In the late 1970’s I had the incredible opportunity to hear Spanish author Camilo Jose Cela (1989 Nobel Prize in Literature) speak at Cornell University. I knew he would be signing copies of his books following the presentation and was prepared to tell him how much I had enjoyed his intense descriptions of the human condition. The line was long but I waited and waited with my copy of La Familia de Pascual Duarte in hand.
Finally, when I met him face-to-face, I was tongue-tied. In Spanish and in English. And any other language for that matter. Completely and totally tongue-tied. All I could utter was Estimado Senor (esteemed gentleman…). He graciously signed my book and thanked me for my interest in his writing. I stumbled out of there feeling like a complete idiot.
It’s been a long time since the seventies but the Tucson Festival of Books is fast approaching and there are a number of award winning, highly renowned authors who will be conducting workshops and presentations. In between greeting visitors at my publisher’s booth (Two Cats Press) and hopefully signing the YA novels that I’ve written, I intend to meet C.J. Box, R.L. Stine, Lois Lowry, Scott Turow, Jenn McKinlay and many others too numerous to mention. Unfortunately, the memory of my experience with Camilo Jose Cela has come back to haunt me.
I have nightmares of staring into the faces of these amazing authors and being unable to utter a sound. I envision myself wide-eyed and open mouthed yet unable to have actual words emanate from my tongue, lips and jaw.
“Don’t worry about it,” my husband said. “They’ll probably appreciate the fact that they won’t have to listen to you ramble on about something.”
At first I was insulted, but then I gave it some serious thought and had to agree that he was right. After all, this Tucson book festival gets 100,000 visitors. Given the fact that these authors are really famous, they probably get an ear-full from readers.
“Think of it this way,” my husband went on, “now they have more time to hear about someone’s aunt who always wanted to be a writer or how the family dog chewed up one of their novels. You’ve just cleared the way for everyone else!”
I nodded. At least the pressure was off. I could simply smile and wait for my signed copy. Then again, I might actually be able to clear my throat and utter something deeply profound, sensitive and/or endearing. Who knows? The festival is a few weeks away and I’ve got lots of time to practice...