I’ve always been really weird about meeting famous people. I think it all started when I was a kid — Beverly Cleary, one of my favorite authors, came to speak at Cornell College. My mom took me and a couple of my friends to see her. We were in elementary school; in my memory, I feel like it was a talk geared for adults. We sat in the balcony of a lecture hall and I think we were pretty noisy because, frankly, we were bored. After the talk was over we ran downstairs with our Ramona books to have her sign them. She dismissed us curtly and walked away.
Yeah, we were pretty annoying, I’m sure, but I think I was about seven years old and I didn’t understand that this talk wasn’t meant for kids. BC, that was uncool.
Ever since, I have been afraid of encountering anyone I idolize or is even vaguely famous. I almost peed my pants when I saw Lyle Lovett on a plane. It took an extraordinary amount of courage for me to talk to Tom Harkin one time, and I only pretended to be disappointed when I couldn’t get Hilary’s attention to have her sign my copy of her book (this was at the last Harkin Steak Fry). I won’t even go talk to actors after local theater productions. Is it fear of rejection? Saying the wrong thing? I don’t know, but I’m way more content letting famous people live in my mind and never encountering them in the real world.
Imagine my surprise when my parents told me that a famous writer was coming to our Rose Bowl party this weekend! One of my dad’s friends is his brother. I had never heard of Tim Johnston, but a quick google search got me all clammy. This guy is a New York Times bestselling author. Legit. The real deal. He won the O. Henry Award, among others. He has the life that I’m working for. I fantasize every day about reading the words “New York Times bestselling author Amelia Kibbie.”
Tim has written three books, and his most recent, Descent, is the one everyone’s reading. The reviews make it sound awesome. I’ve ordered my copy but haven’t read it yet. I strongly urge you to buy a copy and read it yourself. One reviewer described it as Gillian Flynn meets John Irving. I just saw “The World According to Garp” this weekend so I am all about the John Irving right now. I can’t wait to read it!
Anyway, so I met Tim Johnston. I actually was the only one in the kitchen when he knocked on the front door. I knew it was him because I recognized him from his picture. My brain exploded quietly between my ears, but a quiet internal voice said, “Amelia, just be cool, for God’s sake.”
And I think I was pretty cool, actually. It was easy because Tim was very much a nice, regular gentleman much like many of my parents’ friends. Together we suffered through an agonizing Hawkeye defeat. I kept sneaking little glances over at him and thinking, “What is this guy’s life like? How does it feel to walk through a stranger’s house and see not one but two copies of your book sitting out waiting to be signed?”
I keep thinking that the second I find out I have an agent, I’m going to collapse on my bed and just scream for joy. And then do the same thing when I get my book deal. The future after that is just like the end of a fairy tale, a vague “happily ever after” where I am a real, legitimate, for serious AUTHOR LADY who can actually say, “I’m a writer.” But Tim was just a gracious, nice, regular person who ate snacks and watched a football game with my crazy friends and family. How much does getting your biggest wish really change your life and who you are?
That is a question I really wanted to ask him, but I didn’t, because I was too scared to ask him any questions. Some good ones would have been: “How did you get an agent? What is your life like now? Did you get to quit your day job? Do you get recognized? How has this experience changed your life? What advice do you have for someone who wants to live a life like yours? When did you feel comfortable calling yourself a writer and not labelling yourself as whatever you do to pay the bills?”
Well, we are Facebook friends now, so maybe someday I’ll get to ask! Be cool, Amelia, be cool.
Please go buy and enjoy Tim’s book. I have ordered my copy and it’s on the way. Don’t share books by local folks, go buy a copy and support them. Very few things in the world make me as happy as seeing an Iowan become wildly successful on a national or international level. We need to support the people who make our state proud and spread the Iowa love!