This past Saturday, Nov. 18, Words Bookstore in Maplewood hosted actor, director, and award-winning travel writer Andrew McCarthy for a signing of his latest book “Just Fly Away.”
In other news, Words hosted a group of people this past Saturday who got to live out their 1980s’ dream of meeting Andrew McCarthy.
McCarthy, as many locals now, grew up in Westfield and Bernardsville, NJ. Visiting Maplewood was near to a homecoming for the star of such 1980s “coming-of-age” films such as “Pretty in Pink,” “St. Elmo’s Fire,” and “Less than Zero.”. Since that time, McCarthy has enjoyed a full career that spans not only the world of acting and directing, but has turned his love of travel into a career as a travel writer and author of the travel memoir “The Longest Way Home.”
There was a buzz of excitement in the air at Words. I wasn’t surprised to see that most of us there were likely “coming-of-age” in the 1980s when his early films came out. Seeing McCarthy gave us a look back into our youth through the lens of our older and wiser selves. In the past, we may have identified with the young characters in the films McCarthy starred in, who were still discovering who they were and what they wanted out of life. Now, we could identify with the real person behind the acting, who developed a career, had a family, and likes to travel. The appeal of McCarthy in film and in real life is that he and his characters are often familiar and relatable.
“Just Fly Away” is a Young Adult novel written from the perspective of a 15-year-old girl named Lucy. McCarthy said the book didn’t start out that way, but he found that in the story he was writing, he kept coming back to the character of Lucy and just realized that was where the story really was.
McCarthy humorously recalled that after writing the first draft of the book, he realized it might be a good time to see if it actually sounded at all like a 15-year-old girl. McCarthy then asked his neighbor (who was a 15-year-old girl) to read the manuscript and let him know what she thought. Much to McCarthy’s relief, she said it sounded just like her and her friends.
And McCarthy was just like you might imagine – a great story teller, funny, mildly self-deprecating and approachable.
He spoke to the crowd about how he developed the story and characters in the book (most contain some element of himself) and how he drew upon his childhood growing up in Westfield, NJ for some of the scenes in the book. He also talked about his experiences of travel and writing, and was eager to take questions from the audience. He even took one question from “Holly” in Ontario, Canada, who joined the event through a live stream on the phone of her friend in the crowd. McCarthy was intrigued and came out from behind the podium to get closer to the remote Holly as he answered her question. Knowing his audience, he also threw in a backstory or two about “Pretty in Pink,” which was a definite crowd-pleaser.
McCarthy followed the Q&A with a book signing and graciously allowed people to take a photo with him. If I were younger, I would have blown up my photo with him to poster size to hang on my wall, but my older and wiser self will just cherish the moment and read his book. He filled the event with his familiar smile and friendly demeanor. I think everyone not only left happy but with a great book to read.