A Friend and a Feast

Author’s Note: (in the spirit of my friend, Sharon) this post has taken me a ridiculously long to time write. Part of it is I don’t want to quite let go and share of the magic of the day. The other part is not quite knowing what I’m going to write that does not read like either a diary entry or an itinerary.

Imagine this – you are in a bookstore, looking for a book to sustain you on a long trip. Needing something that you will immediately ‘fall into’ in order to get your mind away from the fear of flying (or rather, crashing and dying) . Feeling a little daring, going outside of your favorite genre, just browsing around and noticing a thick tome with an intriguing cover, pulling it out and loving the feel of the book, the weight of pages, and the flexible, glossy cover – you take a chance and buy the book.  The memory is vivid because within a day, you cannot put this book down.  Voila – you have discovered a new author. As a reading-nerd, this is truly a special moment.  The delicious feeling of falling completely in love with a novel, the characters, the writing and the story; it captivates you like nothing else and you cannot wait to read devour everything this person has ever written. Yet you also grieve for the end of every book they have written.  And you think, what would I give to meet this person face to face?

And I know, in this world, it is very unlikely that I’d ever get to meet this writer – this person that has given me so much joy.  But I want to meet Sharon Kay Penman. I want to tell her how much her words have meant to me.  How utterly captivated by these stories I have become – how I want every person that matters to me to read these stories also and feel that feeling.

Luckily, the world is always full of surprises.  It is also filled with social networks.  A small little thing like Facebook – a time waster, most will say. Filled with a barrage of senseless utterings and cat pictures…but amongst the flimflam we can find a few gems.

One such gem, for me, was the Sharon Kay Penman Fan Club page. I’ve written about my fascination with Sharon’s works here and mentioned her here.  I’ve written about my butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling of her first FB post in which she USED MY NAME.  I’ve written about how engaged she is with her devoted fans. But I’ve never written about becoming her friend. That’s what I want to share.

In November 2013 I received a Facebook email from Sharon Kay Penman asking me to contact her via her personal email.  I vacillated between jumping for joy and having a lead ball in my belly – what if she was asking me to stop posting on her FB page because I tend to hijack threads? But, because I like getting things over and done with ASAP, I emailed her right away.

Her response floored me. She was telling me that she had been invited and accepted an invitation to the Tucson Festival of Books in March 2014 and would I be ‘interested in HAVING DINNER WITH HER ONE NIGHT?’  AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!

I slapped myself a few times, screamed out loud to my husband, called my Mom, danced around the kitchen and then immediately wrote back and said “No.” – HA – I’m messin’ with ya, I emailed back a strong and definitive YES.  She asked me in the most humble manner as if it might possibly be an inconvenience to spend an evening with her.   I can’t tell you how stunned I was.  She has THOUSANDS OF FANS …and she asked me to dinner.

I dared not share this with too many people for fear of jinxing myself. Because, while I looked forward to the festival and dinner, I secretly felt like it was too good to be true and something untoward would happen if I let myself get too excited.  But we began corresponding more and more via email.  Let me tell you this – even her emails are like mini novellas.  Much to my UTTER JOY.

And I save each and every one of them. They are like little individual gems – writings from the writer – something quite extraordinary to someone quite ordinary. In the bizarre twist of fate in a world where anything is possible – you find yourself one day exchanging words with someone one whose words have impacted your life more than you can really describe.

Finally, March rolls around. Sharon is starting her book tour for her most recent novel, A King’s Ransom (which you should go out and get, immediately).  She is from New Jersey and as all you state-side people know, it’s been a rather horrid winter for everyone except people in Tucson (sigh – I would like some cold, puleeze). There’s a slight fear in my heart that her flight will be cancelled. So I’m still keeping my exuberance under wraps.

And the day HAPPENS.  She makes it to Tucson – she calls me on the phone! I’m stunned to be SPEAKING TO SHARON KAY PENMAN…and giggling to myself that she has a New Jersey accent (she writes about Medieval England and I knew she would not have an English accent but for some reason, I didn’t expect Jersey – hee hee).   She’s been here before because she went to law school here in her 20s – but it’s been a while and everything has changed.  I like that connection – we both have been to the same university.

