Wednesday, February 25, 2015

That Time I Called Up Barbara Kingsolver

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though.”
― J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

After almost eleven years of blogging I thought I had unpacked alllllllllll my bookworm stories.

When I saw the above quote on Goodreads yesterday, I was reminded of the time I called up Barbara Kingsolver more than a quarter of a century ago. I had just finished reading The Bean Trees for the second time and was seized by an impulse. Raymond Carver had died a few months earlier, shortly after I first discovered him and his short story "A Small, Good Thing".  I had wanted to call up Raymond Carver. I had waited too long.

Well, I wasn't going to make the same mistake. Kingsolver was young and as far as I knew, in good health, but the world was an unpredictable place.

I called Information and gave her name and city. Surprise! She was listed! I dialed the number, heart pounding. A woman answered on the second ring. I asked if I could speak to Barbara Kingsolver.

The woman said, "This is Barbara Kingsolver."

 I gasped and got the conversation off to a fine start by babbling something like, Wow, you answered the phone yourself. (Memory has been kind and not allowed me to remember the exact phrasing I used.)

Kingsolver must have been wondering what kind of ditz she had on the line, but she replied calmly, "Well, of course. Why wouldn't I?"

Pulling myself together, I said that I had read The Bean Trees twice and LOVED it so much. The story. The characters. Everything. I thanked her for writing it. I told her she was a wonderful writer. The praise was interspersed with much hyperventilating and exclamations of disbelief that I was really really REALLY talking to Barbara Kingsolver.

Kingsolver asked me, "Where do you live?"

I actually couldn't remember for a moment. "Oklahoma."

"Oh, Oklahoma. I have a question: Did I describe the landscape accurately for that part of Oklahoma? I've actually never been there."

"Oh yeah, it's fine. It's wonderful. I was convinced you'd been there."

"I'm relieved," said Kingsolver.

It's hard to remember all of the conversation accurately because so much time has passed and I was in such a rapt state of fangirlhood during the call. I remember my face and lips feeling numb. I could barely hold onto the receiver because my hands were slick with sweat.

Here's one bit I remember: "You're not going to let anyone make The Bean Trees into a movie, are you?"

"No one from Hollywood has called me."

"I hope they don't, because ... well, remember The Color Purple?"

Kingsolver laughed. "That's funny. One of my friends had the exact same warning."

I don't remember how the call ended. I do remember that Kingsolver was patient and kind and she didn't hurry me off the phone.  I have the impression that I thanked her about fifty million more times for writing the book and for talking to me. After the call ended, I sat with the phone in my lap for almost an hour staring at it, my pulse still galloping.

Even though the phone call was a success, I've never had the audacity again. I've written a few fan letters and gotten warm responses. I've met a couple of favorite authors face-to-face. In each case, I hope if they remember anything, it would be my warm enthusiasm and not my inane burbling.

Have you ever called up an author or contacted him or her in some other way? What kind of response did you receive?


Jeane said...

That's awesome. I've never been brave enough to write an author a fan letter, much less call them!

Sam said...

I love that story...and kept expecting you to tell us it was one of your literary dream sequences. So glad it actually happened to/for you.

Care said...


I have a friend who called up Linda Greenlaw (the swordfish capt) and asked how to get into the commercial fishing business. Mind you, this was a guy who lives in Arkansas. Just thinking that he did that cracks me up. He says she was very nice.

Unruly Reader said...

Oh my land. That story makes me adore Kingsolver all the more.

raidergirl3 said...

Awesome story!

The Relentless Reader said...

Ha ha ha! That is such a great story, lol.

Literary Feline said...

I can't believe you did that! That is so awesome. I imagine it wouldn't be so easy now, given how protective we all are of our identities. I would have been beside myself, talking to an author on the phone like that. :-)

I have met a few authors in person at book signings and book festivals. I have also e-mailed authors directly. "Talked" to a few on Twitter. I still squeal with glee every time Lisa See responds to something I say on Twitter.