Several people have seen my excitement about this go by on Facebook over the weekend and asked how it all went down. So here’s the scoop:
A while back (say, 4 or 5 years ago) Orson Scott Card offered a story-building workshop for video game creators in our neck of the woods. My husband (the game creator) had another obligation at the time, but since he knew I was newly interested in writing stories, he sent me in his place to take notes. I had a lovely time there and learned some helpful tips and techniques. At the end of the workshop, Mr. Card wrote his personal email address on the board and challenged us all to go home and write stories. He said that if we did write a story, we could send it to him and he would read it. No promises beyond that, but he’d read it.
Fast forward a few years. Right about the time ARC copies of Dragon Ascending became available from my publisher, I was moving things from one shelf to another and found my notes from that class, along with the email and Mr. Card’s invitation. I showed it to my husband and said wouldn’t it be funny to send him my story after all these years. My husband (who owned his own business for 15 years before going back to teaching) said I should do it. “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” he said. “Some guy in North Carolina that wouldn’t even know you if he saw you on the street doesn’t like your book. Big deal.” And, as he likes to remind me, this author gig is a business as well as an art, and in the game of business, if you have a great card like that in your hand, you should play it and see what happens.
So I played it.
And nothing happened.
Which was pretty much what I expected to happen. It had, after all, been quite a long time since the workshop. And Orson Scott Card is a busy guy, I’m sure he has people asking him to read their stinky manuscripts all the time. In fact, there is (I later discovered) a lengthy explanation on his website of why he will not read your book/story/manuscript, which ends thusly, and I quote:
If you're thinking to yourself that you're the exception, that if you just think of a clever enough way to ask me, I'll read your manuscript and it will make all the difference in your career:
It wouldn't, so I won't, so you can't, so you're not.
Which is pretty much what I figured.
The thing is, though, apparently when he gave that group of his students his email address (which no, I won’t share, so don’t ask), he was serious. And he was true to his word—he read my story. Only I didn’t know that yet when I saw that he was going to be in town again this past weekend for a book signing.
But I like his work and I enjoy hearing him speak (I also caught his keynote address at Life, the Universe, and Everything a while back (before my stint on the committee), though I honestly don’t recall if that was before or after the workshop), so I figured I’d go get a book signed and have fun. No hard feelings, Mr. Card.
My husband, being a good networker, asked if I was going to take him a copy of my book. But that would be an obnoxious thing to do unsolicited at someone else’s event, so I just laughed and said no. At the last minute, though, the day before the signing, I decided to take another chance and email Mr. Card to ask if he would like a copy of my book. After all, what’s the worst that could happen from that?
To my utter shock and amazement, at about 2:00 the next morning (because apparently Mr. Card and I have similar writing “schedules,” I received a reply from him stating that he already reviewed my book. He pointed me to his review in the Rhino Times of Greensboro, NC., written the day before I emailed him.
Naturally, I was pretty excited. Especially when I realized just how positive his review actually was:
It wasn’t until the next day that I realized he’d never said whether he’d like a copy of the book or not. But hey, he’d clearly liked it, so I decided to risk being just a little obnoxious and take him one when I went to the signing and see what happened.
The bookstore passed out numbered wristbands and called us up in groups of 15 or so. I was number 87, so I had a while to sit and watch the crowd go by before it was my turn. When it was my turn, I said, “I know you won’t remember me, but maybe you’ll remember my book that you reviewed a couple of days ago,” and slid it across the table to him.
He frowned and picked it up . . .
And I thought, he’s not going to remember, who do you think you’re kidding? So I added hopefully, “And a couple of 2:00 A.M. emails?”
I saw the moment the light bulb went off, because his whole face lit up. He leaned back in his chair, looked up at me with this huge grin like a little kid on Christmas morning (completely appropriate for the book he was promoting that day), thumped the front cover, and said, “You’re Amy?” in the most wonderfully excited tone of voice. And his wife, who was traveling with him, let out this little gasp and sat up straight with her own beaming smile. And then he got really excited. “I’m so glad you came! I can’t believe I got to meet you!”
It caught me completely off guard, because the most I expected was something like a polite, “Oh yeah, I kind of remember that one, was that you? How nice.”
But I managed to stammer out something like, “Yeah, um, I just wanted to say thanks for that great review, that was really nice of you,” or some such nonsense.
And he said, “Oh you’re more than welcome, but that review doesn’t even begin to say how much I liked this book.” And then he went on to tell me (and everyone else who was still hanging around) at length how much he adored the characters (which he remembered by name), and the way the story was developed. He especially loved the first quarter of the book, in which the characters are all stuck in the dungeon. He pointed out that it’s hard to keep a book suspenseful and interesting when it’s taking place in such a confined space, but I handled it masterfully (masterfully—he said that!). It was like a play in a black box theater, he said, (which he would know, considering his theater background), and he enjoyed every minute of it. Especially the part where Edrik was telling a story and he realized partway through that it was his story, and the other guy was the king! What a moment!
And I just stood there with my mouth hanging open and my eyes tearing up. Seriously, I was floored.
Finally, he wound down, and sort of half handed my book back, and then stopped and went, “Can I . . . Is this one for me?”
And I said, “Yes, that one is yours. It even has your name in it, so you can’t give it back.” And only half jokingly, I added, “And if you’re going to throw it away, I’d appreciate it if you wait until I leave, because that would hurt my feelings.”
He laughed and said, “Normally, if some random person came up to me at a signing and handed me their book, I probably would just throw it away.”
“Heh,” I said. “Yeah, because that would be obnoxious.”
“And I only have so much room in my luggage,” he pointed out. Then he practically hugged my book and said, “I’m not throwing this one away, though. For this one I will definitely make room in my luggage. Do you know how much I liked this book? I read your book instead of playing Civilization!”
At this point, the whole crowd gasped, and his wife chuckled and said, “He really did, you know. And for him, that is a BIG DEAL.” (Which I get. I live with gamers.)
He handed my book to his wife to put with their things, and she said, “Wait! Did she sign it? Make sure she signs it!” And he excitedly opened the front cover and showed her where I had, indeed, signed it, and they were both so happy!
Then he turned back to me a little sheepishly and said, “Wait, did you have something for me to sign? I forgot for a minute I was supposed to be doing that.”
And we laughed, and he signed Ender’s Game for me. And then a nice volunteer snapped this photo for us on my phone:
It was completely surreal in the most amazing way. I went to meet one of my writing heroes, and he made ME feel like the celebrity. (And now I kinda wish I had a video of the whole encounter to watch on those days when I’m feeling like the worst writer on the planet. Because good gracious, what a pep talk!)
Thank you, Mr. Card. For the class, for the review, and for the most amazing reader reaction EV-VER!
[Also, his wife liked my t-shirt (I wore the one with the flying pigs that says, “The Time is NOW!”). It’s her favorite shirt too, and apparently she owns two of them in case one gets damaged. I keep thinking I should buy another one, just in case . . . ]