Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Bunch of Maloney

Today marks the second author event I've ever been to. It took me about 35 minutes to get to the borders where the event was being held and another 10 to park my car in the self-park garage which was thankfully on the same block as the Borders. I have never been to this Borders on good ole State St. But, I'll be damned if it wasn't a sight to see. The place was huge. Three floors full of books!

12:00 pm.

The event was on the third floor. I had a half an hour to go before the man of the hour came in. There was already someone sitting in the row in front. I sat in the third row in the back. I usually like to stay as quiet as possible. Have to take in a lot of information and I don't like being that much of a chatter box. But It did seem like the man in front of me (carrying with him a laptop, iphone, and digital camera) was doing enough talking altogether. He made small chit-chat with the Borders employee who had to survey and prepare the scene. Then it became a longer discussion to where he said he was a big fan of Michael Malone ever since his writing days on the popular soap opera One Life to Live. Not a big fan of it, but this guy sure was. He spent the whole half hour just talking about characters and episodes he loved from when he would watch it with his mother back in the good old days.

Then he looked over at me. I was crossing my arms, staying silent, letting my eyes wander. We talked a little bit about film and stuff. He was from this new film academy called flashpoint. It opened up about a year ago and is competing with Columbia. He talked about how he was trying to convince his buddy to come with him to see Michael but I guess that guy was busy. It became apparent to me that this man, whose name I do not know, came to appreciate Mr. Malone for his writing on the soap opera rather than his career as a novelist. I came for the novelist part.

12:30 rolled around and he came strolling in, chipper and friendly. I began shifting in my chair. I was happy to see a writer but felt guilty that I hadn't read anything of his. I only did some light research online yesterday. The guy has written 14 books. I should have at least browsed through one of them. But I knew enough to come to this event where he would be talking about his latest book The Four Corners of the Sky.

After taking off his jacket he stepped in front of the table they had prepared for him. There was a mike but he didn't use it. He was more personal, came up close to his audience. There were, if I remember correctly, seven people including me.

"Y'know, I've been doing this tour for a while and I just can't get over the fact that they keep calling this book a war story. Well, it's not a war story. It's a bit of a romance story with a female heroine. " Malone confesses that he loves writing female characters. "They are rich with emotion. They are all about emotion. Ripe with it, you could say. Men are more closed off. You wouldn't read something like Mr. Bovary. Heck, Moby dick had no female characters at all. Well, I take that back. There was probably one. Probably at the beginning of the novel, she was the one waving the ship goodbye."

After just ten minutes of listening to this man, I respected him. He was a cool guy and he loved to tell us stories. Of course it was a little bit annoying how the man at the front row couldn't stop saying how much he honored the man's presence because of his writing on the show. But hey, who was I to spoil his moment?

But Mr. Malone pushed right on.
"The great thing about writing soap operas is death has no dominion. Characters die all the time but they can always be brought back. I remember one case in where I was talking to the top person for the show's continuity issues. I remember saying to him, 'I wanna write this funeral scene for John but I'm wondering if I should have Mary visit his funeral.' The man said he would look into it, came back and said, 'Oh sure, you can put it in. John has visited Mary's funeral plenty of times. He also went to seven of his own funerals.' You see, you can't kill them off. They can even pop up as angels in the show."

I know I probably butchered the names of the show characters but, forgive me, I can't remember them. And, like I said, not a big fan of the show.

He talked about how novels, in a way, are like soap operas because they are character driven and how you fall in love with the characters and want to see what happens to them next. By the same token, he listed The Wire and a few other shows that are today's soap operas.

"Man, everybody's so nice in chicago. What's the deal?"

"It stopped raining," I said.

"Man, I guess all the grouchiness is saved for the winter, huh? What a city. But, then again, I guess it is cheerful here. Got a new president, threw out a governor. Good times."

Now came the Q and A portion. Before One-life-I-live guy could shoot any questions about the show, miles away from anything associated with a printed book, I shot my hand up.


"When did you write this book?" I asked.

"I wrote this book 10 years ago . . ."

Whoa, I thought. Ten years ago!

" . . . I was writing it along with several other books at the same time. I guess you can call me a nine to fiver, but not in the way that you think. I write at nine pm up until five in the morning. Because it's quiet, and I can think. And I can have my characters tell me what to write."

Michael Malone has always been interested in writing and the art of listening. The art of truly listening and not pretending to listen. He had to. As a young man, his mother was deaf so she would come to him and ask him, "Listen for me, please?" He admits that he would get insomnia at times but he would fill pages of stories, all ready for his mother.

Somewhere in the discussion, Mr. Malone talked about how he incorporated a book into the show. It became a printed book and was published with the writing credit going to Marcie Walsh, one of the actors on the show whose character was a novelist, and Michael Malone. Aha! said my brain. You have read something by him! The book was called The Killing Club, the second book up top. Well, I listened to the audiobook really, but I loved it's suspense. He said that he wrote the entire book, the actress had no part in writing it. I guess it was just more publicity for the show.

Afterwards, I came up to the table, trying to talk a little bit more.

I took some pictures and I was going to be on my way, but something was just nagging me to death. I never bought a book or got an autograph from the last author event. I didn't want to be a heel again, so I said, "I have to tell you, I really liked the Killing Club. Since I enjoyed your writing so much before, I'll tell you what, you pick the next book I read."

He looked happy, there were a few books that the employees brought up for him, his previous works. But mainly the table had about 20 or so copies of Four Corners of the Sky.

"Let's see . . . I would say . . . yes . . . Uncivil Seasons,"

Borders employee, "We don't have that one here."

Three floors full of books and you don't have it? I thought, What gives?

"Well . . . in that case. Handling Sin, definitely."

"Yes," said the woman accompanying him, who represented the publisher. "He should start that one."

"Now, I have to tell you. It's not like Killing Club," Malone says with a raised marker, giving me fair warning before he signs it.

"I don't mind, " I say. "I read the back before coming up here. I am really interested in reading it."

He signs. I show him the picture I took to get his approval of it, just in case he wants us to do it over again. "That's fine. So what do you do, Roberto?"

Deja vu.

"I'm trying to be a writer."

He beams. "Good, good. stick with it. I'm glad."

I say my goodbyes and exit, leaving him to the opera man who would give his left nut to have Michael come to his school to do a lecture.

I buy the book. At the entrance I make sure that I have everything. I look to my right and he's right there discussing something with his publisher. I don't want to have an awkward run in and another goodbye so I go the opposite way.

I'm in the Self-park garage, putting in my ticket to pay.

All of a sudden I hear, "Hello, Roberto!"

I turn and there's Micheal Malone, carrying his stuff, with his publisher. I do a double take. "Hey, mike. Y'know, I think you're following me."

He laughs. "Don't worry, we're not. I assure you."

After he pays we're both waiting for the elevator. I'm on 5. He's on 10. I push the button.

He talks a little bit more, then the doors open. He gives me one last good luck. I say, "Goodbye. Enjoy Chicago."

I guess everything connects one way or another. I was walking to my car, shaking my head at how funny the whole experience was. Thought I hadn't read him, when I really had. Thought it wasn't going to be as good as the last one, but it was fun. I thought that the whole thing would be over in ten minutes and that I would walk away only with a story to tell. What I got was not only photos, stories and an autographed copy of his choice of book, but a bunch of Maloney, you could say.

Next time: Michael Connely joined by George Pelecanos.
Same Time. Same Borders.

"Writing, I think, is not apart from living. Writing is a kind of double living. The writer experiences everything twice. Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind." ~Catherine Drinker Bowen, Atlantic, December 1957

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