A couple of us from Eight Cousins went to Winter Institute in Kansas City over the weekend. Winter Institute is organized by the American Booksellers Association and is a professional conference for independent bookstore owners and employees. It’s a great opportunity for book sellers to network with each other, connect with publishing houses, and meet authors. As you can imagine, publishers and booksellers have a rather symbiotic relationship and much of the weekend is dedicated to two things: professional training and showcasing upcoming titles (think fashion week, but for books). I could go on and on about the industry side of the conference, but I’ll skip to the author signing event.
In the publishing industry, authors are kind of like rock stars and the author event is always very exciting. Upon first seeing the list of who would be there, I gasped when I noticed Laurie Halse Anderson’s name. When the event started, I made a bee line straight to her table. There was a rather long line — as you might expect — and I kept thinking about what I wanted to say to her. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to come up with anything unique. I’m sure she’s heard, “I love your books” a thousand times. So when I finally got to the front of the line I said the one thing that genuinely conveyed what I was thinking: “I want to thank you for writing Speak.” She was so gracious and even though I’m sure she’s heard that sentiment over and over, she still managed to make me feel like I was the only person who had ever said it. She signed my book, gave me a hug, and I walked away with stars in my eyes and a fluttery heart. Now, I’m moderately embarrassed to admit this, but I then did the only thing I could think of at that moment: I posted something on Facebook. Thankfully I managed to refrain from using OMG!, but I was definitely thinking it.
Fast forward to the next day and I’m sitting at the airport with my travel companions. Doing exactly the thing that people like to criticize these days, I was absorbed with my iphone, catching up on my RSS feed, and not paying any attention to my immediate environment. When I moved over to talk to someone in my group, I noticed someone across the aisle who looked familiar. “Oh, she’s probably from the conference”, I thought, until a few minutes later when Carol started talking to her about her books. It was then that I realized, “oh. my. god. that’s Laurie Halse Andersen.” I sat there, freaking out in my head, trying to think of something to say and thinking about the fact that I already put the ‘I met Laurie Halse Anderson’ post on Facebook, but wondering if I could do it again. Once again my heart started fluttering and I now understand why young kids freak out when they see their teachers in the grocery store. The night before it had been a party. Everyone was dressed up, putting on their best public persona, but here we were in travel clothes sitting on uncomfortable chairs and waiting for an airplane. It was too normal. I was tongue-tied. Horrified, I realized I was missing an amazing opportunity, but I couldn’t think of anything to say! It was at that moment that one of my other travel companions looked up and shouted, “OH MY GOSH, YOU’RE LAURIE HALSE ANDERSON!” I haven’t laughed so hard in such a long time. Partly from nerves, partly because that’s exactly what I had been thinking, partly because it was so unexpectedly loud. Once again Laurie (can I call her that?) was incredibly gracious. We all talked for a few minutes. She even let us take a couple of pictures (now posted on Facebook, of course). We said good-bye and she boarded the flight.
Who knows if she’ll remember meeting us, although I think it’s safe to say we made an impression. But I was overwhelmed at how amazingly kind she was. I keep using the word gracious, because it is so apt. I’m still kind of kicking myself for not talking more. But really, what I most want to say most is, “Thank you for writing Speak.“