Dear Mr. Christopher Paolini – About Last Night
Dear Mr. Paolini, it was so good to see you last night. I do mean ‘see’ and little more, because I stood by the corner of a bookshelf and gazed at you for about a minute and then left. However, since you are the best-known person I’ve ever been within yards of, I felt it was an unevent singular enough to merit this letter.
Indulge in no regret at this near miss. Our not having met, ever, saves you the necessity to make perfunctory apologies about not remembering me.
The story is this: after hearing you on the radio yesterday morning (I agree, mapping out your plot ahead of time is the way to go) I came to Novi to meet you. I did this because you are a published author, and they say if you want to become published you should meet people in the business when you have a chance.
Or was it to get a look at a fellow-homeschooler that I came? One who did what I wanted to do?
In the store, I stood near the corner of that bookshelf with my husband – the guy who made me late last night and who makes me happy every night – and we looked at you. Since we’d driven an hour to be there, we wanted to observe your manner. My husband says you are the biggest nerd he’s ever seen other than than most of our friends and siblings. It was a compliment, but I’m sure you know that.
Then we left. Yes, we walked out of the store without having even tried to stand in line. I’m afraid boring you for a few moments was not worth the two hours’ wait we would have been subject to by the time we arrived. Did you look up, any time last night, and follow with your eyes the long succession of smiling people that wound in and out through nearly all the bookshelves in the store? They all held copies of your books and they all found something to to talk about with the people they stood next to in line. Maybe they came to be with one another just as much as to see you. Do you ever feel happy about doing your part to unite the world’s geeks into one happy, imaginary-language speaking community? It’s not too bad an accomplishment.
I’m afraid I wouldn’t have fit in very well with those fans however, and not just because I’m bad at standing in line. I haven’t yet read your books, you see. But fear not – I bought the first two yesterday morning. Soon I shall have finished Eragon, thus saving you and I the embarassment of having shared what we did last night without my being familiar with your work.
So I stood there and wondered for a moment: were you very tired? And are the circumstances springing from noteriety really any different than the circumstances that each of us have to deal with? Is the difference between being famous and unknown similar to the difference between a brick house and one with white siding? Albeit, in the brick house you have to look at far more pictures of yourself than if you lived in the white-sided house. Well, that’s what your manner suggested to me.
I recall days – I wouldn’t have talked about this last night unless, you know, we somehow miraculously struck up a personal conversation – days when I would rush through my schoolwork in the morning and spend my afternoons reading or writing. Yes, my individual days were kind of like your whole life.
Now we have far less in common. See, it’s been years since I’ve been able to finish a story. That was another thing I wasn’t going to tell you last night. Oh, and I lost my laugh, too, like the princesses in the tales, but I got that back when Scottie married me. The ability to write through a climax, on the other hand, has never returned.
Don’t bother to feel sorry for me, of course. During the last month I’ve somehow found the wherewithal to spend fair quantities of time nearly every day, carefully mapping out the plot of my novel Second Cousins. It’s one of the six stories I conceived of during the first winter I was married and up till now I’ve simply written introductions to each of them, then gotten stuck. Who knows, maybe I’ll break that curse yet.
I’m really not sure how I could have turned that last confession into a question.
Me: Mr Paolini, do you recommend hard work?
Me: Wow, really?
But that’s a good thing. After all you aren’t a guru. You are two years younger than I am, and succeeding doesn’t imbue you with anything. No, I’m guessing it’s the other way around. You have a quality inside that makes you act on your intentions, through any difficulty whatever. It gets into the work, and that makes you successful. And then people like me want to stand for a moment in proximity to you and somehow be closer to that quality.
Do you really feel like you are the rare man of action surrounded by “hollow men?” Or do you just feel that you got lucky, that your art was patronized while others have to struggle through on their own, leaving pieces of themselves behind with every milestone of accomplishment? And how do I know that you actually have that quality, that you aren’t just another self-important guy whose greatest talent is insinuating yourself into places you don’t deserve to be?
Well – do you know that your personal presence is rather unimpressive? I think that’s what I liked most. All the impressive people I used to know are now ministerial hacks who so sadly misunderstand their own importance that I can imagine no life for them but one of perfumed misery. On the basis of our own very special unaquaintance, I have ventured to hope that you will do far better for yourself.
Well, this is getting rather personal. While I fan my face off, may I clarify in closing that I had some nice appropriate questions prepared for the public discussion. I would have asked what your personal rule is on the use of adjectives and what you think of the American preoccupation with “writing tight.” I would have asked what place you think fantasy literature has in the cultural dialogue about metaphysics. I would not have asked who you think “the man behind the curtain” actually is, saving that question for the sixty seconds when all that stood between us was a table and you were staring at the front page of the book I’d have bought, making your tired hand write your own name yet again.
But according to the decrees of fate, during my entire sixty seconds your head was bent over someone else’s book, and you were talking to her in the most common manner imagineable. The sight was quite satisfying. So this letter is simply to thank you for a very pleasant evening. After an unmeeting like ours, I felt it was only the decent thing to do.