In which I become a blogger because of Andrew Smith?

Be forewarned: I’m a fan of the seemingly unconnected introduction.

For most of my life, though I’ve always been an avid reader, authors have remained largely invisible to me. It was characters I fell in love with, bits of their snappy dialogue that my introverted self envied, their commitments to their own quirkiness that I admired, and their determination to solve mysteries and right the wrongs of the world that I hoped to emulate. And while I never came close to believing the characters were actually real, I also preferred to gently look away from the truth that they were just figments of a creator’s imagination. Putting authors into a box (luxuriously satin-lined and completely comfortable, I assure you) in the closet was easy in the pre-internet days when real live authors had little opportunity to interact with me.  My English teachers unwittingly reinforced the idea of authors as fragmented figures of fantasy by stressing that Shakespeare’s most notable qualities involved combining a passion for language with an interest in precise math.  I mean, who wants to spend time counting syllables, really? Answer: no one real.

Because old habits die hard, even after many analytical essays of author’s purpose in my English major days, authors still seemed remote.  More real, but still remote. There was certainly no way for me to know what one was having for breakfast, or to see that another liked to let her cats drink from her own water glass. And then– the magic of the internet. Suddenly my favorite characters had creators who were EVERYWHERE! And I could send them messages, photos, friend requests, invitations to my birthday parties!

Luckily for them by this point I had developed an understanding that these authors are big important people who aren’t interested in my breakfast, my cats, my good and bad days, my birthday parties. Like celebrities, I believed they deserved privacy (I actually still do!). So no author would get pushy fan mail or messages from me. My dignity helped them preserve theirs.

And then I began serving on book award committees for the American Library Association (ALA). And suddenly I got to meet the authors of the books that I adored. I got to sit next to them at dinner and trade dog photos, I got to tell them about how my students love their books, and I got to share with them how important their work is to me.  I once even cried on Jonathan Maberry at a Tor dinner (an event which so embarrassed me that I was never able to take him up on his surely sympathy-please-stop-crying offer to Skype with my students).  [Oh man, blog post one and I’m already over-sharing my closet skeletons. Wow.]

And suddenly I became a tried-and-true AUTHOR fan. Oh, I still love my characters (Eleanor and Park, Cade Hernandez, please stand up) but now I love their creators too, for their ability to use their imaginations to form characters who speak to me so deeply about the human experience. Now I get it. Rainbow Rowell, Andrew Smith, and the rest of the many authors that I love are, somehow, magically speaking to me through their characters. Loving the characters means loving the authors.

In a perfect world, right? But sadly, many of us have experienced times when we’ve met a person we admired (famous author or not) and the person has been a dud. Maybe a jerk, maybe just tired and having a bad day, maybe super arrogant, or maybe just not the best at whatever type of social situation they’ve been thrust into by an event organizer. But in short, they somehow aren’t as magical as you hoped they’d be.

So now that I’m not on an American Library Association book award committee I’m allowed to say whatever I want about any author that I want.  I don’t have to be impartial because I’m no longer officially judging anything! (Which is relief in many ways, it’s not always fun being hard on books). So I can tell you that one author whose work I greatly admire is Andrew Smith. Because his characters are so big, so bold, and so perfect because of their many flaws. Because he tackles issues of sexuality, compassion, war, and education that I’m invested in due to my personality and my profession. Because, in short, he just seems like a badass.

So when I was asked, with my friend Terri Snethen– a fellow librarian and reader extraordinaire, to interview Andrew Smith for a forty-five minute program at our local public library I was pretty terrified. Not because I couldn’t think of questions for him– my new dream is to get to have an evening of drinks and conversations with each of my favorite authors– but because I didn’t want to cry and scare him like I did Jonathan Maberry (miss that part of the story?  see early paragraphs of this blog to experience my true-life horrors!) or be a crazy fan who only asked him super easy questions like, “Do you want to ditch this library event and go get drinks with me and converse about books and ideas?” (Easy because the answer would be an immediate, terrified, “NO!”– making the rest of the interview super awkward.)

But luckily for me I can sometimes keep my “enthusiasm” in check, and Andrew Smith survived the author event never knowing how close he was sitting to an emotional meltdown of admiration. My husband in the audience, having listened to my shameful moans about aforementioned Jonathan Maberry tears, must have been on pins and needles the whole time. He and Andrew Smith are really the ones who deserve to have sympathy drinks together.

And so after the interview ends I’m feeling all proud that maybe Andrew Smith didn’t hate all my questions, and has no idea that in reality I’m a starstruck wordless wonder, and I’m basking in the glory of the thought that I’m going to get to expand my future book talks of all Andrew Smith books to include what a great guy he is.  No fan disappointment here- he’s great, articulate, kind, compliments his teen audience, everything you’d want your favorite author to be. I’m thinking how this story is going to help my students make the leap to author appreciation YEARS earlier than I did. Suddenly my musings are interrupted by a guy from the audience telling me, to my face, that I shouldn’t have been the person to interview Andrew Smith.  And my lightning fast neurons immediately reach the conclusion that I disappointed this (admittedly) rude guy– which doesn’t so much bother me because of his rudeness, but bothers me because maybe I let down other audience members.  And my happiness becomes self-doubt. And all this happens in an instant. And then he finishes his sentence.  The reason that I shouldn’t have been the interviewer?  Because I’m a woman. What?  And in the night of insomnia that followed (and an interesting Twitter exchange the following day) this blog was born. My next post is going to examine a lot of the complicated issues that this exchange raised for me– all while hopefully exploring WHY he might have felt comfortable expressing these views, and how I’m starting to suspect the publishing industry and the library world might accidentally be creating gender bias like this. All while not completely vilifying Mr. Audience Member– I mean, he did get me thinking, so that’s good, right?

In the end, Andrew Smith isn’t exactly culpable for whatever theories I attempt to work out on this blog. It’s not his fault an audience member’s intended compliment of Mr. Smith’s writing happened to be so admittedly awful that it raised my ire and drove me to the internet. But I like to think that he’d like the idea of being a catalyst in helping someone find her voice.

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