A Month of Writers, Day Five: Pamela Ribon
Pamela Ribon is one of my favorite funny people in the world, because she is genuinely funny, as in, one of those people who can actually make you almost pee yourself from laughing just by talking to you. How can you not like that? Unless you have bladder control issues. In which case it might be problematic. You guys stay away from Pamie. But for everyone else, she’s awesome.
Also, Pamie is a walking, talking example of a writer Living the Dream: She popped onto the writing radar with Pamie.com, one of the first and best “online diaries,” which is what we used to call blogs before that word existed, then she became a novelist with her breakout book Why Girls Are Weird, and then she became a television writer, currently for the sitcom Samantha Who? (Yes, she’s on strike at the moment. She’s even a strike captain! Rock on, Pamie). And she has a second novel out, Why Moms are Weird, which I bought the first day it came out because that’s what you do when friends have books. I got a funny and wise book and Pamie got 80 cents of my money. It was a good day for both of us. You should buy it too. Hey, Pamie’s on strike. She needs the cash.
Basically, Pamie’s having the writing career you wish you had. Don’t hate her. She deserves it. And besides, she’s happy to entertain you by telling you about life as a writer. For example, today’s contribution to A Month of Writers, in which she talks about writing, attending the LA Festival of Books as an author, being an SE Hinton fangirl, and that Secret book that people get worked up about. And also, apparently, fistulas. You can see how they all go together.
PAMELA RIBON: do you want to know a secret?
I just wrote three hundred words of the next novel, so you know it’s time to procrastinate with so many more words over here. Because it’s easier, okay? Leave me alone! I’m trying to be an artist!
So. The Festival of Books. Yeah, yeah. I know. It was a month ago. Let me see if I can remember anything.
I took Sara with me because
a) she’s geeky enough to appreciate it,
b) had a friend/mentor speaking on another panel,
c) lived over there and
d) takes pity on me almost as much as she supports me in my endeavors.
The night before we stayed up late on the phone looking over the roster, deciding if we were going to attend any other panels. I scanned name after name of authors and then stopped at one.
“S.E. Hinton! S.E. Hinton is going to be there!”
There was a pause before Sara asked, “And I guess that makes you happy?”
We hit the author green room early for breakfast and coffee, waiting for my name to be called over the loudspeaker. It was a lovely moment as we sat down at the table and heard the announcement: “Could Kareem Abdul-Jabbar please come to the author staging area?” We giggled and looked around and wondered what would happen to the state of books if something bad happened to UCLA that day. All the books for the next five years would be sort of about that one moment when every author with a book deal had the exact same experience on the same day.
“Are you going to go to that panel by that dude you like?” Sara asked.
“S.E. Hinton is a woman, and I can’t. Her panel starts just as mine ends. I’d never get there in time.” But I showed her a secret; I’d brought along my tattered, old copy of The Outsiders, just in case. Just in case I ran into her. Just in case she was signing copies near where I was signing copies. This book used to rest next to my bed when I was growing up. It went with me from one city to the next as we moved. I had read it no less than nine times. Eventually I’d created my own character in the book. I was Dallas’ younger sister, and I went with Ponyboy and Johnny to go hideout in the church. I’d read a few pages of the book and then stop to imagine my interaction with all the Greasers, and my fears of the Socs (one had been really mean to me in an alley once, so Sodapop was understandably protective of me.)
I tried to explain this to Sara, but she’s too nice to call me crazy right to my face. “Well, maybe you’ll see her,” she said.
“Yes. We’ll just do The Secret.”
Sara rolled her eyes. “Pam. If you happen to run into another author who has a panel in a festival of authors discussing their books that you — an author — are a part of, it’s not really The Secret as much as it is Probability.”
I waved my hands in front of my face, magic-style. “Or is it?”
