Wednesday, March 14, 2012


The Writer-Groupie Experiment


Growing up in Los Angeles, I was surrounded by fame. My elementary school catered to the offspring of celebrities, and Crosby, Stills & Nash performed at my high school fundraisers. Call it what you want: fortunate, pretentious, obnoxious, weird, I somehow managed to grow up politely turning my head away from all those stars around me. Celebrities, I was sternly told, were just normal people like everyone else. I was supposed to continue on with my day whenever I encountered them. To pretend as if they almost weren’t there. So I’d down my cocktails at The Standard on Sunset with Simon Rex shooting tequila next to me, somehow refraining from mentioning his stint as an MTV DJ. I’d flash my terrible fake ID at The Roxy to see bands like Maroon 5 (before they were Maroon 5), who weren’t mega-stars but merely the "cute seniors" who happened to have a recording contract. When Jake Gyllenhaal and Alex Braverman wandered into my friend Lyssa’s party one random Saturday night, I (painfully, I’ll admit) turned away to resume flirting with my crush-of-the-month Robby instead. To respond to their presence was to betray my parents and teachers. No greater sin could be committed than acknowledging celebrity.

But writers? What about famous writers? Writers, it seemed, were a different breed. No one told me how to act around them. No one ever said if it was cool or appropriate or even gauche to be a writer-groupie. This was Los Angeles in the mid-nineties; we didn’t have the internet to find out where they'd be reading, or Twitter to see what they were doing at 2 a.m. on a Tuesday. For someone who grew up surrounded by fame, I was obsessed with the quiet inner world of the writer. And the only way to learn about that world was the old-fashioned way: I'd compose embarrassingly gushy handwritten letters, stuff them into envelopes, and send them on to their publisher.

“Dear Francesca Lia Block,” I’d begin. “I’m writing to tell you just have much your book Weetzie Bat spoke to me and was wondering if you had any advice for a future writer?”

Or, “Dear Sandra Cisneros,” I’d say. “I’m writing a paper on The House on Mango Street and was wondering if I could interview you for your thoughts on the novel’s success?”

This became a semi-masochistic routine. I'd pour my heart out, although actual replies were rare. So I resorted to another form of contact — the book reading.


I was 15 when I went to see Jim Carroll read. I’ve written about it before, because it’s the one reading that sticks with me the most. Sophomore year of high school, I wasn’t just a Carroll fan. I was angry, hormonal, "dabbling in Wiccan," and absolutely convinced that no one understood me (and here I thought I was an original). And yet, for some reason, I believed that Jim Carroll would "get" me if only we had the chance to meet (this sounds borderline stalkerish now, but at 15 my intentions, I swear, were innocent). All I had to do was get to speak to him, and we'd become the best of friends. Easy enough, right?

The night of the reading, McAbe’s Guitar Shop was packed with coffee-drinking twenty-somethings whose Doc Martens and pageboy haircuts both terrified and thrilled me. Carroll was a good 20 minutes late to the stage, and when he arrived, he wore a tight black turtleneck that magnified his shaggy red hair. He read for an hour in his endearingly cigarette-hoarsened voice.

“That’s it,” he said at the end, closing the book. And that was it. Carroll didn't open the room up for questions. He didn't sign my dog-eared copy of Fear of Dreaming. He stood up, the house lights not even yet raised, and made his way upstairs, not once looking back. Fast-forward 11 years and Carroll would be found dead of a heart attack in his New York apartment. I would never get the chance to shake his hand.


I’ve been working in publishing now, on and off, for 10 years, and I still find myself dumbstruck over the unbelievable access I have to the writers I admire. My first years at Random House, I could barely maintain my cool when standing next to authors like Kurt Vonnegut or Norman Mailer. Nothing, though, tops my completely moronic response to my encounter with Salman Rushdie.

Rushdie’s publicist was out running an errand one afternoon, and I happened to accidentally answer her phone line. The connection was poor; I couldn’t hear what the man on the line was asking of me.

“What?” I finally yelled into the receiver. “I can’t hear you! What do you want?!”

I was about to hang up when, miraculously, the connection cleared.

