So as I mentioned yesterday, while I was at NADWcon this weekend, I got the chance to get a book signed by Terry Pratchett.
The thought of getting a book signed is an odd one to me. In these last several months, it’s possible that I’ve signed thousands of books. Many thousands. I’ve signed books to families, to kids, to grandparents. I’ve signed books in warehouses, libraries, bookstores, and colleges….
But honestly, I don’t know if I’ve ever approached someone to get their autograph. Not in a formal setting. And certainly not anyone of Terry Pratchett’s status. Not someone I’ve been reading since I stumbled onto a copy of Sourcery in Shopko in 1989….
By the time Monday rolled around, I’d been at the convention for three solid days. And truth be told, I was kinda hoping that I might run into Terry at some point in that time. Maybe we’d be in the elevator together. Maybe we’d meet in the hallway on the way to a panel. Maybe someone would introduce us and I’d get a chance to say a few words….
But it didn’t happen. I wasn’t surprised or disappointed. I know how these things work. It’s a big con, and Terry’s the star of the show. They have to work hard to protect the Guest of Honor at events like this or they’re mobbed by fans. If they aren’t careful, a guest like Terry will have a hard time finding a moment’s peace to eat. I’ve seen some titan-level writers who have trouble simply walking down a hallway at a con without a handful of people asking for an autograph or a picture.
So I didn’t stalk Pratchett. I didn’t arrange an introduction, or just happen to bump into him somewhere. Even when I found out that his room was right next to mine in the hotel, I didn’t do anything like leave a copy of The Princess and Mr. Whiffle outside his door. I didn’t want to be that guy.
The signings were carefully controlled, too. They have to be. Terry has written more than 50 books, and everyone there would like nothing more than to get a bunch signed. If they let everyone get as many books signed as they’d like, Terry would have spent the entire length of the four-day convention signing books.
I’m not being hyperbolic here. It’s the literal truth. He could easily have spent 70 hours signing books if the convention didn’t work hard to control the situation.
This is something I understand only now that I’ve been on my first signing tour.
Take me, for example. I’m a newbie author. I have two books out (compared to Pratchett’s 50+). I’ve been published for four years (compared Pratchett’s 40.)
To put this in different terms, I am currently hovering around 2300 Gaiman-Day units of cool, which isn’t bad.
But Pratchett probably ranks in at more than 60,000. I mean, when you write so well they actually knight you, you’re kind of a big deal.
Despite my relatively newbie nature, when I showed up in Houston back in March, I signed books for 9 hours straight. Given that I’m about 2% of a Pratchett, you can see how quickly one of his signings could spiral into madness if it wasn’t carefully controlled.
My point is, I knew Pratchett wasn’t going to be signing books all higgledy piggledy at the con. Even if he signed a single book for every person there, it would take him 12 hours. Because of that, I knew I probably wasn’t going to have a chance to get anything signed.
That said, I was pleasantly surprised when the guest liaison for the convention told me that if I wanted, he might be able to pull a few little strings for me. Maybe enough for me to get a book signed. Maybe.
I was honest, and said I’d be grateful for the chance. If I could get a book signed, I’d be able to use it for the charity I run every year.
He said that if the book was for charity, we could almost certainly make it happen.
So I bought a copy of Nation from Dreamhaven in the dealer’s room, and on Monday, I wandered to the hall where Terry was signing. He was mostly autographing stuff items that had been sold at the charity auction the day before. I’d had to miss the auction because I was doing some paneling. But it was probably for the best, as I’d already spent more money than I should on swag.
The guest liaison motioned me over and told me it was cool if I got something signed. It really didn’t have to be for the charity, either, he said. I could just get something for myself.
Suddenly I was really conflicted. I’d brought a copy of Where’s My Cow? to the convention, because whenever we travel with Oot, we need to bring about a dozen books to keep him happy. (He’s like his dad that way.)
I’ve been reading Where’s My Cow? to Oot since before he could talk. It’s a great book, and the ending makes me a little weepy, because I’ve turned into a total soppy git ever since I became a dad.
Oot knows what noises the animals make, even the Hippopotamus. He really likes the page with Coffin’ Henry on it, too, and asks to see it again and again.
He also enthusiastically says, “Buggrit!” Which is a little troubling to Sarah, but pleases me to no end.
So when the guest liaison says I can get any book signed, I realize I have Where is My Cow? in my backpack. I could get Pratchett to sign the book to Oot….
It’s a hard moment, but I decide to get Nation signed for Worldbuilders instead. Because personal isn’t the same as important. The signed book will be a nice draw for Worldbuilders if we throw it into the general mix of prizes. And if we auction it, I’m guessing it will bring in at least a couple hundred bucks. That’s enough for a couple of goats….
I consider trying to get both signed, of course. Because I’m only human. Terry is a nice guy, and accommodating, so I’m guessing if I pulled a second book out of my bag when I was at the table he’d go for it….
But I shake off the thought fairly quickly. I am not a special snowflake. I don’t deserve to get two books signed when everybody else gets one. If everyone tried to pull that shit, Terry would have an extra 2000 books to sign.
The guest liaison brings me up to the table and introduces me, explaining that I’m fellow author and that I’ve hit the New York Times with both my books. That’s nice of him. It lets me stand a little taller.
Terry looks up at me and says, “I’m guessing you’re fantasy, not science fiction.”
I grin and nod. “We do have a certain look, don’t we?”
I’m pleasantly surprised by the fact that I don’t feel terribly tongue-tied or shaky or awkward.
[Author's note: Sarah just brought Oot in after his shower. He grinned at me and, "Bugit! ... Hand and shrimp! Fow Ron!" (This will only make sense if you've read a lot of Discworld or Where's My Cow?)]
I hand over the copy of Nation and say, “This book was absolutely gorgeous. It might be the best book I’ve ever read.”
“I got a lot of letters from children,” Terry says. “They were upset because it didn’t have a happy ending.”
He opens the book and signs his name. His signature is way loopier than mine.
Terry keeps talking as he signs, “But I always reply, ‘It has a ending. It has the right ending.”
“It has the perfect ending,” I say. “It was beautiful. It absolutely broke my heart.”
And that was it. I moved away and made room for the rest of the folk who had things for him to sign.
Would I have liked to talk longer? Maybe chat about writing and the art of ending? Of course. Who wouldn’t?
But there’s only so much time. And honestly, I was happy to wrap things up before I accidentally made an ass of myself.
Besides, though Pratchett didn’t know it, he’s said about the best thing possible to me. I worry about the ending of my story sometimes. I worry that people won’t like it. Most of my readers are hoping for a particular type of ending. They e-mail me with their theories and their hopes. They want X to hook up with Y. They want Z to get his comeuppance. They want such and such story tied up in a certain way….
I know it comes from a place of love. But it makes me nervous.
After talking to Terry, I’m less nervous. I can’t give each of you your own personalize ending, containing everything you specifically wanted out of the story. That’s impossible.
But I can give you the right ending. A perfect ending.
That’s all for now. If you have a spare moment, send a good thought this way tomorrow.
I don’t want to give any specifics, but tomorrow is going to be a little rough for us. If everything goes well it won’t be a big deal. But still, if you have a spare thought, Oot and Sarah and I could use it, just for luck.