“To Marta, my Life Raft”

A.D., Travel

[Wherein I continue my rundown of the A.D. book tour, picking up in New Orleans on August 22, 2009]

Saturday in New Orleans was a breathless chain of events, where I met what seemed like the full gamut of my New Orleanian readers. All in all, it was an amazing, profound experience.

The day started with picking up Sari at the airport, as she finally made it to town after being waylaid by Hurricane Bill. We drove straight from the airport to the Garden District, where I signed some stock (appropriately enough) at the Garden District Book Shop. From there we drove over to Maple Street Book Shop (also in the Garden District), a wonderful, winding bookstore situated in a former residence. The folks at Maple Street were very welcoming and appreciative of my coming there.

A.D. character Leo McGovern met us at Maple Street and signed copies as well. We signed for a couple of hours as a steady stream of readers came by, including my New York friend (and long-time, dedicated A.D. supporter) Anne Heausler, who hails from NOLA and was in town for the weekend. (Later, she and Sari and Anne’s friend Barbara, who lost EVERYTHING in the storm, went off together for lunch.) All in all, it was a pleasant time, and I was happy with the way things were going. After my initial fear that the book might be greeted by indifference or derision by the residents of New Orleans — it is a comic book, after all, about the devastation of Hurricane Katrina — I felt reassured. People were welcoming and even grateful to have their story being told. The Maple Street signing was a nice opportunity to meet my “readers” and hear their own stories of flooding, evacuation, and rebuilding.

Leo headed off to a conference, so I drove solo over to Octavia Books for the last signing of the day. I arrived at the store a little early and walked in, ready to introduce myself to the manager and get myself settled for another sedate session. To my extreme surprise, there were over twenty people waiting on line for me! I was hustled over to a table and set down to sign books. From that point on it was a continuous sequence of autographing copies of A.D. I tried my best to exchange at least a couple of words with each person as they appeared in front of me, but the line was so long that I had difficulty doing even that. One of those on line I did get a chance to meet and (give my thanks to) was Susan Larson, the Times-Picayune’s book editor, who had written a very complimentary piece about the book in the paper earlier in the week.

There were two encounters I had at Octavia that particularly stuck in my mind. One was with a heavyset man in his 40s who gave me his book to sign with tears in his eyes. He asked me to sign it to “Marta, my life raft.” I could see from his expression that he was this close to completely losing his composure. A bit flustered, I tried to fix a look of quiet compassion on my face, and did as he asked. He shook my hand, still very much on the verge of tears, thanked me, and walked stiffly away. Whew!

The other encounter I’ll never forget was with the A.D. character Denise’s uncle John and one of her nieces. They introduced themselves and also thanked me for doing the book. We talked for a while, about Denise and how things were going, and as they walked away he said, “We will always treasure this book.” Suffice it to say that I never had any responses like that to my backpacking book!

At long last, the line of readers finally came to an end — only because Octavia had sold out their entire stock of books, over 60 copies of A.D.! Near the end of the event, they had actually sent some customers back to my previous venue at Maple Street, to buy signed stock I had left there. Some of those readers made the trip over and back just to have me personalize their copies. By the time I finally got out of there, I was overwhelmed from the experience — and I still had the Doctor’s cocktail party to look forward to…

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