“Megan, it’s me, Salman. I need to ask about a pick up time with the car service?”

I thought I was going to throw up. Literally, on the floor of my cubicle, throw up. I was 21, barely out of college, and Salman motherf*&ing Rushdie — the man whose novel (Midnight’s Children) I'd written my tenth-grade Honors English paper on — was asking me a simple question that I, petrified, could no longer answer. I fumbled for his itinerary, hyperventilating as I read him his pickup time. When I hung up the phone, I locked myself in the bathroom and cried.


I took time off from publishing to get my own MFA in fiction. When I returned, now at Algonquin (not even three years later!), everything had changed. Gone were the days of sending letters of praise through the black hole of the "general mail" address. Gone were the days of getting caught for being on Facebook. Facebook was part of the job now. The dependency on the internet had changed everything, including authors' accessibility.

I was curious to see how many writers I could reach out to, to test how thin the walls were between author and appreciative fan. In an era where authors regularly tweet their thoughts on the selection of salsas at Baja Fresh, could it really be that easy to email them a simple question? And with the convenience of Facebook, was it wrong to expect a more or less immediate response?

So I decided to test this theory out. I put together a list of authors I hadn't worked with but had long admired. (I admittedly had a leg up, since — due to my years at publishing houses and literary magazines — I happened to share several mutual "friends" with these writers.) I wrote the following message, tailored to each author.

Dear  X,
Please excuse my creepily writing via Facebook. I am a huge fan of your work and hope you don't mind my briefly emailing you to ask you a quick question... I am working on a potential piece for THE HAIRPIN on the accessibility of writers to the public (basically I’m saying it was much harder, say, ten years ago, to field personal questions/reach out to an author one admired). Now, I feel that the internet has changed everything and it’s much easier for a ‘fan’ to contact an author. I was wondering if you would mind answering the following question (only if you feel comfortable?). For the sake of the piece I am keeping the question pretty generic, and would love to know what you ate for lunch today.

I gave myself four days to wait. Four days with 10 different authors. I figured four was a suitable number, factoring in variables like the potential of no internet connection, hectic deadlines, or different time zones.

My first response came within two hours.

Alix Ohlin: “Because I'm trying to eat healthy, I had carrot ginger soup and quinoa salad. Because I'm always failing at it, I also had chocolate covered pretzels and salt-and-vinegar potato chips.”

Kate Christensen: “I had a spring roll and beef pho at a place called Saigon in Portland, Maine!”

Nam Le: “I skipped lunch yesterday (and today too, actually).”

Tom Perotta: “My answer is: burrito and an orange.”

Thisbe Nissen: “I had an amazing lunch today! My husband made egg sandwiches: sourdough toast with smoked provolone, scrambled eggs with dill, and sautéed portobellos. It was really friggin good.”

Rick Moody: “Ritz crackers, some black beans, and a banana.”

Nick Hornby: “Today – no lunch. A big hotel breakfast instead.”

I couldn’t believe it. There they were, these authors whose novels I read and discussed and even taught, right there, responding to my question. Granted, not everyone I contacted responded, but seven out of 10 saw my email, then took the time to respond. I know that this can’t always be the case, and I have no doubt that writers are inundated with requests to "look at my manuscript," or to give out a blurb (emails they're right to ignore). And yet, in an era where one almost expects immediate gratification, it’s startling to see — in just a few short years — how the days of sitting outside one’s house waiting for the mailman are slowly disappearing, and the lines of keeping one’s distance have blurred to near-invisibility.

Megan Fishmann is a 2010 Henry Hoyns Fellow at The Univeristy of Virginia. When she’s not at work on her novel, she’s busy being a publicist at Algonquin Books, writing book reviews for BookPage, and judging fiction submissions for Zoetrope and Narrative Magazine. Megan had a kombucha for lunch but she would have preferred a cheeseburger.

