Yesterday, I was at the Kensington Day of the Book Festival selling my books. I started paying attention to the kind of people interested in my work.
On the four-foot table, I laid out three of my books, two reviews of Last of the Annamese, and the two newspapers that have done cover stories on me. I was surprised by the number of people that stopped by the table and read an entire newspaper article or a review before speaking to me. Then they questioned me about the books and my time in Vietnam. A good many wanted to know what “Annamese” means. Most ended up thanking me and moving on, but some bought a book, almost always Last of the Annamese.
The folks not interested were the most obvious—they walked by apparently without noticing me. They were teenagers and millennials and young couples with children. I particularly enjoyed watching the latter because as I get older, I’m more and more charmed by children. The parents sometimes noticed my smiles and chuckles. Mostly they just passed on by.
The people who showed interest were almost invariably those in the last half of life. We seniors and near-seniors seem to have in-built affinity that draws us to each other.
A fair number of women, usually in pairs, stopped to ask about my writing and my past. They were intrigued by my story—granted, an unusual one: thirteen years on and off in Vietnam as a civilian spy working under cover—but then thanked me and headed out.
It is the men who showed the most interest. Somehow they sense a kinship with me. They are drawn to one of their kind with a story to tell.
But in venues like this one, the group most attracted are veterans, both men and women. They spot me as one of them and want to express the bond we veterans always feel for one another. Most of the time, the vets tell me their stories of where they served and what happened to them. If they were in Vietnam, we compare notes on locations and units, talk about the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), the south Vietnamese fighting force, and often reminisce about the beauty of Vietnamese women. If they buy one of my books, I always give them my business card and ask them to give me feedback after they’ve finished the book.
I wish that young folks would read my work. My sense is that they could learn not to repeat the mistakes we made when we were younger. I’m particularly pleased that a young German woman has read my books and regularly corresponds with me. Her English is far better than my German, and the story of Vietnam, all new to her, is especially intriguing.
For reasons I only dimly understand, the experience of talking with others at book fairs is satisfying. Writing is a lonely occupation, always done, out of necessity, alone. My guess is that communicating with other human beings in a literary milieu slakes my thirst for companionship.