A couple of months ago a local writer, Sharon Hughson
, reached out to me and asked if I wanted to go to the Willamette Writer’s Conference with her.
A writer’s conference? Sure? Why not? It sounded like fun. It also sounded expensive…. but I had months to save up. How hard would it be?
You know what? Let’s fast forward past all of the unimportant parts.
Let’s fast forward past Sharon and I meeting weeks ahead of time and planning out which workshops we wanted to attend.
Well, I say “us meeting” and “planning out” – but I mean it in the sense that I agreed to meet her for a lunch she arranged, and even then she had to print out two schedules because I waited last minute and couldn’t get my printer to work. Also, after we decided which ones suited us best, she slid the paperwork into a folder, put the folder in her little briefcase thingie, and then input the circled workshops on her smartphone calendar.
I, on the other hand, dropped the my paperwork on the floorboard of my car, stepped on them, spilled some coffee on them, shook them out, and then wadded them up into the glove box until the morning of the conference.
Let’s fast forward past me not saving a dime ahead of time, and borrowing money last-minute from my mom, because at 33 I still suck at being an adult.
Let’s also fast forward past Sharon arriving two minutes early to pick me up in beautiful, clean vehicle only to find me waving at her frantically from the porch, saying, “One moment please!” while I searched for a semi-clean bra in the wad of “sort-of-needs-to-be-washed-but-can-be-worn-last-minute” laundry that was stacked on the treadmill.
I mean, everyone keeps that mound of dirty laundry separate from the “dude-don’t-even-think-of-walking-on-this-barefoot-or-you’ll-get-foot-leprosy-or-something” laundry pile…..right?
Please don’t answer that.
Let’s fast forward past my realization that Sharon and I were essentially the Odd Couple, and why had this poor woman agreed to hang around me, and for that matter, if we were the Odd Couple then that made me me Walter Matthau, and it was only six in the morning, and that was just waaaaay too early to feel like Walter Matthau.
Sharon, I’m sorry I made you sit on a towel when it was my day to carpool because I haven’t vacuumed my car in months. Also, I’m sorry I didn’t print out directions and made you tell me how to get to the hotel, even though I had a smart phone right beside me.
You know what? Let’s just fast forward past all that stuff, and let’s just jump right to the best part…. or, maybe the worst part. I haven’t quite decided yet.
The keynote speaker at the Saturday evening party (which I didn’t attend, because holy crap, I’d already dropped $319 on a ticket, and while it was worth it, it was still $319 for a two-day conference) was none other than Diana Gabaldon.
Look, I know that there are some of you out there who don’t know who she is (COUGH. THE BEAN. COUGH.), so let me explain:
Diana Gabaldon wrote a book called Outlander, and that book has been my favorite book since I was 19 years old.
Do you have any idea how hard it is to hold the #1 book spot for 14 years straight? I read two or so books a week – back before I had kids, that number was closer to 3 or 4 books a week. Admittedly, sometimes I’m rereading a book I’ve already read, but still… fourteen years, and not one book has ever come close to knocking Outlander off of its perch.
I still vividly remember the first time I read it I was 19 years old. My parents had taken me on a three day Mexican cruise – Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and Cabo San Lucas, and invited me along.
I’m sure they thought it would be terribly romantic, that their college-age daughter would be able to interact with others and maybe make a few friends, but instead, I trailed after them like a lost puppy dog the entire time. Oh, sure – the food was delicious…. but if I am socially inept now, it was even worse when I was younger. For the first day and a half, I just trailed along after my mom, eyeballing the laughing, relaxed people, eating copious amounts of ice cream, and feeling desperately out of place.
Eventually, after more than 24 hours of my constant shadowing, my parents kicked me out of our shared cruise room suite.
“Get out, Becky. Go meet some people.”
“I’m fine,” I said, sinking down onto my cot to look at them- the little cot which faced their bed and gave them zero privacy.
“No, really,” said my mom, with a very pointed stare…. a very pointed stare which went right over my head, because I was dense like that. “We are just going to take a nap, so you should head out – it’s too early for you to go to bed. Go out, make some friends – I don’t want to see you back here before 11 tonight.” And then she essentially had to shove me out of the room and lock the door behind me.
