Expectations and embarrassment

In a comment in the previous post, ace Aussie writer Penni Russon wrote:

This reminded me that when I was little I thought all writers were old and had gray hair and walked with a cane. So when I met Angela Carter (not proper met—she was just signing a book for me) I was astonished at how young she was (though she did have grey hair).

Did any of you have such expectations?

And have any of you made a fool of yourselves when meeting a fave writer? I made such a fool of myself when I first met Ursula Le Guin that I cannot even share the anecdote. I’m still too traumatised. She’s one of my favourite writers ever! And I buggered up meeting her! Aaargh!

Please to share your anecdotes, though. Anonymously if necessary.


  1. Celia on #

    I read The Stone Giant, by Blaylock when I was a child, and somehow, from it, decided that he was old and dead. Years later (by which, I mean when I was about 20-25), I found out that not only was he not old and dead, he’s actually about my parents’ age. But that’s not an embarassing story about meeting, just about conceptions of writers.


    About the first time I talked with Tim Powers at Clarion, he got into a conversation with me about why I get the names for two of his books, Last Call and Expiration Date confused, which is noticable only because I’d been talking about it not with him, but on my LJ the day before. So as we talked, there was a moment where I tried desperately to remember if I’d said anything bad about them or him in the post. (I don’t know why I’d assumed he wouldn’t have read it. Maybe because a *real* writer would be too busy for the internet, you know.)

    I’m sure there are more embarassing stories in my past, but I’ve thankfully blocked them all out.

  2. veejane on #

    I grew up under the vague impression that all authors are dead. Meeting authors who are not dead was — different from expectations. Certainly more charming than meeting dead people.

    Everyone I meet first on the internet is exactly the same height as me (even the men) until the moment I meet them. This happened again at Boskone last January, when I met Sarah Monette, who is considerably shorter than I am.

    There was a moment, during my clueless youth, when I stopped a bearded gentleman in the dealer’s room at a con and asked him where he’d found the book under his arm. He looked at me as if I should know who he was, and I had no idea who he was, and he told me where he’d found it and we parted ways politely, and when I got to the table he’d directed me to, I saw a jacket photograph of him, entitled, “Samuel R. Delany.”

    On the up side, I know what he looks like now. (He is not my height.)

  3. little willow on #

    My first author biography subject was Jack London. My teacher did not like the fact that I brought up suicide in a third-grade classroom.

    During this time, I wrote a letter to Jack’s daughter Becky and received a response. I was thrilled!

    I always meant to write a letter to Zilpha Keatley Snyder.

  4. Chris S. on #

    The first time I met Nora Roberts, I was shockingly nervous. ‘Shocking’ because I’d met dozens of writers by that time, and thought myself immune.

    But I was thinking, “Nora! Frigging! Roberts!”, and asking people if I had anything in my teeth, and practically hopping in place. She was, as usual, kind and very pleasant.

    Nora, Terry Pratchett, and Neil Gaiman epitomize how I think *famous authors* should treat their fans. Because if those three can take the time to speak politely and with interest to every person waiting to meet them, no one has any excuse to act any other way.

  5. jonathan on #

    i don’t know that i ever really connected books with someone actually writing them for the longest time. the first writer i ever saw was stephen donaldson. i was expecting someone who looked like a character from one of his books – enormous, bearded and all that. instead, he looked like an accountant. this wouldn’t be an embarrassing story if it didn’t turn out that, twenty two years after seeing him at a signing i had dinner with him (we were both part of a large group). he was visibly offended when i told him i wasn’t expecting someone who looked like an accountant. i felt terrible. i didn’t mean it as an insult.

  6. Emmaco on #

    Like Veejane I fuzzily thought authors were dead when I was a child and was surprised to see new Diana Wynne Jones, Susan Cooper and Margaret Mahy books in the shops! But I think the internet and the proliferation of author websites would make that perception more difficult these days.

    When I was in my teens Terry Pratchett came to town, and I was extremely excited. I took time off my casual job and bought a new book (a big deal back then. But when I met him all my intelligent comments fell out of my head and all I can remember is giggling inanely!

  7. Sherwood Smith on #

    let’s see, which one first? No, on second thought, if I list all the times I’ve made a total ass of myself I’ll have have used up all your blog space for the next three years–and that would only be the ones I remember.

  8. Penni on #

    I’m not very good with celebrities all round. Growing up in Tasmania the only really famous person I met as a child was Santa. When I moved to Melbourne my best friend and I drove a very long way to a suburban shopping centre so we could look at Neighbours stars. We didn’t want to meet them mind you. Just look from afar.

    I met Helen Garner when I was 21, had just moved to Melbourne and was reading Monkey Grip – in which she moved into the biggest house on Rowe Street and I had moved into the biggest house on Rowe Street and wasn’t that amazing and was it the same house?? She couldn’t remember and she thought I was very young and starstruck (which I was, i even had my photo taken with her, much to her bewilderment…later of course I developed obligatory angry-young-woman issues with Helen Garner).

