I've mentioned this story before, and I'm sure it won't be the last time I talk about it, but I had another one of those "MOMENTS" this week, and thought we could talk about what it means to have a hero.
My reemergence into the world of fiction was something of an accident, one that began with picking up a Labrador retriever and blowing out my back.
The subsequent year of post-surgery recovery meant long hours of sheer boredom, lots of hard work, and a new love affair with the written word. I've always been a reader. I tried my hand at writing in school and was discouraged, or lazy, or maybe a bit of both. Writing, you see, is actually hard work. I think I took the easy way out when I listened to my stupid professor. She was right in one way -- not that I'd never be published, but that I wasn't ready to be a professional writer. Not then. Going off to grad school in a different discipline gave me a wonderful perspective on the world, and a husband, for which I am eternally grateful.
But I always felt something was missing, that I wasn't in the right place. I had glamorous jobs, rubbing elbows with the people who were changing the world, and none of them were at all satisfying. Nothing fit. Granted, I was too much of an idealist to succeed in politics, but I was drifting. When we moved to Tennessee and I couldn't land a job right away, then my back blew, there was a sneaking sense of relief. I could start over. Reinvent, in a new town, with new friends, and exorcise all my old, lingering dissatisfactions with my world.
I can safely say that despite the pain and suffering (I couldn't bend at the waist for 6 months) I don't regret that surgery in the slightest (or the damn dog I picked up that caused the rupture), because if that hadn't happened, I wouldn't be on the path I am today. Surgery meant downtime, which meant reading. I'd always felt vaguely guilty before -- reading was my first love, but if I wasn't "doing" something . . . Now, I had no choice but to lay in the bed and read. Crime fiction was my go to, and I devoured everything I could get my hands on -- and what the library had to offer.
And I found John Sandford.
And with his books, I had a resurgence of my desire to write. And more than that, he gave me the courage to shoot for a completely new career in my early thirties.
I decided to try again. I had a character -- a female Lucas Davenport of sorts, and I gave it a whirl. It didn't work so well, so I sat down with MIND PREY and literally took it apart -- deconstructed the first six chapters or so and saw some light at the end of the tunnel. So not only did this man inspire me, he TAUGHT me too, and that's no small thing.
And I became a writer. It really was that simple, or that hard, however you'd like to look at it. Inspiration, hard work, add water and voila -- a career is born. I think it's seems easy in retrospect. This actually was my MO -- throw myself into something wholeheartedly, research and learn and try. But before, I always, always lost interest. With writing, I find myself a ridiculous workaholic, putting in stupid hours because I love what I do. It's huge, finding what you're meant to be. Some people find it through their children. Some find it through philanthropic ventures. And some of us find it in writing.
My MOMENT? I got to meet John Sandford. And yes, the hallelujah chorus sang a verse.
Sandford was charming, and vulnerable, and such a consummate professional that I again felt that overwhelming "Why do I do anything on the computer but write?" feeling. To top off his talk, I actually met him, shook his hand, told him he was my inspiration, (and made a little joke -- I didn't know whether to thank him or not, considering I'm doing two books a year...) and thankfully he'd actually been prepped and knew who I was. He even gave me a compliment, which made me float. I went home trembling. I don't get fired up like that very often, but I was literally vibrating with excitement at meeting him and finding him to be such an incredibly nice guy.
I've had two weeks of this nirvana. I was in New York for a bit of Edgar fun. I saw my dear Lee Child, met my new crush Arthur Phillips, had a lovely conversation with Michael Chabon, and spent good twenty minutes talking with Nelson Demille and his lovely wife. I mean, come on, already. This is ridiculous dream stuff, isn't it? I've now met all of my major literary heroes save one, and she (Karin Slaughter) is coming to Nashville in a few months. I've had the opportunity to talk with my favorite authors, interact, express my appreciation for their work, even meet their editors, the men and women behind the men and women. I've had the opportunity to see good friends again at these events, make new ones, and in general, reaffirm my path. Heady stuff, I tell you.
But I felt truly blessed to tell the man who is the reason I'm here today that he had a profound influence on me. It was one of the coolest moments I've had thus far, in a long line of exceptionally cool moments.
Here's the thing. You don't have to be a writer to meet your literary heroes. As readers, we can meet them. We can write to them (see Pari's excellent column on that here.) We can interact in a whole new way because of the websites and message boards. I know I'm not the only one who gets excited about meeting authors. I'd love to see more people participate in our community.
So... today's question, which shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Who is your literary hero? And did you ever have a chance to meet him or her?
With a big hat tip to Dan Hale for inspiring this column -- Dan and I were talking about meeting heroes, and he introduced me to one of mine in New York... so thanks, Dan!
Wine of the Week: 2006 Finca Vieja Tempranillio -- La Mancha, Spain. Plummy, easy-going and very young.