Friday, January 28, 2011

Girlfriends Dish on Encounters With Favorite Authors

From Kathryn Stockett to Norah Roberts to Margaret Atwood. Girlfriends give the scoop on their amazing run-ins with famous authors

Predicting a Mega Seller

First, there was Robert Bausch who, at a writer’s conference, read a part of my first novel and liked it so much, he offered to refer me to his agent. Knowing what I know now, I realize how generous his gesture was. Without his encouragement, I would not have any published books, and one day I hope I can inspire another writer the way he inspired me.

Also, once at a book festival where Scott Turow was the keynote speaker, I was complaining because the organizers wanted authors to sit for six hours straight signing books. I was buzzed on red wine and I said saying, “Do you think Scott Turrow is going to be signing books for six hours?” As soon as I said it, I noticed he was standing right next to me and surely overheard. Incidentally, he was in the trenches with the rest of us, signing for six hours, although naturally his line was longer than everyone else’s.

Two years ago, I’d read The Help by Kathryn Stockett and knew it was destined for great things. I ran into her in book festival and asked her to sign my first edition book. At the time she was at number 22 on the Times List and I remember saying to her, “You’re at 22 now but soon you’ll reach number one and my guess is you’ll stay on the list for a very long time.” I’ve never made that kind of prediction about a book before, but I was so certain about it.

Karin Gillespie

Hunting down a Blurb

Six years ago, stuck on the first draft of My Jane Austen Summer, I emailed Karen Joy Fowler to gush about how she had influenced me and ask if she would read my book and offer feedback. (Clueless newbies, sheesh!). Karen Joy Fowler responded six months later. She was busy. Two years after that, I attended the Squaw Valley Writers Conference where Karen Joy Fowler was a special guest. As she was signing her book for me, I revealed myself as the clueless newbie who'd asked her to read my Austen-inspired book. (She remembered me).

Three years later, with a publishing contract in hand, I asked once again if she would consider reading my book and offering a blurb. She said she was still busy. But to send the book, just in case she had an opening. I sent a Kinkos edition and gave her a year to read it. Several months later she emailed the four words an author wants to hear: I loved your book. Two weeks later she provided the blurb that graces the front cover of my book. I'm still basking in the glow of that praise.

Cindy Jones

Cold Calls

I have yet to meet my favorite author Sol Stein, but I did call his home from my dorm room in the early 70s and though he was not pleased to have his Sunday afternoon NFL football game interupted by a starry-eyed college student, he was at least gracious and commended my courage for calling twenty Sol Steins in New York until I found him (this was long, long before Google let alone computers). The reason I called was that I had just finished reading THE MAGICIAN and LIVING ROOM and was so taken by his stories, it made me wonder if I could ever be a novelist too...Now fast forward to a few years ago when my fourth novel, DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD was published. It occurred to me that Sol might still be alive and that I would love to connect with him again to tell him, yes, I did follow my dream. This time thanks to technology, I found him on the Internet and reintroduced myself. He wrote me right back and I was thrilled! I also sent him my latest novel and though I don't know if he ever read it, I felt great that he got the message- you never know when a random phone call will inspire a young writer. Meanwhile, in our only chat, I asked his advice about using a pseudonym for my next novel. Industry experts were telling me that I should but he was adamant that I not listen. "You have a beautiful name. A memorable name. I don't want to hear another word about it." Done and done!

Saralee Rosenberg

Katherine Who?

The funniest encounter I had with another author was when I attended the SIBA convention in Mobile, AL, a few years back. Hubby and I had a really chatty cab driver to the convention hotel, and I ended up telling him why I was there and about my books. I gave him a bookmark before I left as he said, "My wife and girls would probably want to read those!" The next day, I was on the convention floor with Ed, and I ran into the wonderful Katherine Neville (whom I'd first met years ago when I was putting together mystery/suspense panels for the RT Conventions and who is about as nice a person as it gets). Katherine came up to me, grinning, and said (I'm paraphrasing), "I have to tell you about my ride from the airport. I got the chattiest cab driver who kept talking about having 'the famous author Susan McBride' in his cab. Of course, I told him that I knew 'the famous author Susan McBride' personally, and he was so impressed." Ed and I both cracked up because Katherine's an international best-seller, and I', not. I still wonder if that cab driver realized he had a world famous author in his car when he was blathering on about a not-famous one!

