He’s the first person I see as I go into the bookstore: An author, hopeful and brave, sitting behind a table filled with copies of his first novel. He is alone. The store hums with library-like activity, but no one pays attention to him. This is New England, and we don’t take to kindly to salesmen, even the friendly non-intrusive kind.
He smiles at me and I smile back as I rush by. I come here to hide from the rest of the planet, not to talk to more people. But as I wander up and down the aisles, I can’t help thinking: “I’d want someone to stop.” So I go back.
“Hello!” I say when he looks up. “What’s your book about?”
He’s happy to tell me. His book is a sci-fi novel, the first in a series, with a message about the cost of revenge. His eyes light up when he talks of alien intrigue and the social messages in his book, and he briefly outlines what the next book is about. Then we start to talk.
I learn that he’s an anthropologist and a historian - a PhD, no less, who has traveled all over the world. He studied in Ireland for two years, the best of those being in Galway. He describes the night life, the cozy feeling of acceptance, the rain, and I can tell that he misses it. We talk about Ireland and the Irish, about traveling and living in New Hampshire, about sci-fi fans and Doctor Who (his favorite is Tom Baker, while my heart belongs to Christopher Eccleston), and debate whether true Englishmen actually have a stiff upper lip. We discuss writing techniques and styles, and how to get people to stop at your signing tables. We have quite a bit in common, as it turns out - which should come as no surprise, seeing as we both love sci-fi and writing. But it does surprise me.
Then he picks up a camera.
“Would you mind taking my picture?” he asks.
I oblige, and when I hand the camera back, he winks at me.
“When you do publish your book,” he says, “that’s a good trick to get people to stop by. Ask them to take a picture of you.”
He gives me a card with his web address on it and I take a book from his table, then we shake hands and I go back to my shelf for more browsing.
A little later, I walk by his table as he’s packing up. The bookstore is still busy, with people going through the shelves, nibbling at café eats, flipping through magazines. I think how much I learned in just a short space of time with him, and I think of all the times I quickly passed by someone because I didn’t want to be bothered.
And I wonder what I’ve missed.