Magic. Some people will tell you that we don't have magic here, in this world, the one in which my book is published, the one with lattes and doctor appointments. But let me tell you what I saw the other day.
I'm at my doctor's office, at lunchtime, finishing up an appointment. I show off my ARC -- that's the Advance Reader Copy, also known as an uncorrected proof -- to a woman behind the reception desk. Let's call her Ann.
Ann is delighted. She says she must, right this moment, now that it's her lunch break, start my book. I have to take my ARC with me, so I direct her to my publisher's website where the first ten chapters are available for free. She starts reading on her computer, as I stand there.
She laughs. I'm hoping that's a good thing, since it's not exactly comedy, chapter one. She glances at me, then back to the book.
"I like this," she says.
"I'm glad," I answer. I'm a little stunned at this suddenness, this enthusiasm, but very pleased. I'm a writer, of course I'm pleased. I gather my things to go.
"Oh," she breathes, reading on. "Just my kind of book!" Again, she sends a grinning look my way.
"Thanks," I say.
I turn to leave. I pause. I turn back.
She's still reading.
I've never seen this before, a near-stranger reading my book with this immediacy and gusto. Surely, I think to myself, she'd rather read it without someone watching her, let alone the author. I mutter something polite, something about leaving, hoping she'll say goodbye or wave or some other indicator that she's done with me.
Aloud she wonders what will happen next.
A reader wants to know what will happen next. These are the words writers live for.
Right in front of me, my world and characters are taking shape in the mind and heart of another human being. There is no sensible reason for me to stay here and watch, but I can't seem to make my feet move.
More minutes pass.
"Well," I say. "Guess I'd better go."
She cackles at some action in the story. My story. The one I wrote.
"Yes, I'll just --" I say, as if I'm just coming to this idea. I'll just what? "-- just get on with the day," My words are undercut by how stationary I seem to be.
See, she's reading. My book.
I feel foolish, standing there, but also I feel something else I can't quite name. In another moment it comes to me: I am awestruck. Spellbound. I want to pull out my phone and take a picture to mark this moment, but of course I don't, because it would break the spell.
When at last I summon the will to leave, it's been over fifteen minutes of me standing there, watching Ann -- still smiling and chuckling -- read my book. This is a magic I have never before had the privilege to witness, to see a new reader step into my world.
I give myself another moment to take it in. This moment. This magic.
Finally I go to the door, my eyes misty and my smile wide. I glance back before I leave.
She doesn't look up.