This is the first of two tales about taking authors to dinner. Part two is here.
The first year I attended Dragon*Con, Peter S. Beagle was in attendance. Not only had The Last Unicorn been one of my favorite movies, ever, when I was young, but I'd read the book when I was temporarily homeless because of an arson fire. It had done much to restore my faith in humanity. Since then, I'd looked up several more of his novels. I really liked Innkeeper's Song, which is currently out of print, and the short stories based in that world, Giant Bones, were sublime. The local library also had a copy of A Dance for Emilia, which made me cry in the best way.
I had to say hi. The trouble was, I am terribly, crushingly shy. To this day, I have to hang back and feel out a situation before I'm comfortable approaching. It's partly introversion, and partly a lot of bad experiences with putting myself out there. It's also that making myself look stupid in front of someone I admired seemed like the worst thing that could ever happen to me.
With my lovely husband's support, I was able to get up the nerve to approach. I mostly ended up talking to Peter's publicist, Connor Cochran, because I moved aside every time someone else wanted to talk to Peter. Connor is one of those gregarious, cheerful types who'll pull me out of my shell before I've realized I'm not being shy anymore, and I left that convention feeling pretty good about my taking risks.
Over the following year, my husband and I discussed strategies for the possibility Peter Beagle was returning to Dragon*Con. We decided that we could budget to buy dinner, and so we'd invite him out for a meal, on us. We asked at the hotel for a restaurant they'd recommend, and they pointed us in the right direction, to Ray's in the City. It was peaceful, but they had enough room to accommodate the whole bunch of us who were going to dinner. The food was also excellent.
I got to tell Peter S. Beagle how he'd inspired me, possibly saved my life from plunging into a downward spiral. We talked about cats, and I got to hear all kinds of fascinating stories about a life very different from my New England upbringing. We talked about baseball; he grew up in NYC, while I'm a member of Red Sox Nation. We didn't come to blows over our rivalry; in fact the history he filled me in on gave me reason to feel proud of my "hometown" team.
I was so glad for the opportunity to speak to someone whose words had inspired me. It was gratifying in the extreme to find that the person who'd written those words was kind, gracious, and fascinating to talk to. My esteem for Connor grew, too; he has a talent for keeping people involved in a conversation and feeling singularly valued.
The following year, when we asked Peter and Connor to dinner again, they accepted. My friend Mandy was there that time, and can attest to what an awesome experience it was. After that second dinner, they pronounced us friends, and gave us cell phone numbers and personal emails to get in contact with them. I didn't stop grinning about that for over a month, and bragging to co-workers who had no idea what there was to be so giddy about.
The year after that, we were able once again to have dinner together. This time, we were able to witness another's discovery of what a wonderful experience it is to meet Peter Beagle. She'd been too shy to approach him at a signing, and was enjoying her birthday dinner several tables over, which our waitress relayed. He went over, unhesitating, to say hello and thank her for being a reader. The girl was so overjoyed she burst into tears.
Sadly, the following year, Peter and Connor weren't invited to Dragon*Con, and the convention seemed lonely without them. My husband and I opted to stay home last year for that very reason, and don't intend on returning to Dragon*Con. As fun as it is to spend a long weekend with 60,000 other people who share the same geeky interests, it's not the same without dinner to look forward to.