Monday, June 7, 2010

Would You Approach A Writer At Random?

Rebecca Goldstein’s 36 Arguments For the Existence of God has been on my shelf, sadly unread, for a few months now. I’m legitimately excited to read it as I love heady novels that fuse philosophy and fiction, I just haven’t quite gotten to it yet. And never had I wished I’d read it more than this past weekend when my girlfriend and I were walking through Central Park in New York, and I saw Ms. Goldstein sitting on a park bench. You would’ve thought I was a teenage girl who’d just seen Justin Bieber. Well, okay, not exactly – but I was pretty star struck.

Of course, not having read the book, I couldn’t summon the courage to actually talk to her. It was enough to enjoy the “celebrity sighting” experience. Similarly, one other time earlier this year, I saw Audrey Niffenegger in a bar in Chicago enjoying a glass of wine with a friend, and I didn’t approach her either. The Time Traveler’s Wife is one of my top 20 favorite novels, but still, I couldn’t talk myself into interrupting her conversation to gush.

Both of these “celebrity sightings” got me thinking about literature fans and writers and the correct etiquette (if there is any) in these situations. Let’s be clear: I’m not counting author-signing events, where the sole purpose of both you and the writer being in the same place is some sort of interaction (usually awkward, in my case). I’m talking about totally random times when you spot a writer just going about his/her day. Is it okay to chat them up? I mean, these aren’t actors or athletes who are used to being accosted by autograph- and photo-seeking fans. Would a writer who is quietly enjoying a sunny summer afternoon on a park bench be annoyed by being approached by a star-struck fan?

What do you think?  Have you ever randomly encountered a writer/novelist just minding his/her own business? How did you react? 

(By the way, if you're wondering, yes, Ms. Goldstein lives in Massachusetts. She's married to Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, as a random, but interesting, note. So I was wondering why she'd be on a park bench in New York. I was so sure it was her, I made a point to look at her Website as soon as I got back to my room. There, I discovered from here appearances schedule that she was participating in a panel discussion that night in New York. Yep, that was her.) 


  1. I've never just randomly run into an author. Wait I did, I ran into Anne Rice's son, Christopher Rice (??). But hadn't read, or even had the inclination to read his novel. I do spot celebrities and I wouldn't just go up to them...like I would have something great to say to disturb them from everyday life, right? I think the same would hold true for authors. But, then again, an author is very different from a celebrity. A celebrity expects to be recognized and author does not. Authors tend to be shy...maybe it might be flattering to just stop casually and mention that you love their writing. Might make their day to be recognized.

  2. Ian Rankin frequents the Tesco that I work at, and I see him about the city quite regularly. I've been to one of his book signings before, and spoke to him then, but I would never just approach him. He probably gets bothered quite a lot.

    But, being as unknown as I am, I would LOVE it if someone ever came up to me to tell me they loved my book!

  3. This book sounds good - I also love philosophy fused with fiction. Read it and review it, please!!!!

    As for going up to authors in public, I get the feeling they would love it. They're not stars, and they probably aren't recognized often (with Stephenie Meyer type exceptions). I bet they would be flattered.
    Unfortunately for me, the only times I've ever seen an author in public, it's been an author that I actually didn't like. :-(
    I still think I would avoid going up to them in public, because my attempts to talk to authors at book signings have always been exceedingly awkward.

  4. I've only met a few authors (at book signings) and I inevitably end up gushing. I never thought I was a gusher until I met Ann Patchett. But- I bet authors don't get recognized a whole lot when they're actually out in public, so I say next time- go for it! She probably would've been flattered.

  5. Interesting question! And one I've never really considered before. On one hand, I'm not sure I would recognize many authors if I saw them in person. (Not to mention that I can't imagine they would often travel to Podunk, America where I live.) But if I recognized one of my favorites, say, eating a pecan waffle at the Pitt Grill, I don't think I could stop myself from at least dropping by to say, Hey, love your work.

  6. In my life I've met a myriad of famous people (starting with James Galway when I was 13 years old in 1986... and that was before he was knighted!) and I've learnt one thing about these people. At some point in their lives, they were just ordinary, next-door-neighbour, been through primary school and bullied, come from working class family kind of people.

    It took somebody in the publishing world who looked at their work and said they could make something of them. And so, when I met Wilbur Smith at a book launch (even though I stood in line without a book due to not being able to afford one!), he still wanted to meet me as a person.

    At a premier of LOTR's - 'The Return of the King' - here in Brisbane, I ran into Ernie Dingo while everyone was hanging out for some food... yep the caterers were running late with the hot food... and without even knowing it, I had been standing next to him for 10 minutes! We ended up having the best conversation he had had in about 2 years. We didn't talk about 'The Great Outdoors' (the show he's famous for), we just chatted about life. And he was relieved I called him Earnie (and not Mr. Dingo; as most fans seem to do!). I didn't get an autograph; instead I opted for a photo with him. And he was just a lovely person; as was his wife.

    Famous people are just people who have been offered great things and took the opportunity; striking while the iron was hot! And good for them... I'd love to have a small taste of fame at some point in my life.

  7. I have not been lucky enough to stumble across an author in a random setting....but if I did, I think I would try to talk to them. Of course, that is whay I say hypothetically, but who knows what would happen in reality!

  8. I'd love to have a conversation with an author whose books I liked! I think I'd be a little intimidated though; I'm not very good at breaking the ice.

  9. I have never run into an author, but if I do I hope I have the courage to talk to him or her. I have had the pleasure of exchanging a few e-mails with authors. Susan King of Lady MacBeth fame is really really sweet as is Ruth Downie. I would love to have any kind of communication with Neil Gaiman.

  10. While I probably couldn't work up the courage to do it, I do think authors might appreciate being recognized. I would hazard a guess that most people don't know what authors look like, even those they read and enjoy.

  11. @Everyone - Again, I'm so sorry for the lack of personalized responses. I really do enjoy your comments, so please keep them coming.

    Mozette, I love your quote: Famous people are just people who have been offered great things and took the opportunity; striking while the iron was hot.

    That heartens me, and I think next time I see a celebrity write, I'll approach!

  12. I am one of those people who is either way too star struck to say anything or way too casual to say anything. Oh the relationships I could have with the rich and famous if only I would speak to them!

    By the way, we gave you an award. Check it out at our blog.

  13. I think it might just make an authors day to be recognized. As long as you weren't all gushing and drooling and making the situation awkward I would think they would be flattered. A quick acknowledgment and a thank you so much for writing fabulous words would make anyones day!

  14. Unfortunately, I've never had the honor of even sighting one of my favorite authors. I think if I did, I would probably end up gushing about this characterization or that plot twist to someone who spent hours, days, or even weeks trying to figure out the best way to craft it. But I have to agree with Mozette. Famous authors were and are just normal people at their core, so maybe if I kept that in mind I'd be able to have a good conversation with them.

  15. Yep, what Mozette said-- I haven't had too many brushes with greatness unless you count Jimmy Osmond. ;o) but my hubby has had so many it is freakish-- what I've learned from his experiences is don't act like a gushy fan-- act normal. Hubby talked taco sauce with Robert Guillaume, used to move Richard Simmons MG just to rile him, talked about everything under the sun with Leon Russell and most recently talked helicopters with Jeff Dunham. Oh yes, I have a minor one-- I talked to Kelly Asbury, director of Spirit and Shrek 2 about the author who complained about his book being a Oprah pick.

    Authors are bookworms too and bookworms love to talk-- at least the ones I know. Go for it next time-- just don't be a dork!! ;o)