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Me, Chuck Caldwell, and Bernadette the book store owner.

I had a book signing recently that went really well. I sold a lot of books and the book store owner was delighted. However, I can’t say that I was the reason for the big turnout. Sure, I had written the book everyone was buying, but they came to meet the subject of the book.

Clay Soldiers: One Marine’s Story of War, Art, & Atomic Energy is a biography of a man named Chuck Caldwell. Chuck lives in Gettysburg and is well known there from his years of running an shop where he made miniature figures. In fact, the store where we were doing the book signing was literally next door to where his shop used to be.

People were coming into the bookstore and purchasing two, four, ten copies of the book, and they all wanted Chuck to sign them. I was an afterthought. I guess I should be grateful that they even had me sign them. I went to the unit of the Marine Corps League that Chuck is a member of last month with the book. Again, plenty of books sold, but there no one even had me sign one. They were all chasing after Chuck to get him to sign them.

Besides keeping me humble, the lesson I learned from this is:

  • It’s all about the story not the storyteller.
  • Tell a good story and tell it well.
  • A good storyteller doesn’t draw attention to him or herself, but keeps the reader lost in the story.

Chuck signing a book for one of his fans.

I hope that’s what I’ve done with Clay Soldiers. I know I had plenty of good material to work with and I found myself getting swept up in certain parts of the book as I wrote it.

I think that readers can identify with Chuck. His story is not that of a general, a high-level politician or a multi-millionaire. It’s about an ordinary guy. He was a private at Guadalcanal and charged into machine gun fire when told to do so. That’s more interesting than being the general who gave the order to charge. During the above ground atomic bomb tests in the 1950s, he went in with minimal protection to find the balls of fissionable material, sometimes even as the mushroom cloud was rising from the explosion. Meanwhile, the scientists who examined that material were safe in bunkers miles away.

Chuck is just an ordinary guy who played the cards life dealt him and did his best to be a good husband and father.

Another reason I didn’t mind being the center of attention at these events is that I got to watch Chuck’s face light up when someone he knew from years ago came in to get his book. I got to listen to him talk to people about stories in the book. Most of all, I got to see him smile.

That tells me that I got things right.

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Chuck sees someone he knows come into the book store.