It’s October, 2005. Jim and I are in Chicago for a bookseller’s convention. We’ve been walking the floor, chatting with whoever wants to chat. It’s amazing how many people take the time to ask how Jim hurt his hand, which is in a cast
(Jim had gone off his bike when a car in front of him stopped without warning. He had several hairline fractures and a couple dislocated fingers. In an effort to avoid surgery, the doctors kept in Jim’s hand in a cast for a long time. Patience did the trick. No surgery. No pins. Most of the movement back.)
Eventually, Jim and I decide to head back to our room and read for a bit before going out to dinner with David Moench, one of Tor’s publicists, and (then new Tor author) John Scalzi.
I’m in an odd mood. On the one hand, I’m burned out on small talk. On the other, I’m buzzing, not quite ready to be quiet. As we’re walking off the convention floor, I pass a pleasant looking-lady. Her badge is coded “Author.” Some imp of the perverse seizes me. I decide it might be fun to buy a cup of coffee for a perfect stranger with whom I at least share a vocation.
LADY (very politely): Yes?
ME (fumbling slightly, then glancing at the lady’s badge and reading “Tamora Pierce”): Oh, my god, it’s you! I love your books! I’m especially fond of the Protector of the Small series…
[Incoherent babbling follows, then I manage…]
You see, I do this, too. Write Fantasy. I know how hard it is to do what you did with Kel.
LADY (now revealed as Tamora Pierce, glancing at my badge): “Oh! It’s you! I love your books!”
[We clasp both hands and start bouncing up and down, rather like Tigger in Winnie the Pooh. Eventually, we stop and start chattering. Amused Jim, bemused Handler from Scholastic, and confused vendors look on. Suddenly, Tamora Pierce realizes she had been on her way to an event sponsored by one of her publishers. She politely excuses herself. Jim and I head off to our room – me beaming.]
The End – but not quite. We’d meet again the next morning as Tammy was on her way to the airport. Serendipity at work. We promised to keep in touch and have done so.
I really do admire Tamora Pierce’s work. I came to it comparatively late with her “Protector of the Small” series, featuring Keladry of Mindelan. (The cat currently on my desk is named Kel.)
After reading the “Protector of the Small” series, I went back and read the rest of Pierce’s Tortall books: “The Song of the Lioness Quartet” and “The Immortals Quartet.” Later, I would read the new Tortall “Beka Cooper” and “Trickster” books.
I read her non-Tortall novels as well, enjoying both the quirky magics of Winding Circle and watching the protagonists grow from dysfunctional children to competent young adults. Over and over again, I was impressed by how Tammy developed her characters and stories. I also noted how the longer she pursued her craft, the more she developed confidence in her own worlds. As a result, her world-building became more complex, less reliant on typical tropes.
You can say I’m a fan.
We’ve met up only once since… That was in a battered New Orleans, rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina. There we had breakfast in a hotel with barely enough staff to get simple meals on the table. We talked not only “shop” but “story.” Jim and Tammy discovered a mutual enthusiasm for Leon Uris’s novel Battle Cry and talked about its influence on Tammy’s own work.
Now Jim and I are excitedly anticipating seeing Tammy again – this time over Memorial Day weekend at Conduit in Salt Lake City, Utah. Jim and I already have a stack of books set aside to have signed.
I’ve often wondered what prompted shy me to give in to the impulse to think about inviting a perfect strange to have a cup of coffee. Whatever the reason, I’m really glad it happened. Sometimes you take a moment to talk to a stranger and discover you’ve made friend.
(Maybe I’ll see some of you in Utah. If so, do come up and introduce yourselves!)