The Bailey’s Crossroads (Washington, DC) Towers of Midnight signing has come and gone, and I think all will agree it was a huge success. An estimated 400 people showed up to get books signed and hear Brandon and Harriet speak. Yet the whole affair was done after less than four hours. Most of this can be attributed to the New Signing System by Brandon Sanderson ™, wherein you can bring as many books as you like up the first time, but only one can be personalized. I know Brandon was concerned that this might anger some, but most seemed ok with it, and a few stuck around until the end for extra personalization. And it sure did speed up the process.
Or it’s possible we were just an extra-effective Tower Guard contingent.
We were definitely an EAGER Tower Guard contingent. I’ll admit that, rather than having one of our members wait for Brandon and Harriet’s arrival as suggested by Jennifer Liang, we may have all waited down there, at one point clogging up the lanes into the store a bit, until an amused Borders employee spread us out.
Bad traffic on the roads resulted in a late arrival for Brandon and Harriet, but only by about 15 minutes. In the interests of time, we were quickly ushered into the Borders break room after Harriet warmly greeted a friend of hers who lived in the area and had stopped by to see her.
In the break room, we were fed sandwiches while Harriet and Brandon pre-signed store copies (for those who wanted signatures but could not stay for the event) as well as copies for the store employees. They graciously answered Tower Guard questions as they signed, about the nature of writing and publication as well as about the series itself. It was a lot of fun, but too brief, as we were already running late to start the signing. To end the pre-festivities, Harriet and Brandon both graciously signed all our Tower Guard shirts, ensuring that mine will probably never get washed.
The official signing started off with a reading from the prologue by Harriet. Since they had just been in Baltimore the evening before and expected some crossover attendees, they picked a different section to read. Without naming any names and invoking the wrath of the Spoiler God, let’s just say that Baltimore’s reading involved a long-absent evil-doer and ours involved an old-favorite do-gooder. Having Harriet do the reading was a very special event, and I think she charmed the crowd quite well. Her southern accent also lends a certain gravitas to the words as she reads them.
After the reading, Harriet and Brandon held the Q&A portion of the signing. Several questions about the nature of publication were raised, including why the price of audiobooks is so much higher (because of the hundreds of hours of takes the voice actors have to record as well as a relatively low production rate) and why the ebook is delayed (because ebook sales are not counted by the NYT for the bestseller list). Harriet pointed out that the longer the book is on the bestseller list, the larger the discount for that book later on. She also expressed a general wariness of ebooks. In her definition, a book is “an artifact that can transfer ideas from one person to another without an external power source,” which was not something I’d heard said before. Still, she listened when Brandon recently voiced the concerns of the ebook contingent of fans (“Brandon went to bat for ALL of you”), and agreed to move the publication of the ebook up to February 2011, 90 days from the hardback publication date.
Questions for Brandon included which character he enjoys writing most vs. which he enjoys reading most. For writing, he quoted Robert Jordan, saying that it tended to be whichever he was writing, though he admitted that it depended a lot upon the type of scene he was writing vs. the type of mood he was in. For reading, he said his favorite was Perrin earlier in the series, with Mat claiming the title later in the series. Brandon also spent several moments praising Harriet as an editor and a titan in the field, only breaking off when Harriet got so embarrassed that she made him stop.
The highlight of the Q&A session had to be when Harriet was asked to pronounce the names of all the Forsaken. Harriet asked for a list, proclaiming “show me the wretched creatures!” A fan who had bought his Big White Book to be signed obliged eagerly. Harriet prefaced the reading by saying that this was HER interpretation of the names, but that any pronunciation the fans preferred was correct in her eyes. Discussion of the Forsaken continued on a bit, and Harriet pointed out that Robert Jordan used to say that all of his female characters had a bit of Harriet in them. To much laughter, she joked that Moghedien was the part of Harriet that would complain when Jordan forgot to take out the trash.