I show up for her author talk on Ransom – and am thrilled to find that there are MANY people that are waiting to see her – both men and women. Which, for someone that writes historical fiction (with a cast of HUNDREDS), is rare.  It’s typically women that read but Sharon’s writing is different – it’s more historical than fiction and (gratefully) lacking in the over romanticized style of many authors of this genre.    I meet a couple of people who are just as excited as I am – and we all sit front row center.

Then Sharon has the book signing (one of many). So me and my new friend wait in line and finally it is my turn. I go up (with my new friend) and introduce myself as her ‘date tonight’.  She looks delighted and then asks me if I want to come over early to her hotel so we have time to talk before dinner (we are eating with another very cool author). Well OF COURSE I WOULD  (and I’m sweating bullets inside, what if I cannot find things to say????).   So it transpired that I picked her up after the festival (in a freshly washed car) and we hang out at her place for a couple hours.  From the get go, we have NO PROBLEMS with conversation.   She’s very human, witty, intelligent and hilariously cursed in the realm of technology.

The evening is fabulous. We go to a great restaurant called Feast – which was chosen by the third person joining us (she is part of the Festival of Books committee) and it was the exact same place I was going to choose if asked.   At some point prior to dinner, I asked Sharon if she is often recognized when traveling. And she said, “thank god, no.”  So of course, the woman sitting at the table next to us came over during dinner to tell Sharon how much she LOVED her talk today and was so excited to be eating dinner next to her.   Coinkidink?  Quite possibly.   But she is a super star.  At least to her fans.

And that’s my story.

2nd Author’s Note: Thank you Sharon – I’m honored that we have become friends.  And I hope this post does you justice.   Also, I’d like to thank Stephanie Churchill Ling, who is a close friend of Sharon’s and now a good friend of mine. She emailed me right after Sharon asked me to dinner in November wondering if I was ‘happy dancing’ all over the place. She was the one person with whom I could talk to about how excited and fearful I was about my dinner with Sharon– and so totally ‘got it’.



Sharon in her Eleanor of Aquitaine coat and me with a big goofy smile

                Sharon in her Eleanor of Aquitaine coat and me with a big goofy smile and a sunburned nose.                  Photo Credit: Jenny Carrell Helenbolt (the other awesome author with us)

About Rutabaga the Mercenary Researcher

I'm a research librarian for Public Television, story teller, bike commuter, baker, music fiend, lover of reading & books, mother, wife, friend - and many more descriptive adjectives and nouns.
This entry was posted in Blogging, connections, Humor, love, Random Thoughts, Relationships, Sharon K Penmen, Story, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

53 Responses to A Friend and a Feast

  1. I think the authors and actors who make friends with anyone are the better people than those who are like “I’m famous, I can’t talk to non-famous people”. Most of them – as illustrated – just want to be treated like anyone else. Which, even with all your fangirl squeeing behind the scenes, is exactly what you’ve done. Ruta, thank you for sharing your story about a wonderful friendship!

  2. lolabees says:

    This is the coolest thing ever– an experience that most would only dream of and not get to experience. She sounds like a very special, genuine person that she would go out of her way to get to know you.

  3. Paul says:

    That was really impressive RtMR. I always think of published authors , etc as kinda being in a different world and it feels rather surreal when they step off the page and into the line up at the local coffee shop. So very cool. You look radiant in the photo. We’ll just take a minute here and scrape you off the ceiling, so you can take us on even more adventures.

    • Thank you – it was a special occasion and Sharon turned out to be a really down-to-earth sweet person – which I really appreciated! She was just as nervous to meet me as I was to meet her 🙂

      hee hee – I think you left some of my hair up there….

  4. I love this story so much and I am giddy with excitement for you that you got to have this experience! I can’t even imagine how cool it would be to become friends with someone I admire so much. Xxoo

  5. Paula Mildenhall says:

    I keep checking to see if my post has shown up, but it seems to have been swollen by the ether.

