Recently I had the pleasure of helping my former publisher Lorina Stephens launch one of her own books, the latest of ten so far, this one a collection of short fiction entitled Dreams of the Moon.
The launch, which was conducted virtually (as so many necessarily are these days) was hosted by Richard Graeme Cameron, editor and publisher of the Aurora Award winning Canadian SF fiction magazine Polar Borealis.
Graeme recorded the launch, which included an interview with Lorina during which she expressed herself quite eloquently (certainly well enough for someone to invite her on, say, a national radio show about books, just saying) as well as a couple of short readings from Dreams of the Moon.
A consequence of my publisher, Five Rivers Publishing, shutting down operations this year was that the novel I had published with them, A Time and a Place (which I will henceforth refer to as ATAAP in this post), was delisted from most book sellers. It therefore became imperative that I get it back out there lest it become well and truly out of print.
My experience with Five Rivers has been a uniformly positive one all the way through and this proved true at the end as well. I say Five Rivers but really I mean Lorina Stephens, the soul, essence, and driving force of Five Rivers. Lorina ensured that the transition of rights was as painless as possible, transforming all the rights for ATAAP back to me (and the rest of her authors) without any fuss or bother. The situation with Audible proved a little problematic for some of Lorina’s other authors as Audible was a bit of a stickler with third party producers involved, but it turned out to be easier for me as I was the sole performer and producer on the audiobook version of ATAAP. Three or four emails with Audible and we got that all sorted out.
Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Indigo and so on was a little more time consuming. I decided to release what turned out to be a second edition of ATAAP under my own publishing house, Donovan Street Press. I took the opportunity to scour the manuscript and eliminate about eight typos that had driven me crazy since the original publication. Even though I had gone over the manuscript umpteen times after we finished editing it back in 2017, I’d still managed to miss those eight. It is unbelievably difficult to catch every typo in a novel. Your eye scans right past them. Every time I read a book from one of the major publishers I delight in spotting typos as they make me feel better about mine. Typose exist in just about every book you will ever read (and if they don’t, I don’t want to hear about it).
Typos in the original version of ATAAP included (in no particular order):
P 186 the only way could think of (missing the “I”)
P180 passenger street (should be passenger seat)
P363 excess spaces in sentence
P291 made a mess of it (should be make a mess of it)
P289 eying (should be eyeing)
Diane Savident (should be Diana Savident) (this was rather embarrassing for me as Diana was a family friend)
P28: should be “the two of them vanished…” (Not the two of them had vanished)
P181 print version: should be Nissan Rogue (not Nissan Rouge) (invariably over the last three years I’d be out running errands and I’d find myself behind a Nissan Rogue, and I’d think of that typo. I’d grit my teeth and think, “I’m following a typo.”)
P375 “You’re here, where ever here is, allowing people to use you (to) wipe out entire civilizations” (missing “to”)
Rereading the manuscript, I was also horrified to discover a story glitch, a missing bit of narrative hand-holding regarding the nature of Sebastian. Probably not a big deal to the average reader, as Sebastian’s nature eventually becomes crystal clear, but it really needed to be made explicit early on. So this was an opportunity to correct that with the addition of a bit of extra dialogue in Chapter Five.
Finally, one reader had pointed out in private correspondence that I had exhibited a particular fondness for the word particularly. You will find far fewer instances of this word in the Second Edition of A Time and a Place (and in any future novels I write).
Despite the over abundance of the word particularly, ATAAP has managed to receive some pretty good reviews since its original publication in 2017. Releasing a second edition was an opportunity to include some of those reviews off the top of the book. I’m grateful to the following authors for their kind words in support of the book: Andrew Weston (author of the internationally bestselling IX series), A.B. Funkhauser (author of Shell Game: A Black Cat Novel), Brian Wyvill (author of The Second Gate), and comedian, actor and writer Matt Watts (Newsroom, Michael: Tuesdays and Thursdays).
