Back in October, I attended a book signing by Brandon Sanderson, an author whose work I admire.
It was one of those things where I went, “A Thing! I should do that Thing!” only to become very anxious about said thing as it approached. Other examples of things I agreed to and then panicked about include being in a parade, putting on a Masquerade Ball, and going on a date. (Thank goodness I married the kid: I will never again voluntarily go through the kind of hand-wringing anxiety the week leading up to that first outing produced.)
Now, there is no reason to become anxious about book-themed events. They’re simple affairs during which you get a chance to show your appreciation for an author’s work. The author hopefully gets to feel accomplished and honored, and the readers gets a book they’ve been looking forward to, well, reading. An event like a book signing is not a huge public display (like a parade) or a party the whole campus is invited to but might not attend because you procrastinated on the advertisements (like a Masquerade Ball), or an interview with a potential life partner (like a first date). No reason for fretting.
But of course, few brains need actual reasons to fret. Most brains can dream up a whole storm – a virtual tempest of worry – under no provocation whatsoever. And my brain is no exception. So I’m always slightly hesitant about trying new things because it only takes a moment for my brain to transform something intended to be a pleasant experience into a dark abyss of opportunity to utterly destroy my life.
If an avoidance of all new things would lead to peace in my brain, I might actually be tempted to closet myself away in safety. However, knowing my brain as I do, the closet of safety would only be safe for a few days; then, it too would become a dark abyss. So, the only way to live with the worry is to attempt to ignore it, make fun of it, and go about life as usual.
Attending book signings is not exactly a usual pat of my life, but this past year I’ve been trying to be more openly supportive of things I enjoy, and as I’ve enjoyed Brandon Sanderson’s work ever since stumbling onto a copy of Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians, it seemed appropriate to show up at the signing he was going to do at a Schuler Books in Lansing – hardly more than an hour’s drive from my house.
For a little while, there was nothing in my head but good cheer. Most of the authors whose work means a lot to me had passed on years ago. But it was reading that first Alcatraz book that made me go questing for sequels – it was the quest for sequels that led me to the website of the author – through the website I learned that authors (who are, you know – still living) actually talked about their experiences with writing and publishing: they were part of a whole community that could offer resources not only for writing in general but writing fantasy, which I’d always felt was a trifle neglected in typical writing-advice books. It was Brandon Sanderson’s name that, in a college fiction class, another student and I both knew. We were recommending books to each other as part of a class assignment – I was pitching Alcatraz (I tried to get everyone, particularly fellow writers, to read that book) and she was pitching The Wheel of Time series. She ended up explaining that Robert Jordan had passed away and that this person I was talking about was going to write the last book. I ended up explaining that of course Brandon Sanderson would do an amazing job finishing the series: she had nothing to worry about. Later, she would lend me Eye of the World, The Great Hunt, and The Dragon Reborn, all of which I consumed in great gulps when I should have been focusing on homework. It was my adoration of the books that would spike my attractiveness in the eyes of a certain Random Boy (the first date I mentioned earlier); it was the last three Wheel of Time stories – by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson – that the Random Boy and I raced each other through and talked about late at night (again, when I ought to have been doing homework). It would be Brandon Sanderson’s epic fantasy I turned to once there was no more Wheel of Time and I felt kind of lonely with that loss.
Perhaps all of this – these feelings of gratitude – was what led to my brain’s eventual descent into that dark abyss of worry. Where, instead of looking forward to something, I’m pacing in circles, babbling, “Wait, wait – is this going to require personal interaction? Will I have to talk? Will someone talk to me? I can’t just stand there – wait, wait – I could just stand there – I could smile and pat my throat and shake my head and pretend to have laryngitis. That’s what grown-ups do, right? THAT’S ENTIRELY NORMAL BEHAVIOR, RIGHT?”
I knew, somewhere in my head, that such thoughts were nonsensical. I’d never been to a book signing, but I could work out how things probably went down. There was no way readers were going to be forced to chit-chat with the author. Authors are busy, authors are probably in the middle of touring, authors have to sign everything and say hi to everyone before they can even eat, probably – individuals would come in, interact for as long as it took the author to scribble a name on the cover page, there’d be a “Hey, thanks!” and that would be it. YOU CAN MANAGE TWO SYLLABLES I KNOW YOU CAN!
My brain had doubts. So many doubts. Crippling, horror-filled doubts that left it curled up in the corner, rocking feverishly and muttering about how it was never going to be able to move forward from making an idiot of itself in front of a writer it had so much respect for. “But we haven’t!” I’d say, taking it by the shoulders and shaking it. “We haven’t said or done anything stupid – not yet anyway. It’s not for weeks! You can do this!”
*Brain begins weeping uncontrollably*
Carrying this sort of unpleasantness around in your head is a little annoying, but I did my best to deal with it like a properly functioning human being. I squared my shoulders, set my teeth, and promptly shoved all responsibility for preordering books and arranging transportation onto my siblings, who I’d begged to come along. This gave me time for more important matters, like chewing my fingernails off and making a mental list of things I wasn’t allowed to think, lest they make me break into hysterical laughter at inappropriate moments.
My family (my three younger sisters, my husband) took this in stride, calmly waiting to exact revenge until the night of the event, when, while I was hiding in the bookstore’s bathroom, they got in line (Brandon Sanderson had shown up early to sign books for anyone who had also shown up early) – a line I unknowingly joined and a line in which I would be the first of our little group, when I’d been thinking I’d get to watch +50 people go before me. We’d only just arrived and it was already almost my turn.
You may not need me to tell you this, but in case you do – I just want you to know how hard it is to converse normally when all you hear is this high-pitched wail of terror reverberating between your ears. It’s so hard, you guys. All the fear I’ve ever feared – the fear of making phone calls, the fear of taking phone calls, the fear of asking questions in class, the fear of public speaking, the fear of introducing myself, the fear of making eye contact, the fear of sitting down next to a friend in a crowded cafeteria, only to realize she’s getting up because she has to go to class, she’s leaving you with a plate full of food at a table full of strangers – they’re all looking at you, they all hate you, you just know it – ALL OF THIS FEAR converged onto this moment, where I’m standing in line at a book signing, holding books, watching these nice, friendly, normal people asking nice, friendly, normal questions of a nice, friendly, normal (probably) author who was kind enough to visit Michigan.
All of this nonsense going on in my brain – all of the pointless crazy thinking – it all led to about a minute’s worth of time, during which I had an exchange with a professional author that went sort of like this:
“Hey, how are you?”
“Oh, fine. You?”
“Fine. Any questions?”
“No, but thank you.”
It was, come to think of it, exactly the kind of exchange you leave out of the revised version of your book. Which was, for my nutty self, just lovely. It was the first book signing I’d ever gone to, and it was, outside of my bizarre consciousness, really cool and fun. When Schuler Books does an event like this, the author not only signs books, but also speaks and does a Q&A. The event organizers did their best to keep the overflowing crowd comfortable, and Brandon Sanderson turned out to be as well-spoken and interesting in person as he is in books (this was not surprising – merely pleasant). To my eyes, everyone there appeared to be having a good time, which was, I imagine, the general goal of all involved.
Cool stuff. =]
Anyways, if you’re thinking about attending a book signing, please do so. And if all you can hear are squalling voices in your head, do so anyway. Seeing a bit of world might make them shut up, if only for a little while.