Friday, March 2, 2012
Meeting Lisa See
The book store was at the top of a small shopping center, and the way the ceiling leaned in and the shelves stretched from the floor to the ceiling made me feel like I was walking into a cozy packed attic.
A large poster of the book cover, Dreams of Joy, sat by the doorway with the date of the event. Inside, her books had their own table where they waited to be signed. I realized it's not just the author’s presence that sells copies; the bookstore advertized her novel before she arrived. Even if only a few people show up to the actual signing, many more people will have heard of her just by passing the store.
I was excited to meet Lisa See not just because I love her books, but because I've emailed her once or twice, so I felt like I had an "in." The first thing I said to her while she signed my books was, "I don't know if you remember me, but I sent you an email with some questions about foot binding..."
Instead of lighting up with recognition and complimenting me on the intelligent questions I sent her, she pointed to someone behind me in line and said, "I answered some questions for her too! It's so nice when I go on tours and meet all the people I've communicated with online."
About a dozen people showed up for the signing, one of whom was a 13-year-old girl mentally prepared with a list of cute interview questions, such as, "Do people sometimes confuse you with Amy Tan?" and “Did you like the movie they made of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan?” and "Do Chinese really believe in zodiac signs?"
(Lisa said some believe in the zodiac and some don't, but this year there will be an increase in Chinese babies; everyone wants a child born in the year of the dragon.)
The reading started out with Lisa See talking about her life, her family history, her books, and more or less reciting speeches I had heard her give on YouTube. I realized that if I'm getting sick of my book already, I better get over it; after a book gets published, you have to talk about it every single day for a loooooong time.
Halfway through my phone rang, and as always when this happens to me, I was tempted to play innocent and glare at the person next to me. I did the right thing, though, and turned my phone off.
Lisa opened the floor for questions and I learned more about her travels to China. Apparently the dialects in China are so different that she has to hire seperate translators everywhere she goes, sometimes even when one location is only a few hundred miles from another. People will often draw characters on their palm with their finger to be understood.
Foot binding came up, of course. She said Asian men found small feet so attractive that villages would have beauty contests where the women hid behind a screen so their feet were the only parts you could see. They would pick the best pair of feet and declare their owner the most beautiful woman in the village, even if the screen lowered to reveal a seventy-year-old woman.
Lisa was so cool. Someday, I want to be able to share amazing stories of things I’ve done and places I've traveled in the name of research. (Seeing the Pope and getting bewitched by a voodoo priest is a good start, but I think Lisa See could talk about her adventures for days.)
Afterwards my friend and I went out for Chinese because we had a craving for it. We wandered around an Asian market trying to find foods we had read about, like salted plumbs. Then we went home. It was a great day.
Now I’m trying to imagine what it would be like to go on a book tour: going to stores, libraries, conferences, and universities to do what I saw Lisa See do, keeping it up every day for three months. I’m trying to visualize the drawbacks; all that driving, getting lost, no one showing up to the event, rude fans, living out of a suitcase.
The verdict is in: I totally want to do a book tour someday.