Ever met an author and ended up feeling tongue-tied or just plain said the wrong thing?
This has happened to me twice. The first was at BEA when I met a relatively popular author in line and couldn’t place her at all. She asked for my card, and I asked for hers, and I think she looked at me as if to say, You’re a blogger and you don’t know who I am? When she told me what book she wrote, I was like, “Oh, yeah, I’ve heard of that. Sounds great!” Cue crickets.
Anyway, I’ve been to a lot of author signings, and I’ve really loved them all, but I was INCREDIBLY excited to meet Neal Shusterman because (as those of you who follow my blog know) I think that the Unwind Dystology is pretty much the best dystopian series ever (honestly, even better than those super popular ones that have already been made into movies – though I know lots of you will say that’s impossible).
What makes the Unwind series is so amazing is the fact that it’s so thought-provoking. It brings up so many issues of morality and the atrocities that we, as a society, might accept if they were considered the “norm.” I honestly believe the series is nothing short of brilliant.
But I’ll save discussion of that for another for another time. Let’s move on to how I completely embarrassed myself, shall we?
So, on Wednesday, I had the chance to meet Shusterman for his tour for Challenger Deep. There weren’t huge crowds (I don’t know why – people don’t know what they’re missing by not reading all of his books!), so I decided to wait until the very end to meet him so that I didn’t have to feel bad about the fact that I had five books for him to sign (plus a poster) and so that I could chat with him a little more freely.
It all started out wonderfully. I told him that I completely adore the Unwind series, but then for some reason I decided to admit that I still haven’t read the fourth book (because, you guys know how I am about finishing series – I’m worst when it comes to my absolute favorites because I just have weird phobias about series not ending well or I just can’t handle the idea of them being over or something). He warned me to read the whole thing because something happens midway through that lots of people hated and they stopped reading and sent him horrible messages about how they hated it without realizing that things change. (Ha! You’ve gotta sympathize with authors, right?) I mentioned that Challenger Deep actually took me until about 50% before I started to understand how everything came together and how I was a tiny bit worried up until that part. (This was purposeful, on Shusterman’s part.)
This is where the conversation went all wrong.
I mentioned that I was trying to wrap my head around what real-life people were represented in the main character’s schizophrenia induced hallucinations (especially with the Parrot and the Captain) and Shusterman said, “But it all came together and you understood it, right? Who did the Parrot and the Captain represent?” He asked me the question and my mind just went completely blank. I couldn’t remember. At all. I mean, I remembered being really confused by it and thinking that one of them represented the doctor in the hospital, but I remember with struggling to figure out which one. And I completely blanked out on the fact that, at the end of the book, it is actually revealed exactly who the Captain was – but until Shusterman reminded me, I had no idea and just stood there looking like an idiot, wishing I could sneak off and re-read the end!
Once Shusterman reminded me, I was like, “Oh, yeah, how could I have forgotten that!” (I mean, it was only the huge reveal that the whole book was leading up to, so … ) And then he told me that the Captain also represented the mental illness, which I actually did get and remembered, but by that point, I’m sure he just figured that I was agreeing with whatever he said and didn’t really understand his book at all. For some reason, the detail about who the Captain actually was in the end just didn’t stick in my head, though a lot of other things about the ending did. I mostly remember the image of hope that was given as the main character reached the very depths of his illness and found his way out – and realized that he might go to the depths again, but that he would be able to resist the Captain when he tried to pull him down again. (Honestly, I feel like this is the type of book that needs in-depth study with all of the symbolism and the themes that are explored.)
Anyway, after that, my mom mentioned that my cousin had schizophrenia and we talked a little bit about how what Shusterman described was so close to our experiences with him, but by then I just felt like I was babbling, and I realized that standing there talking about my cousin in the past tense when Shusterman’s whole book was about hope just felt … wrong.
My cousin was very close to our family, especially to my dad, so I saw a lot of his illness firsthand. Unfortunately, my cousin’s story didn’t end as well as Shusterman’s son’s did – mental health medicine has come a long way since my cousin was young (thank goodness – this is the message of hope he was going for!). But reading this book really gave me a good glimpse into my cousin’s mind – into understanding what he went through and why he said and felt some of the strange things he did. Actually, if I had been able to articulate any of these things to Shusterman, I probably could have redeemed the conversation, but of course, I thought of all the best things to say after the fact.
Instead, I just tried to cheerfully end the conversation and not make myself or Shusterman feel any more completely awkward than I already had. Sigh. He was actually really gracious and didn’t act weirded out by me. I know Shusterman meets tons of fans and this probably won’t stick out in his head as much as it does in mine (though he does have a really good memory – a friend of his from high school showed up who he hadn’t seen since he was nineteen and he remembered exactly what he was wearing the last time he saw her!). Still, it’s hard not to be sad when you really want to meet an author and you feel like you made a WAY less than stellar impression. At least I can laugh about it now!
Has this happened to anyone else, or is it just me? Ever meet an author and felt like you said or did all the wrong things? I want to know!
Oh, I guess I should mention some actual Shusterman news in this “recap.” One exciting bit of information – a compilation of Unwind short stories is coming in December! Glad I can end this post on a positive note!