You do what you have to do to get where you want to be.
I start the three and a half hour drive to Coppell at eight-thirty. I don’t need to be there until one-fifteen or so, but delays can happen on the road and after going to the trouble to write and practice this speech, I don’t want to let Adrienne, the organizer of this event, or myself, down.
I’m on my way to read a few chapters from both my books and then to share my experience of taking a book from the first sentence to publication. Apparently hearing authors read their own work is a treat for the readers, though I’ve never been happy with the way I talk so fast or my silly accent. It’s surreal that there are people fond enough of my books to want to hear me read from them.
On my mind as I cover the miles is the novelty of my own ambition. For a quarter of a century I told David that my dream was for someone to like one of my books well enough to publish it. Just one. In my fantasy I was humble. And how embarrassing it was to tell people I was a writer but I had no publisher to stand behind my work.
And now two novels have been published and it’s not enough. I want an entire library shelf loaded with books that bear my name. How bizarre it is that at sixty-one I’ve become consumed by aspiration. I’m just beginning when others are winding down. I’ve completed three installments of my mystery series and I want someone to love it as much as I do.
Meet my main character:
I’m Fran Furlow and I work in a dermatologist’s office. Thankfully I have no part in handling the oozing sores and flakey moles that walk through the door. That’s for Dr. Hamm and his nurse, Hazel, to do. I’m the receptionist, a job that carries very little responsibility and leaves me free to attend my support groups and take care of my friends.
Don’t you love her already? She’s out in the world now, getting looked over by others who will make decisions about what happens to her. And the reason I’m obsessing over her is because when I get to the end of this drive I’m expected to stand in front of many people and give a talk. And I don’t want to think about that. Nevertheless—
I use my family for inspiration. Curtis deposes witnesses and argues in court. Sam lectures at universities, sits on panels, and interacts with Chinese people on Chinese TV in what is evidently fluent Mandarin. Where did this self-assurance come from? And David, also, was always giving technical presentations to strangers.
Aloud, I tell myself, “If the boys I raised and the man I’m married to can do it, so can I.”
I’m met at the Cozby Library in Coppell by Adrienne, Frank, and Steve, who represent the Friends of the Library. They’ve all read Old Buildings in North Texas, the book I’m here to publicize. (Honestly, I feel like I’ve been publicizing it forever. This is what happens when books get released twice—once in the UK and now in the states. Why Stuff Matters will be out here in June and then it’ll be another round of here we go again.)
The three of them tell me how much they enjoyed the book, which makes me grateful that they gave it a chance. People telling me that they like my books is a huge thrill. On the other hand, I’m a quiet person, not used to being the center of attention. As their guest author, I must temporarily put aside my reticent ways.
I’m introduced to the audience, about thirty people, a respectable number. As OBiNT was discussed at their library’s book group this month, most are familiar with it.
The reading goes well, with laughter in the appropriate places and only a few tongue stumbles. The prepared talk—well, I get through it. I make plenty of eye contact and have interesting stories to tell. And what is unusual is that as I’m speaking my mind divides into two halves; and one of these halves is really nervous and the other says slow down, stay calm, you’re doing fine. I believe this is the first time I’ve ever experienced this two-headed phenomenon. Thank you, the nervous half of my brain says to the encouraging half.
The Q & A is the fun part because the book is funny, so the audience assumes that I am also funny, which I am. One woman asks me to expound on the experience of working with an editor and another gives me kudos for leading her to enjoy a self-centered and devious protagonist. The pleasure these people found in the novel is one big stroke for my ego.
Never in a million years did I see myself doing what I’m doing right now. I have another one of these talk-and-reads in April and I think it will be easier and I’ll do better. Like I said, you do what you have to do to get where you want to be.