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Magic For Beginners

May 11th, 2008 4 comments

It was Sunday at the L.A. Book Festival.  I’d just met Joe Hill for the first time (a quick greeting and a few words while on a signing line) and had hurried off to get Raymond E. Feist’s signature on some of his early work, thus to increase the books’ future salability.  Unfortunately, Feist wasn’t there; a personal emergency had come up.  I was left with one book left unsigned, by an author who was due to hold a signing in three hours.Rather than loiter at the festival, my companion and I left.  (And this is a lesson for all first-time convention or festival attendees: if you can avoid it, don’t have your panel, signing, or reading scheduled for late Sunday afternoon.  Even early Saturday morning, when many people will be too tired and/or hung over to attend, is a better time slot.)  While walking across the UCLA campus, she asked me an interesting question: After all the time I’ve been getting books signed, and with all of the autographed merchandise I have, had I gotten to a point where requesting one more signature wasn’t as exciting as it used to be?As with most good questions, the answer is both no and yes.  I thought it would be worthwhile to explain that here, as a means of insight into the minds of collectors, fans and dealers.

I still recall the first autographed book I purchased.  It was a copy of King Kobold Revived, written by Christopher Stasheff.  It was a series I enjoyed, and the book only cost $7 because it was a later printing.  Years later, with a host of books from series I enjoy which have been signed by the authors, that particular book is probably in a $3/5 box somewhere.  So… physically, is it less special than it was?  Certainly.  But after almost 20 years, I still smile when I think about how pleased I was to find that book, and that moment in time is no less special.

Nor is my first encounter with Charlie Grant, at a signing for the eighth of Datlow & Windling’s Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror… my initial meeting with Jack Womack, Douglas Clegg, Kathy Ptacek and Charlie Grant.  Grant was grousing about driving all the way to central Jersey for the signing (although he and Kathy had travelled a shorter distance than any of the other attending authors) and muttering about not having enough books to sign to make it worth the trip (the signing was very poorly advertised, and only about 15 people were in the audience.)  I told him I’d brought a lot of books, he insisted he’d sign as many as I had… and he had to quit just before the hundredth book.  At the time I wasn’t even a dealer, just a fan, and I think he left happy.  Of those 90-odd books, at least half have since been sold or given away as presents, but it doesn’t diminish the memory.

For every author I meet, I’ll usually get one work inscribed to me… typically, the first thing I read from them, or my favorite of their works.  And every such meeting is special, just as it was in the beginning.  It’s not just the first meetings, either; I had a dumbstruck fan reaction the first time I met Mort Castle at a WHC, where he slapped a drink into my hand.  I had a similarly pleasant experience in San Fransisco, where we talked about older horror authors of the 80s, 70s, and even into the 60s while I was manning my dealer’s table.  And in Salt Lake City, where he invited me and my ladyfriend to a small drinking and discussion session with his wonderful wife and the impressive Adam Niswander, in the back of my mind there was still a little voice saying “This is Mort Castle, one of the authors from MASQUES!” (Go check out the ToC on those anthologies, especially the first.  You didn’t have to be famous to get in, but you had to be damned good.  Beaumont, Bloch, Bradbury, both Gahan and F. Paul Wilson, Ardath Mayhar, Lansdale, Silva, Grant, Ray Russell, Salmonson, Nolan, Wolfe, Matheson… just a bevy of great writers.)  But it’s the memories that are important; the inscriptions are nothing more than jogs to that memory, reminders of the past.

Those memories aren’t only meetings, either.  I always put out at least one Steve Spruill book when I do a show.  It’s not that he’s got a huge collector base.  He doesn’t, although he probably should.  It’s that when I was requesting a lot of mail signings, he was the first person who wasn’t only gracious about it, but enthusiastic.  He was thrilled that someone would be trying to keep his older books available for readers.  I’ve since encountered that attitude among other authors… Katherine Eliska Kimbriel is continually delighted when she sees I have her work, for example, and Lillian Steward Carl, as well (another two who should be more widely read than they are.)  I don’t think I’ve ever actually met Steve Spruill, but he’s got a special place in my memories because of his kindness.

One more signature?  Not that important.  I literally have a few hundred dollars’ worth of signed books on my BED right now, behind me as I type, because I don’t have room for them on my shelves, or empty space on the floor.  It’s one reason I’ve been doing a load of ebay auctions of late.  But one more memory?

That’s magic.

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