I couldn’t sleep last night. Nothing new there, I can’t sleep most nights. That’s a lie. Obviously I can sleep, only it takes a while. My brain constantly works. It doesn’t know when to shut down. Every night I close my eyes and hear an internal monologue that goes something like this: Good lunch today . . . great to see Samara . . . so happy for her . . . good project . . . I should have taken a picture . . . those pictures of the caves were amazing . . . how far do they go? . . . the mountains must be riddled with them, like bullet holes . . . there’s a story there, I know it . . . fighters, refugees, aid workers, journalists and spies constantly crawling, hunched over . . . maybe even hidden, praying for protection . . . if stuck in the cave, I’d go crazy from all the dust . . . and fear . . . going where? . . . some place simple, like a cousin’s wedding . . . we think the caves are passages of evil, but caves are neither evil nor good . . . caves aren’t empty either . . . stop it! . . . leave the caves alone . . . okay . . . don’t think of anything . . . like that time . . . stop!!! . . . right . . . it’s dark . . .
About an hour after I crawl into bed my brain finally shuts up, and I drift off to sleep.
Last night, the thoughts whirled around in my head, but this time they weren’t about caves. They were about authors. I kept thinking about these Ask-an-Author sessions I keep hearing about. There’s an entire community on Goodreads now, while Robin Hobb and George R. R. Martin just met in London for a very publicized event. I hear about these and wonder, am I sad I didn’t get a chance to go? What would I ask the authors, anyway? If I don’t have any questions, what would be the point, right? Would I ask George R.R. Martin anything? If I’m honest, the answer is, I’m not sure. Authors have been asked most of the standard questions. If I’m that curious, I can do a search and find the answers.
My sister-in-law recently traveled to Japan. When she came back, I asked the standard travel questions. I swear at some point she rolled her eyes. “Everyone,’ she says, ‘always asks the same questions.” Always. How was the food? What were the people like? How was the hotel? What did she do? What did she see? I wanted to come up with something unique. ‘Were the bathrooms hard to find?’ Turns out, no one had asked that question. Go me! And now you know, when chatting with someone about their trip, try to ask a unique question every now and then. Otherwise, you’ll be the fiftieth person to ask about the food, which may have been great, but you’re the fiftieth person to ask. The answer you get will not be the same answer the first person who asked got. Just so you know.
I get the feeling authors are always asked the same questions, too. Where did the idea come from? Do they base characters on real people? What advice would they give aspiring writers? I don’t want to ask those questions. I want to ask something deeper and . . . different. The decision came to me suddenly. I would love to speak to an author, but I’d want to talk, not ask questions and not at a conference setting, or even on social media. I started thinking about which authors I wanted to meet, where I would meet them, what we would talk about and before I knew it, I was having breakfast with Terry Pratchett. At least in my head.
I couldn’t stop there.
If I woke up tomorrow to a world gone mad and my smartphone calendar dinged to tell me I’ve just been extended an open invitation to share a meal and some conversation with any author in the world, what would I do? I’ll tell you what I’d do, I’d make a whole day out of it!
So, my impossible day with three authors (and a ghost) unfolds like this:
Breakfast — Terry Pratchett
I don’t know what I’d eat, but it wouldn’t matter because I’d be sitting beside Terry Pratchett! I’m not sure I would ask about books, though. I love how his mind works and I’d talk to the man about anything. The oppression of salt and pepper shakers, where to find proper cheese, and bad hat days all work as conversation starters. If he wanted to throw in a few stories about the Nac Mac Feegles or Vimes, I’d sip my coffee and wonder if I somehow slipped into heaven without anyone noticing.
Lunch — Robin Hobb
God, lunch was so hard. At first, I picked Neil Gaiman. I love not only his books, but how he cares about people and tries to do something, anything, to address the tragedies taking place in our world. And that’s what led me to pick someone else, because even if he agreed to show up, I’d sit there with a mouthful of pizza thinking about all those Syrian refugees and the guilt would overwhelm me. I’ll have to admire him, both the writer and the activist, from afar.
Next, I thought about Stephen King, because even though I don’t read horror, I have great respect for the man. Besides, he seems so down-to-earth. Some people change when they become famous, and I’m sure he has too, in some ways, but he still feels approachable, and that speaks volumes about a man’s character, even if he is the creator of nightmares.
Then I decided I wanted to chat with another woman. Pia Sundhage sprung up immediately. Last year I presented her as a notable Swede for my Swedish language class. Technically, she’s more of an athlete and a coach, than an author, but I thoroughly enjoyed her book, Spela på bästa fot – att leda med glädje.
In the end, I picked Robin Hobb. I’m a big fantasy fan and her novels are fantastic, especially the Farseer Trilogy. She writes with poise and grace. Her sentences are complex and the stories rich with emotion, a quality I fear is disappearing as more and more books mimic the short, burst-like quality of our culture. I’m also curious about her own story. According to her old website, one day her parents moved the family from California to Alaska to live a more self-sufficient life. The depth of detail in her writing testifies to this upbringing, especially traveling and wilderness scenes. I could spend all afternoon asking her questions about those years and how she wove those experiences into her novels. I’ll admit, I’m also curious how she managed to write during those early motherhood years and I want to pick her brain for tips!
Dinner — Steven Erikson
He must be, hands down, the most epic fantasy writer of the current age. His Malazan Book of the Fallen series spans over three million words. Originally an archaeologist, he and his friends played table-top games. Along with Ian Esselmont, he took the world they created and penned it. The results are spectacular. I’m not sure how many plot lines he ended up weaving through the series, or different types of characters he created, but if that’s what it takes to create a masterpiece, I want to learn more about the process. I could spend all night asking questions, talking about the world, analyzing the characters and just chatting back and forth about our experiences in creating something special and immersive for the reader.
Drinks — Charles Dickens
Time for the ghost. Who would you drink with in a shadowy bar until 2 am? My husband said he’d pick Tolkien, and I was like, ‘That’s such a great choice! Now I want to change my choice. No, I don’t. Yes, I mean, Tolkien! Who wouldn’t want to have drinks with Tolkien?’ Or how about C.S. Lewis? And then he threw out Jules Verne. ‘How amazing would it be,’ he said, ‘to point out all the things he got right? To talk about putting men on the moon and underwater cities.’ That would be a fascinating evening. And I turned it down, because I chose someone special. Charles Dickens. The Oliver Twist author inspired me, taught me to believe in something and showed me hope. He gave me a treasure whose worth can never be measured, for how can one measure the spark of a dream? Stephen King calls Dickens ‘the Shakespeare of the novel,’ and for me, that couldn’t be more true. I fell in love with words because of Charles Dickens and an elementary school teacher who brought Pip and Oliver alive for forty minutes every Friday. Dickens is the reason I’m a writer today and even if he turned out to be a grumpy old chap and silence eventually wrapped around us, I’d sit there and nurse my drink, while he did whatever ghosts do with drinks, and I’d smile knowing I sat in the presence of greatness.
How would your day look?