I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you only get to be a debut author once. It has been a marathon, but from the start I was determined to enjoy the ride. Author tours are a rare privilege these days—so every stop was a gift (though I might have skipped the 200-mile round trip on a rainy Saturday for a half-dozen hardy souls). Above all, the three weeks I spent on the west and east coast of America reaffirmed my faith in readers and books; everywhere I went, audiences were keen to talk about the meaning of books today, print or digital, and learn more about the story of the first printed book my novel tells.
What blew my mind most, though, were the many moments of serendipity and staggering coincidence. My very first event was at Book Passage, one of the most dynamic bookstores in the San Francisco Bay Area. As a parting gift, event manager and book artist Melissa Cistaro gave me a tiny volume she’d found scouring used book sales: one of the famous thirty miniature Christmas Keepsakes printed by AR “Tommy” Tommassini between 1947 and 1977, which my grandfather Les Lloyd collected. This one was titled “Pages from the Gutenberg Bible in miniscule facsimile,” but that wasn’t the only thing that stopped my heart. That very afternoon, I had received an email out of the blue from a stranger who’d picked up a copy of my grandfather’s book about Tommy’s collection, called “Thirty Plus One” and wanted to know more about it.
Another stop in San Francisco was the Arion Press, home of the hot type foundry M&H Type, which in its previous incarnation as Mackenzie and Harris my grandfather ran for decades. The whole family turned out for my talk and a tour of the Monotype casting operation by Lewie Mitchell, 83, who’s been making type there for the past 60-plus years. As it happens, he’s also the man who trained the typecasters at Portland’s C.C. Stern Type Foundry, where I was privileged to present my talk the following week. After the talk, one Arion printer even turned up with a copy of a little book of printing terms Les and I printed long ago, called “A Printer’s Ollapodrida.”
The most extraordinary connection of all came in Tacoma, when I learned that a fellow author’s neighbor was the physicist and early printing lover Blaise Aguera y Arcas, whose research at Princeton was the actual spark for my novel. Without his high-resolution scans of Gutenberg’s early types, and the questions they raised, I never would have thought of writing about the subject at all. I’d always wanted to meet Blaise and discuss his research; to my amazement and joy, we met at my Seattle reading and have since shared the excitement only fellow nerds focused on an arcane subject can share. The whole story came full circle in London, a few weeks later, but that is for another post. (All I can say is that it involves another landmark in printing and a press embargo.)