In his song, Well May the World Go, Pete Seeger says, “Find a part of the world that you really like and stick to it.” Sometimes it’s tempting to move south, to go back to the coast, to start somewhere completely new. But not last Friday evening when we gathered to celebrate the launch of my latest book, Shafted: A Mystery.
It was so warm, we opened every window and door in the art gallery. Forests to the south and east were on fire and the main highway was closed. People were stocking up on gas and groceries, worried about cell phone service and hydro lines.
When the back country is burning, setting out chairs for a book launch feels frivolous. As people walk out into the warm evening, the sky tinged with smoke, they are worried about the mountain goats living on the mountain that’s on fire, the cattle that graze in the bush, the travellers who can’t get home. We all know someone who’s fighting the spread of flames through the dead pines: dispatching, dropping fire retardant, struggling through the smoke, hauling hoses, cutting firebreaks. People are talking about it as they come in the door. A few drops of rain splatter the sidewalk and we all feel hopeful.
Friends are the first to arrive, bringing plates of beautiful snacks. Karen sets out cherry tarts made with her own cherries; Tonja has made amazing pinwheel sandwiches; Vigil has a dish of bruschetta; Kim brings cinnamon bread. Gail has food and flowers. Pat, as always, takes pictures. A bright punch fills a glass bowl and soon people are drinking and eating and visiting. Dorothy’s cello thrums deep notes below the voices.
A book launch in a town where you’ve lived for years, a town where the novel you’re launching is set, and a town with gardens full of food and flowers, is a wonderful thing. I love the conversations with people as they bring me books to sign: some are close friends, some are acquaintances I’ve known since I moved here, some are people I haven’t talked to in years. Newcomers. Visitors.
It’s wonderful to read aloud something you’ve written in solitude, to hear people fall silent, become attentive, enter into a story and laugh in recognition of a time, a place, a feeling that is home. It is wonderful to be able thank the people who helped bring the book together in a room filled with their friends and acquaintances.
But what goes deeper than that is the sound of a room full of people on a Friday evening telling each other their own stories, sharing their news, making plans, offering to help, making suggestions, hugging and laughing—in other words, doing many of the things that knit a community together.
Writers want their work to contain something of the universal, we want it to speak to people who don’t know us or where we live. But it is a great privilege to have created a sense of a place, a time, and people that in some small way reflect a community back to itself, a community you call home.
We talk as we wash the glasses, sweep the floor and pack away the tables and chairs. These are good friends who have done worked together for years. In small towns, you have to create the events you want to attend. We have become skilled at this, we move in and out of groups that form and dissolve around issues, creative processes and political action, sometimes all at once. We ebb and flow with and among each other.
We consider ourselves lucky. We ‘ve found a place we love and we’re sticking with it.