Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Robert McCammon Book Signing

    This past weekend author Robert McCammon had a book launch in Homewood, Alabama for his new book Cardinal Black.  I had known about the event for weeks.  One of the nice things about Facebook is that you can mark that you're interested in events and it will remind you when the event draws near. I hadn't kept the exact date in mind so thank God for that Facebook reminder.
    Still, I almost didn't go.
    I like what I've read of McCammon's books, but I'm fairly new to his work.  I've read Boy's Life and one or two short stories.  After finding out about the recent book signing, and having what I thought was a few weeks to spare, I wanted to tackle another book of his and decided on Swan Song.  Problem is, big book stores like Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble didn't seem to carry it.  Even my local used book store, Deb's Books, didn't have even a worn out old paperback copy of it.  I found half a dozen other books by Mr. McCammon, but couldn't find a single copy of Swan Song.  I could have ordered it from Amazon, sure, but there's something about going to a book store and scanning the book spines on the shelves, and your eyes settling on a book that you've sought for a long time that is supremely satisfying.  It's the thrill of the hunt that makes book shopping so fun to me.  I finally found a copy of the book at my local Books-A-Million (I swear it hadn't been there the last few times I'd checked) and I bought it immediately.
    It was that night that I received the Facebook notification telling me I had an event coming up that weekend: Robert McCammon's book signing.  Damn it, I thought, as I looked at the 800+ page novel sitting on the arm of my recliner.  I like to read a lot, but I'm a slow reader and there was no way in hell I was going to complete such a large book in a day and a half.
    I was not prepared.  Worse still, my wife wasn't too keen on going and I, being introverted and thus a tad on the antisocial side, didn't want to go alone.  Saturday came, I mentioned I'd like to go, she shrugged it off as uninteresting, and I decided I should't spend the money.  The more time went by, though, the more I though about it.  I'm not a Robert McCammon expert, but I did love Boy's Life and wanted to read more by him.  Not only that, but I'm an aspiring writer myself.  As my thoughts stewed about the possibility of meeting such a successful writer, I decided that more than anything I wanted to meet him so I could ask him what was the best advice he could give to an aspiring writer.  I guess I brought it up a few too many times and my wife, being the good woman she is, changed her mind and agreed to go. 
    When we got there and parked I started to get cold feet.  He was supposed to do a reading from his new book, and a Q&A session, as well as sign the books.  What if we had gotten there after the signing, and he was in the middle of a reading when I walked in?  What if everyone looked up at me as the door closed behind me?  What if there was an hour of Q&A left?  I couldn't stand in the store for an hour while my wife sat in the car with our baby in the backseat.  Was I even in the right place?
    Eventually my wife told me to nut up and do it.  It would have been ridiculous, I admit, to drive an hour to get to a place just so I could sit in the parking lot for five minutes, overthink the situation, and leave with nothing to show for it.  So I inhaled, opened the door, and stepped out of the car.  Luckily there was a guy in a Slipknot shirt walking out as I made my way across the parking lot, and he took notice of my Jaws t-shirt.  We stood and talked for almost five minutes.  That dude actually loosened me up quite a bit.  Sort of set my nerves at ease.  As we parted ways I sighed in relief, and made my way into the Alabama Booksmith shop.
    The line was thirty deep at least when I stepped inside.  I bought Cardinal Black at the counter that was immediately adjacent to the entrance, and stepped into line that started just past the checkout counter.  The line spanned the length of the building, which is a tiny, house-like shop filled with signed hardback editions of books for sale, most of them at normal list price.  The line moved slowly, and being a veteran of many horror movie conventions over the years, I was accustomed to waiting.  I only hoped our daughter wouldn't wake up and start crying in the car, where my wife sat with her.
    When I made it to the table, I had already planned what I wanted to say and for the most part, aside from a little nervous babbling, I stuck to my script.  I told him I loved Boy's Life, said that it reminded me a bit of Ray Bradbury's work, and that I looked forward to reading more from him.  As he finished signing, I dropped the question I'd come there to ask.
    "What would you say is the best advice you could give to an aspiring writer."
    He paused for a moment and leaned back in his chair, trying to gather his thoughts.  He then leaned forward.  Here's what he said.
    (I'm going to paraphrase here, but it covers the main point.)
    "Finish your work."  Those three words alone held a ton of meaning to me, being a big starter of projects that will eventually find their way into the heaping pile of unfinished work stashed throughout folders all over my computer.  He did elaborate, though:  "Always finish your work.  Believe in it and give it everything you have.  You are your story's number one fan.  Its first fan.  It must speak to you, and keep your undivided attention.  Give one project all your attention because it takes so much focus to complete a story.  If you bounce around from project to project you'll never get anything done."
    After he gave this advice, I thanked him and he thanked me and wished me luck on my "work."  It was nice to hear my unfinished novel be referred to as "work."  I know it's work, and any writer knows just how much work it is, but it was nice to have an established writer refer to the work I was doing.  It gave me a sense of validation in some way.  I may not be a published writer but damn it I work on my writing.  See?  Robert McCammon said so!  Probably a silly thing to get hung up on I guess.  Either way, I learned a bit from my short time talking to Robert, and he was an incredibly gracious and humble guy that seemed very thankful to all his readers.  He allowed me to get a picture with him.  Check it out!

    I walked out of that store with my signed edition of Cardinal Black and a newfound determination to finish my work.  Our baby was still fast asleep in the car, and my wife had been content to scroll through social media apps while I received this motivation from Mr. McCammon.  I could barely contain my excitement as I told her what happened.  I had stepped outside my comfort zone and received something valuable in return.  I received determination.  And now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to my work.  This novel ain't gonna finish itself!

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