Sometimes an evening comes together unexpectedly well. I had no idea what to anticipate from the Vancouver Writer’s Festival event last night at the main library branch. It was a shared reading/Q&A with the writer Ruth Ozeki (who lives in B.C. now). I’d read her book and liked it a lot, and was looking forward to meeting her. But one academic friend had emailed me last week saying he’d only learned of the event from me, when I emailed about saying hello beforehand.
His miss, not the organizers’, it turned out. I walked into the library with my brother about 30 minutes ahead (for the Green Room meet-up) and there was a major line or 200+ already snaking through the corridor, waiting for them to open the doors. Yes, evidence there’s a crowd does reassure.
In the Green Room, Ruth turned out to be smart and fun, and then we got a surprise request back there from a Chinese tv crew asking for fast interviews to air over there for World Book Day next week. Couldn’t have been better timed: last week I signed off with my agents on a new two book deal in Chinese for Under Heaven and River of Stars with Chongqing Publishers. (Some will remember that Under Heaven was sold in China, before the house doing it was merged – or bought out – by another, and the joint entity officially withdrew from doing foreign language translations of fiction. They reverted the rights to the book to us, and the agents got to work.) It was nice to be able to talk about this to viewers in China.
On stage, it was a seriously full house. Ruth read exceptionally well from A Tale for the Time Being – she did her own audio book recording (unusual) and it was easy to see why they’d asked her. She does short sections to offer the ‘voices’ of several characters, and since she’s being touring awhile, the reading was polished and engaging – and ended right on time, a sign of a pro.
I talked a little about context for River, after a few thank you remarks, then ‘introduced’ Shan to the audience in the reading from Chapter 2 I’ve been alternating with the passage from Chapter 8. By now I can almost always tell if an audience is with me, and I had that feeling last night.
After, Hal Wake, who runs the Author’s Festival came on to say some over-the-top generous things about the two readings (‘I’ve heard a lot of readings, trust me…’) and we had some terrific questions. Ruth and I were already easy enough together to turn to each other and hand off comments and have some dialogue, riffing on what we were asked. It was just relaxed and enjoyable, even warm. I did have (alas?) one frivolous moment (to offset a few ‘curmudgeon’ mini-rants). Someone asked what I’d tell my 20 year old self if I could talk to him, and I said (forgive!) ‘Buy Apple.’
I then played it straight and did a short bit on the idea of ‘don’t imagine all your decisions and choices are of apocalyptic significance, things shift and evolve’… (But buy Apple, too. When it is invented.)
We signed for a long time, and I was reaffirmed, yet again, in a career-long sense of what generous, thoughtful readers I have. Signing lineups are (pretty obviously) not the place for any kind of real conversation, but people manage to make their intelligence and decency show through. I feel lucky every time. It was a good night.
To Victoria in an hour, the little float plane I love. What I don’t love is having a winter coat (read Winnipeg entry, below!) as I pass through mild coastal weather. I feel like I am lumbering down from mining in the Yukon. Kay of the Klondike, at a bookstore near you!