Meeting face-to-face again—for the first time

Is the pandemic over? No, but we are learning to deal with it. 

Last week, for the first time after two years, I attended events to sell books directly, face-to-face, to readers. And wow, it felt great.

There were a lot of masks to be seen, but a lot of maskless people, too. I’m quadruple-vaxxed, and wear a mask in public indoor spaces. But outside, it felt great to be maskless again. 

With more than half of the population exposed to COVID-19, and good vaccination numbers (although the provincial government doesn’t release COVID numbers anymore, so it’s hard to tell), it’s inevitable that we’re going to be slowly (or not so slowly) returning to the way we did things pre-COVID.

A rough start

The first “live” event came during the long Victoria Day weekend (Memorial Day, or maybe it’s Columbus Day, in the U.S.). I set up a table at Blossom Fest in Stittsville, the neighbourhood just west of where I live in Ottawa. 

To be honest, it could have gone better. The event turned out to be the day after the derecho hit Ottawa and a long swath across southeastern Ontario and parts of Quebec. 

A derecho is a sudden, extended, violent windstorm. The storm that hit Ottawa on May 21 brought down trees and power lines, tore roofs off barns and caused 11 deaths in eastern Ontario and western Quebec.

Stittsville was hit hard. The next day, the town had no power. No internet. All the traffic lights were out. Getting there, normally a 10-minute drive, took more than a half hour. 

I had planned to stop at an ABM to get a “float”—change for buyers. But every bank machine, without power, was dead.

As you would expect, turnout was low. A lot of vendors didn’t show. And attenders were mostly local parents and their children with nothing else to do.

Still, I met some readers, sold some books and met a new author: Craig Edwards, whose children’s book, Sonny’s New Bike, had just come out. It was illustrated by an artist named Alina, who lives in Mariupol—yes, that Mariupol. Craig hasn’t heard back from her for some time. Fingers crossed. 

Any moaning about how the weather affected me, though, was quickly silenced when I looked at the destruction wrought by the storm. My neighbour across the street had a big, 50-year-old maple lying on his roof, and around the corner, the street was completely blocked by a felled cedar tree. 

Then when I tried to go out biking the next day, downed trees blocked the trails. Even now, two weeks later, cycling demands a lot of detours.

In other words, I was very lucky.

The skies clear

Two weeks later, I attended a Book Fair hosted by the Ottawa Independent Writers, OIW, organization. 

It was nice to meet fellow Ottawan authors. Although it was held in an out-of-the-way church basement, I did manage to sell some books and meet new readers—so overall, a win!

I also bought some books. I’m looking forward to reading 

  • Qais Ghannem’s Democracy, Deity and Death, a book about three Arab men and a woman who meet weekly for coffee in London, and discuss everything from religion to politics and everything else you’re not supposed to talk about in polite company
  • Tales from Aladdin’s Cave by Marion Voytinsky, a collection of short stories set in a neighbourhood 12 leisurely minutes by bike from my house
  • The Spaces Between the Dots, a poetry collection by Pearl Williams.

The sun shines on arts in the park

Then on Sunday, I returned to Arts in the Park in Stittsville, a short bike ride to the west of my home. 

What a great day: my biggest in-person sales event ever! 

The weather was ideal: a perfectly clear blue sky temperature a comfortable 23 degrees. 

The real estate agents are right: location, location, location. I got a perfect spot: under a tree for shade, across the main path from two other local authors. It was a virtual Authors’ Row. Thanks to John W. Partington and Allan McCarville, who after presenting their own books to shoppers, directed them across the path to my humble table. 

A new display

Many people stopped to read the display and ask,“That’s in Book 1, Army of Worn Soles,” I answered. I should have stopped there, but of course, I didn’t, and explained how it happened. 

But people still bought the book even after I gave away the whole story.

Passers-by also bought the Dark Age series, The Bones of the Earth and The Children of the Seventh Son, as well as Torn Roots and Dead Man Lying from the Hawaiian Storm series, and Wildfire, the Wine Country Mystery.

The coolest part was a return visit by a reader. John Cook, a playwright from Stittsville, has bought at least one book from me each time I’ve been at Arts in the Park. This time, he stopped short at in front of my display, and shared some very kind words about my books and why he loves my writing style. That alone was worth the price of admission. To top it off, he bought a copy of Dead Man Lying

It’s so rewarding to meet people who love to read. People of all ages, from teens to great-grandparents, stopped to talk about the Second World War, the state of publishing, authors they liked, the kinds of books they liked to read, and of course, about my books. 

Podcast update

I’ve told you before about my upcoming podcast, Beyond Barbarossa: the first English-language to focus on the eastern front of the Second World War in Europe. The “Russian Front.” 

The Kickstarter campaign is still live, so that you can help support the cost of the podcast. Things like audio equipment and podcast hosting. 

Some of you have stepped up. All I need is for 100 people who receive this message to invest $20. 

This is not a gift. Supporters get great rewards, like a full year’s subscription, advance receipt of new episodes, and the bonus episodes. I’ve just added a new reward for a new support level: as a reward for a $20 contribution, you’ll also get a signed e-copy of Army of Worn Soles, the true story of a man born in Canada who gets drafted into the Soviet Red Army in 1941—just in time for the invasion by Hitler’s Germany. 

Oh, and I’ve also created a new logo:

How did that happen? Well, the book will tell you. 

And there’s more swag for higher levels of support. So check it out at Kickstarter.

Until next time, keep your paddles in the water, and slava Ukraina.   

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