Debra Spark captured the audience’s attention the moment she began reading from her book, “Unknown Caller.” Spark’s author talk at the Raymond Village Library on Wednesday, January 25th, was relaxed and engaging, a lot like having a conversation with a friend.
|Debra Spark converses with the audience|
“Unknown Caller” begins with a call from Joel’s ex-wife, Liesel. Liesel often calls late at night, disrupting Joel’s life with screaming and anger about Joel’s refusal to send more than a minimal amount of child support because he has not been allowed to meet his daughter. But this call is different. This time, Liesel says she’s sending the girl to him for the summer. The twist, however, is that she never shows up. Not only that, but Liesel stops calling, and the two seem to simply disappear.
Although for some writers, ideas are easy to come by, Spark said this is not the case for her. This idea came from the life of some long-time friends, whose situation mirrored the beginning of the book. Spark said she began to think “What if the daughter never showed up?” And the idea for her novel was born.
The audience was small, but enthusiastic. After reading a longer section that described Joel waiting in vain at the airport, Spark took questions about the book. Discussion followed, covering topics such as the travel required for research, since the novel took place over several continents; where the title came from; and character development.
For audience members who had not yet read the book, there were some lingering questions. Why, for instance, wouldn’t his daughter have had a cell phone, and why wouldn’t he have been able to find his ex and his daughter online, where almost anyone can be found? The digital age, Spark said, has certainly made plotting more difficult, but explanations can be found in the story.
Spark’s dynamic personality soon allowed the conversation to shift to other topics, from politics to what other members of the audience were reading. This left the event feeling more like a gathering of friends than a formal author talk.
Veronica Haskell said she has attended other author talks at the library and was surprised at the small group. Library Director Allison Griffin said the crowd for author events can vary widely, from nobody at all showing up to a crowd that barely fits inside the library.
Griffin said they are trying to have at least one author and one non-author event each month. “They don’t have a community center here, so we’re trying to fill that need,” she said, adding that author events and wildlife/nature presentation are the most popular and most requested.
Haskell said one reason she attended the event was that it was a local author. “I like to listen to some of the local writers,” she said.
Cheri Dwinnell said she was at the library and had selected Spark’s book because it looked interesting and was a Maine author. Her husband pointed out the upcoming talk, so she decided to attend. Dwinnell read the book prior to attending the talk, and loved it, she said.
Spark said she enjoys doing events at libraries. “I feel like it’s my chance to meet people in other communities and introduce my work to people who would otherwise not find it,” she said. In larger venues, she added, many of the attendees are her friends. “When I do it in a library, its people I don’t know. Often, it’s a smaller audience, but it’s an audience that actually wants to be there,” she said with a laugh.
Spark is the author of eight books. Five are works of fiction, and four are novels. Spark has also written many shorter pieces that have appeared in major newspapers and magazines. She has received numerous awards, including a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. Spark is a professor at Colby College and teaches in the MFA program for writers at Warren Wilson College. She, her husband and son live in North Yarmouth.