All these updates required getting a new ISBN and hiring Eric Desmarais to produce a new layout (Eric had done an excellent job on the original layout). I’ve also contracted an updated cover from original cover artist Jeff Minkevics which I hope to make a part of ATAAP‘s Second Edition sometime in the next month or so.
Because it was important to get ATAAP back out there, I’ve already released the ebook and Kindle version on the sly through Draft2Digital. You will find it at every major online book retailer. Physical copies are still available but they will be second hand. I’m waiting to publish the second edition of A Time and a Place in physical form once I have the new cover in hand which, as I mentioned, will hopefully be in the next month or so.
I should also point out that the version of ATAAP up on Audible is the original version. Maybe I’ll update that version too one day, but to be honest I’m not in a rush to do so. Too many other important things to do, like finish my second novel, Captain’s Away. More on that later.
So, long story short, there’s a new, updated version of A Time and a Place out there, folks. Feel free to check it out.
This made a lot of sense. Audio books are a booming business these days, and it just makes sense to have your book available in as many formats as possible. Also, I’ve been an audio guy since the age of sixteen when I got my first job announce-operating at CJRW in Summerside, PEI, later making my living as an audio technician/recording engineer for CBC Radio for nineteen years.
Doing sound effects in Studio 212 back in my radio drama days at CBC Radio
For an entire ten of those nineteen years at CBC Radio I made radio plays and recorded and edited tons of short fiction re-purposed for the medium of radio. I remember recording a radio-friendly version of Brad Smith’s novel All Hat over the course of a week or two.
So you would think that I would know what is involved in such a recording. Unfortunately, all my experience did was give me a wildly over-inflated sense of my own abilities. Yes, I did (more or less) possess all the skills required to produce an audio book. But somehow I completely failed to appreciate just how much work was involved in doing it all myself, and how demanding some of that work was.
When Lorina suggested I do the audio book, I truly thought I would be able to knock it off in a couple of weeks. Because I could read, I could record, and I could edit. Thinking back, I was pretty sure we’d done All Hat in a week or two.
It’s laughable, really.
Because thinking back on it a little more carefully, I’m pretty sure that the version of All Hat we produced was an abridged version, and it took four of us to do it: a recording engineer, a producer, an actor, and somebody to adapt it. Five people, if you include the casting director. And all I did was record it (I may have edited it, but I don’t really remember). I certainly didn’t read it.
Anyway, turning my novel into an audio book was a great excuse to gear up, so I went out and bought a mic, a mixer, and some other peripherals. I had a week of vacation time coming up and figured I could squeeze all the recording in then, and edit at my leisure afterwards, on evenings and weekends.
After one week of recording though, I only managed to record ten chapters. My wife attributed this to my propensity to get up late, linger over breakfast reading the Toronto Star, casually walk the dog, and then get started recording around 11am. All of this was true. Add to that trains going by, planes flying overhead, neighbours noisily draining pools, and mysterious noises with no obvious provenance interfering with the recording when I finally did get around to it, and you can see why the process took a bit longer than expected. Worst of all, though, was my inability to read more than half a sentence without making a mistake.
Turning a novel into an audio book was a much bigger deal than I’d realized.
In fact, what I originally thought would take me two or three weeks to accomplish wound up taking over two hundred hours spread out over eleven months.
Here are a few thoughts on the process while it’s reasonably fresh in my mind, in case anybody else out there is thinking of doing the same thing.
To record my audio book, I settled on a Shure SM7B microphone. I chose this microphone because I had chosen it back in 2007 to be the main microphone for the radio show Q. I’d tested a lot of microphones and it had sounded the best with the host of that show, and it sounded pretty good on me (if I do say so myself). I would have preferred a Neumann U-87 but I couldn’t afford that (it’s about three grand). But the SM7B (at about $500 Canadian) is a fine microphone with an excellent pedigree. Michael Jackson famously used it to record his album Thriller. Its only limitation that I could see is that it’s a dynamic microphone and you need to give it a boost to get decent levels. But this is easily fixed by placing a Cloudlifter in the chain, providing an extra 25dB of gain.
