I worry about sounding banal in doing descriptions of events. How interesting is it to read, ‘It was a really enjoyable night.’? Not very, I suspect.
The dynamics of a launch event are, as I’ve said, affected by the venue. A pub gives one vibe, a formal theatre another. This room in the library was not where I read three years ago. It was a more newly-built upper reception room, really beautiful, a few people said it would be a great space in which to get married. They did have a bar, there were a lot of people, full house it turned out, and the reception hour before going on stage gave me a chance to say hello to some friends, and for some readers to come by and do the same. That’s a good thing, doesn’t always happen. These things can be impersonal, this one wasn’t.
I read from chapter two, introducing Shan, the female protagonist. Short reading, as I knew the interview/conversation was to follow. Then walked over over to the armchairs where Laurie Grassi, Books Editor of Chatelaine was waiting. I said, ‘Ready to pounce,’ she said, ‘I’m not that tough.’
She wasn’t, but she was really good. Witty and sharp, well-prepared. Good questions and a skill I have mentioned, which is responding to the answer given, not just moving on the next query on the prep sheet. There were some surprises, which I always like. I prefer being made to think by a question, not just roll out answers I am familiar with by now.
You can almost always get a feel for an audience during a reading or talk by how they react to the small jokes. If you get a laugh from throwaways, that’s a good thing. And a part of my own mantra about respecting the reader spills into these events: I really try not to do glib sound bite answers. (I will on television, or they never want to see you again.)
We got a chance to talk about why I infuse elements of the supernatural into history, the theme of ‘exile’ I’d just written an essay about, a smart question abut whether the ‘universality’ of using the fantastic means any story could be in any setting (it can’t, and the query let me spell out why). The way every society (and every person) shapes an interpretation of the past, usually to serve a purpose. Also, roles allowed women in periods of history in general, and the Song Dynasty in particular.
And, don’t ask me how, Bill Mazeroski’s home run in the 1960 World Series came up, and then again, and then again. We had talked about how all the themes in a novel aren’t worked out ahead of time (not by me, anyhow), that some slip in and establish themselves: that’s what that damned home run did last night!
After, I had my usual angsty feeling facing a long signing line. I never want to rush people, often they do have things they want to say or ask and only this one chance, but I am endlessly aware that there are people way back in the room and they’ll have a long, long wait. I tell people that I have interesting readers, they should make friends while waiting.
One of my own oldest friends waited it out and spirited me away for a drink and a bite to eat after. He knows the period that inspired River of Stars really well, is about to defend his later-in-life Ph.D dissertation on it, and made me laugh by saying after the reading and talk he could not read the novel till he’s done – or he’d be terrified of blurring my ‘quarter-turn to the fantastic’ and the real period he needs to focus on for another few weeks. I laughed, because it happens to me while writing all the time. I shift back and forth in names, even my sense of ‘what happened’.
It was good to wrap the night with someone I’ve been so close to since we were in school.