Friday, May 25, 2007

The Writing Life

Thursday afternoon in the local B&N (Pru Center, Boston, the biggest mall in New England), I had a chance to chat with William Martin, author of several well-received historical novels and historical thrillers. One of his books was on the New York Times bestseller list for several weeks a few years ago, and one was made into a movie.

Accompanied on his left by a delightful chubby young woman I never got to know and on his right by his son, a six-foot bruiser who smiled a lot, Martin stood just inside the door of this huge store behind a little stand, surrounded by copies of his latest, The Lost Constitution. He'd been there something over an hour, and was signing books to leave behind. Nobody was bothering him, so I struck up a conversation.

With my usual plethora of wit, I said something like, "You wrote Annapolis, didn't you?"

He said yes, and then told me a story about getting to go there in a submarine when he was doing research for the book. Then I told him I'd read Back Bay, his first book, some time ago, and he seemed pleased. (I used seemed there because for all I know he couldn't have cared less and was bored stupid by the whole event.) I then said I would read his new one when the paperback came out, and he and his entourage laughed.

I asked who his favorite historical novelist is, not counting himself, of course, and he chose E. L. Doctorow. Then I asked what he thought about the demise of newspaper book sections, and the general decline in the number of reviews written. He was sorry about that -- he needs all the publicity he can get. I wished him luck, and then wandered off. Ten minutes later, and still no one was coming up to buy an autographed copy, so I went back, introduced myself, and bought one, which he kindly signed with a personal comment. Nice fellow. Probably a pretty good novel.

I didn't ask him how he felt about book signings where nobody wants a book signed, because I'm a nice guy. A year or so ago Janet Evanovich had a crowd around her table the whole time, and a few weeks ago somebody named Rachael Ray, of whom I had never heard (still haven't), jammed the corridors of the mall for a hundred feet around. My feeling was that being a mid-list author, even one who has won literary awards, must have its downside. I hope he does better at Wal-Mart.

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