My second novel, Morning Light, was published to good reviews and I’d been invited to do a book signing and reading at a well-known bookstore in Albuquerque. I drove down in high spirits, looking forward to sharing my work. The staff assured me they had done enough publicity to expect a good number of people to attend.
I arrived early, signed copies of my novel, and helped the bookstore staff arranged them on a table. It was my first bookstore reading and I was excited and apprehensive, relieved when a woman walked in, took a seat in the second row, and patiently waited. I smiled at her, inwardly worried when no one else appeared to be attending.
No other people arrived. I checked with the bookstore staff. They said they would tell the woman the event was cancelled. “No one wants to do a reading with just one person in the audience,” said the manager.
The woman began gathering her things, looking as tense as I felt. “Seems I’m the only one who’s come tonight” she said to me. “Guess I’ll leave.”
Something in me felt this wasn’t right. She’d come. I’d come. Why didn’t this matter? “You’re here,” I said. “Why don’t I tell you a little about my novel and then, if you like, we can have a conversation.”
“Are you sure?” She looked uncomfortable but didn’t make a move to leave.
I nodded and sat down next to her. “The title, Morning Light, comes from a Yiddish proverb: You can cry, cry, cry, all night, but smile by morning light. The novel is about a woman who doesn’t know how to stand up for herself. She’s bullied by her mother, her boyfriend, and cares too much about the pre-school children with whom she works.”
“Sounds like my life,” said the woman, not looking at me. I moved my chair so it was easier to have a conversation, not quite facing each other but it felt cozy. “So,” she asked, “did writing the novel make a difference in how you felt about yourself?” I sensed this was not a polite question; she was looking for answers to whatever she was going through.
“Takes more than writing a novel to change deep trauma, but it did help in some ways.”
“How? If I may ask?”
I didn’t know this woman. I didn’t know how fragile she was emotionally, but I felt she needed something from me so I hoped what I said was the right choice. “I wrote countless drafts of this novel, except for one part where Anna, the protagonist, remembers her father sexually molesting her. It poured out of me. I could never rewrite that section. And the whole time I was writing it, I was shaking, as if I were writing about my life rather than Anna’s.”
“Was it your life?” She was leaning in to me as if we were old friends.
“I don’t know. What I do know is that it opened up a slew of memories that I understood did happen, and that my father was obsessed with me sexually. It made me realize most of the stories told about me by my family were lies. The few times I was able to ask questions, what I got was denial, blame and shame.”
“I know about that,” she said bitterly, her face contorted by misery. She told me a little about her life.
I was uncomfortable about the conversation—too raw for strangers who needed to leave soon. “Look,” I said gently, “what I know is that people who are abused don’t ask to be hurt. What they want is love. And children don’t ask to be treated badly. What they want is loving care. Whatever happened to you is not your fault. If people were unkind or hurtful to you, please be kind and caring to yourself.”
The woman asked if she could tell me a bit more about her life. I nodded, feeling she needed to talk, hoping I wasn’t getting myself into something that wouldn’t end well. She talked for a little while and when she stopped. She smiled and patted my knee. “Thank you for taking the time to talk with me. You’re a good listener. Although I’m sorry I was the only one to come to your reading, in a way I’m glad. I know it sounds selfish, but we wouldn’t have had this conversation if there’d been a full house. What you’ve said and how you listened means a lot to me. Could you sign three books for me? I’ll tell you who they’re for.”
When she left, the bookstore the manager apologized for the poor turnout. I shrugged. “It’s okay. We sold three books.” What I didn’t say was that I was grateful for the interaction with the woman. Selling books matters to me. A lot. Connecting with a reader in a heartfelt way is why I write.
Would you have stayed? Why or why not?
Life tales from a woman different living in The City Different.