The panel went well, even though I was nervous as hell when I saw I’d be following Merrill Markoe. The moderator said, “We’ll just be talking about process, and craft.” And the woman next to me pulled out her notes and I sort of stammered about having to write down a few notes myself about my own process — (This is where Brently and I would do our Big-Shot Author voice, which only mumbles, “SedarisSedarisSedaris” most condescendingly).
I made it through the entire panel without cursing, but I had to say the word “fistula” twice, and honestly, this is why I’ll never be asked to speak somewhere where people are dressed up.
After the panel and the signing, Sara broke the bad news to me. “The line for your author’s signing is already pretty long, and her panel is only just now starting.” We decided to look, anyway. The line was enormous. At least a two-hour wait, from the looks of it.
“Wow,” Sara said. “So it’s not just you who likes this book?”
I’m going to have to send Sara a copy, I think. Because I’m not letting her borrow mine.
We stood for a little while in the hot sun, killing time as her friend James was signing his books in one of the tents.
“Pam,” Sara said. “I think she might be coming this way.”
And she was. She was about a hundred yards from us, walking over to her table. I watched her sign books for a little while, and then we walked away.
“See?” I said, all smiley. “The Secret works!”
[I would like to add that I don’t believe in The Secret, but I do enjoy driving Sara crazy by making everything appear to be the work of some Ren-Faire mystical belief that whatever happened happened because you decided that’s what you wanted to happen.]
“Pam! That is not The Secret! You can’t just retroactively rewrite what happened so that it becomes your Secret. You didn’t meet her! You didn’t get your book signed! You saw that woman from very far away. That’s like, the opposite of what you wanted to happen.”
“It’s just like how I saw Oprah. I watched The Secret, lowered my standards that I no longer wanted to be on Oprah, I just wanted to see her in real life, be in the same room with her. And a week later, I was!”
“I don’t think Oprah would encourage you to lower your standards in order to make The Secret work. That’s not really what it’s about.”
“If everybody just lowered their standards a little, they’d be surprised how easy it is to achieve everything they set out to do.”
“Oh, Pam. Maybe we should hit the self-help section for you. They might have a few hundred things you need to read.”
“I want a hot dog.”
“Oooh! Me, too.”
“There’s the hot dog stand. I’d say The Secret worked again, but…”
“But perhaps we were walking towards the food court already. Wow! The line is huge. Hot dogs are almost as popular as S.E. Hinton!”
After the hot dogs, we went and found James and convinced him to go back to the author green room with us, so we could sit in the shade. After chatting about television and poker and the evils of both, I sat up and did that thing where I talk out of the corner of my mouth like Cameron to Ferris.
“That’s S.E. Hinton! She’s going to eat lunch veryclosetowhereweare!!!”
Sara and James were openly laughing at me. “You have to go talk to her.”
“No. No. She’s eating. No way.”
“Pam, you have to,” Sara said. “You brought her book with you! She’s right there. She’ll probably be flattered.”
James added, “Besides, you’re making me all nervous. Until you go over there, we’re not going to be able to have a decent conversation.”
So when she was done eating, and was sitting with two people having friendly conversation, I geeked my way over to her.
I don’t remember everything, but I know for some reason I led with, “This is like, my favorite book,” and, “I’ve read it more than any other book ever,” and, “You’re part of why I became a writer.” Her friend said, “Well, that’s so nice of you to come over.”
As S.E. Hinton was thanking me and signing my book, I just couldn’t STOP MYSELF from telling her about how I used to write myself into the story, and how I was so amazed when there was a tv show for The Outsiders that had a girl named Scout and how I didn’t understand how my idea got into someone else’s television show.
And she looked at me, smiled and asked, “Have you ever heard of Fan Fiction?”
(This is where I heard Sara Morrison in my head snarking, “HA-ha!”)
Anyway, she was incredibly gracious and wonderful and I floated off to see that she had signed my book with what I know has to be what she signs for everyone’s book ever, but it’s just a perfect perfect moment for me.
“See, Sara? The Secret works!”
“I’m done talking about this with you.”
(Original entry here)