Have you ever spent an afternoon with the authors?
I realize this might conjure up images of Mark Twain, Agatha Christie, Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King getting together to play a game of poker, but such a concept exists.
Since 2015, the Shawano City-County Library has hosted its Afternoon With the Authors, giving the community a chance to meet the writers that walk among them—and occasionally wander the streets at night, rattling chains and begging for plot bunnies to stop chasing them.
The latest Afternoon came to a close today with 12 writers setting up tables and talking about their books. This Afternoon was a little different, though, as authors had the opportunity to read from their books and talk about what inspires their writing.
I can’t begin to describe the energy that fills the library when you put that many creative minds in a confined space. It’s always amazing to find out who is writing what. Obviously, I know what I’m working on, but it’s impressive to see the variety of different topics and stories that are bound and available for people to read.
Take Misty Cook. She wrote a book about 58 Native American herbal medicines passed down by her family through oral tradition. When she presented her book, Medicine Generations, she spoke of her grandmother, who lived to be 106. Herbal medicines haven’t necessarily been on my radar, but it was good to know that such a book exists.
Then I got an education about IBM. No, not the computer company. The IBM in question is actually an acronym for inclusion body myositis, an inflammatory muscle disease that causes slowly progressive weakness and wasting of both distal and proximal muscles, most apparent in the muscles of the arms and legs. It was sobering to hear what author Gary Beyer was going through, yet inspiring to see him moving forward with two books about his experience with the disease.
I had to laugh a little when Gene Lasch was at the podium. He wrote a book called High Adventures: True Life High Adventure Encounters. What caused me to laugh was when he broke out a straw hat, Hawaiian lei and conch shell to perform a little tune for the audience.
The event also gave me a chance to meet in person an author who I’ve been enjoying for quite a while. Mary Grace Murphy, an author living in Oconto, has written three books that make murder seem so delicious, and I got the chance to finally get her latest book. Now, the challenge is to find time in my crazy schedule to read it.
For about six years, I’ve been part of the Shawano Area Writers, and we’ve managed to keep a very strong presence at the Afternoon With the Authors. This year, we were half of the authors at the event.
I was particularly elated that Barb King was there, reading from Tug Lake Tales. I had the honor of helping her to self-publish the book a year ago, but I was glad to see her out promoting it. Anyone who hasn’t read it is missing out.
We had our oldest—and last surviving—member, Marcie Leitzke, who was still excited about writing at the age of 90. Marcie has published several books of poetry and written a column for Engineers and Engines magazine. We can only hope to still be writing at that age.
We also had our youngest member, Elijah Williams, who will be turning 21 this month, do a reading. He has not published a book yet, but he is working on one about a boy with amazing mystical gifts who is a prisoner at an all-girls academy. Elijah has taken to calling me his “mentor,” which I guess is better than being accused of being a bad influence. I’ve been impressed with his courage at moving forward on a book at such a young age.
Young and old. Fiction and non-fiction. Poetry for the soul and humor for the funny bone. It’s definitely a rush to be surrounded by people who share the same imaginative streak you do and understand how inspiration will hit you at the strangest times.
Of course, I also read. I chose a passage from Murder at the Teddy Bears Picnic. For those of you who missed the event (which is pretty much all of you), here’s what I read:
“Zachary and Alexander watched from behind the sales counter as the seven-foot teddy bear affectionately known as Patches Sinclair dazzled more than sixty children and their parents with tales about why it was important to share. Zachary couldn’t believe how quiet it was in the shop right now. There were no kids gazing elsewhere or running through the aisles of The Literary Barn. If Patches hadn’t been telling stories, one could have heard a pin drop.
Zachary had been trying to catch up on the bookkeeping, but every time he tried to balance the receipts, his attention drifted back to Patches, whose tender voice was encouraging children not to take everything in life, but instead take a little at a time, and once you’re done to share it with others. Zachary felt like a painter trying to concentrate on a bowl of fruit when there was a nude model standing on a pedestal.
