Novelist Richard Russo delighted fans at Wednesday book signing in Mystic.

On Wednesday afternoon, the first in memory that reminded anyone of literal springtime, author Richard Russo walked up the steps of Mystic's First Congregation, smiled warmly and asked, "Are we in time for Vespers?"

There were indeed about 50 folks gathered inside but, rather than attending that particular prayer ritual, they were more interested in revelations, which is to say how one of America's most acclaimed literary novelists works his written-word magic. Indeed, Russo, on a signing tour behind his latest publication, a collection of short stories called "Trajectory," was on hand to discuss his work and autograph copies.

After brief prefatory remarks, Russo, dressed casually in jeans and a tails-out shirt, read a poignant but amusing excerpt from "Intervention," one of the pieces in the new book. Within a few pages, in a scenario that captured a decades-long series of recurring and futile "get-rich quick" pitches from one brother to another, Russo artfully and wittily captured the characters' charms and idiosyncrasies through a tuning-fork dynamic that ultimately resulted in violence.

It was the sort of presentation that demonstrated not only the writer's gift, but also his affection and empathy for his own characters. Smiling at the subsequent and appreciative applause as he finished reading, he came down from the altar and, in a genial introduction to the Q&A segment, said, "Alright, what's on your mind?"

Though Russo is best known for "Empire Falls," which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001, many of the questions focused on two bookend novels, 1993's "Nobody's Fool" and last year's sequel, "Everybody's Fool." He described innocuous real-world events that rekindled his affection for "Nobody's Fool" protagonists and inspired the sequel 23 years later.

He also spoke with great tenderness about interrupting the joyous "Everybody's" process to write a book he didn't want to write, his memoir, because he was driven after his mother's death to unravel the meaning behind their relationship. His mom, he said, was afflicted with obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety — genetic traits Russo himself thinks he might have suffered if he hadn't "discovered writing, through which I learned some of the compulsions so destructive to my mother could actually be beneficial to me and my work."

Throughout the charming 70-minute session, Russo also discussed the vast impact Paul Newman and Philip Seymour Hoffman had on him through their respective portrayals of Max Roby and Charlie Mayne in the television mini-series of "Empire Falls"; having to, once he and his editor had decided to title his latest collection "Trajectory," go through the book page by page to find a place to actually insert the word since it wasn't otherwise in the text; and how his perhaps paradoxical goal with each book is to both surprise and yet provide the feeling that the conclusion was also inevitable.

He laughed, "I want the readers to feel blindsided. And then I want them to put the book down and say, "Of course! That's the only way it could have happened.'"

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