As a writer, you dream about the day when you will present your first book to the world. That day—Tuesday, October 2, 2018, has come and gone, but I can honestly say that it was one of the most thrilling and exhilarating occasions of my life—up there with John’s and my wedding day in 1989 and the day I received my doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1992. The difference was that this event was all mine, a factor that made it potentially scary, too.
My novel, Gina in the Floating World, evolved over many years, but during the last year, I had become preoccupied with everything to do with its publication, since signing the contract with my publisher, She Writes Press, in late summer 2017: editing and proofreading, approving cover designs, learning about marketing and social media, obtaining blurbs for the back cover, redesigning my website and keeping it up-to-date with blog entries and other content, writing essays for other publications, creating regular Instagram posts, planning events, and on and on in ways you probably don’t want to hear about.
For me, the big enchilada was my book launch at Porter Square Books (PSB), which I chose because I truly considered it my local bookstore, just a mile and half from my house, with an after-party at Christophers, a favorite haunt across the street with a private upstairs that was ideal for a gathering of this kind. In fact, I’d been to several launches at Porter Square Books and after-parties at Christophers. I issued invitations to anyone I thought might want to come, posted it on Facebook, and told lots of people as well. Plus, the store did a wonderful job of publicizing it, and just two days before, there was my name in the Sunday Boston Globe newspaper. Although many people had RSVP’d, I really had no idea how many people would come, especially as it was a rainy and chilly evening.
When I arrived early with my writer niece, Pippa Goldschmidt, who had flown over from her home in Scotland for this event, and my photographer husband, John Heymann, whose job was to document it, the store wasn’t even set up for me. But from past experience, I knew that the staff would spring into action soon. A few friends began to trickle in, including a good friend from college and her partner, who had driven in from Western Massachusetts. I thought she would be the friend I’d known the longest along with another local college friend and once-upon-a-time roommate right after graduation. Two other close friends, whom I’ve known since the 1970s came in, too, including one who’d been helping me with marketing ideas and had promised to do whatever I needed that night. I had her make sure that audience members fill out my “giveaway” cards for three drawings during the Q and A period.
Even as late as 6:50, with just three rows of chairs set up, not that many folks had arrived. Again, I wasn’t worried, as I’d seen this happen before. And sure enough, just a few minutes later, the three rows were filled, and the Porter Square Books staff sprang into action pushing away movable bookshelves and setting up more chairs, as more people poured in. I waved and hugged and briefly chatted with those that I could. And then, with about eight or nine rows filling up, I spotted a friend I’d known since the seventh grade. She and her partner had driven all the way from Pennsylvania, just for me, and her attendance was a complete surprise (known to John, who had kep the secret from me as he is so good at doing)! So, she officially became my longest-term friend at my launch.
By then, without my glasses, I couldn’t even identify everyone. It was standing room only, with the official count by a friend, who like me, did statistics for a living, at around 120. Wow!! Beyond my wildest expectations. There were people from all eras and areas of my life—past and present—former work colleagues, around 20 members of my Grub Street writing community, dozens of friends and acquaintances I know from being a regular attendee at music in the local bars, members of an arts organization of which I am a member, neighbors, friends and partners of friends that I didn’t know. Certainly, the largest gathering of friends of mine that had ever been in one space.
Now it was time to start. Other than being dry-mouthed, I wasn’t all the nervous, just overwhelmed, and fortunately PSB provided me with my very own red logo water bottle filled with water although a writer friend cautioned me against drinking too much. James from PSB introduced me, and then it was time to begin.
I had decided to go with a theme of how the book came to be—basically following its conception until its emergence into adulthood—and found three passages that felt representative. I remembered to speak slowly and clearly and to look up and around at my audience periodically. The laughs occurred where I’d hoped they would. I needed to rely heavily on my notes, unlike a friend, who had launched her memoir at PSB three weeks earlier and barely glanced at hers. But that was okay. I did fine.
When I finished my presentation, I did my first giveaway, helped my my niece, who drew the first name. This one went fittingly to someone from my Novel Incubator program, which had been my writing game-changer a few years previously. She won a t-shirt with an image of my book cover on it. The second prize, a mug with an image of one of my collages inspired by my novel, went to one of my oldest friends in attendance; and the grand prize, a bag of various Japanese-themed goodies, such as green tea, a shopping bag with the famous Hokusai wave on it (like the one on my book cover), and a tiny Japanese good luck charm in the shape of a frog (also related to an image in my novel) was given to a friend from my music community. In between, I took a few questions from the audience. By that time, I was just as happy there weren’t that many as my brain was about friend. I thanked the various groups in my audience and received a hearty round of applause.
A number of friends waited in line for me to sign their books. Some had bought several books. I used a special turquoise signing pen (to match one of the colors in the cover). I’m sure I wrote way more than I should have in my tiny, unreadable handwriting, but I wanted to personalize each book as much as I could. My niece had helped by giving post-its to everyone who wanted a book signed to ensure that I had the proper spelling on names (and in case, I forgot anyone’s name, which, miraculously, I didn’t.) John took photos of me as requested.
The whole thing from the introduction to the last signature took about an hour and fifty minutes. One of the bookstore staff told me they had sold out their second order of my books! We joined the party well in progress across the street, to another round of applause. A friend had my signature drink ready for me (vodka, cranberry juice, and seltzer) and a plate of food, which I didn’t have time to eat. I mingled a bit and then created an official moment by gathering folks around as I cut my cake decorated with a picture of the cover on it. John gave me a lovely toast, and I thanked everyone for coming to help me celebrate this grand occasion in my life. I mingled some more, feeling somewhat dazed by this time, and the same friend who’d bought me the drink, brought over a piece of the chocolate side of the cake (there was a yellow side, too) since he knew I liked chocolate.
At the very end of the evening, after just about everyone had left, we sat, relaxed, and drank some more with my old friend and her partner who had driven from Pennsylvania. We gathered up what was left of the food, including the cake, paid the bill, and left. I was exhausted, but happy. The evening could not have gone any better. I felt like the luckiest person in the world. I'd had my Sally Field moment (from the Oscars. Look it up if you don't remember it.)
Thank you to all who were a part of that occasion, and who sent me wishes, or who bought my book (or intend to). You are the best! And I hope that you, too, can have an experience like this sometime in you life if you have not already. Hugs!
(photos by John Heymann except of #1 and #3)
sometime in your life if you have not already.