Photo by Wojciech Jaskowski, via Shutterstock

106 Comments / Post A Comment

apples and oranges

(also SANDRA CISNEROS my GIRL; she has some dope poetry and her novel Caramelo made me cry lots and lots of tears)
This is a cool piece, and an interesting idea. One example of author accessibility I find fascinating is John Green and the Nerdfighter community. His sales for his last book - just preorders, maybe? I'm not familiar with publishing know-how or information - were apparently insane. And he was on the NYT bestseller list for 3(?) weeks. Really interesting stuff. Of course, his target audience is a population that may use the internet more than other age groups, but still cool.

ps please write about how you got into publishing! more ask-a-[job] posts ftw!


@kangerine I LOVE Sandra Cisneros' poetry and I just checked out Caramelo from the library and I was EXCITED but now I don't want tears and am afraid :( It's worth it though I'm sure.

apples and oranges

@BattyRabbit The good kind of tears! Where the writing is beautiful and you just have so many feelings about it and ohhh it's an amazing, wonderful book.


I think this is the post where we're pleased there's no unified commenting system yet.


@leon.saintjean Growing up in Detroit, I was surrounded by transvestites. My elementary school catered to the offspring of Thai sex workers, and feral cats performed at my high school fundraisers.


@saythatscool - You eat cats for lunch in detroit?


@leon.saintjean I had a big breakfast at the shelter.


@saythatscool - I feel like marsupial goes better with eggs benedict.

Porn Peddler

"Crosby, Stills & Nash performed at my high school fundraisers"
Almost stopped reading because I might actually despise you.

Kurt motherfucking Vonnegut? Alright that's enough...

" When I hung up the phone, I locked myself in the bathroom and burst into embarrassed tears."
Guess we're on and the same after all.

Are They Biting Ducks?

@Third Wave Housewife So I've worked in indie bookstores for way too long now, and I can assure you, Salman Rushdie is kind of a dick. Very unfriendly, and just ugh. But I did nearly swallow my tongue the time I had to talk to Joyce Carol Oates.


@Are They Biting Ducks? I might get criticized to no end for this, but...I think Rushdie is rather overrated. Then again, I think the same of Gabriel Garcia Marquez...so it could be that I just have no taste.

Are They Biting Ducks?

@D.@twitter Literary taste is just a highly variable thing. I didn't enjoy 100 Years of Solitude at all, but I did enjoy the prose, if that makes any sense. Basically, never let anyone give you crap about what you like to read!

Porn Peddler

@D.@twitter I couldn't get through One Hundred Years of Solitude, to be honest, but Love In The Time of Cholera was sooooo good.

@Are They Biting Ducks? Oh, I so did not mean that I am in love with Salman Rushdie...just that I would definitely react that way to something of that sort happening.

She was a retail whore

@D.@twitter I can't get past page 105 of 100 Years of Solitude. I tried on a yearly basis for seven years before deciding that I was too old for that shit (I was 24 when I quit). I've somewhat enjoyed other works of his, but Garcia Marquez just isn't for me.


@taigan Honestly, I just got squicked out after reading "Of Love and Other Demons," and my thought process was something like, "The fantasies of this dirty old man are being held up as artistic; they are being reinterpreted (using magical realism as an aid...rather like when artists of yore used to paint mythological figures as an excuse to paint nudes) so that a reader can enjoy them w/o having to feel himself sullied." Some of his short stories are all right, but in the Latin American department I much prefer Borges or Mario Vargas Llosa.

Party Falcon

I wonder what how authors and other celebrities feel about this new permeability of boundaries.

Is it freeing? Is the feedback and interaction worth the flaming and stupidity?


@Party Falcon Yeah, I thought that was going to be the question.


@Party Falcon - Because my real-life name (and email address) are only 1 letter off from a guy who was not huge in the 60s but very influential to other young rockers of a certain type, I've gotten some of his fan e-mail.

I don't know if it qualifies me as a celebrity or not, but I just kind of pretend all the compliments are intended for me, so I know what it's like to be adored by people who SEEK YOU OUT because you are so awesome. I first I was like "Oh, weird", but then I realized being famous(ish) and liked is fucking awesome.

So there is you "Ask Someone Who Pretends to Be Famous".


@leon.saintjean I feel lucky just to "know" you.


I am in the book biz (kids books), too, and my first encounters with authors were full of blushing and teasing from co-workers.