    I have no grace at all. I still get starstruck around writers, particularly ones from my childhood. I forget I’m a writer and an editor and I just become that little girl who thinks writers are gods.

  9. Penni on #

    Oh and it was Nadia Wheatley I met – I thought she’d be exotically Greek because of Five Times Dizzy and Dancing in the Anzac Deli.
    I was sitting in on reception at a publisher’s at the time – she must have thought I was the biggest ditz. The publisher she was there to see thought it was hootingly funny.

  10. Jinian on #

    All authors are dead when you’re a kid! I am not alone! (I didn’t do it to her face, thank goodness, but I have felt dumb for YEARS for asking my sixth-grade math teacher whether Anne McCaffrey was dead.)

  11. Rebecca on #

    i get starstruck just thinking about meeting authors. it’s really bad. if i act this way thinking about it, how the hell am i going to act when i actually do meet them? i really like it when authors keep blogs and interact and such, b/c it makes me feel like if/when i do get to meet them, it makes it a little easier (b/c in print i’m not nearly as jittery and moronic as i am in person :P).

  12. Simon Sherlock on #

    I was stood right in front of Michael Palin at the Spamalot premiere in London, and he had just finished talking to my Uncle who knows him. When he turned round I tried to say hello, opened and closed my mouth twice but just couldn’t think what to say. After an uncomfortable 10 or 20 seconds somebody else grabbed him and that was that, and I felt a right twa…twit.
    I guess I’m going to regret that for the rest of my life 🙁

  13. cj on #

    Funny that someone mentioned Blaylock. When I was in junior high, I wrote my first “author fan letter” to him. Much to my surprise, he sent me a postcard (with a picture of a sunny california surfside). Unfortunately, the postcard was trashed during hurricane andrew, along with everything else in my childhood bedroom.

  14. cherie priest on #

    It’s probably a very good thing I was out of town while Terry Pratchett was signing here in Seattle. There might have been fangirlish “incidents.” That’s all I’m sayin’.

  15. Alexandra on #

    I’ve been privilaged to meet a great deal many sf&f authors over the years. however, only one managed to embarrass me, and that was Terry Pratchett who, at a signing I went along to with my niece (to introduce her to him) made to kiss my on my cheek but missed and kissed me full-on, on the lips, to a cheering crowd in Waterstones, liverpool (uk).

  16. Jeff VanderMeer on #

    I think I was about 25 and very shy when I met S.P. Somtow for the first time. He walked up to me at the WF Con because somebody had told him I liked his work and as I was introduced to him, I said, “I was expecting someone much taller,” by which I meant in my imagination he was a 20-foot-tall godzilla of a writer. By the time I was able to convey that intent, it was slightly too late, although Somtow was pretty gracious about it.

    Re meeting my own readers, I usually just get responses like, “You’re so normal-looking.” LOL. They’re often disappointed I’m not wearing a cape and black eyeliner.


  17. A.R.Yngve on #

    To avoid disappointment, authors should follow this checklist for meetings with readers:

    1. If you are of short/average stature: wear platform shoes and/or shoe inlays to appear taller, and perhaps a big hat too. (Kim Jong-Il haircut optional)

    2. Clothing: outrageous or bold is fine — long capes, a silver-tipped cane, torn punk clothes, anything that looks different, goth, and/or “dangerous”.

    3. Face: if you are a man, a diabolical goatee and too long hair. If you are a woman, green hair and too much makeup.

    DO NOT wear dark glasses, though. It may seem cool, but readers want eye contact.

    4. General behavior: Be Mysterious. Speak in clipped phrases. Suggest, instead of explaining. Slight weirdness is appreciated, as long as you are not repulsive, filthy or smelly.

    5. When offended or stalked by, destroy the offender’s nerve with a withering, silent glare. Then ignore him/her.

    6. Or you can just be yourself. 😉

  18. Katerate on #

    I’ve only met 2 authors (coughity cough) in my short life and I was extremely nervous around them. I had braces (ahahaha, my tops came off finally!!!) and I was worried I had some leafy thing poking out of them or something, and then some of my questions for them seemed to have leaked out of my brain. But there were a couple of other people there that remembered questions, so it was good.

    And then I showed them some sketches and I wanted to throw the sketchbook somewhere across the room because all of a sudden I was no longer proud of my art. These great writers were looking at my amateur drawings, and what if I didn’t draw what *they* pictured in their minds? Veeeerrry embarassing on my behalf.

    But we talked. And they were like normal people. For some reason readers don’t know what to expect for a writer’s personality. Or maybe it’s just me. How can someone who makes up such fantastic worlds possibly be like a normal human being, right? But luckily they were. And they were/are awesome/extremely nice. And things were grand, even though I was a bit of a spaz. Very glad to have met them.

  19. Rebecca on #

    it’s not that i think authors (or anyone) aren’t normal people. it’s just–i dunno. they’ve done something special that i admire, so it’s worse making a fool of myself in front of them than it would be in front of, say, random person walking down the street.

    kate, your art is fantastic. 😀

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