Musical and Magical Fare at the Hallowe’en Fair

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Want to dispel cynicism and despair at the state of the world? Spend a morning with happy, excited, costumed kids.

Aged around five to ten, they gaze up at you, polite and curious and expectant, a couple of witches, a unicorn, a fairy, several princesses, a pumpkin or two, a Spiderman, a skeleton, a miniscule tiger, a fireman, a Superman, a butterfly.

You gaze back, wondering what they’re thinking.

They’ve already spent a half hour playing games. Now you’re Children’s Entertainer #1 at the St. George Hallowe’en Fall Fair, expertly organised at the Community Centre by the indefatigable Faith and friends.

Children’s Entertainer #2 is Perley the Magician.

A magician! How can you not pale into boring insignificance compared with a magician, for Heaven’s sake? He’s already set up. He has three long tables crammed with exciting and colorful doodads, awaiting his magical ministrations.

You have a guitar.

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(Photo credit here & above: Susan Hill Photography)

Ah well. The kids are polite enough to still have their eyes on you, and not on those tables behind them, so crammed with magical potential.

You’re aware you must look like a giant, with the kids sitting on the floor, so you kneel, hoping you’ll be able to get up again.

You hold your hand in the air. “This is a witch on her broomstick. When I sing ‘She’ll be riding on her broomstick’ make her fly across yourself, like this.”

You make your ‘witch’ fly across yourself accompanied by a nasal Nnnyyaaaaaa as if her broomstick is supersonic.

“Now you do it.”

What’ll it be? Enthusiastic participation? Passivity? Hostility?

“Ready? Here we go. Nnnyyaaaaaa.”

And, bless ’em, they do it.

It’s gonna be okay, and you launch into a half hour of Hallowe’en songs and silly songs and action songs and echo songs. It’s a long time since you’ve done this. You hope voice and memory and fingers on the guitar hold out.

Then it’s Perley’s turn and he’s professional and – well – magical. And funny. The kids are transfixed, their mouths and eyes wide open in wonder as they point and gasp.

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And of course there has to be food, macaroni and cheese, and juice followed by amazing Hallowe’en themed cookies. (It’s like being grandparents. Cram ’em with sugar and send ’em home.)

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Yeah. Everything’s okay.

Got Those Book Signing Blues

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12:00 Friday noon arrive at Coles Books, Brunswick Square, Saint John. Little table set up, nicely positioned at front of store, sticking out just a bit into hoped for flow of people on lunch break and from cruise ship in port today. Stack (well, small stack) of Colorlands. Thank you, Diane at Coles. And more thanks for offer of coffee. Feel at home already.

12:01 Old friend Alyssa appears in a whirl, stopping by not just to say Hello but to buy a book! Thank you, Alyssa. Lovely way to start a signing. Must be good augur. Now set for record breaking signing.

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12:02 Daringly ease little table further out into anticipated hectic flow of shoppers. Books arranged enticingly. Pen ready. Smile fixed. (Never easy.) Line forms on the right, folks.

12:15 Er, folks?

12:20 Aha. Cruise ship passengers appear at last. A few, anyway. One introduces herself as Mabel from Missouri. Picks up copy of Colorland. Looks at front. Reads blurb on back. Asks about story. What age reader intended for? What’s it about? Me thinking – Just buy damn thing. Mabel from Missouri says, “My daughter would love you. I’ll come back and get a copy.” Puts book back on table. Walks away.

12:25 More refugees from cruise ship passing. Two elderly women stop. Each picks up a book. (Aha! Two sales at once!) Ask what is story about. Start, “Adventure, betrayal …” One interrupts. “Is it full of blood and gore?” Careful, Robert. Elderly ladies don’t want blood and gore. Stress love and romance in story. Show warm and fuzzy side. “Oh no, no, no. Nothing like that.” Elderly women return books to table and walk away. Serves me right for profiling.

12:30 Time for walk around and hand out book marks.

12:35 Woman examining Colorland. “I always buy books by New Brunswick authors.” Have to stop myself falling in fawning heap at her feet. “I’ll be back to get a copy.” Disappears down hall. Hmmm.

12:36 For some reason I’m reminded of best ever put down I received. Woman stopped when I was signing copies of one of YA books. Looked it over. “My daughter would enjoy this. She’ll read anything.”

12:45 Problem with signing is being nonentity. Any kind of notoriety would help. Maybe time to leave straight and narrow path of respectability and run amok, have affair with starlet, rob bank, get drunk at next band gig and smash up keyboard.

13:00 Two or three thousand people on today’s cruise ship. Where the hell are they?

13:10 Watch people in store buying rubbish. Why can’t they buy my rubbish?

13:15 Today’s signing promoted on Facebook (my site, publisher site, Coles site), Twitter (my site, publisher site), Email-out (me). Means it’s gone all over Canada and U.S. and beyond. What else can you do?

13:18 Pass around more book marks. Have to force myself to be pushy like this. Not in my nature. Maybe should be.