Case in point: my first library conference, someone said to me, "Oh, look, Lois Lowry is here." And then I hid.

When I met Laini Taylor, I hyperventilated, turned red, and ran to the other side of the book store.

It took me 20 minutes to figure out how to begin an email to RL Stine.

Jon Scieszka remembered when we got drunk together at a hotel bar, and it made my month.

I met Kristin Cashore in the bathroom.

Judy Blume is going to be at a show in April and sometimes I can't sleep at night when I think about meeting her.

I'm a writer, too, and my poor editor once hung up on JK Rowling.

John's a special case, certainly. His fans adore him, I think, not only for his books but for his accessibility. They get the sense that he writes directly TO them, not at them, or at the universe.

(And he's still on the NYT Best Seller list ;) Not that anyone is counting.)

raised amongst catalogs

@Petrichoria SCIESZKA!!!!!!!!!!!


@Petrichoria JUDY BLUME, OMG. And sigh, John Green. His books are so so amazing, and yet I find his online fanbase so so very annoying.


@Petrichoria Could I ask you some questions about your job (meta experiment/actually it would be crazy helpful for my life)? My email is 42robots at gmail. Thanks!


@vanillawaif I knew his nephew in high school. So proximate to people proximal to fame! Or "fame."



Does this mean you got to meet Deborah Eisenberg ?!?!?!


@atipofthehat More importantly: UVA English Dept gossip! Tell me all of it oh please oh please!


@leastimportantperson Jk/not really/is that embarrassing/I don't care


@leastimportantperson Yay, UVA!!


Who's Alex Braverman?


@km1312 Who's Salman Rushdie?


@km1312 Isn't he a character in Parenthood?


@liznieve *Adam* Braverman is... (yeah, yeah, I watch "Parenthood")


Can you ask David Sedaris if he is still mad at me for the argument we got into at that reading. He hasn't responded to my letter even though I wrote it on sparkly paper. It seriously upsets me.


@BattyRabbit I had a very awkward interaction with David Sederis in which I think he thought I was quite rude.


@Gnatalby May I ask what happened? I think it's probably pretty easy to have awkward interactions with David Sedaris, what with him being David Sedaris, so maybe I shouldn't feel so bad? But he's also MY FAVORITE!, so...I still do.


@BattyRabbit Whenever I interact with a celebrity I care about it ends up being really humiliating. So after reading I went to have my book signed and while he was signing I asked what I thought was a great question, which was, "Which one of your sisters is your favorite, and don't give me that 'I love them equally stuff.'" And he looked really taken aback and went, "O......kay. It's probably Lisa." And then just snapped my book shut. And I was like "OMG I AM THE WORST PERSON ON EARTH, I ACTED LIKE I KNOW HIM FOR REAL AND HAVE A RIGHT TO ASK HIM PERSONAL QUESTIONS!"

At the same time, I'm really glad it's Lisa, mostly because of the parakeet story.


@BattyRabbit What? Is this real? Will you elaborate? (Do I even want to know? I think he's on the "Celebrities Who Are Nice" list that I keep in my head.)


@Gnatalby How it could be any of them but Lisa after that story??? Ugh. He makes you *feel* like you know him for real, that is the peril.


@Hellcat I stood in line to meet him twice (before and after the reading) because I'm greedy and he was SUPER nice the first time! He let me bitch about my ex for like 5 whole minutes and said 'Well he'll never have another one as adorable as you.' And told me I have beautiful gums and should be a gum model. So yes, David Sedaris is nice! Just don't try to start a 'discussion' with him about the word 'whore' when it's midnight and you've both been dealing with the queue in your own ways for three hours. That is a dumb thing to do.


@BattyRabbit Oh, good--OK, I was worried there was some horrible diva-esque behavior (which, now that I think about it, he does sort of exhibit in his writing... but in only the best of ways). However, now I wish you had recorded the whore discussion!


@BattyRabbit I'm afraid to write to my favorite authors because I think I would like their books way less if they end up being jerks. (I was at a smallish music festival years ago and asked the Be Good Tanyas to sign my festival shirt, and they were kind of weird about it. Granted, I think someone had just stolen their banjo backstage, so I don't hold it against them, but it was still kind of a let-down.)

I really want to write Jeanette Winterson because her books, it's like she's writing from inside my head! I don't even want a reply, I just want to write that gushy "OMG your books changed my life" letter, but I get the feeling she can be kind of standoffish and I don't want to ruin my love for her by finding out that she really is.


@Gnatalby WHAT? It's not Amy?? She's my favorite. Wearing the fat suit (but only the bottom) around just for kicks! Love it.


I loved this--I used to work at a major publishing house and I used to absolutely (but inwardly) panic when I used to get this one author/politician's calls, even though all I had to do was forward him to his editor. The accessibility to authors when you're in publishing is a fantastic combination of amazing and terrifying.

Briony Fields

I discovered Weetzie Bat in my early twenties and was SO SAD that I'd missed as a teenager. I tried to make up for it by gifting a copy to my sisters/cousins when they reached their early teen years.


@Briony Fields This book somehow got by me, even though I recall wanting to read it in my late high-school years (I think)...

Sgt. Grumbles

I work at a large publishing house, and though I don't interact much with authors, I did once ride an elevator with Nick Cannon (looking SHARP!). Megan, please be as charming and accessible as these authors, and help a lady out... how does one start writing book reviews? And is publicity a fun route in publishing?


@Sgt. Grumbles I know a couple of people with book review sites, so I can give a couple of tips: 1. Join Netgalley.com. You can get free digital galleys (to read on your computer or digital device) of books that have not been released or have just recently been released. 2. Join Goodreads to connect with authors and to take part in Goodreads giveaways, where they give out advanced copies. I have gotten about 5, and I don't even have a review site, but I have reviewed a lot of books on there, and that increases your chances of getting some. 3. Pick a niche. Either a particular genre, or something specific about the books that you are reading (for example, you choose books that feature prominent female characters, are only written by women, are only written by minorities, etc). Do your research and see if there's a void to be filled! 4. Twitter! Follow authors you're reviewing and tweet them your reviews to see if they'll give you a retweet. I know people who have gotten meetings and interviews with authors this way. 5. If your blog gets popular enough, you can also try to get advanced copies directly from the publisher, usually it is through the marketing and publicity department.

Sgt. Grumbles

@Megan Patterson@facebook Thank you! This is really helpful. Thank you for writing this piece!


@Sgt. Grumbles Publicity is definitely a fun route! You have to be able to handle a lot of things at once but overall, I've definitely enjoyed it. I agree with Megan Patterson on allher comments about book reviewing. I would follow Bethanne Patrick on Twitter if you aren't already. She's a fantastic big name online book reviewer who might have more tips for you!
Thanks for the nice comments!

Bus Driver Stu Benedict

Commenting is writing too, pretty much, so: I broiled a whole tilapia for the first time ever today, with a spicy tomato-onion marinade. And with collard greens and rice on the side.


@Bus Driver Stu Benedict

True. If you want to meet some amazing writers, come to a Pin-up.

raised amongst catalogs

@Bus Driver Stu Benedict Salad with grilled chicken, with a Harry & David "Moose Munch" chaser.


@vanillawaif leftover eggplant curry and chickpea curry. I didn't have rice, so it was just the sauce.

Soon to be followed by a Penguin Bar.


Heh, I met one of my favorite writers from childhood/junior high (Patricia Wrede) a few months ago, and sputtered all over myself about how much I love her books and thank you for writing them and being awesome etc etc. I was bright red and not at all coherent. She was very nice about it.

I've thought about it since, and I think there are only a couple others that would inspire that response (JK Rowling, obvs, and Tamora Pierce, probably Neil Gaiman). Something about loving things more intensely as a teenager, maybe? Or them being more formative than the things I love and read now?



She just seems like she'd be so nice.


@Inconceivable! PATRICIA WREDE. I think I would pee myself if I met her, just out of solidarity with my 9-year-old self.


