One Writer’s Strange Encounter with a Reader

By SUE COLETTA

Joe’s Saturday post inspired me to share a strange encounter I had with a reader last week. I loaded up the SUV for my annual trip north to appear at a 5-star library in New Hampshire (rated by Library Journal). I’ve all but given up on libraries for book signings, but this library has the coolest librarian/director I’ve ever met. She’s a walking contradiction! Inside the library, she’s quiet, polite, and super helpful. When she locks the library doors, however, she really lets her hair down, hops into her supped-up Mustang convertible and races down the streets—a quick streak of blue and white whizzing by. I adore this woman! Every signing, successful or not, ends with a hug. Which keeps me coming back year after year.

Sometimes my timing is perfect. Other times, not so much.

Last week, the local priest decided to hold his retirement party across the street from the library on the same night as my book event. Needless to say, it wasn’t my most successful signing ever. Didn’t matter. Whether we’re speaking to a packed room or only three or four readers trickle in, we still need to put on the same show. Sometimes a more intimate setting is really nice, as it gives us the opportunity to chitchat with the folks who read our books.

Unless you get an angry-looking woman in the front row who does nothing but glare at you.

All she wanted was for me to keep reading excerpts, one after another. It was strangest thing. Every time I stopped she’d point to another book and ask me to read the opening chapter. No one else objected, so I gave her what she wanted. After I read about four, I was beginning to feel like a puppet on a string. So, I asked her why she’d rather hear me read than chat with me.

Her response? “I don’t even think about the writer when I read. I don’t care about the research. I don’t care about the story behind the story. All I want is the next book.”

“Wow,” was all I managed before the librarian jolted to her feet.

“I care,” she said, “I care very deeply for writers.”

The others in the room agreed.

Still, I couldn’t help thinking, how sad. Here this woman sat surrounded by books lining every wall, every partition. Decades, if not centuries, of writers who’d worked endless hours, alone, pecking the keyboard or typewriter or writing longhand by candlelight, their joys, their sorrows, their laughter and pain spilled across the pages, and this poor woman was incapable of seeing any of it. Didn’t care to, either, apparently. But even if she continued to disrespect writers, I wasn’t about to stoop to her level and spout an equally snarky comeback. I’m a big believer in karma. So, I gave her a free signed paperback and thanked her for coming to the event.

If you haven’t done book signings yet, let me put your mind at ease. For every one clueless reader, there are thousands of others who cherish every word. Readers who sit our books on a shelf of honor because they loved it so much. Our characters become their best friends, sometimes their only friends. When these devoted readers finally get the chance to meet the writer who brought their beloved characters to life, they shower us with love. Some might even mistake the writer for one of their characters. You know what? That’s okay, too… unless she’s a Delores Claiborne type. 😉 It means our words, our stories, touched their lives in some way.

Isn’t that why we write?

Please excuse me while I share my love for those who read my books. I’ve been blessed with an amazing, generous, thoughtful, kind, funny, loving, and downright nutty audience. It’s no secret that I adore crows, right? I’m so enamored with these birds that I’ve set out to change the public perception that crows are pests. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Spotting one in the yard does NOT equate to a bad omen. These amazing creatures—the smartest of the bird world, by the way, along with their cousin, the raven—do NOT bring death and destruction. They’ve been saddled with an unjustified bad reputation for no apparent reason. It’s time to stop judging birds by the color of their plumage.

Ahem. Excuse me. I get a little carried away when it comes to breed profiling. 🙂

Anyway, since I share my love for Poe (my crow who lives free, yet comes when called) along with Edgar, Allan, Thoreau, Shakespeare, and the rest of my black beauties (some of which I’ve turned into characters for my Mayhem Series) readers are now decorating my office with crows. Here are a few I received this summer…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over to you, TKZ family. Have you ever heard a similar remark as the woman in the library? If so, how’d you handle it? Tell us about your strangest — or best! — encounter with a reader?

*I’m on the road today, researching, so I may be late responding to comments.

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About Sue Coletta

Member of MWA, Sisters in Crime, and ITW, Sue Coletta is an award-winning, bestselling crime writer of psychological thrillers. She also writes true crime: PRETTY EVIL NEW ENGLAND is anticipated to hit stores in Fall 2020, published by Globe Pequot (Rowman & Littlefield). In 2017, 2018, and 2019, Feedspot awarded her Murder Blog as one of the Top 100 Crime Blogs on the Net (Murder Blog sits at #5). Learn more about Sue and her books at https://suecoletta.com

23 thoughts on “One Writer’s Strange Encounter with a Reader

  1. Hmm. I’m thinking maybe I missed the point. Reader admiration is a good thing, but to me, a reader who cares only about the next book (especially My next book) is the perfect reader. I want my readers to be so immersed in the story they don’t even realize there is a writer.

    • I do, too, Harvey. But if she doesn’t care about hearing from the writer, then why bother coming to the book event? It seemed so odd to me. I sensed something else was going on with her … sadness? loneliness? *shrug*

  2. That is odd. My book signing groups have always been interested in the process of writing & the writer life. They’re curious & inquisitive. Questions are fun. I especially love people who want to be writers. Young readers are unpredictable & usually surprise me.

