I had the opportunity this morning to join a group of writers over in Athens (GA) for their weekly get-together over coffee. It's a small group. Among those present this morning were authors Terry Kay and Jennifer Patrick. Again, it's a small group that gathers each week, and I knew everyone there from previous book signings, readings and festivals. Author Gail Karwoski usually attends, but she was feeling a little under the weather today. And we certainly hope that she will be up and around again soon.
Terry and Gail had invited me to attend this weekly gathering. Now that I am presently splitting my time between being a part-time bookseller and a part-time stay-at-home dad, I thought that it would be a good way to reconnect with some of my author friends.
For me, perhaps the best part of having been in the book selling business for nearly a decade now has been the chance to develop acquaintances and even a few real friendships with so many authors and other book folk. I enjoy their stories. That is, I enjoy what they write (usually), but also their stories about the writing process and the writing life. I know that I'm not alone in this. Afterall, I work in bookselling. I know that there is quite a market out there for books on, well, books. Also, on the subjects of writing, writers, and the writing life.
So, because I am a bibliophile myself, I consider myself pretty lucky to have come to know so many writers over the years. Dumb luck, really.
I do like their stories. I also enjoy the stories that I have been able to take away from my own encounters with writers and other book people. It isn't always just about the books, or the writing.
For instance, back in January of 2000, I spilled an entire frappucino over the head of novelist Helen Ellis (Eating the Cheshire Cat) as I was introducing her to a fairly large audience at a reading and book signing that she was giving. It was one of those slow motion events that you always see on the movies. I was holding a stack of her books while making the introduction, and the book on top of the stack slid off. Her frap was sitting in front of her on the table where she would be signing, and the falling book kind of karate chopped it. It didn't spill so much as explode. All I could do was watch as (again, in slow motion) a Spiderman-like web of frappucino enveloped the head of the evening's author. She had frappucino dripping off the end of her nose. I swear to God, it was dripping off the end of her nose.
I was horrified. Fortunately, a quick-thinking bookseller came to the rescue with napkins, and Helen was a very good sport about the whole thing. I even have the offending book on my shelves at home. The pages are stained with frappucino, and it is autographed by Helen. Her book, Eating the Cheshire Cat, has since been one of my favorites to recommend to people. My official review of the book is: Imagine if David Lynch and Stephen King choreographed the Miss America Pagent, and all of the contestants came from the Deep South. I keep waiting for Helen's next book, and I hope that she is doing well.
Those are the kind of stories you get when you work with authors. And you usually learn something new each time you are around an author or authors, too. For example, today--and speaking of movies--Terry Kay and I learned some new things about each other. We have known each other for nearly ten years now. Today I found out that he once met George Plimpton. Terry Hosted him years ago when Plimpton gave a talk at Emory University. Mr. Plimpton came up in conversation this morning while I was going on about rediscovering--or discovering--a favorite author. In this case, I was referring to Plimpton. That's when Terry told me his George Plimpton story. This is important for reasons I won't go into here and now. The point is, I've known Terry for almost ten years, and I didn't know he had once met George Plimpton.
Terry learned something about me this morning, too. Though I've known for years that Terry had once studied drama, and that he was once the movie reviewer for the Atlanta Journal, it had never occurred to me to tell him about my own short acting career. It never came up. I'm not certain why it came up today, but it did. In 1988, I had the opportunity to perform the lead in the Savannah Theatre Company's production of The Ransom of Red Chief. I also had the opportunity to be in two motion pictures that were filmed in Savannah. One of these went on to receive seven Academy Award nominations (nothing to do with me) and one went on to become what some websites refer to as the worst film ever made (even contending with Plan 9 From Mars and, again, having nothing to do with me).
So, anyway, this is what happens when you get around authors. And why, I think, there is such an interest in authors, the writing process and writing life. Story telling. Story getting.