In retrospect – dude. I’m sorry, Mom. I think it’s a teensy bit possible you didn’t actually want to just nap at 8:30 in the evening, and I’m sorry I suck at hints.
So… I left. I wandered around the cruise ship for nearly an hour, trying to figure out what to do with myself. I was never one to party, I was stuffed to the gills on food, and my bathing suit was back in the cabin. So, I just meandered around, past the all-you can eat buffet and the magician with the bawdy jokes, past the dancing couples grinding together to the beat of the bass, past the flirting 30-somethings, and the late night musicians, and the slot machines, and the library, and the…
Wait. THE LIBRARY? I threw on the brakes and back-tracked so hard it was amazing I didn’t leave burned-out skid marks on the ornate carpeting.
The library was a work of art – all gleaming wood, and backlit bookcases and curving couches. As soon as I walked through the doorway I felt at home, despite how empty it was… or maybe because it was so empty? The scent of book pages mixed with the scent of wood cleaner, and I felt a smile spread over my face. Something about the lateness of the hour made it feel like my own, personal library. I walked along the shelves for a long time, running my fingertips over the tops of the books, trying to figure out what I wanted to read. Having no responsibilities and a bookcase full of unread books is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and even at 19 I understood this kind of opportunity wouldn’t repeat itself very often. I wanted a good book – one I hadn’t read before, and with as many books as I read, that was starting to be tough.
On impulse, I tilted back a thick book to better look at it – the front looked interesting, so I pulled it all the way off the shelf. Also, for the record, if you think you can’t judge a book by its cover… well, then I say you haven’t read enough books:
I ran my fingers over the embossed jacket, and then flipped it open and read the synopsis on the inside.
The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with
her husband on a second honeymoon–when she walks through a standing stone in one of the
ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach–an “outlander”–in a Scotland torn by war and raiding Highland clans in the year of Our Lord…1743.
And that was it. I was gone.
I don’t remember much about the rest of the cruise. I remember opening the book and reading the first few pages as I stood by the bookcase.
After about twenty-five minutes I realized, very dimly, that my legs hurt and I needed to sit down. I felt my way over to the couch by the window with my toes, staggering with the roll of the ship but unwilling to drag my eyes away from the pages long enough to walk a straight path. I collapsed on the crushed velvet seating, kicking off my shoes and tucking one leg under the other, and let myself be sucked under completely.
Several hours later a full bladder forced me to surface back to reality. When I glanced at the clock, I was horrified. 3:30 am? Holy crap. I glanced around, looking for a way to check out the book, but I couldn’t see one. Was I allowed to bring it back? What if I put it on the shelf, and then someone got up early the next morning and started reading it? I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to take a book back to my room or not… but I sure as heck wasn’t putting it down. Glancing around to make sure nobody saw me, I shoved the book down the front of my pants and hunched my shoulders so the front of the shirt hung loose. There. Perfect. Nobody could see the outline of the book.
Feeling pleased with myself, I waddled back to the room, stepping pigeon-toed so the book didn’t jostle loose and fall down my pants leg. I hated when that happened. At the time, I felt pretty smug with my ingenuity.
Great job, 19 year old Becky. Great job. I’m sure you looked totally normal, shuffle-stepping down that hallway, practically bent in half, arms dangling forward lest your shirt pull tight across your stomach and show the outline of the book.
Oh, yeah. That’s much less conspicuous than, you know, just holding the book in your hand and walking back to your room. You rock, you criminal mastermind, you.
Anyways, I remember sneaking into the cabin, feeling relief that my parents weren’t upset that I had stayed out so late, and then hiding in that ridiculously tiny bathroom until 4am because it was the only source of light I had.
I remember my parents waking up at 7 or 8, and whispering to each other.
“She’s still asleep – how late was she out?”
“I don’t know… it was really late, though. Two? Three? I wonder where she went?”
“Dancing? Probably not the bar – she’s too young.”
“That’s wonderful – she must have met some people. I’m glad she finally got out.”
I remember waiting for the door to close and then pouncing on the book I’d hidden under my pillow, and delving right back into the world of Jamie and Claire.
