Right Off Campus Bookshop was jumping, and Aaron Welch couldn't be happier. He enjoyed interacting with his fans on his website and through social media, but meeting them face-to-face at these book signings always proved to be the best treat. Everyone turned out to be so nice, so glad to meet him and share the joy his books brought them. Which always made him laugh when he thought about it. His books weren't about joy; they were full of terrifying images, horrific violence, and graphic sex. In his first book, Bloody Waders, he vividly described a scene where the killer gutted a victim using only a fish hook, some fishing line, and a paper clip. He'd expected first his agent, then his publisher, to ask him to tone it down, but the scene stayed. Now, four years later, he still had readers tell him how that bit kept them up for nights on end, and then they'd shake his hand or slap his shoulder like he did them some huge favor. His next two books, and now his fourth, the reason for the signing tonight, all shared scenes of comparable gruesomeness, and instead of revulsion, his loyal readers heaped on the praise.
"Ready to start, Aaron?" Nell Hanson, the owner of the shop, asked from the head of the line. She always did a great job of organizing and publicizing his appearances here, and tonight was no exception. Though it was a Thursday, a school and work night, the place was packed. He hoped most people were buying, if not his, then other books. With the scarcity of independent book stores nowadays, every bit helped. Nell kept the place safe by both carrying current textbooks and offering a small student discount, but her true love was fiction, and the more she sold, the more she could carry. That's why he gladly offered his services whenever she asked.
"All set, Nell." He had a half-dozen pens ready to go, along with a pile of custom-made bookplates with his name, the title of his newest book, Dead Wrong, and a spot for his signature, which he liked to sign right in front of his fans so they knew it was genuine. Those were for the fans that already had his book and didn't bring it with them, or, as was becoming more common, had purchased the e-book. He embraced the new technology, and had an e-reader of his own he enjoyed using. Whatever got people reading was fine with him, paper or not.
A middle-aged man and woman, his first two fans of the night, approached, smiling, both holding a hardcover copy of Dead Wrong. Each said hi, shook his hand, and told him how much they enjoyed all of his work while he signed their books. Unless specifically asked, he only penned his name. He was happy to write a short, personalized message, but most people, like these two, were thrilled with his simple autograph.
The first half-hour of the scheduled hour-long event went much the same. He heard which books meant the most to people, which scenes struck home for various reasons, and which characters became long lost friends. The normal questions came out, those which he could answer in his sleep: Where did he get his ideas? Did he live in a house of horrors? And what did his family think of him writing such scary and disturbing stories? He had standard answers for each: His ideas came straight from his dreams, or, more appropriately, his nightmares (which wasn't entirely true, but tended to get a better response than how he really did it, which was doodling words on a blank page until an idea struck him as interesting enough to devote a half-year or more to); no, his house was boringly mundane; and his family loved that he penned such scary books, though he did often catch them watching him a bit wearily when they thought he wasn't looking. He added a spooky little chuckle to that last part, and it never failed to earn him a laugh.
But, in truth, Mom and Dad loved that he wrote these tales of horror. They knew it helped him work through his past, the loss of his beautiful wife and infant son. Five years ago, Zach died in his crib, and Jenna took her own life because of it. That he hadn't been home when it happened still haunted him. He might not have been able to save Zach — crib deaths happened — but he would have kept Jenna alive. That's where the writing came in. He wrote horrible things on his word processor to keep from doing equally horrible things to himself. Truth be told, the thought of joining Jenna in the murky world of suicide had occurred to him on more than one occasion.
He kept the light and (hopefully) witty banter up so he wouldn't dwell on these memories. And, as usual, it worked. He took down Twitter handles so he'd remember who they were when they later mentioned or retweeted him. He smiled when he got a face of someone to go along with their name from the message board on his website. He enjoyed the touching stories people told regarding his books.