In Which I Meet Some Authors
Because it amuses me, allow me to recount my encounters with authors before I was a published author.
* At 10 (I know it was this age because it was the age I broke my leg), a moderately famous YA author came to speak at my elementary school, and upon seeing my leg cast, proceeded to sign it, which was nice of him. Later in the day, one of my classmates licked her finger and moved to pretend smudge it out, but then actually connected with the cast and smudged the name. So now I can’t remember the name of the author. As a small bit of irony, the kid who smudged the name off my cast would spend the entire fifth grade in a full-torso scoliosis cast. If I were back in elementary school, I would call it justice, but at age 42, I recognize that a scoliosis cast just kind of sucks for any kid.
* At 12 I met Ray Bradbury not once but twice, once at a book fair at a local community college, and once when he spoke at the Glendora Public Library, where I was a junior aide. A good friend tells me he was slightly rude to me at the community college event, but I have no memory of that myself; at the library event, which I do remember, he was in fact quite nice to me. I would later write about the Glendora event in the introduction to the Subterranean Press super-deluxe edition of The Martian Chronicles.
* In 1991 or ’92, when I was at my first job at The Fresno Bee newspaper, I pitched a story to my editor about graphic novels being the new hip thing, mostly so I could interview Neil Gaiman on the phone. And indeed he and I had a nice 30 or 40 minute chat, and then I filed the story. I mentioned this to Neil not too long ago; I believe he was amused.
* When I first got on the Internet in the early 90s, I sent Allen Steele my very first piece of fan mail, in e-mail form, and noted to him that he and I both went to Webb Schools, although I went to the one in California and he went to the one in Bell Buckle, Tennessee. His response was polite and friendly and non-committal, which is a skill I have since learned for many of my own fan letters.
* Not too long afterward, I sent an e-mail to Steve Boyett. I had picked up a used copy of Architect of Sleep, since it was out of print, and asked him if he’d like to be paid for it anyway. He very politely declined. It took me years to figure out one of the reasons he might have declined, aside from it just not being important to him, is that in the days before PayPal, you’d have to give people a physical address. And maybe it’s not a good idea to let random people on the Internet know where you live (it’s still not a good idea, incidentally).
* While at AOL in the mid-90s, I once instant messaged AC Crispin out of the blue to ask her a clueless newbie writer question. She was polite with me but annoyed at the random intrusion, as well she should have been. I have since apologized to her for it, although (again quite understandably) when I told her about it she had no memory of it whatsoever.
* Additionally, at AOL in the mid-90s there was a science fiction forum on which Orson Scott Card hung out from time to time, and in it, he posted an early electronic version of his novel Children of the Mind, which I downloaded and read with glee, and then sent him an e-mail swearing that I would actually pay for the thing when it came out. He politely thanked me. For the record, I did pay for the thing when it came out. In hardcover, even.
* One of my jobs at America Online was being an editor of a humor area, which gave me a perfect excuse to contact James Lileks, whose newspaper columns (and books thereof) I was a fan of, and ask him if he wanted to write some stuff for me. He did! It’s amazing how writers will want to write for you if you offer them money. This same tactic also worked with cartoonist Ted Rall. And one of the writers who submitted work to my humor area was David Lubar, who would also later become a published author, most prominently of the “Weenies” series of spooky stories for kids.
* In 2000, I thought about creating a site where I would interview science fiction authors about their latest books, called “OtherView,” and created a beta version of the site so I could show folks who might be interested in funding the site (don’t laugh, I created a very successful video game review site called “GameDad” just this way). I interviewed two authors: Orson Scott Card, with whom I had already once chatted, and Paul Levinson, who at the time was the president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. I remember asking him it was like to be the president of that particular organization. Now, of course, I know.
* I sold Old Man’s War in 2002, so after that I started interacting with rather more authors and they knew of me as a writer, and that my book had been sold (if not yet published), so that changed the dynamic of things a bit. That said, I will recount one final story, which I think is amusing. My very first science fiction convention ever was Torcon 3 in Toronto in 2003; while there, I want to the Tor party, which was (as always) massively packed, so I walked into a side room for a breather and stood next to this older fellow, who either was not wearing a nametag, or was and I didn’t look at it. He was quite avuncular and charming and amusing, so he and I chatted for a decent amount of time, after which he excused himself to wander off. When he left, I turned to a guy who was standing nearby and asked him if he knew the name of the fellow I’d just been chatting with. He looked at me like I was an idiot, and said, “yeah, that guy? That was Robert Silverberg.”
And there you have it.