On Thursday, January 21st after watching the recent episode of The Vampire Diaries on the CW at 8pm I saw an announcement the cast would be making an appearance Saturday, January 23rd at Town Center at Cobb. I thought to myself how awesome it would be to meet at least one of the three main characters and give them a copy of my book, The Blood of Cain. I then quickly dismissed the idea thinking there was no way this nearly 40-year old was going to fight through hundreds of screaming and crazed teenage girls with only the slightest of hopes of get audience with a cast member. Fearing for my personal safety and partial sanity, I put the idea out of my mind.
The next day, I was driving through Cobb county on my way to Gwinnett, when I got the idea to stop by the mall and ask the clerk at Hot Topic how the event was to ‘go down’ to give credence to my hesitant decision. When I approached the store, I saw a line extending out the door. A very pretty woman with black and silver spiked hair and narrow square glasses approached me and stuffed a clipboard in my hand, asking me to fill out the membership form for the HT+1 card in order to be able to buy my The Vampire Diaries 2010 Cast Tour shirt before I could receive a wrist-band to meet the cast. Only those lucky enough, who planned early enough and got a jump start on the event acquired such coveted wristbands. I was told I was one of the last to receive a pair, and to use caution as I left the mall against over- zealous fans who’d do just about anything to get them. Of course, while standing in line, I met two more clerks and talked to them about my book, The Blood of Cain. I gave a copy to the clerk who declared they loved to read the most, and promised to bring back another copy the next day to the other clerk, Kat, who seemed eager and excited to read my story. I have to admit, I left the mall a bit dazed, because I hadn’t quite understood what happened. I had no intentions of leaving that mall with golden passes, I didn’t even know such things were needed. By the time I made it home, it dawned on me that I was actually going to meet face to face with one of the actors from the show. I was going to have the opportunity to share my book with at least one actor from a very popular vampire series my own book about vampires. While I’m not star struck I’m opportunity driven, and I saw this was going to be a great opportunity.
So, I placed the announcement on my website, FaceBook, MySpace and Twitter and began to rearrange my schedule to accommodate what I knew would be an all-day event. I initially wanted my fifteen-year old daughter Kelly to go with me, but she’s a lot like her mother where the only stars in her eyes are her own. So, I called my good and enthusiastic friend, Tina Griffin, who also serves a part of my entourage as my personal body guard (or so she thinks anyway) when I go to book signings and asked her if she wanted to meet the cast of The Vampire Diaries with me the next day. She’d never heard of the show or the actors, but when I told her about my plan to give one a copy of my book, she said to count on her. She’d also agreed to be my photographer, which was really funny seeing as how she loves to be in front of the camera much more than behind it.
I woke up Saturday morning and put on my coveted tee-shirt and wristband and headed to church because it was the fourth Saturday of the month, which meant it was Food Ministry day where my church, Deeper Life Christian Center, feeds the hungry. I’ve been serving as a volunteer for that ministry for almost twelve years and wasn’t about to miss another opportunity to help those less fortunate in order to meet a few celebrities. Besides, I didn’t need to be at the mall till noon, so I had plenty of time to fulfill my charitable duties. After the last person received their bag of groceries, I said my good-bye’s, stopped by to pick up my bodyguard Tina and my daughter Kelly (who decided a day at the mall was what she needed).
The ride to the mall was filled with laughter, country music (which I don’t listen to, but my bodyguard is prone to belt out). I looked back into my rear-view mirror as the singer crooned “That’s what cowboys do”, to see my daughters eyes roll around. Her idea of good music is a mix between techno pop and scream-o rock. Don’t ask me to explain…. Because I just can’t. After eating a Krystal burger and sippin’ on a chocolate shake (it was cheat day on my diet), we made jokes about my being lactose intolerant and possibly getting sick when I met the cast, perhaps gagging as I extend my hand to meet them. “Hello… (gag), I’m Author T.L. (gag) Gray and I’d like (gag) to give you a copy of my book (gag), The Blood of Cain.” Even now that’s still a funny thought. Needless to say, the gag didn’t make an appearance.
Upon arriving at the mall, I got out my car, and loaded my arms down with a bag full of autographed books, flyers, bookmarks, camera, water, and peppermint sticks to eliminate my coffee & chocolate breath. I looked around to mark my location and headed into the mall entrance, not paying attention to which stores it was located between. Once we entered the mall, we immediately saw a long, long, line. We found the front where the girls standing there with a smirk on their face quickly pointed out the back. I put my patient face on, because I knew I was going to have to remind myself several times that day, ‘You were young once upon a time and remember what it was like. Be patient and overlook their actions today… it’s the craziness talkin’” My daughter departed our company headed to the nearest store while me and my bodyguard stepped up to the back of the snaky line. A few seconds later, we turn around and met our new friends, Brooke Payne and Amanda Hall.