“I can’t believe how attentive everyone is,” Alexander whispered as he was dusting off the counter. “If Patches knew hypnotism, he could plant a suggestion that everyone buy books. Our sales would go through the roof.”
“That’s an interesting thought,” Zachary said dryly. “Maybe we should spike the punch while we’re at it, since drunk people are more susceptible to suggestion, too.”
“I can’t believe we convinced Thad to bring Patches here for a minor fee. He usually only brings out his bear persona for the Teddy Bears Picnic unless he’s getting paid big bucks.”
“You deserve the credit for that, Alexander. It was your idea, and you’re the one who convinced Thad to do it. So how much do we owe him for the appearance?”
“Twenty bucks. He suggested we take the usual performance fee and spend the rest of it on teddy bears for Saturday.”
“I wonder how many teddy bears have been collected so far.”
“Rumor has it we’re at two thousand already. Since last year’s count was around twenty-eight hundred, we might be on track to break our local record, if not the world record.”
“Alexander, you are aware that there’s not an official record for the most teddy bears in one location. Honestly, I think we just need to have more teddy bears than any Toys R Us store.”
Alexander rubbed his chin. “Hmm. Maybe we should call the tourism bureau and ask them to pony up some cash for signage that says ‘Gresham: Teddy Bear Capital of the World.’”
Zachary quietly chuckled at Alexander’s suggestion. It would definitely attract visitors to the area. Gresham wasn’t exactly on a standard beaten path. The nearest state highway was five miles outside of town, and the two area casinos had faster routes around Gresham rather than through it. It took special events like the Teddy Bears Picnic to attract large groups of people to the tiny village with six hundred residents.
“So, Alexander, have you bought any teddy bears for the weekend?”
“You could say that. There’s three dozen at home and I brought in six or seven that I was going to display on the shelves with little reminder cards that the picnic is Saturday.”
“You’re just full of incredible ideas, my friend. I might have to give you a raise.”
“Please! I’m well off, remember? Save the money for the renovation. I’m really excited about you expanding this place. You’re an amazing person who bucks trends.”
“I try.” Zachary looked around. “Hey, have you seen Jody? I thought she was supposed to be working today.”
Alexander cleared his throat and pointed to the children’s book shelves, where the redhead in question was standing, fascinated by Patches’ stories and songs. Jody was a sophomore in college, taking courses from the technical school over in Shawano. Working part time at The Literary Barn was helping to defray some of her college costs while also aiding in her indulgence for reading.
“You know,” Zachary said, “I haven’t seen people around here so happy for a while. I mean, it’s not like people were miserable or anything, but it seems like folks have more of a song in their heart. Do you know what I mean?”
“Mmmmm. Perhaps we should take out the concrete sidewalk in front of the shop and replace it with yellow brick.”
Zachary raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps I should express order a house to drop on you.”
The sarcasm fest was interrupted by Patches asking the children to rise to their feet. “Hey, kids. How many of you know the song for the Teddy Bears Picnic?”
The peaceful quiet in the bookstore quickly vanished as the children cheered. Patches made a motion for the children to join him in a parade around the store as they sang and pranced. The front door opened as a pair of women stepped in. Once they saw the giant teddy bear and all the singing children, they quickly turned tail and left.
Zachary chuckled. “Those people act like no other bookstores have a seven-foot teddy leading children around like the Pied Piper.”
“Hopefully once the expansion is done, we can have children’s programs in one area without it infringing on other customers just wanting to get a book.”
Zachary nodded. “I know. When I opened this place a few years ago, I never imagined I would be expanding someday.”
He pulled out his camera from behind the counter to take pictures as Patches and the kids danced up and down the aisles. He almost felt like a kid himself as laughter rang through the bookstore. However, he knew that what was currently happening would pale in comparison to the coming weekend, when hundreds of children would come to Gresham, hugging teddy bears big and small and celebrating the end of summer vacation.
So how did you spend your afternoon?