Several years ago, I was fortunate to receive an email advertising the author of The Book Thief, Markus Zusak, coming to a local high school that day to do a talk/book signing. I immediately called my mom and told her to cancel any plans she had that evening, because we were going to meet the author of one of our favorite books! It was an evening I’ll never forget. We listened to this incredible man talk about his inspiration for the book, and stories of him growing up in Australia. He was funny, and his stories were entertaining and laugh out loud hilarious! His Australian accent just added to the entertainment, and I was enthralled and inspired by his genius. He told a memorable story about pranking his brother by switching out the boiled egg he ate for lunch everyday for a raw egg, causing his brother to break a raw egg on his own face. Zusak was making a point in that telling a good story, you need the key elements of humor, detail, and suspense to keep the readers engaged. He set the bar high for author talks, and I was slightly disappointed when I met other authors after him, as they weren’t as entertaining or gregarious. That evening we waited in line for over an hour for Zusak to sign our books, and the personalized, signed edition of The Book Thief is still one of the most treasured books on my bookshelf.
Fast forward to a week ago, when I was browsing Facebook (actively procrastinating from doing actual work), and saw the magic words, “Markus Zusak in Kissimmee.” I could not contain my joy when I realized I could easily drive there and back in an evening. I had heard he had a new book out called Bridge of Clay, and of course was excited to read it. I read some recent interviews with him and found out it took him 13 years to finish this book. As I am currently struggling through the 6th year of my never-ending PhD journey, I felt I could relate to Zusak’s struggle to write. He might be able to teach me a thing or two about work perseverance.
Before attending the event, I wanted to make sure it was more than just a book signing. Remembering how entertaining his talk was, I was only going to the event if he was also going to speak to the entire group and not just sign books. So, I decided to post a message on the facebook event page asking, “Will Mr. Zusak be speaking at the event or is this only a signing?” I waited patiently for an answer from the event’s sponsor, Books-A-Million. A day or so later, I saw they had replied, and clicked on it. It was Markus Zusak himself who replied with a humble, ” Hi Danielle – I will be speaking and then signing. Hope you can make it.” EEEEKKKK! Fangirl freakout! I definitely HAD to go to the event now, and was even more excited. I couldn’t disappoint my favorite author.
Super nervous to meet him again, I walked into the Books-A-Million and saw a small group gathered at the back of the store. I was surprised at the small crowd, since the last author event I attended for Zusak was a large room of over 100 people. Didn’t people know this was THE Markus Zusak, genius of the written word, who wrote an entire book narrated by death?? A small, humble crowd of about 20 people had gathered. These were the most devoted fans in Central Florida, I was sure of it. My electronic ticket was scanned, I was handed a book, and as I turned to the first page, I was so excited I couldn’t even read the words on the page. The girl sitting next to me had also traveled 1.5 hours to see him in person, and was equally starstruck/mesmerized.
Zusak was just hanging around the bookstore talking to people before the event started. He was casually introduced and stood in front of the table, not wanting to use the microphone. Immediately, he was telling jokes and putting the audience at ease. He told various stories about how small details from his life made it into his latest book. One story was about how his mother dropped a basket of colorful clothing line pins on the ground one day after his siblings had played another raucous game of tennis in the backyard. He spoke about how he became a father after he wrote The Book Thief, and how that changed his writing. He said it took him this long to write Bridge of Clay because it took him that long to get the story and writing perfect, exactly how he wanted it. He gave up on the story twice, missed deadlines with his publisher, and changed narrators multiple times. You could tell he worked hard on this book and was proud of his work. He is an author that clearly values quality over quantity.
He spoke for 45 minutes, which was too short for me. If he did a podcast, I would listen to it everyday just for his storytelling and fun accent. Because the audience was so small, I only needed to wait in line for 15 minutes for him to sign my new copy of Bridge of Clay and pose for a photo. There was a guy in the audience who had a tattoo inspired from Zusak’s first book, I Am The Messenger, an intricate design of a deck of cards. There was a girl sitting in front of me with a well-loved copy of The Book Thief full of colorful, neon post-it notes. Turns out she wrote her thesis on the book, and knew it inside and out. See, I told you. His biggest fans were assembled in that Books-A-Million that day.
I left the event feeling inspired. Inspired to persevere and finally finish my PhD after dragging my feet for months. I felt inspired to write a book someday that would be meaningful to people. It was another evening I’ll never forget. I will read Bridge of Clay soon, and absorb every detail of Zusak’s writing. No doubt it will be another treasured book on my bookshelf.
Find Markus Zusak’s books on Amazon: