Authors Really Exist

One of my favorite activities is going to author signings. I have always loved books, and it seems incredible that the amazing people who make them can actually be interacted with in person. Well, obviously they can talk and stuff; what I mean is: their minds are the very same minds that came up with the dialogue for all the characters in their book, so it’s kind of like meeting the characters, as well as the creators of the worlds in which the stories happen (I read fantasy, not reality fanfics like non-genre stuff). So anyway, meeting authors is cool, because the world and characters and everything you come to love in a book, began in their heads.

When I was a wee lad, I had a couple authors come to my school and talk to us students. We had Bill Martin, Jr. come and read us his book, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, which I thought was interesting. It was the first time I realized that authors had corporeal form. Then, Steven M. Newman, a guy who walked around the world and then wrote a book about it called Worldwalk came and signed a copy of his book for me. I then proceeded to draw in it with a yellow highlighter, since I was very young and stupid (I am no longer very young).

My next encounter with a real author happened by accident. I was at Barnes and Noble one day, and saw Marc Brown, the guy who did the Arthur the aardvark books, signing. I didn’t get in line because I didn’t want to wait in line and was high school age anyway, so I was not really interested in those books anymore. Still, it was neat to see him.

I really became interested in signings when my local library hosted Ray Bradbury and I got to meet him and get a book signed. That was an awesome experience. He gave a talk, in which he talked about his life and writing and things. He had an amazing presence, like he rolled an 18 for his charisma, and I was blown away by how awesome he was.

A couple years later, when I was in grad school, the LA Times Festival of Books had a panel of science fiction writers with Joe Haldeman, Robert Silverberg, and Harry Harrison. I had read books by Silverberg and Harrison, so I was excited to see them and get books signed by them. I also got The Forever War signed by Haldeman, since it’s a classic. I still haven’t read it, but the same is true of many of the books I have collected, before and since.

Sometime after this, I realized that you can follow authors’ blogs. This is useful when you want to read things they write but have finished all their books already. I started with Orson Scott Card’s blog, where I learned about an up and coming author named Brandon Sanderson. I began following his blog, where I learned he was going to come to Los Angeles to sign his latest book. I wanted to see him since I had just read all his books and loved them. It was a good signing, and it made me realize that if you pay attention, you can find more signings.

Brandon Sanderson is less blurry than me

The next signing I went to was for Brandon’s friend, Dan Wells, who writes awesome YA horror, humor, and science fiction novels. I brought the sequel to the book he was touring for, having ordered it from the UK where it was already published.

Then I moved to Seattle for the summer, during an internship at Intel Labs (RIP) in the U district. I quickly discovered that near my office was the greatest bookstore in the world, University Book Store, located just west of the UW campus. It stocks new, used, and signed books together on the shelves, so you can get discount, new, or collectible versions of the books. And they have a lot of signed books, since Duane, the guy who manages the science fiction and fantasy section, gets all the authors in the area and from elsewhere to do signings whenever they release a new book. Once I discovered the awesomeness of this awesome store, I went to signings for several authors, even those I had heard of but whose books I still haven’t read. Terry Brooks and Brent Weeks signed books for me, which I have yet to read since my to-read list is staggeringly huge. I also went to my second Brandon Sanderson signing. I was sad to leave Seattle, as the store had many other exciting events after I left.

Back in LA, I didn’t go to any signings until March, when Patrick Rothfuss’s new book came out. That was the most difficult signing I ever went to. I had to drive all the way down to Long Beach through LA traffic (note to readers who have made it this far: never live in LA, it’s rubbish). Then, when I arrived 30 minutes early, the chairs were filled and the line had gone across the bookstore and through the shelves. So while Pat spoke I was stuck out in the travel section, listening to his voice float over the shelves. Still, it was fun.

My next signing was a month later, with Patrick Rothfuss at another bookstore in LA. My friend, who had not been able to make it to the first signing, wanted to go, and it was much closer. Amber Benson, who plays a witch in the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was also there signing her urban fantasy book. I wasn’t interested in those kind of books though, so I just got Pat to sign the rest of my books, since there had been a two-book limit at the previous signing.

The following month, I met John Scalzi at a signing on his Fuzzy Nation tour. I got his most famous book, Old Man’s War signed.

