I arrived in Seattle at the writers’ conference on a Friday morning with plans to attend an autograph party that night and the awards dinner Saturday night. My novel, “Wander,” was a finalist for the Nancy Pearl Book Award in the mainstream literary category and it seemed I couldn’t not attend — though I really did consider it. I didn’t expect to win, which made the expense, the hours in traffic, the requisite nagging of the hubs about his driving, seem wholly unnecessary. On the other hand, if I did win… And when else in my life was anyone going to invite me — ME — to an autograph party, which I envisioned as an intimate affair in which I might rub shoulders with some of the touted bestselling authors.
At the registration desk, I introduced myself. Typically, there are name tags and other bits and pieces to collect at these events. The young man behind the table referred me to a woman standing off to the side.
“I’m Lori Tobias,” I said. “I’m here for the autograph party and awards dinner.”
“I can’t talk to you now,” she said, barely glancing up. “I have to moderate an event. Sorry, I gotta go.” And off she went.
I had just driven all the way from Newport, got stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic that added an hour of travel just between Woodburn and Vancouver alone, followed, of course, by the nerve-rattling jammed up mess that is Seattle and this is was the thanks I got?
As I considered the welcome I’d just experienced, I realized that clearly I had not won as she didn’t even recognize my name.
That evening, I attended the autograph party in a conference-sized room packed with scores of authors each staking out their foot of real estate. I sold and signed one book, and by 10 pm was readying for bed.
On Saturday night, they ushered the finalists to the head of the dinner line. I took a table close to the front of the room, missing out on the tables reserved for finalists — which was just as well. I was, as my niece once observed, a hot mess. If I lost, I knew I’d be disappointed, despite my Pollyannaish insistence (borrowed from the hubs) that as a finalist I was already a winner; if I won, I feared I’d make a fool of myself. You know, burst into tears; trip and fall on the way to the stage.
“If I disappear to the bathroom,” I told the hubs, “and don’t come back, I’ll be in the room.”
“I’ll get you a glass of wine,” he said.
An hour later, I was sipping my second glass, waiting as the winners for 12 other categories were called. Finally, it was time for the Nancy Pearl awards. There was a pause and then there was my face on the big screen, my name echoing through the room. I kissed the hubs, hugged another finalist and made my way to the stage, reminding myself to stand up straight, suck in my gut and smile. Just smile.
Moments later, as I walked from the ballroom bound for the obligatory interview, the woman who’d rushed off when I introduced myself at the registration desk stopped me.
“I am so sorry I couldn’t talk yesterday,” she said. “I was so excited for you and I knew if I talked to you for even one second, I’d give it away and so I had to get out of there.”
Of course, I could laugh then.
After the interview, there was a private party for the winners, and then another private, private penthouse suite party. There, I found myself seated next to a familiar looking man who I would soon learn was a very well-known agent whose advice I’d been reading for years. We struck up a conversation. Surprisingly, I found myself oddly confident, full of myself, even, something I attributed to winning, and the relief of the whole thing being over. I was so witty and charming – or so I imagined — he even asked to see two books I have in the works.
Sunday, driving home, I recounted (yet again) my feelings about the night before: the excitement; the interview; the conversation with the very famous agent.
“And you know,” I said, “I wasn’t even concerned about the wine because I’d only had those two glasses over a couple of hours.
At which point the hubs said, “Lori?”
“Yes?” I answered.
“They were doubles.”
Lori Tobias is the author of the novel “Wander” and a journalist of many years. Follow her at loritobias.com.