Friday, May 10, 2013

Champagne Wishes and Metro Dreams

It has long been a dream of mine to stumble across someone reading my book in public. 

I imagine I am on the Metro (the DC area subway) across from a person holding open a copy of Theft of Swords. I would be staring in disbelief, trying to gauge from their facial expression if they like, or hate, it. I will debate saying anything, concerned they will take offense, or worse, berate me for having written such an awful book and demand their money back. Finally I will get up, saunter over, and opting for subtle humor say, “That’s my book.”

Whereupon they will look up startled, and a bit annoyed, replying. “No it’s not. I just bought this.”

I will smile my most Great Gatsby smile, tilt my head ever so slightly, shifting my weight from one foot to the other in a humble manner and say, “You don’t understand. It’s my book. I wrote it.”

At this point I imagine the reader will appear confused, then a smile will grow. Their eyes will widen. “You’re Michael J. Sullivan?” 

This would be followed by a look of awe and the admission that they love it—they love it and have already mentioned such to their parent or employer who happens to be a major Hollywood movie producer. I will be invited to their swank penthouse in New York—all producers with an excellent track record of successfully adapting novels keep one for just such occasions. That evening we all dress in tuxedos and evening gowns and have champagne on the terrace where we discuss which actors would best play the lead roles, and would I be willing to fly out to LA to sit in on some casting sessions, as my input is highly desired.

That’s the fantasy anyway. The reality I suppose would be that the reader would glare, move away and exit the train at the next station whether it was their stop or not. If I was really unlucky they might find a transit officer.

Such fantasies as this are not uncommon among authors. Numbers on Amazon, and emails from fans all feel so ethereal, so illusionary. Seeing a person at random holding a copy glued to their fingers would add that elusive measure of reality. Somehow, such a sighting would be undeniable proof, the smoking gun, that it hasn’t all been a dream.

As ebooks become more popular, the odds of such a sighting dwindle. In today’s electronic-warming, the natural habitat of the paper-book-reader has shrunk to a fraction of its former size, and it would just be creepy to peer over an e-reader’s shoulders to try and figure out from the text what they're reading. So I didn’t think such an aspiration could ever become reality.

I have spoken of this fantasy of mine to others who all humor me.  Then I received this image in a text message:

It was from a friend and had the caption. “Saw on Metro today.”

I smirked and replied. “Is this fake?”

Answer: “No. I don’t know her.”

I wasn’t convinced and soon forgot about the incident.

A little over two months later I received this email:

Hi Michael,

In October or November I was taking the orange line from my job in D.C. to my apartment in NoVa. The previous day I had visited the MLK library in Chinatown and happened to come across what looked to be the first book in an interesting fantasy series--your Theft of Swords. I didn't know anything about it beforehand, but it caught my attention and I checked it out.

So there I was, reading on the metro when this complete stranger taps me on the shoulder and asks me if she can take a picture of me reading the book. You're from the area, so you're probably familiar with metro protocol. Occasionally you may share exasperated expressions with other commuters when you end up single tracking during rush hour, but otherwise everyone is pretty much off in their own world.

It was a bit jarring, but she rushed to explain that she was a friend of the author and that he had always wanted to see someone reading his book in public. I thought that was a very serendipitous encounter, so I let her take the picture. She thanked me and got off a few stops later.

Ever since then, I've been curious to know if you got that picture. I'm not sure who the woman was--I never got her name--but if I had toiled over six novels and spend countless hours writing and rewriting, I would be very happy to come across someone reading my finished work in public.

I tore through your second and third volumes and finished the series pretty quickly after that metro ride. I enjoyed them thoroughly, and I look forward to The Crown Tower.

Discovering the image and the sighting was genuine, I was shocked and happy, but also a little disappointed. As Archibald “Moonlight” Graham in Field of Dreams said: It was like coming this close to your dreams... and then watch them brush past you like strangers in a crowd.

At least I now know it’s possible. And in a way I sort of got my wish, even if it was vicariously lived. Most dreams are never fully realized, or never live up to the imagination, so maybe I’ll have to accept this sans champagne, version as the closest I will come.

But secretly, I still look.


  1. I think most authors (and aspiring authors) have some variation of this fantasy. I know I do.

    It's cool that someone was able to use the same sort of ubiquitous electronic technology (a camera on a cell phone) to bring you an e-version of what that same technology makes harder and harder to find (someone reading a book, any book, in public).

  2. It wonderful that your friend found someone reading your book on the Metro. And, even if you didn't get to see it yourself, at least you now have the photo to prove it!
    Also, there is still the chance that you'll see someone reading Theft of Swords on the Metro with your own eyes. Just got to wait and hope...

  3. I borrowed two of your books, Theft of Swords and Rise of Empire from the public library in Singapore. Before I was a quarter through the first book, I rushed to the library to make sure I have the third book Heir of Novron in my hands.

    If you have been on the Metro of Singapore, you would have seen me with my nose buried in your books.

    Thank you for writing the Riyria Revelations. I finished them and will be awaiting whatever books that you will be writing. And I will be buying them.

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