Over the next three hours, we got to know a lot about each other. My bodyguard and assistant spent much of her time taking flyers and handing them out to many of the vampire lovers in line, talking up my book and hopefully leading to a lot of new readers. However, I think had she actually read the book, she could have described it more accurately to the fans, but all that was really needed to be said was the word “vampire”.
After several laughs, great stories, a bathroom break and a slow tour of the mall as our line moved, we found ourselves at the front. I felt the excited energy from my two new friends spill over and I actually felt a single butterfly in my stomach. Told by the Hot Topic clerks we were going to not just meet the three main characters of the show, but all ten cast members – Ian Somerhalder (Damon); Paul Wesley (Stefan); Nina Dobrev (Elena), Steven McQueen (Jeremy); Katerina Graham (Bonnie); Candice Accola (Caroline); Zach Roerig (Matt); Matthew Davis (Alaric); Michael Trevino (Tyler) & Sara Canning (Jenna), I had to smile. I checked my bag and had exactly eleven books left, one each for the ten-cast members and one for Kat, the Hot Topic clerk I had promised a copy the previous day. Sure enough, as soon as I pulled out the books, Kat walked up really excited to see me and I gave her the book. She held it to her chest like a treasured item, and that touched my heart. Should I have left then, the whole day would have been worth it.
Next we were counted off, me being in front, and then ushered into the Hot Topic. As the group ahead of us went through the long table, we entered the store. A burly, bald and bad-lookin’ (in the Vin Diesel kind of way) body guard flirted shamelessly as we waited to be cattle-called to the table. First, I shook hands with Stephen McQueen (Yes… he’s related to the famed Steve McQueen) who plays Jeremy and introduced myself as Author T.L. Gray. Most everyone looked up from the table to greet me. Matthew Davis gave me a big smile and asked, “So you wrote the book – that’s so cool!” Paul Wesley looked up and said, “It’s nice to meet you. Don’t know if I’ve met an author before.” Matthew Davis asked, “What’s it about?” I smiled and said, “Vampires – of course.” They all sniggered. I told them I had a copy for each one of them to make sure they didn’t leave without them. Matthew thought that was “Awesome,” and then came the lesson on the correct pronunciation of “Georgia”.
As I stood in front of Ian Somerholder, he looked up and said, “Cool hat.” “You too,” I replied, and nodded toward the white hat that sat upon his head. “You got good taste, but you could use a little help with your pronunciation of Georgia. It sounded funny in the episode last night.” All the heads of the actors looked up and everyone started asking each other and those fans standing in front of them. “How are you supposed to say it?” Ian said, ‘How did I say it wrong? I’m sure I said it right, I’m from Louisiana.” My bodyguard Tina, in her thick Georgia drawl, gave an example. Soon the whole table was shouting their own version of “Georgia”. Finally, Ian swiveled his head in a cute swagger and roared out the name, “Geeooowwwjjja”. Everyone laughed.
Those few seconds went by quickly. They moved you down the table like a heard of sheep on slaughter day, and soon I was headed for the exit. Someone from behind shouted, “Good luck with your book.”
But, that’s not the end of the story. The Q&A was scheduled next. Me, my bodyguard and my two new friends, made our way through the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd, mostly filled with those who didn’t get a wristband and a chance to meet the cast face to face. By this time, my feet were killing me. While my shoulders felt much lighter due to the release of the load of books, I was hungry, tired and exhausted. The adrenaline in the place kept me standing in the crowd for several more minutes, but my age finally caught up with me and I turned to Tina and said, “I think it’s time to go.” She agreed, we said our good-byes to Amanda and Brooke and shuffled our way to the back of the crowd, to find the way cornered off and blocked by security. We had to turn around and make our way back through the crowd to the other side of the food court and then into the hallway. Now, we were lost.
We met up with my daughter after a few text messages and wandering around and exited through where we thought we came in. The temperature had dropped at least 10-15 degrees since our arrival and the sun was going down. We immediately knew this was not the parking lot we entered the mall through, so we re-entered the mall, walked down to the next exit and again, didn’t recognize the parking lot. By the third exit, we saw a line of trees that looked like the parking lot we parked in and braved the frigid wind and walked all the way to the end of the row, to discover my car was missing. I was too cold, too tired and too old to deal with a stolen car. We marched directly back into the mall and walked down to Customer Service Center and told a security guard my car was missing.
I discovered a new service at the mall I hadn’t known existed before. If you ever go to the mall and as you prepare to leave find it cold, dark and miserable… just let security know that you’ve misplaced your car and you’ll get picked up at the nearest entrance, driven around in a heated security vehicle and dropped off at your new-found and obviously disobedient car that moved itself to a different parking lot. It’s a cool service and I suggest everyone to at least try it once.
Needless to say, I made it home in one piece, with an autographed poster, a few out- of- focus pictures, sore feet, aching back and a huge smile across my face knowing that ten cast members from the CW’s The Vampires Diaries has a copy of my book, The Blood of Cain.
Till next time,