--Susan McBride

Rubbing Elbows With Norah

You mean aside from the frequent conversations I have with the Jane Austen of my imagination? *grin* Oh, well, in that case, it would probably be at my very first RWA National Conference when I got to be an author assistant during the Literacy Signing and Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb was one of the authors I was assigned to help. I brought her glasses of water as she autographed books for hours (her line of fans was enormously long). She was unwaveringly polite to every single person who stopped by -- and to me, too. As an unpublished newbie at the time, I was so impressed by her down-to-earth manner and kindness and -- years later -- I still turn into a bit of a fan girl when I'm around her.
~Marilyn Brant

A Little Help From Al Franken

It's tough to pick but probably the most unusual one was in June 2003. I was at BEA to sign copies of my debut novel, The Thin Pink Line. The first day there, I signed about 200 copies in the publisher's booth and I was really feeling like hot stuff. I was too green for it to occur to me yet that of course 200 people would be willing to wait for me to sign books...for free. The next day was a different story. I was scheduled to sign in the main area where a lot of the signers are bestsellers, celebrities or big debuts. There, I had about 50 people in my line. Still respectable for an unknown author, I told myself. Then halfway through my signing, Al Franken - now a U.S. senator - sat down at the table next to mine to sign copies of his latest political-humor book. His line stretched clear across the convention hall. If signing lines were penises and I was a guy, you could say this made me feel inadequate. So once I was done with my respectable 50, rather than sit there twiddling my thumbs, I reached across the aisle and tapped Mr. Franken on the shoulder."Hey, Al," I said, "could you help a girl out here?"He looked a little stunned at the request, but then he grabbed a copy of my book and shouted at his waiting line, "When you're done here, go there and get" - pause while he checked for the book's title - "The Thin Pink Line."The lady who was in line next to have Mr. Franken sign a book looked at him with adoring eyes as she gushed, "Oh, Al, is The Thin Pink Line really that good?"Mr. Franken looked at her as though she might be nuts. "How the hell should I know?" he said.Not the greatest endorsement ever, I'll grant you, but that lady and several of the other people in Mr. Franken's line did come over to my table so I was not alone for my second half hour. And when my time was up? I regally offered my hand to Mr. Franken as though our positions in the world were reversed, and said, "Good luck. I hope this whole writing thing works out for you."

Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Antics With Margaret Atwood

When I was in graduate school, Margaret Atwood came to visit our department for a week. She's a major reason I became a writer so I was very excited to spend time with her and even more thrilled when the department put me in charge of her. From the second I picked her up at the airport she was full of questions. ("What are those trees? Why does your seatbelt do that? Why are there so many personalized license plates?) My roommates and I hosted a dinner party for her at our house. Half the department came over to help us cook.

When she arrived that night she said she'd already eaten, and spit an onion tart out into a napkin in front of the person who made it, claiming she thought it was a cheese tart. I tried to bond over being Canadian but she didn't seem to care. When she asked what my sign was and I said Virgo her face contorted into a sour grimace, "Uch," she said. "My ex-husband is a Virgo." I defended my sign, saying perhaps female Virgos were different than male Virgos, and while she was open to the argument, it wasn't the stimulating conversation I'd fantasized about having with her.

Toward the end of the week I was growing weary of her. While crossing the street on campus, a local, celebrated yet quirky poet was walking toward us. Ms. Atwood nudged me away so we wouldn't cross his path and said "Uch, there's that man again." I prayed he didn't hear, though I imagine he did. When the week was through, when I was done driving her places, escorting her to classes, and dining with her, I handed her my tattered-from-reading copy of "Dancing Girls," her short story collection which started me on my own writing path. As she signed it I imagined something like, THANKS FOR DRIVING ME EVERYWHERE or NICE TO MEET A FELLOW CANOOK or even GOOD LUCK WITH YOUR WRITING. Instead, I simply got MARGARET ATWOOD.

I still love her work. I even follow her on Twitter. And despite our nonbonding, Margaret Atwood gave me the gift of a story, and for that this Virgo is grateful!

