Monday, June 3, 2013

The Famous and their Public

I often jokingly refer to myself, while writing about books and authors, as an author stalker. Naturally I hope that those who read my posts and "hear" my voice will understand that I'm trying to add a bit of humor here and that I won't ever be found in a police precinct for getting too familiar with a writer. Yet I do wonder just what a well-known public figure owes to his fans and constituents, if you will, when he or she appears at a gathering renowned for its up close and personal contact.

While attending various forums at Book Expo America this week, I joined thousands of book/author groupies at small, intimate gatherings on the show floor where authors agreed to answer questions from a moderator and then open the floor to questions from the audience. My friend Maryellen and I just happened upon one of these events and were thrilled to see that three of the four authors on this particular panel had attended previous Southwest Florida Reading Festivals. David Baldacci, Michael Connelly and George Pelecanos, my favorite literary crime novelist, were being interviewed by attorney and author Marcia Clark. Scott Turow was the other member on the team.

Pelecanos graciously gave Ms. Clark a shout out for her latest legal thriller which I'll be running out to get based on his recommendation. He also introduced her to the audience because she had, in an unexpected bit of humility, failed to introduce herself. Kudos to George!

At the end of the presentation we waited in line for a quick conversation with Michael Connelly about whom we felt a certain je ne sais quoi. Maryellen had invited him to one of our very first festivals almost fifteen years ago when he was still a fledgling novelist and we've taken personal pride in his remarkable success and rise up the ladder. How disappointing to see that fame had definitely jaded Mr. Connelly to the point where he seemed not to remember our festival (which I could  understand) but didn't even know Lee County, less than 100 miles south of his home. That stung. No eye contact, no warmth, just wandering eyes that seemed to say, "get me out of here."

But don't despair. On the other side of that coin was Wally Lamb. A famous writer too but the difference? Comfortable in his own skin. He was in the unenviable position of following to the podium the child soldier Ismael Beah and historian extraordinaire, Doris Kearns Goodwin. Wally Lamb knocked it out of the ball park with his speech, amazingly humorous for a man of such deep, brooding work. His new book We Are Water, based upon a racial incident that actually happened in his hometown of Norwich, Connecticut, was there for every one of us who attended this breakfast meeting and, though it's being billed as his darkest one yet, or maybe because of that, I'll be starting it any day now.

How serendipitous that, later in the day, Maryellen and I were strolling through the convention center  when who should we see walking our way, minus an entourage? You got it, Wally Lamb, cradling a bagel in one hand and balancing his coffee in the other, making eye contact that said, "engage me." We introduced ourselves as librarians. I thanked him for his powerful work, for continuing to write, for making me cry. He was gracious and kind, asking us about ourselves, where we're from, how we're enjoying the event. We spoke for maybe five minutes but never did he give us the impression that he'd rather be anywhere else but with us, in a hallway, at that moment in time.

And what a delight to see Doris Kearns Goodwin stretched out on the floor of the stage reaching for her fans' books to sign, conversing with each as if he or she was the only person in the room. Now that's a class act!


TooManyBooks said...

You hit the nail on the head with this post!

Sallyb said...

Thanks Maryellen! By the way, can you email me your new address again. I seem to have waylaid it. Alan went into surgery at 9 this morning and we all think it's good news that we haven't heard anything yet. It means they were likely able to go ahead with the procedure.

Kathleen said...

No wonder I love Wally Lamb so much!