Brief Encounters

There’s a line from A Little Night Music’s “Late” that I quote all the time. Misquote. I just had to check it again: Doesn’t anything begin?

But in the case of a book tour, it often feels like: Does it ever end? It’s been only six weeks and I think I did my last U.S. event last night in Portsmouth, NH. But now UK publication is rushing toward me, with its attendant duties — not so much touring, but some writing to do, interviews, etc. (And I’m grateful for every opportunity to put my words in front of people, however I have to do it.)

Portsmouth is a cool town and the event, part of a series, is a very cool gig. The weather was gorgeous and I found an outstanding restaurant for dinner. Shishito peppers! A salad with a hardboiled egg and tempura-battered fiddleheads! But I had gotten up at 6 yesterday morning and I was dragging by night’s end. Couldn’t muster the energy to share a glass of wine with the lovely woman who interviewed me.

But there were two people who stood on the signing line for whom I took extra time. The second one, first — he had attended my high school, Wilde Lake, graduating a year before I did. Like me, he lived in Columbia for only three years. Like me, he cherished a particular English teacher, Lillian Martin. We figured out that we were in the same AP European History class.

He has written a novel. He gave me an overview to show how serious he is, how close he has gotten to publication several times. He doesn’t want to self-publish, an decision I endorse. I think self-publishing is not the best choice for fiction because it requires so much attention to marketing — which means less time for writing and thinking about the writing. But I could not do what he most wanted, which was to read his work and provide a blurb that he could use upon submission. I think that’s a terrible trend in publishing and while it might work for a short time, out of novelty, editors and agents will quickly become jaded by these pre-submission endorsements. I felt terrible saying “No,” but I also felt I had to stick to my principles.

The second encounter was also some from my past, but more recently. In February 2009, I had the great pleasure of meeting Becky Schultze at Joyce Maynard’s writing retreat at her home in Guatemala. Becky is a superhero in my eyes — she knows the kind of stuff I’ll never know, can seemingly do anything and is fiercely loyal to her friends. We last saw each other at Joyce’s wedding, almost three years ago.

Those who follow Joyce on Facebook know that her husband, Jim, is now close to death. (If her page is open, go read what she wrote about attending a Dylan concert last week.) It’s the kind of story that would make me say God is a terrible novelist, if I still believed in God. If God were in my writing workshop, I would turn this story back to him with stern notes. Stop trying to be Jojo Moyes! Give Joyce and Jim the happy ending that the reader wants!

I wrote the wrong ending to my evening. I should have gone off to have a drink with Becky, toasted Joyce and Jim, whose wedding on a New Hampshire hilltop was one of the loveliest I ever attended. I think I was afraid that if I did so, I would start crying and never stop.

“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it–every, every minute?” Had to look that up, too.