My first encounter with a famous writer

I can’t say I’ve met many famous people. I once saw David Spade walking the streets of Manhattan. When I lived in Wilmington I saw every major actor/actress from Dawson’s Creek, except for Dawson himself. My roommate and I were even on the same plane as Joshua Jackson, a.k.a. Pacey.

Those were all quick glimpses. I did, however, get to meet a prestigious writer through the UNCW Honors Program speaker series. I don’t want to name names, since said speaker seemed like a very private person. He won the National Magazine Award several times, and the John Burroughs Medal for nature writing, to name a few of his accolades.

I don’t remember most of the details leading up to his visit, but I do know we Honors Students read a couple of his books and discussed them. The Director of the Honors Program made it a goal to get students as involved as possible with the event. At some point, I volunteered or was asked to pick up the visiting author from the airport and take him to his hotel. I’ve compiled a few thoughts on what not to do when involved in such a situation.

1. Offer a ride in the peak of heat and humidity when your car doesn’t have air conditioning.
I was in college, and happy to have a car. That’s it. A car. Not, “Happy to have a car that [did or have such and such].” So it didn’t have air conditioning. I can roll the window down. And if he gets a little warm, big deal. He’s been all over the Equator. That’s how I reasoned through it.

2. Remark 1, and passenger window does not go down.
Somehow I either forgot about that fact, or dismissed it again as no big deal. The poor guy sweat through the trip. Seriously, he hinted that he hoped he had time to take a shower before being picked up by someone else who (hopefully) had air conditioning to get to the speaking engagement. Full on wiping his face down. Doesn’t help when there are 18 intersections of traffic lights to get through. How was it possible to be so close to the beach yet have no wind?

3. Freely state your plans of living abroad to someone who has spent his/her life travelling abroad.
This one could be a hit or miss. It was pretty clear I missed. He had visited the place I mentioned and bluntly told me his opinion, which was not stellar. In fact, he told me not to go. What was I to think? The man’s face was in the process of melting off in a sauna on wheels, and he insisted that place was bad news.

4. Ask about the spouse.
I tried to mix up the conversation away from writing and traveling. “How does your wife feel about you travelling a lot? Does she come with you sometimes?” This is the point in the movie when the audience knows more than the character on screen and they slap their faces in reaction to the question, as in, “No! She did not just ask that!” And then I, being the clueless character, catch up with the audience. “Um, no, we’re separated.” Well great. I’m about the worst person he’s ever been around. Wonderful.

5. Avoid the opportunity to meet because you’re afraid you’ll end up like me.
Through all the (now) laughable moments of that experience, I am certain it was worth it. The writer did speak with me further about my ambitions, and he was nothing but respectful and kind during the whole debacle. He elaborated on his thoughts about the place I mentioned, and I did appreciate his take. He signed my book with a personalized note after the speaking engagement, and even mentioned me during the talk. I feel privileged to have met him. I’m sure there are celebrities that may not have reacted so positively to such a situation, but you’ll probably never know unless you take a risk and put yourself out there.

I wanted to write this because book convention season is nearing. For any of you that may be new writers, or new attendees, it can be awkward meeting someone you admire for the first time. My experience turned out just fine, and chances are, yours can’t be worse. And if it is worse, you can blog about it. Please do. Come back on here and leave a comment so I can feel better about myself.

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