Ever thought about being a great author? I mean the kind who creates a line at book signings that goes into the parking lot and leaves you with a sore hand from scribbling personal one-liners on cover pages? Maybe you want to be the kind who shows up on late-night talk shows and suggests to the host who should play the main characters in the movie that is already in production? You could show up on college campuses wearing that tweed jacket with the leather elbow pads and light up a pipe defiantly in the school auditorium before reading a few passages, influencing a new generation before collecting a sizable honorarium and hitting the road. So come with me earlier this week to the Inkwood Bookstore at Armenia Avenue and Platt Street to meet a couple of authors on tour who are there to talk about their books and to speak a little about writing in general.
A friend of mine in New Hampshire had emailed me to say there was a writer on tour in Florida by the name of Jenny Milchman I needed to hear. It turned out she was going to be at Inkwood that very evening. I wanted to go by anyhow. Inkwood is one of the last bastions of independent bookstores around here, and it was recently purchased by Stefani Beddingfield, who has said she wants to make the house a gathering place for readings and events. She has a history of making things happen. I remember a few years ago when she discovered there were no real playgrounds for children with special needs. She took on the project, raised money, bumped heads with bureaucrats, and today that playground is up and running in MacFarlane Park. I pulled into the bookstore and inside there were a dozen or so chairs in one room set up for the presentation. Milchman and G. Thomas Gill, another author, were meandering around the store waiting to make their presentations. Twenty minutes after the scheduled starting time, the lone attendee was me. Gill had driven down from his home in Spring Hill. His book, “Dog Island,” is an adventure mystery set on that real island up in the Panhandle. I suppose it’s more exotic than Spring Hill, where the last time I showed up was to judge the chicken-plucking contest. Milchman was there with her husband and two children. They are on a yearlong book tour that began in February and will conclude thousands of miles down the road in September. If you have some time tonight, they are signing books in Pawleys Island, S.C. “No, we won’t go home (to New Jersey) until September,” she said. Her husband is an IT guy who can do his job on the road while she “car schools” the 9- and 10-year-olds. Despite nobody showing up on this night, she says the crowds have been good coming down the East Coast and that independent bookstores appear to be thriving. Her first novel, “Cover of Snow,” has been doing well. “Actually,” she says, “this is my seventh novel, but after 13 years this is the first to be published.” It’s not easy, and it remains a lonely profession. Milchman and Gill are a little more typical of authors, although they are both now published, have agents and are what you would have to call “successful.” Both novels have strong reviews. But it was a long trip down from Spring Hill and then back for Gill with little to show for it. And I walked out into the parking lot and watched the Milchman family heading out for a late dinner before hitting the road for five more months of one-night bookstore stands — a long way from home.