What you need to know before I dive into this is that while I’ve gotten to the point where I can talk to musicians and most other people, I still freak out when it come to authors, specifically those I admire/am a fangirl of. I think I understand why: I want to connect with them on a professional level, want to interact as a colleague (not necessarily a peer – I have no such illusions). So, the result with some authors is terror. Okay, that’s an overstatement. The result is anxiety, nervousness, and a running commentary of doom in the back of my head.
The only other time I had the opportunity to meet Neil, it was just after my dad had died and I had an ear infection that meant I couldn’t hear out of one ear, but I was determined to go to his talk, and we managed to shimmy our way into the signing line reasonably early. If we hadn’t, I couldn’t have stayed. That time, I managed to stammer that I was a writer and that I had his poem “Instructions” next to my writing computer, and he said that was being made into a book and I said I know and Ken got a picture of us together and then we went home and I think I slept for a week, trying to recover. (The antibiotics kicked in a couple of days later and I was so happy to be able to hear again.)
So, this time. The trip to Glendale was rather horrid, but even as it was happening, there was a level of amusement, as in, well, of course there will be mayhem and confusion. I left about half an hour later than I planned, discovered a tear in my skirt after getting gas (it didn’t show much thanks to the lining), hit traffic, had the GPS take me on a weird route (101 to 23 to 118 to 5 to wandering through Glendale, WTF?), hit traffic again, then the GPS froze and I had to pull off and of course I picked an exit that didn't have an easy place to stop. Then I parked in a parking garage that was much too far away and dumped me into a scary alley and it was beastly hot, so I went back and left and drove around in circles until I found a closer parking garage that still wasn’t that close. And when I asked a random person where the theatre was, I was directed to a movie theatre on a second level with a broken escalator. The bottom line was I arrived 10 minutes before the reception started, which was just enough time to collect my books and buy a bottle of water.
Although, did I mention that around the time the GPS froze – about an hour before I got into the theatre – I already had to pee?
So I got inside, found the bathroom, found the food (so much for arriving early enough to grab dinner…but the reception had curried chicken sliders and caprese skewers and some lovely cheeses along with crackers and bread and also a variety of fruit, so I wasn’t going to starve), and found my friends Rosemary and Randy.
(If you’ve read this far, you no doubt wish to hell I’d get to the Neil part. Thanks for sticking with me. We’re almost there. Although I didn’t know it at the time.)
The reception was 5:30 to 6:30, and around 6:10 we were sort of clumped near the theatre doors so we could get decent seats. (There were about 200 of us, I think, and we got first choice of seats before they let everyone else in.) I commented that I’d thought the reception included Neil, but apparently not, and Rosemary went off the bathroom and when she came off I went off to the bathroom and when I came back, she and Randy had vanished. That’s when I noticed a knot of people with Neil in the center.
Damn bathroom break.
I had a copy of Written on the Coast, my first fantasy/science fiction collection, which I wanted to give to Neil. I hastily scribbled an inscription and then used the book to block the glaring sun through the pretty Art Deco window and waited to see if I’d have the chance to say hello.
Long story short, eventually I did. I didn’t want to take up too much of his time because as far as I was concerned, everyone who’d paid for the reception should have the chance to talk to him. So I thrust out the book and said something to the effect of, “You've been an inspiration to me, and I wanted to give you a copy of my first published collection.”
(Note: In situations like this, my brain goes into survival mode and focuses on things like me not falling over, and making coherent sentences. So I frequently end up with a gist of what someone has said to me, but not the actual quote.)
Neil looked at the book and saw that one of my writing mentors, Dean Wesley Smith, had written the foreword (for it says this on the cover). And he said something to the effect of “Oh, Dean...I know Dean; he's [a good guy].”
Me (probably mumbling because we’ve already gone off-script): “He's one of my writing mentors.”
I didn’t realize until I saw the photos that Rosemary took that Neil had flipped the book over. At the top is a quote from Dean’s foreword: “One of the best writers working today.” I’m still gobsmacked by this.
Here is Neil looking at the book, and the back of my head:
If anything else was said, my brain didn’t retain it. All I know is that Neil said thank you and then leaned towards me. I thought he was going to hug me, because he’d just hugged several people per their request, but instead he kissed my cheek. I'm now completely flustered. He pulls back and says thank you, and in my confusion all I can say is thank you (for kissing me? I don’t know!). Derp. Then I backed up to let people fill in front of me, and escaped to my friends, and ate several more caprese skewers because I was still starving. I also texted Ken:
Me: Neil kissed me. :-)
Me: In the lobby. :-)
Oh, I am just the funniest person ever. Thank the gods he loves me. (When he called me the next day, he said “So, last night you were off being kissed by weird British men?” Yes, darling. Yes, I was.)
Anyway, we went in and found seats in the fifth row, dead center, with nobody blocking my view. (Last month, when Ken and I went to a screening of Coraline followed by a Q&A with Neil, we were in the fourth row and there was a tall guy in the second row who kept blocking my view. It was Randy. Oh.)
The interviewer was a senior editor at Entertainment Weekly. Neil read from his new book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, they chatted back and forth, he answered one audience question (from notecards we could write on and pass back), and then the guy who runs the talk series said Stephen King had emailed with a question. (Guess that trumped the question I'd emailed in!) He then read from his forthcoming children’s book, Fortunately, the Milk, which was really funny - his delivery helps. He said he hadn’t read it on previous stops on this tour, but he was inspired by the venue (which was, indeed, a lovely Deco theatre. I am also a fangirl of Deco theatres, thanks to the one in my hometown).
Now, one thing I hadn’t counted on was that I was exhausted. Really, deeply exhausted. If I’d closed my eyes during the talk, I would’ve nodded off (and I can almost never sleep unless I'm prone). It didn’t help that the theatre’s air conditioning clearly couldn’t handle the load. I was honestly concerned about driving home, and if the signing was going to take too long, I would probably leave.
After about a half-hour wait, they brought us up by rows for the signing. I estimated that it took about 15 minutes per row. Thankfully, once we stood up, I felt perkier.
The deal was that we could get one book personalized, and he'd also sign as many copies of Ocean at the End of the Lane as you wanted. I hadn’t been able to find the book I wanted to bring (for the second time – argh! It must be packed with the nonfiction even though it's media-related and should be with those books), but along with Ocean, the other book we received as part of the package deal was Make Good Art, and I thought that would be perfect for the personalized book.
When I got up to him, he looked at my name (on a stickie, handed to me earlier), looked up and said hello Dayle.* And I blurted, "Hi, I gave you my book earlier" (or something like that). And he said "Oh, right! Anybody Dean endorses is someone I'm interested in reading" (or words to that effect). My brain screamed "Eep!" and I said "Well, I hope you enjoy reading it," and he said "I'm sure I will" and I said (as I was being shuffled away) "I hope you can find the time to read it" and he said "It might be a while." And then I took pictures of Rosemary and Randy getting their books signed before I was booted off the stage.
We had this conversation while he was signing Make Good Art, and this is what he wrote:
By comparison, the drive home was uneventful. Also, the 134 (which is an easy, direct route: 134 --> 101 --> home) was two blocks from the venue, begging the question of why the GPS had routed me up the 23 on the way out. I picked up the obligatory post-event In-N-Out hamburger and ate it at home with a glass of wine and purring kittays, and then fell over.
I then read Ocean in two days….
*I deeply admire how he tries to make everything personal and, even if just for a moment, honestly interact with each fan. I can’t imagine how draining that is. Respect.