Melissa Clark

A Goddess Among Writers

In 1985, I attended my first Romance Writers of America national conference. Writing under the pen name Ariel Berk, I had sold a few books, but I was insecure and overwhelmed by the conference. One afternoon, as I stood in the lobby of the hotel, I heard a gorgeous, Southern-accented voice boom through the air: "Ariel Berk! I love your books!" The voice belonged to Dixie Browning, whom I considered--and still consider--a goddess among writers. I had been devouring her books, hoping to learn something about how to write a fabulous romance novel from her. And there she was, telling me she loved *my* books! We later became good friends (and remained mutual fans.) However, that first meeting meant the world to me. Knowing that I could write books that Dixie Browning loved gave me some desperately needed confidence, the reassurance that I truly deserved to play with the big girls in the community of published authors.
Judith Arnold

Grisham, Conroy and the Pulpwood Queen

I'd been taking an Italian class for a while, and we had the same group for the most part for several semesters. The class was held in the upstairs of a local coffee shop, up a couple of flights of loud metal stairs. I'd been having back issues so had taken to sitting at the head of the table because the chair was perfect for my lower back. The class was resuming after a break and the time had been change, so I barely had time to get my kids to school and was going to be ten minutes late to the class no matter what, but I knew the instructor, was friends with the small group of fellow students, so it was no big deal.

So the first day of class I race over to the coffee shop, I trod loudly up the steps and decide I'm going to fling myself in front of the group and announce in loud Italian "I'm late!"

There's silence for a minute after my grand entrance, as fourteen faces stare at me (a packed class with several newcomers) and only then do I realize who is sitting in my seat but none other than John Grisham.
Oh, yeah, I felt like a real idiot...

My other encounter with an awesome author was at the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriends Weekend, which is a riotous time all to promote reading, literacy and discover some terrific books. Kathy Patrick launched the Pulpwood Queens after opening the world's only hair salon/bookstore--she thought a book club was in order, complete with gals dressing in kitschy wear like stretchy leopard print leggings and lots of hot pink. (Kathy now has a radio program promoting PQ books and authors too--you can find information on the PQ website).

The Girlfriends Weekend is one in which authors and members of the PQ gather and talk about books while raising money for literacy. It commences with a dinner at which the PQ members dine and the authors serve (and some cook). I didn't quite know what I was getting myself into and got in in time to be part of the serving crew for the dinner (which was delicious). We all donned aprons and along with us Pat Conroy, whose books I just devoured when I was younger, was amongst us authors. In between serving he regaled us with tales of his youth and he was so thoughtful and generous and entertaining, and he even insisted on buying copies of books from all of us authors in attendance. I thought that he really epitomized how someone can be a huge success but not forget from whence you come and really take the time to reach out and be kind to others starting out. It left a lasting impression on me.

Jenny Gardiner

Elinor Lipman Envy

I've had a few memorable encounters with authors!

Most recently, I met Elinor Lipman at an author event where she was being interviewed by my amazing friend (and fellow Girlfriends Book Club blogger) Ellen Meister. How I envied Ellen that day! But I, too, got my chance to have some one on one time with Elinor, and she was absolutely lovely! Just as charming and funny as you'd imagine if you've read any of her books. We spoke about how blocked I was with my work in progress and she gave me so much inspiration. I immediately went home and began writing!

Ayelet Waldman is always controversial, and at her reading for the paperback release for Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, she talked about the controversy head on. I thought it was so brave how she was able to be so thoroughly honest about every aspect of her life-- her writing is definitely all the better for it. A few months later, her husband Michael Chabon was speaking at the 92nd Street Y, so my agent and I went to hear him speak. After the presentation (which was funny and brilliant), everyone else was clamoring for a chance to speak with Michael, but my agent and I were the ones looking for Ayelet. She really is adorable and a true delight to be around.

I met Dani Shapiro at her reading for Black and White, a book I adored. She asked me what types of books I wrote and I was so embarrassed to tell her that I wrote chick lit, since I think her books are so literary and beautifully written. She immediately said: "I love chick lit! One of my best friends is a chick lit author, Jane Green." So, of course, I fell in love with her right then and there.

Aren't author crushes the best?!

Brenda Janowitz

Chit Chat with Michael Chabon

About 20 years ago, during the first Gulf War, I went to a sparsely attended reading at Powells. Everyone else was home watching the Scud Stud (a hot reporter talking about Scud missles). The reading was so sparsely attended there were only three of us in the audience: me and a guy accompanied by a woman with a waterfall of black curly hair.

