On March 29th I was part of a Six Local Authors event at Well Read Books in Nanaimo. As I arrived I noticed, maybe for the first time, that the sign on the Terminal Highway side of the store has a classic retro look to it. Somehow, it reminded me of how I used to imagine what being a writer would be like as a kid. The little boy inside of me could suddenly see this age-old dream manifested. I had become an actual author. The sign was proof. It didn’t say “five local authors plus some other guy.” It said there were six of us. Every person driving by this sign, the younger version of myself thought, had stared up at it in wonder and awe. How could there be six authors at the same place at the same time? Were any of them famous? What kind of books did they write? What would they read?
The Commercial Street entrance has a much more inviting look to it than the highway side does. Many years ago–true story–I was kicked out of this same bookstore by a rude salesperson for almost no reason. I was suffering from the side effects of chemotherapy at the time. I looked like a poor person who had been forced to wear clothes made for a far bigger man. I was with my girlfriend at the time and another couple who were visiting from Vancouver. We had inadvertently entered the store right before closing. I believe the salesperson thought we were not together as the others were better dressed and had less greyish looking skin. After some harsh words, she asked me to leave. She then slammed the door shut behind me and locked it before telling the others they could stay for as long as they wanted. My ex-girlfriend and I had been showing our friends our new city’s downtown. I was humiliated and vowed never to return.
Several years later, under new management, I was approached and asked to come read at Well Read Books’ second annual Local Authors event. I explained to them what had happened in the past. They were horrified and apologized with sincerity. I cautiously agreed to do the reading. I came to the store the week before to get a sense of the place and to talk to Julie and Michele in person. Like my experiences through email and over the phone, I was impressed by how nice they were and how much the store had changed.
It was an unexpected resolution for something I had thought would never be resolved. I had once donated books to the store regularly, was treated poorly in front of my friends, and had then avoided them for years. Now I’d been invited to come back and read from my book, The Haunting of Vancouver Island, which had become a BC bestseller. Crazy hey?
I showed up a bit early as I’d brought a few props with me. The great thing about being an author who writes about ghosts is that no one ever looks at you funny when you whip out a few Halloween decorations and start to spruce up the place. People love it, that kid inside of me probably the most. I’m not sure what kind of badass author he wanted me to become when he grew up, but I’m pretty sure he’s stoked about this part. He’s likely unimpressed by the lack of typewriter key pounding sounds in my day-to-day life, but I’ll bet the ghosts, skulls, and gargoyles make up for these unforeseen advances in technology in spades.
There were three authors reading at the same time in two shifts. Well Read Books put Susan Juby and me in the basement space beside the fireplace. Susan would go first and I would read after the break. I was happy I’d get to hear her read. As many of you already know, Susan is one of my writing professors at Vancouver Island University. When it comes to young adult fiction, she’s accomplished more than most authors ever will. Her book Alice, I Think has been published all over the world in many different languages and was adapted by Comedy Central into a TV series. A lot of her other books have been successful as well. Susan has always been very supportive of my writing, so I was grateful to be reading with her. She read from her new book The Fashion Committee. As always, she had everyone laughing.
After the break it was my turn. I read a couple of samples from The Haunting of Vancouver Island I hadn’t before. Sean Desrochers, another writing student at VIU, took a few pictures for me so I would be in some of them. He did a great job. I really like this one. Let’s face it, I’m not the most photogenic person in the world. Something is almost always a little off. A closed eye; a stretched out E.T. neck; or something to do with my hair. So, I was happy when I saw this one. You can see the book cover clearly too. How cool is that?
One of the things I read was a ghost story involving an actual copy of The Haunting of Vancouver Island, something I had just heard about. It was an encounter my publisher TouchWood Editions had shared online a couple of days earlier. It’s a cool story, so I’ll embed it here for your reading pleasure. As far as I know, this actually happened.
Now that we’re fully in haunted mode, here’s another photo of the decorations I set up. We even dimmed the lights for the reading. As you can tell from the picture above of Susan, I didn’t do this until after she was finished. Her book is light and funny so it didn’t really fit. One thing I always try to do with my haunted decorations is be tasteful. Elegant instead of tacky. Deliberately understated. The fireplace was the perfect centrepiece for me to do this. I see the gesture as a small token of gratitude for the people who have come out to meet me or hear me read. After all, it’s the ghost loving kids inside us that brings us all together.
It was a great night and one I’ll always remember. All of the authors had a good turnout, though I was only able to listen to Susan read. I’m not sure how likely it is the two of us will present at the same event again. Being very different authors this might be the only time it will happen. Susan is one of my favourite professors and someone I aspire to be more like–as a now fully recognized retro-sign verified author. Achieving this dream has happened so gradually that I haven’t always seen it as it has arrived. There are moments, however–like recognizing the shift from unwelcome customer to an honoured guest–where I’m forced to acknowledge that I’ve somehow grown up to be an actual author after all. And it’s every bit as cool as I had hoped it would be.