Last night was the book launch party for Shadow of the Lions, and I’m still stunned by the whole event. It was the most pleasantly surreal experience of my life. College friends, work colleagues, family members, former students, current students, parents of former and current students, Atlanta friends, friends from out of state . . . I’m still reeling from it all.
You only get to launch your debut novel once, and this was memorable. Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School, where I have taught for over twenty years, hosted the shindig. Gary Parkes, of FoxTale Book Shoppe, was the onsite seller. The first thing I saw when I walked into the STEM building was a long table covered with my books. He had brought 300 of them.
Julie, our school photographer, asked me to come with her to do some test shots with her camera. She sat me down and interviewed me, videotaping my responses, and I tried to look both comfortable and wise. Afterward she asked if I would sign her book for her. Julie was the very first person outside of my family whose book I signed.
Gary asked me to come sign a couple dozen copies of the book. Suddenly guests started arriving. I spoke with a small group of four or five people, and when I next looked up the room was packed. Where had they all come from? People were congratulating me, asking me if I could sign their books, asking how I felt, would I write a sequel, did I want a drink. Kathy caught my eye — it was time for me to give my little speech. But where was Paul Barton, our head of school? He was supposed to introduce me. While I was looking for him, my friend Clarissa brought me a gift bag. “You have to open it,” she insisted. In the bag was a custom-made T-shirt with BLACKBURNE, the name of the fictional school in my novel, across the front, all in Blackburne’s red-and-gold colors. Best present ever.
Finally I found Paul and extricated him from a conversation with a parent. “Ready to do this?” he asked me, then walked up to the front of the room. He gave me a very kind introduction, then handed me the microphone. I looked out at something like three hundred people and had a moment of stage fright, and then I took a breath and was fine. I spoke briefly about my career as a teacher, my book, how long I’ve wanted to write, and how thankful I am for Holy Innocents’, my publisher Algonquin Books, my agency Foundry Lit + Media, my family, and my wife. I only had to pause three times from almost weeping with gratitude.
Update: the school videotaped the whole thing.
Then I sat down at a table and signed books for an hour and a half.
It was like being at my wedding, where I spoke with every single person there, but only for about 2 minutes each. My friend Emily Giffin, a bestselling author and book party pro, came up and told me to move my table — there was a large fire alarm box on the wall behind me, which was right in the sight line of every picture being taken of me. We moved the table and I kept on signing. At one point I started asking everyone how to spell their name because I was afraid I’d misspell them and ruin their books. Carla, a former colleague, came up to hug me, then started brushing my jacket. “You’ve got makeup all over your jacket, Dr. Swann,” she said. “You’ve been hugging women.” Guilty.
The bartender kept circling by to see if I wanted a drink. I did, but it was the last thing I needed. I kept signing and smiling and laughing. A few friends had to duck out early and waved from the door. My older son Whitaker told me the bookseller had sold every copy of my novel. Some of my neighbors gave up on waiting in line and promised to hold a neighborhood book signing party soon. A former student, smelling of hops, declared how happy he was for me. And then suddenly I signed the last book of the night and everyone was gone, except for my wife, my sons, and my college friends, who all cheered when I finally held up a glass of wine and took a sip. Kathy took the boys home and I ended the night going out for a much-desired and perhaps well-deserved drink with my friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen in years.
My only regret is that I can’t do that again. But, man, did that feel good. Thanks to everyone involved in making this happen. This newly-minted author feels proud and grateful.
On to the book tour! Next stop – Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, VA.