Afterward I went up to tell the author, Louis B. Jones, in a shaky voice that I myself was working on a book. He pointed at the two other attendees and started to say, "Maybe you know..." I thought he thought Portland was so small I would just know random people. But no, it was Michael Chabon, and the four of us chatted for a bit. I went to work the next day feeling so marvelous and literary. Only no one there had heard of Jones and just one person had a vague recollection of having heard of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh.

This meeting with the future Pulitzer-prize winner looms large in my life and maybe not so large in Chabon's.

April Henry

Favorite Horror Novelist
For my very first book event, I was asked to facilitate a panel with Tananarive Due (my favorite horror novelist of all time) and several other authors. I put hours into making my notes. I read everyone's books, so that I'd be able to throw them plenty of questions. But wires got crossed, and somehow it ended up being just Tananarive Due and me on the panel. We ended up having a fantastic, and very intimate conversation with the audience. And Tananarive turned out to be even nicer and way funnier in real life than I thought she would be. Seriously, she's hilarious. But you'd never know it unless you met her IRL. I love when writers surprise me.

Ernessa T. Carter

Dinner With Doctorow

I love this question! Authors are my rock stars, and every encounter with a literary idol makes me giddy. I have three instances that stand out. I got to interview two of my favorite authors, Elinor Lipman and Alice Hoffman, at important Long Island book events. They were both warm, gracious and engaging. And, much to my astonishment, I also got to rub elbows (almost literally) with E.L. Doctorow, when I had dinner at his home in New York. (If you're curious about how that happened, click here to read my blog entry about it.)

Ellen Meister
Do you have a favorite author encounter. Let's hear it.



  1. Glad I'm not the only one who gets all swoony over meeting author heroes!

  2. What an excellent post.
    I loved each encounter.
    Thank you for sharing!
    All the best,

  3. Great encounters! (Last week, I sent a thank you/fan note to Helen Simonson, amazing author of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, and I'm still starry-eyed by her gracious and fun response!!)

  4. What a great ride--I enjoyed every story! Jennifer's reminded me of the great time I had at the 2010 Girlfriend Weekend, where I also got to hang out with my favorite author, Pat Conroy. (Really missed it this year!) But last Wednesday I had another great "brush with a famous author" at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi. Jeannette Walls chatted with me about my own writing as she signed books and then gave a fabulous talk. I'm still glowing:-)

  5. Love this post (and so sorry, Karin, for not getting my story to you in time!). My coolest author moment was meeting Tim O'Brien at a book signing--I was teaching his masterpiece THE THINGS THEY CARRIED and he was incredibly gracious talking to me about it. He seemed really excited that I was teaching it and even thanked me for doing so. I walked away practically swooning.

  6. It IS exciting to meet an author we admire, but as authors, we also know the thrill when readers are excited to meet us! At first we think there has to be a case of mistaken identity- they think we are somebody famous. Then, what's this? They know who we are and what we've written and they're still excited? What a rush! Never grows old.

    Once a young girl was acting giddy that she was meeting me, her first author, certain that I must know her real idol author, Tori Spelling. When I explained, that no, we didn't all hang out, she didn't believe me.

    And so it goes in the trenches.

    Great post, Karin. Thanks for your wonderful leadership.

  7. Brenda, I met Elinor Lipman for the first time last fall. We were both speakers at the Write Angles Conference at Mt. Holyoke College. What a sweetheart she is!

  8. OMG, Susan!! Your story is fabulous! First of all, you are, too, "the famous author Susan McBride" and, second, I love hearing that Katherine Neville was so wonderful and kind. I've read all 4 of her novels, and THE EIGHT is one of my long-time faves. I'm smiling just imagining that fun conversation you two had :).

    Cindy, your persistence and faith in your story had to be inspiring to Karen Joy Fowler, too. I loved reading about your many encounters with her. Another great story!

    Everyone, it was just delightful reading these! And I agree with Ellen, I'm glad I'm not the only one who gets so excited to meet our writing heroes...

    p.s. Melissa, I'm a Virgo, too ;).

  9. Though Tom Perrotta attended my high school, and was actually close with my brother, I'd never met him. For years I dithered over contacting him, because I didn't want to seem presumptuous. Once I found out my agent had worked with him when she was an editor, it gave me a legit reason to send him an e-mail (and gush over The Abstinence Teacher).

    His reply was funny and warm, and he even pretended to remember me. Sigh.