In April my friend Kendra, a friend formed in church youth group in high school, continued in college, and maintained with occasional lunch and dinner dates through the years, died of pancreatic cancer. Her death occurred about five months after her 40th birthday, about sixteen months after diagnosis. About two months since her death, that is still hard to type out.
Kendra loved Jesus and Rock and Roll. And these two things have perhaps never better co-existed in one person. Kendra didn’t sing or play an instrument. I’m not sure if she even tried. She just loved going to concerts and being part of the fan base of local musicians. So much so she became 1/3rd of the founders/continuing team behind the amazing Atlanta-based charity Songs for Kids.
One of the things that occurred to me as I reflected on Kendra’s life once we knew hospice had been called, was that Kendra was a really, really good fan. As someone who wants to be more than a fan in the book world I don’t think I ever stopped, until then, to appreciate the importance of being just a fan—that being a steady consistent supporter of a favorite art is important in its own right. Nor had I considered whether or not that was good enough for me if I never become a traditionally published author.
I’d love to be more than a fan, to be a peer, but being a fan is not part of some strategy to become a peer. And I will always be a fan even if I’m never a peer. After watching Kendra, I’m good with that. (In Kendra’s case she was such a steady and consistent presence in the Atlanta music scene that she became a friend—that would be awesome too.)
And I’m making some good efforts as a fan.
Last November I drove two hours for a Rainbow Rowell/David Leviathan reading. A friend in Orlando who had never read either author joined me to hang out with me, but was impressed by her glimpse into YA fandom. We are a passionate group.
I follow authors on twitter and I freely talk up books there, on goodreads, facebook, and instagram using the #amreading or #fridayreads hashtags for other readers and fans to find the posts. And I buy, buy, buy (more than I should) using my Barnes and Noble member card. Or, when I go places with famous independent bookstores, I buy there too. My May trip to Nashville included a May trip to Parnasus. To fill in the gaps of my purchases—I have library cards in two counties.
At the April is for Authors Event in West Palm Beach this year I sat in on Matt de la Pena’s last session. My kids were off at the Nerd Camp session chaperoned by my mom. At Matt’s session it was me, Matt, and three other women, chilling and talking and being given free autographed books by Matt. (I chose We Were Here—such a powerful book.) Then Matt read us Last Stop on Market Street. So I’ve had Last Stop on Market Street read to me by Matt de la Pena in a room with only five people. Surreal and perfect. Yes, I’m fully bragging here.
I drove back to Orlando last week for Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven King tour. (The last stop on the U.S. tour for the last U.S. tour of the series!) I almost didn’t go. My pilot husband had to fly that day and I had to finagle child care and another Orlando friend (one who reads and writes YA) I’d hoped to meet up with couldn’t because she’s in the middle of a move… But then I realized Courtney Stevens, a YA author who I was at a Madcap retreat with last February, was going to be there. This tipped the scales fully in favor of heading to Orlando.
I’d loved to have gotten to chat with Court and Maggie longer—to not have to answer Maggie while in the swiftly moving pace of the signing line, to sit down to drinks after the crowd dispersed. (Uh, everyone there would have liked that.) But even without that, it was one of the most me-pleasing Thursday evenings I’ve had in a long time. Author talk, author signing, 40 minutes of my own writing time in a book store, frozen yogurt from a place a few doors down for dinner, and audio book for the there-and-back. Perfect night as far as I'm concerned.
It’s been thirteen years since I received my MFA in writing, but I’m only on my third year of writing full time since my thesis. I expected writing to be solitary this go around, and it’s not. My calendar is full of online video meet ups with a writing group, author events, and at least one writing retreat or conference a year. (I’d like to do a conference AND a retreat, but… money.)
I didn’t know this would be the book world that was waiting for me when I chose to step back into writing after a decade. Maybe if I had, I’d have come back sooner. I wish I had been more like Kendra, immersed in fandom throughout. (I can cut myself a little slack. Kendra didn’t have kids, and I acquired three one way or another in that time.) I’ve never not been a reader, but now I am fully a fan. Even if life gets in the way of writing again, it won’t get in the way of my fan-girling.