Monday morning I’m back at the Atlanta airport, this time flying to Raleigh. I don’t know how my friends who travel for work every week manage to do this, but for me the novelty hasn’t yet worn off.
Every independent bookstore is unique in its own way. Some are the size of a Foot Locker store, packed to the rafters with books. Others are more sprawling affairs. Some are messy, others organized. What they don’t look like is one of several such stores in a chain.
That said, Quail Ridge Books looks like a Borders bookstore, if a.) Borders were still in business and b.) Borders only had a single location. It’s virtually brand-new (they recently moved to this new location) and open and cheerful, with wooden floors and low bookshelves divided into various categories: Fiction and Nonfiction, naturally, but also Southern Fiction, Biography, Award Winners, etc.
I arrived about fifteen minutes ahead of my event with my cousin Will and his family after we had all gone out for an early dinner. His son and daughter did their best to help sell their dad’s cousin’s book.
Julia, the nice lady in charge of my event, showed me where I would be and said she would introduce me and then let me do whatever I wanted to do. “I was a boarding school teacher for ten years,” she added, then gestured at my book. “You really got that part right.”
There were a few people sitting in the fold-out chairs, but before I could really pay attention to them, several people approached. Thankfully I recognized them all: Keith, a former HIES student; Jay, a classmate from Woodberry Forest, who introduced his parents; Dave, another Woodberry classmate; and Lynette, a W&L classmate and old girlfriend, with her teenage daughter in tow. I had already expected to see these folks due to exchanged e-mails and phone calls over the past few days. My publicist Brooke and Algonquin’s social media expert Debra also came, and it was good to finally meet these two in the flesh, as I had exchanged many, many e-mails with them over the past several months. I had expected them to come, too. It was the other folks I did not expect to see: Bo, H.H., and T, all Woodberry boys in my class, now grown men. I had not seen any of them in almost thirty years. “Jimbo’s tied up with family stuff,” Bo told me, referring to a sixth Woodberry classmate, “otherwise he’d be here, too.”
Then I was standing at a microphone in front of a crowd of twenty-five people, all of whom wanted to hear about my book. I read from the prologue, talked a bit about the origins of the story, and said of my protagonist Matthias, “I like characters who make mistakes.” (That last bit got tweeted out by Algonquin via my publicist.) I tried not to ramble, probably did a little bit anyway, but then got into a groove and spoke for maybe half an hour. The Q&A with the audience was interesting. A gentleman asked how I saw the difference between redemption–which I had said my protagonist Matthias was searching for–and salvation. Lynette raised her hand and asked if I had any advice for aspiring authors, which caused her teenage daughter to nearly die from mortification. A lovely young woman who I realized was a former student of mine, Meredith, asked if I had ever, in the middle of teaching class, been struck with an idea to put in my novel.
Then I signed books and spoke to everyone in line. Belinda, a Quail Ridge bookseller, had chosen my book as a staff pick, and I grinned up at her as she said lots of wonderful things about my book. My Woodberry classmates all lined up behind me for a picture. Meredith gave me a hug and had someone take a picture of us. My classmate Jay had to leave with his parents, but the remaining five of us Woodberry boys went across the street for a beer. And Jimbo joined us half an hour later. I wish I’d gotten a picture of all of us, beers in our hands, copies of my book scattered across our table. We told some stories and laughed a lot. It seemed like none of us had changed a bit since high school, at least in our personalities. Sure, we were perhaps more mature, a little wiser, but otherwise it felt like we were seventeen again.
Next stop–Bookmarks in Winston-Salem!