@Inconceivable! I met Neil Gaiman at a book signing and we were so far back in the line that by the time we got to the front, he offered us some of the cookies someone else had given him and looked rather bedraggled. It was precious, but I did not fawn nearly as much as I thought I would.




@Inconceivable! wherein a fan meets her favorite author and turns the color of a particular vegetable

Does Axl have a jack?

@Inconceivable! I tweeted Neil Gaiman a question and he answered me. It was the highlight of my month, at least.


@SarahP She was very nice! I mean, it wasn't so much a conversation as me rambling at her, but she took it quite well.


@Inconceivable! I'd love to meet Tamora Pierce, but she doesn't travel very much anymore. I wrote her a fan email when I was like 11 and she wrote me a really nice response. I also emailed Phyllis Reynolds Naylor a fan letter only like three or four years ago. The reason was telling her how pleased I was she had Patrick go to UChicago (where I went to school) and offering to furnish any realistic details she might require. She wrote me a nice response saying that she had some guy furnishing her with U of C details already (some of which were wrong in the book, although it actually did have very impressive verisimilitude).


@Inconceivable! omg I LOVED those books. I wanted to BE Cimorene sooooo badly. I would totally tell Patricia Wrede that if I met her today! And maybe cry, who knows.


I have this intense, literary crush on a writer right now (and for the past, like, three years) and I submitted a story to her journal which she did not accept but she DID write me a really loving, heartfelt rejection email. And now I read her blog obsessively but I never comment because I'm afraid she'll recognize my name and, I don't know, that's bad or something. But really. She's a goddess.


I spent all of middle school and highschool drafting the perfect letter to Frank McCourt. When I was 19 I wrote it out, went to a reading in Boston at the JFK library, had all three of my books signed, and gave him my letter "to read on the plane." He asked if it was going to explode. When he died I was sad, but glad I got to give him my letter.


When I first started working at Unnamed Reference Publisher, A Very Famous Literary Critic called and was very polite and I felt incredibly pleased.

A couple of weeks later, that same critic yelled at me and hung up on me because his check accidentally got swapped with another author's and I had to wait for the other author to send his back before accounting would issue another for either. It was an accident! He hasn't contacted me since, and now uses his editor as a middle man for all questions.


It's too bad Virginia Woolf is dead, because I would maybe stalk her. If I ever met Toni Morrison, I might spontaneously combust. I would definitely have Haruki Murakami's babies.


I follow a bunch of my favorite writers on twitter, and every time one of them responds to me, I get a little fangirl squee all up in my throat.


@thebestjasmine "every time"? As in, multiple times? You lucky one, you.


@thebestjasmine ME TOO! Margaret Atwood replied to me once, AND I DIED.


@Megan Patterson@facebook I met Margaret Atwood once. She did not like me. I decided I liked her books more than I liked her. The End.


This is timely, because I just went to a G.R.R Martin signing last night. He's lovely and a total pro at handling the MASSIVE EFFING LINE ALL THE WAY AROUND A CITY BLOCK btw.


Christopher Moore spent an extra couple of minutes chatting us up at a book signing once because my fiance had his shibby camera on him and apparently Moore is into cameras. It was neat. I fangirled a little in my head but kept it cool. Ahur.


Ughh, people I admire are the people I am SO EMBARRASSING in front of. I got all sweaty and creepy in front of Erika Moen at the Alternative Press Expo a couple of years ago. And she was so sweet to me! (And then she drew me recently and I promptly passed out upon learning this.)

Celebrities! I know they're normal people, and I want to be nonchalant because I know that fangirling is not generally appreciated, but these people! These people who create these beautiful things! And I can never figure out how to let them know how meaningful their work is to me without being weird. Ahh. :(

(P.S. OH MY GOD I want to work in publishing! But I have no idea where to start, if my expectations are anything like the real world, or if it's even possible for me to get in, because my only experience to speak of is half an internship at a teeny book distributor where we all quit part of the way through because the boss sexually harassed one of the other interns. PUBLISHING, LET ME BE WITH YOU.)