Then I got to go back to Seattle! This was exciting for two reasons; the first of which was University Book Store of course. The other reason was that the Locus awards were in Seattle, and LOADS of authors went to that. I went too. It was amazing. You couldn’t throw a brick without hitting a famous author (and thus, I refrained from flinging masonry about). On Friday night, there was a reading and signing with Terry Bisson (who wrote the classic funny short story They’re Made Out of Meat) and Connie Willis, whose I had recently discovered. I was super excited to meet her, since she wrote the Oxford Time Travel books, which are the best books I’ve read in over a year. They are amazing. I rarely give books five stars, but three of the four books in that series got them. So anyway, I was really excited to meet her and get my books signed. I also got Terry to sign a book of his stories. The next day was incredible. There were author panels, and a giant signing with tons of authors, and a dinner where I sat next to an author and had other professionals at my table, including a publisher of some well-known books. At the signing, I got to meet Mary Robinette Kowal, who recognized my name from the feedback I’d given on a rough draft she had posted on her site. I also met Nancy Kress, whose book I still haven’t read but since I’d downloaded a promotional e-book of hers, I thought I’d get the dead tree version signed. I also got a book signed by Paul Park, and he told me to let him know how I enjoyed it. I still haven’t read it yet; oops (remember that long to-read list I mentioned?). I saw some famous anthology editors, Gardner Dozois and Ellen Datlow, but since they didn’t actually write so much as choose stories I decided not to buy the heavy anthologies to get signed. I later regretted not getting a books signed by Bruce Taylor, since he subsequently sat next to me during the lunch and awards. He is a cool guy. I also saw other authors like Jay Lake and J.A. Pitts but did not get anything signed since I didn’t know much about them or didn’t think their books were my type of book. Ted Chiang was there; he didn’t sign books but he was there. Someone at my table explained how great he was. Having since read one of his stories, I concur with her (and the general) high opinion of his work. Another highlight was Connie Willis pinning a badge of shame on me (it said “I didn’t wear a Hawaiian shirt to the Locus Awards!”) because I hadn’t worn a Hawaiian shirt (obviously). I had a plaid shirt on, and told her that the stripes were the stems of the flowers on everyone else’s Hawaiian shirt. She said that excuse was pretty lame, but not the lamest one she had heard. After the signing we went in to the lunch. All the big shot authors sat together, so I sat in the back. Fortunately, cool people joined me, as I mentioned earlier. And while I was at the buffet table, Neil Gaiman walked in. I was excited to see him, since I really liked his young adult books and his Doctor Who episode, The Doctor’s Wife. Later on, I managed to get a picture with him right before he left. He had given the talk to induct Harlan Ellison into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, and since Ellison wrote what many consider the best Star Trek episode ever (The City on the Edge of Forever) I thanked him for having performed a similar service for Doctor Who. He said he was also glad that the episode turned out well, and that when he wrote it he didn’t know if it would end up like Spock’s Brain (one of the least favorite Star Trek episodes) or The City on the Edge of Forever. I later realized that the woman who had taken the picture for me was Maria Dahvana Headley, who has written a historical fantasy about Cleopatra that I haven’t read. I will say that she has the distinction of being the only person ever to take a non-horribly blurry picture of me and an author. Well done!

Me and Neil Gaiman

Later that summer, I went to a signing with Kat Richardson, the author of the Greywalker series, which I love because it takes place in Seattle. I had previously purchased a book she had signed from a bookstore in downtown Seattle, the Seattle Mystery Bookshop, that she mentions in the books (which is why I knew about the store). She had written the date in the book, so when she personalized it for me at the signing, she wrote about how she had gone back in time to sign the book for me.

At the next signing I went to, my third with Brandon Sanderson, I asked him to personalize the book with the entire text of A Memory of Light (the final volume in The Wheel of Time, which comes out next year). He did:

Just what I asked for…

Most recently, I got to meet one of my favorite authors, Orson Scott Card. He was friendly and when he learned I work in computers, he talked about how back in the day he was programming with registers and stuff. I got to thank him for introducing me to Brandon Sanderson’s work, and he was happy to have done so. He told us an alternate version of Ender’s Game that addresses his longstanding dissatisfaction with some details of the finale of the book It’s not a huge change and doesn’t affect the plot, it just explains how Ender does part of the thing that he does (I’m trying not to spoil anything). It may appear in a later version, and is cool.

Blurry picture with Orson Scott Card

I will update this post as I meet more authors. Next up should be Robin Hobb if I have time to make it down to Redondo Beach for the signing.