies along the way.

So yes, being a supporter of writers is one reason to go, and another, maybe a little more self-serving, is the hope that others will come when I am in the same wonderful shoes. That others, aspiring and accomplished both, will brave the rain and traffic and animal mishaps to sit in a pew for an hour and hear me talk.

But as I sailed up the dreaded freeway that wasn't that bad (it was the weekend, did I mention?), I thought hard about what draws me back again and again, whenever I can swing it. Fun, sure. Support, yes. But at the deepest level?

It feeds me.

You can always tell in the Q&A who are the readers, and who are the writers, by the way. Readers ask questions about the book. Writers ask questions about the process. I love hearing both, and I've asked a few myself, but whether I'm handed the microphone or not, listening to a writer answer questions about their book or their craft, about their upcoming work or the publication process, gives me both hope and reassurance. Hope that it really can happen for me as well. (Anita Diamant's biography had a fair bit in common with mine). Reassurance that my methods are valid. (Not everyone manages to pump out the desired number of words every day.) And not a little--what's the opposite of starstruck? Yes, it's great to meet these people who are famous, but what's even better is to talk to them as just regular folks--like most writers are, most people are. Like I am.

So that's why I go. While I'll keep going. Why I'll meet my friends, take my kids, and thrust the books of authors I've heard talk into the hands of strangers. Community for them, community for me, and the kind of nourishment found only when a writer takes the stage with their latest book in hand and shares with the audience how it happened for them.

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