Watching the inauguration yesterday was inspiring. I was looking forward to President Obama’s speech, but I was unprepared for how deeply affected I was by some of the other parts of the program, including Myrlie Evers-Williams’ invocation and Richard Blanco’s poem, “One Today.” As a whole, the inauguration demonstrated clearly the best of what America must aspire to be, which got me thinking about how I can participate in a humane, compassionate, and smart society. Which led me to thinking about heroes.
In many ways, I live a charmed life, which is populated by people whom I am honored beyond measure to know. Since I was a small child, I have also found joy, comfort, thrills, and inspiration in books. As an adult, I have been incredibly fortunate to meet many authors, to get to thank them for enriching my life in so many ways. Some of these exceptional people I have even gotten to work with, and some, much to my eternal delight, have become friends.
This isn't a privilege I take lightly. Some days I have to pinch myself to be sure I haven’t imagined it.
In addition to telling the stories that enrich and enhance my life, many of these authors—ones I've met in the US, Denmark, Ireland, and the UK—are also exceptional human beings. They’re brilliant and hilarious, benevolent and humble. They make this crazy old world a better place, using their celebrity and their connection with readers to commit acts of kindness large and small.
There are also certain authors whose books have had an immeasurable impact on my life, whose stories have shaped my understanding of and interaction with the world around me. They’re my heroes. Some of them, most notably, Ed McBain, died before I had the opportunity to thank him for his stories, but I have met others. Last year, I finally got to shake Lawrence Block’s hand. I was pretty much reduced to a babbling idiot when it came to speaking, but I’m pretty sure I thanked him. John Connolly has been so incredibly gracious on the occasions I've met him, and his passion for both stories and the world in which we live motivates me to remain always vigilant about the choices I make.
There is one author, though, whom I've never met but whose fiction and world view has shaped me as deeply as any. His kindness has extended so far as to let me interview him via email, and I treasure these correspondences. As much as I love virtual interaction, though, I place great value in looking someone in the eye and thanking them. To shaking a hand. Even to a hug, should the situation warrant.
As I watched the inauguration, I thought of James Lee Burke. He has written some of my favorite books and created characters that have accompanied me through travails and joys over many years. He has also educated me about aspects of American history and current events I needed to understand and am compelled to ponder. In short, he has made me think, and made me a better person for it. So, in considering how I can participate in helping America live up to its promise, I thought about how I could go about meeting JLB to thank him (which is also high on my bucket list).
The thing is, JLB doesn't attend many events these days. Not because he’s anything but tremendously gracious, but he lives in Montana, and trekking around the country and world isn’t exactly super convenient. Last year he did one event in Missoula, though, at Fact & Fiction Books, in support of the release of CREOLE BELLE. I’m hoping he’ll do something similar when LIGHT OF THE WORLD is released in July. I’ve looked into transporting myself to Missoula, and it is quite a pricey journey, but if I can find a way to make it, I will. I’m going to keep my fingers crossed that it doesn't conflict with Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival.
Assuming there’s an event and I can get to it, I’ll stand in line, hugging my copy of the book and letting others go ahead of me because I’m so nervous. When it’s my turn, I’ll introduce myself and hope I’m able to squeak out some words that communicate what an honor it is to meet a real hero.
As I wrote this, I was a little concerned I was going to sound like some kind of weird reader-stalker type of person. So I asked Twitter whether anyone had met hero authors, and got several lovely responses, which assured me I’m not alone. Authors mentioned included Lee Child, Daniel Woodrell, Robert Crais, George Pelecanos, Jennifer Weiner, Meg Gardiner, Christopher Moore, David Mitchell, James Crumley (who, interestingly, also resided in Missoula prior to his death), James Ellroy, Carl Hiaasen, and Don Delillo.