Susanna here, very excited to be hosting my first Ask-A-Wench post!
This month our question came from Kay Spears, who wrote:
I have a question for the group. Years ago I attended the Book Expo in Chicago I was overwhelmed and slightly catatonic from seeing all of my favorite authors. I remember watching a group of them from afar and spent a great deal of time trying to work up enough nerve to approach. I never did and yes, I did feel like a stalker. I finally did approach Mary Balogh, but that was only because I was standing in her line for a book signing. My question to you authors (since you are part of “celebrity/famous/whatever world”) is there an author out there who you were excited/flummoxed/nervous/ squealing/overwhelmed to meet or did you, like me, hide behind a book rack?
When I wrote my first book, I had NO clue that there were organizations like RWA. The idea that there were big, national get-togethers where newbies like me could go mingle with Famous Authors was both exhilarating—and a little frightening. I felt like a total fraud as I registered for my first RWA Conference, which was in Washington DC that year, but nonetheless was full of fluttery excitement as I packed my bag and headed off. A big part of the thrill was the chance to hear Mary Jo Putney, who was the keynote speaker. Her books—so beautifully written and rich with complex characters—were such an inspiration to me. And so was her speech. (Mary Jo, to this day I still remember your very funny line about one of the great perks of a writer’s life was the fact one didn’t have to wear panty hose to work every day.)
Anyway, the lunch over, the crowd all flowed out to the hotel exit to get in line for cabs. As the afternoon was free, there was a LONG line, and after an inital flurry, the cabs slowed to a crawl, so there was big wait in between arrivals. I think I had decided to go the the Mall and visit some of the Smithsonian museums and was sort of daydreaming about that when I suddenly realized the voice right behind me sounded awfully familiar. I ventured a peek, and sure enough it was the Famous Author Mary Jo Putney and a companion, and I heard them mention that it was too bad that they were going to be very late for the meeting with an editor. So there I am, standing and trying to decide whether to screw up my courage and interrupt them. I hyperventilate, I start to sweat bullets, and then finally . . .
I see my cab coming, so I act. Turning timidly, I say, “Oh, I’m in no hurry, you’re welcome to go ahead of me.” To which Mary Jo responded with a lovely smile and an “Are you sure?” I think I nodded and squeaked “yes!" as I wasn’t capable of any more complicated words. Again, another smile and profuse thanks. As she moved past me, she said, "are you an author, too?” I don’t remember replying . . . but I do know I spent the rest of the day basking in the glow of that smile and the fact that I had Exchanged Words with one of my idols.
I well remember meeting Mary Jo Putney many years ago at my first Romance Writers of America conference, in Washington. It was at a publisher book signing — the kind where they set up a bunch of authors in a room, and then open the doors to readers for an hour, or until the books run out. I wasn't yet published in the US, but my friend Isolde Martyn was signing in the same room, and each author had to collect and unpack their own books and set them up, so I was helping Isolde. At the next table was a friendly dark-haired woman in a gorgeous black jacket with Chinese-style embroidery, also fetching and unpacking books. When we'd finished and had time to draw breath, Isolde introduced us.
"Really?" she said. "Which one?"
I instantly went blank on the title. And practically died of embarrassment.
"Tell me the story," she said kindly.
In deep mortification, I frantically imagined my keeper shelf, decided I had it wrong — that the intense, sexy book I was thinking of, with the dark, exotic setting, wasn't written by this friendly smiling lady — who was MARY JO PUTNEY! — and proceeded to describe a book about a con-man who pretended to be blind and a con-woman who pretended to be a nun.
"Oh yes, that's a good one," Mary Jo said. "It's by my friend, Pat Gaffney."
Upon which I tried to dissolve into the floor.
Mary Jo here.
All authors begin as readers, so of course we can freak out when we meet writers whose work we love! If I were to meet Patricia Briggs, for example, I'd surely turn into a babbling fan girl. There are others. <G>
In real life, the most dramatic might have been when I met the wonderful historical novelist Judith Merkle Riley at a Novelist, Inc. conference in Vancouver. Her mostly medieval books are hard to describe: very witty, superbly researched, and extremely accessible because of the wry humor. I particularly like her Margaret of Ashbury trilogy, but I digress.
In person, Judith was a friendly and low key professor who was bemused to be instantly surrounded by a gaggle of adoring historical writers who followed her around like imprinted goslings. <G> She didn’t go to many conferences and didn't realize how she was revered. I hung out with her whenever I could, and hardly even minded when I got a beastly cold from her.
Long before I met her in person, I'd named a stray kitten Merkle in a Christmas novella, "The Christmas Tart." It was a very nice kitten who got an HEA, too. <G>
I interviewed Judith later for the Wenches and she was literate and delightful. It was an honor to have met her.
I was living in rural KY when I was first published. I had devoured every Regency romance on my library’s shelves because there were no bookstores. I’d never met an author or been to a book signing. There were no RWA chapters. So my first star struck encounter with a Real Author was at a writer’s conference. That’s right, I was published before I ever met an author. I was sitting in a business meeting with all these perfectly ordinary people who I knew were writers, because this was a writers’ only conference. I’d met several names I didn’t recognize because they wrote contemporary and not Regency. Apparently Regency writers are elusive creatures.
And then I heard two women talking in the row behind me. They were discussing horses, if I remember correctly. I don’t know why I was so entranced by their conversation—probably because business meetings bore me. I heard one of them call the other Edith. Now “Edith” is not a name used widely, and my ears perked up, because Edith Layton was one of my all-time favorite Regency writers. I heard someone else refer to “Joan” and Joan Wolf was another of my heroines. I couldn’t resist it, I had to turn and check their name tags.
And sure enough, two perfectly sensible looking women—well, Edith had this full head of gorgeous red hair spilling everywhere like Medusa—sat behind me, just gossiping like any other women anywhere. And there they were, my idols. No way I could introduce myself. But the revelation that the names on a library shelf were real people, just like me, turned my head completely around.
Susanna, back again. I think the only time I haven’t made a fool of myself when meeting an author I like and admire was in 2009, when my book The Winter Sea was shortlisted for the RNA’s Romantic Novel of the Year award in the U.K.
It was my first time meeting anyone in the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association) and I was jetlagged and happy and having a wonderful time. I was taken to lunch at a lovely Italian restaurant, sitting with Katie Fforde on one side of me and a writer named Anne on the other side.
All through lunch, Anne and I talked about movies and books and a hundred and one other things, and we just had the best conversation. She left the table before I did, but because I’ve found that, when I really like a person’s company, I tend to also really like their books, I made a point of asking Katie Fforde if she could tell me, please, what Anne’s last name was, so that I could look her novels up and read them.
“Ashurst,” I was told. Then, “You might know her by her pen name: Sara Craven.”
I might know her? From my mid-teens on, I’d had a love of Harlequin Presents. I had (still have) a shelf of favourite titles by my few most favourite authors—those whose books, for me, were auto-buys. And one of these was Sara Craven.
If I’d known who I was sitting next to, I don’t think I’d have been able to say anything coherent. So I’m thankful that I didn’t know, because instead of babbling like an idiot I got to make a halfway good impression on a writer I revered.
Now that you’ve read about our “fangirl” moments, we’ll ask the same thing of you: Is there anyone you’ve met in your own life who left you flummoxed? Or is there any author you would be excited/nervous/squealing over, if you did meet?
Happy reading, and may all your future encounters with authors be memorable (in a good way!) and relaxed.