It's nearly 6:30pm on a Tuesday, and I see a retweet from Owl is Lost:
Stop by our Ave store TONIGHT at 7 to meet and hear the fantastic @charliejane! See you there!
— University BookStore (@ubookstorereads) July 22, 2014
The bookstore lies across Portage Bay in Seattle, so I doubt I'll make it in time from Capitol Hill. Unbearable traffic and route inconsistencies make identifying which fifteen minute cycle your late bus actually belongs to about as easy as reuniting a child with his father on Maury. I've never met a writer of the Gawker Media empire in person, though, and Charlie Jane Anders has always stuck out as one of the finest the sites have hired. So I decide to take my chances. I rush back home, change out of shorts and into jeans for some reason born of partially-formed logic, and, quarters clinging, arrive at the bus stop just as the UD-bound 43 arrives. Not having to wait is nothing short of a miracle, and in hushed tones I humbly say a prayer to Jerome Cardan, father of probability.
The bus is nearly empty as I sit down and text my ex-boyfriend. It's the first thing I think to do, and for what reasons I'll later wonder. We went back to being friends until recently deciding to fool around. Now we're somewhere in between—not so much friends with benefits as fuck buddies with baggage. It doesn't matter I suppose since I'm moving.
He's a bigger sci-fi nerd than I am, always asking me if I want free tickets to ECCC. I would have asked him to come tonight, I say, but I learned of the event only minutes earlier. He texts back that he saw a book written by a different io9 author in stores a couple days ago and that we need to hang out before I leave. I don't respond and only now remember the unanswered request. I don't recall exactly why we broke up.
It's 6:56 when I arrive at the University Bookstore. I'm rushed and awkward as I ask the cashier where the event is taking place. A young college student next to me with a beanie and over-sized knapsack overhears and, surprised, responds before the clerk can.
"Charlie Jane?" she says. "She's upstairs to the left!"
Maybe Anders is more undiscovered than I realize, I think, or maybe it's common knowledge among students that all reading events should take place upstairs in the poetry section. Either way I thank her and quickly scale the stairs.
I look around and take a spot near the front-right before realizing I'm sitting behind Charlie Jane herself. The Dr. Who top and a gradient of natural brownish, bleach blonde and electric pink hair tip me off. For a moment I'm in pure awe. She's furiously typing at a stickers bespoke laptop, and I dangerously risk shoulder surfing to see what she's clamoring away at. A document in a dot matrix looking typeface appears on her screen—the number 482 and a Japanese-looking name. I wonder if it's a piece she's working on, an io9 article, her work that she'll be reading from, and if my genuine curiosity negates the fact that this is an entirely gauche thing to be doing.
A moment later, a boy named Andrew timidly introduces himself to her and explains that his girlfriend wanted to come but couldn't make it. Charlie Jane politely gives her condolences, and Andrew does his best with superlatives to convey just how much his girlfriend adores her.
Am I not a proxy for someone else, too, I ask myself. My blue jeans, red polo and black raincoat really feel out of place among these crunchy students. Fretting over the degree of fanboyhood I have for Charlie Jane Anders—in relation to these anonymous individuals, in relation to my ex-boyfriend perhaps—is not something I'd like to admit to be doing though. So I quiet my fears and remind myself just days earlier I argued vehemently to a friend that Anders' GoT recaps unequivocally trump Max Read's. Yes, I think to myself, I am allowed to be here.
The event begins promptly at 7:00p.m. and I quickly learn that Charlie Jane mentors for a local organization called Clarion West Writers Workshop where she helps aspiring writers in the sci-fi related genres fulfill their Asimovian dreams. The organization is putting on the event, and many of the attendees participate in the workshop and have met Anders before. Another wave of self-doubt rushes through my veins. This time a flavor of FOMO.
Next, a procession of three introducers—each introducing the successor—plays out like an academic parody. Some have a better grasp of humor than the others, and all remind us we're merely the window washers to their ivory towers. I check myself. I may simply be misreading their devotion, I consider, just like, perhaps, I misread the woman's confusion with her beanie and knapsack.
Finally, at approximately 7:10p.m., Charlie Jane Anders rushes to the podium, takes a swig of her bottled water, and launches into her reading. She gives neither an introduction nor a title.
Charlie Jane Anders at podium. Andrew in foreground. Andrew's girlfriend not pictured.
The piece is exactly the post-apocalyptic, Jewish genie in the bottle, fungal devastation, exploration of autonomy that readers of Anders have come to expect. It's quick, crisp and smart. And it's evidently clear its author is as well. Her words come out rapidly like bullets, and I can't help but wonder what her own interior dialogues sound like.
Her piece explores the humanity of her characters with as much passion and alacrity as its speculation that it inhabits. It playfully drops names of playwrights and scientists with equal adoration, and no fewer than five times does the audience erupt in laughter. Anders reads for nearly twenty-five minutes I'd wager, and when she slams the last two pages down on the podium, announcing that the balance of her story can be read when it comes out in September, I feel nothing short of betrayed.
Immediately Charlie Jane rushes back to the front row, smiling at the lady who took her seat midway through, and appears uncomfortable with the spotlight or the emptiness of sound, or both. The crowd gently stirs, and the man sitting next to me launches into a stand-up like routine, as if expecting Charlie Jane to play Abbott to his Costello, and riffs on about how the fictional io9 implant should be able to predict the future of blogs. Charlie Jane politely humors the man's punchlines while the rest of the room mutters incantations hoping this individual might live out his life in silence.
After protestation, Charlie Jane agrees to take questions proper. Among her many accomplishments, she reveals that she's also optioned off her award-winning novelette Six Months, Three Days to NBC to be made into a television series. It's to be more comedic than the written piece with episodes focused around detective-like plot lines. Involuntarily, I wonder what it must feel like to have multiple producers vying to animate your work.
More questions follow, covering the standard gamut of "what are your favorite____?" inquiries until finally she sits to sign the attendees' books. I go to buy a copy but learn that the anthologies she's featured in have all sold out. Among the few rules I know of readings, only asking for a signature on a book that the hosting bookstore has sold to you is one of them. I don't want to pass up the chance to meet her, though, so I wait for the better-prepared customers to walk through the signing table. I watch as one man leaves his own book with the author, a move I find either bold or misguided, and at last it's my turn to encounter Charlie Jane Anders.
"I like your Game of Thrones recaps."
"And your discussions about the hero's journey. I like your perspective on those things."
"Anyways, I don't have a book. I just wanted to meet you. I was the guy on Twitter."
"Oh yeah! Did you get a chance to hear the reading?"
"Oh, yes. I was here for the whole thing."
"Great. You'll be able to hear the rest when it comes out later this year."
And with that my time with Charlie Jane comes to an end. I shake her hand, not knowing what an appropriate conversation would look like in this situation where there is no reason for an author to be trapped at a book signing table when a fan has no book for signing, but sure that I did not experience one. Glad to at least meet her and tell her I'm an avid fan, I depart the table and walk out of the poetry section back down the stairs. I don't have any evidence of meeting her, but I suppose that's what this is all for. Then I catch the 43 Capitol Hill-bound just as it departs, more evidence that probability works in mysterious ways, and I tweet how much fun it was to meet such a great author.
Later that night she follows me back, and it's fucking embarrassing how excited that makes me.