    Readings are fun to do. They appeal to my high school drama side. For readings, I ask people to close their eyes & picture the story in their minds as I’m reading it. That way, I don’t have a room full of eyes staring at me as I get into my theatrical persona. People usually love that experience.

    Hope you have a productive research trip. Anything fun to share?

    • Great idea about having them close their eyes! Never thought of that.

      I’ve been searching for a confession that I know exists for two full weeks now. Every time I get a new lead, I jump in the car and race there, whether it’s an hour or three hours away. It’s the final piece to my puzzle, and it’s driving me crazy! Most places have parts of it, not the whole thing. So, it’s a little like playing Clue. 😊

  3. Having dealt with the public in every profession I’ve had, I am not surprised at the woman’s comment, but like you, I think it’s sad. You were very gracious in the face of her rudeness. That is never a wrong reaction. I am sure that inspired others to be as generous in other circumstances. Bless your kind heart.

    How cool to be sitting in such an awesome place. I’ve never heard of a five-star library. That must be an amazing place!

    Be safe on your road trip!

    • Thanks, Cecilia! I only became aware of star ratings by Library Journal a few years ago when I saw the banner on the library. They’re also rated #1 in the state, which I’m sure is due in part to the director. She’s such a love.

  4. Oh, as for comments from readers, my most amazing was a FB message from a new fan. I write Christian Suspense Paranormal. The woman told me she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer and was worried how to tell her ten-year old twin boys. She said I gave her the answer on page 230 of my book. She included a snapshot of the paragraph and thanked me. Made all of the months of rewriting what I thought was not my best work worth the effort.

  5. Wow, that is a strange reaction from someone who’s taken the time to show up at a book signing event to have.

    But I have to wonder what’s happening in that woman’s life. For so many readers, books serve as escapes from their reality. Perhaps she has evaded life so completely she cannot, or is afraid to, connect to anything except the words on the page. That must be a sad, lonely, and painful life. I’m so glad you gave her a book and thanked her for coming, Sue, despite her attitude. Maybe she’ll be able to hold onto your interaction as a reason to reconnect with life.

    And congratulations on finding an inspiring library director. We had one here for a couple of years, but he moved on to a larger library/city where the staff was more open to trying new things. I sure do miss his creative outlook on what a library is and does.

    • I wondered the same thing, Suzanne. We just never know which small gesture might change someone’s bleak outlook on life. I always try to treat rudeness and/or anger with kindness and love. If nothing else, at least I can lay my head down at night with no regrets.

      Oh, bummer. He sounds like a great director. Creativity seems to go hand-in-hand with librarians, some more than others. Love that.

  6. If they only care about the book, I’m okay with that. My books are much more interesting than I am, but I am snarkier.

    Crows have vital roles in mythologies across the world. Most often, they are associated with trickster gods and the underworld/death. So, smart and found in battlefields of the past helping themselves to human carrion flesh.

    The crows around my house tend to be loud and love to pull off the screen covers on my gutters to help themselves to the small seeds collected there. I’ve given up replacing the screens so clogged gutters. The other birds despise them because they kill nesting babies and other small birds. They, in turn, despise the hawks for the same reason. So, I live in a very loud bird war zone and not a fan.

    • Hahaha. I hear ya, Marilynn. I’m sure I’m far less interesting than my books. 🙂

      If you feed the crows, they will be less destructive. They’re just trying to survive like the rest of us. Hawks and crows have an inbred, intense hatred for one another. The aerial fights are brutal to watch, but hawks kill my chippies; I’m all for keeping them away. So far, the score is Poe (and family) 4, Hawks 0.

  7. The reader may be having vision problems and needed the audible experience…You were grace under pressure. Thanks for sharing. You never know what you’re going to get when you show up for one of these signings.

  8. I am with Harvey on this. I’d be quite flattered if someone would rather listen to me read my books than talk about my writing process or career.

  9. It’s funny how some people love readings and some people hate them. My toughest crowds are usually academic ones–especially if I’m on the schedule with poets or writers who write quiet prose. It drives me crazy if a writer just reads and goes away. Seriously–why bother to see them in person? It’s nice to have at least some Q and A time.
    I tend to forget unpleasant or weird encounters. But one that sticks in my mind was in a bookstore in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I was hanging around the back of the room, waiting to go on, and some man said he wouldn’t want to waste his time listening to someone who writes fiction. Just plain rude. Whatever! I was so happy when he went away, and I could spend an hour with the lovely people who wanted to hear from me.

    • Totally agree, Laura. Why did she bother to come if she didn’t want to talk with me?

      Wow. How rude! I had a similar experience with a poet a few years back. He dressed the part (elbow pads, pipe, and all!) and thought genre writers were the lowest of the low. As it turned out, by the end of the day he still had a huge stack of poetry books in front of him and us lowly genre writers had only a few paperbacks. Karma, baby. Mess with her at your own peril. 🙂

  10. It’s possible books are her only friend and escape from her past. So she lives for the next feeding of words. I’m sure there is a story and sounds like a character for a book. You handled the situation with poise.

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