Your favorite book is not just an entertaining story. It becomes a sort of extra life you lived, as if you were in that world while you read, and all the characters became your friends. If you’re like me and re-read your favorite stories once a year (or even more often), you don’t just know the story. You know the sound of the characters’ voices and the cities they inhabit. You know the smell of the horse the main character rides and the taste of the ale he drinks. The heartbreaking moments send you into wracking sobs even though you’ve read them a million times and know the pain is coming, because now the characters who are suffering are even more familiar to you. The joy of the protagonist’s ultimate success is our own joy, because we’ve been with her from the beginning. It’s no wonder that our favorite authors become godlike in our adoring eyes. They wove together words that touched our souls, something that we all labor to do every single day but at which they succeeded. We place them on pedestals and would be perfectly happy to fling ourselves at their feet.
In the mid-80’s, I was fresh out of college and working in a retail bookstore in a mall. I usually manned the customer service desk (I should point out that this was before the internet, so the customer service involved knowing where every title in the store was shelved and being able to look things up on a microfiche. I’ll bet there are more than a few of you who are having to look up ‘microfiche’ right now.) Anyway, once a week I was handed a list of paperback books that needed to be stripped (covers removed and sent back to the publisher for credit while the bodies of the books are destroyed.) One week, I was sitting on the floor of the bookstore working on the strips when I looked over and saw a book called “The Anubis Gates”. The cover art wasn’t especially attractive, but something drew me to read the back copy. I bought that book at the end of my shift, took it home and read it in two days. It was different and wonderful. I believed that the author, Tim Powers, had figured something out about the world, something I’d always suspected but never knew for sure. Over the years, I’ve read everything he’s written, and I have the same reaction every time.
Last weekend, I was a guest at Illogicon II, a small con in Cary, NC. (You should try to attend this one sometime – it’s a small con that does everything the way it ought to, and results in a wonderful time.) Tim Powers was the Guest of Honor, and I was utterly beside myself at the chance to meet him. He doesn’t travel to the East Coast very often (hardly ever) so this was a lucky shot for me to meet the man who wrote the books that enhance my life like no others. As the time grew closer, I was having trouble breathing and could hardly think straight. My belly was in knots. I was afraid that I was about to blow it entirely, letting myself get so nervous. I’d just about decided to wait until Saturday to try and say hello, when one of the other con guests mentioned she was going to a panel Tim was on at 9 pm. I threw caution to the wind and accompanied her. We walked into the room and there was my hero, sitting with three other guests at the panel table. I sat in the audience, and over the next hour, listened to Tim talk about speculative fiction being commentary on the real world, and slowly, my heart calmed and my breathing returned. He was a human being, just like me. He had the usual worries and fears that all writers have. I ended up talking to him after the panel, and was invited to the bar with him, his wife and several others that very night. I sat for two hours laughing and enjoying his stories, and by the end of the weekend, I was relaxed enough to give him a hug goodbye. He wasn’t a god, but he was still my hero. And I realized that I want to write something that will someday make him smile. That feeling is so much better than the terror I felt before.
If you ever have the chance to meet your favorite author, take it. And on the way to that chance, try to remember that even though your favorite author created a world that you’d happily move into, he is still a human being who’ll be honored if you compliment his work.