Saturday, April 08, 2006

He asked me, "Are you a writer?"

I attended the Stephen McCauley signing at the bookstore, and it was intimate enough for the small group of fans to have a conversation with the author.

I asked him how he got his start, whether he was "discovered" or if he had a pile of rejection notices somewhere.

He told the story of writing THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION as his graduate thesis for Brandeis and how his advisor forwarded it to publishers, then he asked me if I was a writer.

"Yes," I said, kinda mortified that I had become the "How'd you get your start?"/"Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?" question.

I always feel like those kids who ask for career advice on INSIDE THE ACTOR'S STUDIO are blood-sucking, attention-hog vultures. (Incidentally, at that Patricia Neal Q&A in Athens a few weeks ago, Neal was asked for career advice and told this eager, chipper, aspiring actress, "Don't do it! It's too hard, and odds are that you won't make it!" That was great.)

Anyway, McCauley asked me what I write, and I told him that I was presenting an essay at conference this week.

"What's your essay about?" he asked me, even though there were six other people in the audience there who probably didn't want to hear me talk about my essays.

"Well, it's an essay about this one time I saved a Waffle House from closing," I said. "And I have another essay floating around about my worst kiss ever."

Someone else in the group explained to McCauley what Waffle House was, using the following brilliant sentence.

"It's like an International House of Pancakes, except with waffles," the man explained. "And it's really Southern, and it's open 24-hours-a-day."

"Yeah," McCauley said deadpan. "I figured that, since it was named Waffle House, it served waffles."

He asked me if I had a copy with me of either story, and I told him that I unfortunately didn't. He told me that was a shame.

"OK, so tell me about the other story," he said.

"Um, it's about the worst kiss I ever received, and it's just floating around at some places," I said, then mumbled an apology for going on too long.

"It's OK," McCauley said to me. "I asked you."

And we smiled at each other.

So when the Q&A ended, I decided to take some initiative, and I went to the front desk and grabbed some business cards.

I was the last person to get books signed. I had my copy of THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION signed, and I had McCauley sign a copy of his new one, ALTERNATIVES TO SEX, for Lupo. I told him about how Lupo called me up last week and told me he was excited over his new McCauley arriving.

At that, I sounded a little nervous, but I kept talking to the author.

"Um, thank you for asking me about my essays," I said, considering that I was maybe talking more about my work than about his. "Were you serious about wanting to read them?"

"Yes," he said. So I gave him my e-mail address, and I told him to contact me. He put the address at the front of one of his manuscripts atop his brown backpack.

"I'm on the road for the next month," he said to me. "But, if you don't hear from me within a month, just send me an e-mail through my website."

Then, he repeated the words "through my website," like it was the most ridiculous thing he'd ever said, and rolled his eyes.

"It's OK," I said. "Everyone has a website now. I have one."

Then I offered up my hand and told him that it was nice to meet him.

And Stephen McCauley shook my hand.

Even though he might not have meant it, I'm going to send him my stuff. Because he did ask about it.

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