My weapon of choice, the SM7B
An advantage of the SM7B is that it pretty much records what you point it at and rejects most everything else. This was really helpful recording in my basement. When I turned off the air conditioning, made sure no other appliances in the house were running, and closed the door to the basement, the noise floor was almost non-existent, but there could still be some extraneous noise, so it was helpful to have a very directional microphone.
You do have to work the SM7B pretty closely to get a nice, plummy sound. The host I used to work with on Q worked it so closely that I wound up sticking two pop filters between him and the mic to avoid popping. In my case, I used the A7WS windscreen that comes with the mic out of the box plus one pop filter. I still popped a bit, but I had ways of dealing with that, which I’ll come to later.
My fairly straight-forward home studio in my basement.
The rest of my setup was pretty simple. You can see it pictured here. Basically the SM7B plugged into the Cloudlifter, the Cloudlifter plugged into a Steinberg mixer, which in turn is connected to a MacBook Pro via USB. And a pair of decent Sennheiser headphones and a mic stand. I read the script (just a PDF version of the novel) right off the MacBook, flipping back and forth between Adobe Reader and my audio software as required.
I recorded almost everything in Cubase, which came with the Steinberg mixer, but I never really got to like it. I’ve used a lot of audio editing software in my time (D-Cart, Dalet, DaletPlus, Sonic Solutions, ProTools, Audacity) and Cubase just didn’t compare in terms of immediate usability. Probably if I’d taken the time I would have gotten used to it, but when it came time to editing the audio book, I switched to Audacity, which can be downloaded free and is much simpler.
Earlier I mentioned that I couldn’t seem to record half a sentence without making a mistake. This was true in the beginning, and it surprised me. One of the reasons that I thought recording an audio book wouldn’t take too long was because I figured I’d just sit down and read it and do some light editing and that would be it. I’ve had some experience acting and I’ve worked professionally as an announcer/operator at two radio stations (CJRW in Summerside and CFCY/Q-93 in Charlottetown). I thought I could read. Heck, I even thought I could perform. But I couldn’t. Not in the beginning.
The problem was I would read a little bit and then, convinced it sounded horrible, I’d stop and start again. I thought, well, not a big deal, I can edit it all later. But the more mistakes you make, the more editing is required, and eventually all that extra editing adds up to one big editing nightmare.
I got much better with practice and experience, but even at my best I couldn’t get through a chapter without a fair amount of mistakes.
Typically, I recorded each chapter twice. I would get to know the chapter on the first read, and read it better the second time around. If I made a mistake, I’d stop, go back, and correct it right away. This made the editing process much easier later (making up somewhat for the amount of mistakes).
Because I didn’t have a producer, someone standing over my shoulder correcting me, I needed to be careful. If I thought I made a mistake during a passage, I always stopped and re-did it (sometimes the first time was perfectly fine, but better safe than sorry, although it did make for more work). Whenever I hit a word I wasn’t entirely sure how to pronounce, I looked it up online. Most online dictionaries allow you to listen to the word you’re looking up. Interestingly, I included words in A Time and a Place that, although I know perfectly well what they mean, I either didn’t know how to pronounce, or have been pronouncing incorrectly. They are correct in the audio book version, though. I made sure of that.
Sometimes I mangled words or sentences but didn’t discover this until the editing process, which was a pain in the butt, but far from insurmountable. One of the advantages of recording an audio book yourself is that afterwards the actor’s still hanging around if you need him or her.
A typical waveform, this one from Chapter 22 of A Time and a Place.
One of the fun parts of recording this novel myself has been doing the voices. I didn’t have unique voices for all of the characters, but some characters cried out for special treatment. One of the characters, Gordon Rainer, is supposed to speak with a British accent. He was by far the most difficult to get right. I’d once done a play for which I’d been trained to speak with a British accent, but I have no illusions about how accurate I’m able to do it (my British brother-in-law is only too happy to provide reality checks on that point).