I remember moving from the cabin to the top of the ship around 1pm, and being annoyed when I had to put down the book for dinner that night.
I remember finishing it about four hours before the cruise was over, and spending those next few hours, walking around in a daze. Where was I? Who was I? What country was I in? I felt awkwardly uncomfortable, trapped in my body, instead of living in Claire’s head.
Once I was back on land it took me almost a week to track down a used copy of the book…. but it was just as good the second time through.
And the third.
And the fourteenth.
And, well, let’s just say that one of the reasons I was excited to finally got a Nook was because, just like Shogun and Lonesome Dove, I was sick of buying new copies of the paperback book because the spine kept breaking in the middle every couple of years.
It’s hard to say how many times I’ve read that book, because I know it so well I tend to just leaf through it and read my favorite parts when I’m in the mood. I bought each new book the moment they came out. Heck, when I lived in the mountains I once drove five hours roundtrip to the nearest bookstore, just so I could get the next book in the series.
AND THEN I WENT TO A CONFERENCE, AND DIANA GABALDON WAS THE MAIN SPEAKER.
Guys, this was hands-down the most humiliating experience of my life. Well, if I’m being honest, it probably wasn’t… but it’s the most humiliating experience I can think of right now.
It was Saturday evening at the conference, and I had just gotten out of a workshop, and I turned around, and THERE SHE WAS. DIANA GABALDON. THE WOMAN WHO WROTE OUTLANDER. AND SHE LOOKED JUST LIKE SHE DOES ON HER PICTURES ON THE INTERNET, EXCEPT MAYBE PRETTIER, AND SHE WAS WEARING THIS GORGEOUS FLOWING SKIRT, AND…
And I got so overwhelmed I ducked behind a doorway and hid from her.
I wish I was joking. I really, really wish I was just over-exaggerating at this point. I’m not. I got so overwhelmed at seeing the author of my favorite book that I literally darted behind a solid object so I could stare at her without her seeing me.
And look, when you’re a little kid doing something like that – hiding behind a door and peeking shyly around the corner, it’s cute.
But when you’re 5’8 in your bare feet, and have red hair, and are close to 200 pounds – it’s not cute. It’s just weird.
AND THEN SHE WENT AROUND THE CORNER, AND I COULDN’T SEE HER ANYMORE…. and I snuck from my hiding place and followed her. Literally. I stayed about 20 feet away, and I followed her from hallway to hallway, because I obviously need medication and should not be allowed in public.
Diana, I’m sorry. You really need to have bodyguards who follow you around and protect you from weirdos like me. You should be able to go to a writer conference and not have giant red-haired women sneaking around corners and following you all over the place. I understand you’re just a normal person. You’re just a writer, the same as any other writer, and you’re just a normal woman, like me, except you have great hair and exceptional fashion sense. I know this, on a cerebral level.
And yet I totally followed you around for, like, ten minutes, and I was horrified while I was doing it, but I couldn’t help myself.
And then someone stopped you, and started talking to you, and you were just SO NICE TO THEM. So I thought, DO IT, BECKY. GO TALK TO HER. DO IT. YOU ARE GOING TO REGRET THIS IF YOU DON’T.
And so I went and waited in line behind the totally sane person who had the guts to approach Diana first.
And by waited in line I mean that I stood about five feet away from the two of them and bounced my weight from foot to foot, like a toddler that has to pee, trying to rehearse in my head what I was going to say.
“Diana,” I’d say, “Diana, I know you’re busy, and I don’t want to take up your time. I just wanted to say that Outlander has been my favorite book since I was 19 years old, and considering I read about 2-3 books a week, give or take, fourteen years straight in the #1 position is really saying something. I respect you as an author, and having followed your blog for some time, I respect you as a person, and I really appreciate your ability to create complex characters with real faults…. thank you so much for the joy your books have given me.”
That’s what I was going to say. That’s exactly what I was going to say, guys. I rehearsed it in my head. And it sounded great, and it was going to be so perfect….
Except when the lady in front of me stopped talking, I jumped in before Diana could leave, and just as I opened my mouth to speak I realized – they weren’t done talking. The lady was reaching for her camera, so they could take a selfie. And I was interrupting this lady’s chance for a selfie with Diana, and wait, we could take pictures with her? WHERE WAS MY CELL PHONE? Did I leave it in my backpack? Wait… where was my backpack? And holy crap, focus Becky, because they are both staring at you, waiting for you to say something since you just leapt between them with all the grace of a hyperactive elephant, and….
