I flew down on Friday wearing a sport coat, slacks, and my sandals. I was already sweating when I got on the plane, and I didn’t want my feet stuffed into uncomfortable dress shoes any longer than they had to be. I stuffed myself in a middle seat on the Southwest flight–I had neglected to check-in early for the flight and was one of the last people to board.
Five hours later we landed in the Land of Enchantment. I stepped off the jetway into the airport and breathed in the warm, dry air of the southwest and felt comforted at being back in the land of my birth. New Mexico is a place so close to my heart, and sometimes I don’t realize how close until I come back after an absence. Outside scattered clouds littered the big blue sky. The Sandia Peaks rose like monoliths to the east, while the high desert plateau sloped gently towards the western horizon. The entire city is like a gully, east and west Albuquerque sloping towards the mighty Rio Grande that flows through here.
The high volume of rain that had fallen in recent months was visible in the west as the valley had a lush green tint to it that seemed to bring the land closer. The air, too, seemed both hotter and wetter than normal. I stepped outside and did not feel my skin immediately sucked dry by the desert air.
I had about an hour to waste before my first event of the weekend, a talk at a local bookstore that my publisher and I had set up only a few weeks before. I drove to the north end of town to say hello to my aunt and uncle who were graciously giving me a room for two nights. Then it was off to the bookstore.
I got a little lost with directions as the street I wanted to be on couldn’t be accessed from the street I had taken to get there. When I arrived about ten minutes late I was too out of breath to be nervous. I had also neglected to change out of my sandals.
Because of the late arrangement of the talk, the bookstore was unable to do their usual round of promotion. It was only last week that I appeared on the bookstore’s website at all, and the clerks working in the store did not have my name on their daily calendar. I had done my own round of publicity, mostly through social media.
Had this been my first event I would have been upset and fretted over lost opportunities. However, this being only the most recent of a dozen or so such events I felt rather non-plussed by the whole affair. They moved some tables and set up a few chairs, gave me a glass of water, and mentioned that one person had already bought the book.
That person was still in the store, eyeing some other books, and so I introduced myself and asked how she found out about the event. She was a friend of my publisher, it turned out, and though she hadn’t read the book yet she was interested in the subject and in historical fiction in general. We sat down and I began to tell her about the book, about myself, and about the Mesabi range.
My aunt and uncle arrived then, and since they had both read the book they had a lot more questions about the story, about the history behind it. The discussion wandered from the Mesabi, to what happened to the Merritt family, to Leonidas himself, to my work on the second and third books in the trilogy. In the middle of it, another of my uncles arrived. He only stayed for a few minutes, but he had some questions of his own and he fueled the discussion even further.
While I talked and my audience asked questions, the bookstore had a lot of traffic, more than some of the bookstores that I visited in Minnesota. While none of these patrons sat down and joined the talk, I noticed many of them vacantly browsing the books nearby, their ears propped open and listening.
Eventually the talk had to end, and I thanked by audience for coming out and for helping make the discussion so lively. “I hope you got something out of this,” I told them. I know I got something out of it: renewed confidence in my work and in myself. And a renewed call to action to get the second book complete.