I’d always thought of another character, Doctor Humphrey, as having a gruff voice, so I played him that way. And so on. I tried not to overdo it, as it could easily get silly, but I enjoyed the performance aspect of it all.
Like just about every other part of this project, the editing took a lot longer than I expected.
I edited one chapter at a time. It took me on average three to four hours to edit the first pass of each chapter. My chapters average twenty pages. The shortest is seven pages, the longest thirty. Transformed into audio, my chapters run anywhere from eleven minutes to thirty minutes long, averaging about twenty minutes. (Unedited, the raw files for each chapter run anywhere between one hour to two hours long.)
As mentioned earlier, I did all my editing in the free version of Audacity, which worked just fine. It’s easy to learn and I found that I could edit quite quickly and effectively with it. It’s also got a nice little suite of tools for mastering, EQ and so on.
Before editing each chapter, I would do a little processing. A little noise reduction, a little limiting or amplification as required to ensure that I was peaking at -3dB with a maximum -60dB noise floor as required by Audible. I did this at the beginning because if doing any of that introduced any problems, I wanted to catch those problems as I was doing the edit. I didn’t want to complete an edit, then do processing, and have it accidentally introduce issues such as clicks or pops or digital distortion that I might have less chance of catching near the end of the process.
Every chapter required multiple passes to edit. The first edit was mainly to get all the right takes in the right order and clean it up as much as I could. To help speed things up, I created a special template in Audacity’s EQ plug-in to eliminate popped Ps as I encountered them (I found the default EQ template for this too aggressive in Audacity).
Sometimes I encountered mangled words or sentences for which no good takes existed, that I had not noticed during the recording process. These I re-recorded right on the spot. Sometimes it was a bit tricky getting these re-takes to match, but it got easier with practice. It was a matter of getting the inflection and level right. I would tweak the level in Audacity using the Amplify plug-in (always careful not to peak at higher than -3dB), and try to use as little of the re-take as necessary, often cutting halfway through a sentence, or a word, even.
After the initial edit, I would go through the chapter again to clean up weird, extraneous noises such as bits of mouth noise, the cat knocking into the mic stand, or other weird noises such as bumps occurring elsewhere in the house that I hadn’t noticed during recording.
I popped the odd P or two, so I created a specific EQ that I called Subtle Bass Cut to deal with that (and a few popped Bs too)
I took a lot of time to address issues with pacing. I tend to read fast. Left unedited, few would be able to keep up with my reading. I worked hard to address this in the edit. I know that some audio book listeners want their audio books read fast. In fact, they will listen to their audio books at enhanced speeds to get through them quicker. I tailored my pacing for people who listen at normal speeds. If I ever record another one, I’ll try to get it right during the recording. A lot easier than having to fix pacing in the editing process.
Once reasonably certain that I’d addressed all issues in the edit, I would play the entire chapter from beginning to end to make sure that I hadn’t missed any edits, and to ensure that there were no other problems. Only when I felt that the edit was perfect would I consider it done, and share it with my publisher via Drop Box (who will subsequently submit it to Audible). One of my mottos is “If it only exists once in the digital domain, it may as well not exist at all,” so I always sent a safety version to myself via Gmail.
I didn’t keep a really accurate record of how long this project took me, but I estimate each chapter took on average two hours to record, and six hours to edit, master, and double check. That’s 8 hours a chapter times 27 chapters, plus little bits like intros, acknowledgements, and so on. I figure the entire project took about 220 hours. That’s 27 eight hour days. The book itself is ten hours, sixteen minutes and fifty-five seconds long, all told. I took three entire weeks off work and devoted several evenings and weekends to this project. Probably much longer than it should have taken. I read in this quite informative blog post that “your narrator will put in six times more production hours than the final length of the book.” Yeah… took me a bit longer than that.
