It’s the rump end of summer. Half the world—and all of New York publishing!—are on vacation and maybe you are, too, so I’ll keep today’s post sort of fluffy.
Being a blogger is like being a columnist, only the stakes are lower and we don’t get paid. But I do find myself watching the world and making mental notes about topics that might make an interesting riff. Today, I’m thinking about two such ideas, both of which turned out to be about female friendships.
First was the RWA national conference in San Francisco. You’re heard about the floral crab and the awards and the brainstorming speech and the general fun. But another aspect that is true of conferences in general is the fellowship.
In a very early blog, I talked about how I’d met each of the other Wenches, and in five out of six cases, it was at a conference. (Loretta and I first connected through snail mail, but when we finally met in person, yes, it was at a conference.) So first and foremost, conferences are a great way to meet new people, and to see old friends face to face rather than electronically.
But there are many levels of friendship. Not just the through-hell-and-high-water friends who are the ones you call when your publisher dumps you, or you’re told you need major surgery, or your cat just died. Such friends are more valuable than gold, and one doesn’t usually have a lot in this category, partly because true affinity is rare, and partly because this level of friendship is a mutual give and take that requires regular time and tending.
But there are other levels of friendship. I think of friendship as like an onion—there’s just a few people there in the center with you, but there are lots of circles further out. Those relationships might not run as deep. You may not connect often or ask much of each other. But that doesn’t mean the interactions aren’t true, valued, and valuable.
After 22 years in the romance business, I know a LOT of people, and part of the fun of a conference is the unanticipated meetings with people from every ring in the onion. To meet a specific person, I’ve learned to set up a date in advance for breakfast or coffee, or we’ll probably never see each other.
But there are so many other delightful and unexpected encounters. There’s the historical author with whom I shared an agent for many years. The agent has retired and we’ve both moved on, but in San Francisco, we chatted several times about career up and downs and prospects. And swimming with dolphins.
Or there’s the friendship formed when two of us bonded late one night—at a conference—while sharing horror stories of the editor who was torturing both of us. That’s a foxhole friendship for sure.
There’s the writer I knew as a newby who has grown to serious bestsellerdom without losing her sense of the absurd, and the mega-star who always stops for a few friendly words. There’s an editor I always hug, and the old friend of whom I demand the latest pictures of her daughter.
There’s new people, too. I met a brand new author at the Kensington cocktail party. Her first book won’t be out until next year, but no matter. We found we had Santorini in common, among other things. And there was the Australian author—a lot of Aussies came because San Francisco is about as good as it gets if they want to come to the American national conference—who recognized my nametag in an elevator and promptly gave me a delightful little pincher koala bear dressed in proper outback style. <G>
All these encounters are enjoyable and add greatly to the value of the conference. This is why the conference business is HUGE—if introverted authors can have so much fun hanging out with our own kind, it’s not surprising that so many professional and affinity groups like to get together for networking and socializing.
Which brings me to the even fluffier idea, Mamma Mia!, the stage musical and now movie built around the songbook of the wildly popular singing group, ABBA. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ABBA The slight, fun plot involves a young girl, Sophie, who lives with her mother, Donna, on a small Greek island, where they run an inn. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mamma_Mia! )
Sophie is about to marry her boyfriend, Sky, but she desperately wants to have her father at the ceremony—except she doesn’t know who her father is. Sophie finds her mother’s diary for the summer when Sophie was conceived, and discovers that there are three candidates for her father. So Sophie invites all three of them to the wedding, figuring she’ll know her real father when she sees him. Except she doesn’t. <G>
Clearly, the possibilities for farce and slapstick are huge, and Mamma Mia! takes full advantage, with lots of bright, bouncy ABBA music and dancing. When the movie came out in July, I was surprised at how weak the reviews were. How can a movie with Meryl Streep (who can sing), Pierce Brosnan (who can’t), Colin Firth, and a lot of other first rate actors not be pretty good? Particularly since I’d seen the show on stage and liked it greatly.
So I went to see the movie, and the Mayhem Consultant and I both loved it. At which point I realized that all of the reviews I’d seen had been by men, and Mamma Mia! is SOOOOOOO much a chick flick!
Early in the movie, young Sophie runs squealing to greet her two best friends when they arrive to be bridesmaids. Great fun. And the scene is duplicated when Donna’s two best friends, her co-singers from their old group Donna and the Dynamos, arrive. They run squealing into each others’ arms—and anyone who thinks that mature women don’t squeal when greeting friends they haven’t seen in too long has never been in the lobby of a hotel that has an RWA convention checking in. <G> Friendship is an important element in many romances, as it is in real life.
One of the things I really enjoyed was how the movie depicted longstanding friendships, and how even women well into their middle years can have silly fun together. Mamma Mia! also features a mature love story between two characters who definitely have some mileage on them, and how often does one see that?
So how do you feel about the friendship-is-an-onion metaphor? Do you have people like with whom you share something real and special even if you don’t see them often? Do you go to conferences or other gatherings so you can see a lot of people you won’t see otherwise, but you still delight in connecting, however briefly?
Mary Jo, wishing a happy Labor Day Weekend to all our American readers….