Braving the Night for ‘Brisingr’

Alison Morris -- September 25th, 2008

Last Friday I left the NEIBA trade show (more on that to come!) in the early afternoon and hustled back to Wellesley, for a sweet, sweet line-up of events at our store, leading up to the midnight launch of Christopher Paolini’s Brisingr. While our turnout was much lower than we’d hoped, those who did join us for the evening’s festivities seemed very pleased to have done so — and they were probably just as happy they didn’t have to share the evening’s "special guests" with a large crowd!

The fun started at 6 p.m., when Ologies author Dugald Steer answered questions from a crowd of about 35 kids and grown-ups about all kinds of monsters and dragons. At times he tossed questions their way too. My favorite exchange went like this:

Dug: "Does anybody know where Yetis come from?

Kid (with great enthusiasm): "The Bahamas?" 

Below, the affable and highly intelligent Dug illuminates the characteristics of a creature featured in his newest book, Monsterology.

Below, (young) twin fans watch as Dug inscribes a book with their very own names!! Their excitement was palpable. 

Following Dug’s presentation and signing, illustrator Gareth Hinds (my… ahem… FIANCÉ!) did a demonstration in which he drew dragons and other objects/creatures/oddities by request, while kids drew along with him. Among other things, the young onlookers asked him to draw a blackberry (no, not the edible kind), Bart Simpson, Mario, Voldemort, a puppy, and a squirrel. (What a combination!) The consensus was he passed each test with flying colors.

A little after 9 p.m., fencing master Zoran Tulum educated AND entertained a rapt crowd in the back parking lot of our bookstore with his explanation of the history of sword-fighting, complete with antique swords from his own collection. HE WAS FANTASTIC! I honestly believe it would be worth your while to HIRE Zoran to come to your child’s birthday party, your sales conference, your family reunion, your next bookstore event — anything, anywhere. He’s easily one of the best, most entertaining speakers I’ve seen, which explains his overwhelming success as a coach and teacher. Just how much success has he had? Here’s the bio that appears on the site for his fencing studio (Zeta) in Natick, Mass.:

Zoran Tulum, head coach, has been a fencer for over 40 years and a coach for more than 27. His career has taken him from winning the Yugoslavian National Championships to coaching the International Olympic Games and US National Teams. In 1996, he was coach for the US Olympic Team.

As a fencing master, Zoran coached at Harvard University for two years and Stanford University, where he was head coach for 12 years. Over those years, his fencers won eight individuals NCAA titles in all three weapons. As well, his fencers have won multiple medals at both junior and senior levels at the Pan American Games, the University Games and World Championships. His students have accumulated nearly every national title in the US at each age and classification level, from youth through Junior Olympics and Senior National Championships.

Zoran founded Zeta Fencing Studio in 2001. Since that time, thousands of student fencers have participated in Zeta’s programs. Many have gone on to fencing in leading college programs. In the last six years, the club has won four national titles and fielded countless finalists in US National Championships.

Below Zoran wields a broadsword before a crowd of slack-jawed onlookers.

Following his explanation of fencing’s origins and some of its traditions, Zoran and 13-year-old Juliana Van Amsterdam (whose sister Katrina is my teenage sidekick!) then demonstrated some basic fencing techniques. 

I ask you: What Brisingr party could be cooler than this??

Following our fencing fun (during which we raffled off seven weeks of fencing classes, worth $225 — a very generous donation from Zoran!) many in our crowd of Brisingr devotees moved down to the store’s Used Book Cellar for a screening of the Eragon movie. They emerged at about 11:45 p.m. and joined other excited Brisingr fans (about 50 or 60 parents and adults) lining up to get their hands on this long-awaited book.

Each kid receiving his or her copy of Brisingr at midnight was also given a cool souvenir to commemorate the occasion: a foam sword bearing the slogan "I braved the night for Brisingr at Wellesley Booksmith." These souvenirs may not have the coolness of, say, Zoran’s broadsword. Or his rapier. Or his court sword, cavalry sabre, or katana. But we think these were a pretty good use of our Random House co-op, nevertheless!

In short, OUR ENTIRE EVENING WAS AWESOME!! Thanks go to neighboring restaurant Alta Strada, which made food available throughout the evening for families attending the festivities. And kudos go to my colleague Mayre Plunkett, who helped put things together and made sure they ran smoothly. Things went so well and we all had such a good time that it’s easy to forget this unfortunate bookselling reality: on Friday night we sold only 35 copies of Brisingr. Even after all that work, and with all that fabulousness. (Thank goodness we’ve sold another 75 or so copies in the days since.)

That reality begs the question: was the midnight party worth it? I suppose that depends on whether you’re asking the store’s coffers (which had to cover the cost of paying extra employees to be at the store long into the evening, plus cover the hours we spent planning this fun), or the local kids who are suddenly desperate to take up the sport of fencing and raving to their friends about our event. Our best hope is that the goodwill generated by those six hours (!) of entertainment will generate more in the long term than it did in the short. But if not? Well, we’ve got a lot of foam swords at the store, and I’ll sell them to you for less than it costs to take seven weeks of fencing!

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