Monday, January 25, 2016

Book Signings and Tales of Heroes

For an independent bookstore to remain in business for any length of time, it has to be iconic or close to projecting that sense.  For it to survive on Sunset Boulevard in the corridor between Beverly Hills and Hollywood, the bookstore needs to be evenmore than iconic; it needs to be wildly profitable because the rent is so high.

Such a bookstore is Booksoup, featuring an eclectic stock of contemporary fiction and a wide choice of specialty books in the various nonfiction genera.  Bookshop is one of the better-known independent bookstores in Los Angeles.  The moment you step inside, you are aware of books in every available aisle and corner, seeming to cry out to you not so much with the pathos of dogs in an animal shelter, regarding any visitor as a potential adopting person as with the enthusiasm of fourth- and fifth-graders, eager to answer questions posed by the teacher.

You could spend serious money and time in such a bookstore.  You in fact have.  You are here tonight to interview a first novelist who, you remind some of the audience, they probably know through the motion pictures and television series he has written, sometimes directed, other times was the executive producer or show runner. You are scheduled to begin at seven o'clock.

But it is already three minutes after seven and there is not one single customer in the store, reminding you of a story told you by a writer friend who was sent out on a road trip to publicize his latest novel.  He'd arrived at the designated bookstore in Phoenix, only to find one individual seated near the speaker's dias.  Your friend was used to such events, but the thing that made the event memorable was his feeling of embarrassment for the one person who'd arrived to hear him speak.

After some conversation, your writer friend felt an even greater sense of embarrassment when he discovered that the one person had come thinking he was someone entirely other. After considering his options, he even went so far as to buy a copy of the book he was promoting as a gift for his one-person audience who was not a real audience.

By seven fifteen, as if by some form of magic, there was a respectable number of customers sitting in the seats provided by the bookstore.  You and the author faced them, each of you sitting in a sturdy director's chair.  After the manager introduced you and the author, there was no possible confusion; no one had come thinking of you were other than who the program represented you to be.

You began with what you considered a provocative and interesting question:  Why give your lead character the same name as a poet of some repute who was a contemporary in London of Shakespeare.

The author you were interviewing took the bait, throwing forth a line that you still remember, having to do with heroes and anti-heroes.  His purpose in writing this novel had to do with wishing to evoke the times when "people gathered around a campfire and listened to tales of heroes."

"So you consider your Michael Drayton a hero?"


And you were off on a run of narrative laced with nostalgia, with lead characters doing things not because they were disillusioned or cynical but because they saw the need and opportunity to do something that would in some way balance the skewed scales of justice..

By now, there were more individuals, standing in the aisles, listening to your "interview" with the result of the manager having to find and deploy more chairs.  No one was going to object to the writer's wish for heroics and for an ending where there was some sense of the protagonist having accomplished his avowed mission.

A conventional wisdom articulated by Aristotle in his treatise on dramatic writing, Poetics, suggests that front-rank characters have some sort of flaw which proves either their undoing or their change to an individual who has overcome both an external obstacle, usually found in the plot, and an internal obstacle, related to the flaw.

Here, in the midst of a city that attracts persons from all over the world to try their hand at the very activities the author has built a career on, the creator and the dreamers settle on heroism rather than some of the inherent cynicism and pragmatism associated with the film industry and the world of publishing.

"How were you able to get such a book published?" one of the audience asked.

"It wasn't easy,"  the author said, "but I was patient."

For a long moment, in the midst of what you consider a well thought selection of book titles for sale, in one of the most gaudy parts of the Sunset Strip, iconic for non-heroic things, there was a sense of being seated about a comforting fire on a chill evening, listening for tales of heroes.

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