Among the dozen or more titles I selected was Carl Hiaasen's Chomp. I'd read his Hoot and Scat years ago, and enjoyed the humor and environmental message, and I thought my son might get a kick out of it. However, it was my daughter who first started listening,and she quickly became hooked. She's ten, and a struggling reader. "Mom, I really like this story, but it has some cussing!" she told me, wide-eyed. "The say D-A-M-N!" Ah, the thrill of illicit language. Later it was, "There's a GUN in my story, and someone just got SHOT in the SHOULDER! This is like a REAL mystery, not like 'Oh dear, I can't find my wallet!'" I loved her take on children's mysteries.
She listened to the book, then when it ended, she started listening to it again. All told, I think she got five re-listens in before we had to return it. She checked out Hoot and started to listen to that, and she checked out the book version of Chomp, thinking her familiarity with the story would help her conquer the challenge of the higher reading level.
I was at Powell's Books one day when I saw this sign.
I immediately texted my husband, who was with her. "Tell her that her favorite author is coming!"
Then I realized that he was going to be promoting an adult novel. I emailed his publicist to ask if he'd be willing to sign a kid's book, and she assured me that as long as we also bought his new book, we'd get a place in line. I happen to have a brother-in-law who's hard to shop for, and who loves his mysteries, so I figured I could make my daughter's day and get my first Christmas present taken care of at the same time.
She counted down the days until our outing. We showed up early to get good seats and a ticket for the signings. We found a copy of Chomp and bought it along with his latest, Razor Girl. She decided to browse the store while the author spoke, since we thought (rightly, it turned out) that his talk might be a little risqué for her ears.
It was a great talk. Funny, self-deprecating, informative. It started right off with some Viagra jokes about his microphone stand, which kept drooping, so I was glad the kid had decided to roam instead. Hiassen is a long-term journalist in Florida, where nonfiction is as strange as fiction. He told us some of the crazy news stories that have informed his books over the year, as well as some of the stupid crimes that have possibly been inspired by his characters. He told us about Giant Ghanian Pocket Rats and warned us not to Google images of them. (I haven't, but you can!) There was easily as much belly laughter in the audience as at a decent stand-up routine. Afterwards we stood in line to get our books signed, and this bawdy, sarcastic man was suddenly sweet and kind to the star-struck girl in front of him. "Keep on reading!" he encouraged her above his autograph, and she clutched the book to her all the way home.
Friday night I picked up The Serpent King, which I'd been reading in bits and pieces for the previous week. I finally had time to devote to it. So far I'd found it engaging, but not quite as remarkable as I'd been led to believe, partly because all the snake handling happened with other characters, off-stage.
A few hours in, I was sobbing. SOBBING. Not tearing up and sniffling. I had to put the book down because I was crying too hard to read. I went to the get some Kleenex and tried to convince myself that this was fiction, not real.
It didn't help.
I sent off a text into the void, saying how mad I was at the author.
By the time I woke up the next day (after staying up late finishing the whole book, of course), the author had replied. With heart emojis, no less.
"That's amazing," my sister said when I showed her the exchange later in the day. "That's so cool, that an author would respond to you like that."
It is. It really is amazing. But I was thinking--it's also kind of amazing for authors too. I mean, I've adored books and writers for years, and I don't think I've ever written a piece of fan mail. So imagine, you've sent your book out into the world, and you'll get reviews and sales and so on. But to have someone let you know that Right This Minute they are curled up in a ball crying because you did your job so right that your characters just broke their heart--that's something too.
(I imagine it's less amazing when people feel a need to let you know that they just quit reading your book because it was so boring, but I'll just pretend that people have the manners to only tweet at authors when they have something positive to say.)