Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Dear readers

The little girl was maybe 11 and had pigtails and big brown eyes. I was sitting at the signing table just inside the door of the Water Street Bookstore in Exeter on Saturday when she dragged her father in by the hand. She glanced at the small poster about Our War on the table. She turned to her father and said, loudly and with conviction: “Daddy, we’ve got to buy this book for Grampa!”

Her father was more circumspect. He pulled out his cellphone, took a step away from the table and called someone, possibly his wife. No one answered, it seemed. The little girl pulled him back toward the table. It was three days till Christmas, and the father gave in. Before I signed the book, I asked the girl if her grandfather liked history. Yes, she said, her eyes beaming. I felt okay then. At least there was a good chance he’d read it.

The encounter with the girl and her father stuck with me from a two-bookstore swing in which I signed 30 or 40 books and talked with several prospective readers.

I worked on Our War for years, most of that time searching in quiet archives or writing and revising in front of a computer. Although I shared chapter drafts with trusted readers, the act of writing a book is in some ways like Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic. You’re alone, you think you’ll make it but aren’t sure, and you hope there’s a big crowd waiting at the other end.

One difference is that the crowd, in the case of a book, comprises readers, not mere spectators. Since Our War came out, I have made maybe a dozen author appearances. I’ve spoken at libraries, bookstores, a church, a school and the New Hampshire Historical Society. I’ve emerged from the hibernation of my Lone Eagle fantasy to engage potential readers in conversation about why they should read my book.

This is the author’s dream come true. I am out to sell the idea of my book – a very human history of the war as it was lived by soldiers and civilians – and the book itself. But what I am really after is a sense that is out of an author’s reach during the months and years of research and writing. Then, one day, a stranger says to you, “I read your book, and . . .” Until that happens, the book isn’t really finished.

It made my smile yesterday to think of the little girl with pigtails giving Our War to her grandfather and telling him she had met the author. I hope she was right that this was the perfect book for him. Above all things a writer cherishes readers.

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