Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Peter S! Beagle

A few weeks ago, I got an email from some friends up in the DFW area asking if I was going to make it to Scarborough Fair this year for Peter S. Beagle's appearance. Now, I'm a big fan of Scarborough Faire. I used to get season passes for it, and occasionally attended dressed in my Hern the Hunter outfit. I took The Wife there on our first date, as she'd never been to one before. She married me anyway (and no, I've never been in SCA. I'm not that serious about ren faires and such--I just get a kick out of them). But since we've moved to New Braunfels, Scarborough's become a 4-hour-plus drive to attend, which A) means a lot of driving for the kids and/or B) hotel expenses, which we're never all that fond of in the first place. So no, I regretfully said, we'd not be making it despite Peter Beagle's presence.

I checked around and discovered Beagle was making a book tour of Texas, and would be hitting some bookstores in the San Antonio-Austin area before heading up to Scarborough. Unfortunately, we were going to be out of town during his events and would miss him. I've met Beagle several times--even interviewed him at Apollocon in '05 I believe--and have had all sorts of fascinating conversations with him on those occasions, so I was disappointed to miss him. Then, Friday night, The Wife gets and unexpected email inviting us to a friend's house Sunday evening for a small party/reception for Beagle at which he'd also do a reading. Just like that, we were seeing Beagle and not even having to make the drive into San Antonio.

Peter S. Beagle reads "Gordon, the Self-Made Cat" to
Monkey Girl and Fairy Girl April 5 in New Braunfels

We arrive and the kids pile out of the minivan and immediately start playing with the other children there on the swingset/playscape. There's a little party tent set up with Beagle's books available to buy, and another table with wine, cheese, fruit and other goodies. Connor Cochran, Beagle's business manager, looks up and is startled to see me. Most folks assume I live in Austin since those are the writers circles I mostly move in. I move along and greet Beagle, and immediately get drawn in to a great conversation with him on how this is his first extended stay in Texas that doesn't involve airports or convention hotels adjacent to airports, and how his vision of Texas was forever colored by the descriptions of a fellow creative writing student at Stanford by the name of Larry McMurtry. Then Beagle got ready to do his reading.

If you've never heard Beagle read, you're missing out on a great treat. His voice is resonant and velvety smooth. It's not particularly loud, but it carries all the same. There's a even calm to it that packs an emotional power all the same. I make no secret of the fact that if my career ever reaches the point where audiobooks become an issue, I'm going to request that the publisher hire Peter Beagle to do the readings. For this kid-friendly gathering, he chose to read "Gordon, the Self-Made Cat" from his collection The Line Between. It was quite a funny piece about a mouse who defies convention and attends cat school so that he will no longer be a prey animal. It was cute and clever in all the right ways without being cloying. Beagle announced that he was working to expand it--presumably to become a full-fledged children's novel--and both The Wife and I thought it particularly well-suited for a cinematic adaptation, possibly by Jim Henson Productions or a similar studio capable of animated animals and wry humor. We'll see.

My eldest, Monkey Girl, was particularly captivated. She'd met Beagle before and knew him as the guy who wrote The Last Unicorn, but that was pretty much the extend of her interest. In the last year, however, she's become a Reader. In a few short months she progressed from the Junie B. Jones books to Judy Blume to A Series of Unfortunate Events. Late Friday night, right around midnight, she finished off Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, completing the entire Potter series in a five-week span. And she wanted something else to read, preferably a series. Drawing a blank on an appropriate follow up to the boy wizard, and not that big into series books, I suggested both Asimov's Foundation books and McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern. Neither piqued Monkey Girl's interest. But Beagle's reading did. She begged for us to buy her some books, and in the end settled on Tamsin and Beagle's new collection We Never Talk About My Brother. And she got Beagle to autograph them, listening intently as he discussed the origins of the cats in Tamsin. Mr. Beagle, I'm confident in saying, has won himself a fan for life. She read Tamsin all the way home. Later, I found the book in the living room and took it upstairs to her room. Later I found her curled up in her room with The Fantasy Worlds of Peter S. Beagle open. I'd gotten it autographed for her back at that Apollocon.

"What are you reading?" I asked.

"Lila the Werewolf," she answered. "I can't find Tamsin."

"It's on your bed. I found it in the living room earlier."

"It is?" Swoop!

Yeah, I'd say Beagle's got himself a new fan.

Now Playing: The Kinks Everybody's in Show-Biz

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