@figwiggin If you're in Toronto, I'm currently in a Book and Magazine Publishing program (of which there are at least 3 here), which is a 1 year post grad that helps to give you the skills and like, introduces you to people in the industry and stuff. But another really great way a lot of guest speakers has said is to start out in administration at a publisher;s or even an agent's office is a great way to get an in.
Oh, and there are way more publicity and sales jobs than editorial. Which is a good place for a young person because most of the big wigs in publishing do not understand the interwebs.


@figwiggin I think if I had to be sweaty and awkward in front of anyone I admire, Erika Moen would be the person I'd pick. I get the feeling she does weird and awkward things, too (WHICH IS WHY I LOVE HER). And I am so jealous that she drew you!


@Megan Patterson@facebook I'm not in Toronto, but I'm not against being in Toronto in the future! And I should look around for more programs like that, I'm sure there are some closer to home. It's just one of those cases where I've had the dream for a long time and I'm afraid to start actually working toward it in case I end up hating it. I just want to work with books in some capacity! (And proofreading is one of my only marketable skills.)

@che Isn't she the greatest? She totally does weird and awkward things and tweets about them charmingly, and keeps making me fall madly in love with her. So she totally understands, but still! I can never be suave. (Although at least I'm not as bad as the dude who told her about her...sex aura or whatever it was.)


@figwiggin Well the Canadian pub scene is pretty small, if you live in the States or Europe it's probably better. But we do have a couple of students here for the year from the U.S., and I can definitely say that it's a great way to broaden your skills outside of just proofreading (which is pretty thankless), and is also really good for making connections because we're always getting guest speakers and we have to do at least one internship. So if you find one, DO IT!


I was working at a conference and Neil Gaiman showed up to speak on one of our panels, and my smooth line was, "You're FAMOUS," and then I grinned all eyebrow-wagglingly. He was very nice but I did not succeed in wooing him.


@werewolfbarmitzvah hahahahah so smooth! i totally love this


I don't think I've ever interacted with any authors (outside of a book-signing, at least) but I did reach through Stephen King's pretty wrought-iron fence and pluck a flower, which I still have (in pretty much dust format now). I didn't wreck his garden or anything though; it was just one of those little purple, bulby-looking things that kind of grow on their own.

the angry little raincloud

Oh god. Until very, very, very recently I was dating someone who is rather eminent in his very odd little field; he's published a few books, gets interviewed by NPR and the like on a fairly regular basis, etc. I didn't know any of this when we met (I knew many of the things he'd done, just somehow didn't make the connection that he was that guy. Weird, yes, but...). Anyway. I found it in many ways to be incredibly awkward. Do I now go and read all your stuff? Show up at your book readings? Is that just awkward for him? Ugh. Anyway. I have no idea where i'm going with this (I am currently on a bender trying to get over him...) but already in the brief break-up period I've accidentally been reminded of him because I googled something or looked somethign up and there he was. Ugh. I'll take Anonymous Men for $1000 in the future, Alex.


@the angry little raincloud take the $1000 now, avoid inflation. also I completely get how this happened.

the angry little raincloud

@hedgehog Oh yes. Learned my lesson!


I work at a bookstore and have thereby met some famous authors. I am a very nervous and neurotic person in general but am I the only person who doesn't flip out about meeting authors? I don't know, it's like, I'm at work, so it's normal that we're both there interacting? Authors I've met: Mary Roach, Brian Jacques, Michael Patrick McDonald, Elizabeth Berg, Daniel Handler, Maira Kalman, Adrianna Trigiani, Howie Carr . . . probably a bunch more I'm not thinking of. I had the opportunity to meet John Green but didn't bother because I hate all of his books but Looking for Alaska. A former manager is friends with him though, I think she might have gone to his wedding. Michael Patrick MacDonald was super nice and seemed equally interested in me and my mom as we were in him (aka like a real person). I've interacted with Mary Roach a few times from work and she recognized me the last time I saw her which really pleased me.

I emailed Elif Batuman twice and she wrote me really nice replies both times. I would be really happy to meet her. She's the closest I would probably come to flipping out for. I'd also love to meet Elizabeth Wurtzel. My impression is that writers tend to be more accessible than other famous people because they tend to be more all up in their heads/self-conscious/insecure, just like us.


