Better Than Brad Pitt? (Why You Should Go to Book Events)

Today’s guest post is from becoming-a-regular-and-fabulous-contributor Darrelyn Saloom. Above she is shown with Tim Gautreaux, the recipient of the 2009
Louisiana Writer Award and author of three novels and two story collections.
The picture was taken at Garden District Book Shop in New Orleans.
Follow Darrelyn on Twitter.

A book event! Authors read from their latest masterpiece, sign copies, and, if you’re lucky, share stories of their writing journey. Maybe an author will reveal how he/she found the plot (in a newspaper), the characters (popped into their head), or even the theme (a song on the radio).

It’s easy to project grandiosity on an admired author. Born to brilliance, for them it comes easy. Such a perfect sentence, and look at that verb. Oh the ease!—the ease from which he/she writes—larger than life, and so much smarter than me.

That’s what I tend to think of writers I admire. And that’s what I thought of Tim Gautreaux. My friends knew this about me. I drove around with his books in my car. Recommended his short story collections and novels to strangers in airports and on the streets (yeah, that was me). So I was thrilled when Garden District Book Shop in New Orleans sent me an e-mail to announce his scheduled book signing.

The day of the event, I checked into Hotel Monteleone and found my way to Prytania Street. The bookstore had a small coffee shop to the side of the building, and I spotted Gautreaux and his lovely wife, Winborne, sipping coffee in a window seat. And, yes, I was nervous. This was better than a French Quarter Brad Pitt sighting for me.

The Louisiana native did not disappoint. With Cajun accent he read from his latest novel The Missing. And then he talked about his writing process. The audience sipped wine, nibbled cheese, and asked questions. And his answers were generous. 

Generous because his stories were often rejected by editors—yes—rejected!  And he told us that red marks mapped the pages of his returned manuscripts! But here was the key (and what I believe separates a talented writer from becoming a published author—or not).

When Tim Gautreaux’s stories and manuscripts landed back in his mailbox, he read suggestions and criticisms with an open mind. He explained how he’d carefully tear apart a rejected story, rewrite and revise it, put it back together, and send it out again. And again. And again, if necessary. Until he got it right.

If you’ve read Gautreaux’s novels and stories, you know he’s a man obsessed with machines. His characters are camera repairmen, piano tuners, welders, train engineers, and a priest. Okay, so maybe a priest has nothing to do with machinery, but there’s an old Toronado in the story with a “huge eight-cylinder engine and no muffler.”

Tinkering is Tim Gautreaux’s lifelong hobby. He told us about the barn in his backyard in Hammond, Louisiana; and about his collection of antique steamboat whistles, lanterns, and gauges, an amusement that seeped into his novel, The Missing.

“Find what you love,” he said, “and write about it.” What Tim Gautreaux loves has served him well.  Tinkering with machinery seems to have taught him the patience to be a writer. To construct something, to take it apart (piece by piece), and then to build it again is not easy. It’s hard work.  And it’s akin to writing a poem, a story, a novel.  It took him nearly five years to write The Missing

There are other reasons to attend a book signing: to support a fellow writer, a favored bookstore, (did I mention they often serve wine and cheese?). But to connect to an admired author, and to share his/her struggles are valuable lessons for an aspiring author. And there really is no excuse not to go. Because—they are free.

(The day I completed this blog post, the June issue of The New Yorker arrived in my mailbox—bearing a stapled gift—a new story by Tim Gautreaux! “Idols” is about Julian Smith. And he is a typewriter repairman. So add typewriter repairman to my earlier list. Follow this link to read Julian’s comical and stubborn journey to defeat.)

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0 thoughts on “Better Than Brad Pitt? (Why You Should Go to Book Events)

  1. Carolyn Patin-Jones

    This is my 3rd time trying to post. I hope this time it gets posted.

    Darrelyn did not disappoint. I enjoyed reading this story as much as the others.

    Darrelyn has awaken my soul to fiction reading again. For the last few years, I have kept my reading to camera and software manuals. Where is the fun in that? 🙂 I look forward to reading stories by authors that Darrelyn has recommended.

    I look forward to other guest post by Darrelyn.

  2. Ricky Cross

    Exactly! These book events don’t cost a penny, but they really are priceless. In fact, I met my fiancee at one of these. Great article; I happen to be a big fan of Tim.

  3. Jenny Kane

    I was so excited to see another post from Darrelyn Saloom! And she too did not disappoint. Your thoughtful words inspire me each time to strengthen my connection to all aspects of writing.

    I hope someday to attend your book event & have the chance to hear your stories, while sipping a glass of good wine.

    Thanks Darrelyn!

  4. Rob Hendrix

    I agree with all of the comments that we need to support authors we read, but would like to add that I enjoyed the comparison of building something or "tinkering" to writing. As a male, who does my share of tinkering and writing, it was something I could relate to and really enjoyed.

  5. Charlene Ann Baumbich

    What a great detailed description of the give-and-take during a book signing event. Authors spend years writing; agents spend time selling; editors spend time growing books; publishers spend time producing books; store owners spend money advertising … and when nobody shows up to celebrate the final outcome with us (It’s HERE! SIGNING TONIGHT!), it can be so disheartening. Yes, it is wonderful for the author and book store owner to have time to share their passion for books, and to unfold pieces of their lives–maybe even whip out a few pictures of the grandkids. But what joy for all of us when readers show up!

    I recently had the opportunity to attend a signing for one of my favorite nonfiction authors, Michael Perry. I was actually giddy before this first-time meeting. As you stated above, "he did not disappoint." He was kind, funny and filled with behind-the-stories stories. I wallowed in the afterglow for days, and devoured his book with gratitude for his talent.

    Readers who express their support at signings and in emails and letters to the author–some which I’ve read countless times, especially on more difficult writing days, or after a reviewer takes an occasional clawed swipe–help us keep on keepin’ on. So again, thank you for nudging the readers. Together, we share a wonderful exchange and purpose.

    Charlene Ann Baumbich
    Author, Dearest Dorothy series, Don’t Miss Your Life!, and the upcoming Stray Affections, the first book in the Snowglobe Connections series.

  6. Barrett Melchiott

    Great article. I am really enjoying these articles from Darrelyn on Fridays. I agree it is important to attend such events. First, people do not seem to realize how much it means to the author. Second, it can be very inspiring. I, too, assign almost super-human trais to my favorite authors. Meeting them and hearing their stories shows me that they are only human. God knows I am!

  7. Mary

    I agree! We should take the time to support authors who bring us so much pleasure and joy. It takes a long time to write a book and such a short time to read one. Surely we can give back a bit more of our time to an author.

    Thanks for the link to his novel and his story.