I could have spent last night doing my normal routine – cleaning up even more the kids’ post-packing messes in their rooms and the play room. The main reason for this, after all, is that I need to clean out all the extraneous materials, throw out the garbage they don’t think I noticed under their beds, and at least make it look like we’re taking care of this house that we don’t own. I am, after all, negotiating another lease, for two years this time!
But I didn’t do that. I had a horribly bad for me (particularly on my diet!) Chik-fil-a sandwich that the chain brought to the newsroom right before I left last night and instead headed North to Roseville, CA. In particular, I was going to Barnes and Noble. Not that I needed a book – though I was hoping to buy one – but to support a local writer. More than that, a man whose time I’ve probably wasted on a few select occasions and has been no more than fair and kind.
James Rollins is a local author, though author isn’t really an apt description. He is a veterinarian (see, Jim! I can spell it too!), though he doesn’t practice as much as he did at the beginning of his career. He did say last night, though, that he could spay a cat in thirty seconds. I’d say I’d like to see that, but we all know I wouldn’t. That . . . and I’m allergic to cats. He’s an adventurer. He would likely downplay that and say he just likes to see new things, but the man is a certified diver, spelunker (for those of you without a dictionary or thesaurus, that’s a man who explores caves – often repelling down, not just wandering into them) and sometime archaeologist.
You’d think I was familiar with the man because, after all, he’s a local writer. You’d be wrong. I actually gained familiarity with him because of my Mom. During a trip to visit my folks the whole family – Andrea included, this was awhile ago – my Mom had found a paperback and thought I might like it. It had adventure, it had history, it had archaeology, and a tinge of the supernatural. That’s what she gathered from the back of the book. The novel was called “Map of Bones”, one of Rollins’ Sigma Force series of books, and this one is somewhere smack in the middle of his run. My Mom had bought it because he was a vet who was from the Sacramento area. She thought that was neat, a published, seemingly well-received writer from Andrea’s hometown.
When I finally moved to Sacramento with Andrea, I found one day that the station had gotten a stack of Rollins’ newest book, due out weeks later. I immediately contacted the publisher because I just thought it was pretty amazing that I was finally in a position to interview this guy who’d done spectacular things, written amazing fiction, and was right in my backyard. To my amazement they said “yes.” (Well, not amazement, he was, after all, pushing a book.) His office is what you’d expect from a thriller writer. Copies of his books were there, he had a crystal skull to match the fact he’d written the novelization of the last Indiana Jones book. He was even nice enough to put on the hat and hold the whip for video for us.
Each new book, including his young adult series Jake Ransom were opportunities to talk with him and do some sort of follow-up to our piece on Jim. He was the local boy made good and I admired his writing.
But my admiration turned to deep respect last year.
We’d gotten just a few weeks past Andrea’s funeral and I was barely starting to come out of my fog. I’d just returned to work and gotten the release for the next book in the Jake Ransom series, one my daughter Hannah adored.
I told Hannah that the book was coming and she was happy for the first time I’d seen in a few weeks. I had forgotten what it was like, having that excitement and anticipation of something you truly loved more than anything. I remember that with the original Star Wars trilogy . . . the newest seasons of Doctor Who . . . and the days that Isaac Asimov released the newest book in his Robots series. So to see her excited about something again, this girl who was so very close to her mother, made me very happy.
I rarely ask anything of people I interview. Only on a handful of occasions in my early career did I actually even ask for photos with them. I softened as years went by and I realized I had little record of the amazing things I’d covered – Presidential campaigns; presidents voting for themselves; I started carrying a small digital camera. I still was reserved and respectful, but managed pictures with Adam Savage, Rudy Giuliani; shooting training at Ft. Campbell with the 101st Airborne. I now have a record. So when the book was due out I sent a short message to Jim asking if, after I got Hannah a copy, he’d sign it if I sent it to him. I wasn’t asking for anything advanced or the like. I just wanted to make her smile.
James Rollins had no idea what had happened, nor did I expect him to. I can say I know him, that I’ve worked with him, that he’s read articles I’ve done with historical overtones, etc. I would never wander saying “oh, yeah, Jim and I are best buddies, we hang out all the time!” like some bragging knuckleheads I know. But I do know him well enough to send an occasional note and ask advice, etc. When I explained our situation and how Hannah was dying to read the next book I thought his signing it would make her day. He said it would be no problem.
But fast forward just a week or so . . . and in the mail came a package. Almost a full month before release Jim had sent a copy of the new book to Hannah . . . signed and featuring one of his signature doodles and with a message from Jim on the pages.
It’s not that I got a free book or that he was looking for credit. While others may downplay this as a simple gesture or something that’s just part of what being a writer is. I disagree. Jim could have ignored the email, could have simply signed a copy I sent him or even offered up his next signing as when he could do it. He could have asked for something in exchange, what have you. Instead, he did what may have been a simple gesture for him that made Hannah’s year. She not only got the book she’d been dying to read, she got it early and signed!
That was classy.
So I am plugging Jim’s book. I’m a chapter in, that’s all. If you like thrillers, adventure series, all that . . . then pick up one of his books. It’s not just because he’s a good writer – which he is – but because, if Hannah’s situation can tell you anything, it should tell you how he’s a good man.