introducing readers to writers since 1995

June 05, 2005

N.M. Kelby @ BookExpo, pt. 3

by Ron Hogan

nmkelby.jpgPeople have been walking up to me all weekend saying they've spotted N.M. Kelby making the scene, and letting me know they're looking forward to reading these dispatches. And I've been looking forward to them, too!

Today, I have filled my room with flowers as a reminder that life is good. This sounds more opulent than it is. My room is very small. Doesn't take much to fill it. I've bought four dozen pink-tipped white roses and six pink peonies, as big as a baby's heads. They are stuffed into a garbage can filled with water. It's not elegant. It's the best I can do.

But they are real and tangible––and there's no hype. The beauty of them is clear. My mouse-sized room is filled with their soft perfume.

After three days at the convention, I have come to love this room. It is quiet. No one is hawking anything here. Strangers with 'Free Hugs!' signs are nowhere to be found. Curious George is back at Javitis glad-handing some one else. Sanity prevails.

All my life, I've been a writer. I'm not much good at anything else. I tend to be too empathetic–-that's not exactly a quality that Corporate America looks for. So, when I'm sitting at the luncheon and Doris Kearns Goodwin speaks of her new book about Abraham Lincoln, I am overcome. I find myself weeping. I feel like an idiot. But, I am overwhelmed by the idea that Lincoln was considered by all, even himself, as being too empathetic. I understand. I have spent the past days listening to writers and editors trying to put their delicate love for a book into a four-word phrase they can shout at you as you pass. It is painful.

Lincoln once saved a group of wild pigs, because, as he said, he could no longer take their pain. After three days at BEA, I understand.

On the shuttle ride home, a woman sits next to me and erupts into this story about spending the day interviewing with Print On Demand Publishers. She's so happy. After her presentation one said they would take her money and publish her book. "We really clicked," she said. "It was fate."

And then she tells me how proud she is that finally her dream is realized. She looks at my nametag, which announces me as a journalist, and says, "I bet you're a little envious. Everyone wants to be an author."

The moment feels uncomfortable. She's waiting for me to say something. "Yes," I say. "Congratulations." Then I look out the bus window at a guy standing on the corner selling fake Louis Vuitton purses. He looks bored.

The happy woman notices my charm bracelet. It has a tiny typewriter on it. "A reporter is one thing. Not everybody can be an author."

"That's true," I say.

" Of course," she feels compelled to add, "Every idiot thinks they have talent. Every idiot thinks they can write. You know what I mean?"

I do. I feel like an idiot often. But I don't tell her this. I just smile. What I don't say is that I understand what a privilege it is to write, what a joy. I understand how lucky I am to be able to do this. I don't say any of this. It wouldn't be right. This is her moment and she is crowing. "Congratulations," I say. "Really. Best of luck."

And I mean it. To be so vested in the idea of leaving words behind as a legacy is a noble intent, one worthy of Lincoln. And I like the idea that we live in a world filled with people who want to be authors. A world of idiots.

"You make a good point," I tell the woman. "Idiots are known as such because they are thought to be simple minded. Their goals are to be happy, and they find happiness everywhere they look. They have hope, because they don't know any better. I like the idea of so many idiots, with pens in hand, writing their dreams."

The woman looks confused. She opens her mouth to speak and, thankfully, the shuttle stops. Even though it is not my hotel, I get out. Wave goodbye. Go buy an armful of flowers.

On the long walk home, the roses and peonies are vain and preening in my arms. I am proud to hold them. Their beauty is the one thing I can be sure of. I don't know who the 'New Hot Author' or the 'Next Big Thing' is. I just want to know who the idiot is. I want to rediscover joy.

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