After the Q&A, the signing started, and the Tower Guard had to stop watching raptly and start actually earning our shirts. We split off into our various tasks, taking photos, handing out paraphernalia, and checking to make sure personalization post-its and jacket flaps were properly positioned for maximum signing velocity. For those of you who have never attended a signing by Brandon, he is very engaging and loves to chat with the readers. I can now report that Harriet has a similarly gracious view of Wheel of Time fans, and having everything positioned for ease of signing allowed them both to concentrate more on the person in front of them than the book they were signing.
One interesting tidbit overheard by Tower Guard members came when Brandon was asked about the Eye of the World movie. Apparently the script is being finalized now, so this is a lot closer to reality than a lot of us were aware.
My job was to keep the masses amused. With 400 people, there was going to be some waiting in line. People were called up 10 to 20 at a time to wait, the rest reading, milling around the store, or venturing out to find food. When they arrived in line, they would find me waiting with a huge bag of candy and a list of trivia questions I’d composed (thanks http://www.encyclopaedia-wot.org/ for letting me fact-check my memory so easily!). If they answered a question right, they got to pick a piece of candy. If they answered it wrong, they could still take candy, because I felt like a jerk withholding it. Many who missed their question demanded to be asked another, stating they needed to “earn” their candy. There was also a large number of people who were there getting books signed for others who couldn’t be present. These people had never read the series. They got candy for being awesome.
A number of hardcore fans demanded that I try to stump them. I’m happy to report that I was able to in most cases. But in these cases other fans quickly jumped in to help, ganging up on the poor helpless Tower Guard with his bag of candy. Everyone was in high spirits, despite the long waits, and the trivia seemed to amuse many. I did manage to learn one spoiler (due to a poorly-chosen question I asked) but it was something I had mostly guessed anyway. Oh well, the price I had to pay.
There were three items in our WoT swag box that went beyond mere bumper stickers. These included an extra Tower Guard shirt (signed by Brandon and Harriet), a Borders display poster for the book (also signed) as well as an excellent bronze bookmark with the Serpent and Wheel logo. These were chosen by line number raffle, with the numbers picked by Harriet. The winner of the shirt went to a very excited woman who “never wins anything” in her words. A bookstore display Towers of Midnight Poster went to Craig, a recent fan who quickly became a “raving ultra-hardcore fan.” Truly, there is no zeal like the zeal of the recent convert. In a neat turn of events, the bookmark went to a gentleman who was there for his brother, currently serving in the military overseas in Korea. It will be shipped to him along with a copy of the book! We all agreed that this was a great way to part with the bookmark (which the Tower Guard all secretly coveted).
The event wound down, and at last it was just a few stragglers and the Tower Guard that needed their books signed. In a move that would surprise no one who knows me, I managed drop one of my three ToM copies, bending a few of the pages. I decided that, rather than saddling my brother or cousin with the slightly-damaged copy, I would pay the klutz’s price and claim that one for myself. But Brandon surprised and amused me when he found the bent pages and wrote BUBBLE OF EVIL along the crease. So yeah, sometimes being a klutz pays off. Also, Brandon Sanderson is awesome. I also got Harriet to sign my copy of Winter’s Heart, previously autographed by Robert Jordan himself. She found the dedication page (“Always for Harriet. Always,”) and signed beneath it, a gesture which I found very touching. Harriet McDougal is a very special lady, and it was a pleasure and an honor to have met her.
I’ll close with a quote from a Tower Guard’s email. “One more time. In barely over a year, it will be over. Feels like ice water being poured down my spine. After doubts arose about the series even being completed, fans couldn't have a better person than Brandon complete it, or one who could connect as well with the fans. 20+ years will have passed since the furious ride to The Eye of the World, ‘yet shall the Dragon Reborn confront the Shadow at the Last Battle, and his blood shall give us the Light. Oh ye people of the world, weep for your salvation.’”