And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

This week’s moment started with a not-so-great moment. I looked out into what is a writer’s almost worst nightmare.

A practically empty room. (Not a worst nightmare because it wasn’t completely empty.)

One of the most challenging parts of being a writer is having to get out there and speak in front of groups. Due to changes in the publishing industry, writers, the vast majority of whom are introverts, have had to work hard to fashion themselves into extroverts, at least for as long as it takes to get up in front of a group, read from your work, talk about your work, and then return to home or hotel room and sit in the dark for a bit. Gone are the days of J.D. Salinger, where a writer could be, not only an introvert, but a hermit.

Over the years, I’ve fought with my own sense of introversion to get out there and speak, and I’ve gotten myself to a point where I actually enjoy it. I’m terrified right before, but as soon as I step into the room where I am to appear, an alternate personality takes over and I’m comfortable. I’ve been told that when I enter a room, I own it. Trust me, that is an ability that took years to hone.

One of the events I always picture as I’m preparing for an event, and it’s a memory I wish I could purge, is a time early on in my career when I was asked to present at a bookstore in Green Bay. I walked in, owned the room…and absolutely no one showed up. No one even came into the store during the two hours I was there. It was like someone took out a billboard, saying, “Kathie Giorgio is at the bookstore…Don’t Go!” It was just me, the bookstore owner, and her two cats. I returned to my hotel room, devastated. Since then, I’ve presented to groups of many sizes, from a dozen to hundreds. But that image always haunts me…and always dissipates when I face my newest group.

Until last Thursday.

I was set to present my novel, All Told, at a local library. When I arrived, there was only one person – a lovely student who showed up to hear me speak. He and I talked while I set things up, and then we settled down to wait. And we waited. And no one else showed up. Fifteen minutes in, I packed up, thanked my student for showing, and then went home. Devastated.

Facing a fully packed room is a scary thing. Facing a room you thought was going to be fully packed, but has one lone person…abysmal.

But there was an up-side.

Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve read every night to my granddaughter, Maya Mae, who is now nine years old, soon to be ten. We meet on Zoom, and our time is 8:30. On this night, I thought I wasn’t going to be able to see her, as the event was supposed to go until 8:30. But instead, there I was, home.

So instead of reading to a filled room, I read to my computer screen, filled with the expectant face of my granddaughter. Who listened to every word.

Now granted, I wasn’t reading from my work. Maya and I recently read, and fell in love with, Katherine Applegate’s book, Crenshaw. It was so good that even Michael made sure he was nearby, so he could hear me read the next installment. On this night, we were starting a new Applegate book, Wishtree. I let Maya’s parents know I was unexpectedly available, and then, whoosh, there she was, grinning at me, on my computer screen.

That smile alone is enough to brighten my day.

We talked about her school day, and then I asked her if she was ready to read the book. She said yes, but then said, “Guess what, Grandma Kathie?”

I miss being Gamma Kaffee, but love anything this little girl will call me. “What?”

“My school library has Crenshaw!”

Her excitement let me know that this book, Crenshaw, is likely to become the book she remembers the most from her childhood. For me, it’s A Candle In Her Room, by Ruth M. Arthur. Maya is in the fourth grade now; I was in the fourth grade when I discovered A Candle In Her Room. I checked it out so many times, the public librarian gave it to me. It sits with all the other books in my classroom.

I’m not a librarian, but I gave Crenshaw to Maya. I remember who I was at that age whenever I look at my copy of A Candle In Her Room. I hope, in the future, Maya remembers herself. And me.

I cracked open the cover of Wishtree and began to read. The book began with an amazing description of a northern red oak tree named Red. Red told us that all red oak trees are named Red.

Maya began to wave her hand like the eager student she is. “There’s a tree like that near my playground at school!” she said.

“Maybe it’s Red,” I said.

She agreed.

When we finished our chapter, she sat back and sighed. “This is going to be a good book,” she said.

Looking at that bright face, eyes filled with visions of oak trees named Red, a cat named Crenshaw, and sassy little girls named Junie B. Jones, Ramona Quimby, and Gooney Bird Greene, I sighed with her, filled with satisfaction myself. It was going to be a good book.

And I have a granddaughter, a sassy little girl named (Grandbaby) Maya Mae, who is going to be a reader. She already is.

It almost made up for the nearly empty room at the library. Almost. It surely helped.

Thank you, Tony, for showing up on that night.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Grandbaby Maya Mae, first day of 4th grade.
Me in the fourth grade.
Me with Wishtree, by Katherine Applegate.
Me with A Candle In Her Room by Ruth M. Arthur.
My classroom at AllWriters’. See all the books? And that’s not all of them.
Favorite photo. Me and Grandbaby Maya Mae at Lake Michigan.

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