“Diana I read your books. A lot. And I still like them, which is something, considering since I first read your book sixteen. Wait… I meant I was 19. Wait, I don’t mean I still like them, I mean I’ve read two to three books and yours is still my favorite, and the joy and respect you have for me.. I mean, I for you… I mean, I’ve read more than 3 books, I meant three a year… wait, a week. Two to three books a week… and what I’m trying to say is you’re complex, and thank you.”
And then I turned around and pretty much literally ran away from them, because not only did my rehearsed speech not come out right, it wasn’t even English.
And as I left, with my face turning so red it was throbbing, I heard her murmur something very gracious about, “Well thank you, very much,” which I’m sure meant, “Thank you very much for not asking to touch me, or lick me, or anything creepy like that, because that’s obviously the kind of crazy you seem to be.”
And then I spent the next five minutes wandering around, trying to erase the memory of just how embarrassing that interaction was.
Eventually I met up with Sharon, and it all came spilling out. “Sharon, I saw Diana. DIANA GABALDON. And I tried to talk to her, but when I opened my mouth, it just came out gibberish, and I really don’t think I’ve ever been more embarrassed in my entire life…. and not only did I just make a fool of myself with my favorite author of all time, I didn’t even get a picture with her.”
“Well, why don’t you go back and ask her for a picture?” Sharon’s a reasonable sort like that.
“I can’t. I can’t. I’m pretty sure she’s going to call the hotel cops on me if I approach her again.” Nobody has ever accused me of being reasonable.
“I’m sure it’s not a big deal – she probably gets asked all the time.”
“I can’t! It’s too weird!”
“Nonsense- there’s someone taking a picture with her right now. Just do it, Becky.”
“I caaaaaaaan’t. I’ve ruined it, foreeeeeeever. And now I’ll never have a picture with her, ever, and…” And I spent the next five minutes forcing Sharon to listen to me whine about how I wanted a picture with Diana, but I couuuuuuldn’t…. because apparently the only difference between me and a screaming Justin Bieber fan is that Diana doesn’t have concerts I can attend.
Since the workshops were done for the day, Sharon and I decided to grab a bite to eat and socialize at the buffet table before heading home.
And that’s when it happened – I turned around to look for some water, and….
“Quick!” I hissed at Sharon. “Get out your camera! Take a picture!”
“It’s Diana! Quick! Get out your cell phone! Mine has a dead battery! Get a picture of me with her!”
“Now?” She asked. “Don’t you want to ask her to turn around? Or maybe let her finish filling her plate?”
“No! Don’t say anything! Just… just quick! Take a picture!”
And I’m here to tell you, you have never known fear until you’ve crept up behind someone you really, really, REALLY admire in order to take a picture of their butt.
What this picture doesn’t capture is just how quickly I bolted the opposite direction as soon as Sharon snapped the photo – I was horrified that Diana was going to turn around and see me there. I’m not sure how you explain something like that. “Oh, don’t mind me. I’m just deliberately approaching you while you’re vulnerable, so I can take pictures of your back end.”
But she didn’t turn around, and I got the photo, and so as horribly embarrassing as everything was, I now have a picture of me and Diana G., and that’s pretty awesome.
When I showed the picture to The Bean and tried to explain it he just looked at me in confusion and said, “Who is Diane?”
And you know what? I don’t even care. I mean, we all know Jamie wouldn’t say something like that… but who am I kidding? Jamie Fraser may have said the perfect thing, but then again, Claire Randall wouldn’t have been skulking around hotel hallways to take pictures with people’s butt, so I guess it all works out.
And besides – it was all worth it.
Because now I have a photo of me.
Me and Diana’s shapely behind.
Eat your heart out, Internet.
(I’m sorry, Diana. I’m really, truly sorry you can’t go through a buffet line without having
people like me demand pictures with your butt. If I ever see you again, I promise
to stick to hiding behind doorways to stare at you while you eat your dinner in peace.)