My heroes don’t fly or wear tight neoprene suits or fight epic battles. They’re not fictional; they’re real. (Well, okay, Reacher—he’s fictional, and fights, and would probably look great in a neoprene suit). But for the most part, my heroes are literary ones. Authors.
I’ve been lucky enough to meet a few of them thus far in my career—some right here amongst the Rogues—and I’d like to tell you about a couple of encounters. Then I’ll offer some tips for what to do in case you get to meet one of your heroes one day.
I had a very long journey to publication. Don’t we all, but seriously—mine had enough bumps, bruises, and near-misses, not to mention ouch-that-one’s-got-to-hurt moments that even seasoned pros say, “Yeah, Jenny had it rough.”
How did I finally get published? One of my literary Athenas, a goddess of the written word, took my “first”—except it was actually my eighth—manuscript and passed it along to her editor who made an offer on it. And she was at a house that turned the same book down six months before.
See what I mean about near-misses and ouchies?
You can bet that when I got the chance to meet this particular heroine, I leapt at it. The two of us appeared at a wonderful bookstore in Kansas, a place whose demise I still mourn. We told the story of my literary miracle to an audience of rapt Sisters in Crime members, some of whom already knew that this is a business in which miracles are needed, and others of whom were still waiting for theirs.
I had the chance on that same tour to meet another literary hero of mine—someone whose books got me through adolescence—the late, great Lois Duncan. And as in the photo to the left, I again got to introduce my then-nine year old daughter, a second gen fan who brought her entire stack of dogeared paperbacks all the way from New Jersey to Florida, which Lois graciously signed.
What are my takeaways from these hero sightings?
- Be honest. No need to play it cool—tell your hero exactly what they mean to you. This is your chance to share something that is likely core to your heart. And your hero—no matter how famous they may be—will be struck by it. How much they mean to you will mean something to them.
- Bring along a little gift. Could be food, a small token you have reason to know they like—another literary goddess of mine collects hearts and I found a beautiful abstract sculpture, small enough to tuck in a stray inch of suitcase, which I brought to one of her readings—or simply a card. Commemorating this meeting with a small expression of gratitude will mark it for you and for them.
- Act like yourself. Don’t put on airs or feel you need to ape hero status yourself. We’re all climbing the same ladder in life—one day you may be meeting somebody who tells you you’re their hero and why.
- Leave the phone in your pocket. It can be tempting—even seem inevitable—to record this momentous occasion, at least get a selfie. And maybe you will. But for the first part of the encounter—make it analog. We remember things differently, and they take on different meaning, when we live them versus digitize them.
- Journal about the encounter once it’s over. Even if you’re not normally a journal-er. Having a written record of what it was like, as opposed to what it comes to mean to you through the burnished lens of memory, will one day be priceless.
- Pay it forward. You got to meet your hero! Is there an introduction or connection you can make for someone looking to meet theirs? BOLO. Be on the lookout for—not cars driven by criminals in a Rogue thriller—but opportunities to make this magic happen for somebody else. Collect stories from people about who their heroes are. It may be that you can facilitate an encounter.
- And if one day you become a hero yourself? Approach it with solemnity and appreciation. How lucky you are to get to be in this role!
Even without the neoprene suit.
I too had a long “journey” from conception to publication, Jenny. I recall one of our big author “heroes” is former head of International Thriller Writers, Steve Berry who says that he had some 80 rejections from various agents and editors before selling his first novel – now he’s a New York Times bestselling author….but he gains true hero status in my mind because since then he has been SO generous – reading novels by aspiring writers (some 40 a year I hear) — and offering blurbs for them. Thanks for an inspiring piece here.
My personal best was getting a blurb from Peter Abrahams…and then getting to meet him later at a convention. I didn’t know how to make it memorable, though, just said something distinctly unmemorable like ‘Thank toy for the blurb.’
I love this, Jenny! Most of the time it’s hard to believe I’m a part of this club with all of you amazing writers and heroes. But Karna, I have Steve beat! The first novel I wrote—that remains unpublished—was rejected 116 times by literary agents. It taught me some hard lessons like using a pseudonym (Alex) that can be misconstrued as male or female. Three years later, when I sent out my second manuscript, three agents offered to represent “Mr. Kava.”
Karna, I so agree. Steve reaches icon and legend status.
Lisa, I looove Peter Abrahams’ work. I would’ve been all bluh, bluh, bluh in his presence too!
Alex, your story of Mr. Kava is both a chilling reminder of glass ceilings in publishing…and a testimony to your own hero(ine) status.
What a wonderful blog, Jenny. So full of truth! Ah, an overnight success, right? Your journey — and you — are inspirational! 💗
Gayle, you have set the bar higher, allowing us all greater entry and impact. Talk about inspirational!
Such great advice, Jenny. I’m one who tends to go all fan girl, embarrassing both myself and the super star writer I wanted so much to impress. Take the way I stammered my way into a conversation with Gayle Lynds—THE Gayle Lynds—in the pool at the Biltmore in Phoenix at ITW. Fortunately she is one of those special super stars that is kind to those coming up. She became a mentor, and a dear friend, and I’m so happy it led to my getting to be part of the Rogues. There was also my first encounter with Mary Higgins Clark, who was very gracious in the presence of a tongue-tied fan, and always generous with her advice and encouragement. And Then there was my first encounter with Lee Child, and Michael Connelly, and…suffice it to say, in all cases, I think I gushed. At the very least I tried being witty, which never quite worked. I’ve gotten a bit better with age, but I still feel anxious and nervous and convinced I should walk quickly away, while remaining glued in place with a creepy-ass smile on my face.
All heroes of mine too, Chris! I love your memories of encounters. I bet your smile is not in the least creepy:)