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’.