"Oh Come on," I say to myself, "you aren't going to win a free book just because you have a feeling you are going to win one."
It is 6:40 p.m. Thursday evening and I am on my way, on foot, in the almost balmy weather we seem to have traded with Northern Arizona, to my local library. The day before I received an email invite to an author's talk, and since this is a rare event in my town and I happen to have a free evening I decide to go.
I am one of the first to arrive and find a seat in the middle of the small room set aside for author readings, children's storytime, workshops, etc. in the library. Up at the front of the room a man leans against the wall. He has fine, dark hair to his shoulders, a graphic t-shirt a little tight in the tummy, and jeans - one of your more casually attired authors, but it seems fitting; he is Mark Leiren-Young who has recently won one of Canada's top literary awards, The Stephen Leacock Medal For Humour.
Just before Leiren-Young begins his presentation, the librarian hands around a few one-page evaluation sheets and pencils and announces that those who complete the sheets will be entered into a draw for one of two books by the author. I put the sheet and pencil under my chair and prepare to enjoy the talk. I am not disappointed. Leiren-Young tells about his nine month stint in 1985 as a rookie reporter in Williams Lake, a place up in the Cariboo that is about as Wild West as a town these days can get, and where he endured enough wild and crazy adventures to fill an extremely entertaining book. Leiren Young tells us stories ad lib, and reads a few chapters from his award-winning book, Never Shoot a Stampede Queen. He also talks about the mockumentary film he made called the Green Chain which is about the demise of the logging industry on the West Coast of British Columbia. He tells us about the international film festival tour he took with the film, and how people believed it was a real documentary until they saw Battlestar Galactica actress Tricia Helfer giving a monologue in her character as a Pamela Anderson-type activist.
Leiren-Young speaks at top speed and packs a lot into his one hour presentation. By the time the Q&A is over my face hurts from laughing, and I notice the two piles of books-for-sale at the front of the room, wondering which one I should buy and if Mark will take a cheque. After the applause dies down, the librarian reminds us about the evaluation sheets and the book prize. I have already handed mine in - it was easy to answer five questions about an event I had enjoyed so much - but have neglected to put my name on it. There goes my chance, I think. The librarian shuffles the papers and hands them to the author to pick from. He averts his eyes, pulls one from the fan of white sheets and hands it to the librarian. After a few quiet seconds she announces, "I'll have to hold it up, and if anyone recognizes their handwriting, they can speak up and win a copy of Never Shoot a Stampede Queen." I can't be sure...it sort of looks like my writing, but it is a bit hard to be sure from back here...the ladies on either side of me say, "Isn't that yours?"...it is. "That's mine!" I call out. I admit, there is a small disconcerting moment when I realize that the librarian is showing everyone what they will know is my evaluation. Fortunately, I have assessed the event favourably and have written only one slight criticism:
"The author spoke too quickly, but I got used to it."
The librarian hands me my prize, I wait in line for Leiren-Young to sign it, chatting with a few people I know, and then step out into the warm night air. I feel strangely connected to my sister-in-law, Lea, as I make my way home. Twenty-seven years ago I attended the wedding of Lea and my brother Francis in Williams Lake, where Lea grew up. As far as I know, Lea was never a Stampede Queen, but she certainly could have written about one, or played a song about one on the piano; she was intelligent, funny, and extremely talented. Four months after my own wedding, Lea died after her transplanted lungs became infected. I think, if she had been with me tonight, she would have had a few stories about Williams Lake of her own to tell Mark Leiren-Young. I am happy to have won the book, but it feels a little 'otherworldly' to have my premonition come true. I guess it was just meant to be.