    Loved your blog, Denise. Brought a tear to my eye and a lump to my throat.

  6. Elyse says:

    Wonderful! I will need to look her up.

  7. Mrs. P says:

    Truly fabulous story! How fun,,,great memories for a lifetime. Ans the two of you look fantastic..you are radiating, my dear! 😀

  8. CrazyCris says:

    Ooooh!!! That is a FABULOUS story!!!
    Sharon is quite amazing! I was stunned when she offered to send me a copy of Prince of Darkness because it hadn’t come out in Europe yet and I had just finished all her other books… Such a beautiful person! I remember sharing that tale with my mom (who was in the hospital) and it warmed her heart too, a reminder of the fact that there are some truly lovely people in the world. 🙂

    Thank you for sharing your tale with the rest of us! A memory you will treasure. 🙂

    • What a beautiful story – Sharon touches so many of our lives – and in such a personal way. She is such a genuine person and she is a truly lovely person. It sounds like you are too. Thank you for reading my tale – I am so grateful to have been able to put it into words.

  9. Paula Mildenhall says:

    I am all warm and gooey now. There may or may not be a happy tear in my eye and a lump in my throat. You capture what I call my ‘falling off the chair moment’ so well. When Sharon first typed my name I nearly fainted.

  10. Maryann Graziano says:

    I think I’m going to check out her books. I read historical fiction once in a while. Always looking for a good author. So wonderful you met her!

  11. That’s incredible. I wish I could meet some of my favorite authors, but they’re deceased. Vonnegut, Heinlein, Asimov… Wilde….

  12. This is a lovely post. Alan Carr said that meeting Paul Newman was a crushing disappointment. There’s a good argument for avoiding a face-to-face meeting. I had a similar experience. I struck up a cross-country friendship with Bukowski’s publisher and proprietor of Black Sparrow Press, John Martin. Then, last fall when my wife and I vacationed in California, he had us over for dinner. What a thrill! Meeting famous people never gets old. It never will.

    If you have time to kill and you’re of a mind, here’s the fun (mercifully brief) fable.


    • Thanks Exile – I will totally read it. I think maybe meeting a movie star might be different – but maybe not. Some people are just fabulous and some are just horrid 🙂 I knew Sharon would be fabulous from our email exchanges – i was just worried I’d fall short!

  13. This is fabulous, you’ve captured the feelings so well in how you’ve written it it, and you two look like a couple of lifelong friends! This is the first time I’ve seen a proper photo of you Denise, and you look just like one of my relatives! Well actually a combination of two or three of the women from one side of my family.

  14. electronicbaglady says:

    Brilliant thing to happen! I am really glad such a great author is also a great human, although I suspect the two are necessarily connected. So glad you had such a wonderful time 🙂

  15. This is fantastic!! I loved this – and you guys look radiant (burnt nose on you and all). I can’t imagine that feeling, even though you wrote about it so eloquently. It had me thinking about what author I’d love to have dinner with. It seems like all the stars lined up for you on this.

    Wonderful stuff!

  16. amber says:


    how incredibly awesome. and I’m so shocked Sharon has a Jersey accent! I guess I always imagine her talking like Eleanor – haha.

    thanks for sharing your super awesome experience with us!

  17. Twindaddy says:

    That’s awesome, Ladycakes! It’d be very interesting to be able to talk to a favorite author.

  18. Carrie Rubin says:

    I imagine she was flattered to have someone admire her work so much. That’s an author’s dream, so I’m sure you made her night, too! Glad you had the opportunity. Something to treasure forever. 🙂

  19. Love this, Denise. So transparent (unlike all your other posts? Oh, wait…), and so relatable to so many of Sharon’s fans. Thanks for being willing to share this special experience.

  20. El Guapo says:

    Couldn’t happen to a nicer Mercenary!
    Isn’t it great finding out that people we admire are nice people too?

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