The day after my launch party, I catch a flight from Atlanta to Richmond. By the time I check into my hotel, only a block away from Fountain Bookstore, I’m fading fast. A quick check of social media turns into an hour of replying to well wishes, kind notes, and new posts. A Twitter message from the wonderfully named Kelly Justice at Fountain Bookstore pops up, informing me they don’t really do readings but have conversations and Q&As and that she will look out for me around 5:30 or so. Then another message from Beverly, an old friend who lives in town, wanting to know if we are still on for dinner after the event. I message her back “Absolutely,” then yawn. Time for a quick nap.
At 5:00 I get an avocado BLT and a latte from Shockoe Espresso and Roastery. Best late lunch/early dinner sandwich ever. I’m carrying around a copy of my book and I’m not sure why. Back to the hotel to brush my teeth–my wife told me I shouldn’t show up for events with food in my teeth–and then to Fountain Bookstore. Which is where, for the first time, I see copies of my book on display in an honest-to-God bookstore.
Kelly welcomes me and we chat for several minutes as I walk around the bookstore. It’s small and cozy rather than cramped, with hand-written notes on particular shelved books. There are several wooden folding chairs set up at the back of the store, facing a card table with a tablecloth bearing the store’s logo. Kelly is alone that evening as the rest of her staff are on vacation, so she warns me that she may have to interrupt our scheduled conversation and Q&A if customers enter the store and get too loud.
The first person to arrive is Aiden, a classmate from Woodberry, and his wife Mary Jo. Aiden now works at Woodberry and tells me he is the school’s official photographer for the evening. More members of Aiden’s family arrive, including his niece who suggests a few books my sons might like. A young woman approaches, smiling, and I realize it’s Katie, a former student and fellow English teacher. While Kelly rearranges some chairs and glances at the clock, Katie and I quickly catch up. I mention I still teach Moby-Dick, and Katie sighs. “I loved Moby-Dick,” she says. I knew I had always enjoyed teaching this one.
Kelly and I sit down in front of an audience of eight to ten people. It’s a far cry from the launch party the night before, and yet this feels right, more intimate. The customers are attentive and listen as Kelly asks me questions and I try to respond without babbling or wandering off-track. Another former Woodberry classmate, Mike, arrives and waves from the back row. I’m asked about the title, about working under an honor code, how long it took to write the book, did I always assume I was writing a “literary thriller” and what does that mean, which authors inspire me. My former student Katie asks me if being an English teacher helped me in the writing of my own book or if it got in the way. (Yeah, she’s smart.) I answer everyone’s questions and then sign books. My friend Beverly arrives near the end and waits until the store empties. Before everyone leaves I get a picture with the Woodberry folks, and then Kelly has me sign all her remaining copies of my book. Seeing them stacked afterwards with “Autographed Copy” labels on them is yet another realization that this book thing is really happening.
Beverly and I walk up the street to a restaurant and have a light dinner, chatting and reminiscing. Afterward, as we are about to leave, a woman approaches. “Excuse me,” she says, “but are you the author of Shadow of the Lions?” I manage not to have a big, dopey grin on my face as I answer yes. The woman says she had walked by the bookstore earlier and saw the sign for my visit, but she and her husband had lost track of time. “Do you have a copy on you that I can buy now?” she says. She’s disappointed that I do not, but Beverly tells her there is a big stack of them at Fountain Bookstore, all signed, and that they open at 10am.
Now it’s midnight and I’m going to bed. Next stop–Parnassus Books in Nashville!