Last night, Salisbury University was hosting the last event of its children’s literature festival, an evening with Holly Black. The shebang started with a movie at four-thirty. After that, the timeline got sketchy, but there was to be a reception/signing and Holly speaking on the creative process at some point. Since I had already seen the movie (and, as I’ve confessed before, I have a packed-movie-theatre-squeamishness that probably goes back to Outbreak), I decided to pass and just show up later. The Architect got home from work right before I left and decided to join me, work clothes and all.
Mistake number one.
We walk into the event room, me and my stupid punky hair and the Architect still in his business jacket. My goal was simple; introduce myself to Holly, maybe get in a moment of small chitchat, then go listen to her speak about writing. The movie ended as we arrived, the lights had been turned back on and parents and children were milling about, checking out the author’s table. One by one, heads started prairie-dogging in our direction. I looked behind me, to see if Holly was about to enter. No. I turn back to find a woman and her two kids standing in front of me, her eyes darting from the snappily-dressed Architect to me.
“Are you the author?”
Chairs in the audience creaked as I opened my mouth to reply. “Uhh, no. She’s much cooler than I am. Besides, you’ll probably know when she gets here because…” I motion towards the mini-stage with its spotlit podium. The lady thanked me with a smile and departed.
“You missed a shot in the limelight,” bellows a man overhearing this exchange.
Big mouth (oh, I do love my big-ol-mouth) shoots back, “No thanks, I’m waiting for my own.” What follows is a seemingly innocuous exchange about what I do, what I write, blah, blah, blah. But, by now people are outright staring. I nudge the Architect and say, “I think we’d better sit down.”
We sit, only to find out the reception/signing thing is happening after they screen some animated short film that won the British version of an Oscar this year. While we deliberate leaving for twenty minutes to check out the campus versus watching, the lady with the kids comes back by.
“Would you sign their books?”
Holyfuckcrapwhere’dthiscomefrom? “But, I’m not the author, I’m not even published, yet.”
The nice lady goes on to say she’s with a program for the county’s at-risk children and the kids heard I was a writer, too, and wanted my autograph. I make a joke to the girl nearest me holding out her Spiderwick Chronicles book about how she’s stocking a lot of faith in the fact that I will eventually be published. She nods solemnly and I take the book, offering to sign the very back of her book, because she needs to save the front for Holly. I sign both books, talk to the kids and their guardian. All the while, a nasty, gloating little voice in my head whispers, “This is what it’s going to be like.” A rush of adrenaline sends my stomach to the tips of my boot, while my growing mortification at both the outcome of this event and my own unwelcome interior jubilation turn my face an unattractive shade of magenta.
The movie thankfully starts and eyes peel away from me to the screen. A few minutes in, the Architect spots the same lady spot Holly. She must have convinced Ms. Black to go outside for photos, because they all exit the room together. The Architect whispers, “Now’s your chance to actually talk to her.” After a moment’s hesitation, I go out into the hallway (this, by the way, is so not like me. My sister had to convince me to even go in the first place, and made sure to insist I didn’t hide in a corner when I did).
This is the point in the evening where I do meet Holly Black. She’s nice. She likes my hair. Her comment turns into me telling her that people thought I was her, but I don’t get to get any further because more moms have noticed she’s outside and she quickly becomes swarmed. I cede my position to some wide-eyed kid being prodded forward by her mother. Finally, her escort pulls the plug and drags Holly away. But not before–oh no, not before–one of the other ladies with an at-risk kid asks me to sign her ward’s book. In-Front-Of-The-Author. I bend down to explain that Holly is the author and he should go to her, but the kid’s doe-eyed, holding out the damn book. So, I sign the back of Ms. Black’s book in front of her. Like a big-ol-ass.
I go back in, whisper the events to the Architect. I sit for about two minutes, then feel the need to get out, as far out as possible. I retreat with a growing sense of sleaziness and shame, wondering just how many of those who hadn’t witnessed this strange encounter in its entirety would go home talking of the crazy girl impersonating Holly and signing books for impressionable, innocent children.
The Architect maintains I did nothing wrong. My sister–bless her misanthropic self–thinks it’s hysterical. She thinks I’m okay as long as no one goes holding a little thing in front of my heart to measure how much it’s shrunk (a little Grinchy humor). I think–well, I think I probably shouldn’t go out. Bad Things happen when I do. And in this small town, I should have known better. It’s easy to seize power, to claim fame, because nothing much happens here.
And there should have been only one punkish, darkly inclined fantasy writer in the room that night. The ‘bury can’t wrap its collective head around two.
I never got to hear Holly speak, or have her sign my copy of Tithe, which is too bad because when I was learning how to write a pitch/query, I studied the back of that book for days; it’s got all kinds of pointy, grabby hooks.
I’m tending to blame this whole event on my mother. Hating how tall I was when I was younger, my mother would tell me, “You’re the first person they see. Walk into a room like you own it.” It’s a great lesson, really. But the only problem is, when you walk into a room like you own it, sometimes people are inclined to believe you actually do.