This weekend I relinquish the stage to my publisher, Lorina Stephens, and my editor, Dr.Robert Runte, who were kind enough to say a few words at my recent book launch. Lorina and Robert, take it away!
The launch took place at the Merril Collection of Science Fiction in Toronto.
“How’d the book launch go?” somebody asked me the other day.
There aren’t enough superlatives in the English language to answer that question.
“Amazing,” I tried.
Sephora Hosein introducing me at the launch.
I could also have said, “Magic.” Or: “One of the best days of my life.”
All completely true. Certainly the beginning of an answer.
Here’s a longer answer.
It’s been kind of a strange year. I broke my ankle in January. At the time I thought, well this is kind of bad luck. Is that what kind of year this is going to be? This is the year my novel A Time and a Place is supposed to come out. Is this a bad sign?
Of course, any rational person knows that breaking your ankle in January and having a book come out in October have absolutely nothing to do with one another. Thinking that an event in January (never mind that it happened on Friday the 13th) might set the tone for an entire year is clearly ludicrous. I like to think of myself as a scientific rationalist. I don’t usually indulge in such thinking.
But sometimes I do.
Anyway, it turned out that breaking my ankle wasn’t all that bad. Courtesy of the Canadian Healthcare System, I received first class medical care. Afterward I was able to work from home. I got lots of sleep for a change. I watched a few movies I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to watch. I got to spend more quality time with my wife and family. As the year progressed, other good things happened. My ankle healed nicely. I got seconded into a nifty new position at work. My book edged ever closer to publication, and I began planning the book launch.
I was determined to get the launch exactly right. Not just for me and the book, but for anybody who might show up. I didn’t want to waste anybody’s time. Truth be told, the launch became a source of some anxiety. I don’t throw a lot of parties. A handful in my life. For my fiftieth birthday, for example, I’d always thought I’d throw a big party, but when the time came, I settled for a quiet dinner with my family and a couple of close friends.
I wanted to go bigger for the book launch. I figured it might be the only one I ever have. It was to mark the culmination of several years of writing a novel that for the longest time I wasn’t sure I’d ever finish. Twelve years of hard writing preceded by many years of false starts and dead ends. I wanted to mark the end of that long journey appropriately somehow.
I read blogs and articles and talked to fellow writers about how to hold a proper book launch. I discovered that such a launch is supposed to be more than just a celebration of finishing a book. It is, as the name suggests, supposed to launch the book, propel it forward into the great wide world. From a marketing perspective, the idea is to make as big a splash as possible to give the book the absolute best chance to succeed. You want as many people to come as you can manage. It may sound a bit crass, but the fact is you also want to sell as many copies as you can.
Some big decisions had to be made. Where to hold the launch? Four immediate possibilities came to mind: home, a bookstore, a pub, or a library.
I didn’t want to have it at home because my house isn’t big enough. It’s also too far away from downtown Toronto. And it wouldn’t have lent the event any cachet. I wanted the launch in Toronto where it could generate the biggest possible turn-out. As for bookstores, the most appropriate would have been the science-fiction and fantasy bookstore, Bakka-Phoenix books, but I didn’t feel comfortable approaching them because I didn’t have a relationship with them. As for pubs, I could think of a couple that might have worked, but I wanted a location with more significance.
I approached my friend Annette Mocek, a librarian at the Merril Collection of Science Fiction in the Toronto Pubic Library on College Street. She passed my request onto Lorna Toolis, Head Librarian at the Merril, who discussed it with the Friends of the Merril Collection, and I was thrilled when they agreed to host the launch Thursday evening Oct 26th. A Time and a Place is a science fiction/fantasy adventure; other than Bakka/Phoenix Books, there really was no more appropriate venue in Toronto.
