By Kris Radish
The lone woman looked terrified. She sat with her shoulders hunched and her face down as if she were trying to turn her body into a tent where she could hide.
I remember standing off to one side and looking at her—really looking at her. She was clearly uncomfortable being in the bookstore, and her ill-fitting clothes, dirty shoes and trembling hands made me want to drop down and wrap my arms around her.
Before I could move, the bookstore manager came over and put her hand on my arm. “Kris, it looks like we picked a bad night for your presentation. I’m sorry. An audience of one isn’t the greatest. What do you want to do?”
I wanted standing room only, every book with my name on the cover sold, and free beer for the rest of the night. But instead I had the trembling woman who couldn’t raise her head to look at me. I had a cold night, dashed expectations and a slight pounding behind my eyes. But I was staying.
“Someone is here, and I’m going to do the entire talk and sit right down with her,” I said. “I’ll be fine. This woman came to see me, and I’m going to honor that.”
My novels are real stories about real women and the real problems and joys they face every day. Some of these women wear ill-fitting clothes and some of them wear high heels. Some of them look me in the eye and some cannot raise their heads. One woman was all I really needed.
I sat down in front of her, pulled my chair close, and talked about my novel and my life. And then I asked about her life, and as she talked I could barely breathe.
“A year ago I was homeless and living behind the bookstore,” she told me. “I was a drug user and I watched people coming into the bookstore and authors, just like you, and one day I told myself that I would get straight and come back and sit here like this.”
I took her hands and held them as she cried and told me how this moment, me taking time to sit with her, was the most remarkable thing that had ever happened to her. I cried too as she told me about her new life plans.
Here was a woman right out of one of my novels. A soul seeking redemption, a second chance, fulfillment, joy and a chance to follow a dream.
I think of this woman when I create new characters and imagine them walking out of a dark spot and back into the light. I think about how important it is to be kind and open and to never miss a chance myself. I have had other audiences of one, and I never walk away. There is no room in my writing world for an ego. I remain humbled with each book sale, every time someone shows up to hear me speak. My readers tell me my books are a gift to them, but it’s the other way around. My readers are a gift to me. They’re my daily inspiration.
When the woman in the bookstore was ready to leave I hugged her for a very long time and then watched as she turned and walked down the sidewalk and away from the alley.
I love happy endings. They are everywhere. One at a time.
Kris Radish is a former journalist and the bestselling author of 13 books (most recently, The Year of Necessary Lies). This memoir originally appeared in the August 2012 Writer’s Digest.