Friday, June 13, 2008

my dinner with Andre

Ok, I'm giddy and hopped up on an Exedrin, so let's see if I can recall every detail of the evening.

But first, backstory.

I remember seeing Andre Dubus III on Oprah way back when, when House of Sand and Fog went on her book club list. What stuck in my mind was his fascination with the conversation taking place. Shortly after that, my sister just so happened to give me the book for my birthday (this was January '01). I read it and liked it very much. It was one of those books that stayed on my shelf, partly because it was a gift from my sister, and partly because it was Andre Dubus III.

So it goes w/out saying (although I'm going to say it right now) that I was pleased as punch to learn that Andre (yes, we're on a first-name basis, as you will soon see) was to appear at Quail Ridge Books today. It also happened to be on the same day my mother flew into town to visit. So, we dined at Whole Foods Wellspring Cafe and then walked over to QRB. I was enthused to see him, but I had no idea what I was really in for.

We arrived at 6:30, the dinner hour, to get decent seats. I had perused his current novel, the one he was promoting, and thought, maybe I'll wait a bit (it was a pricy hardcover). I had brought my Sand and Fog book for signing. And yet, I had a feeling that after he read, I was going to wind up buying this new book.

The first surprise came when I found out he was a professor at UMass Lowell (man, it was like being home, all the New Englanders in the audience!). And from there it kept getting better and better.
First, Andre read from his book, of course. But he made it very clear that he was more interested in the conversation following the reading. Oh yeah. That's why I liked him.

And the conversation was great. He talked about process and language (among other things), and it got to the point that I was nodding my head so much I had caught his attention. He pointed to me: "Yep, she knows -- there's a writer right there," he said, flashing his charismatic smile.
"And I lived in southeastern Massachusetts -- taught at UMass-Dartmouth." Had to establish my credibility right away.
"What's your name?" he asked.
My name!!!!
I told him. Twice, in fact, because I didn't remember that I told him when he asked. I repeated it when I asked him a question.

When someone asked him about revision, he said, "I love what revision is all about, what the word means." He turned to me again. "You know what it means."
"Re-seeing," I replied, beaming.
"Testify, Sistah!" (He has the Massachusetts accent!)

When it came time for the signing, I instructed my mom to "go buy his book" while I waited on line. When I got to the table, he looked at me and smiled.
"Elisa, right?"
He even pronounced it correctly!

I told him that I was "pregnant" with my third novel (a metaphor he used throughout the conversation). He then asked me a barrage of questions about my novels -- titles and all -- all while writing in my (his?) books. I told him I was looking for an agent, and he got quite serious.
"How are you going about that?" he asked.
"Traditional query letters," I stammered. By now I was stammering every answer.
I swear, for a split second I thought he was going to give me the name of his agent ("and tell him that Andre sent you..."). But he offered me this encouragement: "Based on what you told me, you should have any problem landing one. Query letters are a pain in the ass though, aren't they?" (Or something to that effect. Maybe he didn't use the words in the ass.)

I didn't read what he signed in my books until I got into my car. And I'll not share them verbatim. But let's just say that he promised to buy my novels once published.

The man was so genuine, so charismatic, so engaging, so personable. And I totally believe he actually will buy my books. (Note the use of the word will...)

I'm still high as a kite (all the smiling gave me the headache, hence the Excedrin). I don't think I was star-struck (although who knows...), because he didn't feel larger than life, you know, the illusion of that, the way seeing a celebrity sometimes feels. He was another writer and teacher. But there was something. My post title works because he fed me tonight. He fed me quote after quote of other writers. He validated my process, my craft, me. not to mention his own. He made us all laugh quite a bit. He brought me home for an hour. And he remembered my name.

Of course, there was so much I didn't get to say that I would've liked to, but honestly, all his questions about my work threw me off. I wasn't ready to give my pitch, and I could even kick myself for not doing a better job at that. I wanted to validate him right back about process, about language, about letting our characters speak to us, letting it unfold, doing the imagining, having empathy. The whole nine yards. Maybe, hopefully, definitely, I'll have the chance to tell him another day. Preferably at my book-signing.
Thanks, Andre. I'm full tonight. See you soon.


Anonymous said...

Andre is simply wonderful and tremendously giving and open. I had the same experience earlier yesterday when he read at McIntyre's in Fearrington (I didn't think I could last through the day's heat and make it to Quail Ridge last night). He mentioned an author and the author's book and I blurted out that I loved that book, he said great tell me what you think and I went on and he encouraged, etc. Later in line he asked me what I was writing, told him and he signed something really nice.

Were you at Zelda's Saturday workshop at Quail Ridge? I'm Jeanne who sat two people down from you. I just happened to Google ABIII and found your blog entry. Hope it's you, because I really wanted to know how you were doing and felt for you and for your process.

Isn't it just great when a writer is so accessible?

Jeanne Ketterer
Chapel Hill NC

The Purple Panda said...

Hey Jeanne!
Yeah, that's me from Zelda's!

Welcome to Kairos Calling! Glad you "stumbled" into my blog, and I hope you'll remain a regular reader!

I'm doing well -- I've been writing here about my decision to self-publish my first novel, while also hard at work on novel #3. I love using this forum to chronicle the process. Zelda's workshop, as well as Nancy Peacock's reading days before, really charged me into "getting aggressive" w/ my writing career. Fortunately, having so much time off in the summer allows me to do that.

Hope you're doing well too! And I couldn't agree more about the virtues of accessibility -- it's something I plan to pay forward when the opportunity presents itself.

I happened to go to McIntyre's tody (my first time there!) and saw that Andre had been there as well. Awesome!

Keep writing! keep reading!

MitMoi said...

That's why I <3 QRB. (AND McIntytre's) they seem to help the magic along.

The Purple Panda said...

Totally. And I just found out that Gene Hackman -- yes, *the* Gene Hackman -- is coming to QRB at the end of this month!