On Wednesday night, I had dinner at Russian Tea Time, sharing a table with Audrey Niffenegger.
Blink and you may not have noticed Audrey’s entrance – because contrary to popular belief, bestselling authors put one foot in front of the other just like the rest of us. They also sit at tables, introduce themselves, and seek fellow guests’ names just like we do. When the introductions reached me, I shook her hand and said my name.
But this wasn’t the first time I’d met Audrey.
In July 2007, Ms. Niffenegger gave an illuminating discussion and Q&A on THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE at the Chicago History Museum. Afterwards, she signed my limited-run first edition, complete with her own jacket illustration: a beautiful sea of flowing red hair. And I got up some sort of gumption. I told her about a short story I planned to develop into a book, and could she take a peek? (I’d like to imagine I was very charming.)
Audrey has a flair for creating real, flawed characters, so I’d probably mentioned that and a few other nervous blubberings. Out of an outsized kindness, she invited me to send her the story. Wow, was I ever excited, and so lucky – the chances of this happening have to be slim, given Audrey’s multiple, established, and busy careers as a writer, artist, and teacher.
I sent her the short story that same night.
Less than two weeks later, I received several paragraphs of questions, comments, and notes from Audrey. Totally unexpected, wonderful food for the mind. She also said I was an “interesting writer” and she’d be glad to see the next stage of the story.
More than three years passed. Audrey’s email and her recommendations to read “The Lottery” and re-read THE HANDMAID’S TALE helped shape the novel-length version of THIRTY DECIBELS. (Back then it was named FIFTEEN, until the Boring Police called.) I outlined, wrote a few chapters, stalled a bit, completed draft one, and hurtled through many months of revisions.
So when Audrey shook my hand on Wednesday night, I expected to be a new face.
Instead, her head tilted the tiniest bit.
“I read your story.”
Oh. My. God.
“I’m so impressed you remember!”
I guess that was the best reply I could come up with. I’d like to imagine I was very charming.
The evening couldn’t have been more engaging. Nearly all of us had fine arts backgrounds. We discussed the merits of rye bread. We laughed about silly things, and reflected on sad things. Technically we were strangers, but for at least that night, we were good friends.
And someone – let alone an incredible writer – remembered reading my story, three years later.