@Ellie I'm glad Mary Roach was nice IRL. Her book persona is vivacious and charming, and it's always nice to see that borne out in some way.

The Frozen Head of Dorothy Zbornak

Armistead Maupin, anyone? I fulfilled my long-held dream of casually running into him walking his dog in the Castro last summer. :D


@wamanda ARMISTEAAAAAAAAD!!! That is the best sighting.


I'm wondering if you could try a seance to get in touch with Jim Carroll? Or a Ouija board? Isn't twitter just a new version of the Ouija board?


Ahh, oh my goodness, between this piece and the Carroll one you linked to, it seems like our mid-adolescences were the same. (Well, minus the celeb-surrounded upbringing.) It seems unlikely that I *didn't* write a fan letter at some point to Francesca Lia Block (though I'm not positive one way or the other), and I also was entirely, insufferably Beat-obsessed at the same time. Also the experience of having your mom cart you to poetry readings, haha. Weird, formative times!


@dee Those were the days, that's for sure! Super weird!


I once bid $100 to get up on stage at the Make Out Room in SF and kiss 16 different local authors including Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket), Stephen Elliot, Andrew Sean Greer, and Michelle Tea. It was beyond awesome. And ridiculously, I had attended the event alone, so none of my friends witnessed it AND I had come from the gym and was in my workout clothes. But still. A high point for sure.


@BossyBottom I am still mad at Lemony Snicket for doing so poorly for my team in Pubfight. I thought you were popular Lemony! *shakes fist


When I first moved to Iowa City Marilynne Robinson ended up behind me a grocery store line. I couldn't figure out why she seemed to be glaring at me. It wasn't until I got out to my car and saw I had forgotten to mention the giant sack of Purina on the bottom rack of my cart, that I realized Marilynne Robinson was judging me for shoplifting dog food!

It was an accident, Marilynne! Please forgive me!

Also, one time in LA I almost hit Tobias Wolff with my car. I'm the worst.

Philippa Snow@facebook

I've always wanted to meet Will Self, but he's so terrifyingly articulate that I fear that I would feel like a simpleton in comparison.


My hometown has a pretty sweet fine arts festival every year (especially for only having a population of about 7,000), and being their grant writer, I have the perk of meeting each year's featured author. My experiences:

Jim Harrison - Kept staring at my boobs and kinda sorta maybe felt me up during a photo op.
Russell Banks - Very nice, but quiet.
Michael Collins - The hottest thing since sliced bread, and I actually sat next to him and conversed during a lecture by another author.
Ivan Doig - I remember nothing about him.
Ann Patchett- I completely geeked out and rambled on about how Bel Canto helped me get through a creative writing course, and she signed my book, "To [Reebs14]: Whom I have known since college."
Dennis Lehane - Great dry sense of humor, and did not shoo me away when I started talking about how cute his nearly-faded Boston accent was.
Jonathan Safran Foer - REALLY short.
Jonathan Franzen - I got to have dinner with him and other festival coordinators after his lecture/signing, and I made a complete ass out myself. First by not knowing how to work a complex digital camera (he commiserated and said that he was not tech-savvy either), then by slipping on the hardwood floor at the restaurant and busting my ass. My shoe literally flew off my foot and the waitresses rushed to help me. OH DEAR GOD JUST LEAVE ME HERE.


Megan, I loved this! In the spirit of contacting authors through the Internet, if you still are in Charlottesville doing your thing, I want to be your friend! (Virtual or actual.) I live in Charlottesville too and would love to buy you a cup of coffee. I'd message you on Twitter, but my work has not yet discovered that social media is the FUTURE, so everything's blocked here.
Also, Weetzie Bat FTW! I loved that whole series. Thanks for the fun story!


@lexmarie You are so sweet- thank you! Weetzie Bat for the win, indeed. Sadly I no longer live in Charlottesville but please have a huge cup of coffee for me at Mudhouse!

Lauren Everett@facebook

Yay, Alex Braverman! I remember him. But is he famous..?


@Lauren Everett@facebook who is he?? so curious...


I am a megan groupie. Amazing publicist and superlative person.


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