Lorna, who has hosted many book launches, suggested I approach Bakka-Phoenix Books about selling copies of A Time and a Place at the launch. I felt awkward about this because, as mentioned above, I didn’t have a relationship with them. I live in Whitby, well outside of Toronto, and Bakka-Phoenix Books is located too far from where I work in downtown Toronto to make it easy to drop by. Bookstores are often approached by new authors seeking help, whether it’s to sell their books on consignment or hold a book launch or what have you, and they are understandably skeptical when approached by authors who, as far as they know, have never frequented their store.
I had in fact visited Bakka-Phoenix when it had been located on Queen, and I’d also met the manager, Chris Szego, at a conference, but it was unlikely that she’d remember me. Still, I steeled myself and undertook the long walk up to their current location on Harbord, just off Spadina, about fifty minutes away from where I work. I was just back on my feet after recovering from the broken ankle—it was a good test of the freshly healed foot. I still had a bit of a limp, and the bad foot wasn’t quite pointing in the right direction yet, but it got me there.
Chris Szego, Manager of Bakka-Phoenix Books
Chris was there when I limped in. I began by asking for some recommendations. Chris suggested two books, both of which I bought (Company Town and Ancillary Justice). I did this because I wanted to give her business before asking something of her, but also, I was not going to visit a science fiction bookstore without purchasing some science fiction. I mean, seriously.
Afterward, still feeling awkward about the subject, I brought up the business of the book launch. To my delight, Chris immediately agreed to help out, possibly because the Merril Collection was already behind me. We resolved to connect again when we got a little closer to the date.
I had one small concern about hosting the launch at the Merril Collection. Because it’s located within the Toronto Public Library system, and is a collection of valuable SF materials, we could not have food or drink in the venue. This bothered me because I felt badly about inviting a bunch of people to come celebrate with me only to offer little in return other than a bit of speechifying and a brief reading. My friends Ann Jansen and Dave Carley suggested I invite everyone out for drinks afterward, but my wife and daughters would be along, for whom there would be school and work the next day, so that wouldn’t work.
Dave suggested a pre-party. I immediately latched onto the idea. Ann researched some possibilities, and we settled on the Free Times Café, just down the street from the Merril Collection on College. The owner of the Free Times Café, Judy Perly, booked the Bistro part of her restaurant for me, and I pre-ordered a few platters of food for everyone, without any idea how many people might show up. I told Judy between ten and seventy.
In the Bistro of the Free Times Cafe before the launch
There was still work to be done. By this time, I had been introduced virtually to Sephora Hosein, who had taken over as Head of the Merril Collection upon the retirement of Lorna Toolis. Sephora assured me that we were still good to go.
One month out, I sent out invitations to everyone I could think of who could conceivably be interested. Rather than one mass mailing, I sent personal invitations to everyone, using a template for the details, but personalizing each invitation. This took many hours but was absolutely worth the effort.
For one thing, making the invitations personal felt right and good. I tracked it all on an Excel spreadsheet so I’d know who I’d invited and who responded. I invited about two hundred and twenty people, almost all of whom I knew personally. Well over one hundred people responded. About eighty said they planned to come, twenty declined, and another ten or fifteen said maybe.
Just for fun, I also invited the Mayor of Whitby, where I live, and the Mayor of Summerside, Prince Edward Island, where much of the novel A Time and a Place is set, and where I hail from originally. The Office of the Mayor of Whitby wrote back declining the invitation, but proposed an invitation of their own, that I come to meet the Mayor, Don Mitchell, so he could purchase of a copy of my book. Delighted, I agreed to meet him the afternoon of the launch.
The Mayor of Summerside wrote back personally and offered to purchase a copy of the book, so I sent him one. I didn’t charge him for shipping, so I lost money on that purchase, but what the heck, it’s my hometown Mayor.
I also promoted the event on Facebook and Twitter, as did the Merril Collection and my publisher. As well, I placed posters, created by the Friends of the Merril Collection, on every floor of the CBC Broadcast Centre, where I work.
