Sunday, December 29, 2013

I Now Know Exactly How Ralphie Parker Felt

A while back, I was delighted to find that an author whose books I adore is originally from my home state of West Virginia.  He now lives in and writes about a different part of the country, but anyone from West Virginia will tell you that once you're a Mountaineer (in the state sense, not the WVU sense), you always will be.  I should draw attention to the order of the events I just described.  First I loved his writing and then I found out he was from West Virginia.  I didn't take up his books because he was from here.  That he was is just a bonus.

So, being kinsmen of sorts (after all, isn't the joke that there are only fifteen last names in West Virginia, so we're probably related anyway), I, being a fledgling author hoping to do what he has already done, thought he might be willing to help out a newbie, especially a small-town guy from his birthplace.  So I contacted him on social media.  I don't remember what site I used, but it was not Facebook or anything like that, but instead something for writers and lovers of literature.  I told him I loved his work and that I was excited to find out that he was also from West Virginia.  Finally, I asked if he had any advice for a fellow small state author who was trying to find someone to publish his newly completed manuscript.

I'm not sure what I hoped would happen.  I guess, best case scenario, he would respond by asking to see my manuscript and then sending it off to his agent or publisher.  But I wasn't so deluded that I really thought that could happen.  I hoped he might at least give me a contact or a method I could use to be discovered. I mean, fellow West Virginians, pay it forward, and all that, right?

After a long enough time that I finally decided he wasn't going to, he responded.  I got an email notifying me that this person had replied to one of my posts.  I was so excited!  A best selling author whose stories had been adapted into a wildly popular television series was responding to me.  Me!

"Follow your dreams."  

That was the entirety of the response.  I read it several times, hoping to glean some hidden meaning, but it's hard to pack much into just three short words.  I felt a little like Ralphie Parker when he finally got his Little Orphan Annie Decoder Pin and gleefully decoded his first message from Annie herself, only to find it was merely a commercial for the show's sponsor.  My response was very much like Ralphie's. People familiar with A Christmas Story will understand why I don't quote it here, but I actually did think it.

It was basically an auto-response.  Something I now imagine he had sent to dozens, if not hundreds, of others asking for similar favors. I guess he can be forgiven for it.  How many times can you personally respond to people who want your help? But then I thought of the fact that the celebrities that people truly love and respect are the ones who take the time to actually stop and talk to people when they're signing autographs, not just dash their name on a sheet of paper as they hurry on with their own lives.  When asked about it, they talk about the fact that those folks outside the velvet ropes are the reason they're famous and it doesn't require that much effort to take a few extra minutes to actually interact and make those folks feel special.

I have to admit I'm not as enamored as I once was with this author or his works anymore. He has published two new books since this incident and I haven't bought either one. And this has definitely taught me a lesson. When I'm in his position someday, I plan to remember how he treated me and never do the same to another new author seeking help.  Sure, I might sell a couple extra books to someone grateful for my attention, but that's just gravy as far as I'm concerned. It's that I've done the right thing that will be reward enough for me. After all, the golden rule is, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," not, "Do unto others as much as you have time for; after all you're really busy and famous and who has time for the little people anyway?"

No, instead of "Follow your dreams," I'll leave them with the immortal words of the great philosopher Jean Shepherd:  

"Be sure to drink your Ovaltine"

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