13:25 Aha. Here comes lady who checks books in and out at library. Someone who loves books. Is always interested in books. Probably buys lots of books. And … Oh. There goes lady who checks books in and out at library. Studiously avoiding looking at me and my sad little table.

13:35 Love it when you catch someone’s eye and they look away hurriedly, as if they’re afraid they’re going to catch some kind of disease radiated by eye contact.

13:42 Here we go with book marks again. Who shall I target? Feel like con man seeking mark.

13:45 Maybe time for another coffee from Starbucks across the aisle. Trouble is, if I get one, that’ll just about do it for profits (‘profits’) from signing.

13:47 Woman picks up book. Looks at cover. Reads blurb on back. Looks in purse. I’m about to offer to sign when … “Oh I have to go to the bank. I’ll be back.” Mabel from Missouri all over again.

13:50 Another round of book marks. Cost around three cents each. How many can I give away before I’ve spent whatever I make?

14:00 Experiment with effect of sitting at little table as opposed to standing beside it. Sitting attracts! Am I intimidating when I stand? Maybe should be flattered.

14:12 Wander around store and out into mall handing out book marks. Never given away so many. BUT sold all the books! (Because of book marks? Or extraordinary quality of writing? Or charm of smiling author? Okay. Scratch last two items. Book marks the key.) Fortunately brought a few spare Colorlands.

14:15 Try to work out what I’m working for per hour, factoring in royalties, time spent writing, time spent sitting, book marks. Guess I won’t be millionaire after all.

14:28 Young man and two young women passing table. YM looks. Does double take. “Robert Rayner!” Uh-oh. Must have taught him. Hope I was nice to him. Or maybe visited his class, doing writers in schools thing. YM examines Colorland and book marks. Asks, “Will you sign a book mark?” Sign three book marks, one each. Nice smiles and thanks all round. YM still holding book. Hoping I’m going to give it to him? Sudden uncharitable thought. He’s about to shoplift it! Mind you, can think of worse things to shoplift. Maybe should be flattered. Not going to stop him. Don’t want to be responsible for getting him arrested and maybe start life of crime. YM lays book down. Says, “Cool. See yuh.” YM and YWs smile and wave goodbye. Feel so, so guilty.

14:30 Mall getting quieter. Cruise ship crowd heading back to boat. Only two out of two or three thousand bearing Colorlands to remember Saint John by.

14:32 Woman picks up Colorland. Asks man beside her, “Shall we get it?” “No.” Brutal. He might at least have hesitated a nanosecond.

14:42 Man approaches table. Leans in to talk. Maybe wants to discuss Colorland, arc of plot, tone, shifting point of view. Maybe literature in general. Says, “Where’s the washroom?”

14:53 Run out of book marks. And have to go to loo. Time to quit.

15:00 But wait! Here comes lady who always buys books by New Brunswick authors! Walking back up hallway. Must be returning to get book. I have pen in hand, ready to sign. She smiles. Waves. Walks past. I’m heartbroken.

15:01 Yes. Time to go.

Working Nirvana

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When you’re met at the door by two charming and efficient young men from grade five, standing beside a sign announcing one of your stories as the Milltown Reads selection, you wonder what better start there could be to a working day.

And when the day continues with the grade five gentlemen staying with you as assistants and guides, carrying guitar and books and bags, and with Thanksgiving lunch (a week early but who cares), including dessert, and with a series of bright and curious faces from kindergarten to grade five peering up at you (I should learn to read and talk while sitting on the floor but find it difficult to think without pacing), and with a series of audiences of impeccably polite and attentive students, then it’s hard not to conclude you’re in working Nirvana.

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It was the launch of Milltown Elementary School’s Libby Project, in which students will read Libby’s Got the Beat, and follow up the reading with an assortment of projects, to be determined by each class, that derive from the story. We did the launch by my visiting each grade to talk about and read from Libby’s Got the Beat, and sing the Libby song.

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Can’t wait to see the results of the project, and maybe hear a whole school rendition of the Libby song. Have to wait three months, but that’ll make it a bright prospect for the dark days of January.

Siren Call

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The siren call of St. Martins, New Brunswick, and the hospitality of host Kathy Miller-Zinn, took us back this week to the lovely old Tidal Watch Inn for a reading (by me) to an erudite and charming group of Road Scholars (formerly Elderhostel) from all over the U.S.

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Before the reading: time to re-explore the picturesque seaside town, with its twin covered bridges and photographer’s paradise harbour, and the spectacular nearby Fundy Parkway, and as a bonus some extra high and low tides.

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Then … what to read? Settled (arbitrarily, as always) on excerpts from Colorland (the prologue, and Ridge’s first experience of transcending to Colorland), Defiant Island (Patrick’s journal for Penelope, and the Premier’s visit to the island store), The Ragged Believers (chapter one), and, after asking the audience to imagine themselves back in grade 6, the making cookies episode from Total Offence.

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Thanks to the audience for their interest and questions and friendliness, and to Kathy for inviting me (again!) to read. Hope my listeners enjoyed listening as much as I enjoyed reading.