I’ve been saving this story for a while, waiting for somewhere good tell it. But what the heck, I’ll spill it here before I forget.
A couple of years ago when FIENDISH DEEDS was first coming out, my publisher kindly brought me out to Toronto to attend the Canadian Children’s Book Centre gala party and participate in my first-ever signing at Book Expo Canada.
Naturally I was pretty excited. I remember meeting a chatty dude on the plane who for the first time in my very short literary career seemed genuinely thrilled to find out I was an author, even though he had unsurprisingly never heard of me.
Leaving the terminal on Toronto Island, my seatmate was even further impressed when a guy wearing mirrored aviators came up and somehow knew instantly that it was I, PJ Bracegirdle, and subsequently directed to me an awaiting black town car. And though I didn’t show it as I bid farewell to my traveling buddy, I was nevertheless impressed too, especially when it turned out that they fill the back of those cars with bottles of ice-cold water and free Werther’s Originals.
Adding to my excitement as I was borne away towards the hotel was that I was attending the gala with the amazing Jon Scieszka. Now, as most people connected in any way to kids books know, Jon is not only a bestselling author but the first (and now former) Ambassador for Young People’s Literature for the United States of America. Heck, the guy has sold 11 million books worldwide (which when parsed by my self-abusive brain probably means that more people have bought his books by accident than have bought mine in earnest. By a factor of ten).
Anyway, I’ve been a fan of Jon’s right from the very beginning, back when he first appeared at the Edinburgh Book Fair in the early nineties promoting his soon-to-breakout title THE STINKY CHEESE MAN AND OTHER FAIRLY STUPID TALES. In fact, I got a free button depicting the eponymous character out of the deal. So this was a big moment for me. But as always when meeting celebrities, I was a bit nervous. What if he was mean to me? Would I then have to flush my copy of the THE TRUE STORY OF THE THREE PIGS down the toilet and yank the first-edition TRUCKTOWN out of my little nephew’s hands?
Fortunately, such worries proved groundless. Meeting him in the lobby, he turned out to be the great guy everyone had always asserted (which makes sense since you don’t make prickly jerks ambassadors; unless you are looking to start a war, in which case it makes perfect sense). So introductions over, we jumped in a cab (no limo this time; Jon was crazy FURIOUS! No, no, just kidding…) and headed off to the gala party.
Just as we were arriving, my publicist reached into her purse and presented me with my new book, the first time I had ever held a copy. Oh happy day! Then it occurred to me that I would be signing a pile of them tomorrow — not with my given name, Paul, but rather with my adopted author moniker P.J.! Not only had I have never thought about this once, but I had never even attempted it before.
Having himself signed 10 million of his aforementioned books, Jon of course told me not to worry. But that night back in the hotel room, I decided I should nevertheless practice. And despite what Jon said, it didn’t come easy; in fact it felt like I’d somehow gotten through life without having ever had the need to form a capital J! After what was almost certainly several minutes of effort, my hand began feeling like the arthritic talon of some ancient eagle, so I gave up and put out the light.
The next day I nevertheless shook off my nerves like the trooper I am and headed down to the convention center. As my signing immediately followed Jon’s, I was hoping to say hello before gleaning as many career-enhancing tidbits as humanly possible out of him in the brief interim.
But either I was late or the man simply doesn’t linger — probably the latter, since he is a big star as I’ve already explained. Because by the time I arrived, he was long gone.
What utter disappointment! However not for long. For it turned out that in a magnanimous gesture befitting of an ambassador, he had left me something. No, it was not a copy of one of his many wonderful books, personalized with my name and imparting some wisdom that I would treasure forever.
Signed by him.