When I was a teenager, I got to meet my favorite author. She was doing a book signing and reading at Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville, North Carolina and I remember being so excited that my parents were cool taking me. It shouldn’t have surprised me. My mom is as big a book lover as I am. She’s also my biggest supporter when it comes to my own writing. Even if she can’t read all my novels (NOT a horror fan lol like, in a big, big way), she is always there with ideas and support and words of encouragement. She celebrates the small victories (having a bookstore order copies, or finding one of my titles in the library) and she always looks forward to the next book. So taking teenage me to a book signing was definitely something she would do, whether the cost of a brand new hardback book would have been hard to swing at that time or not.
I read all of Cherie Bennett’s books back then and her new one, Life in the Fat Lane, had just come out. I was super excited about it. The reading was cool because it was the first time I could remember hearing an author read their own words. I love listening to an author read one of their books. The emphasis is completely different than how we read the words and it brings the story to life. I’m not a huge book on tape fan because my ears are messed up, so I have to listen pretty hard to follow the story, but if an author is the one reading a book I really like, I make an exception. There’s just something magical about the differences.
After the reading, Ms. Bennett was signing books. I was so nervous. I took my book up to her, hands shaking, no clue in the world what to say. She was amazing. She asked questions and struck up a whole conversation. I felt like she really wanted to know the answers. When I told her I wanted to be a writer, she wrote something encouraging in my book and told me to keep writing because it would happen.
For the next couple of years, we emailed back and forth some. She was always super cool about making sure I knew that my dreams were important and that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. And the whole concept that this famous author would spend any amount of time emailing a random teenager from Asheville was so cool to me.
Of course, as I aged, so did my interests and I stopped emailing her. I took a writing critique workshop in college in which the class tore to shreds my writing with the encouragement of the teacher (some NYT bestselling dickhead that obviously had no idea how to teach or run a classroom… I know this now that I run my own, but at the time, the criticism stung). I stuck my writing in drawer and didn’t pick it up again for quite some time. I mean, they basically told me I SUCK!; capitol letters, exclamation point, bold. Why would I keep going with something I was obviously so tragically bad at doing?
But writing seems to be like an addiction. Even if you think you’re horrible, you have to do it. So when a story popped into my head, a story that I felt I needed to tell, it all rushed out my fingertips. I haven’t ever published that story. It needs some work. I’ve come a long way in the past few years, as has young adult fiction. While the story would have worked well when I was a teenager, trends have moved on and the changes in formulas have evolved. Still, I love my story and my characters and I know there is a diamond in the rough in that manuscript.
When I published my first book a few years ago, I went looking for a way to contact Cherie. I wanted to tell her about it and thank her for what she’d done for a teenager so afraid to even speak to her idol. But I wasn’t able to find contact information anymore (smart on her part given the way society treats celebrities). Since that book signing she’s written plays and a movie as well as doing some acting. Her career is no longer just young adult novels.
I’m hopeful that there’s a chance she’ll see this. These are all the things I wanted to share with her. I wanted to thank her for taking the time to talk to a hopeful teenager. It may have taken me twenty years, but I got there. I’m sharing my stories with the world and her words play through my head regularly. My signed copy of Life in the Fat Lane is one of my prized possessions. While, yes, the story is really good, it’s the inscription in the front that makes it special and brings back all those feelings of having someone like her believe in me.
What we do every day has an impact on someone else. I know when I’m in my classroom that my words matter. But they matter in the hallway between classes or when I’m joking around with a student in the parking lot. Our words have an impact on the course of another person’s life. I’m grateful to Cherie Bennett for being so encouraging. I’m grateful to my mom for making sure I got so many of these awesome opportunities. I’m grateful to the people who helped shaped my dreams along the way. But mostly, I’m grateful that I know how much of an impact those experiences had on me, because I’m careful with the impact I have on others.