Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Meeting Whitley Strieber at The Poisoned Pen bookstore

On Saturday, March 7, 2009, I met Whitley Strieber at The Poisoned Pen bookstore. He was supposed to be there for a book signing for "Critical Mass" at 2:00 PM, but I got there around 2:30. I was already late when I got to where the store was, but I noticed it too late and passed it and had to make my way back to it, coming in from a side street. When I pulled into the parking lot behind the bookstore, most of the spaces were filled. Some people were outside in small groups of one or two people.

As I quickly went toward the store, looking at the doors to see if there was any access there or if I had to go around to the front, two young men who had been talking paused, and one of them asked if I wanted to see "Mr. Striber", with a long "I". I said yes, and he told me how to go around to the front of the store. I thanked him and quickly did.

I found Whitley was around the middle of the store, sitting with his back toward a wall, and people were in semicircular rows of black padded folding chairs in front of him. He was giving a talk, talking about his experiences. Another person or two had just come in before me, women I think, and were placed somewhere in the back. Various people were standing around, in the room at various places beyond the chairs, that were apparently store employees.

I was waved toward an empty seat in the front, which was good because without a microphone he was not very loud. As I went to the seat, a short woman sitting in a chair a couple of rows behind it quickly got up and sat in a chair a couple of spaces over to her right, probably because I was too tall and blocking her view. A lot of the audience had kind of a hippie look about them. A few were relatively young, but a lot of them seemed to be in late middle age.

Whitley was wearing what looked like a light suit and coat, light brown and somewhat tweedy looking. Sitting there, his right pants leg was pulled way up showing maybe half a foot of skin between the pants leg and the relatively short white sock. He had a light colored shirt, maybe a pale yellow, and I think it was open at the top, without a tie. He had short white hair, and his mouth and lower face looked a little enlarged and pulled forward, like what happens with some people when they get older.

His wife, Anne, was off to my right, at the edge of the audience, sitting facing some shelves of books, which she sometimes looked at and sometimes seemed to be falling asleep. She had odd glasses, relatively large and with clear pieces at the sides and bottom, with curved dark lines joining them, almost like stained glass divisions.

He talked about the night he got his ear implant and the things that happened then, and about what happened when he tried to have it removed, tugging sometimes at his left ear, where the implant was. He also took some questions from the audience, but I couldn't hear most of them.

I could hear the girl sitting beside me to my right (the chair to my left was empty), but only because I was so close. She talked very softly. She said she had read "The Path", which meant she was probably a member of the (his website) message board, as he didn't sell very many copies of that book. She asked him, I think, about how to get past the fear. She was thin and maybe 30-40 years old, with long dark hair.

Someone asked him about the Communion movie. He paused and said he was glad it was done. He said he thought that the person who played him, Christopher Walken, initially thought that he was someone who liked to be in front of the camera all the time. Whitley told us it was just the opposite. When he started out as a writer, they didn't have book tours and all he had to to was stay home and write.

He finally got through talking and quickly went toward a table at the back that he was led to and the people quickly arranged for him, clearing it I think of anything on it, and a few people got in a short line, carrying old books of his that they wanted signed, some of them with a lot of wear. Most of the people simply left, though. It seemed like everyone was short, some especially so, even Whitley seemed short (though I later found that he says he is 6'2" on one of his social site main pages; perhaps he shrunk some since that measurement was taken. I saw him for the most part sitting down, though, so I may have misjudged his height some.) Anne was also very short and seemed almost elfin with her short haircut.

I grabbed one of his new "Critical Mass" books from a table near the front that had a bunch of them, and went to the back and got in line. Someone from the store went and grabbed all his books and put them in a pile on the table, to his right. When I got close to him I could see that he had a big bald spot on top that covered around half the top of his head.

When I reached him, which wasn't too long as the line was relatively short, though the people tended to talk a little bit with him, I told him I was a member of the message board. He looked up, smiling, and said "Oh?" and seemed interested.

I said I was "Stephen ... in ... AZ."

His face fell some and he looked thoughtful and to the side and said he wasn't familiar with...

I tried to explain further and said. "Stephen ... in i-n ... AZ. Like Arizona, it's Arizona." He looked confused and asked what my handle was.

I lowered my head to where it was pointing at the table, with the top of my head toward him, and then a little slower raised it back up. I said I was the one that kept all the old threads alive, that when they got down I just went in and...

He was saying "Oh. Ohhhh...." He then said, "You know, they're archived, they never really go away" and said he regarded them as very important, that they were a record of people's experiences.

I asked if there was a way to search for them.

He said, "It must be very hard... if there's a way... I'll have to check on it." and said if they were being deleted they shouldn't be.

I spelled my name for him and he happily and quickly opened my book and was writing it down, and then he paused and looked up and said "a-n or e-n" and I said e-n, and he went back to writing in it, and then putting in his signature. My name was clearly written, but his name was very vague and hard to decipher.

He said he would check on the board and I nodded, smiling, and said "Thanks" and he brightened up considerably and said something and I held my book out slightly and said "Thanks" again, and he brightly said something in response and I turned and went away. It's hard for me to hear things, and I sometimes miss what's said. Asking people to repeat it, especially frequently, can be annoying and disruptive. I sometimes do it, but not this time.

I think there was a person or two behind me, and then when there were no more people Whitley immediately started signing the books from the pile on the table. I hope I wasn't the only one that bought a copy of his new book.

I went and looked at the shelves, seeing if they had any other books I might be interested in, including looking to see if they had any copies of "Dandelion Wine" by Ray Bradbury, which they apparently didn't (I had recently left a favorable comment about a review of it on one of the store's websites).

At the register, the girl wanted to know if I had filled out something so they could notify me when writers were coming, and explained they just needed my email. I decided to go ahead and do it. The card just wanted my name and email, and there was a drawing for a $50 gift certificate for the store.

When I got back to the car, the time was around 4:20. Almost two hours had passed.

Much later, looking at what he wrote in the book and trying to puzzle it out, I finally decided that he probably wrote, "To Stephen from Whitley Strieber".

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