...a local novelist, well known for his collection of murder mysteries based around several towns in the area, made an appearance/book signing at Barnes & Noble a short time ago.
While I've never met the man personally, I've made a point to keep tabs on whatever project he hammers out, for a couple of reasons. Like him, my first novel also clings to local roots. And while he's in the past worked with a well known University Press out of the Buckeye State, he's also delt with the same publisher, The Wooster Book Company, which my manuscript, "Broken," is currently being run through the editing gamut. And so for obvious reasons...I'm curious, I read, I learn.
Having already scheduled a prior engagement, I wasn't able to attend the book signing. Funny thing though...what's that quote? "There are no coincidences."
Later that evening, while dining with my family and the in-laws at a local steakhouse, I lean back, frosty brew in hand, glance over my shoulder, and as fate would have it, there he sits, washing down a final bite of sirloin with what appeared to be a martini...but I didn't see an olive, so perhaps not.
Acting far from cool, my first reaction was to gawk. My second, was to jump out of my seat and slide across the booth from him while blubbering/stumbling/sputtering through an awkward speech of fanfair and personal inspiration.
As I rose from my seat however, I thankfully hesitated, and took a breath. Only then did I realize that he wasn't alone. Sitting across from him was a lady...someone he obviously held near and dear to his heart. My deep breath became two. I remained where I was. Even slouched a bit toward our tabletop. For in the next few minutes I learned more from this author by watching him, than I could've ever gained by approaching his booth and making a fool of myself.
An older gentleman, probably in his early sixties if I'd have to guess, he stood no taller than five foot ten, and over the years had grown nearly as wide as he was tall. The majority of his thinning silver hair had moved from atop his head, to below his chin, reminding me of a splitting image of Uncle Jesse from "The Dukes of Hazzard."
Despite his success as an accomplished writer, the expression on his face whispered of a man far more comfortable spending his days away from the public eye. A simple nod to their waitress when asked if their order was cooked to their likeness. A quiet, "Thank you," with the presentation of their bill. A timid demeanor. A man comfortable in his skin.
...but that wasn't what drew my attention.
The lady sitting opposite him in the booth was easily twenty years younger. Auburn hair pulled up into a tight bun. A body having spent it's share of time on a treadmill, clothed in a beige pant-suit. A large diamond wrapped around her finger. A polished manicure the color of violets.
At first glance I thought, "Agent." A moment later, his pudgy fingers slid across the table and entwined with hers. As the waitress removed their empty plates, both hands came to rest on the tabletop, hands clasped.
As I watched, not being nosy or in any way judgemental, but curious, as fellow writers can sometimes be, the lady began whispering across the table as the author listened, his gaze intense.
A question I've always wondered, do successful writers see the world differently than the rest of us? When we look into the sky and see a hawk soaring over a wooded thicket, perhaps circling it's prey, an oblivious field mouse, or a floppy-eared bunny, does Neil Gaiman glance up and interpret the same bird from an entirely different perspective?
In earlier years, the lady sitting across the table from the author no doubt boasted of an eye color with a striking blue tint, for a shade of it remained. They'd faded over time however, and were now pale. Silver, like a gathering mist. And across from her, the aging writer appeared lost while in her company. Completely oblivious to the constant ting and scrape of silverware and plates, or the monotone drawl of restaurant chatter, he remained riveted on her every word. His eyes, outlined in crow's feet, seemed lost in the pale mist, as if searching, making sure with fluttering heart, that somewhere in there he'd find a picture of himself, and know for certain that he was held with the same high regard as he so obviously had placed her.
I never did meet the author who's work helped to inspire my first manuscript, a YA drama with local flair. I didn't feel it proper to intrude. Shortly after our food arrived, the couple quietly rose from their booth and left, hand in hand. He never so much as offered me a glance.
Thinking back, without so much as a word being shared, plenty was learned from that evening. A message. Silent advice from an acknowledged peer, without ever knowing he gave it.
Focus on what's important. As seen through the eyes of a writer. And again...there are no coincidences.