There’s a funny scene in the movie “Soapdish” that depicts a depressed soap opera actress, played by Sally Field, getting her recognition fix. She goes in dark sunglasses to a shopping mall with her best friend, who suddenly shouts “Is that who I think it is?”
Everyone around them stops, the actress removes her glasses, and she is immediately thronged by fans, all wanting an autograph. She smiles, graciously greets her admirers, coos at babies, and regains her self-confidence.
This has never happened to me. Not the depression part–every writer gets the blues in the face of the enormity of the writing endeavor. But I’ve never had crowds of people clamor for my autograph–not in a bookstore, and certainly not in the middle of a shopping mall.
I did have a moment recently, however, that brought this scene to mind in a good way.
My husband and I were playing hooky, taking a weekday afternoon to stroll through the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, which happens to be about five minutes away from our home. The Arb has carried my books for several years now in its gift shop, and I’ve made a few book signing appearances there, but I’m by no means an author who is recognized by the general public. After touring the gardens, my husband and I headed into the gift shop for our usual browsing, and while I inspected some lovely sweaters and ceramic dishes, he went into the book section to see my books on display.
A moment later, I heard his voice from across the aisle.
“Would you like to meet the author?” he asked a woman who was standing in front of the display, one of my books in her hand. “She’s my wife.”
Say no, I willed her. Sporting my heavy parka, my hair doing its dry electricity bush thing, the last thing I’d expected was to be called upon to meet a reader.
“I’d love to,” she replied, turning in the direction he was pointing out to her, which was straight at me.
I slapped on my ‘meet-my-reader’ face and smiled as my husband ushered her over. We shook hands and I introduced myself, then asked her if she’d read any of my books.
“No, but I’ve heard about them,” she told me. “So I thought I’d give one a try.”
We chatted a bit more, I offered to sign the book in her hand, and after a few more minutes, she left to pay for her book at the register.
“Do you feel like the actress in the shopping mall?” my husband asked, referring to the movie we’d both enjoyed many times over.
“Yes and no,” I replied. “Yes, in that I was recognized, thanks to you,” I added, punching him lightly in the arm, “and no, in that I wasn’t feeling the need for attention to refuel my artistic career. But it was fun to give a new reader a nice surprise she didn’t expect.”
Actually, I hope I do that every time readers pick up one of my books: I want them to get a nice surprise.
Without the dry electricity hair bush thing, though, thank you very much.