When my first novel, Island Song, was published, I had a secret little dream that I would walk into a coffee shop or restaurant, and I see someone reading my book. For years, every time I walked into a place where gay men sat reading, I scanned all the books, hoping to find one of mine. It’s been five long years from that first publication, and not once has that aspiration happened—until yesterday.
Herman and I were having lunch at a popular Mexican restaurant in Palm Springs and a man a few tables away sat reading a book while he ate his lunch. I couldn’t see the cover, and I didn’t think much of it, except that he was rather nice looking with a little salt and pepper at the temples. We finished our food, paid the bill, and left the building. While waiting on the sidewalk out front for Herman to unlock the car, the salt-&-pepper guy walked out of the restaurant. As he passed me, I notice he carried my Butterfly’s Child novel. I was momentarily stunned.
“Excuse me,” I said. “I’m the author of your book. Would you like me to sign it?” Now it was his turn to be stunned. He ask me if I was really Alan Chin, in a doubting voice that showed he didn’t expect a Caucasian man to have to have my last name. I assured him I wrote the book, and we talked for twenty minutes while I signed his copy.
He told me he had already read Island Song and loved it, and had stopped by the bookstore that morning to sample another of my novels. The interesting part of our conversation came when he talked about how closely he identified with the protagonist in Island Song. In that novel, Garrett moves to a lonely beach in Hawaii after losing his lover; Mr. Salt-&-Pepper had moved to Ensenada, Mexico after losing his lover. Garrett experiences something similar to a Buddhist’s version of enlightenment. Mr. Salt-&-Pepper is a practicing Buddhist, and has had several such experiences. He told me my story gave him hope that he would, like Garrett, work through his loss and eventually discover a fulfilling life again. I swear his eyes were pooling with water as he spoke. He almost had me in tears.
I’ve been glowing from the experience since we parted. It is really extraordinary how your work, no matter what it is, can touch people in unexpected ways. This, IMHO, is the true joy of writing.