Neither the owner of Five Rivers Publishing, Lorina Stephens, or the Senior Editor of Five Rivers, Robert Runte, could make it to the launch, so I asked each of them if they’d mind making a short video of themselves saying a few words. They both agreed and sent me a couple of minutes each, which I edited together in a single video for the event.
Fast forward to the day of the launch. Everything was booked. I had a short speech prepared that I’d gone over several times, along with a short reading. Together, they would take less than fifteen minutes to deliver. I didn’t want to bore anyone. It was shaping up to be a good day, though of course there was still the possibility of disaster. It was entirely conceivable to me that no one would show up.
In fact, starting that morning, I started receiving emails from people expressing their regrets for various reasons. For one thing, it turned out I’d booked the launch on parent/teacher interview night in Toronto.
I’d taken the day off work so I could concentrate on the launch. My wife, (Lynda) and I hung out in the morning. It felt like an ordinary day. I wasn’t that nervous; I think all my elaborate preparations had a lot to do with that. I packed the car with boxes of my book. Seventy-eight copies; I figured that ought to do it.
At twenty to two, Lynda and I headed off to see the Mayor of Whitby, Don Mitchell. Mayor Mitchell and his Executive Assistant, Andrea Kennedy, were both funny and charming. We chatted with them about science fiction and publishing and had a great visit. The Mayor paid me for a copy of the book and I signed it for him. Or, began to sign it for him…
I had just written, “To Mayor Mitchell, fellow science fiction” when he jokingly asked Lynda what it’s like living with a temperamental artist like me.
With Whitby Mayor Don Mitchell
Distracted, I put a comma after “science fiction.”
It had been my intention to write, “To Mayor Mitchell, fellow science fiction fan,” but placing a comma after science fiction messed it up.
Darn it, I thought. I’ve screwed this up.
While Lynda answered his question, I quickly worked out a possible solution.
I added “and fantasy fan” making it “To Mayor Mitchell, fellow science fiction, and fantasy, fan.” Which was far from perfect, but seemed less of a disaster. It was better than, “To Mayor Mitchell, fellow science fiction, fan.”
Despite my blunder, the meeting was a great prologue to the launch.
After meeting Mayor Mitchell, we collected our daughters and headed into Toronto. Annette met us at the Merril Collection and helped us carry the books upstairs. I gave her my laptop so she could hook it up to the projector.
Here I encountered the first (and only) heart-stopping glitch of the evening: I couldn’t log into the laptop. Kept getting either the password or the username wrong. All the while thinking: well, I guess we could skip the video. Except, I really didn’t want to—Lorina and Robert had gone to a lot of trouble to film themselves for me, and I was certain the videos would add a lot of value to the evening.
Finally, after about twenty tries, I got it working.
Messing with the laptop made us about ten minutes late to the Free Times Café. Several guests were already sitting in the bistro section that had been reserved for us, but they didn’t all know one another and were sitting separately, so I set about introducing them to one another. Soon, the entire bistro except for one booth was packed with people attending the launch.
I wanted to say hi to everyone, so I worked my way around the room, grabbing a chair at one point to carry with me, and spoke to as many people as possible. There were plenty of CBC’ers who hadn’t seen one another in a while, and who were happy talking to one another, so I didn’t have to worry so much about them. But there were others who didn’t know anyone, and I wanted them to feel comfortable and welcome. Time flew by. At six-thirty it was time to head back to the library for the actual launch.
Rushing to the library, we passed a homeless woman in rough shape who asked me for spare change. As I gave her some, I was struck by the difference in fortune between the two of us. I was enjoying what was shaping up to be one of the greatest nights of my life. She was living a nightmare. I didn’t know what to make of this disparity between us. I still don’t.
Shortly before, in the Free Times Café, I had asked a friend who I hadn’t seen in years how she was doing.
“It’s been an adventure,” she told me.
“Lots of traveling?” I asked.
“A stroke,” she told me. “And then I had a bad fall.”
She was chipper about it all, obviously not wanting to put a damper on the evening. She had endured all that and yet had come out to see me on this night. I really didn’t know what to say.
