Was talking to my friend Liz last night about writers…..and my special love for them. Having been a huge reader since a very early age, they are my rock stars.
Was driving through Manning, SC a few years ago on my way to visit a client, and saw a banner crossing the street proclaiming “Manning, SC – Home of Peggy Parish, author of Amelia Bedelia”. I hit my brakes (luckily it was downtown Manning, so not much of a chance of a 10-car pile-up) and screamed. Loudly.
The client I was visiting was a very laid back tire shop (one older female, the rest men.) My excitement level was still high when I hit the door. Instead of a normal greeting, I said “Peggy Parish is from Manning?!”
Amelia Bedelia was one of my favorite books growing up….probably accounts for a chunk of my sense of humor (and probably that of my little brother Derek, since I read him that book over and over. Coincidentally his sense of humor is eerily like mine.) If you never read the book, Amelia Bedelia was a maid who got very confused about the tasks that her bosses gave her to do. If they told her to draw the drapes, a picture of the drapes would be drawn. If they told her to change the towels, she would take her scissors to them and make sure they looked different. If they told her to dust the furniture, she would find a box of powder and sprinkle it liberally. Yes, she was a major pain to her bosses….and they would always be on the verge of firing her….but she would make a lemon meringue pie (which she would do quite well) and everything would be OK. It is an awesome book. And it started something…I still adore word play and those who do it well.
While at the tire shop I basically interviewed everyone there about any possible connection they may have with Peggy Parish. (Who says a broadcast journalism degree and insurance don’t mix?) I may have asked them how things were going with their insurance, but probably gave them all of 10 seconds to answer that one! They, quite frankly, were a disappointment when it came to Peggy. A few had met her, none had any interesting tidbits to share with me. Really….it was Manning! Population next-to-nothing. How did they not have tons of stories about her? I think she had died by time I made this visit, so I never got a chance to meet her. Knowing me….I would have gone on a quest to track her down had I the opportunity. But still, I remember the excitement I felt that day…..and celebrating my love for this woman I had never met but who had written the story I read over and over.
I love going to see authors speak and finding out what they are like in real life. My sister Deryn, brother Derek, mom and I all trekked to Charlotte to see James Patterson several years ago. The big attraction was to discover what kind of weirdo would write some of the horrific stuff his mind comes up with. But he was normal….and nice…..and I think amused and surprised with the places his mind takes him when he writes. On another occasion I went to see Sue Grafton, she of the series of books that started with A is for Alibi. She was exactly as I pictured she would be…..friendly and funny and entertaining and normal. A girlfriend.
While at UNC Southern author Lee Smith was one of my creative writing teachers. She was fun not only because of her excitement of our writing (she often thought us brilliant…..our classmates, who criticize your work in this sort of class, found each other slightly less so), but as a natural storyteller would tell us about authors she had met. I remember her laughing at how often people tried to read way too much into a story and the symbolism of things and as an example she told a story of going to hear Eudora Welty speak. During the Q&A at the end someone stood and told her they knew why she chose to write about people eating a certain kind of pie in one of her books. Ms. Welty listened to their whole explanation of why is was so genius and at the end, paused for a few moments and said “Well, we had chess pie for dessert the day I wrote that. I think that was probably the reason I included that. But what you saw in it was very interesting.”
Also around the college years I went to a conference where R.C. Sproul, the theologian and writer, was speaking. I followed him around in between conference functions….at meals and such. OK….you’re right….I stalked him. Was too bashful to go up and really have a conversation with him, but wanted to hear his conversations with everyone else. Yeah, the people I was with finally noticed what I was doing and I was teased mercilessly. He is still my spiritual crush (Philip Yancey just may give him a run for his money. But I haven’t met him….yet! Watch out Philip….I just may be stalking YOU next!)
The internet has made our connection to some authors very accessible. I remember finishing a book by Tom Perrotta and hating the way he ended it. It was one of those where you just think “You can’t stop it here!!!! Why????” So I get online and fire off an irate email to him and asked him. Yes, I do have gall. But his response was fun. He said I wasn’t the first who had mentioned it. And he was a bit of a smart aleck. Like many of my friends. Never did give me a reason (probably because the answer was “because I said so”) though he and I traded a few rounds of email barbs, which was entertaining. (Read his chronology on his website http://www.tomperrotta.net. It will give you an idea of his personality and why he and I got along well. For a few email minutes!) I still don’t always like his story choices and directions, but enjoy criticizing his writing.
Then there is Taylor Stevens. After just picking her first book off a shelf at the library, and really enjoying the character she wrote (a smart tough female superhero), I looked her up on the internet after reading her cover blurb biography and found that she had been raised in the Children of God cult, had not had education past the age of 12, had traveled all over the world with them (on four continents..panhandling and doing domestic chores for the cult members), had married when she was in the cult and she and her husband had eventually gotten out when in their 20s (and with two children.) When they left, they knew nothing about the real world (such as handling money, renting an apartment, getting a job…..things we take for granted) and had no friends to help them. They managed through, ended up in Texas and she who always loved to entertain the younger kids in the cult with stories (though it was forbidden) has taught herself how to write and then how to get published. Her first novel was a bestseller. Her life fascinated me and this character she wrote fascinated me, and I thought to myself she would be someone I would be interested in sitting down and having a conversation with. Several months ago I finished her second book and thought I would look on the internet to see if she was doing a book tour around here any time soon. Funnily enough she was in NC the next week…..which ended up being really weird since I later found out from our conversation that they don’t really do big book tours these days and her days in NC were some of the few she did outside of Texas (where she lives.) Went to hear her speak, had a great conversation with her and have kept up with her since through Facebook and email.
The last couple of weeks Taylor has been in a contest on audible.com for the audiobook for her first novel The Informationist. She almost got beat in the first round, but mentioned it to those of us who are on her Facebook page and got through it and the subsequent rounds. She ended up beating both Stephen King and Diana Galbadon to win the contest…..a HUGE longshot, to put it simply. (Some of you may have voted for her since I begged for it on Facebook….thanks!) Some of Diana Galbadon’s fans got really upset when she went far into the lead one night, and some weren’t nice on her Facebook page. Loved her response to one of these people. Here is part of it “To be honest, having grown up uneducated and as child labor, completely abandoned by everyone who should have been there for me, including my own parents, and NEVER having anyone stick up for me, I am completely overwhelmed—almost to the point of tears—at the level of support I have received from people I’ve never even met. No matter how this tournament would have ended, knowing there are people out there who have my back is enough to make me a winner.”
I love when I get to see authors as real people, with real struggles, real emotions and real lives. And when I get a chance to thank them for writing for me. It’s a bonus to get to actually encourage them and cheer for them and see them realize some of their own dreams. Didn’t think about that back in the days of Amelia Bedelia. I thought the characters were more real than the people who wrote the characters. I don’t now. I plan to continue to meet and talk with more of those people that write the books I love. It is on my “To Do” list. But I want to start to have even longer conversations. I guess that would be Kim’s version of “partying like a rockstar.”