Nope… This blog is NOT about a dog named Marty, any more than the movie Marley ‘n Me was about a legendary reggae singer. It’s actually about a couple of people – writers, in point of fact – me being one of them. Of course, I guess that last part is kind of obvious, huh?
Marty is Martha’s nickname. Martha Ackmann, actually. I’ve written about her before, and anyone who follows me on Facebook has seen me “share” some of her announcements of book signings and lectures on my wall. Just one of those “help a friend out” sorts of things.
However, if you aren’t a Facebooker and/or happened to miss any of the blogs where Martha picked up a mention, in a nutshell she was my Journalism teacher when I was in high school umpty-koff-koff years ago, and someone I consider a mentor. While I always loved writing, and started scribbling on the page as soon as I could fit a crayon into my fist, Martha was the teacher who most inspired me, and moreover convinced me I could make it in the world of word hurlage if I really wanted it badly enough.
Some time back she tracked me down on Facebook and friended me. She has risen through the ranks of teacherdom and is a prof at Mt. Holyoke these days. A far cry from teaching a bunch of disorganized, socio-hormonally A.D.D. teenagers I’m sure, but only she could really answer that for you.
Now… What with me waxing nostalgic about Martha, you’ll probably find it surprising to find out that I’m actually here to talk about me. After all, I am my own favorite subject. Just ask me, I’ll tell you.
The “about me” in question involves an incident this past Monday evening. July 12, 2010, in fact. You see, Martha Ackmann, my teacher and mentor came to town on tour for her new book, Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone (Pick up a copy… You might also want to check out her previous book, The Mercury 13…)
Moving right along… She was signing and presenting at Left Bank Books on Euclid. Now, Left Bank is a nice store. Plenty of books and the like. Unfortunately, I cannot say it’s one of my favorites. I think maybe that’s because my publicist tried to book me in there for a signing on two different occasions – after all, I am a local author and such so I should probably sign at a local store or two. But, my publicist was told, “We don’t sell that genre of book here.”
All good. I can understand that. No biggie.
However, when they then turned around and held a much publicized signing with Laurell K. Hamilton – who writes pretty much the same genre – I was left with no choice but to conclude that the aforementioned statement was a little less than truthful. I’m still not sure whose cornflakes I peed on or when, but apparently I’m not welcome at Left Bank Books… Unless of course I am there to spend money on books that are not of my own genre… But, I digress…
What I’m actually here to babble about is fear.
Bet you didn’t see that coming, did you?
Here’s the thing… I moved things around on my schedule, made sure dinner was on the table early, and worked it out so that I could make the short jaunt down to Left Bank – even if only for a few minutes – so that I could say hello, in person, to Martha. Other than contact via Facebook, we literally hadn’t seen one another in a little over 30 years. And, while sending her an email awhile back to tell her what a profound influence she had been on my life was personal “bucket list” worthy for me, I couldn’t allow an opportunity to visit with her face to face slip by.
This is where the fear comes in… I arrived at the store with EK, the o-spring, and friend-of-o-spring in tow. I made my way back to the lecture area where Martha was standing, chatting with folks. She saw me and acknowledged my presence immediately, however was tied up with other folks who wanted a word with her, so I stood by quietly as she talked, shook hands, and slowly inched her way in my direction. I know the drill, of course. I’ve been there too many times myself. Very simply, as an author, when you are at a book signing you belong to everyone there. It doesn’t matter if you feel like your left kidney is going to shoot out your right ear and stick to the far wall – you have to smile, be gracious, listen, and interact with everyone who wants to interact with you. As cliche as it sounds, “the show must go on.” Just ask Freddie Mercury… Wait… He’s corpsified and such… Well, just take my word for it. Even as an author, when you are booked to do a gig, you do the gig even if you’d rather be having a root canal. And, along with that goes another old adage, that being: “everyone wants their 5 minutes”… So, you have to give it to them.
Now, before anyone balks, I am NOT saying Martha felt like her kidney was going to shoot out her ear or that she didn’t want to be there… I am simply illustrating a point about the inner workings of a book event. Nor am I saying that she (or I for that matter) doesn’t enjoy the interaction with folks at signings, because I’m sure she does. And, I for one, know that I do – unless the person is crazy, but that’s a previous blog entry…
Either way, my point here is simply that when doing a signing you are generally in demand, and you can’t just drop everything and rush straight over to one person in the crowd. You have to be accessible to all, like it or not, and I understand that as well as anyone.
So… Why did I run down that particular path? Well, it’s like this… The fact that I had to stand by waiting to get my 5 minutes with Martha allowed time for some old memories to resurface. These were further enhanced by the conversation she was having with another attendee about how a classmate of mine who is now a newspaper editor had set up an interview with Martha, but handed it off to one of his reporters rather than do it himself. Why? Becuase he was afraid to interview “MA” as we used to call her.
And that’s the fear I’m talking about, because he wasn’t alone in experiencing it.
The memories that returned were vivid… You see, Martha was a force with which to be reckoned. Slight in stature though she was, she knew her business, and she enamored all of us with the ideals of Journalism. One of the things I remember was her commenting that she couldn’t bring herself to watch Lou Grant like the rest of us (yes, I’m dating myself yet again), because it made her want to be back in a newsroom. She regaled us with stories. She taught us how it was done, and done correctly.
So, where’s the fear, you might ask… Well, I’ll tell you. Martha also had “teacher face.” I’m sure you know the one I mean. If you did something stupid that disappointed her in some fashion, something which high school students would invariably do over and over again, she gave you the “teacher face.” She didn’t have to yell, or even say a word. Just one look from her and you felt like a complete idiot.
And, by the same token, when you did something that made her proud of you, she had a smile that was as wide as the horizon, and she told the world about it.
She was literally the best teacher I ever had.
And what of the fear? There I was, 30 years later, standing in a bookstore waiting to visit with Martha. I’ve been in front of crowds, on the radio, on TV, and the whole nine yards… None of that flusters me… But, as I waited and listened to her tell the story about my classmate, I realized that I was in the same boat with him… My hands were shaking, my mouth was dry, and my ears were ringing. I was just plain nervous…
Fortunately, I got the smile and a hug instead of “teacher face.” I guess maybe I turned out okay in her eyes after all…
More to come…