Rushing back to the Merril Collection, thinking about the homeless woman and my friend, I wondered about enjoying good fortune while other people suffered. Of course, I experience extreme good fortune pretty much all the time relative to many people in this world simply by virtue of the circumstances of my existence. But the contrast seemed especially stark on this night, and I have thought about it a lot since. It bothers me. A subject for another entire essay.
It was almost seven by the time I made it back to the Merril Collection. The place was already packed. Before I even got through the door, I was waylaid by friends who wanted me to sign their copy of the book. Other copies of my book had been neatly stacked on a table to sell. I signed a few on the edge of the table. Chris from Bakka-Phoenix Books was there doing the selling. Oliver Brackenbury from the Friends of the Merril Collection was there too. I thanked both of them for their help.
An impromptu line formed for me to sign books. This surprised me—I had thought that I would have time to mingle before getting up to play the video and talk.
I was just about to make myself comfortable signing books when Annette whispered in my ear that we had best begin the proceedings. I made my way to the front. Sephora began her introduction. Standing off to the side, I saw that the place was packed. Friends had driven from as far away as Omemee, Peterborough, and Niagara-on-the-Lake to be there. There were also quite a few faces I didn’t recognize. I was a little gobsmacked, and a lot grateful.
Annette played the video from my laptop. First, Lorina Stephens, Publisher of Five Rivers Publishing, said a few kind words about me and my book. Then, Senior Editor Dr. Robert Runte told a couple of amusing stories about acquiring my book and editing it. Both went over well.
Then it was my turn.
I have a love/hate relationship with public speaking. Many times in my life I have been forced into situations where I have to deliver speeches or act as Master of Ceremonies. I can do it. Sometimes I even enjoy it, but it does not come naturally to me. As a teenager, I once hosted a variety show at my high school during which I could not even lift my eyes to meet the audience until the show was just about over. I was determined to get better at it, though. Eventually, I figured out that the key to success is preparation. I began thinking about my speeches days or weeks ahead, and rehearsing them mentally over and over until I had them completely memorized.
I got reasonably good at it, until the day I completely botched a speech at work because I’d grown too cocky. I hadn’t bothered to prepare. Figured I could wing it. Seconds into my speech, in front of dozens of people, I realized that I had no idea what to say. It just got worse from there. On the plus side, I never failed to prepare for a speech again.
So I was ready for this speech. I hadn’t completely memorized it, but I knew it well enough. The crowd was incredibly supportive, laughing at all the right places, and even a few places that surprised me.
Afterward, Sephora ushered me over to a table that had been set up for me to sign books. She even gave me a special pen that she said other authors seemed to like. It was indeed a fine pen. A line formed, and I spent the rest of the evening signing books, taking long enough with each person to chat a little bit and attempt to personalize each signature. Even if I knew perfectly well who someone was, I asked them how to spell their name, just to be sure.
I had thought I would have time to mingle afterwards, but it wasn’t to be. I signed books right up until the end. There were a lot of people who came that I didn’t get to talk to. I felt a little bad about that, but I think everyone understood.
“You were pretty busy,” a friend reassured me later.
We sold fifty-eight copies of A Time and a Place that night. Chris told me later that it made A Time and a Place the top selling Trade Paperback at Bakka-Phoenix books for the month of October. My deepest thanks to everyone who purchased copies.
Finally, only a handful of us were left: Sephora, Annette, Chris, and my family. We took a few final pictures and said our goodbyes. Outside the library, mundane reality reasserted itself by playfully hiding our car. In the dark, my family and I didn’t recognize the narrow alley way down which we’d parked, and we walked well past it before finally clueing in and turning back.
Still, it had been a brilliant night. Not a prelude to becoming a rich and famous author (neither the goal nor the expectation), but confirmation that I had friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances kindly disposed toward me, willing to give up an evening of their busy lives to help me celebrate.