Books a Plenty; Fans a Few

When do you know you're a real writer? Is it a contract? Is it a bound book with a snazzy cover? An ISBN number? A hundred-plus entries if you're googled? An ranking? No. The correct answer is "none of the above." I discovered that I'm a real writer during an event at one of my favorite local indie bookstores.

Newtonville Books, owned and operated by Tim Huggins, has recently expanded, and now offers a fantastic children's area called "The Lizard's Tale." Tim graciously invited me to do TWO Lizard's Tale readings in one academic year — the first for Monsoon Summer, in the fall, and the second for Sunita, last Sunday.

I went all out for the event in the fall, inviting everyone I knew and asking them to bring their mother's second cousins. We had a great turnout. Standing room only in the back. "Wow," Tim told me. "You have a good fan base, Mitali." Hey, I thought (secretly, of course — authors always mask our desperate desire to be loved). I have a fan base. I must be a writer.

The second event was quite a contrast. First of all, I was embarrassed that The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen isn't really new; it's a reissue. I felt like I was inviting guests to a meal and serving leftovers. Plus, I hate putting friends in the uncomfortable position of turning me down, especially when they'd turned up in such abundance just a few months earlier. So I didn't send out e-vites. I didn't post any flyers at church. I didn't ask people for RSVPs.

At 2 p.m., I showed up and signed the stacks and stacks of books that Tim had ordered. By 2:30, a dozen or so people had gathered, including Tim's daughter and two writer's group buddies (one of whom had brought her three kids). We made our way to the loft where Tim had set up rows and rows of chairs (all occupied by warm bodies last time). My faithful dozen clustered in the front of the room and listened to me read. They asked questions. I answered them. We were done by 2:50. Nobody lingered. I bought a book (Marylinne Robinson's Housekeeping: A Novel.) I left.

Now you might think this event was a failure. A bookstore signing with an abysmal turnout. Every writer's nightmare, right? But here's what made the afternoon a success. First, Tim's unquenchable support (made tangible in the LIFETIME 20% discount he gives to local authors who do readings). Second, his daughter's farewell hug. And third, his provision of a venue for the inspiring dialectic between reader and writer. Here's a note I received from one of the girls who attended:
As soon as I got in the car from Newtonville Books, I started reading your book. I couldn't stop, just finished it, and I loved it! I loved the character of Sunita and I also liked the part about the soap opera. When I read it, I imagined Sunita's voice as yours while you were reading it in the book store.
I may not have an actual "fan base," but thanks to Tim, I did connect with one wonderful reader. And that's how I know I'm a real writer.